A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

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spokesman of the crew inquired how much I would
pay them for the passage. Now, as I have already
said, when I had first engaged a passage over to
San Antonio it was on the understanding that I
should be taken back to St. Vincent for the same
sum, two dollars, so I knew at once what this ques-
tion meant. It meant fresh extortion on the part of
these amiable islanders. They knew that it was
absolutely necessary for me to return to Porto
Grande that day, otherwise my ship would sail with-
out me; and being masters of the situation they w^ere
determined to make the most of my necessity. The
argument lasted a long time, but after abating their
demands from twenty dollars to ten, and then, find-
ing that I appeared obdurate, and indifferent about
catching my vessel, to eight, we finally arrived at

H 2



1C4 TT"^>Sr AFBICAN ISLANDS.

a compromise of five dollars, and I was glad enough
to get off so cheaply. The matter was no sooner
settled than the boat was launched and we set sail,
reaching the harbour of Porto Grande about eight in
the evening. Next morning I bade adieu to the Cape
Verde Islands.

Less is known of San Antonio than of any of the
other islands of equal size in the Cape Verde group,
and very little is known of them, with the exception
of Santiago, wdiich was visited by Bowdich and by
Darwin, both of whom have left a short account of
their observations. San Antonio has, as far as I can
discover, never been described by any European who
may have visited it. The coast-line is of course
known to the masters of whaling vessels, and has
been surveyed .and laid down in Admiralty charts,
but the interior of the island is still a teiTct incognita.
It is generally supposed to be densely wooded, but
though I saw trees, vegetable productions not to be
seen in the other islands, they were not in any great
numbers, and there was certainly nothing that could
be called a wood in the part of the island I saw.
The highest point, the Sugar Loaf, is said to be 8,000
feet high, but this is mere conjecture. The natives
say that somewhere in the centre of the island there
is the crater of an extinct volcano, of such immense
depth that the eye cannot fathom it, and from this



SAN ANTONIO. 165

sometimes rush out gusts of wind wliicli are so
violent as to blow back anything, however heavy,
which may be dropped into the abyss. The island is
volcanic, and rises generally in basaltic cliffs from the
sea without any beach, except where the heights are
broken by ravines, valleys, and the beds of mountain
torrents.

Lead is said to be found in San Antonio, and
other metals are supposed to exist, amongst them
gold, though in small quantities only ; but the people
are too indolent to open up any mining industry,
and the easy acquisition of wealth seems to be no
incentive to them. The tradition that gold is to
be found in the Cape Verde Islands is one of very
old date. In Santiao-o it is said to be found in a
bed of clay, and Bowdich, in his short account of
that island, published in 1825, says that an American
vessel, trading to Santiago, returned home half laden
with the clay in which the gold is found, by way
of experiment. It yielded so much metal that the
vessel, accompanied by two others, returned for a
full cargo ; but the Portuguese Government, learning
from this proceeding that the gold existed in paying
quantities, forbade any further exportation, although
it seems that they never worked or made any use
of the clay themselves.

The climate of the Cape Verde Islands is, not-



IGG WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

withstanding the intense heat, wonderfully healthy.
The months of August, September, and October
are called the wet and unhealthy season, the re-
mainder of the year being the dry season ; but, as
I have already said, it frequently happens that in
some years there is no wet season at all, and con-
sequently no unhealthy one. A peculiarity of these
islands is the reddish haze which so often hano-s
over them, and which has led some observers to
suppose that the climate is damp. It is supposed
to be due to the Harmattan, or wind from the
Sahara, which carries fine particles of sand with it
far out into the ocean.



CHAPTER VII.



GOREE.



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



*^oo^



The island of Gorec cannot be described as beiug
of great extent. It is only three-quarters of a
mile in length, and a quarter of a mile in
breadth at the widest point, that is in the middle,
from which it gradually tapers down to a point at
each extremity. It is in fact a mere rock of black
basalt, rising to the height of 300 feet, and sheltering
in the bight round the corner of the West African
promontory of Cape Verde, from which it is little
more than a mile distant. The whole available surface
of the rock is, however, covered with buildings of
various sorts, fortifications and houses, and it is
computed that some 3,000 souls live on the barren
islet. It belongs to France ; and it would be
difficult to find any other European power willing



168 WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

to lavish life and money on such an inhospitable
and useless possession.

There are three lines of steamships by which
the traveller in search of a country unknown to
tourists may reach Goree ; namely, the Messageries
Maritimes, and two English ones, the vessels of
which sail from Liverpool. With the former every
one is acquainted ; and of the two latter it is difficult
to recommend which to travel by, for it is hard to
say which is the least uncomfortable. The ships of
both are virtually little more than cargo boats, and
the passenger is regarded as a useless encumbrance,
from whom the uttermost farthing of profit is to
be extracted. The food is generally execrable, and
the wines always poisonous. When the vin ordinaire
at six shillings a bottle is all used up, the passenger
is restricted as to choice between a brandy of a nev/
and curious kind, which fortunately, in the interests
of humanity, is not yet known in England, and
highly expensive sparkling gooseberry wine. The
officials on these steamers have no sense of humour.
I once heard a long-suffering traveller inquire :

" Steward ! Is there any champagne left in
the ship ? "

" No, sir but we have some lemonade."

There was no covert sarcasm in that speech ;
the man merely meant to state a fact.



GOEEE. 1G9

Goree, as seen from the sea, is not picturesque.
All the houses being built of the black basalt of
which the island is composed, the town presents
rather a sombre appearance, and there are no trees,
bushes, or turf to relieve the monotony of colour.
On landing, however, one is surprised at the motley
crowd which is assembled on the jetty. Here is
the turbaned and burnoused Arab, carrying a brass-
bound matchlock nearly as long as himself; and the
black Mohammedan Mandinoro in his loose toofa-
like robe, covered with leathern-covered amulets,
and followed by the slave, who bears the curved
scimetar of his master, in a scabbard of stamped
and embossed leather, while the satchel purse, con-
taining probably a transcript of the Koran, is slung
over his shoulder. There is a sallow and emaciated
French Eesident, looking after a cargo of ground-nuts ;
a little chattering artilleryman, whose corps fur-
nishes the garrison of the island ; a wiry Zouave-like
Tirailleur Indigene, from one of the local corps on
the mainland ; or a tall and stately Jolloff (the only
really black race in West Africa), armed with a tufted
spear, and wearing his hair twisted into numberless
little ringlets, each of the diameter and length of
an ordinary lead pencil. Here are hideous splay-
featured negroes from Sierra Leone, Jolloft women,
Sierra Leone women, men and women in European



170 WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

clothing, men and women in nativ^e dress, black,
white, brown, and yellow people, and all attired in
costumes of the most brilliant colours.

Making your w\ay through this crowd, you find
yourself ujDon a promenade in front of the Governor's
house, in the garden of which three or four cocoa-
nut palms and a few bananas dispute with some
half-a-dozen paw-paw trees in the gorge of the
citadel, the honour of representing the vegetable
kingdom in Goree. Turning up a narrow street,
well paved, clean, and in excellent order, and en-
closed by substantially - built houses, principally
shops, you walk a couple of hundred yards or so,
and there aoain is the sea. You have crossed the
island. Looking towards the mainland, which is
about four miles distant, you perceive a lighthouse,
a mole, with the masts of several ships lying behind
it, and numerous buildings crowning the low rocky
clifis, and standing: out ai]:ainst the rano-es of sand-
hills which close in the picture. This is the recently
established French settlement of Dacar, from which
now, as from St. Louis on the Senegal Eiver
formerly, the inhabitants draw their food supplies.

Goree has been called by some authorities the key
of AVest Africa, but as it possesses no harbour or safe
anchorage for vessels, depends upon other settlements
for the means of existence, and could be starved out



GOBEE. 171

in three or four clays by a blockading ironclad, it is
difficult to understand liow they arrived at tlieir con-
clusion. The original settlers, the Dutch, occupied it
because it was a convenient depot from which to
carry on trade with the Mohammedan natives on the
mainland, whose warlike and predatory propensities
would^ in those days, have made the establishment
of a trading station on the mainland an expensive
and dangerous experiment. Being captured by the
French, it was ceded to them by the treaty of
Nimeguen, and kept by them for the same reason
that had led the Dutch to colonise it. The approach
to St. Louis being frequently, for weeks at a time,
rendered impassable, owing to broken water on the
bar of the Senegal Eiver, while Goree was nearly always
accessible, the latter, in the course of time, became
the great entrepot for all the French trade in that
part of West Africa. With the rise of Dacar, how-
ever, Goree will probably decline, for the principal
reason for its maintenance will have disappeared.

The result produced by grafting French manners
upon the negro is curious, but rather pleasing. The
men never address Europeans or each other without
first bowing ; and, when speaking to each other,
instead of prefacing their remarks with " Hi, you
dam nigger!" they say " Mons{ett7\" The women, too,
instead of going about, as do those of Sierra Leone,



172 WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

in one voluminous cotton-print garment without
any waist, wear dresses, made in the latest Parisian
fasliion ; while on their heads are hats on which a
perfect conservatory of artificial flowers seems to
have sprung up, or an aviary of brilliant-hued birds
been plucked. In the matter of names the English-
speaking negro is nowhere. Who, for instance,
M'ould think of comparing such names as Maria Smith,
or Martha Brown, with that of Mademoiselle Cornelie
D'Anville ? During one of my visits to Goree, a
young mulatto lady came on board the steamer in
which I was a passenger, to take passage to the
Gambia, bringing w^ith her her wardrobe and personal
effects packed in an old and battered gin-case. I
saw a long address written on this novel trunk,
so approached surreptitiously and read : " Mdlle.
Sophie Clotilde Anastasie Louise Marguerite d'Orsac.
Passeno-er to Bathurst." That was all the name she

O

had : there was no more of it.

When the military band plays on the promenade
in front of the Governor's house, the French polish
on the negro may be observed to the best advantage.
Young negro dandies, in tight blue frock-coats, tall
glossy hats, and nankeen trowsers, walk up and down,
swinging their tasselled canes, and trying, with
elegantly-gloved hands, to fix the eye-glass in the
eye, or the double eye-glass on the nose ; the former



GOREE. 173

an exceedingly cliilicult problem in the absence of
any prominence of brow, and the latter an equally
perplexing feat in the absence of any bridge to the
nose. How they ogle and bow to the brown and
yellow demoiselles, who lounge back in unstudied
attitudes on the wooden seats, exposing to the
admiring eye the neat little patent-leather shoe, with
its bright steel buckle, and the tight-fitting pink
cotton stocking ; or with what a Parisian air they sip
their glasses of ahsintJie at the little tables outside
the cafe, and smile over the shockiDg pages of Le
Petit Journal j^our Rive. Alas ! What a pity it
is that it is only polish ! Not even the best-cut
nankeen trowsers can disguise the fact that the shin-
bone is curved like a sickle, or the most personally
excruciating shoe the melancholy truth that the leg
springs from the centre of the foot, leaving almost
as much heel protruding behind as there is instep
in front.

Perhaps, in the midst of this whirl of fashion,
a haughty Mandingo chief, armed with scimetar and
dagger, will stalk along the promenade, followed by a
retinue of servants and slaves ; regarding with true
Mohammedan contempt, as so many masquerading
monkeys, the dandies who consider themselves
the elite of Goree fashion; and comparing, with ill-
concealed satisfaction, his own stalwart and un-



17i WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

trammelled limbs with their padded and strapped

figures. But he does not enjoy a monopoly of this

pleasing sensation. The votaries of fashion affect

to stare at him as if he were some strange animal;

and if the son of nature should chance to brush

against them in the crowd, they shrug their shoulders

and look at each other with raised eyebrows, as if

to say : " Dear me, what wretched manners this

barbarian has ! " As for the young ladies, they look

modestly over the edges of their fans, pretend to

shudder, and say to one another: *'Bare legs ! ! ! Oh,

how dreadfully shocking ! It really ought not to be

allowed." And they would blush if they only could.

Now all these gallant men and lovely women,

on returning to their own homes, take off all their

finery and go about their houses attired in nothing

but one linen garment, which is worn by both sexes,

and has only one name in the French language ; for

a negro always feels uncomfortable in clothes and

boots, and only puts them on at all to gratify his

own vanity, and to raise up envy in the breasts

of his not-so-well-dressed acquaintances. The negro

is a oreat imitator. If he be born in a British

colony, he becomes an exaggerated copy of an

Englishman; when born in a French colony, he

out-Frenches the Frenchman ; and, in a Spanish

possession, he is more of a Spaniard than the



GOREE. 175

hidalgo himself. Any individuality of type which
he may have originally possessed at once disappears
luider this assumed character, and colonial negroes,
dropping their own nationality, style themselves
Englishmen. Frenchmen, or Spaniards, as the case
may be. One is not obliged, however, to scratch
very deeply to find the negro under his disguise.

The citadel of Goree is a much less antiquated
work than those commonly to be seen in our own
sixth-rate colonies, and it mounts guns that are
not quite so fit for a museum of ancient ordnance
as are those of our own West African fortifications.
It would probably be able to hold its own against
the best vessel in our West African squadron ; while
the most insignificant gunboat could knock Cape
Coast Castle, our strongest fort, into pieces in a few
minutes. Within the walls of the citadel the
summit of the rock is levelled so as to form a
diminutive parade-ground, in the centre of which
is an exceedingly deep artesian well. The labour
in boring this v/ell, sunk as it is through the solid
rock from the highest point of the island, must
have been very great. The water is exceedingly
pure and wonderfully cold, and forms, with the
exception of that which is caught in cisterns during
the rains, the entire supply of the island.

Goree has on more than one occasion fallen



176 WUST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

into the hands of the British. It was captured
by ITS in 1759, and restored to France by the peace
of 1783. In 1800 we again captured it, and though
the French succeeded in wresting it from its small
garrison on the l7th of January, 1804, it again
fell into our hands on the 7th of March of that
year. At the general peace in 1815, it was once
more returned to France, and, since then, has
remained undisturbed.

It was in 1782, while it was a British possession,
that the notorious Governor Wall floof^ed three
soldiers to death. Joseph Wall, a colonel and an
Irishman, was Governor of Gorec, the garrison of
which island was composed of the Eoyal African
Corps, into which bad characters from line regi-
ments were drafted as a punishment. Some little
difference of ojjinion arose between the paymaster
and men concerning certain arrears of pay ; and the
latter, hearing that the former was about to leave
for England with the Governor, proceeded to his
ofhce in a body to demand a settlement. Colonel
Wail met these disaffected men, at the head of
whom was a sergeant named Benjamin Armstrong,
and ordered them back to their quarters, saying
that he would at once inquire into the matter.
They went back ; but as, after an interval of an hour
or two, nothing had been decided about their pay.



GOUEE. 177

and the vessel in which the paymaster was to leave
the island was about to sail, they started again to
interview him, and, again being ordered back by
Governor Wall, again returned to their quarters.
The garrison was then paraded, and the Colonel,
after a long harangue on the subject of mutinous
conduct, sentenced Sergeant Armstrong and two
private soldiers to receive 800 lashes each. This
barbarous sentence was at once carried into effect,
and the men were flogged with a rope one inch in
diameter instead of with the ordinary " cat " ; while,
as the drummers, who in the ordinary course would
have administered the punishment, were considered
by Wall too enfeebled by long service in that pes-
tiferous climate to lay on the lashes with the energy
he required, some strong negroes were pressed into
the service, each, as his arm grew tired, being relieved
by a fresh man.

All three men died from the effects of the flos:-
ging, and Colonel Wall proceeded to England as if
nothing had happened. Much to his astonishment
and disgust, however, he was arrested shortly after
his arrival ; but he contrived to escape almost at
once, and fled to the Continent. In 1802, full of
conscious innocence, he returned to England and sur-
rendered himself. He was at once brouf^ht to trial,
but, in those good old days, judicial investigations



178 WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

seem to have been manaofed in a curious manner.
Wall's counsel was not allowed to address tlie jury
for the defence, while, on the other side, the Attorney-
General made a most able speech ; and, although it
\vas well known that the prisoner was so deaf that he
could not, from his position in the dock, hear the
evidence, he was refused permission to sit in the
body of the court, where he could have heard the
witnesses. He pleaded the necessity for strong
measures to nip in the bud any mutinous symptoms
in such a disorderly corps ; but the facts that no
court-martial had been held on the men, and that,
after their deaths, no report of the matter was made
to the authorities at home, told against him, and
being found guilty of murder, he was hanged on the
28th of January, 1802.

Since those good old days public opinion has so
changed, that now twenty lashes is considered too
severe a sentence for a mutinous soldier, and the
punishment of flogging has disappeared altogether.
Difficulties about the pay of the men seem to
have been of fre(|uent occurrence in West African
Corps in those days; and even as late as 18G2,
the Gold Coast Artillery mutinied, because some of
the officers preferred gambling with the men's pay
to putting it to its proper use.

The climate of Goree and that of the French



GOEEE. 179

settlement on the Senegal appear to be much worse
than those of the British possessions in Western
Africa, for, almost yearly, these places are visited
by epidemics of yellow fever and small-pox ; while
the former is almost unknown at Sierra Leone and
on the Gold Coast, and the latter, though always
present, does not take an epidemic form. Yet the
French are much more particular than we are in
matters sanitary, and their coloured subjects are
better fed, housed, and clothed than are ours, be-
cause they will not allow any natives to enjoy the
advantages of living under their rule, unless they
can show that they have some trade or other means
of earning a livelihood. In consequence of this law
numbers of the Jolloffs at Dacar and elsewhere have
set up as market gardeners ; and the market at Goree
is supplied with luxuries which are surprising to one
who has been accustomed to the scanty food supply of
our own West African colonics, in which, as no nefrro
is compelled to work, none do work, and nothing is
grown. This, no doubt, makes our rule more popular
than that of the French, but it does not tend to the
advancement of the natives.

The inhabitants of Goree are exceedingly patriotic.
According to an Englishman who was living in the
island in 1870-1, when the news of the disaster of
Sedan reached the settlement, the populace rose

N 2



180 WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

like one man, and demanded to be led to Berlin.
They surrounded the Governor's residence, the
guards, as usual, fraternising with the people,
screamino: with ra2:e and bristlinsj with warlike
ardour; but, as there was no transport ready to
convey this vast multitude of some four hundred
men for the immediate annihilation of the Germans,
they gave a vent to their rage by burning the
Emperor in effigy.

The scene must have been rather amusing.
After a number of bombastic orations had been
delivered by excitable gentlemen of colour, a lean
pig, attired in an old dress-coat, and with a gilt-
paper crown on its head, was led forward amidst
the kicks and execrations of the crowd. A placard^
attached to the garment of the animal, announced
that this was Citizen Louis Bonaparte, sentenced to
death for betraying la France, A noose was
immediately placed round his neck, and a hundred
manly hands, grasping the other end of the rope,
ran him up, amidst terrific cries of "(i la lanterne,"
and left him hanging to a lamp-post. Tremendous
■ shouts broke forth as the traitor kicked and struggled ;
and when the corpse was loweredj and the body cut
up, so that the handkerchiefs of the patriots might
be dipped in his gore, the island fiiirly resounded
with shrieks of dcliirht.



GOREE. 181

A liGcavy shower of rain which then came on,
dispersed the assembly, or, at all events, that portion
of it which was sober enough to disperse. The
fragments of the Emperor's body disappeared most
mysteriously ; but the prevailing odour of roast
pork that night led some persons to suppose that
the mob carried their detestation of him so far as
to devour his remains, in order that they might
effectually be denied Christian burial.

Next morning, three or four mulatto gentlemen
met in committee and drew up a proclamation,
calling upon their fellow-citizens to rally round the
Goddess of Liberty, and abolish religion, marriage,
and the possession of property. Unfortunately for
the success of their scheme, most of these com-
patriots had severe headaches, resulting from the
orgie of the previous night. The abolition of religion
and marriage was an act of superfluity that did not
interest anybody, since these were already entirely
ignored ; while those who had property took alarm
at the third proposition, and, going to the authori-
ties, had the committee arrested and marched ofi" to
the citadel. Thus terminated the sanguinary revo-
lution of Goree.

During the last six or seven years the French
have been making great progress in this part of
Africa. Advancing from Senegal and Dacar in an



182 WEST AFBICAN ISLANDS.

eastern and southerly direction, they have overrun
an immense extent of territory, annexing some
kingdoms, establishing protectorates over others, and
forcing treaties of trade upon a third class. Their
object seems to be to form a vast African colony
extending from Algeria on the north to the peninsula


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Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisWest African islands → online text (page 10 of 22)