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Departure of the Author from Boulac for Alexandria-Description of this Town and its Environs-Misunderstanding between the English and the Turks-The latter are driven out of the TownSymptoms of Plague in the Army-Arrival of Despatches from England, which is followed by the Expedition of one of the Commander-in-Chief's Aides-de-camp to Cairo-Some Remarks on the Mamelukes, after their departure from Gyzeh-Reflections on the actual State of Egypt, and the Pasha who governs it-The Author quits the Army, and returns to England.
I QUITTED Boulac on the morning of the 24th of May, and embarked on the Nile, with four of my companions, who had obtained leave from General Baird to return to Europe. The period of my service on the staff of the Indian army having expired, I only thought of returning to Alexandria, where my regiment was encamped, and on the point of leaving Egypt for Gibraltar. We descended the Nile as far as Rahmanieh, where we landed on the 28th; from thence we continued our journey to Alexandria, by way of Damanhour.
Major Moore, who was second in command of the cavalry, was stationed here, and lent us both horses and camels. We reached Damanhour on the 22d, at one in the afternoon, and were received by the officers of the 26th with the greatest cordiality. The plague had unfortunately commenced its ravages here, and orders had just been given for the encampment of the troops without the
On the morning of the 31st, we continued our route towards Alexandria, where we arrived the following day, at noon. During the greater part of our march, our course had been along the bank of an old canal, (now dry,) which formerly conducted the waters of the Nile from Rahmanieh to Alexandria, and we crossed, by a bridge of boats, the intrenchment made by the English army, after the battle of the 21st of March. This intrenchment had been made to cut off the possibility of the waters of the Nile reaching Alexandria, then occupied by a French garrison. This canal has since been reconstructed, by the Viceroy, Mohammed-Aly, under the direction of French engineers; an immense work, which has cost the Pasha enormous sums, and which must be regarded as a great benefit to the commerce of Egypt, since it has re-established a certain communication between this town and the Nile.
The English garrison, which occupied Alexandria after the departure of the French troops, felt in their turn the consequences of the measure they had adopted for preventing the waters of the Nile from reaching Alexandria. The cisterns of the town were no longer supplied from it; the water furnished by the wells was brackish, and that which was brought from Rosetta in boats, was
the only kind of which they could make use. The delightful gardens which were formerly the ornament of Alexandria, being no longer fertilised by the mud deposited by the waters of the canal, had become almost as barren as the desert which borders them.
Founded by the Macedonian Conqueror, who, sensible of all the advantages of its position, conceived the hope of its becoming one day the centre of the commerce of the whole world, the town of Alexandria is seated on a long and narrow slip of land between the sea and the Lake Mareotis, with which it communicates by means of Cleopatra's canal, which at once furnishes it with the water necessary for the consumption of the inhabitants, and facilitates its commerce with the interior. But this town, so celebrated in antiquity, and which, under the brilliant court of the Lagides, enjoyed, during three centuries, a continually flourishing state of prosperity, is now only the shadow of its former self. Its unpaved streets are narrow and crooked; its houses low and unwholesome; its public edifices poor and in bad taste; and, after having, according to Diodorus Siculus, contained a population of 300,000 free men, and more than double that number of women and slaves, it now does not count more than from 15,000 to 20,000 inhabitants.
Alexandria is divided into the old and new town; the first of which is of much greater extent than the second. It is partly encircled by walls of Arab architecture, flanked with towers. Their circumference is calculated at two leagues; but the space which they enclose forms but a very small portion of the ancient town of the Ptolomies, the ruins of which are seen scattered over a surface three times as considerable. The foot of the traveller encounters at every step the remains of monuments and foundations, actually level with the soil: every thing presents to the view traces of the most frightful desolation; and, in those burning sands formerly covered with so many edifices, nothing is now seen but a few straggling date trees, or some isolated columns, the silent evidences of a splendour which no longer exists.
Amongst those ancient remains which more particularly attract the attention is Pompey's Pillar, considered by several travellers to be the most perfect architectural column which exists of its kind, and the height of which is about 115 feet. Next to this may be ranked the two obelisks, vulgarly called Cleopatra's Needles; one of which is still standing, and the other overthrown. Although more than fifty feet high, and seven feet in circumference at the base, they are, nevertheless, formed out of a solid block of granite. It is conjectured that they formerly ornamented the entrance to the palace of the Ptolomies, the ruins of which are seen very near this spot.
Edifices of another description, but not less wonderful, equally attract the attention of the traveller; these are the Catacombs, or grottos, cut in the rock, which have served for the interment of
whole generations. They commence at the extremity of the old town, and extend to a considerable distance along the coast. As to the celebrated Pharos, placed by the ancients amongst the wonders of the world, it is now a castle called Pharillon, which serves as a directing guide to vessels entering the port.
The slip of land on which Alexandria is built is nearly a league in length. On each of the two shores of this point is a port. That of the western side, or the old port, was not frequented by the Europeans before the arrival of the French in Egypt. The entrance to it is narrow and difficult; but, once cleared, the bason is capable of receiving the largest ships, and the point called the Fig Trees shelters them, by its position, both from the north and north-west winds. The inhabitants of Alexandria had formerly on these shores pleasure-houses and delicious gardens, which they made very productive by the manure deposited by the canal and cisterns of the town. This point of land is still famous for the hunting of birds of passage, which come here in great numbers, particularly at the commencement of winter, when they quit the coasts of Europe in search of warmer climates. An historical recollection is attached to this spot it is said to be here that Mark Antony, flying before the conqueror Octavius, came to demand protection from Cleopatra, after the battle of Actium: it is in the celebrated tower which is situated on this bank, that the Old Triumvir killed himself to escape the chairs of the conqueror.
On the other side is the east and new port, which is exposed to the east and north winds, and rendered rather dangerous by the numerous shoals which surround it. It is defended by the forts of the great and little Pharos. During my stay at Alexandria, this port was filled with merchant ships of all nations, but principally Turkish, Austrian, and Ragusian: the Old Port, on the contrary, was almost exclusively occupied by Turkish and English ships of war, as well as by our transports.
The population of Alexandria, like that of Cairo, is a mixture of Arabs, Turks, Kopts, Jews, and a few European merchants, who carry on a very lucrative commerce here.
A continual communication is kept up with Rosetta. A great number of boats arrive here every day, laden with the productions of Egypt, which are immediately transferred over to the merchant ships that frequent this port.
The environs of Alexandria, at the time of my stay there, were infested by numerous tribes of Bedouins, the vicinity to whom is always attended with some danger. We were twice obliged to have recourse to hostile measures, in order to keep them in order; but, happily, threats alone sufficed to intimidate them.
These environs are rich in vestiges of former times. The principal objects worthy of notice are the ruins of Canopus, and the remains
of Cleopatra's Baths, now almost entirely immersed in water. Magnificent columns lie buried under the waves, which seem almost to luxuriate in rolling over these noble wrecks of ancient splendour.
A great quantity of old medals and engraved stones are also found buried in the soil, with which the inhabitants carry on an extensive commerce, which they frequently endeavour to render still more lucrative, by the sale of counterfeits, more or less perfect, by means of which they impose on the credulity or ignorance of strangers.
The Proteus of the animal kingdom, the cameleon, so curious from the astonishing quality with which it is gifted, of taking the colour of whatever object it approaches, abounds in the sands of Alexandria. The desert is also filled with jerboas, or Pharoah's rats. The jerboa is a small and extremely pretty animal, whose black eyes possess a most astonishing degree of brilliancy. Its long and bare tail, terminating in a black and white tuft, its deep grey skin, its round head and ears edged with white, and above all, the extreme shortness of the front paws in comparison with the hinder ones, (a disproportion which obliges the animal to move by jumps and leaps,) distinguish it from every other of its species.
Since our arrival at Alexandria, the army had enjoyed an uninterrupted state of perfect health, when symptoms of the plague suddenly appeared in the town, and spread the greatest alarm throughout our ranks. Measures were immediately taken to secure us from this frightful malady. The regiments of the line were ordered to encamp at a certain distance from each other, and to refrain from all unnecessary communication with the inhabitants; the cavalry, stationed in the neighbourhood of Damanhour, where the contagion raged with the greatest violence, received orders to quit the infectious spot, and to encamp near the sea strict injunctions were given to the soldiers to preserve from their effects only that which was absolutely requisite, and to bathe themselves twice a day in the lake Mareotis. These precautions arrested the progress of the evil, but did not entirely prevent it, as several soldiers of the 10th of the line, to which I also belonged, fell victims to it.
This critical moment had at length passed, when the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Cavan, having received intelligence of the signature of the Treaty of Peace at Amiens, and judging that the English would not remain much longer in Egypt, permitted the Turks to take possession of some of the fortresses, only reserving to himself that of Caffarelli, which commanded the town and Fort Triangular, situated to the west of Alexandria. At the same time a Turkish vessel of eighty guns, and some frigates, under the command of the Capitana Bey, came and anchored in the Old Port.
Still no orders for our departure arrived, and we were now in the middle of June. The Osmanlies began to feel impatient, and the misunderstanding became at last so great, that the General thought
it necessary to adopt some precautionary measures. He recalled the 10th regiment, who now encamped in the town, to restrain this turbulent soldiery, and, should the occasion require it, to' repress their insolence.
Meanwhile, some of our sentinels were killed, and others insulted at their posts, on which the 10th took up arms; but the aggressors hid themselves, and we were unable to secure them.
Lord Cavan then sent to Churchid Aga, who commanded the Turkish troops to signify to him, that, if he did not punish the culprits, he would expel all the Osmanlies from the place. The Aga, intimidated, promised satisfaction; two Turks were in fact arrested, ordered to be strangled, and executed on the spot. They were two green-turbaned janissaries, a head-dress which, as it is well known, is the exclusive distinction of those Musulmans who have performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, and visited the tomb of the Prophet, or who belong to the family of Ali.
Their execution, looked on as impious, became the signal for a revolt among the Osmanlies, who considered themselves insulted by the punishment of true believers immolated to the manes of a few vile Christians, and for which they swore to be revenged. These exasperated men, indeed, made a sudden attack on me and such of my comrades as had been present with me at this military execution, for which we were quite unprovided, and had only just time to save ourselves by a hasty flight to our regiments, who immediately took up arms. The order for chasing the Turks out of the town was then given, and executed on the moment; but we lost, on this occasion, two more of our soldiers, who were assassinated by the infuriated Turks. Once expelled, they did not again obtain permission to return to the town ; we, therefore, remained in undisturbed possession of it.
On the 20th of January, a council of war, of which I was appointed Judge, was ordered to assemble for the purpose of passing sentence on the captain of a Turkish vessel, which, having entered the old port with the plague on board, had made no announcement of it. Several dead bodies, which this officer had had thrown into the water since his arrival, were found on the coast; and, the crime being fully proved, the captain was condemned to be publicly flogged in the market, or bazaar, of the town. This miserable wretch only escaped the pain of death, which he had justly incurred, because, by a happy chance, not a single inhabitant lost his life from his shameful conduct.
On the 3d of August, Lord Cavan received despatches from England, which rendered it necessary to send one of his Aides-decamp to Cairo. New plans of conciliation were proposed in the Oriental Herald, Vol. 18.