IT had long been very generally supposed that St. Helena was a rocky and unproductive island ; mostly devoid of soil ; scantily supplied with water ; subject to severe and unusual droughts ; abounding with rats, and wholly incapable of extensive cultivation, or improvement.

Whether these notions have originated with early writers, or in hearsay information of passing visitors, or in wilful misrepresentation to answer particular ends, it is unnecessary in this place to enquire. It will be sufficient to observe, that they were very prevalent, both in England and at St. Helena, at the period of my appointment to the Government ; and that soon after my arrival, having reason to believe they were neither supported by facts nor appearances, I considered it my duty fully to investigate the whole ; so as to ascertain whether or not those obstacles to improvement really did exist.

The means that were pursued will be found interspersed throughout the first part of this Work. The results have been most satisfactory ; for they have not only exposed the fallacy of all such notions, but have most clearly demonstrated that many parts of St. Helena, so far from being desolate and barren, are pre-eminently fertile ; that the island, in general, is capable of the highest improvements, both in the cultivation of corn, and all sorts of vegetables ; and in raising valuable plantations of fruit and timber trees.

Being aware that investigations of this nature could only be interesting to a few, and that there are certain points on which information will naturally be expected in a work treating of St. Helena, I have therefore endeavoured to adapt it to a more general class of readers. Accordingly, I have prefixed an Introductory Chapter, which comprises Geological Facts, tending to illustrate the primary formation of the island ; Observations on its Mineral and Vegetable Productions ; Soil and Climate, and Seasons ; capabilities of Improvement, and on its singular Strength and Security as a Military Station.

These additional subjects, together with a detailed account of the Mutiny in 1811 (the only historical event deserving notice since the year 1808), and a List of Indigenous and Exotic Plants growing at St. Helena, and some other matters contained in the Appendix, will put the reader in full possession of every material fact that has come to my knowledge, or that has occurred, during my residence of five years. The whole is illustrated by Six Views of the most interesting parts, and by a Geological Plan and Elevation. I therefore indulge a hope, that this attempt to convey to the public more just ideas of this extraordinary island, may prove acceptable.

The List of Plants, or a Flora of the island, was communicated by my deceased friend Doctor Roxburgh, a few days before his death. It is therefore the last work of that indefatigable botanist ; whose meritorious exertions in improving botanical science, and in applying it to useful economical purposes, are well known to the public.

The Views are engraved by that excellent artist Mr. W. Daniell, from the drawings of my friend Samuel Davis, Esq. They are most faithful representations, and are peculiarly valuable, as illustrations of the geological and military observations.

The Plan and Elevation of the Island are compiled from the Survey, and the measurement of heights, taken by Major Rennell ; and from some other documents.

In a book entitled "Tracts," I did not deem it necessary to touch upon the history of St. Helena: I wished also to preserve uniformity, by confining this work wholly to subjects that have never yet appeared before the public ; and to prevent enlarging it beyond the bounds I had prescribed. To those who are desirous of information upon the localities of the island, from the period of its discovery to the year 1807, I beg to recommend to their perusal Mr. Brooke's History of St. Helena, published in 1808 ; which is drawn from the most authentic sources, and is replete with accurate information.

In attempting to introduce improvements upon an island where the arts of agriculture were little understood ; where lands were cultivated by manual labour, without the aid of animals ; and where prejudices in favour of old customs were strong, it was obvious there could be no hope of amendment without the evidence of successful examples.

It was therefore necessary to have recourse to experiments. Ploughs, and other implements were introduced ; the ]shooting population was increased by the introduction of about three hundred Chinese ; and an improved system of husbandry was carried on, under the direction of an experienced Norfolk farmer. But it was a long time before the generality of the islanders would even look at these improvements.[1] They regarded them as "mere foolishness;" said " they might do very well in England ; but that in a mountainous country the plough could never answer ; that their forefathers had done very well with the hoe, and they saw no use or necessity for these new things."

At length, however, when they did perceive the facility with which extensive fields were broken up ; the rapidity with which they were prepared by the plough, and the excellent crops of potatoes and corn that were raised, they acknowledged the superiority of English farming ; and many of the most respectable soon afterwards followed the example.

Besides giving examples in the use of the plough, and in the new culture of potatoes, and of corn, it was deemed proper to explain the principles, and to point out the advantages of the new husbandry. With this view, I prepared short agricultural essays, (detailing the progress and results of the experiments) which were printed, for general Information, in the St. Helena Monthly Register. Thirty of those essays have been selected for the First Part of this Work. They are placed in the order in which they were written. The Table of Contents points out the sections wherein the several subjects are at first discussed, or afterwards resumed ; so that no inconvenience can arise from this arrangement: on tile contrary, it was the only mode of shewing the progressive steps that were taken to convey useful information to the landholders ; and to excite amongst them a Spirit of emulation in cultivation and planting.

The complete success which has attended my efforts to improve the husbandry of St. Helena ; and, above all, to substitute the plough for the spade and hoe, are circumstances not undeserving the attention of those who have valuable estates in the West India islands. According to Mr. Bryan Edwards's statement, founded upon his own experience, it appears, that by using the plough, in the operation of holing a sugar plantation, the labour of slaves is only about one-twentieth part of that which is required when the same work is performed by the hoe. In breaking up lands, and preparing them for corn and potatoe crops at St. Helena, it might easily be proved, that the reduction of manual labour, by the use of the plough, has been in a much greater proportion.

If, then, the plough were employed wherever the nature of the lands will admit, in all those countries where the hoe is n general use, and consequently where the demand for manual labour is excessive, it seems reasonable to infer, that such a change would be productive of infinite advantage. The necessity for manual labour would thereby be reduced, and the bodily fatigue of the unfortunate slaves would be lessened ; which would, in all probability, lead to a greater increase of the present stock. By such means, all those inconveniences, whether real or imaginary, that are apprehended from the abolition of the Slave Trade, might, in the course of a few years, be effectually removed.

Since the abolition of slavery at St. Helena, which took place in the year 1792, there has been an augmentation in the black population, which consists of three classes: the slaves of individuals ; the Company's slaves ; and free blacks. It was intended to have shewn the actual augmentation during a period of nineteen years, that is, since 1793: but, upon examining the lists in my possession, it was found that, until the year 1803, the Company's slaves and free blacks were excluded. On this account I have been obliged to confine the comparison to the period between the years 1803 and 1812 ; by which there appears to have been an increase of 148 from a stock of 1539 men, women, and children. (See Appendix II.)

  1. Section XIII, p. 81.


INTRODUCTORY CHAPTER.Comprising Geological facts, tending to illustrate the Primary Formation of the Island ; Observations on its Mineral and Vegetable Productions, Soil and Climate ; Capabilities of Improvement ; and on its singular Strength and Security as a Military Station.


SECTION I.St. Helena once a woody Islandcause of its DenudationPlans proposed for restoring Wood, and extending Cultivationthe Institution of Goat ranges injuriousExtermination of the Goats recommended.

SECTION II.Experiments in the Culture of PotatoesComparisons of Manuresextraordinary Power of Guana, or Sea-fowl Dung, as a TopdressingHints to Proprietors of Islands and Rocks in Scotland.

SECTION III.Easy mode of Thrashing, Cleaning and Preserving all Sorts of Grain, as practised in India, and various Parts of Europe, recommended in the Infancy of St. Helena Farming.

SECTION IV.Experiments illustrating the beneficial Effect of frequently stirring the Soil.

SECTION V.Feeding Chickensan Exposition of the unreasonable and exorbitant Prices of Poultry at St. Helena, in 1811.

SECTION VI.On Planting TreesGrowth of Pineastersremarkable Change in the Quality of Fir Timber in St. Helenaextensive Plantations of Pineasters recommendedMimosa Myrtifolia (or Botany Bay Willow,) its rapid growthyields innumerable Pods, containing a sort of Pulse fit for feeding Poultryits Culture recommended.

SECTION VII.On Potatoestwo Crops in the Yearextensive Culture recommendedsolid Nourishment of, compared with FlourCulture of Corn recommended as a green or dry Fodder for Cattleformer heavy Losses in Cattle ascribed to improvident managementNotices of dry Seasons and Losses in Cattle from the year 1724 to 1792.Seasons of Drought produced by the Operation of some general Causesevere Drought at St. Helena in 1791-2 pervaded the Peninsula of India ; and felt at Montserrat in the West Indies.

SECTION VIII.Modes proposed to the Landholders for averting the Evils incident to Seasons of Drought.

SECTION IX.On Pineaster Trees.

SECTION X.On Guana, or Sea-fowl Dungand Experiments in the Culture of Mangel Wurzel.

SECTION XI.On naked Barley or Barley WheatReport and Opinions of Warren Hastings, Esq., and of Sir Hugh Inglis, on the Utility and importance of this valuable CornSingular Account of its Introduction at St. Helena.

SECTION XII.On clearing Lands of GrubsDetail of a Set of Experiments, by which is ascertained an effectual Mode of clearing Lands of those destructive Insects.

SECTION XIII.Notes of Experiments in the Culture of Wheat, Barley, and Oatsgreen Crops of Fodder recommendedSuggestions for the improvement of the Pasture LandsEvil Effects of Feeding a PopulationComparison of Exports from the Farms in 1789 and 1809Plans suggested for improving the Island.

SECTION XIV.Observations upon the Rainy Seasons, from the year 1711 to 1811Notices on the Fall of heavy Rains, fine Showers, and drizzling Rain, from the 1st of January 1806, to the 31st December, 1811erroneous Notions upon the Effects of heavy Rains at St. Helena ; sometimes damage the low Grounds, but always favourable to cultivated and pasture Lands. Abstract of the Fall of Rain from February 1811 to February 1812.

SECTION XV.On the Culture of Barley WheatProduce, per AcreThe tenth Part of an Acre, dibbled, yielded 405 for 1Deductions which prove that from 51/3 Ounces of Seed, 900 Bushels of Corn might be produced in nine Months at St. Helenasuccessful Experiment in Malting and Brewing from Island Barley Wheat.

SECTION XVI.General Observations on Green-fodder Cropswould prevent Losses of Cattle in Seasons of DroughtOne Acre equivalent to Fourteen Acres of the best PasturesIndian Corn, or Maize, cultivated in France, and at the Cape of Good Hope as Cattle FodderIts produce at St. Helena, in less than Four Months from the period of Sowing, was Thirty Tons per Acre. Remarks on the Culture of Kidney BeansGreen-fodder Crops of these recommended.

SECTION XVII.On Adherence to Old Customs.

SECTION XVIII.Calculator's Confessions ; and his Opinions on the new Husbandry at St. Helena.

SECTION XIX.On the Importance of introducing Agriculture on the IslandErroneous Notions regarding Rats ; not more numerous at the Farms than in Englandsuccessful Method of destroying them.

SECTION XX.On Transplanting Wheatfurther Remarks on Grubs and on Barley Wheat.

SECTION XXI.On Terracing Lands, and preparing the Sides of Hills for Cultivation.

SECTION XXII.Useful Notices on Husbandry at St. HelenaCrops liable to Attacks of Caterpillars and AphidesCrops not liable to Injury from those InsectsLord Bacon's Idea of the Generation of Caterpillars apparently substantiatedMethod tried to prevent their Generationthe Haulm, of Potatoes suggested as an auxiliary Food for CattleExperiments to determine the Produce of Coss Lettuceyields, in three Months from the period of Sowing, about 15 Tons per Acrean excellent Food for Hogs.

SECTION XXIII.Homefolding of Sheep recommended.

SECTION XXIV.Progress of Agricultural Improvement in 1810-12beneficial Effects of extending Cultivationthe Government commend the Exertions of some, and animadvert on the Obstinacy and Idleness of othersflourishing State of St. Helena in the year 1675.

SECTION XXV.Feeding Sheep with Potatoes, and Soiling Cattle recommended.

SECTION XXVI.Doctor Berry's official Letter to Governor Beatsonsuggests the Culture of Kew Nopaland Cactus Tuna, the Arabian Date, and Guinea GrassDoctor Berry's fermenting Balls an excellent Substitute for YeastCaptain Haig's Report on Nopala nutritious and valuable Antiscorbutic.

SECTION XXVII.Reply to Doctor Berry's LetterEnglish Husbandry acknowledged by St. Helena Farmers superior to their OwnSoil and Climate peculiarly favourable to CultivationAccounts received of the spreading Property and Re-production of Potatoes upon Islands in the South SeasExperiments to ascertain these PointsLead to a Singular and Advantageous Mode of Potatoe Culture in tropical Climates.Potatoes a good Preparation for Corn Crops.Fishery at St. Helena formerly ProductiveEvils of the present SystemImprovements suggested.Establishment of Chinese at St. HelenaDiffers from that generally adoptedTheir Pay, Rations, and OccupationsTrees attract Moisture and RainCultivated Land has a similar TendencyExperiment in reaping Barley WheatYields per Acre 10 Tons of green Fodder, in two Months from the Time of SowingLoss of Weight when hayed 100 Pounds in 146.Hints suggested for ascertaining the relative Moisture imbibed by cultivated and uncultivated Land.Nurseries of Trees established at St. Helena.Pineasters preferable to Arabian Date for Clothing the Summit of the Hills.Favourable Report of Doctor Berry's Fermenting Balls.

SECTION XXVIII.Mr. Miller's Directions for rearing Scotch Pine are applicable to the PineasterSt. Helena Pineaster Wood describedweightier than common Firthrives upon poor Soilaverage Growth about two Feet in the Yearsometimes grows more than three Feet. Plantations of Firs at St. Helena more profitable than in EuropeComputation of their Value in twenty Years. Negligence and Inattention to the planting Law much to be regrettedThe fittest Trees for St. Helena Plantations enumeratedFurther Notices upon the Growth of Treesand upon the necessity of extirpating Goats, and tending Sheep.

SECTION XXIX.Means of collecting Water on the driest Parts of the Island, and Observations on the Advantages resulting from this Practice.

SECTION XXX.Further Observations on the Importance of planting Trees at St. Helena.


Narrative of the Mutiny, in December, 1811.

APPENDIX.An Alphabetical List of Plants, seen by Dr. Roxburgh growing on the Island of St. Helena, in 1813-14.

APPENDIX II.Abstract of the Population and Cattle on the Island of St. Helena from the year 1683 to 1812, extracted from the Records.

APPENDIX III.The largest Produce of Corn obtained at the Company's Farms in 1814.

APPENDIX IV.List of Seventy-six different Species of Fish at St. Helena.


I.......... JAMES TOWN, ST. HELENA, to face the Title-page.

ON the left is Rupert's Hill, at the base of which are seen several buildings on the wharf. Towards the centre is the fleur d'eau battery, behind which stands the Governor's town residence, called the Castle. To the right of the castle is the church and other buildings in the town. The mountain on the right is Ladder Hill, surmounted by fortifications ; which completely command the town and anchorage.

II.......... JAMES TOWN AND LADDER HILL, to face the first page of the Introductory Chapter.

THIS View is taken from the wharf. It also represents the fleur d'eau battery, and the same buildings behind it, as in No. 1. ; together with the commanding fort of Ladder Hill, and the zig-zag roads leading to it from the town. The white object on the right, a little way up the bill, and just above the bow of the boat, is Patton's Battery.

III........ THE LINES ACROSS THE FRONT OF JAMES TOWN, to face page lxxxviii.

THIS View is taken from the West extreme of the lines. The declination of the strata of Rupert's Hill is accurately represented, which could not be shewn in the two preceding Views, owing to the farther parts of the bills receding from the point of sight. On the left extreme is Munden's Battery, with a flag upon it and along the wharf is nearly a front view of the several houses, store-rooms, and cranes.


THIS View conveys a perfect idea of the position of James Town, situated in a narrow valley between two hills. On the left is Ladder Hill, with its fortifications, opposite to which is Rupert's Hill. The whole of the path, which leads from the town, is completely commanded by the cannon of Ladder Hill, Saddle Battery, and High Knoll. The last fort is not seen, but it is situated about 400 yards on the left of the point from which this View is taken.

V......... THE WATERFALL AT THE HEAD OF JAMES'S VALLEY, to face page 110.

THIS is a beautiful object close to, and within sight of the Briars, at present the residence of William Balcombe, Esq. The mountain of High Knoll, rising abruptly at the distance of about four hundred yards from the Briars, and the opposite craggy hill, give a wildness and grandeur to this scenery which surpasses every other on this romantic island.

VI........ VIEW TOWARDS SANDY BAY, to face page 200.

IN the fore-ground is Mount Pleasant, the country residence of W. W. Doveton, Esq. On the left of his dwelling is a singular perpendicular rock of great height, named Lott. The back-ground of this view is composed of rugged and barren bills, totally denuded, although it appears by the official records, that in former times they abounded with ebony trees. It is remarkable that on the summit of Lott, some trees remain which have escaped the depredations of the goats.


THE Plan is compiled from Major Rennell's Survey, and other documents. The elevation represents the attitudes, above the sea, according to his measurements ; which are as follows.
Diana's Peak  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2700 feet.
Cuckold's Point  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2672
Halley's Mount . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2467
Flag Staff . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2272
The Barn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2015
Alarm House . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1960
High Knoll . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1903
Long Wood House . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1762

Notes about this version of Beatson:

The title page and text were scanned from an original copy of Beatson. OCR software was used to generate a text file which was carefully proof-read against the original.

Contributed by Barry Weaver.

Details of the original:
Beatson, A. Tracts Relative to the Island of St. Helena; Written During a Residence of Five Years. G. and W. Nicol and J. Booth, London, 1816.
Size: Quarto.
Text: Half-title (verso blank); Title (verso blank); Dedication (1 leaf; verso blank); Preface (p. vii to xii); Contents (p. xiii to xvii); Directions to Binder (p. xviii to xix; p. xx blank); Introductory Chapter (p. i to lxxxvii; p. lxxxviii blank); Text (p. 1 to 330).
Plates: Six uncoloured aquatint plates, signed Saml Davis Esqr. delt and Wm Daniell fecit; imprint Published by G. & W. Nicol, Pall Mall, Novr 30 1815.

  1. James Town St. Helena.
  2. James town & Ladder hill St Helena.
  3. The lines across the front of James's Valley, St. Helena.
  4. James Town, St Helena, viewed from the road to Long Wood.
  5. The Water-fall at the head of James's valley, St Helena.
  6. View towards Sandy bay, St. Helena.

British Library shelfmark: 981.i.10 and 148.d.1.
Library of Congress call number: DT671.S2 B3

Number 312 in Abbey.
Abbey, J.R. Travel in Aquatint and Lithography, 1770-1860, from the Library of J.R. Abbey: Vol. I, World, Europe, Africa. Curwen Press, London, 1956.

Last updated: 19 December, 2011

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