ISLANDS at a great distance from continents, the origin of which is demonstratively volcanic, rise chiefly, perhaps exclusively, from a considerable depth of the sea : the sides of such islands, moreover, towards the sea are rugged and steep ; however, there have not been wanting authors, who supposed the former existence of a great continent, of which the Atlantic Islands formed a part. This hypothesis is thus discussed by an enlightened French mineralogist, M. Bailly.

“Many celebrated writers have devoted attention on the testimony of Plato to the former existence of Atlantis : the majority of those who admit its existence have considered the Canary Islands as remnants of this land, which, in the opinion of some, comprised no less than the space between Africa and America, and perhaps even formed a part of these two continents connecting the one with the other : they also as readily supposed the Azores and the Cape Verd Islands to be links of the mountains of the interior of Africa ; the same authority, indeed, which thus aggregated the Canaries, Azores, and Cape Verd Islands, might as reasonably allow the junctions to the lost continent of the other Atlantic Islands, such as Tristan d’Acunha, Ascension, Saint Matthew, Saint Helena, &c. &c.

“But the grounds for conjecturing a union so singular as this and of such distant parts, are hitherto no other than the vague traditions of the ancients ; the inquisitors into the fact have, moreover, confined themselves to the mere inspection of charts : they have neglected to compare the physical constitution of the supposed wreck of Atlantis, with the continents to which they deem it to have been united.

“All travellers agree in their statement that the chains of mountains which traverse Africa and America are essentially primitive, that the lands between them are of later origin, and that the spots known to belong to the domain of subterraneous fire, are, compared with the remainder of these continents, few in number and of small extent.

“Different is the character of the islands sprinkled in the Atlantic Ocean : they are universally volcanic, whether single islands, such as Ascension, Saint Helena ; &c. or in, groups, as the Canaries, Azores.

“These islands appear to rise from the bosom of a deep sea : their flanks are steep and almost perpendicular ; the channels by which they are separated are of fathomless depth. If, occasionally, some insulated rock appears distinct, or belonging to a neighbouring island, it furnishes ground for similar observations with the larger island. In no one of them is there true granite found, any real porphyry, or primitive schistus ; as for the calcareous substances which some of them present, they are no other than deposits of shells and madrepores.

“From the simple perspective I have afforded, it I think evidently results, that a difference so absolute and so general, between the actual constitution of the Atlantic Islands and that of the continent, rebuts the idea of a common origin, and even of any former junction. From these same facts it may likewise be inferred, that the hypothesis which is obstinately persisted in, of computing the Atlantic Islands to be vestiges of an ancient continent is incapable of defence, for these islands, being universally volcanic, to support the hypothesis either we must suppose that Atlantis was altogether a continent of volcanic nature, or that the volcanic parts alone of this continent survived the catastrophe by which it was buried in the waves ; now both the one and the other supposition are destitute of likelihood.”

That Saint Helena is a production of volcanic origin appears from the materials of its composition, its situation, and its correspondence, with the description in the preceding extract in every respect ; neither granite, porphyry, nor any other primitive substance has yet been found on it. Calcareous substances are often met with, so are deposits of shells entire and abraded ; but these, as well as shorts, garnets, and various spars, all vitrifiable in a moderate heat, are known frequently to be ejected from volcanos in an uncalcined state. (Kirwan’s Mineralogy, vol i, page 346. 365).

The Island of Saint Helena is in length ten miles and a half in breadth six miles and three quarters its circumference twenty-eight miles ; and its superficies in acres, thirty thousand three hundred ; the coast is from four to fifteen, hundred feet high, and all round the Island, from one to two miles inwards, entirely barren. These coast hills consist of strata, “unequally diffused and confusedly arrayed,” appearing to be composed principally of lavas, cellular and compact, which are instratified by beds of breccia and layers of earths of various colours : all these are disposed in irregular directions some running nearly horizontally, but generally declining towards the sea in an angle of eighteen or twenty degrees. Whether this irregularity is coeval with the formation of the Island, or only so in part, and increased by subsequent convulsions is a subject of conjecture : no distinct and satisfactory traces of a crater are to be seen, yet every where are found substances which have undoubtedly sustained the operation of subterranean fire.

There does not appear to be any perfectly compact, regularly fissured prismatic body ; such as real basalt is described to be by Mr. Kirwan : there are courses of what is conceived to be compact lava with irregular, perpendicular fissures, “whence result quadrangular and trapezoidal columns, whose bases and summits are scorified,” standing on, or adjoining, masses which have evidently endured ignition : their degrees of compactness may, perhaps, be attributed to lateral compression and superincumbent weight, while cooling : none are, however, destitute of pores. In some parts these columns are entire, with the exception of transverse fissures, which give them the appearance of being artificially erected, and in others they are formed of innumerable small pieces.

Lot, and Lot’s Wife, two immense columnar piles in the neighbourhood of Sandy Bay, are of this compact species of stone, in great blocks, heaped one upon the other : the summit of Lot is one thousand four hundred and forty-four feet above the sea, its shaft nearly two hundred feet in height, and its circumference at the base about half a mile : the other is one hundred and sixty feet columnar altitude, and its apex fourteen hundred and twenty-three feet above the sea. Though as columns, “ they seem detached and unconnected masses, they are found on examination to form parts of vertical strata, and, probably, from their position have resisted the decay which has taken place in the declivities.” (Description of Saint Helena). Their exterior is encrusted with a variety of lichens, and from the fissures grow an indigenous shrub, phylica rosmarinifolia R.

Most of the hills on and near to the coast are intersected by vertical strata, or dykes, which apparently pass completely through them : these are also very compact, but not without small cells and pores : the width of these dykes is different, so are the directions in which they traverse ; some are made up of rhomboidal fragments, running in the direction of the strata perfectly smooth, fitting exactly to each other, and are easily separable ; other are flat pieces laying horizontally like stones in a wall.

Compact lava is also found in large, detached masses, as well as in extensive oblique and horizontal strata it seems to be a very considerable proportion of the Island ; dark blue, blueish, and reddish grey.

The cellular lava, locally called honey-comb-stone, is in colour from grey to greyish, and blue black : some of the innumerable blebs, or cavities in it, are occupied by heterogeneous substances, which either have not been fused at all, or only partially scorched, or decomposed by heat ; this stone has its gradations of density, porosity, and weight : it is chiefly used for building, being easily trimmed, and esteemed a durable material.

Filling up the interstices of the strata of this stone, and often in the cells of the stone itself, there is found a kind of semi-indurated steatite, of fine splintery fracture, inclining to conchoidal ; of a yellowish colour, veined, or spotted with deep yellow, or red, feels like soap, scarcely adhering to the tongue, and takes a polish from the nail ; smell, earthy. In water it does not diffuse itself, but gradually falls to pieces.

Sparry stalactites and depositions of calcareous matter, are frequently found attached to the rocks, and in their fissures : lumps of carbonate of lime, some apparently very pure, are also met with, but not in large quantity.

Gypsum is also occasionally procured : a small. rock, called George’s Island, contains a good deal of it ; the exterior of this rock is hard, compact stone, like that of the main island—to land here is however accompanied with great danger.

On a hill more than one thousand feet high, adjoining the eastern coast, gypsum has been found, hanging like stalactites from the roofs of small caverns in the rocks, and sometimes in a coating, adhering in like manner, nearly an inch thick : in some instances the gypsum has been deprived of its water of crystallization by the action of fire ; but it must not hastily be concluded, that this effect was produced by volcanic operation, as it is possible, that in such places run-away slaves may have kindled their fires, although not the least appearance of smoke is perceivable.

A considerable bed of limestone has been discovered in the hill abovementioned, composed (as is all the limestone on the Island) of abraded shells, minute, black fragments, supposed to be shorl, and some other substances : in this quarry, at the depth of fourteen feet, small egg-shells in a perfect state have been repeatedly obtained ; they are embedded in the limestone, which renders it difficult to extract them without injury. The superstratum of this part of the hill, and which rests upon the limestone, is a dark, friable earth, two or three feet in depth, in which are deposited numbers of small bones and fragments of egg-shells, some of which appear to have been as large as a common hen’s egg. There are no bones in the stratum of limestone.

Another large portion of the superstratum of this hill, is an earth of a greyish colour, not unlike sea-slime or mud : about three feet in depth, in which is a profusion of small shells resembling the periwinkle—they are scattered in abundance over the surface also. Limpet shells are frequent among them.

In Turk’s Cap Valley, and a few other places, are found pieces of a very close-grained, hard, and heavy stone, of dark yellow and red colours, beautifully veined : it gives fire readily with steel, and though brittle is capable of a high polish. Seals and other trinkets are made of it.

There are cubical, nodular, and uniform ferruginous stones, with many large lumps of slagg spread about in many parts ; the former in large quantity at Sandy Bay, and the others interspersed in the soil at Long Wood, &c. and laying on the surface. No metallic vein is any where to be seen.

In some of the rocks and less dense materials, aim crystals of a black colour, glassy, opaque, uniformly octagonal prisms, with tretrahoedral summits—they are seldom perfect and very brittle.

In James’s Town, on the western side of Rupert’s Hill, there is a very large mass of reddish brown substance, which seems to agree with the description of Pouzzolana : it is quarried and fine blocks produced, which are successfully used in masonry ; pulverized and mixed with a small proportion of lime, it very speedily hardens and becomes one of the strongest cements, even under water—particularly that of the ocean.

There is also in many parts of the Island another kind of stone, which may probably be tufa : it is of a brown colour, and contains many fragments of other stones, firmly conglutinated, not unlike breccia. It hardens by exposure to the atmosphere.

Pumice is found in several places, particularly at Potatoe Bay, near Sandy Bay, about the base of High Knoll, on Ladder Hill, &c. it is of grey colour, harsh and fibrous, of striated fracture, and very brittle.

The interior hills and ridges are covered with earths, varying in depth, colours, and quality : in many parts the soil is exceedingly rich and productive, of a deep, brownish black in others, less dark, of a brick-red, &c. but it would be difficult to find one acre of land, in these respects, equable throughout ; and this is manifest in cultivated grounds, the vigour and luxuriance of the crops being greater or less in spots within so limited an extent. These hills, ridges, and plains, as already mentioned, are mostly clothed with verdure ; the highest, yet the most valuable portion of the Island.

Where there is an absence of vegetation, the beautifully-coloured earths and rocky projections, indicate the same appearance with the barren parts round the coast ; “thus demonstrating, that the great mass of Saint Helena is uniform in the aggregate.”

These observations may serve to convey some idea of the structure and mineralogy of this Island : that they are incomplete is fully allowed ; without the aid of analysis, and merely from the situation and external appearance of the various substances, these remarks are thus thrown together.

Specimens of the several productions were lately collected and transmitted to the Honourable Company’s librarian at the East India House, in the hope of their being submitted to the examination of some able geologist.

*     *     *

The population of St. Helena, up to the 30th September,[1] 1815, exclusive of the military establishment, amounted to

White. Men............................................................
Honourable Company’s Slaves.......................................
Free Blacks...................................................................
The other classes...........................................................
Grand Total

The white inhabitants are either of British descent or natives of Great Britain ; speaking the English language, professing the established religion, and conforming to the dress, customs, and general mode of life in the mother country : intermarriages have occasioned a relationship thoughout most of the families, particularly those descended from the primary residents ; and these degrees of consanguinity, or more distant connexion are always recognised, let the rank or pecuniary distinction of the parties be ever so opposite.

To observe on the moral condition of a small community, of which too the observer himself is a member, requires, with a strict adherence to truth, the most delicate attention to the feelings of the whole ; the general notices on this subject, which these pages may contain, made under the guidance of such considerations, will, it is therefore hoped, give no occasion of offence.

It has been truly remarked, that wherever human nature is to be found, there also will be discovered a mixture of vice and virtue ; a contest of passion and reason, prevailing one over the other, according to circumstances of time, place, education, and religious instruction : but, surely, in taking an extended view, one exercise of benevolence is to look at human nature in a favourable light, to observe the characters and circumstances of mankind on the fairest side, to put the best constructions on their actions they will bear, and to consider them as the result of partial and mistaken, rather than ill affections, or of depraved and malicious dispositions.

These principles have, however, been very little attended to by many, and by others not at all, who have written and spoken about Saint Helena idle and unfounded stories have been caught up during a few weeks or days residence here, and given to the world with as many amplifications as suited the unprejudiced and liberal dispositions of such narrators and historians ; thus loading the moral character of this Island with obloquy, of which it is not deserving. The mind capable of impartial examination will, on the contrary, discover as much regard of the duties imposed on society by the laws of God and man, as in any community of equal numbers, circumstanced in a similar manner.

A public library for the use subscribers, and schools for the children of the lower classes, including the blacks, have been recently established under the patronage of the government ; these are of great importance, facilitating the cultivation and improvement of the intellectual powers of mankind, on which their opinions, their passions, and their conduct greatly depend.

A bible society has been also formed, and liberally supported : so has a benevolent institution for the relief of the sick poor, and other kind purposes.

The widow’s and orphan’s fund has existed several years : it is composed of the civil and military servants on the establishment, who each pay a certain subscription yearly, which is put out at interest on sufficient landed security, and the proceeds annually distributed among the widows and orphans of former subscribers ; to the former while they continue widows, and to the children until they become of age, or in case of marriage, during their minority.

No traveller is here assailed (nor indeed any other person) by the importunities of public beggars : nor has there an instance been known of a family left in distressed circumstances, which has not been immediately considered and relieved ; none, under adverse occurrences, to which all are subject, have failed to participate (if deserving persons) in the humanity which distinguishes with honour the inhabitants of Saint Helena.

The intercourse of society is not very general : those of the Company’s servants who have estates, their daily duty done, retire to enjoy the pure air of the country. The residents in James’s Town pay visits and engage in small parties frequently, in the evenings.

Few individuals are so happily circumstanced as to be enabled to shew very expensive attentions to strangers ; but a liberal hospitality has generally been exercised at the Government House.

Public balls are occasionally given by the governor, to which the principal families are invited : respectable passengers, who have attended to the etiquette of leaving their cards at the Castle, also receive invitations to these entertainments, which are [2]“enlivened by the presence of many agreeable young ladies, natives of the place” (as well as others). “Their appearance cannot but excite  emotions of the tenderest nature in the bosoms of the beholders ; and it is no compliment to state, that the  native women of Saint Helena have every where adorned domestic life, and graced the politest circles in England and India.”

Fishing and shooting, during part of the year, are the principal diversions : the latter sport is licensed to qualified persons by the government.

The farmers are for the most part respectable, industrious, and hospitable, in proportion to their means.

Captain Beeckman, who, on his return from a voyage to Borneo in 1718, called at this Island, remarks, that “ all the natives have a great desire to, see home,[3] though many of them never saw it, nor can have any true idea thereof.” And in a recent publication[4] the same inclination is said to exist : it is the fact ; but is either the desire or the avowal of it illaudable, or contrary to the common feelings of nature ? It is “a fond and familiar expression,” but by no means shewing “a dissatisfaction with their present condition,” or demonstrating “a longing wish to quit the Island.” Still less does it warrant the assertion, that “they appear to consider their situation as a state of exile, which few of them have any hopes of getting away from.” Does it not rather imply, together with the curiosity incident to the whole human race, an affectionate disposition towards the mother country, a justifiable motive to observe personally what has been, as yet, only described to them of Great Britain ? Although there are but “few opportunities of acquiring wealth here,” yet if it was so, that the inhabitants considered themselves “exiled,” many have it in their power to remove from a state so degrading as that term conveys. In fact, under such an impression who would remain?

The troops of the garrison are, with few exceptions, natives of the united kingdoms ; well fed, paid, and disciplined, they fairly deserve the character of correct, clean, good soldiers. Every possible attention is used to promote their comfort and respectability.

The blacks, or slaves, as they are called, perform the labours of the farms ; are employed in domestic services as fishermen, and some as mechanics : they are descended from progenitors long since imported, and from others subsequently brought from various parts of the globe.[5] Amongst them there will of course be found diversity of character, participating of the better and baser qualities which credit or disgrace the human species. From the dissemination of instruction important benefits may be expected to result ; for, being by no means deficient in natural understanding, the impressions made on their minds by the education they receive, must render them better men and more faithful servants, in every respect, than their predecessors have been.

The treatment of the blacks is certainly very much ameliorated here : but, as they are the absolute property of their masters, in whose power it is to transfer them, for a pecuniary consideration, from the odious term, Slavery (and that term only is applicable to their condition) ; there is also an authority reposed in the proprietor to indict a punishment of twelve lashes, and no more, for any act of insolence, insubordination, &c. If their conduct is flagitious, there is a court of magistracy to receive and examine the complaints preferred against them, and an excellent local code of slave laws places  them under the peculiar protection of the governor, by providing that no sentence, in which a slave is concerned, shall be valid without his concurrence.

On the other hand, the master must supply good and sufficient food to each black he possesses : he must comfortably clothe and lodge them, and, in cases of sickness, provide medical advice and assistance for them ; failing in either of these duties, the same court will attend to the representation of the black, and, on proof of his statement, a fine is imposed upon the proprietor.

There is also another class of blacks, who are denominated free these have, at different times, and for various reasons, been emancipated by their owners—the latter binding themselves in a due penal obligation, that the slaves thus emancipated shall not become burthensome to the parish : some of them employ the liberty they have been presented with in habits of industry, fair dealing, and generally, commendable conduct. It is a pity as much cannot be said of them all.

If a female slave has issue by a free black, the child remains the property of the mother’s proprietor ; but if the woman is free, so also is the off spring in her right, even if the father be a slave—of course the children of free parents are the same.[6]

*     *     *

The black cattle ; by which is meant oxen, cows, &c. &c. are in number about 2500 (September, 1815). That the supplies of beef to shipping may be efficiently kept up, no farmer can kill for his own consumption without permission from the governor and council ;[7] many of the oxen are large, weighing from eight hundred to eleven hundred pounds alive—the beef is generally of very excellent quality.

The cattle are principally of English breed : some from Madras and China have also been introduced, but are not in equal estimation : others imported from the Cape of Good Hope and from Benguela did not succeed ; one cause may be, that they were too large and unwieldy for the acclivities of the pasture lands.

Beef sells at sixpence halfpenny per pound when living, or one shilling and three-pence per pound slaughtered.

There are many horses upon the Island, but few good ones. Arabian males, with some from the Cape of Good Hope and England have been brought here, but without much advantage. Perhaps the colts are in general taken up too young, their bones not sufficiently set, nor a due proportion of strength acquired to undergo the fatigue of travelling the steep and unequal roads, they are prematurely worn out. Persons keeping horses pay an annual tax of eight shillings for each.

The Island sheep are small, but make very good mutton : they weigh from twenty to thirty, pounds, dead. There are also fine sheep of the Bengal and Merino breed, which thrive well—the Merino are but lately introduced. Cape sheep are imported for immediate consumption.

Formerly, numbers of sheep were allowed to pasture, unattended, upon the Honourable Company’s waste lands, thence called common sheep : the fact is, they wandered all over the Island, destroying young trees, damaging gardens, plantations, &c. especially by night, being in this respect more troublesome than the goats ; these take up their abodes in the hollows of the rocks from sun-set to sun-rise, while the former roam about continually. Both have been recently exterminated by order of the lords proprietors, excepting a few goats, permitted to be kept under similar regulations with tame flocks of sheep :—a measure which cannot fail to produce beneficial consequences.

A great many hogs are raised, and the flesh (of those reared in the country especially) is excellent food : equal to beef or veal, and superior to Cape mutton at least.

Until within the last twenty-five or thirty years, farmers were accustomed to cure their pork with salt gathered from the shores, thus providing one of the chief articles of subsistence, nearly sufficient for their consumption this good practice has ceased, and, it may in truth be stated, that the facility and cheapness of obtaining salt provisions from the Company’s stores, with which privilege they were indulged from 1772 until 1809, has been by degrees the principal cause of this neglect ; this resource, however, being now cut off, they may revert to the custom of supplying themselves in the independent and laudable way of their forefathers.

Asses.—Of this patient and useful animal there were few until lately, and those seldom employed : attention has been paid to augment their number, and the services they render make it an object to procure a greater increase.

Mules are scarce : it is difficult and expensive to procure them, being brought from the coast of South America—they are excellently adapted to the hills of Saint Helena.

Dogs[8] abounded until a wise regulation effected a diminution of them : every proprietor of a dog, or dogs, is annually taxed for each in an increased proportion to the number be keeps ; and no dog is permitted to live unless he wears a collar with his owner’s name engraven on it. They are of the Newfoundland, spaniel, terrier, and water-dog species, with some others of inferior and useless kinds.

There are no hares, but many rabbits, which are often killed by wild cats, in their predatory excursions these are of the same species with the domestic cat, harbouring in the rocks, and wandering about by night in quest of prey—they carry off great numbers of poultry.

The houses both in town and the country, and the gardens, plantations, &c. are beset with multitudes of rats and mice ; every means has been attempted to destroy them, but no apparent diminution of their thousands has been effected ; the damage they do, particularly the rats, is almost incredible. One of the greatest benefits this Island could experience, would be the extirpation of these vermin.

Of insects, reptiles, &c. none are venomous but the scorpion and centipede : their stings occasion considerable pain and inflamation of the wounded part, but seldom attended with more unpleasant effects. The remedy in general use is, to bruise the animal to pieces and apply it as a plaister, or to wash the place affected with spirits in which some of them are kept. This treatment speedily accomplishes a cure.

The scorpion is small : the scolopendæ are from five to eight inches in length.

Gryllus, domesticus et campestris, the house and field cricket appear to be identified in species, only that the former is of a pale, yellow, brown cast, and the latter more decidedly brown.

A species of the beetle, and two of the grasshopper abound.

The cattle-fly, probably oestrus tarandi, is the pest of oxen : when it inflicts its sting, the poor animal runs, about in violent speed, careless of precipices, or any other danger ; large worms are taken from under the hides, generated from the egg of this insect. Horses suffer also in like manner front their attacks and instances have been known of persons stung by them, from whose flesh similar worms have been extracted.

Innumerable ants are in every dry situation the same with the common brown ant of England : they traverse the trunks and branches of trees in myriads, for the saccharine substance which a species of puceron affords. There are no white ants so destructive in India.

A few lizards occasionally appear about houses, &c.—small and quite harmless.

There are neither toads nor frogs.

Butterflies and moths in great variety, and exceedingly beautiful, are common.

There are many sorts of spiders, some very large, and of colours elegantly diversified.

The snail and slug are often found in gardens, and on the young plants in the upper lands.

Grubs, produced most probably from moth’s eggs, afterwards transformed into winged insects of the same description, are of great mischief in the gardens, destroying numbers of young plants, the tender stems of which they bite asunder close to the surface of the earth.

Mosquitoes are in swarms : the continual humming noise they make, (which is astonishingly loud for so minute a fly) is nearly as annoying as their bite : in warm weather, wherever there happens to be any stagnant water they are innumerable, both in a winged state and not yet furnished with alae, swimming about like tad-poles. There is another kind not so numerous, called the day mosquito, of the same size, but whose sting is yet more severe ; a degree of inflammation instantly succeeds it, attended with intolerable itching, and virulent sores have been the consequence of scratching these places. This insect is of a dark brown colour, its body, legs, and wings spotted with white.

The dragon-fly is from one to three inches in length : the colours red, green, and azure blue, of wonderful brilliance.

Cock-roaches are very large, numerous, and annoying, paying their unceremonious and disgusting visits in every apartment of the house.

It is impossible to describe the ravages occasioned by caterpillars : extensive plantations of esculents, verdant and flourishing in the evening, present, too often, a leafless and distressing appearance when the morning calls the gardener to his accustomed employ ; they are inconceivably numerous, and their visitations are frequently as sudden as those of locusts irk other countries. The energy and expectations of the farmer receive in no way a more vexatious check, than from these destructive insects. Their departure in a body is sometimes as sudden as their arrival.

  1. Bonaparte arrived in October, 1815.
  2. Description of Saint Helena, page 204.
  3. Is it incorrect in speech to designate as home the country of our fathers?
  4. Description of Saint Helena, page 198. The quotations are from the same work.
  5. This infamous and inhuman traffic has been many years abolished at Saint Helena.
  6. It is an historical fact, that the liberti have usually been of doubtful morality : the filiation of the English word libertine, gives the character of the libertini ; but the whole proves no more than the necessity of due caution in the slow, but inevitable progress of freedom, of which education is the key.
  7. The good joke of a vote of the governor and council being necessary for the slaughter of an ox, amounts to a regulation adapting a limited supply to an unlimited demand, and this is all.
  8. No instance of canine madness has ever occurred here.

Part III