A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

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another, we should most probably be detained a

week, and, unless prompt measures were taken, we

should be kickino; our heels all that time on board.

Then the army surgeons came to the front, and drew

up a lengthy protest, addressed to the long-sufi"ering

British consul, who lived in a house on a spur of

the mountains, with a charming view of hill-side

covered with boulders in front, and more slope dotted

with rocks behind. This missive was handed with

a pair of tongs to a half-caste who had been keeping

his eye on us from a boat lying near the ship, duly

fumigated by him and forwarded to its destination,

and in an hour we were informed that we wxre

prisoners no longer.


In five minutes the sliip was emptied of all but
the crew, and we were pulled ashore. AVe landed
amidst a throng of brown and yellow half-caste
Portuguese ladies, who greeted us as familiarly and
affectionately as if we had been old and valued
friends, and wandered about the town, in which
there was nothing worth seeing, until we were tired.
Besides a wretched church, two so-called hotels, and a
few stores, Porto Grande consists of nothing but a
couple of hundred negro hovels, built of loose stones.
There are, perhaps, six or seven white men in the place,
all the remaining inhabitants having more or less
negro blood in their veins. The island is wretchedly
poor, and the inhabitants live almost entirely upon
the profits they make by selling fresh provisions to
the whaling ships ; which, on acccount of the safeness
of the harbour, and the smallness of the harbour dues,
frequent Porto Grande in large numbers. All the
provisions thus sold are obtained from San Antonio,
for St. Vincent produces nothing but the orchilla
weed, a gray lichen-like plant which grows in the
crevices of the rocks, and is used for making a purple
dye ; while the sale of this is monopolised by the
Portuguese Government. In addition to a scarcity
of food St. Vincent also suffers from a scanty water
supply. Behind the town of Porto Grande, a few
wells are sunk through a soft volcanic rock, and,


the supply being limited, are carefully enclosed with
whitewashed stone walls, and locked up. Inside
these enclosures the few trees of which the island
boasts are to be found.

Besides the Governor and two or three white
officials, the establishment of the island consists of
half-a-dozen black policemen, attired in a grotesque
uniform. As for a military force, all the able-bodied
men are enrolled in a corps which is denominated the
National Guard ; and which is evidently intended
only for the repression of street riots, since its
members are armed with no weapons more formidable
than bludgeons. The children run about the streets
in a state of nudity, while the adults of both sexes
are only half clad ; and this scantiness of clothing
must not be attributed to the heat of the climate,
for the Portuguese negro is just as fond of fine clothes
as is the English, but to the poverty of the inhabitants.
Taken as a whole it is, perhaps, the most wretched
and immoral town that I have ever seen ; but what
can be expected of a colony which is rated at such
a low value, that the salary of the Governor is only
four shillings and sixpence a day ?

Having observed all the attractions of this
delightful town we went to an hotel, which rejoiced
in the comprehensive title of " Hotel Brasiliero,
Inghilterra, Americano, Espanol y Francesca ; " while.


over the door, a large notice board presented the
following polyglot legend to our admiring eyes :
Ici on pari Frances. Man spreuclit Deutsch. Man
spiks Ingleesh. Aqui se hahla Espanol. Sabe

Having ordered dinner at this place for the whole
party, the captain of our ship persuaded me to go
and play billiards with him. The billiard table was
in a long, narrow, dilapidated room on the ground
floor of a building overlooking the bay ; and was
called a table by courtesy only, for it was really
much more like a military model of broken country
for the study of minor tactics. A collection of broom-
handles, locally denominated cues, graced a rickety
rack at one end of the room ; and a strip or two
of mahogany, dangling from a nail, with here and
there the mangled remains of a figure, denoted what
had once been a marking board. The half-caste who
introduced ns to this miserable wreck, told us to
call out if we should want anything, and then dis-
appeared. The balls were about the size of old
twenty-four-pound shot, and were anything but
spherical, but we mechanically put them on the
table, and the game began. With my very first
stroke I raked up the bed of a ravine, and destroyed
a lake of dried wax at its head ; the captain made
a bold attempt, and the broom-handle, glancing from


the precipitous scarp of a bluff, shot out of his hands.
After about ten minutes' play the features of the
country were entirely changed, but we had not
succeeded in scoring anything. The half-caste looked
in, and said :

" You find ze t^able difficult ? "

" It is rather," I replied.

" Ah ! zis is not de common table. Even ze
best players find zis table not easy." And he went
out again.

After about twenty minutes we put on our coats
and started to go out. The half-caste immediately
skipped out of a passage and demanded payment.
We asked how much he charged per game, and he
replied that he did not let out the table by the game,
but by the hour. I could quite understand that,
because no one could ever finish a game on that
table, so we paid him and went back to the hotel.

The dinner would have been tolerable had there
been more variety in the viands, which consisted of
cat-fish and melons, cooked in a number of ways.
We got through it without accident — except that a
mulatto waiter considered himself grossly insulted
by being called Sambo instead of Jose — and were
sitting round the table, smoking rolled cabbage-
leaves, which the ingenious Portuguese manufacture
into a semblance of tobacco, when the landlord


bowed himself into the room, and, with many-
obeisances, announced that a fandango was about
to be held in a room below, to which, if it would
be agreeable to any of his honoured guests, he would
be happy to escort them.

We were ushered into an apartment so full of
smoke that at first we could not see distinctly ; but,
as our eyes became accustomed to the atmosphere,
we discovered a large room with glass doors opening
into the street, and a crowd of coloured ladies and
gentlemen smoking cigarettes. On one side was a
table covered with dirty glasses, and bottles of rum,
hollands, and aguardiente; and, next to the table,
was the orchestra, which consisted of a guitar, a
violin, and a concertina. They were just going to
commence, and I turned my attention to the dancers.
The ladies were variously attired; some in dresses
of gay-coloured cotton print, with bright hand-
kerchiefs tied round their heads ; and some in more
costly raiment, with long trains. Some wore shoes
and stockings, and some did not ; of the latter, two
or three were attired in the short muslin skirts
usually only seen in England in a ballet, and with
which their brown legs and arms formed a contrast
which I recommend to the notice of any enterprising
theatrical manager. "With the gentlemen, coats did
not appear to be necessary ; nor, apparently, was it

E 2


in accordance with island etiquette to remove the

The opening quadrille was followed by a waltz ;
and, after a short time, some of the surgeons were
sufficiently acclimatised to join in it. As for me, as
I do not dance, I entered into conversation with a
little black-eyed half-caste, who talked volubly for
ten minutes without utterino^ a sinsfle word that I
recognised, except caramha. Everything was thus
going on very nicely, when a furious and semi-
intoxicated man suddenly rushed in at the door, and
laid violent hands upon a fascinating creature who
was dancino; with a little doctor. AVe did not know
what was the matter, but he appeared to want to
drag her out of the room, and she appeared bent
on remaining, clinging to the doctor, and calling
upon him to protect her. A collision between these
two doughty heroes seemed unavoidable, and I began
to fear we should have some serious trouble, when
the obsequious landlord craftily intervened with a
tumbler of raw spirit, and led the infuriated half-
caste to the table. Harmony was thus restored, and
the fandango recommenced. By this time, however,
the room was very hot, and the noise tremendous ;
the stamping and shouts of the dancers, the strum-
ming of the guitar, the shriek of the violin, and the
asthmatic wheeze of the concertina, were almost


deafening ; while the odour of the bad tobacco, and
the smell of musk, or some such pungent scent, with
which all the senoras and senoritas were perfumed,
were overpowering, so I went out into the cooler air
of the street. My bed-room being on the ground
floor, next to the room in which the dancing w^as
going on, it was useless for me to endeavour to go
to sleep, so I went for a stroll along the beach.
When I returned, the entertainment was over, and
the hotel plunged in darkness.

My bed-room consisted of a vast Sahara of
sandy floor, having for oases a four-post bedstead
and a chest of drawers. The former w^as adorned
with black leather hangings, w^hich made it look like
a funeral-car ; and the latter sufi'ered from some
malformation, which caused it to hold up one leg
spasmodically in mid air. A smell of decay pervaded
the atmosphere, so I opened the window to let in the
cool sea breeze, put out the lamp, and jumped into
bed. I was up again in a second, for the mattrass
appeared to be full of pins ; but, on examination, it
proved to be only stufi'ed wdth wood shavings, and I
spread all the coverlets over it, and tried to go to
sleep. In about five minutes I awoke with a start,
dreaming that I was falling over a precipice, and
found my feet hanging over the foot of the bed. The
bedstead was an inclined plane, and I had slipped


down. I rectified this by putting the bolster under
the foot of the mattrass, and tried once more to woo

I was just going off when something tickled my
left ankle violently ; I reached down my hand, and
the irritation seized my calf. I lighted the lamp and
found that a detachment of that pet domestic live
stock, which most Portuguese carry about with them,
was advancing up my leg. An apparently endless
column was streaming down a bed-post to hurry to
the fray ; and I could almost hear the roar of the
multitude as they congratulated themselves upon
having a full-blooded Englishman for supper. Some
light cavalry, who were skipping about in the van,
soon carried back the intelligence to the main body
that the camping-ground of the enemy, though still
warm, was empty ; some staff-officers climbed on to the
backs of their orderlies to take a good look round,
and then clouds of skirmishers were despatched in
every direction to get touch of the foe once more. While
I was engaged with the first party that had effected a
lodgment upon the superior slope of my skin, another
division of the army threw themselves upon my right
leg, and carried my knee. It was no time for half-
measures, so I tore off my sleeping clothes, and a
horrible hand-to-hand conflict to the death ensued.

While I was thus occupied I heard a crash of


glass ; and, looking up, observed a half-caste gentle-
man coming in at my window. Snatcliing the cover-
let from the bed, and enveloping myself in its ample
folds, I asked him what he wanted.

He replied : " Vare is my vife ? "

I then saw that it was the same individual who had
made a disturbance in the dancing-room, if anything,
now more intoxicated than before ; and I endeavoured
to explain to him that I knew nothing of his wife,
and that he must go away. Instead of taking any
nuotice of my explanation, he advanced to my bed, fell
on his knees beside it, raised the hangings, and looked
underneath. Finding nothing there that he wanted,
he got up once more, shook me cordially by the hand,
bowed in courteous adieu, and then went out again
by the window.

I was thinking what a nice wife this man must
have had, when I heard a noise overhead, as of a
battering-ram being run against a door ; and then a
voice, which I recognised as the personal property of
a burly doctor, shouting that he would open the door.
Then I heard the pit-pat of slippered feet traversing
the room, the sound of an opening door, a loud excla-
mation, and then a prolonged banging and crashing
as if all the furniture in the room had suddenly taken
to dancing Sir Roger de Coverley. I thought perhaps
there might be something the matter, and was going


up to inquire, when a dark object shot past my
window and fell into the street. I looked out to see
what it was, and saw my half-caste friend picking
himself up. Then something else flew across the
street and jingled on the stones, and a dark object
soared up into the air and fell with a dull sound.
These were a knife and a hat, which the half-caste
had apparently, in the hurry of his departure, left
behind. The latter came and stood under the upstairs
window, and tenderly caressing with one hand that
portion of the body which, in hasty removals from
premises, usually comes in contact with the propelling
power, he raised his clenched fist, shook it vindictively
at some one overhead, and shrieked forth a recitative
of high-souled and imaginative blasphemy. This
beautiful flow of language was suddenly checked by a
volume of cold water which fell upon the poet's head ;
and, appalled by the new and terrible blood-chilling
shock, he uttered a wild scream, and fled up the
street, gesticulating like a madman.

During breakfast next morning the burly doctor
was full of his combat with the midnight assassin,
who, by some strange mistake, perhaps the darkness
of the scene of the conflict, had now become doubled ;
and as he described the sanguinary struggle, the
horrified audience hung on his lips with bated breath.
I did not take upon myself the duty of correcting his


little error as to the number of his assailants, for
1 did not consider it of sufficient importance.

The breakfast consisted of the fras^ments of the
dinner of the previous evening. Now melons and
cat-fish are very nice things indeed, but even the
most select dishes pall upon the jaded appetite if
repeated too persistently, so I called for some boiled
eggs. A messenger was at once despatched to scour
the town for these unusual luxuries, and in the course
of some twenty minutes the waiter reappeared with
two. I removed the top of one, and a young bird
looked up at me with an expression of patient suffering.
I tried the second, with the same result ; so calling the
waiter, and pointing out to him that I had asked for
eggs and not for chickens, I made a light and airy
breakfast upon the rind of a melon, which was all
that the hungry surgeons had left.

While the table was being cleared we asked for
our bills, and the smiling and obsequious landlord
appeared with a little pile of folded papers, one of
which he deposited, with a bow and a grimace, before
each of us. I did not look at mine at once, but I
noticed that a dead silence ensued, and, looking up,
saw an array of pale and anxious faces, where but a
moment before had been nothing but smiles and con-
tentment. I opened my bill. The sum total was
expressed in reis, a small coin of the value of three-



fifths of a farthing, and in which these people like to
add up their wealth, so as to make the amount seem
larger : reduced to dollars it was as follows :


.. $2


.. 1


.. 1


... 1


.. 4

Attendance and Linen

.. 1


No wonder that misery was depicted upon the faces
of the unhappy surgeons, whose bills were fac-similes
of mine.

We all declared that we would not submit to such
extortion ; but the landlord only smiled blandly, and
replied that he had merely made his usual charges ;
and when I ventured to make a remark, he shrugged
his shoulders, spread out the palms of his hands, and
said that he really had not expected to hear me offer
any objection, since I had not even been charged for
the fowls which I had had for breakfast, and to which
I had called the waiter's attention. There was no
help for it, we had fallen into the clutches of this
harpy, and it was partly our own fault in not having
first asked him what his charges were. So we paid
him sorrowfully and left the hotel, vowing that we
would never again set foot in it, even if we remained


in the island till doomsday. May our fate be a
warning to all others !

There is one little green patch of cultivation in
the cindery island of St. Vincent, situated in a valley
a mile or two from Porto Grande, and known as
the "Melon Beds." I went out to see it, for visitors
are generally taken to look at this " lion," and I saw
as many as forty melons growing at once. The
guide said that it was not the proper time of year
for them, and that in the season there were some-
times as many as two hundred, but that, of course,
was only a Portuguese figure of speech. Besides
consisting in a great measure of nothing but barren
rock, the island, in common with the others of the
group, frequently suffers from long-continued drought,
so that the little arable land that does exist is so
burnt up that nothing will grow. The rainfall is
always exceedingly small, and famines are not un-
common. In 1832, the inhabitants of nearly all the
islands were reduced to the verge of starvation,
through the failure of their crops from drought ;
and, although cargoes of food were sent gratuitously
for months from the United States of America,
more than eleven thousand persons died of hunger.
Portugal, the parsimonious, did nothing to alleviate
the sufferings of the inhabitants of her own colonies,
beyond sending two or three ships with cargoes of


provisions, to be sold at extravagant prices, cruelly
proportionate to the urgent needs of the people, and
utterly out of the reach of the poorer classes. But
generosity, or even humanity, is not to be expected
from the avera^^e Portug-uese, with whom the old
proverb, " Strip a Spaniard of all his good qualities,
and you have a Portuguese," still holds good. In
England, this famine did not even appear to be
heard of.

The Cape Verde Islands are said to have been
known to the , ancients under the title of the
Gorgades, but they were not discovered in modern
times till the year 1446, when Antonio Nolli, a
Genoese in the service of Prince Henry of Portugal,
chanced upon them. They were then most probably
uninhabited ; for, though there is a tradition to the
effect that negroes were found in Santiago when it
was first discovered, the Portuguese discoverers make
no mention of any inhabitants. The group is named
after Cape Verde, the most westerly promontory of
Africa, and from which the islands are about three
hundred and twenty miles distant. The cape is said
by some authorities to have been so named by the
Portuguese explorers, on account of the quantity of
sargasso, or gulf-weed, which they there found ; and,
by others, on account of the verdure of the cape
itself The hitter appears the more probable ; for,


though Cape Verde appears rather brown than green
to a person whose last glimpse of land has been the
Canary Islands, or the thickly forested shores of
Sierra Leone or the Gambia, yet, to the Portuguese
discoverers, who had been creeping in their caravels
for days along the sandy coasts of Morocco and
Senegambia, its parched grass must have been quite
a relief; and, after the rainy season, there is a
greenish hue about the two hills which are called the
"Paps" of the Cape. There are also a few baobab
trees there growing, but they cannot boast of much
foliage, and only appear brown from the sea.

The principal of the Cape Verde Islands, which
lie almost in a semicircle, are St. Vincent, San
Antonio, S. Luzia, S. Nicolao, Isle de Sal, Boavista,
Mayo, Santiago, Fogo, and Brava ; and there are,
besides, the small islets of Eombo, Eazo, Branco,
and S. Vialente. Santiago is the seat of government,
but Fogo is, perhaps, the one best known to Euro-
peans, on account of its volcano, 9157 feet above
the level of the sea. Mayo used to be much
frequented by English shipping for salt, which was
obtained from the sea-water by evaporation in a
species of salt-pan, formed by a sand-bank which
runs along the coast for three or four miles. A
hundred years ago, the number of English vessels
engaged in gathering the salt was so considerable


tliat a man-of-war usually lay off Mayo for tlieir
protection ; but, in the present day, few British
ships, except whalers, resort to the islands, and they
usually go to Porto Grande in St. Vincent, or to
Porto Praya in Santiago.

The Cape Verdes are subject to sudden storms,
similar to the tornadoes which sweep along the
"West African coast ; and, as all communication
between the islands is by open boat, it is not an
uncommon occurrence for a boat to be swept away
miles out to sea, and perhaps never heard of again.
In the spring of 1877, when proceeding from Cape
Coast Castle to Sierra Leone in the troopship Simoon,
we picked up, about one hundred miles from the
latter place, a whale boat, containing two Americans
who had been driven out from the Cape Verde Islands,
then about seven hundred miles distant, by a storm.
These men had, fourteen days before they fell in
with us, deserted from the Ellen West, whaler, at
Brava, and attempted to run over by night to Fogo,
which was some nine miles distant. In the middle
of the passage a tornado struck them, carrying them
far out into the ocean ; and, at daybreak, the island
not being in sight, they tried to make for the African
coast, it being impossible for them to hit off the
islands again without compass or chart. Fortunately,
when leaving their ship, they had put four men's


dinner meals in their boats, and on this they had
subsisted for a few days ; but, for the last ten days,
they had, with the single exception of a dolphin which
they had caught, been altogether without food. They
were mere famished skeletons when taken on board,
and were so weak that one fell into the sea in trying
to climb up our ladder, while the other could only lie
still on his back, and point feebly to his mouth. The
nights had been rainy, and they had been able to
catch water in their clothing, otherwise they must
have perished.

Government appointments in the Cape Verde
Islands are not in much demand in official circles
in Portugal. In fact, if one may believe all one
bears, such appointments are reserved for civil and
military officers, who have made themselves politically
obnoxious to the Government. They are given a
step in rank, and then sent off in a species of semi-
bonourable exile to these dreary islands. Few of
them are ever permitted to return to their native
country ; and they live and die in the wretched
capitals of these sun-scorched isles, often without
having a single European neighbour with whom
they can exchange ideas.



The Sail Across — ]My Fellow Passenger — Strange Fishing — Janella
— San Paolo — A Mountain Eoad — A Timid Bishop — Piibeira
Grande — Wine Growers — Motley Troops — The Stick —
Mutinies — Santa Cruz — The Biter Bit — Fresh Extortion — A
Terra Incognita — jNIineral "Wealth.

I BAD soon exhausted tlie sights of St. Vincent, and
the vulture-like rapacity of the inhabitants of Porto
Grande having given me a dislike to that town, I
determined, if possible, to run over to the wooded
and fertile island of San xlntonio, about fifteen miles
distant, and pass a day or two there. By consulting
a mulatto who was superintending the coaling of our
crippled vessel, I learned that a boat, which had
brought over provisions from that island, would
return thither next morning soon after daybreak ;
and I at once engaged a passage in it for two dollars,
the boatman promising to bring me back whenever I
wished for the same sum ; which, I may remark, is

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Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisWest African islands → online text (page 8 of 22)