Charles Waterton.

Essays on natural history, chiefly ornithology online

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and the finest fish could be had almost for nothing.

Canning's new republics, which have arisen out
of the former Spanish Transatlantic empire, may
have tended to enrich a few needy adventurers from
Europe ; but, to the natives in general, they have
proved a mighty curse.

Demerara was now shortly to be deprived of the
valuable services of Governor Ross. His health had
c 3


already begun to give way ; and, after he had battled
with his disease for some time, he was obliged to
consign his government over to other hands, and to
try a voyage to Europe. He got well in his native
country. But, alas, we are here to-day, and gone
to-morrow. This brave officer, and truly just man,
was ordered to Alicante in Spain, where he fell a
victim to the prevailing fever.

Governor Ross was beloved to enthusiasm by the
inhabitants of Demerara. On the 31st of March,
] 809, we sent an address to him, expressive of our
wannest gratitude for the many services he had
rendered to us during the time that the colony was
under his charge ; and we made a subscription of
] 500 guineas, which token of public gratitude was
presented to him with due form.

I wrote the following tribute, and it appeared in
the newspaper the day after the governor had sailed
from the river Demerara, on his way to Europe for
the recovery of his health.


Tristis heu nobis, nimiumque durus
Ordo Parcarum est ! Demerara damnum
Flet repentinum, lacrymasque fundet,

Tempus in omne.
Ille, qui justis manibus regebat
Lora, jam currum, medio reliquit
Cursu, et invitis pedibus remota

Gramina quasrit.
Tempore aestivo, rutilans ut agri
Ros fovet gramen sitientis Ille,
Sic opem nobis, tulit, et levamen,



Hac die pectus, rigidum dolorem
Sentit, et luctum lacrymae sequuntur,
Dum Ducem nostrum, Demerarae ab oris

Cedere cerno.

Te, procellosos pelagi tridenti
Qui regis fluctus, precor o secundo
Numine adsis, dum liquido carina

^Equore fertur.

General Carmichael was governor of Demerara
in 1812, the year in which I took a final leave of the
Estates, and went far into the interior of Guiana, in
quest of the wourali poison. ( See The Wanderings?)

The general had one of the most difficult tempers
in the world to manage. His disposition was gene-
rous, but at the same time it was exceedingly fiery ;
although his ire soon subsided, unless it had received
extraordinary and repeated provocation. He had
such a profound veneration for royalty, that I do
believe he would have sent his own brother out of
the house, had he heard him speak with levity of
the Prince Regent of England.

In person he was shrivelled and weatherbeaten,
and of diminutive stature; but he was wonderfully
active, and vigorous in mind, notwithstanding his
great age; for he must have been bordering on
seventy at the time that he succeeded to the go-
vernment of Demerara. My intimacy with him had
a singular origin.

Knowing that I should spend very little time in
the civilised parts of the colony, I had not paid my
respects at head quarters after the general had
c 4,


succeeded to the government. Prior, however, to
my going into the interior, I paid some visits to
different friends residing up the river Demerara.
About this period, an English gentleman of my ac-
quaintance had been outlawed, on account of a cer-
tain bill transaction. It was said that the party who
had caused his disgrace had acted fully as much
through private pique, as through a love of justice.
Indeed, the character of his principal accuser was
none so good ; and one might have said to him with

" Stamina de nigro vellere facta tibi."

But this man held a high official situation, and it
was as the seven-fold shield of Ajax to him. The.
unfortunate gentleman (for a gentleman he was in
manners and appearance) was skulking up the river
Demerara, in order to escape from the colony by
the first favourable opportunity. The governor had
offered 500?. for his apprehension. To add to his
misfortunes, he was sorely afflicted with a liver com-
plaint ; and, when he at last fell in with me, he told
me that he had gone from place to place for three
weeks in quest of me, that I might bleed him, as he
dared not entrust himself to a surgeon, on account
of the proclamation which was out against him. We
were at breakfast, about twenty miles up the river
Demerara, at the house of a gentleman who knew
how to pity those in distress, when a negro came
into the room, and informed us that a tent-boat
with four oars was approaching. I looked out of
the window, and saw the officers of justice in it.
Not a moment was to be lost. I directed our


outlaw to go through the back door into a field of
standing canes. But so great was his perturbation,
that he jumped out of the window ; and, in lieu of
taking over a bridge close at hand, he ran through
a filthy trench, nearly up to the arm-pits in water.

It was not more than half flood tide in the river ;
and, on this account, the officers could not land at
the house without walking up a square log of wood
which had been placed on the mud, and formed part
of the stelling, or wharf, for the accommodation -of
those who land when the water is low. On this
log I took my stand, and disputed the passage with
the officers of justice. They could not pass without
forcing me up to the middle in mud, or making me
retrace my steps up the log. When I thought
there had been time enough allowed for the fugitive
to make his escape, I returned to the house, they
following close on my steps, and entering into it
immediately after me. Not having succeeded in
the object of their search, they returned to the boat,
muttering curses in Dutch as they re-crossed the

The next day a warrant arrived, ordering me to
appear immediately at Government House.

Although I did not know the governor personally,
I was pretty well acquainted with his character ;
and I was aware that there was only one way for
me to act. So I resolved at once to take him on his
weak side, if so it might be called.

On my name being announced, he came into the
hall. Whilst looking at me full in the face, he ex-
claimed, in a voice too severe to last long : " And
so, Sir, you have dared to thwart the law, and to


put my late proclamation at defiance ?" "General,"
said I, " you have judged rightly ; and I throw my-
self on your well-known generosity. I had eaten
the fugitive's bread of hospitality, when fortune
smiled upon him ; and I could not find in my heart
to refuse him help in his hour of need. Pity to the
unfortunate prevailed over obedience to your edict ;
and had General Carmichael himself stood in the
shoes of the deserted outlaw, I would have stepped
forward in his defence, and have dealt many a
sturdy blow around me, before foreign bloodhounds
should have fixed their crooked fangs in the British
uniform." " That 's brave/' said he ; and then he
advanced to me, and shook me by the hand.

I stayed with him about a couple of hours, and
told him of my intended expedition, through *the
forests, to the Portuguese settlements on the Rio
Branco; adding that I had already observed the
necessary formalities required by law from those
who are about to leave the colony. He gave me
permission to range through the whole of ci-devant
Dutch Guiana for any length of time, and ordered
my passport to be made out immediately. It bears
his signature, and date of April 16. 1812.

General Carmichael had not been long in his
government, before he saw the necessity of striking
at the root of numberless corruptions which existed
in the different departments, and which his prede-
cessor had not been able to remove, both from want
of time and health. Wherefore he set to work in
good earnest; and he got the nickname of Old
Hercules, in allusion to that hero's labours in the
filthy stable of King Augeus.


He was very peremptory in his orders. I was
one day conversing with him concerning the interior
of the country, when an English gentleman came to
lodge a complaint against a Dutch lawyer, for de-
taining in his possession certain monies which he
ought to have delivered up. " Are you quite right,
Sir, in your story?" said the governor to the
English gentleman. "I am, an't please your Ex-
cellency," answered he. " Then go and bring him
hither," rejoined the governor. He returned with
the lawyer in about half an hour. " Did you re-
cover the money for this gentleman?" asked the
governor. " I did," answered the lawyer. " Then
why do you not give it to him?" "Because
because" and here he stammered in great agita-
tion ; when the governor sternly asked him, " Do
you see that lamp-post in front of the window?"
" I do." " Then," remarked the governor, " I '11
have you hanged on it, by Saturday night, if you
do not refund the money." The lawyer paid the
money on the following day.

But death cut the governor short ere he had half
finished his labours. On my return from Europe
(whither I had gone for the recovery of my health),
I found him buried under the flag-staff at the Fort,
in accordance with his own directions.

Whilst I was in the forests, I wrote the following
tribute to his memory, and sent it to the editor of
the Guiana Chronicle :

And what did they call him Old Hercules for ?
Is not Agamemnon generally the name for a com-
mander-in-chief ? I don't know much about these
things : but the reason he was surnamed Hercules


is briefly this : The public offices emitted a very
strong smell : the impositions there had been accu-
mulating for a long time. He had not been a week
in the town before the fumes turned him sick at
stomach. He vowed he would clear the town of
the nuisance, and have all the litter wheeled out,
although he should work day and night. This was
a second Augean job; and from this he got the
name of Hercules.

" Well, and did he set to work in good earnest ?
He did indeed. He cleared many of the offices
to their original pavement ; he handled numbers
of the tenants in the different departments very
roughly ; some he hurled neck and crop out of the
fattening pen, and others he frightened nearly out
of their senses.

" He could not bear the sight of the Dutch law-
yers. He told them that their stomachs were as
craving as that of the vulture on the liver of Tityus;
that they were the scourge of the country ; that
they were worse to manage than the brazen-footed
bulls of old ; that they belonged to Celaeno ; and
that, if he only kept his health, he would, ere long,
drive them all into Stymphalus.

" Poor, well-intending, much lamented Old Her-
cules ! In the openness of his heart, oftentimes, at
table after dinner (which is the very worst place
and time for a man to open his mouth on things of
consequence), he would talk of his intended plans
and operations to those around him. He was too
sincere himself to suspect the want of sincerity in
some of those who ate his bread and drank his wine.


They played a double part ; and they caused the
war which he was carrying on against extortion and
corruption to give him more trouble than the be-
sieging of half of the forfeited cities in the West
Indies would have done.

" However, he still continued to carry on his work
for the public good ; but his friends could see with
concern that his health was declining apace. At
length, sickness and anxiety pressed too heavily on
his much-enfeebled shoulders. He sunk into the
grave, pitied and lamented by every honest man in

To General Carmichael, indirectly, I owe one of
the best watches that man ever wore. Many of
those colonists who held public offices in Demerara
had not been over and above scrupulous in their
money transactions with the government ; and the
general had given it out that they should all be
summoned, and be made to swear to their accounts.
Amongst them was a Dutch gentleman (since dead),
in the colonial service, who had still a large slice
of conscience left. He told his friends that he was
quite aware he could never make out a just balance
sheet, but that he would die before he would take a
false oath. The affair haunted him day and night,
until he could bear it no longer ; and he actually
proceeded up the river Demerara, to the house of
his friend Mr. Edmonstone in Mibiri creek, with
the full intention of proceeding through the interior
to the far distant Portuguese or Spanish settle-
ments, as occasion might offer. I was staying with
Mr. Edraonstone at the time. As the fugitiv


officer was walking with me in the woods on the
following morning, he entered more largely on the
plan of his intended escape ; and he said he had
arranged his little affairs pretty well before he left
the town ; but that he had not been able to dispose
of his watch, which was nearly new, and which
had been made to order by Keating of London, who
had charged forty pounds for it. My companion
had been very attentive to me formerly, when he
was at Government House in the time of Governor
Bentinck. Knowing that a friend in need is a
friend indeed, I put his watch into my waistcoat
pocket, after having returned him his seals, and two
rings attached to it, and told him I was his debtor
for the sum of sixty guineas.

During the day Mr. Edmonstone received a
letter, informing him that the general and his staff
would pay him a visit in the course of the week.
This information put the already shattered nerves
of our friend in a still worse state ; for he made no
doubt but that the general had got information of
his flight However, I was of a different way of
thinking ; and I told him to compose himself ; that
I would look into the affair ; and that, worst come
to the worst, we could always get him out of the
way during the general's visit.

The next afternoon we took a small canoe, and
went to Mr. Beaumond's in Waratilla creek, where
we passed the night. I had luckily ordered a few
troely leaves to be put into the bottom of the
canoe in case of rain ; and, as things turned out, they
proved of the utmost use ; for, actually, as we were


on our return to Mibiri, just at the mouth of Wara-
tilla creek, we saw the general, and Captains Eyre
and Dawson, 'and Commissary Pittman (three of
the best fellows alive), coming up in a tent-boat.
I immediately directed my friend to lie flat down
in the canoe ; and then, like robin redbreast of old,
I covered this great babe of the wood with leaves.
Having saluted the governor and his company, I
ordered the negroes to keep abreast of his boat, in
order that we might converse as we went along.
Here I had a fine opportunity of pumping him with
regard to my friend in the bottom of the canoe. I

asked him if he had seen Captain lately.

He said, not very lately ; and he feared that the
captain was sick. I then added, that he was ex-
pected at Mr. Edmonstone's ; and the general imme-
diately rejoined, that it would give them all exceeding
great pleasure to see him, as he was such an excellent
fellow. By this I knew that all was right. We
accompanied the general's boat up to Mr. Edmon-
stone's ; my friend lying quite still under the troelies,
and hearing every word of our conversation. About
a couple of hours after our arrival, I left the house
for a while, and then returned with my friend, who
in the mean time had gone into an out-building.
The general shook him cordially by the hand, and
asked him when he had left town. He answered
that he had been to see an acquaintance in the creek,
and had come thus far to pass a day or two with
Mr. Edmonstone. Having now proof positive that
his plan of self- expatriation was quite unknown to
the general, he determined to return to Stabroek,


where his fears gradually subsided ; and after the
general's death there was no more talk of bringing
the accounts to a public examination.

This was in the spring of 1812, from which time
to the beginning of the year 1825 the Wanderings
form a continuation of these memoirs. But as a
few interesting occurrences took place in the interval
betwixt these dates, I will pen them down in the
following pages.

During my expedition for the wourali poison, in
the summer of 1812, General Carmichael had written
to Lord Bathurst,. to say that I was in the forests ;
and that if he wanted a person to conduct an ex-
ploring enterprise, he thought that I might be safely
recommended to his lordship's notice.

I had returned from the interior broken down
with sickness, brought on by being reduced to eat
unwholesome food, and by being exposed day and
night to the inclemency of the rainy season. The
doctors having ordered me to England without loss
of time, I took my passage on board the Fame of
Liverpool, Captain Williams.

During my stay in Stabroek, previous to the
vessel's leaving port, the general gave me the co-
lonial despatches to be delivered to Lord Bathurst,
and at the same time he presented me with a warm
letter of introduction to his lordship. We had a
splendid ball on the eve of our departure. In the
ball-room General Carmichael took the opportunity
of introducing me to Captain Peake of the Peacock
sloop of war, appointed to be our convoy to Bar-


On the following morning, when we had got up
our anchor, Captain Peake came alongside of the
Fame, and invited me to stay with him on board the
Peacock, until we should reach Barbadoes ; adding
that, when he had got all the fleet fairly under weigh,
he would not fail to send his boat for me.

This, unfortunately, was our last interview. By-
eleven o'clock it blew a gale of wind ; and, as the
Fame made a poor hand of it when close hauled, we
drifted bodily to leeward, lost sight of the fleet in
the evening, and at last barely managed to fetch
Grenada, in lieu of making Barbadoes. In the mean
time, Captain Peake, having brought his fleet to an
anchor in Carlisle Bay, returned to the coast of
Guiana, where he fell in with an American man-of-
war. She was his superior in men and guns, but not
in valour, for our brave captain fought her to the
last ; and he was cut in two by a cannon ball, just
at the time that his own vessel went down. He was
held in great esteem by the colonists ; and I have
heard that they raised a monument to his memory
in the church at Stabroek.

The voyage to Europe did not recruit my health.
When I had landed in Liverpool, I was unable to
proceed to London with the despatches ; so I sent
them by the mail, and wrote a letter of apology to
Lord Bathurst. His lordship returned a very kind
answer, and requested that I would repair to Lon-
don when I had got better of the tertian ague, as he
wished me to explore Madagascar.

When I had rallied a little, I proceeded to Lon-
don, and waited on him. He told me that I should


have to explore the interior of Madagascar; with
permission to visit Monomotapa, and the Sechelles
Islands, &c. ; and that a man-of-war would take me
out early in October following. This was in the
month of May, 1813. The ague still annoying me
cruelly, I wrote to Lord Bathurst, and begged to
resign the commission.

Horace once condemned himself for running
aw ay, " relicta non bene parmula." It was for
me to have condemned myself too on this occasion ;
for I never acted so much against my own interest
as when I declined to go to Madagascar. I ought
to have proceeded thither by all means, and to have
let the tertian ague take its chance. My commission
was a star of the first magnitude. It appeared
after a long night of political darkness, which had
prevented the family from journeying onwards for
the space of nearly three centuries. I can fancy
that it beckoned to me, and that a voice from it said,
" Come and serve your country ; come and restore
your family name to the national calendar, from
which it has been so long and so unjustly withdrawn ;
come, and show to the world that conscience, and
not crime, has hitherto been the cause of your
being kept in the background ; come into the na-
tional dockyard, and refit your shattered bark, which
has been cast on a lee-shore, where merciless wreck-
seekers have plundered its stores, and where the
patriots of yesterday have looked down upon it
with scorn and contempt, and have pronounced it
unworthy to bear its country's flag." I ought to
have listened to this supposed adviser at the time :


but I did not ; and the star went down below the
horizon, to appear no more.

Few people, except those who have been to seek
adventures in far distant countries, are aware of the
immense advantages of a government commission,
especially when the traveller is in our own colonies.
With it his way is clear, and his story is already
told : every body acknowledges his consequence,
and is eager to show him attention. Without it, he
is obliged to unfold his object in view at every step :
he must fight his own cause through surrounding
difficulties, and lose many a day for want of some-
body to take him by the hand. In 1824, I was at
St. John's, in the Island of Antigua, and had to
attend at a public office prior to my going on board
the mail-boat for Dominica. I had lately arrived
from the United States, very much out of health ;
and I wore one of those straw hats, with a green
riband round it, so common in the republic. The
harbour-master, who presided, and outwardly ap-
peared much of a gentleman, eyed me, as I thought,
contemptuously on my entering the room. I was
right in my conjecture, for he seemed determined
to wear out my patience ; and he kept me standing
above half an hour, without once asking me to take
a seat, although there were plenty of chairs in the
room. In returning to the hotel with the captain
of the mail-boat, I observed to him how very de-
ficient the harbour-master had been in common
courtesy. He replied that, as soon I had gone out
of the door of the office, the harbour-master stopped
him to inquire who I was ; and, when he had told
d 2


him that I was an English gentleman, travelling in
quest of natural history, he remarked that he had
been mistaken in his surmise, for that he had taken
me for a damned Yankee.

In the autumn of 1814, as I was shooting with
my excellent brother-in-law, Mr. Carr, I had a proof
that, although a man may escape with impunity in
distant regions, he may stumble on misfortune at
home, when he least expects it. My gun went
off accidentally. I had just rammed the paper
down upon the powder, when the ramrod, which
was armed with brass at both ends, passed quite
through my fore finger, betwixt the knuckle and
the first joint, without breaking the bone ; the
paper and ignited powder following through the
hole, and rendering its appearance as black as
soot. I repaired to a tenant's house and poured
warm water plentifully through the wound, until
I had washed away the marks of the gunpowder ;
then collecting the ruptured tendons, which were
hanging down, I replaced them carefully, and bound
up the wound, not forgetting to give to the finger
its original shape as nearly as possible. After this,
I opened a vein with the other hand, and took away
to the extent of two and twenty ounces of blood.
Whilst I am on phlebotomy, I may remark, that I
consider inflammation to be the root and origin of
almost all diseases. To subdue this at its earliest
stage has been my constant care. Since my four
and twentieth year, I have been blooded above one
hundred and ten times, in eighty of which I have
performed the operation on myself with my own


hand. This, with calomel and jalap mixed together,
as a purgative, with the use of rhubarb in occasional
cases of dysentery, and with vast and often re-
peated potations of powdered Peruvian bark, as a
restorative, has enabled me to grapple successfully
with sickness when I was far away from medical
aid. In cases where laudanum was absolutely ne-
cessary, I was always extremely cautious, having
seen far too many instances in other people of the
distressing effects produced by the frequent use of
this insidious drug. My severest trials of sickness
were those when I had to contend with internal in-
flammation at the very time that I was labouring
under tertian ague. In those cases, the ague had to
bear all the burden, for I knew that it was not a

Online LibraryCharles WatertonEssays on natural history, chiefly ornithology → online text (page 4 of 28)