Frank B. Lesher, USS Virginia, Ceylon and the Mediterranean

every turn of the screws taking us nearer to the old u.s.a

We are now about to pass out of the Straits of Malacca and into the Indian Ocean.  We passed by Singapore yesterday and I was able to get a fairly good view of it through my glasses.  The inhabitants like those of the Island of Trinidad, took the passing of the fleet through the Straits as an every day event and nobody came out to see us except a few officials and some Americans.  One woman whom I noticed in particular had a small megaphone through which she called to each ship, declaring that she wanted to go back to "Old Broadway" and that she wanted to go home.  The Connecticut fired a twenty one gun salute and it was returned by a battery on the shore.

All  the way from Manila the weather has been most delightful and tonight the moon is shining brightly down upon the  waters, as we go steaming along, every turn of the screws taking us nearer to the OLD U.S.A.

At the present rate we re traveling we will arrive in Colombo ahead of the scheduled time, however I will be able to tell you more definitely when I finish this at the above mentioned city.

colombo, ceylon

We are now at anchor in the harbor of Colombo, lying behind the finest breakwater that we have seen this cruise.  On the eight of December as we were passing through the end of the Straits we had quite a rescue scene from this ship.  Two men were lost overboard from the USS  Rhode Island which was the fourth ship ahead of us, the three ships ahead lowered their life-boats and we also lowered ours, the man was passing by our ship as we lowered the boat and we were just in time to get him.  The other fellow must have hit his head on the armor belt or some other part of the Rhode Island's side as he was not seen after he passed the second ship from  the Rhode Island.

Upon the arrival of the fleet outside of the breakwater, we had to split up and wait until the pilots could come out and take us in as there are only six pilots in the corps.  It took the greater part of the day to anchor us inside the seawall, and we certainly helped to swell the number of ships in the harbor, which at all times is a busy one.

Colombo is a city of 200,000 people, the principal exports of the island being precious stones, tea, spices, cocoa nut oil, and other tropical products.  The inhabitants are the native Sinhalese, and a number of Parsees, Tamils, and Malays, and a mixed population of Dutch, English and Portuguese.

Am going ashore tomorrow and 74 miles inland to visit the capitol of the Island "Kandy" and will tell you more about it in the next letter.  Sent you some cards with pictures of the city upon them.

We landed at 7:30.  The train of ten English railroad coaches was waiting for us at the dock, everybody climbed aboard and wee started on the most interesting ride I have ever made.  Passing through the suburbs of the city plants of all descriptions, here and there could be seen the huts of the natives made of  mud walls and a palm leaf thatching for a roof.  The natives wear very few clothes and many children run naked until they are four and five years old.  We passed through miles of coconut, mango, and banana trees, while acres of tea and rice fields could be seen on every side.

Before we reached the mountains we could see the rice being raised in level fields, but when we reached the mountain side we found them still raising the crop, but instead of the level fields the little plots rose in terrace after terrace to the height of several hundred feet.  The water from the top gradually working down through the different levels until it reached the bottom.  Passed by one of Lipton's tea gardens and I could see the natives picking the leaves which we consume in the USA and all parts of the world.

Kandy, I should have said in my former letter, was formerly the capitol of the native rulers but now the seat of government is at Colombo.  It is situated in an amphitheater of beautifully wooded hills, and contains the residence of the governor general of the island, the former Kings Palace, and the Temple-of-the-Sacred-Tooth.  This temple is said to contain one of the teeth of the God Buddha.  I was taken through the temple and saw the closed doors behind which the tooth is kept.  So they say ???

They have several fine hotels in which the Europeans could be seen taking life easy, and watching the way in which the American sailor enjoys life when ashore.


"T'was the night before X-mas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse,"  How well do I remember these lines as when a boy I listened to them told over and over again.  Now I am out in the Arabian Sea, about half way across, with a daily temperature of 80-degrees, and dressed in the lightest of clothes.  We left Colombo Sunday morning at about 7:00 and have had most delightful weather ever since.  Was ashore in Colombo on the nineteenth, getting around quite a bit.  Had a small filling put in one of my teeth by an English dentist, which cost me thirteen shillings or about three dollars and a quarter, a job which any dentist in the states would do for a dollar.  Such is life abroad.

Took a trolley ride to the terminus of the line, the price being three cents golf.  During the ride we passed through the native shop quarter. Saw meat hanging in front of the shops upon which, every few seconds, bug crows would come swooping down tear off a hunk, and go soaring away to devour it at their leisure.  Beggars as in other parts of the Island are to be seen in countless numbers.  At the end of the line we were besieged by about a hundred children of all ages, clamoring for money.  Here we took rickshaws and were carried by the coolies through the suburbs of the city and through the European quarter.  My coolie-man stopped at a bush which looked somewhat like one of our laurel bushes, broke of a branch and presented it to me telling me at the same time that it was cinnamon.  So I rode along munching green cinnamon and thinking of the piece of the dried bark out of the spice box.

"... and have stood upon the SAHARA Desert while the Pyramids built over forty centuries ago             gazed down upon me."  Cairo, Egypt

A party of 150 of us from our ship together with the same number of men from seven other ships left Suez on Sunday the 3rd of January, at two thirty pm for Cairo.  We had a beautiful, but at the same time a dusty ride over the desert to Cairo.   Arriving there about eight o'clock in the evening.  After enjoying a good dinner wee turned in to get a good nights sleep and be ready for the doings of the morning.  We stayed at an unpretentious French hotel and had a nice clean hotel service.  Will state at this point that you will only find one Englishman out of every twenty inhabitants, the rest being French, Greek, Turkish or some other nationality.

This is  a nice map of Cairo that comes in a little booklet all folded up.  The map is about 20" x 20" and provides nice details of the City.  Frank kept his map as a souvenir and apparently never took it out while traveling around the city.  It shows no wear from use or marking for hotel or sites that he might have planned to visit.

After a ride of about 8 miles we arrived at the pyramids situated on the edge of the desert, and built over 5 thousand years ago, by one of the most wonderful kings who ever ruled the race of man.  The big one covers an area of thirteen acres and is four hundred and fifty feet in height.  I did not climb to the top as my time was limited but I made the trip in through the North entrance and into the chambers of the King and Queen.  It would take pages to describe the way that my guide led me in through the passages and to the two chambers.  The passages are about four by four feet and built on an angle which is quite steep, the steps cut into the rocks being worn slippery by the tramping of thousands of people over them.  The most wonderful of the two chambers is that of Cheops.  It is about twenty by forty feet in size, the top gradually tapering to a point at the top.  It is faced with blocks of granite of enormous size, many of them being five by five by eighteen feet in length, and cut with an exactness which is beyond description.  At one end of the chamber is to be seen the empty sarcophagus with part of one side broken out, the body having been sent to the British Museum at London.


At the base of the big pyramid a man by the name of Covington lives in a round canvas tent.  He comes from the original Covington family of the above mentioned name in Covington, Kentucky.  He is sort of an eccentric sort of chap and the pyramids are his hobby, he has spent almost his whole fortune on research, and has done good work in discovering air passages and other things concerning the piles of limestone and granite.  He has a small American Flag floating from the top of his tent.  A man standing nearby told us that he as an American, so several of went over to call on him.  He treated us royally, and gave us a very interesting talk, of course everything being ab out the pyramids.  He alone on top of the great pyramid watched the old century out and the new one in, 99-00.  He said, "Who will do that feat in 100 years to come?"  Showed us the only American Flag that ever waved from the top of the Great Pyramid, and he takes great pride in it.  He said he was awfully sorry that we did not stop in to see him on our way up as he would have taken us in the pyramid and given us a lecture on the sights to be seen.  From all appearances he seems to be a perfect gentleman, but he has his mind constantly on his work of exploration and investigation.  He has been robbed three times by the natives who frequent the place. (Lorenzo Dow Covington - Archaeologist and Explorer at the Cincinnati Art Museum)

The of Cairo was started in 1896 operating to many parts of the city.  This ticket from Frank's collection seems to show a trip between Bab-El Kahalk and Boulaq which seemed to be a line that ran north and south along Al Banhawi in the downtown area of Cairo.

Today this area along the Nile includes some of the finest Hotels and shopping areas of the city.  This pass was probably used by Frank to travel from the hotel to see the sites of the city, and as a good collector saved so that we may share in his journey today.

beirut, syria

"As you will have not doubt heard by the time that you receive this letter our schedule has been changed and we are going to Beirut and then to Smyrna.  I am going to try and get up to Damascus while we are at Beirut.  It all seems like a sort of dream to me now that it is over-with but never-the-less the cold fact remains that I have been to Cairo, and have stood upon the Sahara desert while the pyramids built over forty centuries ago gazed down upon me."

Third Division, Under Admiral Seaton Schroeder, sent two ships for one day to visit Beirut, the USS Virginia and Louisiana on January 8th, 1909.  As they departed the same day, many of the crew on the two ships probably did not get liberty to go ashore.  The ships had been in Suez on the 5th, Port Said on the 6th and now Beirut on the 8th.

This small disk of olive wood was Frank brought back from this quick stop.  By his later accounts, there was an infectious disease at the port and no one went ashore.  Possibly this was purchased from one of the boat venders that visited the ship?  As you can imagine, there are very few items from this port visit and this little coaster is part of the many treasures of this collection.

smyrna, turkey - earthquakes and ruins

Tonight is a beautiful one on the Mediterranean, the water as smooth as glass, and the temperature just right.  We are so far North that darkness comes about half-past-five. and the evenings are longer than we have been  having here-to-fore.  I wrote a long letter to father telling about my trip to Cairo, but I will have more to tell on the same subject when I see you both in person.  Since writing his letter I have received the Congressional Record and several packs of papers that were stuck away in a corner in the dynamo room.

Talking about earthquakes, I have been through one.  Yesterday morning while sitting in the sub-station I felt the ship trembling as if the propellers were turning over, but I thought that perhaps they were starting up a dynamo engine.  When I went up on deck the liberty men were coming back from shore and they told how they had been awakened out their sleep by the vibrations and had gotten out of the buildings as quickly as possible.   One fellow was eating his breakfast in a restaurant when the shock came and when he was about to pay his bill.  The waiter suddenly grabbed up his tray and headed for the door and not letting the money question worry him at all.  The sailor when he saw the waiter go thought it was about time for him to leave too, so he quickly made his departure.  The crater of the disturbance was a point of land about 30 miles from here which sunk down from four to five feet and I believe five or six people were killed.

There is not monetary basses in Turkey.  All sorts of coins of all nations being in circulation.  The Turkish Piaster is their coin on which they base there values and is worth 4-cents being smaller than our dimes.  I have a good collection of money  from every country which I have visited which I think will interest you.

Many of the cards that Frank sent back were of Ephesus, the Greek and Roman ruins that were located not far from the city.  An ancient port city, for thousands of years but became prominent first with the Greeks during the 14th and 13th century BC.  The Library of Celsius, shown above, is one of the most popular attractions today with the facade resorted from the surviving block at the site.  The two cards above are postmarked from the newly opened post office on board the USS Virginia having received their equipment while in Egypt.

    "we now have on board our homeward bound                       coal, and all hands are not sorry."                  the rock of gibraltar

Am glad to hear that you are coming down to the Roads to see the Fleet come in, but you will not be able to see me, or I see you on account of the fact that I will be on the left side of the ship as we enter the Roads.  The Virginia will be the tenth ship in line as we come by in review.  The Virginia as I have stated before will go to the Norfolk Yard for repair.

On Monday morning the 1st of February we sighted the rock, and the nearer we came the more grander and magnificent it appeared to be until we anchored under its shadow on the West side where the English government has erected a large breakwater and store houses for its immense supply of coal and provisions, which it keeps constantly on hand.

The two photographs above are from engineering spaces on the Virginia.  I am taking a guess that the station on the left is Main Control showing an auxiliary helm and main steam valves for controlling the ship's speed.  The station at the right could be the main steam valve to the dynamo, a watch statiion that Frank would have had to man during normal operation of the ship. 



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