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ART. I.—1. JOHNSTON'S Physical Atlas, London and Edinburgh. 1856.
2. Journal of the Asiatic Society, Bengal.
3. M. S. S. Field Books of LIEUT. HUGH MORRIESON, of the 4th Regiment Bengal Native Infantry, and LIEUT. W. E. MORRIESON, Bengal Engineers; Surveyors of the Soonderbuns. 1812-1818.
“The Englishman." Calcutta. 1858.
Memoir of a Map of Hindustan. By MAJOR RENNELL, Surveyor General of India. London. 1788.
Chart of the Gulf of Bengal, Sheet V., Palmyra Point to Chittagong. By CAPTAIN RICHARD LLOYD, Indian Navy,
THE Gangetic Delta is an extensive tract of cultivated and forest-covered country, composed of alluvial or transported soil brought down the country by the Ganges and Brahmapooter rivers, and their numerous tributaries; the water-sweepings of two basins whose aggregate area is 432,480 square miles. The Ganges, in its course of 1680 miles through the plains of India, receives the following eleven rivers, the Ram-Gunga, Goomtee, Gogra, Soane, Gunduk, Rapty, Betwa, Coosee, Chumbul, Mahanuddee, and Jumna, some of which, as Rennell observes, are "equal to the Rhine, and none smaller than the Thames.' To these we must add innumerable minor streams called Nullahs, but which in England would be represented by the Isis, Cherwell, Itchin, Severn, Orwell, Humber, Dee and Trent. Eighteen of these rivers are several hundreds of miles in length, and none less than fifty, whilst there are hundreds under fifty miles in length, all assisting to fill the mighty river Ganges.
The Delta is intersected from North to South by many broad rivers, and by endless creeks running one into the other filled for the most part with salt water where near the sea. This tract of land, in form resembling the Greek letter Delta occuMARCH, 1859.
pies approximately 28,080 square miles of superficial area, or double the area of the Delta of the Nile; measuring from West to East, or from the right bank of the Hooghly river opposite to the Saugor tripod on the South West point of Saugor Island, to Chittagong it is 270 miles in width; presenting to the Bay of Bengal a series of low, flat mud-banks, covered at high water and dry at low water; a few miles from low water mark commence mangrove swamps, a little further inland trees appear, and lastly cultivation; the nearest cultivation in the central portion of the Delta being forty-seven miles from the sea. In the sea front of the Delta there are nine principal openings having a head stream, that is, having water flowing direct from the Ganges, or from the Megna or Brahmapooter-they are 1, The Ganges; 2, the Megna or Brahmapooter; 3, Horinghatta ; 4, Pussur; 5, Murjatta or Kagga; 6, Barapunga; 7, Mollinchew; 8, Roymungul or Juboona; 9, Hooghly. Besides these large rivers there are numerous openings having no head stream, being mere salt water tidal estuaries; these openings or headless rivers. are the deepest as no silt or deposit is poured into them from the higher lands.
A straight line traced along the coast of England from Dover to the middle of Cornwall, or twenty-five miles West of Plymouth, and each end of this line, joined by other lines at Blackburn in Lancashire, twenty-two miles North of Manchester, or 208 miles North of this base line, would pretty correctly represent the extent of the Gangetic Delta, that is excluding the Inland branching arms or narrow slips of alluvion that extend up the beds of the Brahmapooter and Soorma rivers, and would include the whole or portions of twenty-nine counties of England, a portion of Wales, and half the Bristol Channel.
The Soonderbun forest occupies about 8,000 square miles, which may be represented by that portion of the coast lying between Plymouth and Chichester, or one hundred and fifty-three miles East and West, and reaching as far North as Gloucester or eighty miles from the sea, and occupying the counties of Wiltshire, Dorset, the half of Hampshire, Somersetshire, the half of Devonshire, and the half of Gloucestershire. It is of this tract only that we intend speaking. The Northern, or cleared portion of the Delta, is highly cultivated and densely populated, supporting 420 souls upon each square mile, or nearly 5,000,000 inhabitants; the Southern portion on the contrary is occupied by extensive swamps and dense forests, and what few. inhabitants there are, live in boats, not daring to venture on shore by day on account of the numerous tigers, nor by night on account of the fatal miasma, exposure to which is almost certain death.
The Soonderbuns take their name from two Hindee words, meaning the Beautiful Forests, and in whatever light we regard them, whether as a tract of country possessing an abundant Pachydermatous Fauna, or a flora peculiar to itself, whether we look at it as the stronghold of gigantic and destructive Saurians, voracious sharks and peculiar fish; whether as a tract of country of the most beautiful aspect, but at the same time most fatally pestilential; we must still view it as a curious and an anomalous tract, for here we see a surface soil composed of black liquid mud supporting the huge rhinoceros, the sharphoofed hog, the mud-hating tiger, the delicate and fastidiously clean spotted deer, and nourishing and upholding large timber trees; we see fishes climbing trees; tides running in two directions in the same creek and at the same moment; we see wild hog and tigers-animals generally avoiding water, swimming across the broadest rivers as if for amusement; in one creek a dead calm, in the next a raging sea; in some creeks the abundance of insect life is overpowering, in others close by, not a living creature is to be seen; some creeks are deadly to sleep in, others perfectly free from miasma; some are dry at low water, in others and those contiguous no bottom can be found at ten fathoms; in one, all is fog and doubt, in the next, all is in the brightest sunshine; and many other anomalies present themselves, all rendering the Soonderbuns a spot of much interest, offering as they do so many subjects for investigation and research. Most travellers in passing through this labyrinth of interminable forest, mud and water, become exceedingly wearied with the monotonous appearance of the banks of the rivers and creeks, and are only too glad when they escape into the open and cultivated northern parts of the Delta, where all the breadth of the land is one vast sheet of rice cultivation.
Dr. J. D. Hooker in his interesting Himalayan journal, Vol. II. page 340, remarks upon several very anomalous circumstances connected with the Eastern portions of the Delta:
"The total breadth of the Delta is 260 miles, from Chittagong to the mouth of the Hooghly, divided longitudinally by the Megna: all to the West of that river presents a luxuriant vegetation, while to the East is a bare muddy expanse, with no trees or shrubs but what are planted. On the West coast the tides rise twelve or thirteen feet, on the East, from forty to eighty. On the West, the water is salt enough for mangroves to grow for fifty miles up the Hooghly; on the East, the sea coast is too fresh for that plant for ten miles South of Chittagong. On the West, fifty inches is the Cuttack fall of rain; on the East, 90 to 120 at Noacolly and Chittagong, and 200 at Arracan. The East coast is annually visited by earthquakes, which are rare on the West; and lastly,
the majority of the great trees and shrubs carried down from the Cuttack and Orissa forests, and deposited on the West coast of the Delta, are not only different in species, but in natural order, from those that the Fenny and Chittagong rivers bring down from the jungles."
"The Cuttack forests are composed of Teak, Sal, Sissoo, Ebony, Pentaptera, Buchanania, and other trees of a dry soil, and that require a dry season alternating with a wet one. These are unknown in the Chittagong forests, which have Jarool, (Lagerstroemia) Mesna, Dipterocarpi, Nutmegs, Oaks of several kinds, and many other trees not known in the Cuttack forests, and all typical of a perennially humid atınosphere."
The soil of the Soonderbuns is composed superficially of a black vegetable mud, supporting a tangled mass of tropical vegetation growing down to the water's edge, and mostly overflowed by every spring tide; the black mud alternates with bands of sand, but nowhere have we seen the sand forming the superficial stratum. The constant addition to and renewal of the soil, the first by deposition, the latter by the abundance of decaying animal substance found on its surface in the form of dead molluscæ, annelidæ, larvæ and exuvia of insects that fall from the forest trees, affords to the crowded forest a never-ending feast, no single foot of ground being disengaged. All is occupied by a luxuriant growth of Soondree trees, beautiful in form and foliage as their name implies, also Sonneratia, Nipa Palms, Banian, Peepul and other trees with an abundant undergrowth of liliacæ, weeds and plants. A section through the Soonderbun soil, as lately ascertained by boring, shows how ancient is the soil upon which this beautiful forest grows; it tells of wonderful changes in the face of the once deep valley now filled up by the Deltaic alluvion, hundreds and hundreds of feet in depth, when the ocean sweeping round the base of the Himalayah mountains covered what is now the valley of the Ganges, and joined the sea at the mouths of the Indus.
The old idea, that the Soonderbuns were at one time densely populated, and that cities flourished where now liquid mud a few inches above the mean sea level alone is to be found, is doubtless founded on fact; that the surface of the Soonderbuns has sunk more than once below the level of the ocean there can be no doubt, as will be explained further on; that they will ever be re-populated in their present state is highly doubtful; that the present forest will ever be destroyed by clearance is also very doubtful, as the present Northern limit of forest closely represents the Southern limit of fresh water in the North Eastern monsoon, or when the salt water is at its lowest level.
After a careful perusal of all available histories connected with the Soonderbuns and of the neighbouring countries, and after a diligent search as far as circumstances would allow, we