Posh: Port Out, Starboard Home


It was a much debated point in the 1920’s whether Java or Ceylon was the most beautiful tropical island in the world. But if you were a well-heeled Brit, looking for a winter resort to escape from the gloom and doom of the British winter, you might well have booked a passage on the Biddy Lines to the bosom of the Indian Ocean, Ceylon, often called the island of spicy breezes. And if you were ‘posh’ enough, you would definitely have booked, ‘Port Out, Starboard Home.’ This is the origin of our much used expression, ‘posh.’

Reached from England after a three week’s voyage, most of which was spent in the calm waters of the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean, Ceylon offered coral reefs, palms, pagodas, ruined cities, tropical scenery and handsome natives.  There were good roads for motoring, and a railway systems connecting principal places of interest.

On disembarking in Colombo, you found a choice of elegant hotels, the principal ones being the Galle Face and the Grand Oriental.  There were also excellent hotels in Mount Lavini, the near-by sea side resort; Kandy, the old capital of the Cingalese kings; and Niwara Eliya, the cool hill station.

If you close your eyes and imagine an Agatha Christie period drama like ‘Death on the Nile’, you could be picturing a typical day in the capital, which would have included a rickshaw ride through the narrow streets then on out to the palm fringed Cinnamon Gardens, the residential quarter.  After this you might have motored to Mount Lavinia to bathe in the tepid waters of the Indian Ocean and enjoyed tea on the hotel terrace while the sun sinks in a tropical blaze.

Kandy was reached by train or chauffer-driven car over sixty miles past native villages, tea and rubber plantations, a zoological garden and tree-covered hills, all in a tangle of tropical vegetation.  This ancient capital lured visitors to the Temple of the Tooth with its most sacred relic of the Budda.   Next the traveller visited the lake of the Holy Turtles, the bathing place of the temple elephants.  Next came a visit to the botanical gardens with specimens of almost every tree, shrub and plant of the fertile East.  Specimens of rare orchids and other plants were purchased and packed for shipment to England.

After Kandy you could enjoy the cool climate of hill stations like Newara Eliya at 7,000 feet.  And above all there were visits to ancient ruins of cities and temples in the jungle, giving a glimpse of this old civilization.

These travellers spent weeks or months even abroad, travelling with steamer trunks, heavy leather suitcases, large wardrobes and in great comfort, in a luxury that we can only dream about today, no matter how expensive our journeys are.  They wined and dined in colonial splendour in elegant houses and hotels that were the reserve of seasoned travellers, with no expense spared.

And these ‘posh’ travellers always journeyed back home on the starboard side.

– Mrs M

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