CHAPTER XXIV. SINGAPORE.
Betwixt them lawns, or level downs, and flocks
Grazing the tender herb, were interpos'd,
Or palmy hillock, or the flow'ry lap
Of some irriguous valley spread her store,
Flowers of all hues, and without thorn the rose.
Saturday, March 17th. - We were off Singapore during the night. At 5 a.m. the pilot came on board and took us into Tangong Pagar to coal alongside the wharf. We left the ship as soon as possible, and in about an hour we had taken forty-three tons of coal on board and nearly twenty tons of water. The work was rapidly performed by coolies. It was a great disappointment to be told by the harbour-master that the Governor of the Straits Settlement and Lady Jervoise were to leave at eleven o'clock for Johore. We determined to go straight to the Government House and make a morning call at the unearthly hour of 8 a.m. The drive from the wharf was full of beauty, novelty, and interest. We had not landed so near the line before, and the most tropical of tropical plants, trees, flowers, and ferns, were here to be seen, growing by the roadside on every bank and dust-heap.
The natives, Malays, are a fine-looking, copper-coloured race, wearing bright-coloured sarongs and turbans. There are many Indians, too, from Madras, almost black, and swathed in the most graceful white muslin garments, when they are not too hard at work to wear anything at all. The young women are very good-looking. They wear not only one but several rings, and metal ornaments in their noses, and a profusion of metal bangles on their arms and legs, which jingle and jangle as they move.
The town of Singapore itself is not imposing, its streets, or rather roads of wooden huts and stone houses, being mixed together indiscriminately. Government House is on the outskirts of the city in the midst of a beautiful park which is kept in excellent order, the green turf being closely mown and dotted with tropical trees and bushes. The House itself is large and handsome, and contains splendid suites of lofty rooms, shaded by wide verandahs, full of ferns and palms, looking deliciously green and cool. We found the Governor and his family did not start until 11.30, and they kindly begged us to return to breakfast at half-past nine, which we did. Before finally leaving, Sir William Jervoise sent for the Colonial Secretary, and asked him to look after us in his absence. He turned out to be an old schoolfellow and college friend of Tom's at Rugby and Oxford; so the meeting was a very pleasant one. As soon as the Governor and his suite had set off for Johore we went down into the hot dusty town to get our letters, parcels, and papers, and to look at the shops. There are not many Malay specialities to be bought here; most of the curiosities come from India, China, and Japan, with the exception of birds of Paradise from New Guinea, and beautiful bright birds of all colours and sizes from the various islands in the Malay Archipelago.
The north-east monsoon still blows fresh and strong, but it was nevertheless terribly hot in the streets, and we were very glad to return to the cool, shady rooms at Government House, where we thoroughly appreciated the delights of the punkah.
There are very few European servants here, and they all have their own peons to wait on them, and carry an umbrella over them when they drive the carriage or go for a walk on their own account. Even the private soldier in Singapore has a punkah pulled over his bed at night. It is quite a sight to meet all the coolies leaving barracks at 5 a.m., when they have done punkah-pulling.
At four o'clock Mr. Douglas called to take us for a drive. We went first to the Botanical Gardens, and saw sago-palms and all sorts of tropical produce flourishing in perfection. There were many beautiful birds and beasts, Argus pheasants, Lyre birds, cuckoos, doves, and pigeons, more like parrots than doves in the gorgeous metallic lustre of their plumage. The cages were large, and the enclosures in front full of Cape jasmine bushes (covered with buds) for the birds to peck at and eat.
From the gardens we went for a drive through the pretty villas that surround Singapore in every direction. Every house outside the town is built on a separate little hill in order to catch every breath of fresh air. There is generally rather a long drive up to the houses, and the public roads run along the valleys between them.
It was now dark, and we returned to dine at Government House.
Sunday, March 18th. - At six o'clock this morning Mabelle and I went ashore with the steward and the comprador to the market. It is a nice, clean, octagonal building, well supplied with vegetables and curious fruits. The latter are mostly brought from the other islands, as this is the worst season of the year in Singapore for fruit. I do not quite understand why this should be, for, as it is only a degree above the line, there is very little variation in the seasons here. The sun always rises and sets at six o'clock all the year round; for months they have a north-east monsoon, and then for months together a south-west monsoon.
We tasted many fruits new to us - delicious mangosteens, lacas, and other fruits whose names I could not ascertain. Lastly, we tried a durian, the fruit of the East, as it is called by people who live here, and having got over the first horror of the onion-like odour we found it by no means bad.