Neil – Mother: 26 Nov 1921

Asiatic Petrolium Coy.
Dear Mother,
An Australian mail has just come in, but there’s nothing for me.

Things have been going on much the same here. I have been superintending stock taking down at our main installation at Budge Budge, where there are about thirty acres of oil tanks as big as gasometers. It was very interesting. There are several acres covered by tin making and tin filling factories. A while ago the tin filling factory where there are about 30 niggers soldering caps on kerosene tins with the tops of the tins and everything simply swimming in kerosene of the most inflammable quality, took fire. They think it was due to a grain of sawdust or something falling out of a nigger’s hair on to the soldering iron and causing a spark. The shed burned for a month during which time no one could get within 150 yards of it. The shed is insured from day to day in this office, when we receive the daily telephone message from Budge Budge saying how many tins will be in it. On this day there were 10,000 tins and Green who is responsible for the insuring forgot to do it until he was just hurrying off from the office to play tennis with the installation Manager. So he just poked his head inside the door of one of the European assistants of the Insurance Coy. which has the floor below us, and said, “You’ll hold me covered for 10,000 tins & for No 4 shed today”, and cleared off to his tennis. During the game the I. Manager got a message about the fire, and got down like smoke to look after his tanks,- they never bother trying to get an oil fire out. Next morning the Ins. Assistant (who had heard all about the fire of course) came and left a policy for Green on his table, although they could perfectly easily have repudiated the contract which involved them in a loss of about £8,000 including shed and machinery which would take them a devil of a time to make up because we only insure when the amount of oil in one accommodation exceeds a certain value which would hit the profits of this branch rather hard. It illustrates the more pleasant gentlemanly way they do business here. Anything like American sharp practice is never tried on.

The day before yesterday on the way down to Budge Budge (about 16 miles away) we knocked down a nigger kid and broke two bones in his leg. We got out and I straightened his leg up and then we drove him off to the hospital. Hickey, the Installation Manager, when we arrived, told us that we were dam lucky not to have had the car smashed up; that that was what usually happened; he attributed our immunity, partly to our physical size, and partly to the fact that the natives (about 200) must have decided we were well armed when we took such little notice of them. The car is a bran new Minerva,- one of the best cars in Calcutta; so the firm would have been rather vexed about it. The Branch Manager needed the car in the afternoon in Calcutta, so I came back in one of the Installation launches, and its skipper jolly nearly smashed her up on a ferry-boat, so on the whole I had rather a full day of it. Niggers are very unreliable people; though, in the case of the car accident, it certainly was the kids own fault; and there could have been no possible shadow of excuse for the crowd’s getting nasty about it. But they are ignorant animals, and if we let rogues like Ghandi skate round raising discontent and lowering White prestige, we must expect trouble. And I shouldn’t be surprised if we get a bit here on Dec 24th. I hope we do. It will let out some bad blood and make things go more smoothly. Our servants have not given us any trouble but there has been a good bit here lately of one kind and another. This town is the safest town in India to be in if there is any fuss. A gun going off, very quickly damps a Bengalle’s enthusiasm, and there are very few of the fighting crowd, Sikhs and Ghurkas, in Calcutta.

I expect a few letters by next mail.


I did get three letters by the mail delivered late,- one from you,- one from Gertie and one from Condliffe, -( not from Matheson as you thought). You are doubtful about the Calcutta climate, but at present it is very little hotter than Auckland’s.

As regard alcoholic beveridges (which sound much worse when called liquor) every European in India drinks whisky and sodas after sunset – about one part whiskey to ten of soda – a proportion that nobody will get even cheery on. All women drink it, and most people give it to their children. Water is dangerous for white people, soft drinks with sugar and stuff in it are harmful, soda by itself is distasteful and makes for corpulence; whereas whisky and soda in the evening following abstension during the day is the proved best course to take. Anglo-Indians sometimes drink beer, but it gives people not born here a liver. You needed be afraid of finding me a red nosed inebriate when I return.

It wont be so easy to save money here as you think. The higher standard of life has to be paid for, and any amusement or recreation are always pretty expensive.

It was the China, not the Empress of China that I came on. The Empress of China was mined I think in the Arabian Sea during the war.

Mrs Hamilton got on perfectly well,- she has been ever so much better since she had to begin eating enough for two. She has sent me several photos (snaps) of Neil. He is a perfect success as a baby.

You seem to be much impressed with the danger of living in India, but once you are here you realise that there is not much to be windy about. What I have already written in this letter is not calculated, perhaps, to reassure you; but you can always discount what I say to a certain extent. It is not much use my writing letters unless I try to make them interesting. If you had to compose nearly a hundred dull letters every day, you would feel you were entitled to spread yourself a bit when it came to letters which did not have to be typed.

Do you think you could get Clyde or someone to make an inventory of any gear I have at England St, giving the names of all my books? I have odd stuff now in several hemispheres! – I’m sure there must be some stuff in N-Z which I have forgotten.