Newera Ellia - The Turn-out for Elk-Hunting - Elk-Hunting - Elk turned to Bay - The Boar.
Where shall I begin? This is a momentous question, when, upon glancing back upon past years, a thousand incidents jostle each other for precedence. How shall I describe them? This, again, is easier asked than answered. A journal is a dry description, mingling the uninteresting with the brightest moments of sport. No, I will not write a journal; it would be endless and boring. I shall begin with the present as it is, and call up the past as I think proper.
Here, then, I am in my private sanctum, my rifles all arranged in their respective stands above the chimney-piece, the stags' horns round walls hung with horn-cases, powder-flasks and the various weapons of the chase. Even as I write the hounds are yelling in the kennel.
The thermometer is at 62 degrees Fahr., and it is mid-day. It never exceeds 72 degrees in the hottest weather, and sometimes falls below freezing point at night. The sky is spotless and the air calm. The fragrance of mignonettes, and a hundred flowers that recall England, fills the air. Green fields of grass and clover, neatly fenced, surround a comfortable house and grounds. Well-fed cattle of the choicest breeds, and English sheep, are grazing in the paddocks. Well-made roads and gravel walks run through the estate. But a few years past, and this was all wilderness.
Dense forest reigned where now not even the stump of a tree is standing; the wind howled over hill and valley, the dank moss hung from the scathed branches, the deep morass filled the hollows; but all is changed by the hand of civilisation and industry. The dense forests and rough plains, which still form the boundaries of the cultivated land, only add to the beauty. The monkeys and parrots are even now chattering among the branches, and occasionally the elephant in his nightly wanderings trespasses upon the fields, unconscious of the oasis within his territory of savage nature.
The still, starlight night is awakened by the harsh bark of the elk; the lofty mountains, grey with the silvery moonlight, echo back the sound; and the wakeful hounds answer the well-known cry by a prolonged and savage yell.
This is 'Newera Ellia,' the sanatorium of Ceylon, the most perfect climate of the world. It now boasts of a handsome church, a public reading-room, a large hotel, the barracks, and about twenty private residences.
The adjacent country, of comparatively table land, occupies an extent of some thirty miles in length, varying in altitude from 6,200 to 7,000 feet, forming a base for the highest peaks in Ceylon, which rise to nearly 9,000 feet.
Alternate large plains, separated by belts of forest, rapid rivers, waterfalls, precipices, and panoramic views of boundless extent, form the features of this country, which, combined with the sports of the place, render a residence at Newera Ellia a life of health, luxury, and independence.
The high road from Colombo passes over the mountains through Newera Ellia to Badulla, from which latter place there is a bridle road, through the best shooting districts in Ceylon, to the seaport town of Batticaloa, and from thence to Trincomalee. The relative distances of Newera Ellia are, from Galle, 185 miles; from Colombo, 115 miles; from Kandy, 47 miles; from Badulla, 36 miles; from Batticaloa, 148 miles. Were it not for the poverty of the soil, Newera Ellia would long ago have become a place of great importance, as the climate is favourable to the cultivation of all English produce; but an absence of lime in the soil, and the cost of applying it artificially, prohibit the cultivation of all grain, and restrict the produce of the land to potatoes and other vegetables. Nevertheless, many small settlers earn a good subsistence, although this has latterly been rendered precarious by the appearance of the well-known potato disease.
Newera Ellia has always been a favourite place of resort during the fashionable months, from the commencement of January to the middle of May. At that time the rainy season commences, and visitors rapidly disappear.
All strangers remark the scanty accommodation afforded to the numerous visitors. To see the number of people riding and walking round the Newera Ellia plain, it appears a marvel how they can be housed in the few dwellings that exist. There is an endless supply of fine timber in the forests, and powerful sawmills are already erected; but the island is, like its soil, 'poor.' Its main staple, 'coffee,' does not pay sufficiently to enable the proprietors of estates to indulge in the luxury of a house at Newera Ellia. Like many watering-places in England, it is overcrowded at one season and deserted at another, the only permanent residents being comprised in the commandant, the officer in command of the detachment of troops, the government agent, the doctor, the clergyman, and our own family.
Dull enough! some persons may exclaim; and so it would be to any but a sportsman; but the jungles teem with large game, and Newera Ellia is in a central position, as the best sporting country is only three days' journey, or one hundred miles, distant. Thus, at any time, the guns may be packed up, and, with tents and baggage sent on some days in advance, a fortnight's or a month's war may be carried on against the elephants without much trouble.