Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rangoon: Extracted from Twentieth Century Impressions of Burma (2)

RANGOON

PARKS AND OPEN SPACES.


Considerably greater area could and might with advantage have been allotted for parks and gardens when all the land was the property of the Government and had little more than a prairie value, but still Rangoon is much better equipped in this respect than most other towns of a similar sue. The first garden provided was the beautiful Cantonment Garden adjoining the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. This was originally planned between 1854 and 1856 by Mr. William Scott of the Calcutta Botanic Gardens, but the south-eastern portion was laid out at a later date by Colonel Oliphant. R.E., at one time Chief Engineer to the Government of Burma. This garden is small but exceedingly pretty. Situated as it is close to the Artillery and European Infantry Barracks in the heart of the Cantonments and only a short distance from the town, it is exceedingly popular and much resorted to at all times, but especially when hand performances are given in the evenings. One of the views in the garden is often declared to have a strong resemblance to the willow pattern, although with the golden Pagoda in the- background it is even more beautiful than the impression which this pattern leaves upon the mind. For some years after the annexation of Upper Burma the garden was much neglected by reason of scarcity of labour in the Commissariat Department. It is now, however, being much better cared for and it is perhaps, in a better condition at the present time than ever it has been. It is fairly evident that the original intention was to make the garden about twice its present size, but certain people were allowed to obtain house sites on a portion of the ground. The mistake thus made is, of course, practically irremediable now.

The second garden provided in the city was that in Fytche Square, but, unfortunately, the work was very perfunctorily carried out. A little earth was brought from the neighbourhood of the present Scotch Church and the area reserved for a garden was reclaimed to a certain extent, a square tank being left in one corner. In 1885, Mr. Short, the Secretary to the Municipality, took this garden in hand, and after having raised it to its proper level he did his best to destroy the ugliness of the square tank and presented numerous shrubs and trees. With great public spirit Messrs. Carrapiett and Samuel Balthazar offered to present a statue of Her Majesty Queen Victoria if the Municipal Committee would put a decent railing round the garden in place of the then disreputable fence. The committee agreed to this, and the statue, which is the only one of Her Majesty in Rangoon, and one of the best specimens of the work of the well-known sculptor Williamson, now adorns the garden. Subsequently Mr. Cohen presented the garden with a bandstand.

In the Dalhousie Park the inhabitants of Rangoon have a possession of which they may be justly proud, and which it is to be hoped that succeeding generations will insist shall at all times be maintained in a worthy manner. There are few, if any, parks in India equal to Dalhousie Park, and visitors often declare with enthusiasm that there is nothing in the world to compare with it. The city is indebted, in the first instance, to the Marquis of Dalhousie for this beauty spot in an otherwise, for the most part, unlovely city. In 1854, after the annexation of Pegu, and during the time he was Viceroy. His Excellency visited Rangoon, and after viewing this spot, was, as he said, "much struck with the beauty of the scenery, and the great and enjoyable advantages which it will add to the residence of those whose duty may bring them to Rangoon."He, therefore, ordered the reservation of the lake, with all the forest land around it, as public property, to be formed into a public park. He suggested only that a road should be made around the margin of the lakes, and left all other detail to the local authority. It is curious and somewhat amusing to read the manner in which the Marquis of Dalhousie's wishes were interpreted by the Chief Commissioner of Burma in 1871. He writes concerning the park: "It appears to the Chief Commissioner quite clear that the inhabitants of the town of Rangoon have no more direct interests and right in this land than they have over the public highways and other lands similarly reserved by Government for the public use and convenience. Until 1871 the only step taken towards the proper laying out of the grounds was the making of a short, narrow drive. This neglect had also another deplorable effect, for during this time the size of the park diminished from 433 acres to about 300 acres. However, in 1871, Captain Evanson, at that time town magistrate, and than whom Rangoon has never had a truer friend or more able administrator, took things in hand, and, assisted by a small committee, did as much as the meagre funds available would permit, and that, unfortunately, was not much. It may he mentioned that Mr. Scott, of the Botanic Gardens, Calcutta, made a long report in 1856, containing suggestions as to the laying out of the park, but no action resulted. Eventually, in 1885, the intentions of the Marquis of Dalhousie were carried into effect, and the management of the park was handed over to the local authority, namely, the Municipal Committee. Captain C. H. E. Adamson was president of the municipality at the time, and he asked Colonel Berkly, Chief Commissariat Officer in Rangoon, Mr. Gilbert, Principal of the High School, and Mr. Hardinge, Secretary of the Agri-Horticultural Society, to advise him regarding the laying out of the park, and it was decided to leave the matter in the hands of Mr. J. Short, Secretary, Rangoon Municipality, who, in an honorary capacity, agreed to undertake the work. At that time the park was almost entirely covered with jungle, and was swarming with snakes, the only portion cleared being where the pavilions now stand and where a Chinaman was allowed to have a market garden. There was only room for three carriages to stand, where there are now sometimes two hundred. A small municipal sub-committee was appointed in connection with the park, and it had a few meetings which were of no practical value. The committee was then allowed to die a natural death by reason of its not being convened again, after one of the members had suggested that all mango trees should be removed as their wood was brittle and their branches might fall. From that time Mr. Short was allowed a free hand as far as funds would permit, in laying out and improving the land, and he has converted the jungle-covered waste into the park, of which Rangoon is now so proud. The site which the prescience and good taste of the Marquis of Dalhousie selected and reserved was so admirably suited to the purpose of a park that the laying out was rendered comparatively easy, and the existence of large clusters of magnificent trees in the grounds, made it, to a great-extent, a question only of care and taste in the removal of the superfluous growths and the proper grouping of the remainder, so that the greatest possible number of landscape effects should be produced. The park of today is the best testimony to the success achieved. The eastern portion of the park had unfortunately been entirely stripped of trees before the municipality took charge, but it has been planted out, and is now beginning to look as beautiful as the other portions. The road to the south of the lake, now called Lake Avenue has been doubled in width and both sides have been planted with ortodoxa regin palms, and with wild cinnamon trees down the centre. Bougainvillia bushes on one side, and alamander on the other, finish off the sides. In a few years this avenue, if properly attended to, promises to be strikingly beautiful.

One of Mr. Short's ideas when he first took charge of Dalhousie Park was the establishment of a. succession of parks and gardens from Dalhousie Park to the Scotch Church, and by the exercise of persistence and of patience this has now been carried into effect. Adjoining Dalhousie Park on the west is the Victoria Memorial Park and the Zoological Garden; which have taken the place of swamps and ugly native villages. This garden, although young, is gaining in beauty as time goes on, and its' popularity has always been great and is growing every day. Want of funds somewhat retards its rapid development, but the trustees, who arc appointed under a special act, can congratulate themselves on the excellent work that they have done, and upon the fact that then-efforts are thoroughly appreciated by the crowds that flock to the gardens. Contiguous to the Victoria Park is the garden of the Agri-Horticultural Society, which has taken the place of one of the filthiest villages and tanks that ever defaced Rangoon, the old dhoby village and tank. On the removal of the village only bare land was left, but there is now a pretty garden on one half of this land, which was laid out by Mr. Short, whilst the other half is occupied by plant houses and plantations. It must take some years for the garden to look its best, but already it is well worth visiting. Next to the Agri-Horticultural Gardens are the grounds of the Burma Athletic Association.

The population of Rangoon on the last four occasions on which a census was taken was as follows:

1972 ...... 98.745
1881 ...... 134.176
1891 ...... 180.324
1901 ...... 234.881

It will thus he seen that between 1872 and 1901 the population of the town increased by 136.136 souls, a figure which is exceeded by Calcutta alone amongst the cities of the Indian Empire. The increase has been due to a large extent, to the phenomenal immigration of natives of India, mainly Madrasis. In fact, in 1901, practically half the entire population of the town was composed of Indians, who numbered 117.713. Ten years earlier the figure was 65,910. The Chinese colony are a rapidly increasing factor in the development of the town both numerically and commercially. In 1901 the race numbered 11,018, as compared with 8,029 in 1891. Now that an improved service of passenger steamers between China and Rangoon has been promised, a rapid increase in numbers may be looked for in the Chinese community. The administration of Rangoon city is a somewhat complicated matter, for three local bodies hold sway within its boundaries namely the Municipal Committee, the Cantonment Authority, and the Port Trust Commission. So far as judicial and general administration is concerned, it is a district of Lower Burma and is under the control of a District Magistrate. Under this official are a Cantonment Magistrate and two sub-divisional magistrates.

The town is excellently lighted by electricity, and there is a good and extensive system of electric tramways. Telephonic communications have been established to every part of the town.


to be continued...

Source: Twentieth century impressions of Burma: its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources by Wright, Arnold (1910)e
Digitized and Rekey by NLS


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