Untold lives blog

23 February 2012

The search for Black Rock Part II

Here is the second part of our story from the Andaman Islands contributed by guest blogger N. Francis Xavier.

Giant trees rose on either side of the narrow trail as it snaked through the tropical forest forming a thick canopy overhead. Huge lianas hung down from their branches like pythons.  The trail seemed endless as it dipped and rose and again dipped into the evergreen forest. 

I have trekked up Mount Harriet many times.  Once it was to escort a British High Commissioner to India, who wanted to witness the sunset from the peak, just like Lord Mayo, the Viceroy of India, who was killed by a convict on his way down.  A notice announced that a path led down to ‘Kala Pathar’ or Black Rock.When my friend Clare told me that she was looking for some ‘graffiti’ on Kala Pathar I was not interested. How could some graffiti, written more than a hundred years ago, be still there on a rock!

An excited Clare blazed the trial. What appeared an easy trek in the beginning became tedious when we started climbing a steep rise. I started doubting the wisdom of trekking all the way to a black rock and look for some graffiti mentioned in the obscure letter from a pastor to his daughter that Clare had dug out in the British Library.

Andaman rock

 A sudden shout announced that Clare had found what she was looking for.  “ I found it! – the graffiti! – its there!”, she called. When I caught up a few moments later I couldn’t believe my eyes. In front of us, was a huge black rock, worn smooth by the weather, and with not just WARNEFORD 1876 but many more names cut into its surface.   A little above it, in a corner was inscribed ‘F. BARTON’. On the other side of the rock ‘N. BALAGOOROO’ and ‘C. RAMANOOJOOLOO’. A little below them, ‘HMS RIFLEMAN 1869’, some Urdu words and ‘F.R. de W.’ Both Clare and I blurted out at the same time the full name of the person, Lt. F. R. de Wolski, the officiating Executive Engineer of the settlement.

We couldn’t find Maud’s name, and assumed that it had broken off and fallen into the deep valley below. We pondered whether the WARNEFORD we did see had been written by her brother, Freddy, or perhaps by the Rev. Warneford himself. Whatever the case, they had inscribed a trace of the family’s life in this remote corner of the British Empire.


N. Francis Xavier

Associate Professor & Head, Department of English, JN Government College, Port Blair


Thanks, yes! MM Kaye discusses the islands in her memoir. She stayed on Ross Island, and was quite forthright in her views ...

Have you read "Death in the Andamans" by MM Kaye? It's an excellent story but more to the point gives a good idea of life there for the British soon after WWII. Kaye was married to a career soldier and one of his postings was to the Andaman Islands. It's outside your period, but still of some interest!

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