Petroleum in Burmah

ON the east bank of the Irrawaddi River, about six hours by a warboat, above the great barbaric town of Mahgwé, and nearly midway between the northern frontier of the newBritishIndian possessions and Amarapoora, the “ Throne of the Golden Foot,” is the considerable village of Ye-nangyoung, or “ Fetid-water Rivulet,” of which the name explains the fame. It is an odd, rather than picturesque little town, its lack of beauty being offset by the aspect of fantastic remoteness, that sort of Chinese wall-paper pattern, which it derives from the numerous pagodas and multi-roofed kyoungs, or Buddhist monasteries, that crown the eminences round about it. Between these eminences, in shady holm-like hollows, the flimsy bamboo houses are scattered irregularly ; and below them creeps sluggishly the oily-looking stream from which the town derives its appellation,— the internal supply of water being quite cut off through all the dry season, though the stream then borrows enough from the Irrawaddi to form, for a short distance above its mouth, a convenient harbor for war-boats and the lighter trading craft. A narrow stretch of alluvial slope, skirting the sandy channel, nourishes an oasis of noble mango-trees, interspersed with palms, and affords a refreshing contrast to the desert of sterile, burning heights, drearily relieved by grim euphorbias in the background and on either hand. On these heights, and as far as the eye can reach from them eastward, the face of the land is, for the most part, gray and naked, hard and hot, — the soil sandy and stony, with no more herbage between the “ thin bandith " of scraggy bush than may pitifully serve to redeem the surface from absolute desertness. Substantial trees, with comely foliage, appear only in the bottoms ; but on every side fossil wood abounds, and as late as 1856 there was a ruined temple on a hill-top, surrounded by posts of that material.

As for the town itself, an all-pervading coal-tarry fragrance proclaims its rich and nasty staple, while innumerable potters’ kilns dotting the outskirts, and piles of earthen jars lining the beach, relate to the eye the same golden story which the unctuous abomination of odor so triumphantly imparts to the nose. “ Fetid-water Rivulet” (what a perfect nitrous-oxide of a name to set before the mind’s nose of an imaginative stock-taker!) is eminently a place for surfeited and blasé Petroleans to get away to ; if for such there be an oily Eden outside of Venango County, it is this.

The principal wells are about three miles from the town, near the village of Twen-goung. You ride to them no small, tough ponies, generally very pretty, but very perverse, and equipped with a tolerable saddle, somewhat English-looking, except for an unsightly hump on the pommel, and distressingly small stirrups, made to be gripped with the great toe of the naked foot, and rudely hitched to the two ends of a piece of rope, which is twisted into the girth on the seat of the saddle. Thus grotesquely mounted, you wind through the ravines and climb the steep sides of the rotten sandstone hills, till you reach the plateau where the wells are, — “an irregular table, with a gently sloping surface, forming a sort of peninsula among the ravines.”1

The wells, of which there are said to be about a hundred, all told (though nearly twenty are exhausted, or no longer worked), are most numerous along the upper surface of this plateau, and on the sides and spurs of the ravines that bound it on the north and southeast. The area within which all these wells are included does not exceed half a square mile, — though there is another and smaller group in a valley about a mile to the southward ; in some places they are less than a hundred feet apart. The oil appears to be found in a bed of impure lignite, with much sulphur. In one of the valleys a stratum of this was observed outcropping, with the petroleum oozing from between the laminæ ; and Captain Yule concludes that it was in this way that the oil was originally discovered, — “some Burman, with a large inductive faculty, having been led to sink a shaft from above.”

There are no diversities in the appearance of the wells ; all, without exception, are rectangular orifices about four and a half feet by three and a half, and lined with horizontal timbers to the bottom. Their depth varies in noticeable proportion with the height of the well-mouth above the river level, but all are sunk much below the level of the ravine bottoms that bound the plateau ; some of those on the top of the plateau are one hundred and eighty, one hundred and ninety, and even two hundred and seventy feet deep, to the oil,— the deepest of all about three hundred and six feet.

The machinery used in drawing the oil is of the most primitive description, — simply a rude attempt at a windlass, mounted on the trunk of a small tree, laid across two forked uprights ; a gurrah, or earthen pot, is let down and filled, and then a man or woman walks down the slope of the hill with the rope.

In this northern group there were, in 1855, about eighty wells yielding oil; in the southern (the only other group known to foreigners), not more than fifty, if so many, and the oil obtained from them was of inferior quality, and mixed with water. In both groups there are many exhausted wells.

The Burmese have no record or tradition of the original discovery of petroleum, no note of the time, or of the flow, since the first shaft was sunk. The wells are private property. Twenty-three families of Ye-nan-gyoung are supposed to be the representatives and natural heirs of the “ mute, inglorious ” explorers who first found and drew the oil; to these the ground belongs, and chief among them is the myo-thoo-gyee of Ye-nan-gyoung, who lately was also myit-tsin-woon, or chief magistrate of the great river.2 The twenty-three proprietors constitute a kind of corporate body for the protection of their joint interests in the land, but each holds individual and exclusive rights in his own wells. When any one proprietor has sunk a well, no other member of the association may dig within thirty cubits of it, — hence much protracted litigation on boundary questions ; but neither can any member sell or mortgage to parties outside of the association. Not only do they mortgage, but formerly they intermarried, only among the stockholders ; of late years, however, this exhausting custom has not been honored by those most nearly concerned.

No stranger is allowed to dig a well ; for though the incorporated proprietors hold no written grant or confirmation of their exclusive privilege, they are recognized and upheld in it by the Burmese authorities. But aside from the influence they can thus bring to bear against interlopers, to prevent them from sinking wells on or near their “claims,” there are also the great expense, the dearth of capital, and the uncertainty of returns, to deter any intruding speculator from competing with them. The cost of digging a well 150 cubits deep is, at least, 2,000 tikals, — about eleven hundred dollars, the tikal being equivalent to a trifle more than a rupee and a quarter; 2,000 tikals is a great sum in Burmah, and, after all, the money may be lost in an empty hole ; for it often happens that a well-dug within a few yards of others that are flowing freely is found to be quite dry. The work of excavation, as it approaches the oily stratum, becomes dangerous, and the laborers are often rendered senseless by the exhalations ; even in wells that have been long worked this sometimes happens. “If a man is drawn up with his tongue hanging out,” said a Burmese overseer, “ the case is hopeless. If his tongue is not hanging out, he may be brought round by hand-rubbing and kneading his whole body.” Captain Macleod, in 1830, saw a gang engaged in sinking a well which had reached a depth of 125 cubits; each workman in his turn remained below only from fifteen to thirty seconds, and appeared dangerously exhausted on coming to the surface.

The yield of the wells varies remarkably ; some afford no more than five or six viss (the viss being equivalent to 3 65/100 pounds), while others give 700, 800, 1,000, and even 1.500 viss daily. The average yield in the northern group may be stated at 220, and in the southern at 40 viss. If a well be allowed to lie fallow for a time, the yield is found to be diminished when work on it is resumed. The oil is described, by the Burmese overseers, as gushing like a fountain from openings in the earth. It accumulates in the well in the afternoon and night, is drawn off in the morning, and then carted in earthen pots, of ten viss each, to the river-side, where it is sold. Formerly it brought one tikal the hundred viss, or about sixteen shillings English the ton. Since the annexation of Pegu, the demand at Rangoon has carried it up to thirty-five shillings.

Burmese jealousy and suspicion are so easily excited that it is impossible to pursue a careful train of inquiry concerning even the most insignificant of their interests without giving umbrage to officials and provoking an ingenious conspiracy of false information. But from notes taken on the spot from time to time, under the most favorable circumstances, the inquirers being visitors, extraordinary and honored guests of the King, and the monopolizing gentlemen in the oil line correspondingly amiable and confiding, it is fair to conclude that from the eighty wells yielding oil in the northern group, at the daily average of 220 viss from each well, the annual product is not less than 6,424,000 viss ; and from the fifty wells of the southern group, at an average of 40 viss, 730,000 viss in the year; making the total annual yield from the two groups 7,154,000 viss, or about 11,690 tons. This estimate agrees at all points with the statement made to Major Phayre, the British Envoy, by the Myook of Ye-nan-gyoung, a man of sound information, intelligent, candid, without dissimulation or reserve. He furthermore explained that out of 27,000 viss, which formed the whole monthly yield of his wells, 9,000 went in the form of wages to his workpeople, 1,000 to the King, and 1,000 to the Myo-tsa or“ Eater ” — happily titled ! — of the district.

Mr. Crawford, in the Journal of his Embassy (1827), estimated the annual exportation of petroleum at 17,568,000 viss, basing his calculations upon the number of boats employed in transporting it. He makes the number of wells 200, and the average daily yield of each 235 viss. But Mr. Crawford’s accuracy is not a thing to take for granted ; in one place he describes the pits as “ spread over a space of sixteen square miles,” To carry from the wells to the river seventeen and a half millions of viss a year, at the average ascertained cart-load of 120 viss, would require 400 carts a day; but the carts seldom make more than one trip in the day between Ye-nan-gyoung and the wells, and from 160 to 170 is the usual number of loads. The carts are small, and the compact and sturdy cattle that draw them share with their masters a comfortable exemption from overwork.

The most common mode of shipping the oil to Rangoon is in the singular craft called pein-go. This is an awkward-looking sloop, flat-bottomed, or nearly so, having no solid canoe or keel-piece, as in the splendid but fantastic hnau, but entirely composed of planks, which extend throughout the length of the vessel, — wide in the middle, and tapering to stem and stern, like the staves of a cask. A wide gallery or sponson of bamboo, doubling the apparent beam of the boat, runs the entire circuit of the gunwale. The peingo is usually propelled with oars or poles, though occasionally carrying sail, but never that great bellying spread of light cotton cloth which makes a fleet of hnaus before the wind, with their vast gleaming wings and almost invisible hulls, resemble a flight of monster butterflies skimming the silver surface of the Irrawaddi.

The oil is often shipped in bulk. Amidships the boat is left empty, to permit the baling of water, which, as heavier than the oil, settles into this, the lowest part of the hull. Forward and aft, the hold is divided into two great cisterns, and into these the oil is “dumped,” like grain. Such a boat can carry 10,000 viss of oil, or about fifteen tons, very much more than could be stowed by means of earthen pots. Eight men, paid at the rate of six tikals a month, compose the crew, and the craft may be chartered for the run to Rangoon for one hundred tikals.

In the immediate vicinity of the wells, embedded in shaley layers, are many small, irregular patches of coaly matter, obviously the remains of mineralized fragments of wood, which have been deposited in the silty drift, and subsequently fossilized.3 Portions of this are a true jet coal with a brilliant lustre and perfectly conchoidal fracture ; other parts are powdery, friable, and like charcoal; and every intermediate state may be seen. In conjunction with these little seams and patches of coaly matter there is invariably a thick inflorescence of sulphur, imparting a well-marked color to all about it. Traces of this may be found in many other parts also, and not in connection with the patches of coal; but in nine cases out of ten the development of sulphur accompanies the appearance of the coal. In several localities along the banks of the watercourse the petroleum is observed actually oozing out from the rock ; and in one place it is very clearly seen to exude along the walls of a crack or break which has been filled up with, calcareous sand.

No complete section of any of the wells has been obtained. In all cases they are carefully lined with timbers as the sinking proceeds ; and as this process is continued from the very top to the very bottom, no examination of the sides of a well or pit can be made. The soft and insecure nature of the materials through which the sinkings are carried renders this precaution necessary ; and where the adventure has been unsuccessful, or when the well seems exhausted, all the timbering is removed, and the sides allowed to fall in. The natives say that, after passing through the sandstones and shales visible at the surface and in the ravines adjoining, they sink through what they term a black soil or “black rock,” about ten feet thick. This is evidently their name for the dark bluish-gray or blackish shales, or clunchy clays. Under this they cut through a yellow soil, from which they say the petroleum flows. Between the black and the yellow “ rocks ” there is commonly, though not always, a greenish bed, oily, and strongly impregnated with petroleum, — which, in all probability, is but the ordinary shaley clay, charged with the oil. Mr. Oldham supposed the “ yellow rock ” to be clayey beds, from which, or on which, sulphur has been segregated or thrown out, as an efflorescence.

The wells, which are sunk vertically, and are in all cases rectangular, are invariably provided with the rude crossbeam supported on ruder stanchions; this, in its turn, supports the small wooden drum or cylinder over which slides the rope used in hauling up the oil. In all probability this is the same contrivance, without improvement, which was devised when the first well was dug. The oil thus raised is poured into a greater gurrah,4 or into a small basin or tank excavated close to the well-mouth, from which it is again potted, and so carted to Ye-nan-gyoung for shipment. Each gurrah holds about ten viss of oil, and ten or twelve gurrahs constitute a load. When first drawn, it presents in mass a peculiar yellowish-green color, is watery ratnet than oily, and of the consistence of common cream.

The wells do not range in any particular line or direction; there is nothing to point to the occurrence of any fault or disturbance along the line of which the petroleum might issue; and the varying depths of the wells themselves, according to their position (those on the top of the plateau being in all cases deeper tnan those on the slope of the hillside, and this approximately in the same ratio as the surface of the ground is higher in the one place than fn the other), indicate a decided horizontality in the source of supply. This, savs Mr. Oldham, is a question of considerable importance; for if it be the case that one bed or layer of peculiar mineral character is the source of the petroleum, the probability — nay, the certainty — is that the supply must be gradually diminishing. It does not appear that the number of wells has increased of late years, while the demand for the oil has certainly multiplied more than fourfold, and is still increasing5

The temperature of some of the oil, drawn up quickly from a depth of 270 feet, was 99°, — the air being 79.25° at the time. This temperature would appear to indicate a deeper source for the petroleum than the bed from which it actually issues. Mr. Oldham is not, however, with those who think that such conclusions, based solely on thermometrical observations, can be admitted as against the other clear proofs, that the supply is actually from the beds from which the oil issues ; he thinks the increase of temperature must be considered as due to chemical changes in progress in those beds, and resulting in the production of petroleum from the vegetable matter embedded in the rocks.

Each head of the twenty-three families in whom the proprietorship of the wells was supposed to be vested was registered by sovereign edict as a Thuthé or “ rich man,” almost the only hereditary title in Burmah out of the royal family. A woon or a thoo-gyee is made or unmade with a nod, and not only the rank and title and emoluments, but in many cases even the private possessions, of the incumbent disappear with the office. Any subject of the “ Lord of the Celestial Elephant ” (so that he be not of the class of slaves or outcasts) may aspire to the first office in the state, and such offices are often held by persons of the meanest origin. The first woman who ever sat on the throne of Burmah, side by side with the awful “ Master of the Supernatural Weapon,” and shared his title of “ Sovereign Lord,” was the daughter of a jailer ; and her brother, Men-thagyee, “ The Great Prince,” had been a fishmonger. With every new promotion in office a new title is conferred ; but, without office, no title.

To the order of Thu-thé certain privileges of questionable advantage are attached. The title being hereditary, the son or grandson of a thu-thé may be a “rich man” without a tikal to tickle a poonghee with. Being under the protection of the court, he is subject only to regular extortion; it may be frequent, but it must be periodical. He enjoys the exalted privilege of making presents to the King on public holidays and “Beg-pardon Days”; and especially of lending money (when he has any) to the princes and high officers of state, who cannot return it without offending against an ancient and irrevocable custom. If he happens tobe the proud possessor of one fair and dainty daughter, she may be complimented with an invitation to the palace “for adoption and instruction”; and the right to decline the honor shall not cost the paternal thu-thé more than a couple of thousands of tikals or so.

Thu-thé is not without education. When he was as yet scarce ten years old, his father sent him to the monastery, where he was taught to read, write, and cipher ; in consideration of which he served the priests in a menial capacity, and shared his noble drudgeries with a stripling of the blood royal. He has the Then-pong-Kyee, or spelling-book, by heart, can repeat and copy the Men-ga-la-thok, or moral lessons, is advancing to the study of astrology, and the Thaddu-Kyau or Pali grammar ; and even looks forward with presumptuous aspirations to the day when the Then-gyo, or book of metaphysics, may be unsealed to him.

As for his standing in the Church, he devoutly worships the Buddha; keeps his commandments, and honors his priests ; refrains from intemperance, falsehood, theft, adultery, and murder ; regards the images and the temples more dearly than himself; hearkens to the precepts of religion at full moon, new moon, and quarters ; makes offerings for the support of the poonghees ; and assists at funerals and pious processions. Thu-thé is respectable.

When the Myo-ok of Ye-nan-gyoung told Major Phayre that of the monthly yield of the wells 9,000 viss went in wages to the laborers, it was the free laborers he meant; if any labor can be termed free under a government which claims every subject — of either sex or any age, and from the most illustrious woon-gyee to the abjectest crawling leper — as the slave of the sovereign, in mind, body, and estate, with life, services, and possessions, and as completely a property of the King as the awful fly-flapper or the sublime spittoon. Still it is a sort of technical freedom which is enjoyed in Burmah by those hewers of wood and drawers of water, or oil, who belong to the King alone,—the freedom of being forgotten by their capricious and besotted owner; and to such as these exclusively, we must suppose, the Myo-ok’s 9,000 viss a month were paid. For of the drawers of oil the greater number, no doubt, were of those who are not free, even by so much as a figure of speech ; slaves, not of the King alone, but of other slaves, by whom they are never forgotten, — “ slave-debtors,” whose services are held in mortgage for their own debts or the debts of their fathers, or, if not their services, perhaps their charms, — since among them are found pretty and tender daughters, who never owed a tikal in their lives ; and hereditary slaves, prisoners of war or their children, bestowed by royal grant on their captors, or sold for a price in open bazaar, — but these latter are not very common, custom in Burmah dealing mildly with such captives, and willingly converting them into slave-debtors, with the right to work out their own ransom. That ugly old woman, who walks off so sullenly down the slope with the end of the windlass rope, is the wife of a stubborn Peguan, caught on the English side in 1853, when Captain Loch’s force was taken in ambuscade at Doonoobyoo by Nya-Myat-Toon, the jungle chief, and almost cut to pieces. That pretty young maima who coquets so archly with her betel-box, idling among the gurrahs, is daughter to the master of an oil-boat, who owed the Myo-ok’s father five hundred tikals before she was born; and the Myo-ok has inherited the claim. The provoking jauntiness of the white jacket that she calls an engi hides but little, and the barbaric naïveíé of the skimped petticoat (thabi), open at the side, ingenuously discloses much, of her supple form. Hers is the true modesty of nature,—else the superior decency of the Myo-ok’s putso, drawn about his loins like a shawl, and falling in broad, deep folds to the knee, even concealing the elaborate and expensive tattooing which vanity and custom alike prompt him to display, would put her to the blush. The cumbrous cylinders of silver that so monstrously deform the dainty lobes of her ears are a gift from the Myo-ok; and the witching lotos, that with the skilful simplicity of an intuitive refinement adorns her raven hair, she found in the weird tank down by the Kyoung.

At Ye-nan-gyoung, as at Boston, there are seven days to the week. Tanen-ganwa, Ta-neng-la, Eu-ga, Budda-hu, Kyatha-bada, Thaok-kya, and Chaua. The day begins with the dawn, and has a natural division into sixty or more parts called nari. The longest day or night has thirty-six naris ; the shortest, twenty-four. There is also a popular division for the allotment of labor and rest, into eight watches of three hours each, — four for the day and as many for the night. A copper cup with a perforated bottom, set in a vase of water, serves for a timekeeper. A certain mark to which it sinks in a certain time stands for a nari, and naris and watches are struck on a bell.

The Burmese month is divided into the waxing and the waning moon. The first day of their increasing moon corresponds to the first of our month, and the first of their waning moon to our sixteenth. The new moon, the eighth of the increase, the full moon, and the eighth of the wane, are days of public worship, when the people meet for devotion in the temples ; but the days of the new and the full moon are kept holy with peculiar respect.

On the west side of the river, close to the village of Memboo, and nearly opposite Mahgwé, are some curious “ mud volcanoes.” As you approach them from the huts, the first “ signs ” you meet with are several little streams of bluish muddy water, which now and then smokes, and is decidedly saline. On topping a trifling rise in the road, a little more than a mile from Memboo, you have before you a vast lake of blue mud, with here and there a projecting hump, looking soft and sloshy. Gradually the scene opens a little, and from the expanse of mushiness several queer conical hills are seen, rearing their heads boldly. From these, in radiating lines, flows of the mud can be traced, marked by the different degrees of consolidation they have acquired, and the consequently different modes in which they reflect the light, as well as by the peculiar manner in which the drying of the mass has produced jointing or “division planes” on it. At short intervals a hollow, gurgling sound is, heard, followed by a kind of stuffed flop in the mud.

Passing to these hills across the mud, which to your surprise you find tolerably firm and foot-wortby, you mount the side of one which appears more active than the others, and perceive that the conical hollow, or crater, of the volcano is filled nearly to the brim with bluish-gray, oily-looking mud, — liquid mud, — about as stiff as heated pitch, although, of course, less sticky. This crateriform hollow is not exactly at the top of the cone, but at one side, and a little below the summit.

As you watch it, all the surface of the liquid mud within heaves and swells upward like the throes of the human chest in laborious inspiration; then suddenly a great bladder-like expansion is thrown up, and, breaking, falls back into the caldron below with a sullen flop. At one side is a narrow channel, the bottom of which is just above the level of the mucilaginous mass when at rest, but through which, at each successive eructation, a portion is ejected, and comes flowing down the side of the cone in a regular sewer it has formed for itself, its course marked by thin filmy flakes of earth-oil, with which it is partially associated. These thin films follow the curved bands of the quasi-viscous mass, and so produce regular scallops of color on the surface of the stream of mud. The mixture of mud and muddy water thus thrown out is only slightly saline to the taste, but is largely used in the preparation of salt near by ; the process being similar to that employed elsewhere in Burmah, and consisting simply of lixiviating the mud, collecting the water thus passed over it, and concentrating it to crystallization over slow fires.

All the while a strong odor of petroleum is emitted, and that oil is continually thrown out in small quantities with the mud ; but there is no smell of sulphuretted hydrogen or of carbonic acid.

Of the many cones, the highest stands about fifteen feet above the general level of the mud around, and is of very regular form. From the very summit: of this, Mr. Oldham saw a little jet of mud projected at intervals to the height of a foot or more. The most active cone is not more than twelve feet high ; the “ crater ” being about four feet wide at top, and a little below the summit. Another principal cone, of from twelve to fifteen feet, stands to the south of these ; and remains of others, now inactive and partially washed away, are near it. The people of the village say that occasionally one of these, which has been for months or years extinct or inactive, will again begin to heave and discharge mud ; while frequently, in others which are in operation, the position of the discharging orifice will be altered.

The eructations, or heaves, of the most active of these vents are very irregular as to time, as well as force. They are governed by no law which can be traced with accuracy, although there does appear to be an uncertain approximation to some law by which the most vigorous outbursts occur at intervals of about thirty seconds ; these greater shocks being accompanied and followed by many slighter motions, or the bursting of small bubbles in the interval.

The channel, or canal, raised above the general level, is very quickly formed by the mud flowing down the side of the cone. The mud on the edges and sides drying more rapidly than toward the centre, small raised banks are formed, between which the still fluid mud, ejected at each strong burst, flows in a more or less continuous stream. Occasionally the side bursts, or is broken down, and then the fluid finds an outlet, and cuts a side or branch channel in which the same phenomena are repeated. While the mud is yet fluid and in motion, curved lines of structure, produced by the more rapid flow of the centre, as compared with that of the sides, can readily be traced. But when, dried and solid, the desiccation of the mass of mud containing so large a quantity of moisture results in numerous wide cracks, and open joints or fissures, traversing the mud, with comparatively definite direction in the lines, —the most marked being at right angles to the sides of the channel in which the mud has flowed ; and others, again, nearly at right angles to those, “ diceing up ” the whole mass rudely into square fragments.

Half a mile northward from these mud cones there is a group of petroleum springs, rising out of the level flats at the foot of the small range of hills. Mr. Oldham found one in lively operation in a pool, or hole, about three feet six inches wide ; it was continually bubbling up. There is a free discharge of gas or air; and, after the bubbles have burst, the oil can be seen floating on the surface of the water in flaky thin coatings, displaying the most beautiful prismatic colors. The wall of this particular pool, or spring, was on a level with the ground around, or barely raised above it; but to the north, about twenty yards off, there was a mound which at first sight was supposed to be a kind of coaly lignite, but which on examination proved to be a cone of mud, originally thrown out by springs similar to those described above, but which must have brought with it a much larger proportion, relatively, of petroleum than the springs then in operation. The petroleum had impregnated the muddy mass, and formed a brown-black substance, readily inflammable, and in fact an earthy-brown coal. Fragments of vegetables, leaves, &c. were embedded in it, and in some of the smaller cavities were portions of the petroleum consolidated into a hard, black, pitchy substance. This conical heap was between eight and ten feet high, and about twenty-five feet in diameter at the base. Other small springs are found to the north of this, and in the same line. The villagers say no flame is ever seen to burst from these springs, but that occasionally smoke is ; but as they said this only occurred in cold weather, the “ smoke ” was probably no more than the heated air of the spring coming suddenly in contact with the colder atmosphere, and so producing a cloud.

The petroleum of Burmah always resembles a thin treacle of a greenish color; and in the open air its odor is not unpleasant. It is universally used as a lamp-oil all over the Empire, for domestic purposes and public illuminations. The poonghees, or priests, who are the only physicians, also apply it abundantly as a liniment for bruises, swellings, and sores, and even administer it internally in cholera, and as a " pain-killer ” generally. In the Chinese Geography, translated in Thévenot’s Voyages Curieux, it is recommended as a sovereign remedy for itch,6 — a statement which its sulpburous affinities render highly probable.

The wood-work and planking of houses, especially the fine fantastic carvings which so profusely adorn the roofs and porticos of the Kyoungs, are painted with petroleum almost to the point of saturation, to preserve them from the ravages of insects. And in this connection it may not seem irrelevant to help the reader to a just idea of the opulent magnificence, the marvellous delicacy, and bewildering elaborateness of Burmese wood-carving, gilding, and mirror-blazoning, by transcribing a passage from Captain Yule’s description of the Maha Oomiyepuina, a royal monastery at Amarapoora : —

“In this second building the three spires remain ungilt, the work probably having been interrupted by the civil commotions of 1852. The contrast thus arising between the mellow color of the teak and the brilliant mass of gold is no detriment to the effect. The posts of the basement, instead of being wholly gilt, are covered with scarlet lacker, banded with gilded carving. From post to post run cusped arches in open filigree-work of gilding, very delicate and beautiful.

“ The corbels bearing the balcony are more fantastic and less artistic than those of the Toolut Boungyo.7 Instead of dragons, they here consist of human figures in rich dresses, with the scallop wings of the Burman military costume, and wearing the heads of various animals,— elephants, bulls, &c. These figures are all in different dancing attitudes, and all jewelled and embellished in sparkling mosaic of mirror and gilding.”

[In the Toolut Boungyo the corbels, or brackets, represent griffins or dragons with the head downward, the feet grasping the post, and the tail rising in alternate flexures, which seem almost to writhe and undulate.]

“The balcony balustrade is quite unique. Instead of the usual turned rails, or solid carved panels, it is a brilliant openwork of interlacing scrolls; the nuclei of the compartments into which the scrolls arrange themselves being fanciful, fairy-like figures in complete relief, somewhat awkward in drawing, but spirited in action. Below this balcony is an exquisite drooping eavesboard, in shield-like tracery, with interlacing scrolls cut through the wood, like lace-work.

“ The staircase parapets (gilt masonry) are formed in scrolls of snakes, scaled with green looking-glass, and each, discharging from its mouth a wreath of flowers in white mirror mosaic. The posts are crowned with tapering htees,8 inferior in effect to the imperial crowns of the other monastery. The panels of the walls in the upper stories are exquisitely diapered and flowered in mosaic of looking-glass, while the eaves-crests and ridge-crest (the latter most delicate and brilliant) are of open carving in lattice-work, and flame-points tipped with sparkling mirror. The indispensable religious pinnacles or finials, with their peculiar wooden vanes or flags, are of unusually fanciful and delicate carving, each crowned with its miniature golden htee and bells.”

Yet in all the generations since that Burman with a large inductive faculty sank the first shaft, these Pathan-like artificers, “designing like Titans and executing like jewellers,” have not been able to devise anything better to draw their petroleum with than a rude earthen pot, — anything better to burn it in than another pot, with some cottonseeds for a wick.

  1. So described by Captain Henry Yule, of the Bengal Engineers, late Secretary to the Governor, General’s Envoy, and to whose superb work, A Narrative of a Mission to the Court of Ava in 1855, the writer of this paper is largely indebted for his materials.
  2. Thoo-gyee (great man) is the head man of a small circle of villages. Myo is properly a fortified place, and hence a city, or chief town, of a district. The Myo-tkoo-gyee is the Mayor, or town magistrate, and may be the deputy of the Myo-woon, who is the Governor, or Lord Lieutenant of the District. The Myo-tsa is the ' Eater,’ a prince, princess, or court official, to whom the revenues of the district have been assigned as an apanage. Myo-ok is a subordinate town magistrate under the myo-thoogyee.” &EMDASH; YULE.
  3. Notes on the Geological Features of the Banks of the Irrawaddi. By T. Oldham, Esq., Superintendent of the Geological Survey of India.
  4. There was formerly a land of gurrah, strong and glazed, manufactured at Martaban, Paghan, and Monchoboo, and known in Western India as Pegu jars, which were of the enormous capacity of 200 viss or about 182 gallons. Queer stones are told of resident foreigners smuggling their little daughters out of the country in Pegu jars, to elude the Burmese law, which imposes a heavy penalty on the exportation of native females of every kind.
  5. “The ordinary price of petroleum, before the British annexation of Pegu, was, at the village of Ye-nan-gyoung, from 10 to 14 annas per 100 viss. It has since increased from 1 rupee to 1 rupee 3 annas : and an agent for a mercantile house at Rangoon, who was there at the time of our visit (1855), stated that he had to pay even so much as 2 rupees 4 annas for 100 viss. At Rangoon the price used to be from 2 rupees to 2.8 ; it now is never less than 5 rupees, and has been so high as 25 rupees per 100 viss. An export duty of 10 per cent is now charged on this oil : the Burmese government charge also 3 per cent. Under the former system, it is stated, the charges including the established douceurs to brokers, &c., were not less.”— OLDHAM.
  6. * “To the north lies Zorzania [the kingdom of Georgia, bordering on Armenia], near the confines of which there is a fountain of oil, which discharges so great a quantity as to furnish loading for many camels. The use made of it is not for the purpose of food, but as an unguent for the cure of cutaneous distempers in men and cattle, a well as other complaints ; and it is also good for burning. In the neighboring country no other is used in their lamps and people come from distant parts to procure it.” - MARCO POLO.
  7. “ Near to this place [Baku in .Shirvan, on the border of the Caspian] is a very strange and wonderful fountain under ground, out of which there springeth and issueth a marvellous quantity of black oyl, which serveth all the parts of Persia to burn in their houses ; and they usually carry it all over the country upon kine and asses, whereof you shall oftentimes meet three or four hundred in company.” — JOHN CARTWRIGHT, The " Preacher’s Travels.”
  8. The Maha Toolut Boungyo is the residence of the Tha-thana Bain. “The Defender of the Faith,” High-Priest and Patriarch of all the poonghees.
  9. Umbrellas, or canopies, of gilt iron filigree.