An Unqualified Pilot

Notes on the text

These notes, edited by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The page and,, line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, as published and frequently reprinted between 1923 and 1950.

[Title] A Pilot, in this context, is a expert seaman with special local knowledge (usually qualified to command a merchant-vessel) who assumes responsibility for taking vessels in and out of harbours, rivers, etc. The name is also used as an abbreviation of the Sailing Directions quoted in the Headnote.

[Page 57 line 13] Hugli from Hugli (or Hoogli, or Hughli), a town on the right bank of the Western Delta branch of the River Ganges which then gives it’s name to the river. See Hobson-Jobson, p. 422 for the derivation and the alternative spellings. The river is the most westerly of those in the delta of the Ganges and flows 120 miles into the Bay of Bengal. The quicksands, shifting banks and a ‘bore’ (a river wave) some seven feet high which travels at 22 m.p.h., call for expert pilots to take vessels up the eighty miles to Calcutta. (Harmsworth’s Encyclopedia, p. 3222, Volume V.)

[Page 57 line 16] Calcutta Seat of the Government of India which moved to Simla in the hot weather, until New Delhi became the capital in 1911. A major port some 83 miles above the mouth of the Hugli. See Archie Baron, An Indian Affair – From Riches to Raj (Pan Macmillan, 2001) p. 22, “The City of Dreadful Night” (Life’s Handicap.) and the first article in “From Sea to Sea” in volume 2 of the book of the same name, “The Song of the Cities” and “A Tale of Two Cities”.

[Page 57 line 18] bench a collective tern for judges.

Supreme Court in the United Kingdom, the Supreme Court of Judicature is composed of the Court of Appeal and the High Court; in the United States of America it has a Chief Justice and eight associate judges.

[Page 57 lines 19 onwards] hang the wrong man.. etc. a somewhat cynical view but possessing a grain of truth. The death penalty was abolished in the United Kingdom in 1965.

[Page 58 line 3] soundings in this context, the depth of water.

[Page 58 line 13] Pilot’s Ridge a bank in the approach to the Hugli with characteristic shells etc. on it, much valued in the days of hand leads when samples of the bottom were of great assistance to navigators. See “Their Lawful Occasions” (Traffics and Discoveries), page 136.

[Page 58 line 15] steamers in this context, steamships.

pilot brig a two-masted sailing vessel with square sails on both masts, here used for taking pilots to incoming vessels and taking them off those that are outward bound. To-day a powered pilot-vessel, painted white with two masts and a yellow funnel cruises off the Sandheads near position 20 54’ N, 88 °14’ East and further South in bad weather – during the S-W monsoon she usually anchors near the Eastern Channel Light-vessel.

[Page 58 line 22] two or three thousand pounds a year about £240,000 at today’s prices. A very high salary indeed.

[Page 59 line 9] dredges in this context, using a vessel having a system of buckets revolving on a chain to dig out the mud, sand etc. from the river-bed so that vessels can navigate in safety.

[Page 59 line 10] buoys (pronounced boys) floating markers of various sizes, shapes and colours moored to indicate the channel together with wrecks and other dangers, usually having their names or numbers painted on their sides and exhibiting an unique flashing light by night.

[Page 59 line 12] lights and the drum, ball and cone storm signals a North cone, usually made of black-painted canvas on a hoop hoisted on a mast, indicated that a gale from the North was imminent – the remaining shapes had other meanings. Lights were used at night, but this system has been largely superseded by radio, e-mail and text. (See Bay of Bengal Pilot, p. 70)

[Page 59 line 16] wireless telegraphy developed by Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) who transmitted a signal over one mile in 1895 which eventually rendered balls and cones redundant is now itself beginning to disappear. He had met Kipling (Lycett, p. 336) which resulted in the story “Wireless” (Traffics and Discoveries); see KJ 271/24.

[Page 60 line 9] house-flags distinctive colours of the shipowners flown by their vessels.

[Page 60 line 18] nearly fourteen a middle-class boy of this age in the United Kingdom would normally still be at school. Kipling did not return to India until he was nearly seventeen.

[Page 60 line 21] Mayapur Bar A bar, in this context, is a sandbank at the entrance to a river or harbour.

Diamond Harbour an anchorage for large vessels, some 40- odd miles below Calcutta nd 5 miles above Kalpi Roads with a signal-station for reporting passing vessels. (See Hobson-Jobson, p. 317.)

[Page 60 line 29] a shovel-nosed porpoise a member of the genus Phocæna.

[Page 61 line 8] Bankshall the office of the Port Authority – see Hobson-Jobson, p. 61) and “The City of Dreadful Night,”Chapter IV (From Sea to Sea, p.128)

[Page 62 line 8] the Sandheads see Note to page 58, line 15 above.

[Page 62 line 13] “James and Mary” a vessel which sank in September, 1694 and gave her name to this bank. (Hobson-Jobson, p. 449) It is not mentioned in the Pilot of 1978 quoted in the Headnote.

[Page 62 line 15] two rivers Damodar and Rupnarain,

[Page 62 line 22] Countess of Stirling a vessel that has not been traced.

[Page 62 line 27] lashed over possibly a misprint for ‘listed’ in which case ‘over’ is redundant

[Page 63 line 15] Eastern Gat not mentioned in the 1978 Pilot, but several gats are shown on the street-plans on the Calcutta website.

[Page 63 line 29] audio ‘I hear’ (Latin).

[Page 64 line 4]Garden Reach a pleasant suburb of villas on the riverside below Fort William (Hobson-Jobson. p. 365)

[Page 64 line 5] Saugor See the note on page 69 line 17 below.

[Page 64 line 6] Calcutta Telegraph an important English-language newspaper, still in production.

[Page 64 line 14] mulatto offspring of one white and one coloured parent.

[Page 64 line 16] Muchuatollah Machuatollah is in Calcutta, and refers to the area round the Muchua, Moochua, or Machua Bazar. Machua Bazar or Machooa Bazar Street lies just to the north of the Hughli bridge and runs parallel to Bow Bazar Street. It is mentioned in City of Dreadful Night Chapter V “With the Calcutta Police” p. 240, line 29. Kipling also (1893) used the name for Petersen Sahib’s head tracker in “Toomai of the Elephants” in The Jungle Book, Machua Appa.

[Page 64 line 18] Erh-Tze phonetically ‘ere ‘tiz (here it is) – perhaps a real name, or another of Kipling’s jokes.

[Page 64 line 19] Pigeon-English Or ‘Pidgin English’, Hobson-Jobson (p. 709) describes it as: ‘The vile jargon which forms the means of communication at the Chinese ports between Englishmen who do not speak Chinese (sic) and those Chinese with whom they are in the habit of communicating. The word business in this kind of talk appears to be corrupted into pigeon‘.

[Page 64 line 25] a junk the classic native sailing-vessel of the Eastern seas.

[Page 65 line 17] Singapore via Penang and Rangoon probably getting on for two thousand nautical miles as the aircraft flies, but much further for a sailing-vessel.

[Page 66 line 9 onwards] tiller…. the apparatus by which the vessel is steered when there is no wheel – from the illustration it seems unlikely they would be able to put it over far enough unless they all walked away with it to the ship’s side. She is, however, a good sea-boat (Page 70, line 9). [Information will be appreciated. Ed.]

[Page 66 line 11] pigtails long plaits or queues of hair hanging down the back of Chinese men – a custom that has died out in modern times.

[Page 66 line 17] the more way…. in this context, the faster she goes, (within certain limits) the better she handles.

[Page 67 line 7] hard-mouthed a phrase from horsemanship implying a horse that is difficult to control, and highly appropriate for a vessel that steers with difficulty

[Page 67 line 11] Fultah not traced – except as Fultah Fisher in “The Ballad of Fisher’s Boarding-House.” Also spelled as Fulta or Falta. A village/town on the eastern bank south of Fisherman’s Point and just above the confluence with the Damodar River. David Page writes: people who survived the “Black Hole of Calcutta” retreated to here. [D.P.]

[Page 67 line 28] poop the aftermost and highest deck.

[Page 68 line 28] Mayapur Bar not mentioned in the Pilot. This shoal lies off Moyapur, between Achipur and Royapur on the eastern bank.

semaphores apparatus with moveable arms for signalling – in this instance, the depth of water.

[Page 69 line 1] Western Gat … Makoaputti LumpsThese two are not gats (or ghats) but are the Eastern and Western Gut, two channels on either side of the “James and Mary” shoal.

[Page 69 line 14] Kedgeree a village on the Hugli some 68 miles below Calcutta. Also the name of an excellent dish of fish, rice, eggs and spices,

[Page 69 line 17] Saugor Light an island with a lighthouse at the mouth of the Hughli. Saugor (or Sagar) Island is at the mouth of the Hughli, Latitude: 21° 43′ 0 N, Longitude: 88° 5′ 60 E.

[Page 69 line 21] Gasper Sand this is now spelt Gaspar. There is now a Channel of that name.

[Page 70 line 5] Joss a Chinese god

[Page 70 line 9] a very weatherly boat handles well, but see page 67 line 7 above.

[Page 70 line 11] Annam now part of Vietnam.

[Page 70 line 16] outer Floating Light there are several lightships mentioned in the Pilot, but none of this name.

[Page 70 line 25] Pilots Ridge see Note to Page 58, line 13 above.

[Page 71 line 2] whale-boat a handsome boat pulling (usually) five oars

[Page 71 line 29] whistled and choked, perhaps it was with anger he may have been smothering a laugh while keeping up a proper show of indignation !

[Page 72 line 1] stalkin’-horse A stalking-horse, a hunter hiding himself behind a horse, the two of them attempting to get within shot of game.

[Page 72 line 4] chains in this context a platform protruding from the ship’s side at upper deck level where the shrouds are secured.

[Page 72 line 25] enamelled leather ‘patent leather’ with the appearance of (usually) black leather.

[Page 72 line 27] gig in this context another elegant boat pulling six or eight oars.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2007 All rights reserved