ISLAND OF ST. HELENA,
THIS very extraordinary Island is situated in the Southern Atlantic Ocean in latitude 15° 55’ south, and longitude 5° 46’ west : distant from the continent of Africa twelve hundred miles ; from South America eighteen hundred ; from the Island of Ascension six hundred ; from those of Tristan d’Acunha twelve hundred ; and about one thousand miles south of the equinoctial line.
According to the most accurate account, this Island was first discovered by Juan de Nova Castella, a Portuguese navigator, on his return from India on the 21st of May, 1502, being the feast of Saint Helena, whence its name : its situation was kept a secret, until it was found by Sir Thomas Cavendish, who fell in with it on the 9th of June, 1588 ; it soon also became known to the Dutch, who, commencing war with the Portuguese, expelled them and took possession of it, merely as a place of refreshment for their ships homeward bound : but, some time after, esteeming the Cape of Good Hope more convenient, they quitted Saint Helena, and the English formed a settlement upon it about the year 1657 : in the close of 1672, the Dutch wrested it from them ; but, in the beginning of 1673, it was retaken by Sir Richard Munden : in 1674, it was granted in full proprietorship by royal charter to the English East India Company, who have maintained it in their possession ever since.
Perhaps no coast, either of island or continent in the world, presents on a near approach to it a more frightful and unpromising appearance, than that of Saint Helena : its boldness, total barrenness, and tremendous precipices, create in the mind of the spectator the most unfavourable impressions ;— little would any one, arriving for the first time imagine, that so rude and forbidding a shell contained so choice and valuable a kernel. To him, who having a few weeks before left England, and is destined to reside here, the view of its exterior (by which criterion men and things are too often judged,) is calculated to excite sentiments of disappointment and regret. An Irish boy, a recruit, who came out in 1801, under the influence of these feelings, could not avoid exclaiming, as the neared the shore—“Ochone ! and is it on that big, black rock I will be living these seven years to come!”
Vessels approaching the Island are generally seen in a direction from S.S.E. to E.S.E. and seldom at a greater distance than twenty-two leagues, which they soon run down, a pleasant and steady breeze from the S.E. (trade wind) continually blowing ; no diversity of feature is observed to mark the dreary coast, until the ship arrives in James’s Bay, when a town, built in a valley of the same name, affords an interesting and cheering prospect.
James’s Town is surmounted on either side by high and utterly barren hills, from which apprehensions are immediately excited of masses rolling to the destruction of the houses and their inhabitants : accidents of this kind are, however, of very rare occurrence. The town has not only the air of being, but in reality is, a very neat one : the principal street particularly so ; it is wide, clean, and paved, and the houses built of solid masonry, and, for the most part, roofed with shingles, are respectable dwellings : in this street the Company’s servants and principal inhabitants reside. At the north end is the church, in which divine service is celebrated on Sunday mornings and evenings, and on Thursday evenings : it is a plain, commodious, neat building ; at the opposite end of the street is a garden, commonly called the Company’s, or Castle Garden it does not occupy much space, nor are there many botanical productions in it ; the principal are—Barringtonia speciosa W. Terminalia catappa W. Magnifuindica L. Ficus religiosa, indica, et terebrata W. Erythrina cafra R. Hibiscus populneus, cordia campanulata, cocos nucifera, and achras sapota L.
The Castle, or Government House, is near the beach, in the right hand corner of an irregular area, into which the main street at its north end leads : it is an old and inconvenient building, not at all adapted for the residence of a family, but contains two excellent public rooms.
James’s Town and Bay are defended by a strong line and ditch in front ; by an important battery on Ladder Hill, on the west ; and by Munden’s Battery, Rupert’s Hill, and Banks’s batteries on the east.
The anchorage in James’s Bay is allowed to be perfectly secure : very large fleets may at all times sail ; more than fifty ships have frequently departed together without sustaining any injury.
In the other streets of James’s Town are several good dwelling houses at the southern end are the officers and soldiers barracks ; next to these, the botanic garden, in which but few specimens are to be seen ; the general hospital, some genteel garden houses above this, and the springs which supply the town with water. At the extremity of the valley, a perpendicular fall of water of about one hundred feet is received into and runs through it : at a convenient place, part of the stream is diverted, and carried in a stone drain to reservoirs on the wharf, where ships are watered with convenience and facility. It has been calculated, that, in moderate seasons, the quantity of water which passes through the town is about six hogsheads in a minute, or 2160 tons in twenty-four hours.
There are altogether, in James’s Town, one hundred and fifty, dwelling houses, exclusive of public buildings : three breweries are established, in which excellent beer is made from English malt and hops, and retailed to the inhabitants and garrison at a reasonable rate.
Ladder Hill is an eminence on the west side of the town, six hundred feet above the level of the sea, farming also part of the north coast ; to ascend it, there is a zig-zag road of three turnings, cut in the side of the hill : it is a well-constructed and safe carriage road, formed about half a century ago with great labour and expense. From the town to the battery on the crest of the hill is one mile.
Passing this, the tourist proceeds in a southern direction, gradually ascending over a rocky and barren surface about two miles, when he reaches a small habitation, called Red Hill House : at a little distance to the eastward rises High Knoll, a large, conical hill, nineteen hundred and three feet above the level of the sea—on its summit some works are constructed.
From Ladder Hill to this place the only plants met with are the salsola salsa, cactus opuntia, portulacca oleracea, and the beautiful little flower, locally called Pagoda flower, cotula coronopifolia of W.
From Red Hill House a delightful prospect arrests the attention looking into a valley on the left, verdant pastures, cultivated gardens, and neat dwellings are seen in perfect contrast to the arid and dreary appearance hitherto observed ; in the bottom of this valley flows a fine stream of water, which descends into James’s Town as before described ; bounding this pleasant vale on the south, hills arise, clothed with grass, and their tops crowned with trees ; to the eastward are several residences ; the whole forming an interesting view.
Proceeding about three quarters of a mile is the entrance to Plantation House, the official country establishment for the governor : it is a mansion of considerable elegance, pleasantly situated, with extensive gardens and cultivated lands, laid out in good style, and kept in excellent order ; adorned with a variety of fine trees and shrubs, collected from Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, “brought from the most remote parts of the world, and from climates the most opposite ;” yet, all thriving in great luxuriance, all flourishing alike.
On a rising ground at the back of the Plantation House is the country church, in which there is divine service on Sunday mornings.
The road from hence ascends gently for rather more than a mile and a half, when it branches off to the southeast and south-west : this spot is called Bates’s, to which it will be proper to return, after having explored the first of these divisions.
Pursuing it nearly two miles through a fine country and in a delightful temperature, the traveller arrives at a gate upon a narrow pass called Sandy Bay Ridge, twenty-two hundred feet above the level of the sea ; and from hence the scene which bursts upon the sight cannot be adequately described. “Over all this part of the Island,” says an anonymous, but intelligent author of a Description of Saint Helena, 1805, “there is a wildness in the surrounding scenery, surpassing what the writer of this has ever seen : one feels here as if transported into a new planet, where every object strikes by its novelty, and is altogether unlike any thing, which he has met with before. All the surrounding hills, cliffs, rocks, and precipices, are so strangely fashioned, and so fantastically mixed and blended, that they resemble more the aerial shapes, which we see among the clouds, than any thing composed of denser materials.”
The vast variety of hill and dale, of verdure and barrenness visible from this spot, excite the most lively emotions of wonder and delight, disposing the mind to an awful consideration and profound reverence of the Power, which has produced such an assemblage of beauty and majesty.
On the left from this gate, a ridge of hills trends in a direction inclining to the south, being a part of the mountainous intersection of the Island, not inaptly termed the “back bone ;” from this ridge, which is very high and very narrow, hills or large knolls on both sides spread out, descending towards the sea, forming between them small ravines or valleys ; in these, arise the springs which supply the houses and cattle, and also irrigate the lands ; most of these ravines contain one or more sources of clear, fresh, excellent water.
The top of the ridge is unequal, occasioned by risings, or peaks of various shapes from end to end, and these are the highest points of land : one of them, the most elevated on the Island, is called Diana’s Peak, being two thousand six hundred and ninety seven feet above the sea. On a mountainous ramification from this ridge, the celebrated Dr. Halley fixed his station, for the purpose of making some important astronomical observations, in the year 1676. The hill to this day is called Halley’s Mount.
The declivities of the ridge are very steep and abrupt : but “it is covered with the most luxuriant herbage to its summit, and with groves of indigenous and exotic shrubs and trees.”
Looking from hence towards Sandy Bay, are several farm houses and gardens, stuck as it were upon little plains, or gentle slopes of the hills, surrounded by rich pastures, on which many cattle and sheep are fed : the gardens produce most kinds of esculents in abundance, and fruits of several sorts, the valleys generally contain plantations of yams, arum colocasia, W. which furnish a valuable article of food.
A seat in this neighbourhood, the property of William Webber Doveton, Esq. member of council, must not escape observation : it is most romantically situated, and kept in high order ; this gentleman has strongly evinced his good sense, by clearing the whole of his lands from the blackberry, and demonstrated the practicability of destroying this abominable plant.
“Lower down are groups of argillaceous hills, with conical and pyramidal summits, all perfectly naked, but rich with a variety of very bright tints. Intermingled with these hills, or resting upon their summits, are seen some large detached masses of rock, which rise several hundred feet above them ; beyond this, the exterior parts of the Island, all round where they border on the sea, present a burnt and scorified appearance, black, ragged, and mouldering, without the slightest apparent trace of vegetation.”—Description of St. Helena, p. 29.
From the gate beforementioned, a winding road of four miles leads down to Sandy Bay : this Bay being far to windward, is unsafe even for small boats to lie in, agitated, as it frequently is, by heavy swells and surfs.
The whole of the lime used on the Island is obtained at Sandy Bay ; large hills of a peculiar but excellent material being in the vicinity.
A plentiful stream of water constantly runs through this valley, accumulated from springs in the interior of the country.
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Bates’s Branch (vide p. 16.)
Traversing from hence the south-west road, which is nearly level, at about three quarters of a mile, is a peak called Cason’s, part of the main ridge, or back bone : on it there is a telegraph station, from whence vessels have been discovered twenty leagues distant : the view which here presents itself is truly grand : immediately below are hills and valleys of fine pasturage, with several respectable houses and gardens ; the wild, barren, and fantastic mountains and ravines of Sandy Bay, the green and cultivated. spots in its valley ; on the right, the prodigious column or pile of rock called Lot, the bay and its defences terminated by the waters of the Atlantic, the surface of which at times resembles a highly polished mirror of vast expanse.
The country west of the road is not so strongly marked, but beautifully diversified with verdant hills and dales : these close their tortuous directions at the upper end of a narrow but very deep and rocky ravine, Lemon Valley, which extends to the north shore, having a small bay, sufficiently defended by strong batteries. Some good houses, gardens, plantations, &c. are pleasantly situate in this part of the Island. The valleys are finely watered.
A little further on is High Peak, another sudden, high, conical eminence on the ridge, tapering to a point : its side next Sandy Bay is nearly perpendicular, producing many indigenous trees and shrubs ; a road from hence to the westward conducts to an elevated and extensive tract of land called Horse Pasture, the extremity of which constitutes part of the coast.
Thompson’s Wood Hill, about two miles beyond High Peak, is a considerable rise, and the last upon the main ridge in this direction. A bridle road leads from hence to a large unoccupied space of fine land called Man and Horse, which extends to the sea, edged by prodigious precipices.
The ravines on this side of the Island are dreadful, deep, narrow chasms : all inaccessible ; and, as is the case round the whole coast, entirely barren.
Church Yard is situate under the extremity of the main ridge, near the foot of Thompson’s Wood Hill, and at the top of a long and steep ravine, terminating on the windward coast in a Bay called Manati, or Manatee : (this bay derives its designation from its having been more frequently visited by the manatee, or sea-cow, than any other.) On Church Yard are many large, detached masses of rock, which appear at a distance like so many tombs ; whence its appellation : it is probable that these stones were formerly covered with earth of a loose and light sort, like that on which they now stand—of which covering they have been denuded by rain. They could not have formed part of the adjacent hill, the materials of its composition being of an entirely different character : they seem to be volcanic, and as if at some remote period they were ejected from a crater ; no satisfactory trace of which is there in the vicinity : it is curious that they should have all fallen on one spot, not more than two or three acres in extent.
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Road to the eastward.—From James’s Town a good carriage road off easy ascent is projected along the west side of Rupert’s Hill, which conducts to the eastern division of the Island : about a mile and a half is the Briars, a compact, pleasant estate, belonging to W. Balcombe, Esq. producing varieties of the best fruits ; viz. mango, apple, figs, guava, pomegranate, oranges, lemons, grapes, peaches, &c. in abundance. The road now proceeds in a circuitous direction up an argillaceous hill, to the Alarm or Ridge Hill House : this is nearly three miles from town, and one thousand nine hundred and sixty feet above the sea, commanding a fine view of the town, bay, and shipping on the north ; Long Wood, Dead Wood, Flagstaff Hill, and the Barn on the east : three quarters of a mile further is the Hutt’s Gate, where the road divides into three branches, one leading across the country to Plantation House, another to Long Wood, which is first to be attended to ; the third will be afterwards described.
This road is constructed on the crest of an argillaceous, subordinate range of hills ; at the northern slope of which terminates Rupert’s Valley, or rather the ravines into which it spreads : one of these ramifications ends in an immense amphitheatrical hollow, on which has been bestowed the appellation of the “Punch Bowl :” its surface is partially covered with grass ; beyond it to the sea, all is barren, rude, and rocky ; another ravine for about a mile down is well watered and verdant, and contains two or three habitations : the principal of which is the residence of one of the most classical scholars of the age.
From Hutt’s Gate to Long Wood is nearly a mile and a quarter the road all the distance from the Alarm House tolerably level.
Long Wood House, the official country seat of the lieutenant governor, is one thousand seven hundred and sixty-two feet above the ocean, and is situate on a plain of considerable extent, substantially enclosed by a stone fence, and planted a few years ago at much expense, with an indigenous tree of little value, called gumwood, conyza gummifera R. The house itself is an insufficient dwelling, being only a set of rooms thrown together at different times without attention to order or convenience.
Part of Long Wood has been recently cultivated ; a farm being established on the Honourable Company’s account—the remainder is pasture.
Adjoining is a large and nearly level space : Dead Wood attached to Long Wood Farm as grazing land : it extends on the north to a high hill, Flagstaff, the top of which is two thousand two hundred and seventy-two feet above the sea. This plain, together with Long Wood, comprises about fifteen hundred acres covered with excellent grass—the dup, or dupa grass of India. Panicum dactylon L.
Dead Wood was formerly called the “Great Wood,” and contained a large number of gumwood trees : within the last sixty years many dead ones were laying there, on which account it seems to have changed its name : they were allowed to be taken away by the inhabitants, who were prohibited from using the green wood : in 1766 there was a great quantity of fallen timber, fit only for fuel ; soon after it appears that every tree either died or was cut down. At present there is not one to be seen.
Long Wood and Dead Wood are both entirely exposed to the southeast wind, not a hill intervening to afford shelter ; but, as the wind is generally moderate, neither trees nor crops suffer materially. Long Wood is undoubtedly one of the most healthy parts of Saint Helena.
There is no water to be found at either place, but plentiful supplies are conveyed by a drain and pipes from springs in the upper lands near Halley’s Mount, a distance of two miles and a half.
The Barn, or Barn Hill is a high, long, barren rock ; its shape on the summit irregularly elliptical, on which there are two small knolls : it is to the eastward of Flagstaff Hill, with which it is connected by a narrow ridge of argillaceous composition, with abundance of small ferruginous pebbles deposited in it. This immense mass forms a very prominent and bold feature of the east coast ; is two thousand and fifteen feet high, and, with the exception of a few indigenous shrubs, quite bare ; it is said that many gumwood and ebony trees, dombeya melanoxylon R. once grew on it : fragments of the trunks and branches of the latter are frequently found, black, tolerably sound, and excessively hard.
Turk’s Cap Bay is formed by the Barn Point to the north, and Turk’s Cap Point to the south ; a wide ravine extending from Dead Wood to the sea : Turk’s Cap Valley is barren, but affords some curious mineralogical productions.
From the easternmost part of Long Wood, a wild, strangely diversified, and extensive space presents itself, called Great Horse Point ; it seems to be composed of argill, thickly interspersed with small globular and uniform ferruginous pebbles ; on it grows the salsola salsa, a species of crithmum, and a small shrub, aster glutinosus R. locally, shrub-wood it is from twenty to thirty-six inches in height ; the leaves possess a strong aromatic fragrance, and from them there is a continual resinous exudation.
Beyond this, towards the east coast, are many argillaceous naked hills, divided by ravines, and again intersected by smaller ones occasioned by rain the strata of clays composing these discover a variety of bright and beautiful tints, that it is impossible fully to describe ; some of these earths have been carefully prepared, and colours obtained from them little inferior to any manufactured in Great Britain. Hence to the water’s edge all is barren.
Turk’s Cap is a conical hill on the east coast ; its summit, which is merely a point, is seven hundred and fifty feet high : a much lower and clayey ridge connects it with a narrow and almost perpendicular rock in its rear, named Gregory’s Point : to the south of Turk’s Cap there is another small bay formed by it and a very elevated promontory, called Prosperous ; from whence this bay derives its name. An inaccessible ravine, bounded on one side by Prosperous mountain, and on the other by a high rocky eminence, Hold-Fast Tom, is terminated by a huge perpendicular mass of cliff, over which, after irrigating a beautiful vale, a considerable stream of water descends.
This fine ravine, Fisher’s Valley, traverses from this cascade to the northwest : having Long Wood on the right, Prosperous Bay, plain and verdant bills on the left, ending under the central ridge, or back bone, near Halley’s Mount : it is plentifully watered through its whole extent, and in it are several farm houses with fine herbage, cultivated grounds, and yam plantations.
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Passing through Hutt’s Gate (p. 31) the road winds along the Knolls, projecting from the main ridge to the fifth mile from town : this distance is on the crest of one of the branches ranging immediately from Diana’s Peak, called Alarm hill, and which in continuity bounds on the south Fisher’s Valley, just mentioned : from hence there is an extensive view of the eastern part of the Island from the Barn to Great Stone Top, including the high and strangely-shaped promontory of Prosperous ; the barren and unequal waste between George’s Island and a smaller one, Shore Rock, and the two very lofty and extraordinary points, Great and Little Stone Top.
Descending Alarm Hill three quarters of a mile, another vale is crossed : above the road it is designated Arno’s Vale, stretching to Diana’s Peak ; and below it extends under the appellation of Shark’s Valley. It is well watered.
Another branch from the main ridge divides Level Wood Valley from the former : a mile to the eastward is the head of Stone Top Ravine, where Shark’s and Level Wood valleys, sweeping round the extremity of the hill, which separates them, meet and end : there is here a very copious spring of fine water, which runs waste into the sea.
Stone Top Valley is a dreadful, deep, and narrow ravine : from the similarity of the position and description of the rocks and strata on each side, it appears, as if by some mighty convulsion, the immense hill had been rent asunder, and this frightful chasm thus formed (this idea applies also to most of the ravines round the Island). It extends to the shore where there is a beach and a small, but impracticable bay. Some saline stalactites are found dependent from the rocks.
Little Stone Top rises to a considerable height : it is a barren, hard, conical rock ; on its apex is a large spherical mass of stone of the same species with the column. The surface of the space between Little and Great Stone Top is a dun-coloured argillaceous substance, intersected by veins of indurated clay of various colours : many recesses are found in the sides of the small ridges which indent it ; the upper edges or fronts of them perforated and worn away by decomposition presents a singular appearance, resembling a series of indefinite arches, ornamented with gothic fret-work. On the slope of the bill inwards is found a shrub, locally, box-wood, by Dr. Roxburgh, physalis begonifolia ; also, aster glutinosus, tribulus terrestris, and cotula coronopifolia.
The road now assumes a western course threading round the projections of the hills, having on the coast side an uniformly rocky, barren, and dismal aspect ; but, towards the interior, a very beautiful and romantic disposition of mountains and hollows, covered with herbage and adorned with trees and shrubs.
One small hollow intersects the country between Level Wood and a branch of Deep Valley : crossing a hill there is another branch. Deep Valley is much more spacious than any between it and Turk’s Cap Valley ; with its two divisions it is not unlike the roman capital Y ; its ramifications terminate under Diana’s Peak, and abundance of fine water flows through them, descending over high perpendicular precipices and running into the sea.
Between this ravine and the next, called Powell’s, is an immense mass of rocky mountain ; Long Range, two thousand feet high, forming a remarkable part of the southern and windward coast : it is a very superior and conspicuous telegraph station : on a hill adjoining is a respectable and pleasantly situate house, called Rock Rose Hill. From hence there is a fine view of the southern division of the Island, traversed by the road to the westward, as before described, until it joins the main road to Sandy Bay, exactly at the third mile-stone from that post.
There is no ravine to the sea between Powell’s Valley and Sandy Bay : Powell’s in length, depth, and inaccessibility is like Deep Valley, but not so spacious ; on the west it is bounded by a high and long rock, Sandy Bay Barn ; similar in shape, composition, and dreariness to the barn on the eastern side.
Between Powell’s Valley and Sandy Bay Road are many farms, &c. contributing effect to a scene altogether of wonderful grandeur and beauty.
Having thus accomplished a tour of the principal roads through Saint Helena, it is hoped, that what has been said may be sufficient as a guide to those, who, unacquainted with its interior, are desirous of gratifying their curiosity.