of a Pony
Ask any Long Rider and they will tell you that equestrian journeys have a way of hardening your soul against adversity. You learn to dig down and push on when your road is a long one. This type of travel requires a special type of person, one who wishes to know the world intimately and to judge other people by first-hand experience. Though he sports a modest demeanor in this story, George Younghusband was anything but the "ordinary British Subaltern" as he described himself. The small equestrian travel book he wrote at the conclusion of this trip did not profess to be any sort of literary classic. It was, like George, a modest, faithful, and cheerful account of new countries encountered with an iron-grey pony. That modesty served the "ordinary subaltern" well in later years. He eventually became known as Major-General Sir George Younghusband, Keeper of the Jewel House at the Tower of London - though I doubt if such a grand title would have impressed his mischievous mount, Joe.
only four-footed companion was a small, iron-grey Burma pony, standing just 12
hands 2 in. high, with the girth and legs of a Galloway.
A jolly, merry little fellow, but, as will be seen hereafter, quite
childish in his love for inconvenient flippancy.
Moulmein to Shwaygoon, a small village sixty-three miles up the Salween River,
there is a daily line of steam launches, run by the Salween River Steam
Navigation Co., good roomy boats 60 ft. long by 12 ft. broad, and
decked throughout their length. We
tumbled our pony and baggage into one of these, and being ourselves comfortably
accommodated in the bows, started on our journey.
It was kind and considerate of the skipper putting us so far for’ard,
for the stench abaft, from the cargo of dried fish on board, was quite
overpowering. I have never been in
the main sewer of London Town, but I can make a fair guess at what it is like,
and should think a cargo of Burmese dried fish could compare very favourably
day was bright and exhilarating, the country grew more and more wooded and
picturesque as we proceeded, and our little boat bowled merrily along at the
rate of eight miles an hour. We
stopped three or four times to unload passengers, and to take in new cargoes of
them, and after an eight-hour run reached Shwaygoon.
Unfortunately I could not speak the language, and the Archbishop, my
Burmese pocket dictionary, I am sure did not do me justice in my endeavours to
make myself pleasant to the jolly Johnny Burmans and their crowds of wives.
were kept a day at Shwaygoon waiting for baggage elephants.
In the morning I tried all round for game, but saw nothing. In the afternoon the police lent me a “dug-out” and
paddled me up stream; we shot a few
imperial and green pigeons. The
former are magnificent birds, weighing as much as a plump Indian chicken;
they have the beautiful sheen on their wings common to English carrier
pigeons, and large ruby-coloured eyes. Their
skin is very thick, and it wants a hard-hitting gun to bring them down.
For the table they have to be skinned as well as feathered.
Green pigeons of three kinds are common in these parts – the
yellow-green, the rock-green, and the ordinary green.
All of these are excellent eating. Fish
of all sorts abound both in the rivers of Burma and Siam.
evening the elephants arrived from Hlaingbue, and next morning, 26th
January, early, we started up the east bank of the Salween.
The whole of our baggage was not more than two respectable mule loads,
but we had the greatest to-do to prevail upon the mahouts (elephent-men
the Archbishop calls them) to load it up. It
made me positively weep to see a great brawny elephant looking quite injured at
having to carry a load that one of our regimental mules would have smiled
sarcastically at. Having started
them off, I saddled up my little 12.2 charger and casually sauntered on to his
back. Now having been a cavalry
soldier for some years, and rather fancying myself as a decent rider, I had
never viewed this small atom of horse-flesh otherwise than in the light of a
means of conveyance when I was tired. However,
he very soon knocked all that nonsense out of me; for he went off like a streak of lightning, stampeded the two
elephants, who immediately devastated the village, and shed my goods and
chattels on the roofs of houses and up high trees; he then galloped as hard as he could straight at a
twelve-foot palisade. I thought he
was going to try and jump it, and said my prayers accordingly, but he was no
such fool; he stopped as dead as a
mummy about three feet off it, and shot me violently into the hardest palisade
ever made by man. He then stood
quite still and sniggered at me. No
other pony have I ever seen even smile, but that little rat distinctly grinned.
I was rather wrathful and very much bruised;
but mounted again, thinking that, having had his little joke, he would go
along in a decent and decorous frame of mind.
Not a bit; he went off
harder than ever, this time through almost impenetrable forest, where he very
shortly left me hanging over a bough like a night-shirt on a clothes’ line.
After that I led him till I got on to a good open bit of road, intending
to have my joke there; but he
wouldn’t play at all then, and neither whip nor spur would stir him out of an
old gentleman’s tit-up. A
tremendous wag that pony – I say it without malice – but in spite of my
earnest endeavours to rival him in that respect, he invariably, throughout our
long partnership of 1800 miles, managed to turn the tables on me, and make me
the butt of all his little pleasantries. I
named him “Joe” after a facetious donkey that used to delight Calcutta
audiences at Wilson’s circus.
|It was on a hardy pony such
as this that the young British officer, George Younghusband, travelled
through Burma and Siam in 1887.
Click on photo to enlarge
often had to wade 200 and 300 yards in knee-deep water, encumbered with the
hardest and most slippery boulders ever created.
Poor old “Joe” seemed to suffer severely, having lost all his shoes; it was quite painful to see him try to pick his way along.
I only discovered after I had walked 200 miles, out of compassion for
him, that he was only pulling my leg, one of his little jokes at my expense.
pony of mine is quite the wickedest pony in Asia.
He is only 12.2, but within that small compass is contained all the
mischievousness of fifty children.
much toil my boy gets me a basin of water to wash with;
while I turn round to take off my coat, darned if that pony does not
cruise round in a casual way and drink it, not because he is thirsty, for he has
just had his bellyful of water.
had a venerable solar topee, which I was keeping together with great trouble,
when that pony, knowing it, deliberately eats the crown out.
my dinner cooking on the fire? Off
he goes and tips it over.
I dead tired and fast asleep? He
sticks his nose into me.
I want to give him his grain? He
goes and stands on the far side of a quagmire, though he is dying to get at it.
I just been on the point of getting an angle with the prismatic?
Up he comes, jogging my elbow.
I tied him up with everything I possess? He
eludes it somehow, slips his head-stall or breaks it so I have to let him loose.
I am in a hurry to start, he hides behind a tree;
when I want to go slow, he runs away;
when I want to go fast, he pretends to be lame.
I put my watch or other treasures on the table?
He waits till I look the other way, and then tips it over.
had been our intention to cross Central Siam to Rahang, and there take boat to
Bangkok; but the season was far
advanced, and the rains had set in regularly, making land travelling not only
very difficult, but with pack ponies almost impossible.
We also entered into an agreement for the transport by raft of our four
ponies, thinking that there would be a good market for them in Bangkok;
but at the last moment it was discovered that there was not sufficient
water in the river to float so heavy a load, and we had reluctantly to leave
them behind. Rather than hand them
over to the tender mercies of the Siamese, we hired a couple of men, and sent
them to Dr. Cheek at Zimmé; but
I imagine they were stolen on the road, for I have never heard yet that they
reached Dr. Cheek. The parting
between Joe and I was most affecting; he
ran down to the shore ninnying quite sadly as we rowed away.
A right tight little fellow, a friend and companion for months which
seemed like years; and though he
vexed my soul very often, yet he was always so jolly and merry over it, that I
could never be really angry with him. I
should like to have brought him home with me, but that was out of the question.
May he have fallen into kind hands!
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