FRENCH CIRCUMNAVIGATORS, II
"The Indian population upon the coast of Coromandel," says the narrative, "is divided into two classes,—the 'right-hand' and the 'left.' This division originated under the government of a nabob against whom the people revolted; those who remained faithful to the prince being distinguished by the designation of 'right-hand,' and the rest by that of 'left-hand.' These two great tribes, which divide between them almost equally the entire population, are in a chronic state of hostility against the holders of the ranks and prerogatives obtained by the friends of the prince. The latter, however, retain the offices in the gift of the government, whilst the others are engaged in commerce. To maintain peace amongst them it was necessary to allow them to retain their ancient processions and ceremonies.... The 'right-hand' and 'left-hand' are subdivided into eighteen castes or guilds, full of pretensions and prejudices, not diminished even by the constant intercourse with Europeans which has now for centuries been maintained. Hence have arisen feelings of rivalry and contempt, which would be the source of sanguinary wars, were it not that the Hindus have a horror of bloodshed, and that their temperament renders them averse to conflict. These two facts, i.e. the gentleness of the native disposition and the constant presence of an element of discord amongst the various tribes, must ever be borne in mind if we would understand the political phenomenon of more than fifty millions of men submitting to the yoke of some five and twenty or thirty thousand foreigners."
The Thetis and the Espérance quitted the roadstead of Pondicherry on the 30th July, crossed the Sea of Bengal, sighted the islands of Nicobar and Pulo-Penang, with its free port capable of holding 300 ships at a time. They then entered the Straits of Malacca, and remained in the Dutch port of that name from the 24th to the 26th July, to repair damages sustained by the Espérance, so that she might hold out as far as Manilla. The intercourse of the explorers with the Resident and the inhabitants generally were all the more pleasant that it was confirmed by banquets given on land and on board the Thetis in honour of the kings of France and the Netherlands. The Dutch were expecting soon to cede this station to the English, and this cession took place shortly afterwards. It must be added, with regard to Malacca, that in point of fertility of soil, pleasantness of situation and facilities for obtaining all really necessary supplies, it was superior to its rivals.
Bougainville set out again on August 26th, and was tossed about by head-winds, and troubled alike by calms and storms during the remainder of his passage through the straits. As these latitudes were more frequented than any others by Malay pirates, the commandant placed sentries on the watch and took all precautions against surprise, although his force was strong enough to be above fearing any enemy. It was no uncommon thing to see fly-boats manned by a hundred seamen, and more than one merchant-ship had recently fallen a prey to these unmolested and incorrigible corsairs. The squadron, however, saw nothing to awake any suspicions, and continued its course to Singapore.
The population of this town is a curious mixture of races, and our travellers met with Europeans engaged in the chief branches of commerce; Armenian and Arabian merchants, and Chinese; some planters, others following the various trades demanded by the requirements of the population. The Malays, who seemed out of place in an advancing civilization, either led a life of servitude, or slept away their time in indolence and misery whilst the Hindus, expelled from their country for crime, practised the indescribable trades which in all great cities alone save the scum from dying of starvation. It was only in 1819 that the English procured from the Malayan sultan of Johore the right to settle in the town of Singapore; and the little village in which they established themselves then numbered but 150 inhabitants, although, thanks to Sir Stamford Raffles, a town soon rose on the site of the unpretending cabins of the natives. By a wise stroke of policy all customs-duties were abolished; and the natural advantages of the new city, with its extensive and secure port, were supplemented and perfected by the hand of man.
The garrison numbered only 300 sepoys and thirty gunners; there were as yet no fortifications, and the artillery equipment consisted merely of one battery of twenty cannons, and as many bronze field-pieces. Indeed, Singapore was simply one large warehouse, to which Madras sent cotton cloth; Calcutta, opium; Sumatra, pepper; Java, arrack and spices; Manilla, sugar and arrack; all forthwith despatched to Europe, China, Siam, &c. Of public buildings there appeared to be none. There were no stores, no careening-wharves, no building-yards, no barracks, and the visitors noticed but one small church for native converts.