Charles Acland
A Popular Account of the Manners and Customs of India

A Popular Account of the Manners and Customs of India
Charles Acland

Charles Acland

A Popular Account of the Manners and Customs of India


The author of the present work was a clergyman, who, along with his wife, quitted England about the beginning of the year 1842, leaving behind him several young children, to whom, as appears from the letters he constantly addressed to them, he was most affectionately attached.

They left the country full of hope that they should all be reunited at some future period; but, before he had been three years exposed to the climate of India, he fell a victim to it. It is somewhat melancholy to find him at the outset rejoicing in the very circumstance which in some measure perhaps occasioned his death. The first destination selected for him was little in accordance with his own taste; and when it subsequently was altered from Assam to Cuttack, he expresses himself delighted with the change, though the first-named province was much more remarkable for its healthfulness than that to which he at length proceeded.

Mr. Acland felt the warmest interest in the education of his children, and, to improve their minds, determined, on quitting England, to send home, from time to time, accurate accounts of his progress, that they might be made acquainted with all he beheld – the places through which he passed, the aspect of the country, its climate, productions, flowers, trees, shrubs, and wild animals. Many an interesting adventure is related in these pages which the author met with in the jungle; the beating of which by the hunting parties, who go forth in bands for that purpose, is described with an animation calculated to awaken much interest.

The letters addressed by Mr. Acland to his children have now been thrown into the form of a Journal, as this method was considered best suited to the general reader. The Editor has, however, been careful to preserve throughout the easy familiar style in which the father first wrote them, that to the children of others they may be equally acceptable and useful.

The books hitherto published on India have been in general, from their bulk, confined to persons arrived at a more advanced period of life; and the Editor of the present volume hopes in some measure to familiarise the subject by bringing it down nearer the comprehension of the youthful reader. This work is intended to describe Indian manners in an interesting way, and will in some measure, it is hoped, supply a portion of the want that has long existed in our literature in this respect. To render the subject more attractive, Mr. Acland was careful to introduce anecdotes and short narratives throughout, which are calculated to amuse, while instruction is at the same time conveyed.

One distinguishing feature may be observed in the whole – viz. a fervent spirit of devotion, which breathes through every page of the original manuscript. Such passages the Editor has thought it better to omit, as the advice from a father to his children, clothed in the simple language he considered it best to employ, though beautiful and touching in itself, would scarcely appear interesting to the general reader. For this reason the substance of his counsel has been compressed into the present brief Preface.

He impresses upon his children the necessity of living ever in brotherly love, of sustaining and comforting one another, and of seeking the Divine aid in every emergency of life, whether great or small. He shows them how, by trusting implicitly in God and acting according to His commandments, they will attain a peace of mind above all the happiness which an indulgence in the pleasures of this life can bestow. He explains to them, in the gentlest terms, how necessary it is for their welfare here and hereafter that they should act ever in accordance with the expressed wishes of the Almighty; and that they must never cease to remember that He moves about them everywhere, and sees their every action, hears each passionate word, beholds each unbecoming gesture, and will reward or punish according as they indulge in or abstain from evil. In several beautiful passages he portrays the unceasing watchfulness of the Almighty in providing for our daily wants, in supplying us with every necessary of life; and inquires, with truth, Ought not every little heart to be daily grateful to Him, without whose will the sun cannot shine, or rise, or set; without whose will the refreshing showers could not force and raise up around us the beautiful and necessary things of life? Then he inquires, How can we better show our gratitude for these blessings than by acting in accordance with the wishes of Him who is the cause of so much good?

These words were spoken by a father to his own children; but I would ask those of my young friends into whose hands this little volume may fall, does it not equally touch them? Do they not feel the truth of these sentences? Coming over the many thousand miles which stretch between India and this country, these letters were cherished the more by the three little children to whom they were addressed; and now that the hand is cold which traced the lines, how much more will they be prized!

Whatever may be the fate of the volume with the public, to those whom it more intimately concerns it will be a lasting remembrance of their father, and of the melancholy circumstances connected with his early death. For their sake, the Editor trusts that the present work may meet with at least a moderate share of success; and that, in the endeavour to render more familiar to the youthful mind the names and habits of some of the inhabitants of India, he may not altogether fail.

London, Sept. 1847.

Madras, June, 1842

We quitted England in the course of March, 1842, and reached Madras in the month of June of the same year. I shall give but a brief sketch of our voyage.

Soon after leaving England, having arrived near Ushant, situated on the north-west coast of France, a tremendous storm came on; the waves rose high and washed the deck, while the ship itself pitched to such a degree that the very dinner rolled off the table; in the night my wife was tossed out of bed, and thrown to the other side of the cabin. We were in the greatest danger of being drowned. I started out of my hammock, but was unable to stand upright. Towards morning, however, the wind abated.

After this storm had passed, the ship went forward rapidly until we reached the equator, where she lay becalmed for several days. The heat at this point of our voyage was excessive; we used to lie about on the deck almost all night, taking care, however, to cover our faces if the moon was shining; for it is said that, in these hot climates, if any one goes to sleep under its light, he is in danger of losing his sight, and even his life.[1 - It is doubted whether the injury does not rather arise from the damp night-air than from the effect of the moon-beams.]

We now proceeded more slowly until we had rounded the Cape of Good Hope, where another storm came on. Every sail was taken in; yet, without their assistance, we ran, in two days, 545 miles. The waves rose as high as mountains, and the ship seemed to toil up one side, and to send the bowsprit up into the air, then, plunging down again, seemed to bury it in the sea. I was standing with my wife at the door of the dinner cabin when a large wave burst in through the upper part of the ship, flooded the room, and shivered one of our large boats to atoms.

As we were passing the equator, too, we suffered from a tremendous thunderstorm. The heat was excessive: not a breath of wind stirred the air. About twelve o'clock a little cloud, about the size of a man's hand, rose in the horizon: gradually it spread until it hung like a huge black mass over the ship. I stood and watched its increase, when suddenly a vivid flash of lightning shot from the heavens, and almost blinded me. At the same moment a crash of thunder bellowed round the ship like the noise of a thousand cannons. The lightning slightly struck one of our passengers and the mate, but did not inflict any serious injury. The rain now descended: not a sharp thick shower, such as you may witness in England, but as it were all in one mass, and soon every trace of the storm passed away; the sun burst forth, and the ship and sails were dried in the course of a few minutes.

Calm weather was ours now until we reached Madras. During our voyage we observed many curious kinds of birds, the principal of which was the stormy petrel. These creatures quit the land, and fly many thousand miles over the sea in the track of ships, following them by night and by day. The whale-bird is about the size of a thrush, white in colour, and may be seen hovering about the great fish from which it derives its name.


The Cape pigeon is a very beautiful creature, about the size of our own pigeon, white, with black spots on its body, and a blue, glossy head. We several times amused ourselves with catching them; and the way we contrived was, to let fly from our hands a piece of thread several yards in length, which was carried out by the wind, and the pigeon, flying across it, became entangled in it. In fluttering about in the endeavour to extricate itself, it became only more firmly secured; and then, drawing the string towards us, we caught the bird, and, placing it on the deck, suffered it to walk about. The legs of this pigeon are so peculiarly formed that they are unable to spring up from the ground, and can only rise from the crest of a wave, or throw themselves from the edge of a rock. The albatross is a large white bird, which has been known to measure fourteen or sixteen feet from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other. We used to catch them sometimes by casting out a hook and line, as for a fish.

The Cape hen, which follows the ship in flocks, is large and black, measuring about ten feet from wing to wing. Occasionally we caught a glimpse of the tropic-bird, called by the sailors the boatswain, because of its long pointed tail resembling the pigtail which these men used formerly to wear.


The booby is a large brown bird, about as big as a common hen. I must not forget to tell you something about the pilot-fish. Every shark, whether old or young, is accompanied by a little fish about twelve inches long, and striped like a zebra, which keeps always near the nose of the shark, and seems to guide him to his food.

As I have in this place said so much about birds and fishes, I may as well tell you a little about the animals here in Madras. The first I shall mention is the cow, by which all the carts and many of the carriages are drawn along – sometimes, too, very swiftly. They are much smaller than English cows, and have a hump on their backs. Camels may be seen in the streets patiently carrying heavy loads of goods: the people, however, treat them very cruelly.

As I was going to the cathedral last Sunday I saw a mungoose, a little green and yellow animal, something between a ferret and a squirrel. It is said that when bitten by a snake it runs and rubs the place over with the juice of a certain plant, which immediately cures it.

My samee, or native manservant, who is a Malay, gave me one about as large as a kitten, and quite as playful. It will attain to the size of a cat; it follows me about, sleeps on the foot of the bed, and if a snake comes into the room will instantly kill it. When an Indian mother wishes to go out, she need only just tell the mungoose to mind the cradle, and then he lies down by it, and suffers neither man nor reptile to approach. This creature, once tamed, is quite wretched out of human society.

The cobra de capello is one of the most poisonous snakes with which we are acquainted. I saw a girl playing with some of them the other day, but their fangs had been extracted.

There are a great number of beautiful birds here; and green paroquets can be purchased for three pence, while an avadavad costs only one penny. The cock avadavad should, when kept, be confined along with twelve hens in a cage.

The large carrion-crow is as common here as the sparrow is in England, and is so tame that they fly close to the houses, and even look in at the windows. Nobody is allowed to shoot or hurt them, because they make themselves useful in carrying away all the dirt from the town. Large vultures are almost as numerous.

I must not forget to mention the mosquito, which is a gnat exactly like those you see in England. Great numbers fly about all the night, and some people suffer much from their bite, but they never touch me.

The flowers here are beautiful, and some smell exceedingly sweet. There are two tall trees, as large as elms, covered with red and yellow flowers about the size of a plate. In the hedges, too, we see very splendid cactuses. I shall be able, however, to tell you more about these things when I have been here longer.

The fruits are exquisite, but it is dangerous to eat them in any quantity. For a pine-apple nearly as big as your head we pay only two anas – that is, three pence; but they are not exactly like those you buy in England. Here they are quite sweet, and soft and juicy as a peach. The mango is a yellow fruit about the size of a large orange, the inside of which is full of a very rich sort of custard. The plantain resembles a dahlia-root, and has very much the same taste as cheese. The guava is in appearance like an apple, but possesses the flavour of a strawberry. There are several other kinds of fruit, but I have not time to describe them now. I am very fond of the pine-apple and the orange, but do not care for any of the others.


Mother-of-pearl may be bought very cheap here. It is found in a particular kind of oyster-shell, of which I can get three or four for a halfpenny. Though the heat here is excessive, I do not suffer from it: the thermometer in the large room where I am sitting is now 93½°. The heat causes a kind of rash called the prickle-heat, which is very disagreeable. The sensation to which it gives rise is much the same as would be caused by running needles into the body. In every room, hanging from the ceiling, is a large fan, called a punkah, about four times the size of the door, and a boy is continually employed in swinging it backward and forward, and the current of air thus created cools the whole room. The windows are without glass. Venetian blinds serve instead, and sometimes mats, which are kept constantly wetted. The water soon turns into steam, and, evaporating very fast, carries off with it the latent heat.

When my wife goes to sleep, the little black boy, with no covering but a pair of drawers and a cap, stands near and fans her, while every now and then he sprinkles her face with water as she reclines on the sofa.


The people here are nearly all black, and wear very little clothing. The population is extensive. At dinner we have generally eight or ten men to wait upon us, but they are slow in their movements, and very lazy. The Arabian Nights mentions the fakirs. I have seen some here that have let their feet grow in one position until they cannot move them.


Some of the inhabitants of Madras are afflicted with a curious kind of disease, in which one leg swells to the size of a man's body, while the other is no thicker than the limb of an infant.

When you meet in the street with a native who is at all acquainted with you, or who wishes to express his thanks for anything, instead of merely saying "Thank you," or "How do you do?" he presses his hands upon his eyes, and says "Salaam, sahib." Some English persons, on going out for a walk, may be seen to carry a whip, with which, if the natives are at all troublesome, they lash them; but this is a cruel practice. Ladies are prevented by the heat from walking abroad here, and gentlemen seldom do so, but go about in what are called palanquins, which I will describe hereafter. When we ride out, however swiftly we go, a man called a coolie runs by the side of the carriage. We are obliged to get up here at about half-past five in the morning, and then we go out for a drive, or in the palanquin; at half-past seven the sun is too powerful even for that exercise: we then return home, take a cold bath, and breakfast. At half-past six in the evening we are enabled to go out again a little. In the middle of the day we take a nap.

July 1st

A few days ago I saw a native wedding. At about nine in the evening I was disturbed by a noise of drums and squeaking trumpets. Looking out of the window, I saw a large party with torches conducting the bride to her husband's home. She was entirely covered by a white veil, and walked in the midst of her relations.

I went to pay a visit to the Newab, a native prince of these parts, but did not succeed in obtaining an interview. He is about fifteen years of age, and generally goes out in a carriage drawn by seven horses. His uncles ride by his side on elephants, while his cousins run with the carriage.

The natives are a fine athletic race of men, with every appearance of possessing talent and intellect. The tricks of the jugglers are very entertaining: they will swallow swords, throw up three or four knives or cannon-balls, and catch them on their necks, and pull balls of cotton out of their throats, and make snakes dance.

Bishop's Palace, Calcutta, July 15


Here we are arrived safely at this place, after a very disagreeable voyage, the worst part of which was the travelling up the river Hoogly. We were becalmed for some time, and merely drifted up a few miles a-day with the tide. However, I was much interested one day by watching a cloud, which, after moving and whirling about for a little time, began to send down a little thin point towards the river. Presently the column increased in size, while underneath the waves seemed to rise to meet it; and when they had done so a great quantity of the water was sucked up by the cloud, which grew larger in consequence, and then steered away towards the land: this was a waterspout.