A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

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of Sierra Leone on the south, and, in order to
prevent any other nation influencing the natives,
they are doing their best to isolate the British
possessions on the Gambia River and at Sierra
Leone. They have been particularly active in the
nnmerous rivers which open up the country between
these two colonies, forcibly occupying some points,
and sending small missions far inland to extend the
sphere of French influence.

In 1882, in the Mellicourie River, they forced
a treaty upon the chiefs, which virtually rendered
nugatory the one entered into between the latter
and the British in 1855; and then, having induced
the natives to sell or grant a small piece of laud
for the erection of buildings for trading purposes,
they commenced to establish a military station in
the neie^hbourhood of the town of Malaireah. The
natives resisted this annexation : the new buildinos
were burned, and the French officials compelled to
seek safety in flight. In a few months, however,
they returned with a larger force, and, since then,


there lias been an almost unbroken continuance of
petty hostilities.

Working up these rivers, the French send
embassies to the Mohammedan States lying to the
north and east of Sierra Leone, hoping to induce
the kings to engage to trade only ^Yith them, and
intending, in course of time, to work round behind
our possessions. This they have already sucoeeded
in doing in the Gambia, the trade of which river
is entirely in French hands ; and in the rivers more
to the southward their aggressive policy is gradually
producing the same results. The natives, however,
do not want to have anything to do with the
French. They have learned, from bitter experience,
that their traders are soon followed by officials, then
troops appear on the scene, and finally the flimsy
disguise of extension' of trade, under which they
were first suffered to introduce themselves, is thrown
aside, and the full scheme of conquest and annexation
stands forth. So well do the chiefs know this that,
no sooner do French war-vessels appear in their
rivers, than they apply to the Governor of Sierra
Leone for protection, and generally express a wish
to become British subjects. The Governor, however,
has no power to render them any assistance ; he is
obliged to refer the matter to the Colonial Office
in London, and, by the time that an answer to his


despatch has been received, the opportunity for a
protest has gone by, and the French have ah-eady
obtained a footing, from which, after a time, they
make a further advance.

So eager are they to extend their Colonial Empire,
that, in 1879, they actually occupied with an armed
force the island of Matacong, a British possession,
close to Sierra liCone ; nor would they acknowledge
our right to it until much correspondence on the
subject had passed between London and Paris.
Again, in 1880, some French officers ascended the
Eio Nunez, and succeeded in reaching Timbo, the
capital of Futa Jallon, a large and most important
Mohammedan Fouhih State to the north-east of
Sierra Leone. Though the alimani, or king, was
in constant friendly communication with the Govern-
ment of Sierra Leone, and every day some of his
people came to Freetown to trade, these officers did
not hesitate to seek to induce him to sign a treaty
binding himself and his subjects to trade only with
the French. They asked him to sell some land on
which they might erect buildings, requested permission
to make a railway for trading purposes between Timbo
and the Eio Nunez, offered him a considerable sum
of money to swear allegiance to the French, and
promised that French merchants would buy every-
thing that the country produced. The king, how-

GOBEE. 185

ever, had heard too much about the doings of the
French in the territories to the northward of his
dominions, and declined to be dazzled by their
promises and their bribes, under which he suspected
annexation to be lurking.

In consequence of this extraordinary attempt to
injure our trade and alienate from us our most
powerful native neighbour, the British Government
determined to dispatch a mission to the upper waters
of the Gambia, to endeavour to counteract any
inimical influence. The mission, of which the
administrator of the Gambia Settlements was the
chief, consisted of three Europeans and about 100
natives. It left Bathurst on the 22nd of January,
1881, proceeded in boats to Bady, some 500 miles
up the river, thence marched through Garboo country
to Futa Jallon, and reached the coast of Sierra Leone
on the 21st of Aprih The mission was well received
at Timbo, and the king signed a treaty with the

Unfortunately the party did not visit the great
rival State of Falaba, through which lies the direct
route from Sierra Leone to the Niger, Farabana on
that river being only some fifty miles from the town
of Falaba ; nor were any friendly relations entered
into with the natives of the gold-producing districts
of Bambouk and Bourre. This is so much the more


to be regretted, because, during the last and tlie
present year numerous French emissaries have been
dispatched from Sierra Leone and Porto Lokkoh to
those phices, with the result of an enormous increase
in the French trade on the Porto Lokkoh branch of
the Sierra Leone Piver, and a proportionate decrease
of English influence. In fact, if the Gfovernment do
not soon adopt some measures for putting a stop to
these insidious practices on the part of the French,
Sierra Leone and the Gambia will be British in
nothing but the name, and will simply become two
isolated spots in a vast French colony. The reader
may perhaps think that it will not be of much
moment if this does occur ; but this portion of West
Africa is not covered with impenetrable forest and
inhabited by barbarians as is the Gold Coast, but
is an open grass country, peopled by tribes who
are sufficiently civilised to read and WTite Arabic,
and who have some knowledge of working in metals.
It is opened up by numerous large rivers, and will, in
course of time, consume annually an enormous quan-
tity of European manufactured goods. It remains for
the Government to decide whether these shall be the
product of English industries or of French.



Las Palmas — The Cathedral — The Islanders — Discovery of the
Islands — The Spanish Conquest — Atrocities — The Aboriginal
Inhabitants — Their Origin — Mummies — A Canarian Preju-
dice — Canaries.

Lying off tlie African Coast, in the vicinity of
Cape Blanco, between twenty-seven and twenty-
nine degrees of North latitude, and thirteen and
eighteen degrees of West longitude, is that group
of islands known in former days as the Fortunate
Isles, and in modern times as the Canary Islands.
Irrespective of such mere rocks as Allegranza,
Graciosa, Lobos, and Santa Clara, the islands are
seven in number, namely Teneriffe, Grand Canary,
Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Palma, Gomera, and Ferro.
Of these the two first-named are the most important
in point of size and population : they are all Spanish

The island of Grand Canary is about thirty-four
miles long by twenty-nine broad, and, like all the


islands of the group, is of volcanic origin, and very
mountainous. In fact it may, in a measure, be con-
sidered to consist of one mountain, since, from all
sides, the land rises towards the culminating central
peak of El Cumlore, 6,648 feet above the sea. In
approaching Grand Canary from the north, the
steamer rounds the rocky peninsula of Isleta, which
is connected with the main bulk of the island by a
sandy isthmus two miles in length ; and, passing
the sandy bay of Isleta, with its white hermitage
dedicated to St. Catherine, and a small fort mounting
a few^ obsolete sruns, steams some three miles alono^
the shore till it comes to an anchor in the open
roadstead opposite the city of Las Palmas, the
capital of the island. From the sea, the shore
appears barren and sterile to the last degree ; for,
thou2fh in the writin2:s of the earlier historians of
the Canaries, we read that the mountains were
covered with fine timber, the same short-sighted
policy which has deprived South Spain of its forests,
and consequently of its rainfall, has here prevailed ;
and the early settlers wielded the axe with such
pertinacity, cutting down everywhere but never
planting, that now^ scarcely a tree is to be seen
along the wliole coast.

Las Palmas has a semi-oriental aj^pearance as
viewed from the deck of a steamer ; the houses beino-


all flat-roofed, rectangular, and white structures,
rising one above another on the slope of the bare
gray mountain, whose flat summit is crowned, by
the long and low wall of a fortification ; while the
numerous spires and domes of the churches and
chapels might very well be minarets and mosques.
The landing at this place is bad, for a heavy swell
sets in on the shore ; and though a mole has for
years been in course of construction, it is not yet
sufiiciently advanced to afi'ord any shelter. The
whole island is difiicult of access, and, even in fine
weather, such a surf beats upon the rocky shore, as
to make a landing impossible, except at the capital,
and some half-a-dozen smaller ports.

After having been put ashore, with or without
a wetting, one has a walk of nearly a mile, along
a lono; and stras^Q-lino- shadowless street of white
houses, to reach the principal part of the town,
which is of considerable size, and is divided into
two portions by a deep ravine, spanned by a bridge
of some architectural merit. A stream flows along
the boulder-encumbered bed, and by it may
daily be seen scores of brown-armed women in
bright dresses, wearing over their heads the white
or yellow square of alpaca or gauze which in these
islands takes among the lower classes the place of
the national mantilla, reducing linen to pulp in


the process wliicli they ironically call washing. To
one side of the chasm is the cathedral, a magnificent
building ; and, on the other, the steep face of the
mountain is marked with the dark entrances of
hundreds of caves, in which the poorer inhabitants
of the place live, and which were the habitations
of the strange people who owned the island before
the advent of the Spaniards. The houses which
overlook the road alono^ the side of the ravine are
fairly imposing ; and, as they are lavishly embowered
in groves of orange, banana, and palms, the view
of this part of the town, as seen from the higher
ground above, is exceedingly attractive.

The cathedral, dedicated to Saint Anne, was
designed by the celebrated Spanish architect, Diego
Montande, and the interior is less marred by tawdry
upholstery than is usually the case with places of
worship in these islands. The altar and communion
table are formed of beaten silver, and, amongst
others, there is one silver lamp of beautiful filigree
work. Anotlier thing which at once strikes the
eye is a candlestick ten feet in height, and which
I should imagine could never be used, because it
would require a candle of the girth of a palm-tree
to fit it, and I doubt if they have a mould of that
size in the island. The cathedral, the theatre, and
the Palace of Justice would do credit to any European


capital ; but the rest of the buildings of Las Palmas,
with the exception of those I have mentioned as
overlooking the ravine, are not ornamental, and the
majority of them even insignificant. There are two
small public gardens in the town, and one of them,
being well stocked with trees and flowers, is rather
pretty. The name of the place in full is delightfully
simple, being only La Real Ciudad de Las Palmas
de Gran Canaria ; a title which is of course much
more convenient than such a one as " Paris," or

Althou2;h, with the exception of those enofao^ed
in the wine trade and in the cultivation of the
cochineal insect, almost the whole of the peasantry
of Grand Canary are small market-gardeners, the
island is, generally speaking, very rocky and barren.
It is, however, well watered by numerous mountain
streams, and, with a little labour, might be made
most fertile ; but the islanders are content with
raising their crops in the narrow beds of the ravines
and valleys, and, indeed, would regard such an
interference with Nature as the turniuof the course
of a stream for purposes of irrigation, as almost
a sacrilege. The pine, palm, wild oli^T, laurel, aloe,
and prickly pear are indigenous ; and the climate
is so equable that both the fruits of the temperate
and torrid zones arrive at great perfection, the


oranges of Grand Canary being particularly good.
The cultivated area is, however, so small, that the
peasantry wisely confine their enterprise to the
raising of fruit and vegetables for sale in the market
of the capital ; and they entirely depend upon the
other islands, especially upon Lanzarote, for bread-
stuffs. Their wants are but few ; the wool of their
own sheep, spun by the women of the family,
supplies them with clothijig ; and their food consists
principally of salt fish and gofio ; of which the
former is caught on the banks on the opposite
coast of Africa by the Canary fishermen, while the
latter is a kind of kous-kous or damper, made of
parched flour mixed with a little water. As they
can neither read nor write they have no literary
needs to satisfy, and a fiesta on a saint's day, with
an occasional cock-fight, supplies them with all the
amusement they require. They are in fact as
ignorant, as unenterprising, as isolated, and, I may
add, as priest-ridden a people, as it would be easy
to discover in this progressive nineteenth century.

Canary sack, the wine produced in Grand Canary,
is a rather fiery fluid, and is not nearly so good as
the wine of Teneriffe. As it was held in such high
estimation in former days, one must either suppose
that Falstaff and our ancestors had stronger heads
than we now have, or that the wine now contains


a much larger percentage of alcohol than it did
formerly. Wine, cochineal, orchilla "weed, and a
little barilla are the only exports of the island ;
of the former about 20,000 pipes are exported
annually, principally to England and the United
States, where it is doctored to suit the Anglo-Saxon
palate and sold under the name of sherry. AVith
a little capital, and the removal of the absurd export
duties, the trade of Grand Canary might be very
easily doubled ; and, as the island is so well adapted
for fruit-growing, it might soon supply Western
Europe with tropical fruits, which now have to be
brousfht from the much more distant Azores and
West Indies, at a consequently greater expense.

The Canary Islands are said to have been dis-
covered by the Carthaginians, who, in the celebrated
expedition of Hanno, about 250 years before the
Christian era, sailed along the African coast, till
they arrived within five degrees of the equator.
According to Pliny, the Carthaginians found the
islands uninhabited, but saw in every direction the
ruins of great buildings which had been erected by
former inhabitants. In more modern times the
Canaries became first known in Europe in 1326,
when a French ship was driven there in a storm,
and they were doubtless afterwards visited by other
vessels of that nationality ; for Labat, in his " History


of the Western Coasts of Africa," states that the
Normans traded to the coast as far as Sierra Leone
as early as 13G4, and refers, in proof of this state-
ment, to a deed of association between the merchants
of Dieppe and Rouen, dated 1365.

The first record, however, of any communication
between Europeans and the aborigines of the islands
dates from 1385, when Fernando Peraza, of Seville,
sailed for the Canaries with five ships, and landed at
Lanzarote, the most northerly island of the group.
The Spaniards at that time were the legalised bucca-
neers of Europe, under license granted by His Emi-
nence the Pope ; and, according to the good old
humane manners of the age, this party of adven-
turers, without receiving any provocation, at once
fired upon the inoffensive natives who came crowding
down to look at them, killed and wounded several
with their arrows, and so terrified the remainder that
they ran away. The invaders then marched to the
town where the islanders lived, sacked it, carried off
everything of value upon which they could lay
hands, and embarked again for Spain, covered with
glory, and taking with them 170 of the inhabitants
whom they had kidnapped. This was the first intro-
duction of the pagan and barbarous islanders to the
polite, civilised, and Christian Spaniards.

Several other expeditions were subsequently


undertaken, but it was not until 1405 that any
descent was made upon Grand Canary ; when the
Spaniards, under John de Betancour, were so severely
handled by the natives, who by this time had learned
how to appreciate such visits, that they were glad to
seek safety in flight and re-embark. In November,
1406, John de Betancour made a second attempt, but
met with no better success than on the first occasion ;
and the island remained unmolested till 1461, when
the Spaniards endeavoured to obtain by fraud that
foothold which they were unable to obtain by force
of arms.

In that year Diego de Herrera and the Bishop of
Rubicon arrived off Gando, on the south-east of the
island, with a flotilla ; and, when the Canarians
assembled as usual to resist the invasion, the bishop
informed them that he and his party came as friends,
and with no other purpose than that of trading peace-
fully. The natives, satisfied with this statement,
allowed the Spaniards to land unarmed ; and Diego
do Herrera at once took formal possession of the
island in the presence of the natives — who of course
had no idea what the ceremony meant — the bishop,
and the other filibusters. After this, highly delighted
with his scheme, he returned to Lanaarote, over which
island the Spaniards had now obtained full sway.
Next year, the bishop, filled with an ardent desire to



gather his scattered sheep at Grand Canary into the
fold of the Romish Church, went over to Gando with
300 armed men, who were doubtless intended to aid
in the pious work of conversion. To his great annoy-
ance the natives persisted in their absurd refusal to
permit armed men to land, and he was obliged to
return to Lanzarote.

In 1466 Diego de Herrera landed in force and
endeavoured to conquer the island, but was repulsed
and compelled to retire. The year following he again
had recourse to unscrupulous diplomacy, and, pro-
ceeding to Gando, he and the bishop, under the
pretence of having a place of worship for such
Spaniards as might come to the island to trade,
obtained permission from the islanders to build a
fort at Gando. The simple natives so little sus-
pected bad faith that they assisted the Spaniards in
their work, bringing them timber from the moun-
tains, and transporting stone for them, so that in
a short time the fort was completed. Herrera, leav-
ine: a o-arrison in it under Pedro Chemida, returned
to Lanzarote, having instructed his lieutenant to
divide the natives by fomenting quarrels between
them, and to neglect no oj)portunity of making
himself master of the island. All this reads strangely
like the doin2;s of the French on the West African
coast at the present day, and if we omit the bishop,


and make trade the pretence instead of religion, tlie
description will be exact.

The Canarians soon discovered that they had been
entrapped. Secure in their fortress, which the light-
armed islanders could not venture to attack, the
Spaniards committed unheard-of outrages, and made
frequent sallies against their unfortunate victims.
Stratagem, however, was met by stratagem, and the
fort fell into the hands of the natives in the manner
narrated in the following account, taken by Captain
Glas from a Spanish manuscript found in the Island
of Palma, towards the close of the last century.

" It happened soon after that, as some of the
garrison were out on one of these marauding parties,
the natives designedly drove some cattle in their
way, as it were by accident, and thus drew them by
degrees to a considerable distance from the fort, into
an ambush that had been prepared for them, while
another party of the natives was posted in such a
manner as to cut off their retreat to the fort. On
a signal concerted between them, those in ambush
suddenly fell upon Chemida's men and killed a great
number of them, and the rest, who upon this fled
to the fort, fell into the hands of the other party,
who killed some of them and took the others
prisoners, so that not one escaped. The Captain
Mananidra, who had the command of this enter-


prise, stripped the Europeans, both living and dead,
of their clothes, which he made one half of his own
men put on, and placed the other half in ambush
very near the fort ; he then ordered some of the
Canarians in their own proper habits to chase those
dressed like Spaniards towards the fort. Pedro
Chemida and his men who remained there, seeing
this pursuit and believing their party was worsted,
sallied out to the relief of their supposed country-
men, leaving the gates open ; when the party who
were in ambush perceiving this, rushed into the
fort, while the disguised Canarians fell upon the
Spaniards and made them prisoners. After this
manner was the fort of Gando taken ; and lest
another garrison should be sent from Lancerota,
they burnt the wood of the fort and razed the
walls thereof to the ground."

The prisoners, instead of being put to death
after the usual manner of savages, or made slaves
after the fashion of Spaniards, were treated with
kindness and humanity, fed with the best the
natives had, and finally released by them without
ransom or conditions.

Towards the close of the year 1476, FerdinaLd
and Isabella decreed that Grand Canary, Tenerifife,
and Palma — being too powerful for Diego de Herrera
to master, and it being absolutely necessary that they


should be mastered in order that the natives miglit be
made Christians — should be added to the crown of
Spain ; and, in lieu of his rights (?), Herrera was
compelled to accept the munificent sum of five
millions of maravcdis, that is to say, about £3,000.
On the conclusion of this agreement the Spanish
monarchs fitted out an armament for the reduction of
their new purchases. It sailed from Andalusia, under
Juan Rejon, on the 23rd of May, 1477; and arrived
off the peninsula of Isleta, at the north-eastern
extremity of Grand Canary, on the night of the 22nd
of June. That sterile and sandy portion of the
island being uninhabited, the Spaniards landed next
morning without opposition, and started to march
along the shore, with the intention of proceeding to
Gando. On arriving, however, at the spot where the
city of Las Palmas now stands, the site appeared to
Juan Eejon so propitious, abounding in water and
wood (which latter has now entirely disappeared), that
he determined to stop there, and at once commenced
building defences. After the lapse of a few days, the
Spaniards were attacked with great fury by the
natives ; but, in the action which ensued, the latter
were routed, owing principally to the Spaniards
having now learned the use of fire-arms, and being
assisted by a body of cavalry, whose horses struck the
simple Canarians with terror. This battle w^as called


Guinigada, and tlie natives, witlidrawing to the moun-
tains, closely blockaded the Spanish camp.

For three or four years the invaders made no
progress. Keinforcements were sent from Spain, but
their endeavours to penetrate into the mountains
were almost uniformly disastrous, and even their
fortress at Las Palmas was attacked. About 1482,
however, a reinforcement of the Holy Brotherhood of
Andalusia arrived, and then the war of extermination
of the islanders commenced. The mountain strong-
holds were stormed ; men, women, and children were
slain, others threw themselves over the precipices to
escape falling into the hands of their conquerors, and
the survivors were hunted like wild beasts from their
caves and hiding-places. These measures succeeded
so well, that on the 29th of April, 1483, the remnant

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Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisWest African islands → online text (page 11 of 22)