WATERTON SECTION


<< Overtown Home WATERTON MAIN PAGE
Natural History Handiworks
Aftermath Waterton Links Links - General Book Shelf
Overtown Miscellany - Charles Waterton
 site search by freefind  
Waterton's Wanderings.
The Wanderings - The Fourth Journey, 1824.
Chapter 2

The fourth journey in 1824 was to the United States and the Antilles. It was to be his last journey outside Europe, save for a brief visit to Madeira.

Chapter 2 Pages

• 1  • 2  • 3  • 4  • 5 • 6 • 7 • 8 • 9

⮞⯈ Chapter 1


The FOURTH JOURNEY in Waterton's own words ... continued ...
CHAPTER
II


▼ Chapter 2, p. 1.

West Indies Map

Arrival at Antigua. - Dominica. - Frogs and Humming Birds. - Martinico. - Diamond rock. - Barbadoes. - Quashi and Venus. - The Alien Bill. - Sail for Demerara. - More about the Sloth. - Scarlet Grosbeack. - Crab-eating Owl. Sun-heron. - Feet of Tinamou. - Vampires again. - The Krabimiti Humming-bird. - The Monkey tribe. - The Red Howler. - Roast monkey. - The Nondescript. - Altered physiognomy. - Giold and silver mines. - Changes of government. - Politics. - India-rubber. - An ingenious deception.


We were thirty days in making Antigua, and thanked Providence for ordering us so long a passage. A tremendous gale of wind, approaching to a hurricane, had done much damage in the West Indies. Had our passage been of ordinary length we should inevitably have been caught in the gale.

St. John's is the capital of Antigua. In better times it may have had its gaieties and amusements. At present it appears sad and woebegone. The houses, which are chiefly of wood, seem as if they have not had a coat of paint for many years; the streets are uneven and ill-paved; and as the stranger wanders through them, he might fancy that they would afford a congenial promenade to the man who is about to take his last leave of surrounding worldly misery before he hangs himself. There had been no rain for some time, so that the parched and barren pastures near the town might, with great truth, be called Rosinante's own. The mules feeding on them put you in mind of Ovid's description of famine:

"Dura cutis, per quam spectari viscera possent."

It is somewhat singular that there is not a single river or brook in the whole Island of Antigua. In this it differs from Tartary in the other world, which, according to old writers, has five rivers--viz. Acheron, Phlegeton, Cocytus, Styx and Lethe.

In this island I found the redstart, described in Wilson's Ornithology of the United States. I wished to learn whether any of these birds remain the whole year in Antigua and breed there, or whether they all leave it for the north when the sun comes out of the southern hemisphere; but upon inquiry I could get no information whatever.

After passing a dull week here I sailed for Guadaloupe, whose bold and cloud-capped mountains have a grand appearance as you approach the island. Basseterre, the capital, is a neat town, with a handsome public walk in the middle of it, well shaded by a row of fine tamarind trees on each side. Behind the town La Souffrière raises its high romantic summit, and on a clear day you may see the volcanic smoke which issues from it.

Nearly midway betwixt Guadaloupe and Dominica you escry the Saintes. Though high and bold and rocky, they have still a diminutive appearance when compared with their two gigantic neighbours. You just see Marigalante to windward of them, some leagues off, about a yard high in the horizon.

Dominica is majestic in high and rugged mountains. As you sail along it you cannot help admiring its beautiful coffee-plantations, in places so abrupt and steep that you would pronounce them almost inaccessible. Roseau, the capital, is but a small town, and has nothing attractive except the well- known hospitality of the present harbour-master, who is particularly attentive to strangers and furnishes them with a world of information concerning the West Indies. Roseau has seen better days, and you can trace good taste and judgment in the way in which the town has originally been laid out.

Some years ago it was visited by a succession of misfortunes which smote it so severely that it has never recovered its former appearance. A strong French fleet bombarded it; while a raging fire destroyed its finest buildings. Some time after an overwhelming flood rolled down the gullies and fissures of the adjacent mountains and carried all before it. Men, women and children, houses and property, were all swept away by this mighty torrent. The terrible scene was said to beggar all description, and the loss was immense.

Dominica is famous for a large species of frog which the inhabitants keep in readiness to slaughter for the table. In the woods of this island the large rhinoceros-beetle is very common: it measures above six inches in length. In the same woods is found the beautiful humming-bird, the breast and throat of which are of a brilliant changing purple. I have searched for this bird in Brazil and through the whole of the wilds from the Rio Branco, which is a branch of the Amazons, to the River Paumaron, but never could find it. I was told by a man in the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly that this humming-bird is found in Mexico; but upon questioning him more about it his information seemed to have been acquired by hearsay; and so I concluded that it does not appear in Mexico. I suspect that it is never found out of the Antilles.

▲ Chapter 2, p. 1.
^top;


▼ Chapter 2, p. 2.

After leaving Dominica you soon reach the grand and magnificent Island of Martinico. St. Pierre, its capital, is a fine town, and possesses every comfort. The inhabitants seem to pay considerable attention to the cultivation of the tropical fruits. A stream of water runs down the streets with great rapidity, producing a pleasing effect as you pass along.

Here I had an opportunity of examining a cuckoo which had just been shot. It was exactly the same as the metallic cuckoo in Wilson's Ornithology. They told me it is a migratory bird in Martinico. It probably repairs to this island after its departure from the United States.

At a little distance from Martinico the celebrated Diamond Rock rises in insulated majesty out of the sea. It was fortified during the last war with France, and bravely defended by an English captain.

In a few hours from Martinico you are at St. Lucie, whose rough and towering mountains fill you with sublime ideas, as you approach its rocky shore. The town Castries is quite embayed. It was literally blown to pieces by the fatal hurricane in which the unfortunate governor and his lady lost their lives. Its present forlorn and gloomy appearance, and the grass which is grown up in the streets, too plainly show that its hour of joy is passed away and that it is in mourning, as it were, with the rest of the British West Indies.

From St. Lucie I proceeded to Barbadoes in quest of a conveyance to the Island of Trinidad.

Near Bridgetown, the capital of Barbadoes, I saw the metallic cuckoo already alluded to.

Barbadoes is no longer the merry island it was when I visited it some years ago:

"Infelix habitum, temporis hujus habet."

There is an old song, to the tune of "La Belle Catharine," which must evidently have been composed in brighter times:

"Come let us dance and sing,
While Barbadoes bells do ring;
Quashi scrapes the fiddle-string,
And Venus plays the lute."

Quashi's fiddle was silent, and mute was the lute of Venus during my stay in Barbadoes. The difference betwixt the French and British islands was very striking. The first appeared happy and content; the second were filled with murmurs and complaints. The late proceedings in England concerning slavery and the insurrection in Demerara had evidently caused the gloom. The abolition of slavery is a question full of benevolence and fine feelings, difficulties and danger:

"Tantum ne noceas, dum vis prodesse videto."

It requires consummate prudence and a vast fund of true information in order to draw just conclusions on this important subject. Phaeton, by awkward driving, set the world on fire: "Sylvæ cum montibus ardent." Dædalus gave his son a pair of wings without considering the consequence; the boy flew out of all bounds, lost his wings, and tumbled into the sea:

"Icarus, Icariis nomina fecit aquis."

When the old man saw what had happened, he damned his own handicraft in wing-making: "devovitque suas artes." Prudence is a cardinal virtue:

"Omnia consulta mente gerenda tegens."

Foresight is half the battle. "Hombre apercebido, medio combatido," says Don Quixote, or Sancho, I do not remember which. Had Queen Bess weighed well in her own mind the probable consequences of this lamentable traffic, it is likely she would not have been owner of two vessels in Sir John Hawkins's squadron, which committed the first robbery in negro flesh on the coast of Africa. As philanthropy is the very life and soul of this momentous question on slavery, which is certainly fraught with great difficulties and danger, perhaps it would be as well at present for the nation to turn its thoughts to poor ill-fated Ireland, where oppression, poverty and rags make a heart-rending appeal to the feelings of the benevolent.

But to proceed. There was another thing which added to the dullness of Barbadoes and which seemed to have considerable effect in keeping away strangers from the island. The Legislature had passed a most extraordinary Bill, by virtue of which every person who arrives at Barbadoes is obliged to pay two dollars, and two dollars more on his departure from it. It is called the Alien Bill; and every Barbadian who leaves or returns to the island, and every Englishman too, pays the tax!

Finding no vessel here for Trinidad, I embarked in a schooner for Demerara, landed there after being nearly stranded on a sandbank, and proceeded without loss of time to the forests in the interior. It was the dry season, which renders a residence in the woods very delightful.

▲ Chapter 2, p. 2.
^top
 



▼ Chapter 2, p. 3.

There are three species of jacamar to be found on the different sandhills and dry savannas of Demerara; but there is another much larger and far more beautiful to be seen when you arrive in that part of the country where there are rocks. The jacamar has no affinity to the woodpecker or kingfisher (notwithstanding what travellers affirm) either in its haunts or anatomy. The jacamar lives entirely on insects, but never goes in search of them. It sits patiently for hours together on the branch of a tree, and when the incautious insect approaches it flies at it with the rapidity of an arrow, seizes it, and generally returns to eat it on the branch which it had just quitted. It has not the least attempt at song, is very solitary, and so tame that you may get within three or four yards of it before it takes flight. The males of all the different species which I have examined have white feathers on the throat. I suspect that all the male jacamars hitherto discovered have this distinctive mark. I could learn nothing of its incubation. The Indians informed me that one species of jacamar lays its eggs in the wood-ants' nests, which are so frequent in the trees of Guiana, and appear like huge black balls. I wish there had been proof positive of this; but the breeding-time was over, and in the ants' nests which I examined I could find no marks of birds having ever been in them. Early in January the jacamar is in fine plumage for the cabinet of the naturalist. The largest species measures ten inches and a half from the point of the beak to the end of the tail. Its name amongst the Indians is una-waya-adoucati, that is, grandfather of the jacamar. It is certainly a splendid bird, and in the brilliancy and changeableness of its metallic colours it yields to none of the Asiatic and African feathered tribe. The colours of the female are nearly as bright as those of the male, but she wants the white feathers on the throat. The large jacamar is pretty common about two hundred miles up the River Demerara.

Click to enlarge. [The three-toed sloth]

Here I had a fine opportunity once more of examining the three-toed sloth. He was in the house with me for a day or two. Had I taken a description of him as he lay sprawling on the floor I should have misled the world and injured natural history. On the ground he appeared really a bungled composition, and faulty at all points; awkwardness and misery were depicted on his countenance; and when I made him advance he sighed as though in pain. Perhaps it was that by seeing him thus out of his element, as it were, that the Count de Buffon, in his history of the sloth, asks the question: "Why should not some animals be created for misery, since, in the human species, the greatest number of individuals are devoted to pain from the moment of their existence?" Were the question put to me I would answer, I cannot conceive that any of them are created for misery. That thousands live in misery there can be no doubt; but then misery has overtaken them in their path through life, and wherever man has come up with them I should suppose they have seldom escaped from experiencing a certain proportion of misery.

After fully satisfying myself that it only leads the world into error to describe the sloth while he is on the ground or in any place except in a tree, I carried the one I had in my possession to his native haunts. As soon as he came in contact with the branch of a tree all went right with him. I could see as he climbed up into his own country that he was on the right road to happiness; and felt persuaded more than ever that the world has hitherto erred in its conjectures concerning the sloth, on account of naturalists not having given a description of him when he was in the only position in which he ought to have been described, namely, clinging to the branch of a tree.

[Read Gerald Durrell's view of early descriptions of the sloth.]

As the appearance of this part of the country bears great resemblance to Cayenne, and is so near to it, I was in hopes to have found the grande gobe-mouche of Buffon and the septi-coloured tangara, both of which are common in Cayenne; but after many diligent searches I did not succeed, nor could I learn from the Indians that they had ever seen those two species of birds in these parts.

Here I procured the gross-beak with a rich scarlet body and black head and throat. Buffon mentions it as coming from America. I had been in quest of it for years, but could never see it, and concluded that it was not to be found in Demerara. This bird is of a greenish brown before it acquires its rich plumage.

Amongst the bare roots of the trees, alongside of this part of the river, a red crab sometimes makes its appearance as you are passing up and down. It is preyed upon by a large species of owl which I was fortunate enough to procure. Its head, back, wings and tail are of so dark a brown as almost to appear black. The breast is of a somewhat lighter brown. The belly and thighs are of a dirty yellow-white. The feathers round the eyes are of the same dark brown as the rest of the body; and then comes a circle of white which has much the appearance of the rim of a large pair of spectacles. I strongly suspect that the dirty yellow-white of the belly and thighs has originally been pure white, and that it has come to its present colour by means of the bird darting down upon its prey in the mud. But this is mere conjecture.

▲Chapter 2, p. 3.
^top


▼ Chapter 2, p. 4.

Here, too, close to the river, I frequently saw the bird called sun-bird by the English colonists and tirana by the Spaniards in the Oroonoque. It is very elegant, and in its outward appearance approaches near to the heron tribe; still, it does not live upon fish. Flies and insects are its food, and it takes them just as the heron takes fish, by approaching near and then striking with its beak at its prey so quick that it has no chance to escape. The beautiful mixture of grey, yellow, green, black, white and chestnut in the plumage of this bird baffles any attempt to give a description of the distribution of them which would be satisfactory to the reader.

There is something remarkable in the great tinamou which I suspect has hitherto escaped notice. It invariably roosts in trees, but the feet are so very small in proportion to the body of this bulky bird that they can be of no use to it in grasping the branch; and, moreover, the hind-toe is so short that it does not touch the ground when the bird is walking. The back part of the leg, just below the knee, is quite flat and somewhat concave. On it are strong pointed scales, which are very rough, and catch your finger as you move it along from the knee to the toe. Now, by means of these scales and the particular flatness of that part of the leg, the bird is enabled to sleep in safety upon the branch of a tree.

At the close of day the great tinamou gives a loud, monotonous, plaintive whistle, and then immediately springs into the tree. By the light of the full-moon the vigilant and cautious naturalist may see him sitting in the position already described.

The small tinamou has nothing that can be called a tail. It never lays more than one egg, which is of a chocolate colour. It makes no nest, but merely scratches a little hollow in the sand, generally at the foot of a tree.

Here we have an instance of a bird the size of a partridge, and of the same tribe, laying only one egg, while the rest of the family, from the peahen to the quail, are known to lay a considerable number. The foot of this bird is very small in proportion, but the back part of the leg bears no resemblance to that of the larger tinamou; hence one might conclude that it sleeps upon the ground.

Independent of the hollow trees, the vampires have another hiding-place. They clear out the inside of the large ants' nests and then take possession of the shell. I had gone about half a day down the river to a part of the forest where the wallaba-trees were in great plenty. The seeds had ripened, and I was in hopes to have got the large scarlet ara, which feeds on them. But unfortunately the time had passed away, and the seeds had fallen.

While ranging here in the forest we stopped under an ants' nest, and, by the dirt below, conjectured that it had got new tenants. Thinking it no harm to dislodge them, "vi et armis," an Indian boy ascended the tree, but before he reached the nest out flew above a dozen vampires.

I have formerly remarked that I wished to have it in my power to say that I had been sucked by the vampire. I gave them many an opportunity, but they always fought shy; and though they now sucked a young man of the Indian breed very severely, as he was sleeping in his hammock in the shed next to mine, they would have nothing to do with me. His great toe seemed to have all the attractions. I examined it minutely as he was bathing it in the river at daybreak. The midnight surgeon had made a hole in it almost of a triangular shape, and the blood was then running from it apace. His hammock was so defiled and stained with clotted blood that he was obliged to beg an old black woman to wash it. As she was taking it down to the river-side she spread it out before me, and shook her head. I remarked that I supposed her own toe was too old and tough to invite the vampire-doctor to get his supper out of it, and she answered, with a grin, that doctors generally preferred young people.

Nobody has yet been able to inform me how it is that the vampire manages to draw such a large quantity of blood, generally from the toe, and the patient all the time remains in a profound sleep. I have never heard of an instance of a man waking under the operation. On the contrary, he continues in a sound sleep, and at the time of rising his eyes first inform him that there has been a thirsty thief on his toe.

The teeth of the vampire are very sharp and not unlike those of a rat. If it be that he inflicts the wound with his teeth (and he seems to have no other instruments), one would suppose that the acuteness of the pain would cause the person who is sucked to awake. We are in darkness in this matter, and I know of no means by which one might be enabled to throw light upon it. It is to be hoped that some future wanderer through the wilds of Guiana will be more fortunate than I have been and catch this nocturnal depredator in the fact. I have once before mentioned that I killed a vampire which measured thirty-two inches from wing to wing extended, but others which I have since examined have generally been from twenty to twenty-six inches in dimension.

The large humming-bird, called by the Indians kara-bimiti, invariably builds its nest in the slender branches of the trees which hang over the rivers and creeks. In appearance it is like brown tanned leather, and without any particle of lining. The rim of the nest is doubled inwards, and I always conjectured that it had taken this shape on account of the body of the bird pressing against it while she was laying her eggs. But this was quite a wrong conjecture. Instinct has taught the bird to give it this shape in order that the eggs may be prevented from rolling out.

▲ Chapter 2, p. 4.
^top




▼ Chapter 2, p. 5.

Red Howler MonkeyThe trees on the river's bank are particularly exposed to violent gusts of wind, and while I have been sitting in the canoe and looking on, I have seen the slender branch of the tree which held the humming-bird's nest so violently shaken that the bottom of the inside of the nest has appeared, and had there been nothing at the rim to stop the eggs they must inevitably have been jerked out into the water. I suspect the humming-bird never lays more than two eggs. I never found more than two in any of the many nests which have come in my way. The eggs were always white without any spots on them.

Probably travellers have erred in asserting that the monkeys of South America throw sticks and fruit at their pursuers. I have had fine opportunities of narrowly watching the different species of monkeys which are found in the wilds betwixt the Amazons and the Oroonoque. I entirely acquit them of acting on the offensive. When the monkeys are in the high trees over your head the dead branches will now and then fall down upon you, having been broken off as the monkeys pass along them; but they are never hurled from their hands.

Monkeys, commonly so called, both in the old and new continent, may be classed into three grand divisions: namely, the ape, which has no tail whatever; the baboon, which has only a short tail; and the monkey, which has a long tail. There are no apes and no baboons as yet discovered in the new world. Its monkeys may be very well and very briefly ranged under two heads: namely, those with hairy and bushy tails; and those whose tails are bare of hair underneath about six inches from the extremity. Those with hairy and bushy tails climb just like the squirrel, and make no use of the tail to help them from branch to branch. Those which have the tail bare underneath towards the end find it of infinite advantage to them in their ascent and descent. They apply it to the branch of the tree, as though it were a supple finger, and frequently swing by it from the branch like the pendulum of a clock. It answers all the purposes of a fifth hand to the monkey, as naturalists have already observed.

The large red monkey of Demerara is not a baboon, though it goes by that name, having a long pensile tail. (Footnote: I believe pensile is a new-coined word. I have seen it, but do not remember where.) Nothing can sound more dreadful than its nocturnal howlings. While lying in your hammock in these gloomy and immeasurable wilds, you hear him howling at intervals from eleven o'clock at night till daybreak. You would suppose that half the wild beasts of the forest were collecting for the work of carnage. Now it is the tremendous roar of the jaguar as he springs on his prey: now it changes to his terrible and deep-toned growlings as he is pressed on all sides by superior force: and now you hear his last dying moan beneath a mortal wound.

Some naturalists have supposed that these awful sounds which you would fancy are those of enraged and dying wild beasts proceed from a number of the red monkeys howling in concert. One of them alone is capable of producing all these sounds; and the anatomists on an inspection of his trachea will be fully satisfied that this is the case. When you look at him, as he is sitting on the branch of a tree, you will see a lump in his throat the size of a large hen's egg. In dark and cloudy weather, and just before a squall of rain, this monkey will often howl in the daytime; and if you advance cautiously, and get under the high and tufted tree where he is sitting, you may have a capital opportunity of witnessing his wonderful powers of producing these dreadful and discordant sounds.

His flesh is good food; but when skinned his appearance is so like that of a young one of our own species that a delicate stomach might possibly revolt at the idea of putting a knife and fork into it. However, I can affirm from experience that, after a long and dreary march through these remote forests, the flesh of this monkey is not to be sneezed at when boiled in cayenne-pepper or roasted on a stick over a good fire. A young one tastes not unlike kid, and the old ones have somewhat the flavour of he-goat.

I mentioned, in a former adventure, that I had hit upon an entirely new plan of making the skins of quadrupeds retain their exact form and feature. Intense application to the subject has since that period enabled me to shorten the process and hit the character of an animal to a very great nicety, even to the preservation of the pouting lip, dimples, warts and wrinkles on the face. I got a fine specimen of the howling monkey, and took some pains with it in order to show the immense difference that exists betwixt the features of this monkey and those of man.

▲Chapter 2, p. 5.

^top



▼ Chapter 2, p. 6.

The Nondescript at Wakefield Museum. [The Nondescript]
I also procured an animal which has caused not a little speculation and astonishment. In my opinion, his thick coat of hair and great length of tail put his species out of all question, but then his face and head cause the inspector to pause for a moment before he ventures to pronounce his opinion of the classification. He was a large animal, and as I was pressed for daylight, and moreover, felt no inclination to have the whole weight of his body upon my back, I contented myself with his head and shoulders, which I cut off, and have brought them with me to Europe.

[Footnote: My young friend Mr. J. H. Foljambe, eldest son of Thomas Foljambe, Esq., of Wakefield, has made a drawing of the head and shoulders of this animal, and it is certainly a most correct and striking likeness of the original.]

I have since found that I acted quite right in doing so, having had enough to answer for the head alone, without saying anything of his hands and feet, and of his tail, which is an appendage, Lord Kames asserts, belongs to us.

The features of this animal are quite of the Grecian cast, and he has a placidity of countenance which shows that things went well with him when in life. Some gentlemen of great skill and talent, on inspecting his head, were convinced that the whole series of its features has been changed. Others again have hesitated, and betrayed doubts, not being able to make up their minds whether it be possible that the brute features of the monkey can be changed into the noble countenance of man: "Scinditur vulgus." One might argue at considerable length on this novel subject; and perhaps, after all, produce little more than prolix pedantry: "Vox et praeterea nihil."

Let us suppose for an instant that it is a new species. Well; "Una golondrina no hace verano": One swallow does not make summer, as Sancho Panza says. Still, for all that, it would be well worth while going out to search for it; and these times of Pasco-Peruvian enterprise are favourable to the undertaking. Perhaps, gentle reader, you would wish me to go in quest of another. I would beg leave respectfully to answer that the way is dubious, long and dreary; and though, unfortunately, I cannot allege the excuse of "me pia conjux detinet," still I would fain crave a little repose. I have already been a long while errant:

"Longa mihi exilia, et vastum maris æquor aravi,
Ne mandate mihi, nam ego sum defessus agendo."

Should anybody be induced to go, great and innumerable are the discoveries yet to be made in those remote wilds; and should he succeed in bringing home even a head alone, with features as perfect as those of that which I have brought, far from being envious of him, I should consider him a modern Alcides, fully entitled to register a thirteenth labour. Now if, on the other hand, we argue that this head in question has had all its original features destroyed, and a set of new ones given to it, by what means has this hitherto unheard-of change been effected? Nobody in any of our museums has as yet been able to restore the natural features to stuffed animals; and he who has any doubts of this, let him take a living cat or dog and compare them with a stuffed cat or dog in any of the first-rate museums. A momentary glance of the eye would soon settle his doubts on this head.

If I have succeeded in effacing the features of a brute, and putting those of a man in their place, we might be entitled to say that the sun of Proteus has risen to our museums:

"Unius hic faciem, facies transformat in omnes;
Nunc homo, nunc tigris; nunc equa, nunc mulier."

If I have effected this, we can now give to one side of the skin of a man's face the appearance of eighty years and to the other side that of blooming seventeen. We could make the forehead and eyes serene in youthful beauty and shape the mouth and jaws to the features of a malicious old ape. Here is a new field opened to the adventurous and experimental naturalist: I have trodden it up and down till I am almost weary. To get at it myself I have groped through an alley which may be styled in the words of Ovid:

"Arduus, obliquus, caligine densus opaca."

▲Chapter 2, p. 6.

^top



▼ Chapter 2, p. 7.

I pray thee, gentle reader, let me out awhile. Time passes on apace; and I want to take thee to have a peep at the spots where mines are supposed to exist in Guiana. As the story of this singular head has probably not been made out to thy satisfaction, perhaps (I may say it nearly in Corporal Trim's words), on some long and dismal winter's evening, but not now, I may tell thee more about it; together with that of another head which is equally striking.

It is commonly reported, and I think there is no reason to doubt the fact, that when Demerara and Essequibo were under the Dutch flag there were mines of gold and silver opened near to the River Essequibo. The miners were not successful in their undertaking, and it is generally conjectured that their failure proceeded from inexperience.

Now, when you ascend the Essequibo, some hundred miles above the place where these mines are said to be found, you get into a high, rocky and mountainous country. Here many of the mountains have a very barren aspect, producing only a few stinted shrubs, and here and there a tuft of coarse grass. I could not learn that they have ever been explored, and at this day their mineralogy is totally unknown to us. The Indians are so thinly scattered in this part of the country that there would be no impropriety in calling it uninhabited:

"Apparent rari errantes in gurgite vasto."

It remains to be yet learnt whether this portion of Guiana be worth looking after with respect to its supposed mines. The mining speculations at present are flowing down another channel. The rage in England for working the mines of other states has now risen to such a pitch, that it would require a considerable degree of caution in a mere wanderer of the woods in stepping forward to say anything that might tend to raise or depress the spirits of the speculators.

A question or two, however, might be asked. When the revolted colonies shall have repaired in some measure the ravages of war, and settled their own political economy upon a firm foundation, will they quietly submit to see foreigners carrying away those treasures which are absolutely part of their own soil, and which necessity (necessity has no law) forced them to barter away in their hour of need? Now, if it should so happen that the masters of the country begin to repent of their bargain and become envious of the riches which foreigners carry off, many a teasing law might be made and many a vexatious enaction might be put in force that would in all probability bring the speculators into trouble and disappointment.

Besides this consideration there is another circumstance which ought not to be overlooked. I allude to the change of masters nearly throughout the whole of America. It is a curious subject for the European philosopher to moralise upon and for the politician to examine. The more they consider it, the more they will be astonished. If we may judge by what has already taken place, we are entitled to predict that in a very few years more no European banner will be seen to float in any part of the new world. Let us take a cursory view of it.

England some years ago possessed a large portion of the present United States. France had Louisiana; Spain held the Floridas, Mexico, Darien, Terra Firma, Buenos Ayres, Paraguay, Chili, Peru and California; and Portugal ruled the whole of Brazil. All these immense regions are now independent states. England, to be sure, still has Canada, Nova Scotia and a few creeks on the coast of Labrador; also a small settlement in Honduras, and the wilds of Demerara and Essequibo; and these are all. France has not a foot of ground, except the forests of Cayenne. Portugal has lost every province; Spain is blockaded in nearly her last citadel; and the Dutch flag is only seen in Surinam. Nothing more now remains to Europe of this immense continent where but a very few years ago she reigned triumphant.

With regard to the West India Islands, they may be considered as the mere outposts of this mammoth domain. St. Domingo has already shaken off her old masters and become a star of observation to the rest of the sable brethren. The anti-slavery associations of England, full of benevolence and activity, have opened a tremendous battery upon the last remaining forts which the lords of the old continent still hold in the new world; and in all probability will not cease firing till they shall have caused the last flag to be struck of Europe's late mighty empire in the transatlantic regions. It cannot well be doubted but that the sable hordes in the West Indies will like to follow good example whenever they shall have it in their power to do so.

▲Chapter 2, p. 7.

^top



▼ Chapter 2, p. 8.

Now with St. Domingo as an example before them, how long will it be before they try to raise themselves into independent states? And if they should succeed in crushing us in these our last remaining tenements, I would bet ten to one that none of the new Governments will put on mourning for our departure out of the new world. We must well remember that our own Government was taxed with injustice and oppression by the United States during their great struggle; and the British press for years past has, and is still, teeming with every kind of abuse and unbecoming satire against Spain and Portugal for their conduct towards the now revolted colonies.

France also comes in for her share of obloquy. Now this being the case, will not America at large wish most devoutly for the day to come when Europe shall have no more dominion over her? Will she not say to us: Our new forms of government are very different from your old ones. We will trade with you, but we shall always be very suspicious of you as long as you retain possession of the West Indies, which are, as we may say, close to our door-steads. You must be very cautious how you interfere with our politics; for, if we find you meddling with them, and by that means cause us to come to loggerheads, we shall be obliged to send you back to your own homes three or four thousand miles across the Atlantic; and then with that great ditch betwixt us we may hope we shall be good friends. He who casts his eye on the East Indies will there see quite a different state of things. The conquered districts have merely changed one European master for another; and I believe there is no instance of any portion of the East Indies throwing off the yoke of the Europeans and establishing a Government of their own.

Ye who are versed in politics, and study the rise and fall of empires, and know what is good for civilised man and what is bad for him, or, in other words, what will make him happy and what will make him miserable--tell us how comes it that Europe has lost almost her last acre in the boundless expanse of territory which she so lately possessed in the West, and still contrives to hold her vast property in the extensive regions of the East? But whither am I going? I find myself on a new and dangerous path. Pardon, gentle reader, this sudden deviation. Methinks I hear thee saying to me:

"Tramite quo tendis, majoraque viribus audes."

I grant that I have erred, but I will do so no more. In general I avoid politics; they are too heavy for me, and I am aware that they have caused the fall of many a strong and able man; they require the shoulders of Atlas to support their weight.

When I was in the rocky mountains of Macoushia, in the month of June 1812, I saw four young cock-of-the-rocks in an Indian's hut; they had been taken out of the nest that week. They were of a uniform dirty brown colour, and by the position of the young feathers upon the head you might see that there would be a crest there when the bird arrived at maturity. By seeing young ones in the month of June I immediately concluded that the old cock- of-the-rock would be in fine plumage from the end of November to the beginning of May; and that the naturalist who was in quest of specimens for his museum ought to arrange his plans in such a manner as to be able to get into Macoushia during these months. However, I find now that no exact period can be fixed; for in December 1824 an Indian in the River Demerara gave me a young cock-of-the-rock not a month old, and it had just been brought from the Macoushi country. By having a young specimen at this time of the year it puts it out of one's power to say at what precise time the old birds are in full plumage. I took it on board a ship with me for England, but it was so very susceptible of cold that it shivered and died three days after we had passed Antigua.

If ever there should be a great demand for large supplies of gum-elastic, commonly called india-rubber, it may be procured in abundance far away in the wilds of Demerara and Essequibo.

Some years ago, when I was in the Macoushi country, there was a capital trick played upon me about india-rubber. It is, almost too good to be left out of these wanderings, and it shows that the wild and uneducated Indian is not without abilities. Weary and sick and feeble through loss of blood, I arrived at some Indian huts which were about two hours distant from the place where the gum-elastic trees grew. After a day and a night's rest I went to them, and with my own hands made a fine ball of pure india-rubber; it hardened immediately as it became exposed to the air, and its elasticity was almost incredible.

▲Chapter 2, p. 8.

^top




▼ Chapter 2, p. 9.

While procuring it, exposure to the rain, which fell in torrents, brought on a return of inflammation in the stomach, and I was obliged to have recourse again to the lancet, and to use it with an unsparing hand. I wanted another ball, but was not in a state the next morning to proceed to the trees. A fine interesting young Indian, observing my eagerness to have it, tendered his services, and asked two handfuls of fish-hooks for his trouble.

Off he went, and to my great surprise returned in a very short time. Bearing in mind the trouble and time it had cost me to make a ball, I could account for this Indian's expedition in no other way except that, being an inhabitant of the forest, he knew how to go about his work in a much shorter way than I did. His ball, to be sure, had very little elasticity in it. I tried it repeatedly, but it never rebounded a yard high. The young Indian watched me with great gravity, and when I made him understand that I expected the ball would dance better, he called another Indian who knew a little English to assure me that I might be quite easy on that score. The young rogue, in order to render me a complete dupe, brought the new moon to his aid. He gave me to understand that the ball was like the little moon which he pointed to, and by the time it grew big and old the ball would bounce beautifully. This satisfied me, and I gave him the fish-hooks, which he received without the least change of countenance.

I bounced the ball repeatedly for two months after, but I found that it still remained in its infancy. At last I suspected that the savage (to use a vulgar phrase) had "come Yorkshire" over me; and so I determined to find out how he had managed to take me in. I cut the ball in two, and then saw what a taught trick he had played me. It seems he had chewed some leaves into a lump the size of a walnut, and then dipped them in the liquid gum- elastic. It immediately received a coat about as thick as a sixpence. He then rolled some more leaves round it and gave it another coat. He seems to have continued this process till he made the ball considerably larger than the one I had procured; and in order to put his roguery out of all chance of detection he made the last and outer coat thicker than a dollar. This Indian would, no doubt, have thriven well in some of our great towns.

Finding that the rainy season was coming on, I left the wilds of Demerara and Essequibo with regret towards the close of December 1824, and reached once more the shores of England after a long and unpleasant passage.

Ere we part, kind reader, I could wish to draw a little of thy attention to the instructions which are to be found at the end of this book. Twenty years have now rolled away since I first began to examine the specimens of zoology in our museums. As the system of preparation is founded in error, nothing but deformity, distortion and disproportion will be the result of the best intentions and utmost exertions of the workman. Canova's education, taste and genius enabled him to present to the world statues so correct and beautiful that they are worthy of universal admiration. Had a common stonecutter tried his hand upon the block out of which these statues were sculptured, what a lamentable want of symmetry and fine countenance there would have been. Now when we reflect that the preserved specimens in our museums and private collections are always done upon a wrong principle, and generally by low and illiterate people whose daily bread depends upon the shortness of time in which they can get through their work, and whose opposition to the true way of preparing specimens can only be surpassed by their obstinacy in adhering to the old method, can we any longer wonder at their want of success or hope to see a single specimen produced that will be worth looking at? With this I conclude, hoping that thou hast received some information, and occasionally had a smile upon thy countenance, while perusing these Wanderings; and begging at the same time to add that:

Well I know thy penetration
     Many a stain and blot will see,
In the languid long narration,
     Of my sylvan errantry.

For the pen too oft was weary,
     In the wandering writer's hand,
As he roved through deep and dreary
     Forests, in a distant land.

Show thy mercy, gentle reader,
     Let him not entreat in vain;
It will be his strength's best feeder,
     Should he ever go again.

And who knows, how soon complaining
     Of a cold and wifeless home,
He may leave it, and again in
     Equatorial regions roam.

C.W.

~~~~~
From Wanderings in South America, the North-West of the United States, and the Antilles,
in the years 1812, 1816, 1820, & 1824.
With Original Instructions for the perfect preservation of Birds, Etc. for Cabinets of Natural History.
Charles Waterton, Esq.,
Introduction by the Rev. J. G. Wood, Macmillan and Co., 1880, London.

▲Chapter 2, p. 9.

^top


 Visit the Bookshelf.

OVERTOWN MISCELLANY (overtown.org.uk)  
© John S. Sargent, 1997 - 2021.  All rights reserved.  
• About this site  • Contact  
Squire Charles Waterton