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The Wanderings - The Second Journey, 1816.
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Click to enlargeFrench Guiana is an overseas department and region of France, on the north Atlantic coast of South America in the Guyanas.

It borders Brazil to the east and south and Suriname to the west.
In 1981, when Belize achieved independence , French Guiana became the only territory of the mainland Americas that was part of an European country.

Click to enlargeCayenne, French Guiana

From Caribbean Beat, Issue 135, September/October 2015.

The SECOND JOURNEY in Waterton's own words ... continued ...

▼ Chapter 2, p.1.

Arrival at Cayenne. Flamingos. Curlews, &c. Vegetable productions of Cayenne. La Gabrielle. Cock of the Rock. Grand Gobe-mouche. Surinam. The Corntin. New Amsterdam. Stabroek, now George Town. Produce of Demerara. Slavery. A traveller's neccessaries. Walking barefoot. The best costume. Humming birds. Cotinga. Cqampanero, or Bell-bird. Toucans, or Toucanets. Beak of the Toucan. Evanescence of the colours. The only mode of preserving them.

On the fourteenth day after leaving Pernambuco, the brig cast anchor off the Island of Cayenne. The entrance is beautiful. To windward, not far off, there are two bold wooded islands called the Father and Mother, and near them are others, their children, smaller, though as beautiful as their parents. Another is seen a long way to leeward of the family, and seems as if it had strayed from home and cannot find its way back. The French call it "l'enfant perdu." As you pass the islands the stately hills on the main, ornamented with ever-verdant foliage, show you that this is by far the sublimest scenery on the sea-coast from the Amazons to the Oroonoque. On casting your eye towards Dutch Guiana you will see that the mountains become unconnected and few in number, and long before you reach Surinam the Atlantic wave washes a flat and muddy shore.

Click to enlargeConsiderably to windward of Cayenne, and about twelve leagues from land, stands a stately and towering rock called the Constable. As nothing grows on it to tempt greedy and aspiring man to claim it as his own, the sea-fowl rest and raise their offspring there. The bird called the frigate is ever soaring round its rugged summit. Hither the phaeton bends his rapid flight, and flocks of rosy flamingos here defy the fowler's cunning. All along the coast, opposite the Constable, and indeed on every uncultivated part of it to windward and leeward, are seen innumerable quantities of snow-white egrets, scarlet curlews, spoonbills and flamingos.

Cayenne is capable of being a noble and productive colony. At present it is thought to be the poorest on the coast of Guiana. Its estates are too much separated one from the other by immense tracts of forest; and the revolutionary war, like a cold eastern wind, has chilled their zeal and blasted their best expectations.

The clove-tree, the cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg, and many other choice spices and fruits of the Eastern and Asiatic regions, produce abundantly in Cayenne.

The town itself is prettily laid out, and was once well fortified. They tell you it might easily have been defended against the invading force of the two united nations; but Victor Hugues, its governor, ordered the tri- coloured flag to be struck; and ever since that day the standard of Braganza has waved on the ramparts of Cayenne.

He who has received humiliations from the hand of this haughty, iron- hearted governor may see him now, in Cayenne, stripped of all his revolutionary honours, broken down and ruined, and under arrest in his own house. He has four accomplished daughters, respected by the whole town. Towards the close of day, when the sun's rays are no longer oppressive, these much-pitied ladies are seen walking up and down the balcony with their aged parent, trying, by their kind and filial attention, to remove the settled gloom from his too guilty brow.

This was not the time for a traveller to enjoy Cayenne. The hospitality of the inhabitants was the same as ever, but they had lost their wonted gaiety in public, and the stranger might read in their countenances, as the recollection of recent humiliations and misfortunes every now and then kept breaking in upon them, that they were still in sorrow for their fallen country: the victorious hostile cannon of Waterloo still sounded in their ears: their emperor was a prisoner amongst the hideous rocks of St. Helena; and many a Frenchman who had fought and bled for France was now amongst them begging for a little support to prolong a life which would be forfeited on the parent soil. To add another handful to the cypress and wormwood already scattered amongst these polite colonists, they had just received orders from the Court of Janeiro to put on deep mourning for six months, and half-mourning for as many more, on account of the death of the queen of Portugal.

About a day's journey in the interior is the celebrated national plantation. This spot was judiciously chosen, for it is out of the reach of enemies' cruisers. It is called La Gabrielle. No plantation in the Western world can vie with La Gabrielle. Its spices are of the choicest kind, its soil particularly favourable to them, its arrangements beautiful, and its directeur, Monsieur Martin, a botanist of first-rate abilities. This indefatigable naturalist ranged through the East, under a royal commission, in quest of botanical knowledge; and during his stay in the Western regions has sent over to Europe from twenty to twenty-five thousand specimens in botany and zoology. La Gabrielle is on a far-extending range of woody hills. Figure to yourself a hill in the shape of a bowl reversed, with the buildings on the top of it, and you will have an idea of the appearance of La Gabrielle. You approach the house through a noble avenue, five hundred toises long, of the choicest tropical fruit-trees, planted with the greatest care and judgment; and should you chance to stray through it, after sunset, when the clove-trees are in blossom, you would fancy yourself in the Idalian groves or near the banks of the Nile, where they were burning the finest incense as the queen of Egypt passed.

▲ Chapter 2, p.1.

▼ Chapter 2, p.2.

On La Gabrielle there are twenty-two thousand clove-trees in full bearing. They are planted thirty feet asunder. Their lower branches touch the ground. In general the trees are topped at five and twenty feet high, though you will see some here towering up above sixty. The black pepper, the cinnamon and nutmeg are also in great abundance here, and very productive.

While the stranger views the spicy groves of La Gabrielle, and tastes the most delicious fruits which have been originally imported hither from all parts of the tropical world, he will thank the Government which has supported, and admire the talents of the gentleman who has raised to its present grandeur, this noble collection of useful fruits. There is a large nursery attached to La Gabrielle where plants of all the different species are raised and distributed gratis to those colonists who wish to cultivate them.

Not far from the banks of the River Oyapoc, to windward of Cayenne, is a mountain which contains an immense cavern. Here the cock-of-the-rock is plentiful. He is about the size of a fantail pigeon, his colour a bright orange and his wings and tail appear as though fringed; his head is ornamented with a superb double-feathery crest edged with purple. He passes the day amid gloomy damps and silence, and only issues out for food a short time at sunrise and sunset. He is of the gallinaceous tribe. The South- American Spaniards call him "Gallo del Rio Negro" (Cock of the Black River), and suppose that he is only to be met with in the vicinity of that far-inland stream; but he is common in the interior of Demerara, amongst the huge rocks in the forests of Macoushia, and he has been shot south of the line, in the captainship of Para.

The bird called by Buffon grand gobe-mouche has never been found in Demerara, although very common in Cayenne. He is not quite so large as the jackdaw, and is entirely black, except a large spot under the throat, which is a glossy purple.

You may easily sail from Cayenne to the River Surinam in two days. Its capital, Paramaribo, is handsome, rich and populous: hitherto it has been considered by far the finest town in Guiana, but probably the time is not far off when the capital of Demerara may claim the prize of superiority. You may enter a creek above Paramaribo and travel through the interior of Surinam till you come to the Nicari, which is close to the large River Coryntin. When you have passed this river there is a good public road to New Amsterdam, the capital of Berbice.

Click to enlarge On viewing New Amsterdam, it will immediately strike you that something or other has intervened to prevent its arriving at that state of wealth and consequence for which its original plan shows it was once intended. What has caused this stop in its progress to the rank of a fine and populous city remains for those to find out who are interested in it; certain it is that New Amsterdam has been languid for some years, and now the tide of commerce seems ebbing fast from the shores of Berbice.

Gay and blooming is the sister colony of Demerara. Perhaps, kind reader, thou hast not forgot that it was from Stabroek, the capital of Demerara, that the adventurer set out, some years ago, to reach the Portuguese frontier-fort and collect the wourali poison. It was not intended, when this second sally was planned in England, to have visited Stabroek again by the route here described. The plan was to have ascended the Amazons from Para and got into the Rio Negro, and from thence to have returned towards the source of the Essequibo, in order to examine the crystal mountains and look once more for Lake Parima, or the White Sea; but on arriving at Cayenne the current was running with such amazing rapidity to leeward that a Portuguese sloop, which had been beating up towards Para for four weeks, was then only half-way. Finding, therefore, that a beat to the Amazons would be long, tedious and even uncertain, and aware that the season for procuring birds in fine plumage had already set in, I left Cayenne in an American ship for Paramaribo, went through the interior to the Coryntin, stopped a few days in New Amsterdam, and proceeded to Demerara. If, gentle reader, thy patience be not already worn out, and thy eyes half-closed in slumber by perusing the dull adventures of this second sally, perhaps thou wilt pardon a line or two on Demerara; and then we will retire to its forests to collect and examine the economy of its most rare and beautiful birds, and give the world a new mode of preserving them.

Stabroek, the capital of Demerara, has been rapidly increasing for some years back; and if prosperity go hand in hand with the present enterprising spirit, Stabroek, ere long, will be of the first colonial consideration. It stands on the eastern bank at the mouth of the Demerara, and enjoys all the advantages of the refreshing sea-breeze; the streets are spacious, well bricked and elevated, the trenches clean, the bridges excellent, and the houses handsome. Almost every commodity and luxury of London may be bought in the shops at Stabroek: its market wants better regulations. The hotels are commodious, clean and well-attended. Demerara boasts as fine and well- disciplined militia as any colony in the Western world.

The court of justice, where in times of old the bandage was easily removed from the eyes of the goddess and her scales thrown out of equilibrium, now rises in dignity under the firmness, talents and urbanity of Mr. President Rough.

▲ Chapter 2, p.2.

▼ Chapter 2, p.3.

The plantations have an appearance of high cultivation; a tolerable idea may be formed of their value when you know that last year Demerara numbered 72,999 slaves. They made above 44,000,000 pounds of sugar, near 2,000,000 gallons of rum, above 11,000,000 pounds of coffee, and 3,819,512 pounds of cotton; the receipt into the public chest was 553,956 guilders; the public expenditure 451,603 guilders.

Slavery can never be defended. He whose heart is not of iron can never wish to be able to defend it: while he heaves a sigh for the poor negro in captivity, he wishes from his soul that the traffic had been stifled in its birth; but unfortunately the Governments of Europe nourished it, and now that they are exerting themselves to do away the evil, and ensure liberty to the sons of Africa, the situation of the plantation-slaves is depicted as truly deplorable and their condition wretched. It is not so. A Briton's heart, proverbially kind and generous, is not changed by climate or its streams of compassion dried up by the scorching heat of a Demerara sun: he cheers his negroes in labour, comforts them in sickness, is kind to them in old age, and never forgets that they are his fellow-creatures.

Instances of cruelty and depravity certainly occur here as well as all the world over, but the edicts of the colonial Government are well calculated to prevent them, and the British planter, except here and there one, feels for the wrongs done to a poor ill-treated slave, and shows that his heart grieves for him by causing immediate redress and preventing a repetition.

Long may ye flourish, peaceful and liberal inhabitants of Demerara. Your doors are ever open to harbour the harbourless; your purses never shut to the wants of the distressed: many a ruined fugitive from the Oroonoque will bless your kindness to him in the hour of need, when flying from the woes of civil discord, without food or raiment, he begged for shelter underneath your roof. The poor sufferer in Trinidad who lost his all in the devouring flames will remember your charity to his latest moments. The traveller, as he leaves your port, casts a longing, lingering look behind: your attentions, your hospitality, your pleasantry and mirth are uppermost in his thoughts; your prosperity is close to his heart. Let us now, gentle reader, retire from the busy scenes of man and journey on towards the wilds in quest of the feathered tribe.

Leave behind you your high-seasoned dishes, your wines and your delicacies: carry nothing but what is necessary for your own comfort and the object in view, and depend upon the skill of an Indian, or your own, for fish and game. A sheet about twelve feet long, ten wide, painted, and with loop- holes on each side, will be of great service: in a few minutes you can suspend it betwixt two trees in the shape of a roof. Under this, in your hammock, you may defy the pelting shower, and sleep heedless of the dews of night. A hat, a shirt and a light pair of trousers will be all the raiment you require. Custom will soon teach you to tread lightly and barefoot on the little inequalities of the ground, and show you how to pass on unwounded amid the mantling briers.

Snakes, in these wilds, are certainly an annoyance, though perhaps more in imagination than reality, for you must recollect that the serpent is never the first to offend: his poisonous fang was not given him for conquest--he never inflicts a wound with it but to defend existence. Provided you walk cautiously and do not absolutely touch him, you may pass in safety close by him. As he is often coiled up on the ground, and amongst the branches of the trees above you, a degree of circumspection is necessary lest you unwarily disturb him.

Tigers are too few, and too apt to fly before the noble face of man, to require a moment of your attention.

The bite of the most noxious of the insects, at the very worst, only causes a transient fever with a degree of pain more or less.

Birds in general, with a few exceptions, are not common in the very remote parts of the forest. The sides of rivers, lakes and creeks, the borders of savannas, the old abandoned habitations of Indians and wood-cutters, seem to be their favourite haunts.

Though least in size, the glittering mantle of the humming-bird entitles it to the first place in the list of the birds of the new world. It may truly be called the bird of paradise: and had it existed in the Old World, it would have claimed the title instead of the bird which has now the honour to bear it. See it darting through the air almost as quick as thought!--now it is within a yard of your face!--in an instant gone!--now it flutters from flower to flower to sip the silver dew--it is now a ruby--now a topaz --now an emerald--now all burnished gold! It would be arrogant to pretend to describe this winged gem of Nature after Buffon's elegant description of it.

▲Chapter 2, p.3.


▼ Chapter 2, p.4.

Cayenne and Demerara produce the same hummingbirds. Perhaps you would wish to know something of their haunts. Chiefly in the months of July and August, the tree called bois immortel, very common in Demerara, bears abundance of red blossom which stays on the tree for some weeks; then it is that most of the different species of humming-birds are very plentiful. The wild red sage is also their favourite shrub, and they buzz like bees round the blossom of the wallaba tree. Indeed, there is scarce a flower in the interior, or on the sea-coast, but what receives frequent visits from one or other of the species.

On entering the forests, on the rising land in the interior, the blue and green, the smallest brown, no bigger than the humble-bee, with two long feathers in the tail, and the little forked-tail purple-throated humming- birds, glitter before you in ever-changing attitudes. One species alone never shows his beauty to the sun: and were it not for his lovely shining colours, you might almost be tempted to class him with the goat-suckers, on account of his habits. He is the largest of all the humming-birds, and is all red and changing gold-green, except the head, which is black. He has two long feathers in the tail which cross each other, and these have gained him the name of karabimiti, or ara humming-bird, from the Indians. You never find him on the sea-coast, or where the river is salt, or in the heart of the forest, unless fresh water be there. He keeps close by the side of woody fresh-water rivers and dark and lonely creeks. He leaves his retreat before sunrise to feed on the insects over the water; he returns to it as soon as the sun's rays cause a glare of light, is sedentary all day long, and comes out again for a short tune after sunset. He builds his nest on a twig over the water in the unfrequented creeks: it looks like tanned cow-leather.

As you advance towards the mountains of Demerara other species of humming- birds present themselves before you. It seems to be an erroneous opinion that the humming-bird lives entirely on honey-dew. Almost every flower of the tropical climates contains insects of one kind or other. Now the humming-bird is most busy about the flowers an hour or two after sunrise and after a shower of rain, and it is just at this time that the insects come out to the edge of the flower in order that the sun's rays may dry the nocturnal dew and rain which they have received. On opening the stomach of the humming-bird dead insects are almost always found there.

Next to the humming-birds, the cotingas display the gayest plumage. They are of the order of Passer, and you number five species betwixt the sea- coast and the rock Saba. Perhaps the scarlet cotinga is the richest of the five, and is one of those birds which are found in the deepest recesses of the forest. His crown is flaming red; to this abruptly succeeds a dark shining brown, reaching half-way down the back: the remainder of the back, the rump and tail, the extremity of which is edged with black, are a lively red; the belly is a somewhat lighter red; the breast reddish-black; the wings brown. He has no song, is solitary, and utters a monotonous whistle which sounds like "quet." He is fond of the seeds of the hitia-tree and those of the siloabali- and bastard siloabali-trees, which ripen in December and continue on the trees for above two months. He is found throughout the year in Demerara; still nothing is known of his incubation. The Indians all agree in telling you that they have never seen his nest.

The purple-breasted cotinga has the throat and breast of a deep purple, the wings and tail black, and all the rest of the body a most lovely shining blue.

The purple-throated cotinga has black wings and tail, and every other part a light and glossy blue, save the throat, which is purple.

The pompadour cotinga is entirely purple, except his wings, which are white, their four first feathers tipped with brown. The great coverts of the wings are stiff, narrow and pointed, being shaped quite different from those of any other bird. When you are betwixt this bird and the sun, in his flight, he appears uncommonly brilliant. He makes a hoarse noise which sounds like "wallababa." Hence his name amongst the Indians.

None of these three cotingas have a song. They feed on the hitia, siloabali- and bastard siloabali-seeds, the wild guava, the fig, and other fruit-trees of the forest. They are easily shot in these trees during the months of December, January and part of February. The greater part of them disappear after this, and probably retire far away to breed. Their nests have never been found in Demerara.

The fifth species is the celebrated campanero of the Spaniards, called dara by the Indians, and bell-bird by the English. He is about the size of the jay. His plumage is white as snow. On his forehead rises a spiral tube nearly three inches long. It is jet black, dotted all over with small white feathers. It has a communication with the palate, and when filled with air looks like a spire; when empty it becomes pendulous. His note is loud and clear, like the sound of a bell, and may be heard at the distance of three miles. In the midst of these extensive wilds, generally on the dried top of an aged mora, almost out of gun-reach, you will see the campanero. No sound or song from any of the winged inhabitants of the forest, not even the clearly pronounced "Whip-poor-will" from the goat-sucker, cause such astonishment as the toll of the campanero.

▲ Chapter 2, p.4.

▼ Chapter 2, p.5.

With many of the feathered race he pays the common tribute of a morning and an evening song; and even when the meridian sun has shut in silence the mouths of almost the whole of animated nature the campanero still cheers the forest. You hear his toll, and then a pause for a minute, then another toll, and then a pause again, and then a toll, and again a pause. Then he is silent for six or eight minutes, and then another toll, and so on. Acteon would stop in mid-chase, Maria would defer her evening song, and Orpheus himself would drop his lute to listen to him, so sweet, so novel and romantic is the toll of the pretty snow-white campanero. He is never seen to feed with the other cotingas, nor is it known in what part of Guiana he makes his nest.

While the cotingas attract your attention by their superior plumage, the singular form of the toucan makes a lasting impression on your memory. There are three species of toucans in Demerara, and three diminutives, which may be called toucanets. The largest of the first species frequents the mangrove trees on the sea-coast. He is never seen in the interior till you reach Macoushia, where he is found in the neighbourhood of the River Tacatou. The other two species are very common. They feed entirely on the fruits of the forest and, though of the pie kind, never kill the young of other birds or touch carrion. The larger is called bouradi by the Indians (which means nose), the other scirou. They seem partial to each other's company, and often resort to the same feeding-tree and retire together to the same shady noon-day retreat. They are very noisy in rainy weather at all hours of the day, and in fair weather at morn and eve. The sound which the bouradi makes is like the clear yelping of a puppy-dog, and you fancy he says "pia-po-o-co," and thus the South-American Spaniards call him piapoco.

All the toucanets feed on the same trees on which the toucan feeds, and every species of this family of enormous bill lays its eggs in the hollow trees. They are social, but not gregarious. You may sometimes see eight or ten in company, and from this you would suppose they are gregarious; but upon a closer examination you will find it has only been a dinner-party, which breaks up and disperses towards roosting-time.

You will be at a loss to conjecture for what ends Nature has overloaded the head of this bird with such an enormous bill. It cannot be for the offensive, as it has no need to wage war with any of the tribes of animated nature, for its food is fruits and seeds, and those are in superabundance throughout the whole year in the regions where the toucan is found. It can hardly be for the defensive, as the toucan is preyed upon by no bird in South America and, were it obliged to be at war, the texture of the bill is ill-adapted to give or receive blows, as you will see in dissecting it. It cannot be for any particular protection to the tongue, as the tongue is a perfect feather.

The flight of the toucan is by jerks: in the action of flying it seems incommoded by this huge disproportioned feature, and the head seems as if bowed down to the earth by it against its will. If the extraordinary form and size of the bill expose the toucan to ridicule, its colours make it amends. Were a specimen of each species of the toucan presented to you, you would pronounce the bill of the bouradi the most rich and beautiful: on the ridge of the upper mandible a broad stripe of most lovely yellow extends from the head to the point; a stripe of the same breadth, though somewhat deeper yellow, falls from it at right angles next the head down to the edge of the mandible; then follows a black stripe, half as broad, falling at right angles from the ridge and running narrower along the edge to within half an inch of the point. The rest of the mandible is a deep bright red. The lower mandible has no yellow: its black and red are distributed in the same manner as on the upper one, with this difference, that there is black about an inch from the point. The stripe corresponding to the deep yellow stripe on the upper mandible is sky-blue. It is worthy of remark that all these brilliant colours of the bill are to be found in the plumage of the body and the bare skin round the eye.

All these colours, except the blue, are inherent in the horn: that part which appears blue is in reality transparent white, and receives its colour from a thin piece of blue skin inside. This superb bill fades in death, and in three or four days' time has quite lost its original colours.

▲ Chapter 2, p.5.

▼ Chapter 2, p.6.

Till within these few years no idea of the true colours of the bill could be formed from the stuffed toucans brought to Europe. About eight years ago, while eating a boiled toucan, the thought struck me that the colours in the bill of a preserved specimen might be kept as bright as those in life. A series of experiments proved this beyond a doubt. If you take your penknife and cut away the roof of the upper mandible, you will find that the space betwixt it and the outer shell contains a large collection of veins and small osseous fibres running in all directions through the whole extent of the bill. Clear away all these with your knife, and you will come to a substance more firm than skin, but of not so strong a texture as the horn itself. Cut this away also, and behind it is discovered a thin and tender membrane: yellow where it has touched the yellow part of the horn, blue where it has touched the red part, and black towards the edge and point; when dried this thin and tender membrane becomes nearly black; as soon as it is cut away nothing remains but the outer horn, red and yellow, and now become transparent. The under mandible must undergo the same operation. Great care must be taken and the knife used very cautiously when you are cutting through the different parts close to where the bill joins on to the head: if you cut away too much the bill drops off; if you press too hard the knife comes through the horn; if you leave too great a portion of the membrane it appears through the horn and, by becoming black when dried, makes the horn appear black also, and has a bad effect. Judgment, caution, skill and practice will ensure success.

You have now cleared the bill of all those bodies which are the cause of its apparent fading, for, as has been said before, these bodies dry in death and become quite discoloured, and appear so through the horn; and reviewing the bill in this state, you conclude that its former bright colours are lost.

Something still remains to be done. You have rendered the bill transparent by the operation, and that transparency must be done away to make it appear perfectly natural. Pound some clean chalk and give it enough water till it be of the consistency of tar, add a proportion of gum-arabic to make it adhesive, then take a camel-hair brush and give the inside of both mandibles a coat; apply a second when the first is dry, then another, and a fourth to finish all. The gum-arabic will prevent the chalk from cracking and falling off. If you remember, there is a little space of transparent white in the lower mandible which originally appeared blue, but which became transparent white as soon as the thin piece of blue skin was cut away: this must be painted blue inside. When all this is completed the bill will please you: it will appear in its original colours. Probably your own abilities will suggest a cleverer mode of operating than the one here described. A small gouge would assist the penknife and render the operation less difficult.

▲ Chapter 2, p.6.

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