The Lieutenant-Governor of Malacca - A Charming Household - The Old Stadthaus - A Stately Habitation - An Endless Siesta - A Tropic Dream - Chinese Houses - Chinese Wealth and Ascendency - "Opium Farming" - The Malacca Jungle - Mohammedan Burial-Places - Malay Villages - Malay Characteristics - Costume and Ornament - Bigotry and Pilgrimage - The Malay Buffalo
STADTHAUS, MALACCA, January 21-23.
This must surely fade like a dream, this grand old Stadthaus, this old-world quiet, this quaint life; but when it fades I think I shall have a memory of having been "once in Elysium." Still, Elysium should have no mosquitoes, and they are nearly insupportable here; big spotted fellows, with a greed for blood, and a specially poisonous bite, taking the place at daylight of the retiring nocturnal host. The Chinese attendant is not careful, and lets mosquitoes into my net, and even one means a sleepless night. They are maddening.
I was introduced to my rooms, with their floors of red Dutch tiles, their blue walls, their white-washed rafters, their doors and windows consisting of German shutters only, their ancient beds of portentous height, and their generally silent and haunted look, and then went to tiffin with Mr. and Mrs. Biggs. Mr. Biggs is a student of hymnology, and we were soon in full swing on this mutually congenial subject. Mrs. Biggs devotes her time and strength to the training and education of young Portuguese girls. I pass their open bungalow as I go to and from the Governor's cottage, and it usually proves a trap.
Captain Shaw, who has been for many years Lieutenant-Governor of Malacca, is a fine, hearty, frank, merry, manly, Irish naval officer, well read and well informed, devoted to Malacca and its interests, and withal a man of an especially unselfish, loving, and tender nature, considerate to an unusual degree of the happiness and comfort of those about him. Before I had been here many hours I saw that he was the light of a loving home.* He can be firm and prompt when occasion requires firmness, but his ordinary rule is of the gentlest and most paternal description, so that from the Chinese he has won the name of "Father," and among the Malays, the native population, English rule, as administered by him, has come to be known as "the rule of the just." The family, consisting of the Governor, his, wife, and two daughters just grown up, is a very charming one, and their quiet, peaceful life gives me the opportunity which so rarely falls to the lot of a traveler of becoming really intimate with them.
[*I should not have reproduced this paragraph of my letter were Captain Shaw still alive, but in five weeks after my happy visit he died almost suddenly, to the indescribable grief of his family and of the people of Malacca, by whom he was greatly beloved.]
The Government bungalow, in which I spend most of my time, is a comfortable little cottage, with verandas larger than itself. In the front veranda, festooned with trailers and orchids, two Malay military policemen are always on guard, and two scornful-looking Bengalis in white trousers, white short robes, with sashes of crimson silk striped with gold, and crimson-and-gold flat hats above their handsome but repellent faces, make up the visible part of the establishment. One of these Bengalis has been twice to Mecca, at an expense of 40 pounds on each visit, and on Friday appears in a rich Hadji suit, in which he goes through the town, and those Mussulmen who are not Hadji bow down to him. I saw from the very first that my project of visiting the native States was not smiled upon at Government House.
The Government bungalow being scarcely large enough for the Governor's family, I am lodged in the old Dutch Stadthaus, formerly the residence of the Dutch Governor, and which has enough of solitude and faded stateliness to be fearsome, or at the least eerie, to a solitary guest like myself, to whose imagination, in the long, dark nights, creeping Malays or pilfering Chinamen are far more likely to present themselves than the stiff beauties and formal splendors of the heyday of Dutch ascendancy. The Stadthaus, which stands on the slope of the hill, and is the most prominent building in Malacca, is now used as the Treasury, Post Office, and Government offices generally. There are large state reception-rooms, including a ball-room, and suites of apartments for the use of the Governor of the Straits Settlements, the Chief-Justice, and other high officials, on their visits to Malacca. The Stadthaus, at its upper end on the hill, is only one story high, but where it abuts on the town it is three and even four. The upper part is built round three sides of a Dutch garden, and a gallery under the tiled veranda runs all round. A set of handsome staircases on the sea side leads to the lawn-like hill with the old cathedral, and the bungalows of the Governor and colonial chaplain. Stephanotis, passiflora, tuberose, alamanda, Bougainvillea, and other trailers of gorgeous colors, climb over everything, and make the night heavy with their odors. There must be more than forty rooms in this old place, besides great arched corridors, and all manner of queer staircases and corners. Dutch tiling and angularities and conceits of all kinds abound.