In 1893 and 1894 I was Deputy Commissioner of Kyaukpyu district, which
means the islands of Ramri and Cheduba, and smaller isles adjoining,
and an adjacent strip of the malarious coast of Arakan. The
headquarters was in the north of Ramri, and, sitting in my house
there, one evening early in 1894, I heard an unusual clamour at the
door. There was audibly somebody having an altercation with my
I went to see and hear. It was a fisherman from a far-off corner of
the district. Till shortly before then the Government had paid rewards
for the destruction of crocodiles and their eggs; and so this man, on
finding a nest of crocodile’s eggs, put them in a bushel basket and
started with it for headquarters. He was nearly there before he heard
that these eggs were no more paid for. Loath to lose his labour, he
finished his journey and tried to sell them in the bazaar. There was a
sensation. He had to run.
The people cried to him that he must not sleep in the town till he got
rid of them. “Fling them into the sea,” they said; but he was most
unwilling. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Perhaps it was
a lie that rewards were no longer paid? One never can tell what to
believe. He decided to try to speak to the Deputy Commissioner before
flinging the eggs away.
I heard his story, and told him it was true that rewards were paid no
more; but I pitied the man and bought the nest from him, basket and
all, paying him liberally. It is needful to mention the liberality of
the payment to explain what followed.
“Take it upstairs.”
The servants were men, of course, not women; yet they shuddered and
drew back, each pushing another forward.
“I’ll carry it for you!” cried the happy fisherman; “is it into the
bedroom you want me to take it?”
“Put it on the front verandah.”
The servants surveyed it from a distance. The eggs were in colour like
hen’s eggs, and about twice the size. They were longer, but hardly at
all thicker, and peculiar only in being of the same size at both ends.
Some scores of them were embedded in mud, with roots of reeds and
grass; but there is no reason to suppose, as has been done, that the
crocodile which laid the eggs had mixed the grasses with the mud. How
could she, stiff-necked as she is, and unhandy? The mud so mixed would
be the readiest available where the eggs were laid, between wind and
water in a shallow tidal creek. That was where the fisherman said that
he found them. The heat of the sun is what hatches them. Part of the
day they lie bare to it or almost bare, and for the rest of the time
they are covered by water which the sun has warmed. In such an
incubator the heat of the rotting grass would matter no more than a
lucifer match in a furnace. Of course, all life does hang upon the
sun, but the unhatched crocodiles depend on it directly, and might
make out a better title to celestial parentage than anyone I know, not
even excepting the Emperor of Japan.
The servants remained alarmed. It was probably at their instigation
that a carpenter came to see if he was not wanted to make a wooden
wall to screen the verandah where the eggs were from the rest of the
house. When bidden make anything he liked, if willing to be paid for
it by two or three young crocodiles, he hastily retreated. The beasts
have a bad name in Arakan. There, as in Egypt, they do eat people
occasionally, but there is nothing else against them.
Another device of the servants was to keep the dogs beside the nest
and feed them there. “To give us warning when the crocodiles come
out,” they said, “so that we may let you know.” There was no doubt
that the little dears were on their way–too far on their way to let
me blow any of the eggs successfully. I did blow one or two, but the
holes made by the departing contents were too big. The shells were not
The dogs were not needed after all. A number of visitors were sitting
and standing around the nest on the morning when the great moment
came, and the eggs atop began to open like popcorns. From every
opening shell there leapt a baby crocodile, span-long but perfect, as
nimble as a rat and desperately hungry. No wonder! Think of the food
they needed to swell them to the size of their mighty parent.
It was difficult to study them. Whatever noise they made was drowned
in the clamour of the visitors and servants; and they themselves, to
the number of about half a dozen, were soon drowned in whisky, as the
best substitute for the spirits of wine which had not arrived. Their
little corpses may still be seen in Glasgow Museum, I suppose. At
least, I sent them to it for a sepulchre. The rest, and all their
unhatched brethren, found a more common grave in a hole that was ready
for them in the garden.
I was very sorry to have to do this; but I had to be at office at
10 a.m., and if this had not been done before I went, I would have
found my house desolate on my return, and no dinner ready. My servants
would have fled unanimously. So the poor little crocodiles had to die.
But it was humanely done, and the unhatched eggs were broken before
being buried, and the earth rammed tight.
“Stand and see the man does it,” I said to the “boy” or factotum.
“You may be sure it’ll be done,” said he, and added, with unusual
cheerfulness, “we’ll all be helping him.”
Though the lucky fisherman had been told to say as little as possible,
he had boasted so much of his good fortune that a plain-spoken
vernacular proclamation had to be sent in all directions to this
NESTS OF CROCODILES’ EGGS
The Deputy Commissioner Does not Want any More
There was a curious sequel a month or two later. Somewhere about the
south of Ramri Island, there lived a secluded farmer of strong
intellect, who asked himself, “Why did the Deputy Commissioner want to
hatch crocodiles’ eggs?” His neighbours were asking themselves the
same question, and to an interested gathering at a Buddhist temple he
explained his solution of the conundrum.
“Why do we hatch the eggs of fowls? Because we want fowls. Therefore
it must have been because he wanted crocodiles that the Deputy
Commissioner bought and hatched the crocodile’s eggs.
“He probably did not know, as we do, that the new-born crocodiles are
untameable, like fishes. They need a great deal of time to grow big.
But a full-grown crocodile is a very sagacious as well as a very
hungry animal, and it would quickly become devoted to anybody who fed
it as well as he could afford to feed it. So, if he paid so much for
the eggs, he would give thousands of rupees for a really big and
mature crocodile, especially if it were nicely tamed.”
The wisdom of this reasoning was much admired. So the wise fellow and
his friends sought the acquaintance of the dwellers in the creeks, and
decoyed into a little tank a patriarchal crocodile. Some weeks were
spent in “taming” it (and dosing it with opium, as was afterwards
suspected). Then half a dozen men, no longer young, shouldered the
pole to which the crocodile was tied, and carried it, more than a
day’s journey, to the district headquarters.
They came to the house of the Deputy Commissioner about the middle of
the second day after leaving home, and were told he was at office.
They went to seek him.
He was on the bench, in court. Shrieks and shouts and a wild stampede
of people was the informal announcement of the new arrival. They
stopped all business; but nothing stopped them. Not knowing the way
very well, they began by entering the Treasury. The sentry shouted and
the guard turned out with fixed bayonets and loaded rifles, in case
this might be a manœuvre for more easily rushing the Treasury.
“We are fetching a live crocodile to the Deputy Commissioner,” cried
the newcomers to all who would listen to them. Then it was supposed
they might have been sent for, and they were directed to the
The bailiff rushed into court, and, looking distracted, trembling and
hardly able to articulate, he said,–
“Six men, with a great struggling crocodile alive, on the verandah
now, coming in, nothing can stop them. They want to see the Deputy
Commissioner. I went for the Superintendent of Police, but he is out.
They won’t listen to me.”
I went out to them and had the beast carried downstairs, and heard
their story. There was no possible room to doubt their good faith.
Their dream of a fortune, for such they expected, seemed like the
I told them I did not want a crocodile, but that as they had taken so
much trouble I would pay them out of my own pocket, for killing it,
the largest reward that Government used to pay. This was like offering
a pound or two to men who looked for thousands. Of course they did not
thank me. I left them to finish the matter themselves, and returned to
I was not to be quit of the crocodile so easily. For more than an hour
a crowd continued to collect round the live monster as it lay on the
grassy sands between the court-house and the sea. Then the bailiff
returned to me more distracted than ever.
“The men have decided to unbind the crocodile and leave it where it
is, and depart. They say they will not accept money as the price of
blood. This is a tamed crocodile. It is like a friend. If it is
dangerous now it is only because it is hungry. So long as it is well
fed it will hurt nobody. They are not damned fishermen, nor damned
hunters.” (These adjectives were not used profanely, but correctly, as
it is the popular belief that fishermen and hunters are damned.)
“These men say that they are respectable Buddhists and cultivators.
They would not kill a wild crocodile, much less a tame one.”
“Put it in the sea.”
“I told them to do so, but they said it wouldn’t go.”
“Bid them carry it to the creek a mile away.”
The bailiff asked whether the reward was to be paid if it were let go
in the creek, and thinking of possible damage subsequently I answered
He returned to say, “The men declare that they have carried it far
enough already. They’ve done enough for nothing.”
“Then leave it bound.”
“They want their ropes and pole.”
“I’ll take its blood upon my head. Call a man from the Treasury guard
to shoot it. Let them fling its carcass into the sea and pay them
To this they agreed, it was reported; and, fearing some accident to
the crowd, in the absence of the Superintendent of Police, I went to
see the killing rightly done.
There was difficulty in getting people to move out of danger. So one
of the men knelt beside the crocodile unbidden, and, with a knowing
look, full of suppressed fun, he cut the strings that held the jaws
together and some of the other ropes.
Slowly the crocodile moved and opened wide the greatest mouth I ever
beheld–something suggestive of the “Jaws of Hell.” The crowd shrieked
and dispersed to a distance. Then the crocodile died. His bearers
received the promised money, the fishes ate his body, and his blood is
upon my head.