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Memory Lane Voyage to Ceylon Unabridged version In 1937, Isabella Hagger of Melbourn embarked on a sea voyage to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to visit her husband Cyril who was working for the Admiralty, constructing oil storage tanks. Isa (as she preferred to be called) kept a detailed journal of her out-going journey and of the seven months she spent in Ceylon. This journey was at a time when few ventured out of the country to see the world. On her return Isa was asked to give a talk about her experiences to the Congregational Church Women’s Group. Below is an abridged version of this interesting story which she wrote 80 years ago. Mrs. Davis and fellow members, before I left Melbourn for Ceylon I had to give my solemn promise to Mrs. Davis that on my return I would speak to you at our Women’s meeting. It was very easy to promise as it seemed such a long off, but now that the time has come, it is much more difficult. I do not want any of you to imagine that I am going to give a learned discourse on Ceylon – I am not nearly clever enough to do so, but I would like you to imagine that you have just dropped in to pay me a visit and that we are sitting around the fire and I am retailing a few stories and incidents that happened to me on my voyage to Ceylon and during my holiday there. My friends were all very kind and gave me a wonderful send off from Melbourn on Oct. 8t” when I left about 8 a.m. to start on my journey to join my ship the “Rajputana” at George V docks London. We had an uneventful motor run to the docks and my family tried to make the parting as easy for me as possible. I will never forget the moment when the Rajputana slid out of the docks at 1 p.m. and I had started on my long journey. The lump in my throat seemed too big for me to control, but on looking around I found many people who had quite lost control and were making very distressing scenes and this helped me to compose myself, and give a watery smile and a wave as the car containing my girls drove away. Lunch was served as soon as the ship sailed, and on my brother’s good advice I had some soup “because it slips over the lumps so easily”. I spent the afternoon unpacking and walking around the decks all alone, and I must admit feeling rather miserable. We had tea at 4.30, and as soon as that was over the bell rung for boat drill. I had imagined that would be a fearful ordeal and pictured myself scrambling into a given place in one of the small boats, and I even thought there was a probability of the boat being lowered,

but I was quite wrong and the drill was over in a very few minutes. We merely put on our life belts and listened to a few instructions, given by one of the ships officers. At dinner we were put at our allotted places in the dining saloon and were able to exchange remarks with our table companions, and as soon as dinner was over a red headed scotch lady from Glasgow came up and spoke to me in the lounge, and made plans to meet me on deck next morning and she proved to be a very good friend to me and remained so throughout the voyage. We arrived at Southampton the next day and I went ashore for two hours. We sailed from Southampton at 2 p.m., and the voyage started in earnest. Very soon the wind started to blow and the sea became very rough and I felt very very sick. I had heard that the state of feeling seasick is purely mental, and that if one fights against it, one is alright. Believe me, I fought as hard as I could and tried every suggested cure from Glucose D to green apples, but I had to retire to my little bunk in my cabin, with the very big basin the P&O Company so very kindly provides for the convenience of their sea sick passengers. It is best for me to draw a veil over the next few days, unless to remark on the great kindness I received. The stewardess was kindness itself to me, and helped me in every possible way. She was a motherly soul, who loved her work and put many more hours into it than ever she was paid for. She was Scotch, and this of course was a great bond between us. She would bring me all sorts of dainties, to try to make me eat and say “you must eat lassie or yer man won’t know you when you arrive at Colombo”. I felt somewhat better by the time we arrived at Gibraltar and was so thrilled at the sight of the Rock that I quite forgot I had been ill. There it stands so big, so strong and so truly British, that I felt really proud to be a Briton. I did not go ashore at Gibraltar although lots of the passengers did so, but I shall always be glad to think that I have been privileged to see this ‘Guardian of the Mediterranean’. We sailed from Gibraltar again, about 5 p.m., and as we sailed along we could hear the Spanish guns and see the flashes. As night fell a huge ensign was flood lit on the ship’s stern to proclaim to all the world that we were British. Some nervous souls on board circulated most alarming rumours about mines, and Spanish airplanes etc, but we never were in any danger and we were well protected by British war ships all through the Mediterranean. Our next port was Marseilles and as we stayed there a whole day and night most of the passengers had a trip


into the town. Marseilles is a fine big city, but as the town is 3 miles from the docks one has to take a tram or a taxi. A party of five of us went ashore as safety in numbers seems to be the rule, with all passengers landing at Marseilles. Even with this party we had the unpleasant experience of being followed for 2 hours by an objectionable looking man. So persistent was he that we had to ask a Gendarme to speak to him, while we got a taxi to get away from him. We all wished we had been a little more studious with our French at school, as we had the utmost difficulty in stating our case to the police man, and he could not speak a word of English. We did not do any sightseeing as we were all bent on shopping, but we were long enough ashore to realise the truth of the saying that every nationality can be found in Marseilles. We found good bargains in the shops as the rate of exchange was in our favour. I went into the store where the devastating fire took place last week. As we were nearing Malta the ship began to roll again and only by sheer will power was I able to stay on deck. It was dark and we were not allowed to land but I spent a whole day there coming home, and I was charmed with the wonder of the harbour, the cleanness of the buildings, and the quaintness of the little streets. We had some distinguished passengers on board for Malta, among them Lady Georgiana Kidston (The Earl of Howe’s daughter) with her baby, nurse and ladies-maid. Naturally the women passengers were interested in the arrival of her husband to meet her and although we were told that society people make no fuss on these occasions, he arrived in an Admiralty launch with a huge bouquet of red roses and tore up the gangway to meet Lady Georgiana. She is very lovely and was dressed in a navy blue coat and skirt with beautiful red fox furs, hat shoes and gloves in the same lovely shade. The baby in a mosses basket was simply sweet in palest pink wraps and half way down the gangway Lord Kidston took the basket from the Nannie and peered in to see if his wee daughter was alright. I went down for dinner and my sympathetic table steward advised me to eat while the boat was still as it was going to be very rough again. That meal on the 17th had to last me a very long time, as it was at Port Said on the 20th before I could take the next one. One of the joys of real seasickness is that one feels so ill, that night and day are all the same and friends and relations do not matter. It is a full time job! I must just add too that it was so rough that I was all covered with black and blue bruises as the lurching ship knocked its poor passengers into any post or pillar or chair in the cabins or lounges. By that time I had become quite used to the men who came into my cabin to shut and open the port hole, as the weather and storms would allow. Although I must admit that even at the end of the voyage I still used to wish that the bath steward would not thurst his arm into my bath to test its temperature. I enjoyed my visit to Port Said and that walk on terra

firma seemed to put me right for the rest of the voyage. There is nothing of any special interest to see at Port Said, but it is the first taste of The East and a traveller going East for the first time is almost bewildered by the scene. The natives are so brightly dressed and the dwellings so different from any of the western ports. Port Said has one huge store called Simon Arzt to which everyone seems to pay a visit. It is full of curios and souvenirs, and lots of people buy their sun helmets and topees there. It was very warm and we only stayed ashore about 2 hours. I was interested in all the strange sights, but it is so difficult to get along the streets as the beggars and street vendors worry the people from the ship all the time. My husband had wanted me never to go ashore without a man in the party and here I realised what good advice that was. The beggars perform all sorts of tricks too. The most popular is called the ‘gilly gilly’ trick. He shows a small egg to the interested spectator, and in a very few minutes 5 or 6 real live chickens appear apparently from space. No one has ever found out the secret of the trick. It is very easy to land at Port Said as there is a pontoon from the ship to the street. One merely walks down the gangway on to the pontoon and so ashore, doing away with all the queuing up for small boats that there are at so many ports. We sailed from Port Said and by this time everyone on board was happy and friendly and I wondered how I ever could have felt lonely. We each knew our friends’ complete life story and I found that instead of being the only woman on board who had to pluck up courage to leave their homes and children, that I was one of many, and one of the very lucky ones, as my visit was really a holiday. Lots of mothers, I found, had left children for 2, 3 and even 5 years. Deck games were in full swing, dances, concerts and cinema shows were arranged and everyone was jolly and friendly. We did not land at Suez, but we were fortunate to go through the Suez Canal by daylight. It is such a narrow canal that it seemed as if our ship would get stuck, but the pilot seemed to know his job and we just glided along. I wish I could describe the wonder of it all. The huge desert stretching on either side, and the camels going quietly along with their burdens, often silhouetted against the sky line, made unforgettable and lovely pictures. Along the canal at intervals were little settlements, where an engineer has his home and, at each, someone came out to wave to our big ship, as it passed on its way. A full moon came up that evening and no one thought of bed we just strolled on the decks, looking at these lovely scenes, all turned to silver by this huge moon. It was very warm going through the Red Sea and the same full moon lit up the sea and the decks and enabled us to keep on deck to cool down after dinner. In connection with this moon I must tell you of a young Scotch lad on board. His name was Hughie and he was only 20. He had left his home at Port Glasgow to go to Singapore for 5 years. He had left a mother and father, 5 brothers and sisters and a sweetheart. He was leaning against the rail one night looking at this lovely moon, and as I noticed he was


alone and seemed very disconsolate, I went to speak to him saying “Isn’t that a lovely full moon Hughie?” “Yes” he replied “it is, but it makes me so home-sick to think that that same moon is shining down on all my folks at Port Glasgow”. Hughie, too had been very ill during the early part of the voyage, and hearing from my stewardess that he was feeling pretty bad, I went along to see him in his cabin. He looked very green and such a boy with his rumpled fair hair and I asked him if there was anything he wanted. “Yes” he said “my Mother”. However, he soon cheered up after I had asked to see his photographs of all his people and his girlfriend. This I found was the best form of consolation to any lonely soul on board ship. Whenever the snaps came out, the owner smiled and confidences were soon exchanged. Some of you may have heard of the tragedy which befell me in the Red Sea. One morning I looked in my denture dish and thinking the water in it was not very fresh I emptied it out of the port-hole and with it my lower teeth, which I had only had a short time before I left home. I felt terrible about it, I thought it would spoil my trip but apart from the fact that I could not eat very well I managed to live it down, although at the time I was very sorry for myself and very annoyed at my own stupidity. I had many things told me for my consolation, but I think the most comforting was a friend who wrote from home to tell me this story. A lady, who shared a cabin with another travelling East, felt rather thirsty one night in her bunk. Without switching on the light, she reached out for a tumbler of water and finding it a little warm, she threw it out of the port-hole and took some fresh water and went to sleep. Can you imagine her feelings in the morning to find she had thrown away her cabin companion’s top and bottom teeth and do you wonder that they both had a most unhappy trip? Our next port of call was Aden and it was a very hot job walking around the little town as the temperature was over 100 degrees. As the ship sails in one had the impression of huge cardboard mountains cut out and stuck around the little town, enclosing it so gray are they and no sign of vegetation at all. I spent about an hour in the queer little shops and looking at the curios and silks. I had a new and thrilling experience at Aden. A friend, who had been an engineer for 7 years on the cable ship the Mirror found that his boat was in the bay and he took me aboard. There are 17 officers and a Captain on the Mirror all European and a native crew. The officers gave us a wonderful welcome. They had not had a female on board for months and months and out came all the snaps of their wives, sweethearts and babies. When they found I was really interested in their photos, they could not do enough for me and after a breakfast, which was jolly and lengthy and most unusual, they sent my friend and me back to the Rajputana in their lovely motor launch. The men on these ships have a lonely life, often not calling at a port for months on end. Their job is to mend the broken cables for the Eastern Telegraph Company radiating to many parts of the world,

which means that they are frequently weeks at sea, out of sight of land. On Oct 26th the whole day was given up to the children of whom there were about 25 on board. In the morning they had sports watched with great interest by all the passengers. Tiny tots of 2 and 3 years caused great amusement, by entering into the various events with jest and vigour. At 4 p.m. in the dining saloon the children had their party. No effort had been spared to make the tables attractive, and once again all the grownups trooped down to see the children have a lovely tea. At 5 p.m. the prizes were given away and in addition each child was given a present. Then after Nuts-in-May and a few more jolly games the wee ones went off to bed with a memory, I am sure, which will last a very long time. As we are all women with daily meals to prepare I thought a few words on the food and catering on the ship might be of interest. I had a chat with the head steward, one day, who told me some very interesting food facts, among them was one which made a great impression on me. Everything is done to ensure fresh supplies of fruit and vegetables and the P&O Company’s own extensive farms in Australia, to which they send out seeds from home, and so the ships can pick up a good supply of home produce for the return journey. All the bread and cakes are made on board, and as there were over 2,000 tomato sandwiches alone cut every afternoon, you can imagine the bakers were kept busy. We picked up fruit at each port, and so we were privileged to enjoy most delicious fruits as we got further east. It was a marvel to me to be able to get crisp lettuce in the middle of the Red Sea and shows how well the refridgerators act. The head steward, too, compiles the menus and I think he must have been a man of great imagination as at each port we had a suitable dish, for example at Marseilles the fish was Marseilles slips (slips are small Dover sole) while at Malta the trifle was a Maltese one. The stewards are so considerate and so anxious to please that even a fastidious soul who could not make a choice from the very long menu can still have some special dish made to order. Another source of great interest on big ships are the ladies fashions. The weather conditions are so hot that that alone is a good excuse for the girls to make frequent changes. For sport, which is indulged in nearly all mornings, the pretty cotton dresses and shorts are most suitable. Some of the girls wear slacks all the time but they cannot be cool and are not very becoming. Lots of people retire for a siesta after lunch and appear for tea in a little more frilly frock than the morning one. From tea till dinner nearly everyone takes exercise and walking is the most popular form at that hour. It is at dinner that one really sees the fashion parade. Girls who have been in shorts all day emerge in beautiful evening gowns of every colour and description making a really charming scene. You must remember it is so warm that evening dress is the coolest one can wear and it is easy to look ones best under these conditions. I expect I must just touch on the ship board romances of which we read


so much. I sat at a table with nearly all young boys and girls going East for business or pleasure. The amusing part was that they so quickly changed their affection, from one to another that one knew that they were all just “ships that pass in the night” although I did hear later of one romance which seemed to be more than that. On the 28th about 3 p.m. we arrived at Bombay. The first thing one sees on entering the harbour is a huge memorial of the great war, called The Gateway of India. I went ashore with a party of friends in intense heat, sightseeing. I was impressed by the town and the good solid buildings and shops, which had quite an English air about them. We hired a car and went all around Malabar Hill, and paid a brief visit to the wonderful hanging gardens, and all the rare and lovely flowers there. Having seen all this beauty we decided to go to the Crawford Market, and see the other side of the town. This is a huge covered-in market place, for fruit, vegetables, brass ware, carpets, curios and almost everything else one can think of. The beggars in this quarter are so persistent and the cripples, all along the street in dozens, make one feel so unhappy we did not spend very long in that quarter, but during my brief visit I full realised the awful conditions under which these people must exist, to render them into this filthy and crippled state. After a visit to the Taj Mahal Hotel to which everyone who goes to Bombay seems to pay a visit, we were quite glad to get back to the ship. The last two days on the ship seemed to be taken up by packing and good-byes, and on the Saturday night before I was due at Colombo I felt quite sorry to leave all these kind friends, who had made my voyage such a pleasant one. What shall I say of my arrival at Colombo on Oct 31st? We were due in the harbour about 6.30 a.m., but long before my stewardess came to call me at 5.30 a.m., I was up and dressed and as we sailed into Colombo harbour I could

hardly realise that I had actually come to the end of my sea voyage, and that I would so soon meet my husband. When a big liner gets into harbour there are many formalities before anyone can board the ship, and all these take a considerable time, at each port, but at Colombo they seemed to me to take twice as long and it was 7.30 a.m. before the launches were allowed out to the ship and I saw my husband waving to me from a lovely little white launch called “The Jean”. As promised he was the first man on the ship and although I had looked forward so much to seeing him walk up the gangway, I was so thrilled that at the very critical moment I had to turn away to compose myself, and so I did not see him until he stepped onto the ship where I was standing at the top of the gangway. We had a long chat in my cabin and although I had arranged about my luggage and my passport and had done my tipping I had quite forgotten about breakfast so we had it together while my kindly table steward beamed upon me, with his dark face, white teeth and flashing smile as much as to say “well you are alright now”. We stayed about half an hour on the ship saying good-byes and then I landed in lovely Ceylon. Cyril Hagger is part of a long established Melbourn Hagger family. James Hagger a saddler came to Melbourn around 1790. His son Joseph Ellis Hagger inherited the family business from his grandfather in 1824. J. E. Hagger and Son – described as Collar & Harness Maker, Dealer in Oil, Cutlery, Ironmongery, Rope, Hemp – continued trading until 1930. The shop was situated at what is now the Post Office in the High Street. Isa was born in Scotland and met Cyril when he was there on a business trip to Scotland. They married in 1919 and had two daughters, Morag and Sheina. In 1924 the family moved to The Maples, in Orchard Road in Melbourn.

Cyril, Sheina, Morag and Isa Hagger in their garden in Orchard Road, Melbourn in the late 1920s


Melbourn magazine – Voyage to Ceylon  

Voyage to Ceylon unabridged version

Melbourn magazine – Voyage to Ceylon  

Voyage to Ceylon unabridged version