A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

West African islands online

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o io Anvaeii 3H1 •








« iO AHVIian 3Hi «













• viNaoinva iO o






AilSaiMNO 3H1 o,







Major, 1st West India Rerjime7it,


londo:n": chapman and hall,



The materials for this work were notes taken during visits made
to the principal islands lying off the West Coast of Africa, in the
course of fifteen voyages to and from South and West Africa,
between the years 1871 and 1882,







The Marooned Portuguese — Capture of the Island in 1673
— Early Colonists — Loss of Trade — James Town — Jacob's
Ladder — Vegetable Peculiarities — An Awkward Mistake
— Longwood — A Retrospect — The Legend of Friar's
Valley — Refractory Garrisons — Lot and his Wife —
Curious Relics — Diana Peak — Napoleonic Souvenirs,



Its History — Georgetown — Turtle — Green Mountain —
The Hospital — A Precious Beverage — The Water Supply
— Vegetation — Relative Rank of Ladies — Island Scenery
— Riding-school Crater — Fossil Turtles' Eggs — Wide-
awakes — The Rollers — An American's Reception.



Beautiful Scenery — Cocoa Plantation — A Tropical Forest
— The Boobies — Their Peculiarities— An Aboriginal Vil-
lage—A Trying Inspection— Irreclaimable Savages —
Nature's Livery — Port Clarence — A Spanish Legend —
History of the Island — Its Resources — Political Prisoners
— An Ingenious Escape — Tropical Fruit-^Padres — Tailed
Men — Strange Specimens of Humanity — The Strait —
Cameroons Peak — Climate,





Factory Life — Turning the Tables on a Port Officer —
Plague Ships— lTna3stlietic Traders — Animal Life in the
Bush — A Domestic Tragedy — Unadulterated Heathen —
The Pioneers of Civilisation— The Trader and the Mis-
sionary — How we Colonise — Domestic Slavery— 4me//a
and Arethuse.


Intelligent Port Officials — A Collision — Porto Grande —
A Game of Billiards — A Fandango — A Nice Quiet Night
— Eeasonable Hotel Charges — Famine — The Cape A^erde
Islands — Derelicts.



The Sail Across — My Fellow Passenger — Strange Fishing
— Janella — San Paolo — A Mountain Eoad — A Timid
Bishop — Eibeira Grande — Wine-growers — jNIotley Troops
— The Stick — Mutinies — Santa Cruz — The Biter Bit —
Fresh Extortion — A Terra Incognita — IMincral Wealth.


How to get there — ]\Iotley Inhabitants — French Polish —
The Negro World of Fashion — The Citadel — Governor
Wall — A Barbarous Sentence — Climate — A Sanguinary
Revolution — French Aggression in Western Africa.



Las Palmas — The Cathedral— The Islanders — Discovery
of the Islands — The Spanish Conquest — Atrocities — The
Aboriginal Inhabitants— Their Origin — ]\Iummies — A
Canarian Prej udice — Canaries.




Doramas — The Cave Village of Atalaya — Pleasant Society
— The Pulex — Epidemics — Sanitation — San Isidro La-
brador — A Curious Service— The Image of Teror — An
Optical Illusion — The Miraculous Island of St, Brandan
— Yeracious Testimony.



Santa Cruz — Spanish Soldiers — Plaza de la Constitucion
—The Town— The Alameda— The Cathedral— Nelson's
Repulse at Santa Cruz — Our Lady of Candelaria — Com-
parative Superstitions.


Its Early History — The Massacre of Centejo — San Cris-
toval de la Laguna — The Perspiring Portrait — Qi'otava —
El Puerto — Festas — The Orotava Murder — Garachica —
The Great Lateral Eruption — Island Tradition — Storms.


Ascent of the Peak — El Pino del Dornajito — A Useful
Shrub — La Estancia de los Ingleses — Improvisatori —
Early Rising — The Mai Pais — La Rambleta — The Cone
— The Crater — Bird's-Eye Scenery — The Descent — The
Ice Cave.



Coast Scenery — Birds of Prey— Funchal — Fire-Eaters —
A Night's Romance — Nossa Senhora do Monte — A Novel
Slide — Fruits and Flowers — Festivals — Wines — "Wine-
growers — The Grand Corral — Mountain Roads — S.
Vincente — Santa Anna.





Masked Balls — A Crushing Misadventure — Discovery of
the Island — The Fossil Forest of Cani^al — Excursions —
The 'Waterfall— Corral das Freiras — The Poul de Serra
— Camera de Lobos — Brazen Head — Santa Cruz — Hunt-
inw the Statesman — A Wicked Jest.




The Marooned Portuguese — Capture of the Island in 1673 — Early-
Colonists — Loss of Trade — James Town — Jacob's Ladder —
Vegetable Peculiarities — An Awkward Mistake — Longwood —
A Ketrospect — The Legend of Friar's Valley — Refractory-
Garrisons — Lot and His Wife — Curious Kelics — Diana Peak
— Napoleonic Souvenirs.

The island of St. Helena was discovered in 1501 by
a Portuguese explorer, who seems to be called,
indifferently, Joao de Nova Gallego, Juan de Nova
Castilla, Juan de Nova, or John de Niva, according to
the taste of the writer. It was then densely wooded,
and its shores abounded with seals and turtle, but
he made no attempt to colonise it, and the first
inhabitants of the island were some deserters, who
were put on shore from a Portuguese ship, some
fifteen years after its discovery. These men had.


in accordance with the humane custom of those good
old days, been punished by mutilation, having had
their noses, ears, and right hands cut off; and, so
runs the story, with them was a Portuguese of good
family, named Fernandez Lopez, who, having been
guilty of some misdemeanour at Bombay, had been
mutilated by order of Albuquerque, the Portuguese
governor, and shipped for Portugal as a prisoner.
This man, not caring to face dishonour in his native
country, induced the captain of the vessel to land
him with the deserters ; the marooned men were
given some seed, cattle, and provisions, and the ship
continued its voyage to Lisbon. The family of
Lopez, on ascertaining his whereabouts, sent him a
variety of seeds and plants and a quantity of live
stock ; the exiles proved industrious, and four years
later, when they were all removed by the Portuguese
Government, there was a good deal of land under

The island remained uninhabited for some years,
until a few slaves, of both sexes, escaped from a
PortuQ^uese slaver which called at the island for wood
and water, and took refuge in the woods. These
people multiplied rapidly, and cleared the overgrown
plantations of the former deserters ; but, after an
interval of fifteen or twenty years, the jealous
Portuguese landed a party to exterminate them and


their offspring. Some of them, however, must have
contrived to have escaped tlie general slaughter, for
when Sir John Cavendish, in his voyage round the
world, visited St. Helena in 1588, he found it
inhabited, and possessing a small town. His dis-
covery of the island was accidental, for the Portuguese,
although they made no attempt to colonise it them-
selves, had carefully kept its situation a secret from
other European nations. At the time of his visit,
the natural resources of the island had been increased
to such an extent, that he described it as being
" extremely pleasant, and so full of fruit-trees and
excellent plants, that it seemed like a fair and well-
cultivated garden, having long rows of lemon, orange,
citron, pomegranate, date, and fig-trees, delighting
the eye with blossoms, green and ripe fruit all at

In 1645 the Dutch attempted to establish a
settlement, but relinquished it to the English in
1651 ; and in 1668, the commander of a homeward-
bound East India fleet of English vessels, took formal
possession of it in the name of Charles II. In the
same year that monarch made it over to the East
India Company. In 1672, the Dutch again obtained
possession, through the treachery of one of the
inhabitants; but in May, 1673, it was recaptured

by Captain Richard Munden, with three ships.

B 2


Almost tliroiio^liout its entire circumference of
twenty-eight miles, the island presents to the eye
an unbroken wall of cliffs, varying from five hundred
to a thousand feet in height ; and there are only
two places at which a landing can be effected, namely,
James' Bay and Rupert's Bay. The latter of these,
having no water supply, is not habitable, but the
Dutch had fortified both these positions ; and
occupying them in force at the approach of the
British ships, they considered themselves quite safe.
Captain Munden, however, landed two hundred men
on the rocks in Prosperous Bay, and one sailor,
scaling the almost inaccessible cliffs, let down to his
comrades a rope, by which they all climbed to the
summit. This feat is still commemorated by the
precipitous rock known as " Hold-fast Tom." The
Dutch, being thus taken in rear, surrendered ; and
the island has ever since remained a British

The East India Company invited settlers to
emigrate to St. Helena from England ; and lands
w^ere assigned to them, on the condition that they
would be forfeited if not cultivated withir six months
of the date of being put in possessioij. Numbers of
families, who had been reduced to beo-^ary by the
great fire of London, took ,id vantage of this offer ;
and slaves were also in 'produced from Madagascar.


A Governor was appointed, with tlie munificent salary
of one hundred pounds a year, and a public table
was kept. It was part of the Governor's duty to
preside at the daily banquet, and some of the settlers
appear to have been such peculiar characters, that he
found it necessary to draw up a code for the regula-
tion and behaviour of the guests. One paragraph of
this code was to the effect " that nobody ought to
sit at table with him that is not cleanly dressed, or
that is drunk."

Being situated in the direct track of vessels bound
to and from the east, round the Cape of Good Hope,
St. Helena became a port of call for a large number
of vessels, and the inhabitants rapidly made money
by supplying them with fresh provisions ; while,
on account of its importance in connection with the
Indian trade, a large garrison was kept up. From
1787 to 1815, it was also used as a depot for the
recruits of the army of the East India Company ;
and at one time, nearly twelve thousand men were
there stationed. From 1815 to 1821 it was, as
everyone knows, the island-prison of the Emperor
Napoleon; and in 1822, the East India Company
resumed their jurisdiction over it. The island
continued to prosper until the opening of the Suez
Canal, which, by altering the route to the East
Indies, deprived the inhabitants of their means of


livelihood ; for there were no exports, and they had
never done anything more than supply the passing
shipping. This blow was followed by a reduction
of the garrison, and of the naval squadron which
had been kept up for the suppression of the slave
trade; and when I visited the island in 1871 and
1873, the inhabitants were in a very poor way
indeed, they having nothing to depend on but the
precarious sale of supplies to the American whalers
which make St. Helena a port of call. In 1879,
however, I found that a small export trade had sprung
up, the colonists manufacturing fibre from the Phor -
miitrn tenax, and growing cofi"ee in small quantities.

James Town, the capital of the island, is built in
a ravine with almost vertical sides, the height to the
east being called Rupert's Hill, and that to the west.
Ladder Hill. These two mountains, which almost
meet about a mile inland, gradually recede from one
another as they approach the sea, and finally end
abruptly on the shore in two perpendicular cliff's.
The triangular space thus enclosed, on which the
town is built, is 350 yards broad at the sea
front, and about a mile and a quarter long. On
the eastern side of the valley is a carriage-road,
called the Side Path, which leads to the interior of
the island.

Landing at the sea-wall to the east of the town.


one passes through a small crowd of people of diverse
hues, and skirting one or two corrugated iron sheds,
arrives at the drawbridge which spans the ditch of
the old fortifications which defend the entrance of
the ravine. Although there is no necessity for any
precaution now, the tradition of the days when
Napoleon was here in durance vile is still kept up ;
and at night, the drawbridge is raised, and the
communication between the town and beach entirely
cut off. Inside the defences, a diminutive and
neglected public garden is passed, and one reaches
the one long and straggling street of the town, which
possesses no buildings of any merit, and whose yellow
church is hideous.

The name of Ladder Hill is derived from the
steep wooden steps, known as Jacob's Ladder, which
lead directly to its summit, 600 feet high. A
coloured gentleman, who had attached himself to me
in the capacity of guide, said it was the same one
that the patriarch saw in his dream ; and I told him
I could quite believe it, it seemed so old, dilapidated,
and generally unsafe. He appeared annoyed at my
remarks concerning its want of repair, indignantly
asserted that it was quite safe, and urged me to go
and climb up it ; but I replied that I was not one
of those persons who will rush in where angels fear
to tread, and that the angels did feel nervous when


on that ladder I knew from the pictures. To ascend
these steps must be bad enough, but to descend must
require an unusually steady head. I saw, however,
several negresses coming down them, carrying baskets
of vegetables and fruit on their heads ; and, such is
the force of habit, making nothing either of the
perpendicular height, which makes a stranger feel
giddy, nor of the fact that in several places two
or more of the wooden steps were wanting.

St. Helena is so named because the island was
discovered on the 21st of May, a day consecrated
to Helena, wife of Constantine, mother of Constantine
the Great, and daughter of Coel, King of Colchester,
a monarch whose memory is still preserved in that
poem which commemorates his convivial tendencies
and fondness for violin trios. This young woman,
being divorced by her husband, repented and became
a Christian. She then made a pilgrimage to
Jerusalem, there dreamed a dream which led to the
finding of the true Cross, and so was canonised. It
is true that Gibbon says Helena was the daughter
of an innkeeper in Nicomedia ; but I have seen
an inscription on a tablet, placed in the wall of
a chapel in Colchester within the last decade, which
informs the world that the building was founded
by her ; and of course this must be quite satisfactory,
and settles the question.


The climate of the island is exceedingly healthy,
the death-rate having, in several years, been as low-
as one per cent. ; and if the coloured population
of Africans and Lascars could only be induced to
adopt more cleanly habits, there seems to be no
reason why it should not fall still lower. The levels
of land suitable for cultivation ranging from the
sea level to 2700 feet in Diana Peak, almost
anything will grow, provided that it be planted
at an elevation where the temperature suits it.
Tree-ferns and cabbage -wood grow luxuriantly
on the main ridge of mountains, where there
is plenty of mist, while fuchsias and brambles
flourish near the water-courses ; and lower down,
one finds Scotch fir, oak, and larch. Near the sea,
however, no vegetation is found beyond a scanty
growth of samphire ; and this causes the island to
appear very barren from the outside. Gooseberry
and currant-bushes grow to a large size and become
evergreens, but will not bear fruit ; and all fruit-
trees that depend upon bees for impregnation are
also barren, as the bee will not live on the island,
and the point of Dr. Watts' celebrated idyll is
consequently utterly lost upon the Sunday-school
children. The blackberry overran the whole island
shortly after being introduced, but, on the other
hand, cherries will not grow. The Cony gagummif era,


a tree indigenous to the island, is also common to
Tristan da Cunha ; from wliicli it has been inferred
that the two islands were once united. »

In the only street of James Town there is a fairly-
good hotel, named, I think, the Imperial Arms ; and
on the occasion of my second visit to the island, I
enjoyed a share of a rather awkward mistake there.
I landed from the steamer quite early in the morning
— about six o'clock — and rushed, in company with a
crowd of passengers, to order breakfast at the hotel.
We were piloted by one of our number, who said
he knew the place well ; and invading the hotel, we
rushed up the stairs before the servants were half
up, our pilot conducting us down a passage which,
he said, led to the coffee-room. I did not think
myself that he was going quite the right way ; but,
as I had only been there once before and he said
he was quite at home, I was too diffident to say
anything. He ran to a door, opened it and entered
a room, we all following. It was almost dark inside,
but, as it was so early, we merely thought that the
servants had not yet opened the shutters. In a few
seconds, however, our eyes became accustomed to
the gloom, and we were horrified at finding ourselves
in a bed- room, with a lady and gentleman in bed,
both sitting up, attired in white night-caps with
frills, and looking at us with a most serious ex-


pression of countenance. It was wonderful to see
how the crowd melted away under the stony glare
of that middle-aged British matron ; and though
the gentleman kept demanding .what we wanted,
and what was the reason of our intrusion, we were
all so shocked that we slunk away without finding
words to answer. Our guide had not a very happy
time of it for the next few minutes ; but there was
some truth in his remark that people in hotels ought
to keep their doors locked.

One of the chief objects of interest in St. Helena
is the house at Longwood, in which Napoleon passed
his six years of captivity. The plateau of Longwood,
which is about 2000 feet above the level of the sea,
and bounded by deep ravines, is reached by the
tortuous Side Path. It is covered with fine grass,
and is one of the best pasture-lands in the island,
but is bleak and dreary ; though in former days,
both it and the plateau of Deadwood were covered
with forest, of which at the present time not a
vestige remains. It is said that the goats and
hogs which were introduced in 1502, and which at
the time of Cavendish's visit had overrun the
island, destroyed all the young trees then in
existence as well as those that subsequently sprung
up. The ones beyond their reach arrived at
maturity, decayed, and died in the ordinary course ;


and there being no others to replace them, about
1724 the forest was in a great measure nothing
but a forest of dead trees, and from this the name
of Dead wood is derived. In 1731, an order was
issued to the effect that all stray animals should
be destroyed, but the mischief was then done ; and
when we consider that the whole island, down
to the verge of its encircling cliffs, was densely
wooded at the time of its discovery, the number
of trees destroyed by these creatures must have
been immense.

In front of Longwood Old House are some culti-
vated fields, passing which one traverses a small
enclosed front garden and arrives at a long, low
building, which is the one in which Napoleon lived.
Beyond one sees the pinnacle of rocks of various
colours known as the Flagstaff Hill, and the dark
square mass of the "Barn ;" close at hand stands Long-
wood New House, which was built for Napoleon, but
being only furnished a short time before his death,
was never occupied by him ; and a little further
off is Marshal Bertrand's cottage. Longwood Old
House is now unfurnished and empty, with the ex-
ception of a laurel-crowned bust of the Emperor in
the room in which he died, and crossed French and
English flags over the fireplace in the entrance hall.
The place is in good repair, all the havoc wrought


by legions of relic-hunters having been made good,
and similar acts of Vandalism now being sternly
suppressed. The principal culprits were French sailors,
for on the arrival of a vessel of that nationality at
the island the whole crew was at once marched up
to Longwood, and with the usual demonstrative
excitability of Frenchmen, they used to tear the
paper from the walls, and cut strips off the doors
and windows with their knives. The repairs were
carried out by the French Government, who endea-
voured to make the rooms as much as possible like
what they had been when occupied by Napoleon ;
and, having with some difficulty obtained specimens
of the wall-papers which had been in the possession
of an English marauder for more than thirty
years, new papers exactly like the originals were
manufactured in Paris and sent out to St. Helena.
Napoleon's tomb is in Slane's Valley, about a
mile from Longwood, and is well cared for by the
French sergeant in charge of it. The body was, as
everyone knows, removed to France in a man-of-war
by the Prince de Joinville, in 1840, and now rests
under the dome of the Invalides, so that only the
empty tomb remains in St. Helena. Over the grave
itself, which is protected by a railing, is a decrepit
willow, which many years ago was planted to replace
the one that had been torn to pieces by enthusiastic


relic-hunters, and the present one looks as if it would
soon require a successor. The inner railing is further
enclosed by an outer one of iron, and the intervening
space, covered with turf, is planted with willow,
cypress, and other funereal trees. Close at hand
bubbles along the limpid stream at which Napoleon
used to quench his thirst after his walk from
Longwood, to this, his favourite resort.

It is difficult, in the present day, to put oneself in
the position of the average Englishman of the year
1815, of the man who regarded Napoleon more in
the light of a monster than as a human being, who
daily heard him preached against as Antichrist
and the personification of evil, who lent a credulous
ear to all the ridiculous stories circulated concerning
him, and implicitly believed that he ordered his sick
and wounded soldiers at Jaffa to be poisoned in order
to prevent them falling into the hands of their
enemies ; but, viewed calmly after the lapse of sixty-
nine years, and with the judgment unbiassed by
national animosities, it seems impossible to defend
the action of the Castlereagh Ministry, in sen-
tencing the defeated Emperor to life-long exile ;
and the British nation, by its tacit approval of this
act, accepted the responsibility of it. Undoubtedly
the character of the first Napoleon was not one to be
admired, and Emerson no doubt sums it up with


great accuracy when he tells us that he was utterly
destitute of generous sentiments, and had not the
common merit of truth and honesty ; but all that
should be beside the question. On escaping from
Elba Napoleon landed on the shores of a mighty
empire, and with only some three hundred followers
with which to subdue a nation of thirty-five millions
of people. As he advanced his progress resembled
a national triumph, the troops sent to oppose him
received him with shouts of joy, the hated symbols
of the Bourbons were trampled under foot, and he
entered Paris without a drop of blood having been

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Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisWest African islands → online text (page 1 of 22)