A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

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a reasonable time for allowing your pursuers to
disperse, you venture to look forth. There they all
are, smoking, scratching, yawning, and looking as if
they had nothing to do but wait for you till dooms-
day. You retreat once more to the penetralia, and if
the hotel should happen to have a back door, you go
out by it rejoicing, leaving the pack of idlers, etc.^
ambushed round the front gate. This is usually th*.
experience of one's first day at Funchal ; after th.s,c
the natives seem to consider you unworthy of so
much attention, and you are allowed to wander about
in peace.

All these importunate people live upon the
passengers of steamers which call at Madeira, and
they regard every stranger as a nice fat pigeon sent
specially by Providence for them to pluck. Some six
or seven steamers call at Funchal during the week, so
they have plenty of opportunities for keeping them-
selves in practice ; and if you object to the process of
plucking they become quite annoyed, and look upon
you as a mean sort of person for endeavouring to
cheat them out of their j ust dues. They take parties
of strangers to shops, where they get a commission,



312 WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

and insist upon purchases of feather flowers, work-
boxes, and Madeira work being made ; and the
strangers have the pleasure of buying all these things
in a romantic foreign country for very little more
than double what they would have to pay for them
in London, and they think it cheap at the price.

These birds of prey are naturally very fond of the
English, who usually travel with full purses. One of
them once said to me :

" Portygoose like Inglish varo mooch, but Inglish
no like Portygoose vare mooch at all."

Although the trading community like us. yet, if
English residents may be believed, the official class
would be only too glad to prohibit English people
from resorting to the island at all. They actually
complain that their siestas are sadly disturbed by the
pop-guns which are fired by the steamers on arrival
and departure.

Wheel carriages of any kind are out of the
question in Madeira, for every road and street is
more or less an inclined plane ; and they are besides
paved with cobble-stones in a manner that almost
breaks the heart of a man who suffers from tender
feet. Consequently one's mode of conveyance is
limited to a choice between bullock-sleds, horses, or
hammocks. The bullock-sled crawls along at the
rate of a mile and a half ari hour, and would be a



MADE IB A. 313

very comfortable vehicle in which to take a siesta,
were there not a number of jingling bells attached to
the yokes of the oxen, and did not the driver keep
encouraging his animals with melancholy howls.
The roads are so steep, and the runners of the
bullock-sleds have so polished the cobble-stones with
which they are paved, that, if you ride, you can
only do so at a walk ; the hammock, which depends
from a pole borne upon the shoulders of two men,
is hot and uncomfortable, so the Briton who is not
an invalid usually trusts to his own legs for
locomotion.

The town of Funchal looks better from the sea
than it does upon a nearer inspection. Lying out
in the bay you see to your left the diminutive for-
tress on the detached Ilheo, or Loo Kock ; while in
front the yellow habitation of the Governor, half
palace and half castle, is a prominent and picturesque
object. To the right of that is Bangor's Pillar, a
stone column which some eccentric genius reared
with the idea that a crane might be worked from
the top of it for unloading boats ; then the custom-
house, and the fort of St, Jago, with the church of
the same name above it. Behind these are a mass
of red-tiled roofs and little square turrets ; and,
over all, the gray walls of the old castle. Going
on shore you find a town of narrow and intricate



31 4 WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

streets, closed in with gloomy-looking houses, the
windows on the ground- floors of which are without
glass, but guarded by iron bars and network, as if
house-breaking were rather a common event. AVhere
there are not houses the street is closed in with hitrh
stone walls, over the tops of which flowering shrubs
clamber in wild profusion. Three streams traverse
the town and discharge into the sea, viz., the San
Lazaro, Santa Luiza, and Joao Gomez. They form
rather picturesque ravines, clothed with gorgeous
vegetation ; and, looking down from the bridges
which span them, you observe women pounding-
clothes on flat rocks with pieces of stone, and that,
too, with a vigour that no longer leaves it a matter
for wonder why your shirts should always come home
from the laundress with the cufis and collars frayed
out into a curious imitation of lace.

The garrison of Portuguese troops wear a uniform
not unlike that of our Eifle Brigade. They seem
good-natured and fatherly kind of men, and any day
you may perceive the sentries smoking their cigarettes
and lounging in the shade, while they lend their
rifles to the little children to play at soldiers or
hobby-horse with. One sees officers, too, in the
streets — in fact, there appear to be more officers than
soldiers — all looking suspiciously waspish about the
waist, and with trowsers that seem to be distended



MADEIRA. 315

about the upper part of the thigh with small crino-
lines. They carry rapiers, which flap against the
thigh at every step, and to see them promenading
on the diminutive prada, under the trees, when the
band is playing, with their moustaches curled up to
the corners of their eyes, and one hand resting
jauntily on the hip, is a sight to make the craven
heart of a Briton tremble. For they are fire-eaters
indeed. Ah ! how they scowl at the unconscious
Saxon who inadvertently nearly strides over them ;
how they splutter and rage round him like little
bantam-cocks, as he begs pardon and explains that
he did not see them ; with what disdainful grace
they shrug their padded shoulders, and, twirling
their moustaches furiously, once more pass on and
turn their bewitching glances upon the fair senoritas,
who are entranced by so much gallantry and courage.
I shall never forget my first night at Funchal.
It was the first time that I had ever been out of
England, and I had been running about all day in a
state of wonderful excitement ; now stopping to stare
at a shovel-hatted priest, a peasant in his carapuce, or
conical blue cap, a green lizard on a wall, or the
bunches of ripe grapes v\^hich hung everywhere from
trellised vines; so that I went to bed thoroughly tired
out, but far too excited to sleep, I had only been in
bed some ten minutes, thoroughly realising from the



316 WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS. ■

dead silence, and the earthy smell which seema
peculiar to every tropical or sub-tropical climate, that
I was at last in a foreign country, when I heard the
twano;ino" of a sfuitar or machette,'" in the neigjhbour-
ing street, and presently a high, thin Portuguese
tenor broke out in quavering song.

Ah, here was romance indeed ! I thought of the
student of Salamanca — stay, though, was it he of
Salamanca, or of Cadiz, who was famed for his skill
upon the guitar ? — and a thousand visions oi mantillas,
fans, lavender satin boots and dehghtfully wicked
black eyes, floated before me. No doubt another
cavalier, muffled m a long black cloak and bursting
with jealous rage, was standing round the corner
stiletto in hand, waiting to see if the dark-eyed
senorita would open her lattice, or accord any token
of favour to the warbling rival, who sang on, uncon-
scious of danc;er.

Suddenly the romantic strains were interrupted
by a kind of crash. Heavens, what was it ? Was it
a strugo-le to the death between the two fierv lovers ?
I sprang out of the sheets, and was at the window
just in time to see the skinny and wrinkled arm of an
old woman withdrawing into a neighbouring casement
a basin, or some homely utensil of that kind, which,

* A small instrument like a diminutive guitar "with four strings,
peculiar to the island.



MAVEIBA. 317

iu the patriarchal custom of the country, she had
been emptying into the street. I looked up and
down the road. It was a briMit moonlio;ht nio-ht,
and I could see even the grass that was growing in
the interstices of the round stones of the pavement,
and the flowers on the shrubs noddins; over the hi^h
wall of an adjacent garden. Ah, there was the
serenader, leaning up against the side of a house,
dissembling under a slouched hat, and perfectly en
regie, even to the broad black riband which sus-
pended the guitar ! He came a little nearer to me,
and commenced his amorous ditty once more. It did
not sound quite so well at a closer hearing ; there did
not seem to be much variation in the tune ; and, by
some absurd train of thouirht, I remembered the
querulous music our old tom-cat used to indulge in,
when shut out in the garden at night. As if there
could be any comparison between that prosaic sound,
and this song sanctified by the halo of romance !
Presently I heard a shutter forcibly jerked open, and
a man's voice raised as if in anger. Ha, ha ! No
doubt this was the jealous husband, who had arrived
home unexpectedly, and thus been aroused by the
fond and flattering couplets that were intended only
for fairer ears. Yes, there could be no doubt of it.
The man at the window, in a white garment, poured
forth a string of voluble sentences, gesticulated



318 WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

violently, and then shut liis shutter with a bang,
while the unhappy lover slunk off with a sad heart
up a neighbouring alley. I waited a little time to
see if he would return, but nothing more happened,
and I went to bed full of serene happiness.

Next morning I said to the manager of the hotel :

" Somebody was playing the guitar under my
window late last night."

He replied :

" It's that confounded boy Jose again. I hope he
didn't disturb you. The young wretch is our scullery
boy, and I've had to speak to him about it before."

Thus was the halo of romance rudely dispelled.

For the visitor who has only one day to devote to
the island, one of the expeditions which will give the
best idea of the mountain scenery is to climb up the
AlleoTia, then cross to the church of Nossa Senhora
do Monte, descend into the stupendous ravines to the
east, and come back by the Koxinha road. At the
convent of Our Lady of tlie j\Iount there are nuns to
be seen who, in defiance of the accepted belief to the
contrary, are not in the least alarmed at the presence
of the male animal. However, no visitor to Mount
Church will have any desire to commit sacrilege by
running away with one of these holy women ; quite
the contrary, for the recluses are as plain as goody-
goody people usually arc. I know the proverb says,



MADEIRA. 319

" as ugly as sin ; " but my experience goes to show
that sin is not as ugly as it ought to be, to keep up
the reputation of proverbial philosophy. These nuns
entreat the casual heretic to buy feather flowers,
baskets, and a species of embroidery which much
rejoiceth the female mind, and for which fabulous
sums are asked.

If there should chance to be a bullock- sled at the
church, and you do not mind risking your neck, you
may return to Funchal in a very expeditious manner.
The drivers take the oxen out of the sled, and start
the vehicle sliding down the steep incline, they hang-
ing on behind with long poles, with which they steer
the sled, and prevent it attempting to climb over the
low walls of loose stones. The ascent to the church
occupies nearly two hours in a bullock-sled, but
you come down the whole 2,000 feet of altitude in
about twenty minutes ; and the pastime much re-
sembles toboganning, with the exception that you
have walls, stones, and rocks to fall upon, instead of
a nice soft snow-drift. Accidents, however, do not
occur so frequently as one might imagine.

One of the firsb things that attracts the notice of
the visitor to Madeira is the profusion of fruits and
flowers of all descriptions. From its situation and
equable climate, the fruits of both Europe and the
tropics thrive in the island ; but neither attain the



320 WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

perfection nt \Yliicli tliey arrive in tlieir own proper
latitudes, and, in my opinion, the fruit of Madeira is
much overrated. The peaches, plums, nectarines,
and other wall-fruits cannot for a moment be com-
pared with those of England, and the apples are
tasteless and almost uneatable ; while as for tropical
fruits, neither the pine-apple, the banana, the guava,
nor the passion -fruit, though cultivated with care,
is so good as those which grow almost wild upon
the Gold Coast and in Western Africa generally.
Figs, melons, grapes, oranges, and pomegranates,
being more in their proper latitude, are perhaps the
best productions of the island. For flowers, however,
Madeira is unsurpassed. Even the hedges are made
of myrtle, rose, honeysuckle, and jasmine, all in per-
petual bloom ; and every garden is filled with tropical
and sub-tropical flowers, which are only seen at home
in conservatories. The hills are covered with lupin,
larkspur, and fleur-de-lis ; and, in the spring, the
upper slopes of the mountains are fragrant with the
perfume of acres of sweet violets. Of forest trees tlie
principal are the pine, chestnut, cedar, and African
oak. It is worthy of note that, though Madeira
unites the vegetation of Europe with that of Africa,
the cuphorbise and mesembryanthema, w^hich are so
characteristic of the latter, and which are found in the
Canaries, are here wanting.



MABBIBA. 321

Saints' days and festivals are, of course, of
frequent recurrence in Madeira, but tliey are not
observed with, tlie same ceremony as in tlie Spanish
islands ; and processions and displays of cheap fire-
works are comparatively rare. On Good Friday all
the flags in Funchal are hoisted at half-mast, the
churches are draped in black, and on every side are
heard the enlivening strains of the "Dead March."
On the day following an effigy of Judas Iscariot is
hanged in public. The Portuguese appear to have
strange ideas regarding the costumes which were in
vogue nearly nineteen hundred years ago, for, on the
only occasion upon which I saw this ridiculous spec-
tacle, the effigy wore an old tall black hat, from which
a portion of the roof had been removed — perhaps for
ventilation — a knitted under-shirt of white wool, a
swallow-tailed blue coat, ornamented with brass
buttons, and trowsers of white jean. A mask covered
the bunch of grass which represented the head of the
culprit ; and, from the colour of the nose, it appeared
that he had been trying for the last eighteen hundred
years to drown remorse in strong drinks.

Christmas Day is celebrated in a less sensational
manner. The people simply stay indoors and eat as
many meals as they can of roast pork and garlic,
employing all the time they can spare from the duties
of the table in throwing squibs and crackers out of



322 WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

their windows into the streets. No one but a Jew
or a heretic would on that day abstain from devour-
ing the flesh of the unclean animal; and, shortly after
noon, the odour of roast pig pervades the whole town.
In the evening there are more squibs and crackers, of
a very feeble character ; and bands of the citizens
parade the streets, playing on guitars and machettes,
and singing songs which happily are very different
indeed, both in time and sentiment, to our droning
Christmas ''waits."

English people who visit Madeira usually think it
their duty to drink the wine of that name, and are
much disappointed with it. New Madeira I should
certainly call dear as a wine, but, as a spirit, it is
cheap ; for adulteration is as thoroughly understood
here as in any city of Europe, and the wine is in-
variably liberally " treated " with brandy. In former
days, when Madeira wine earned for itself a world-
wide reputation, the best French brandy was used
for " treating ; " but the exceedingly high import
duties have now led the wine-merchants to substitute
the fiery and destructive brandy of the island, and
this has, probably, nearly as much to do with the
present inferior quality of the wine as has the de-
terioration of the vine. The best and purest wine is
technically known to the wine-merchants by the
name of " mother wine," and from one pipe of this,



MADEIRA. 323

eiglit or nine pipes of Madeira for exportation are
made by the addition and judicious mixture of inferior
vintages. " Mother wine " itself is seldom exported,
and, in fact, very little good wine finds its way out
of the island, or is even offered for sale in it, all being
at once snapped up by connoisseurs for their own
tables. That intended for the Encclish market is
usually of a very inferior description, and, to give it
a fictitious age, it is exposed in large vats for several
days to a heat of 105*^ or 110°. Besides Madeira
proper, the island also produces Vina Tinta, a kind
of thin and sweet Beaune. It is made from black
grapes, and obtains its colour from their skins, which
are placed in a vat with the expressed juice and there
allowed to remain for several days. The Sercial is
another brand, distinguished by a slight flavour of
opium; and Malmsey is also made in small quantities.
The slopes of the mountains around Funchal are
covered with vineyards up to the limit at which the
vine "will grow, which is about 1,800 feet above the
level of the sea ; and wine produced on this side of
the island is worth three times as much as that made
on the northern side. The vines are usually grown
and tended by tenant peasants, who, besides paying
the Government a tenth of the produce of the vintage,
have to hand over to the owner of the soil one-half
of the remainder as rent. The business is so profitable,

Y 2



324 WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

however, tliat, even on these hard terms, the actual
wine-growers manage to do very well. The bunches
of grapes, when picked, are placed in a rough wooden
trough, and then trodden down by the naked feet of
the labourers ; any juice which may remain after this
being expressed by means of a squared log. The
quality of the wine is fixed almost as much by smell
as by taste. The A^ery worst kind is distilled into
brandy, and the next, a thin and acid wine, is reserved
for the poorer classes. The wine obtainable on the
island by the ordinary Englishman who is not a
millionaire, is a headachy, sweet, and potent fluid,
and I should imagine that the less one drank of it
the better.

From Funchal to the north there are two roads,
namely, one to S. Vincente and one to Santa Anna.
By going by the one and returning by the other,
three or four days may be profitably expended in
seeino: all that is best worth seeino; in the island.
S. Vincente is about ten hours' journey from Funchal.
The road, paved with cobble-stones, and enclosed by
loose stone walls, at first follows the cliffs along the
coast to the west, till the ravine of the Socorridos
river is reached, when it turns upward by a steep
ascent, on which your horse, if you are mounted,
slips about in quite a startling manner. It is early
morning, and numbers of peasants of both sexes are



MADEIRA. 325

met coming clown to Funclial, some bearing on their
heads bundles of firewood or fodder for horses, for
sale in the town ; and others carrying on their
shoulders skins full of wine.

After passing the limit of the vineyards the
road is unenclosed, and traverses broad mountain
heaths and woods of chestnut. This is called the
Jardim de Serra, or Garden of the Mountains, and is
a wild and luxuriant scene. On one side are lofty
rounded spurs of the mountains, and on the other
are deep valleys choked with vegetation, amid
which the dragon-tree, the palm, and the pale-green
banner of the banana may occasionally be seen. The
expanse of heath extends as far as the Jardim Quinta,
or villa, leaving which to the left the ascent is
continued by narrow and dangerous paths till the
Grand Corral is reached.

Quitting the path and ascending a hill to the right,
you look down suddenly upon the vast hollow of a
crater, 2,000 feet deep, the broken and ruffo-ed
basaltic sides of which are clothed from foot
to summit with laurels and other evergreens. The
abyss is broken up into deep valleys and ravines, by
rocky ridges extending from the surrounding cliffs ;
and though to all ajDpearance inaccessible, the white
walls of cottages are seen gleaming amongst the
vineyards, with the church tower of Libramente



326 WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

above them ; while a little river that traverses one
valley, sparkles in the sunlight like a glittering silver
thread. Eeturning to the road, it then follows a
narrow ridge, only a few feet in breadth, with the
immense depth of the Corral on one side, and the
thickly-wooded and precipitous ravine of the Serra
d'Agoa on the other. In front is the abrupt height
of the Pico Grande, and to the right, across the
Corral, tower the Pico Arriero and the Pico Ruivo
— the latter distinguished by the verdure which
extends to its summit. To the rio-ht of Pico Kuivo,
which is 6,056 feet in height and the highest point
in Madeira, are several castellated crags, which are
called by the natives the Torrinhas or " Turrets."
People who have not strong nerves usually prefer
walking here to being swung half over a precipice in
a hammock, or bruised against the rocks by a jibbing
horse ; for, for some distance, the narrow path is
hewn out of the face of the cliff, which overhangs
it in places so as to barely admit of the passage of
a single horseman. Perhaps, while riding along
cautiously, and keeping as far from the edge of
the precipice as possible, the tinkle of mule-bells
will be heard ahead, and in a moment half-a-dozen
mules, laden with produce for the capital, will appear
round a sharp corner, moving along at a slow trot and
followed by a sliouting muleteer. You think it is



MADE IE A. 327

impossible for them to pass you without accident,
and squeeze as close as you can to the wall-like
cliff, so as to make sure that you will not be the
one to go over ; but almost before you know it they
have passed you, and except for the brushing of a
pannier or two against your knee, you have not been
touched. The islanders think nothing of such meet-
ings on these dangerous paths ; but it takes a long-
time for a man, unaccustomed to ride on the top of a
brick wall, to view them with equanimity.

Winding round the Pico Grande, the road
traverses the mountains for several miles, every turn
opening up fresh vistas of rugged beauty ; until,
descending through cool and fragrant plantations
of fir and birch, the valley of S. Vincente is reached.
On this, the northern side of the island, the vine,
instead of growing on trellis-work, is trained on
trees, principally the chestnut. These trees are
planted at regular intervals ; and, as the road
leaves the woods and enters the region of vineyards,
one rides along under a canopy of foliage, formed
of vines, which, clambering from branch to branch,
have spread across the track. Through this roof
of leaves an occasional ray of sunlight finds its
way to chequer with light and shadow the stony
path ; and, looking up, one sees between the bunches
of grapes and the soft green surflice of the vine-



328 WEST AFRICAN ISLANDS.

kcaves, the gnarled limbs of the chestnuts stretching
overhead. The banana, palm, and cactus do not
flourish on this side of Madeira, for, in the winter
months, severe cold is often experienced, and snow
sometimes lies on the hills and lower shoulders of
the mountains for weeks. But while the furious
north wind is raging along this coast, and the serras
are impassable through hail, snow, fog, and tempest,
Funchal, sheltered in its rugged mountain amphi-
theatre, remains quite tranquil ; and a stranger,
wandering about its warm and sunlit streets, would
never guess, from the dark clouds wdiich roll along
the mountain tops, what an angry and chilly blast
is shut out by that barrier.

From S. Yincente to Santa Anna is about seven
hours' journey. Leaving the fields of flax in the
valley, from which the rough cloth of the island is
manufactured, the road follows the sea-shore the
greater part of the way ; sometimes on a narrow
shelf between the rocks and the sea, and sometimes
on the summit of a cliff. At one part it is cut
in the face of a precipice, at a considerable height
above the sea; and every half-mile or so it zio-za^i^s
down one side of a narrow and steep ravine, to
ascend again on the further side in the same


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Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisWest African islands → online text (page 18 of 22)