In continuation from yesterday’s post, Lord Lytton proceeded to visit a famine camp in Madras a couple of days after his arrival. One of the less intelligent among the Viceroys, he was firm in his view that there was no famine in the area at all. His writings therefore reflect his prejudiced opinion. Those of us who have read other accounts and more importantly, seen photos of the victims, know how severe it was. The writing is full of racist flavour as well. It is good reading for those who keep lamenting about the “good old days”.
“I have now been over most of the relief camps round Madras, and you never saw such “popular picnics” as they are! The people on them, who do no work of any kind are bursting with fat, and naturally enjoy themselves thoroughly. The people get meat, fish, vegetables and spices. The Duke visits these camps as a Buckinghamshire squire would visit his model farm, showing a deep interest in the growing fatness of its prize oxen and pigs. He points out to me with pride that such and such a camp only extended, so many months ago, as far as such and such a tree, whereas the camp now covers an area thrice as great, with proportional augmentation in the number of its inmates. He paternally asks these fat, idle coolies if they find there is more flavour (owing to the recent rains) in the vegetables given them “to season their food” than there was last month, and purrs with pleasure over affirmative replies.
The officers in charge all say with pride: “Ah! our people here, who were never so well off before, and will never be so well off again, will bitterly regret the termination of the present famine, which has been a Godsend to them.” But the terrible question is, how the Madras Government is ever to get these demoralised masses on to really useful work. (they did – by beginning work on the Buckingham Canal and no thanks to Lytton – Sriram) I should not be surprised if it has some mutinies. Colonel Herne, the police commissioner, a very intelligent man, seems to expect something of the kind. Noticing that the mothers of all the thin babies were extremely fat, I asked the reason. Robinson immediately replied: ” Ah! This is one of the saddest things we have to deal with. Though the mothers look in such good condition, their milk has failed, and we are now buying milk for all the babies.” Afterwards I privately said to the supervising officer: ” Do you believe that these fat women to be mothers of those thin babies ?” He replied: “Of course not. All the babies here are probably hired. Famine infants have long been at a premium.” Dear Owen (Sir Owen Burne, Private Secretary to Viceroy) has been more than ever sympathising and helpful. My plan of campaign with the Duke, which has been so successful, was laid out by Colley (Colonel Colley, Military Secretary to Viceroy), and owes its success to his military genius. The climate here is moist and muggy, but much less oppressively hot than I expected.
The next part of this series can be read here