SECTION VII.

On Potatoes—two Crops in the Year—extensive Culture recommended—solid Nourishment of, compared with Flour—Culture of Corn recommended as a green or dry Fodder for Cattle—former heavy Losses in Cattle ascribed to improvident management—Notices of dry Seasons, and Losses in Cattle, from the year 1724 to 1792.—Seasons of Drought produced by the Operation of some general Cause—severe Drought at St. Helena in 1791-2 pervaded the Peninsula of India ; and felt at Montserrat in the West Indies.

“LEEK to the Welsh, to Dutchmen BUTTER'S dear,
  Of Irish swains POTATOE is the cheer.”      GAY

DOCTOR ADAM SMITH, in his Wealth of Nations, observes, that, “the chairmen, porters, and coal-heavers in London, and those unfortunate women who live by prostitution, the strongest men, and the most beautiful women perhaps in the British dominions, are said to be, the greater part of them, from the lowest rank of people in Ireland, who are generally fed with Potatoes. No food can afford a more decisive proof of its nou rishing quality, or of its being peculiarly suitable, to the health of the human constitution.”

If this able writer had visited St. Helena, or had been aware of the practice of raising two crops a year from the same land, or of producing 36,000 pounds of Potatoes annually from an acre, without manure, which Colonel Broughton has found to be the average of his crops at Long Wood, which is by no means the richest land here, it would have afforded him even a much greater contrast, and a more forcible comparison than he has drawn between the produce of an acre of Potatoes and an acre of Wheat in England. The former he rates at only twelve thousand pounds weight; the latter at two thousand, and allowing “half the weight of Potatoes, to go to water, (a very large allowance),” he infers that “one acre of Potatoes producing 6000 weight of solid nourishment, is equal to three times the quantity pro duced from an acre of Wheat.”

It is evident therefore, that the same train of argument applied to this island, would make the annual produce of one acre of Potatoes, in solid nourishment, equal to nine acres of Wheat in England.

From the peculiar advantages which St. Helena enjoys in the extraordinary produce, as well as in the excellent quality of this invaluable root, it is evident that the extensive culture of Potatoes, is deserving the utmost attention, not merely as a food for man but for cattle and live stock of all kinds. The imports of flour, rice and paddy, and of salted meat, might thus be diminished, the island might easily be made to abound with every necessary of life, which is assuredly the best mode of depressing the present exorbitant prices; and the diminution of those wants which are obtained from other countries, would no doubt, have the effect of retaining, amongst the cultivators of the soil, a very great proportion of the sums that are annually paid for foreign supplies.

The annual consumption of flour is about 1600 barrels, which would cost in England, including the barrels, according to the invoice per Walmer Castle in 1807, £8674. If freight and charges he added at £5. per ton, and rating six barrels to a ton, this would be 266 tons, or £1330, making the total cost of 1600 barrels of flour, when landed here, £10,004.

Now from what has been said, and following Doctor Adam Smith's deductions, I will proceed to shew that an equal quantity of the “solid nourishment” contained in 1600 barrels of flour might be obtained in Potatoes, from thirty-three acres of this island, and admitting the rent, and the labour in cultivating the two crops annually, at even 30 pounds per acre, which is a very large sum, and particularly when the plough management is introduced, that for nine hundred and ninety pounds sterling there might be raised of wholesome nourishing food, a substitute or equivalent, for what costs when brought to this island, more than ten thousand pounds sterling! Sixteen hundred casks of flour, at 370 pounds each, contain 592,000 pounds, and thirty-three acres of Potatoes at 36,000 pounds per annum, would be 1,188,000, the half of which being 594,000 pounds, is “the solid nourishment,” according to Doctor Adam Smith : which is even more than that contained in the above number of casks of flour.

Mr. Parmentier found, from a number of experiments, that good bread might be made from equal quantities of flour and potatoes. No doubt, two thirds of flour to one third of potatoes would be better : and some of this sort made here by a neighbour who well understands the comforts and good things of this life, was superior to any bread I ever tasted on this island. I would recommend a trial to the St. Helena bakers ; they would find by this mixture that the bread has a fresher taste, and that it has the property of keeping better than that which is made of the flour imported from England : besides, by making flour go farther, they could afford to dispose of bread at a cheaper rate than that made wholly from flour.

I trust that these remarks will stimulate our landholders to their own interests, and that we shall soon have at least an hundred acres of potatoes added to the present cultivation. By this I do not mean to exclude the use of flour, but I am fully persuaded, that the advantage and convenience arising even from this addition in feeding man and livestock, would soon lead to a more extensive culture. In a year or two the inhabitants would thus become far less dependent on foreign imports ; and the potatoe culture upon an enlarged scale, would also enable the landholders to give a portion to their cattle, at those times when they are much reduced by the impoverished state of the pastures ; by this the lives of many might be saved during an unfavourable season. But the more effectually to guard against the fatal consequences that may justly be apprehended from a dry season, under the present management of cattle, I cannot too strongly recommend the expediency of alternate crops of potatoes and corn : the latter might be raised as at the Cape of Good Hope, either as a dry or green fodder ; and of which there might always be a certain supply particularly when the rains have only partially failed : this was most clearly proved in February and November, 1810, as will appear from what is stated in page 28[1] of the printed Laws and Ordinances, and in pages 51[2] and 76[3] of the Goat papers.

Further advantages would result from the alternate crops of potatoes and corn, since they would preserve the lands in good heart ; and if some attention were paid to manuring, it would prevent them being exhausted, and becoming unprofitable, which they often have been by continually repeating the potatoe crops. It is, moreover, the opinion of eminent agriculturists that such a rotation would; in a great measure, secure potatoes against the ravages of the caterpillar.

What eminent advantages does the whole of this easy system of management hold out ! I am firmly resolved to pursue it ; for I have often seriously reflected on the great losses that have been sustained here by the planters. I have endeavoured to discover the causes, which I cannot but ascribe, almost entirely, to improvident management. No care whatever is taken to guard against evils similar to what have frequently visited this remote spot on the globe. In 1738 the planters lost 555 head of cattle, and the Company 132. The total number that perished at that time, from the extreme dryness of the weather, was 687. This is a dreadful warning. What a blow would such a season give to the landholders of the present day! For there is absolutely not the smallest precaution taken to avert it. I cannot behold this picture without apprehension ; for the value of the number of cattle that died in 1738, (and a far greater number in 1791 and 1792) at the present market price, may be fairly rated at 6 to 8000 pounds, sterling.

To excite a serious attention in the minds of the landholders, who have almost the whole of their property in cattle, and more strongly to impress them with the dreadful consequences of trusting wholly to pasture lands, and in the hope also they will pay some attention to the facts and hints I now set before them, I shall conclude these remarks with a brief statement of every notice I can find on record, that relates to the visitations of unfavourable seasons, and to the calamities which have been experienced by preceding generations.

Notices regarding bad Seasons and Losses in Cattle, extracted from the Consultations, and from Letters from the Court of Directors.

In the year 1724, February 12.Bad seasons for 4 or 5 years past : in dread of a famine.

1738, June 13.Losses sustained in cattle, by the late dryness in the weather.

      Cattle.
Loss to the inhabitants 555
Ditto Company 132
    Total 687

1739, May 4th.Rainy seasons had failed for the last 4 or 5 years.

1747, March 9th.Rains failed last season.

April 11.Unusual drought for several months past.

May 26.On account of the grass lands being burnt up by the continuation of dry weather, cattle were fed, during six weeks with plantain trees.

1748, May 10th.Yams so scarce, that only 32 soldiers can be supplied weekly.

1752, August 3.A failure of rain for some time past.

February 22.Heavy rains fell on the 20th instant.

1759, December 7th.For want of rain, the island and cattle in bad condition. The Court of Directors recommend promoting the increase of stock of all kinds.

1772, January 8.Long continuance of dry weather occasioned great diminution in the number of cattle.

1774, December 23.The island restored to a flourishing state.

1779, May 17.The island in a distressed situation from the present droughtand from the loss and poverty of cattle.

July 19.Great mortality among the cattle.

1780, April 17.The Company's flock of sheep in bad condition “from the long drought and present failure of our summer rains.”

June 5.The island in a distressed state.

1781, March 1.Torrents damaged Sandy Bay fortifications.

June 2.The island had sustained severe drought for three years.

1791, April 13.Colonel Brooke informs Doctor Anderson at Madras, that while the grass is burnt up, his Guinea grass, at High Knoll, looked “green and beautiful.”

May 30.Thirty-two of the Company's cattle (including calves) died during six months. The Company's stock on July 11, was 340 cattle.

October 21.The season continued alarmingly drythe crops of potatoes failedthe yam grounds grown very unprofitable—and numbers of the cattle have died.

  1792, April 9.— Company's cattle, December 31 369
    Dead 91

Here it appears that one fourth of the Company's stock died.

1792, August 17.The planters petition to Government, representing that they “have, by the late drought, lost one half of their stock of cattle.”

Philosophers of all ages have built a hope of being able to discover by repeated observations, some rules concerning the variations of seasons, and changes in the weather, convinced that such discoveries would be of the highest utility, especially in agriculture ; because by foreseeing, even in part, the circumstances of the seasons, we should have it in our power to prevent, at least in some degree, the losses arising from them. But from the imperfection of our present knowledge of this subject, it is impossible to account for the uncertainty in the fall of rain. Most countries whether mountainous or flat are subject to it and it would seem from experience and comparisons, that the variations which have taken place, have sometimes been effected by the operation of some general cause. The severe drought felt here in 1791 and 1792 was far more calamitous in India . Doctor Anderson states, in a letter to Colonel Kyd, dated the 9th of August, 1792, that owing to a failure of rain, during the above two years, one half of the inhabitants in the northern cir­ cars had perished by famine ; “and the remainder were so feeble and weak, that on the report of rice coming from the Malabar coast, 5000 poor people left Rajamundry, and very few of them reached the sea-side, although the distance is only 50 miles.” The Doctor further observes “that betwixt the latitudes 16° and 18° on the coast of Coromandel, there was so little rain during the years 1764, 1765, and 1766, that the country was desolated by famine.” It appears by Mr. Bryan Edwards's History of the West Indies, that the season of 1791-2 were unusually dry at the island of Montserrat.

It will be observed, by the extracts I have given, that no notice is taken of dry seasons at those periods ; and that the greatest continuance of seasons uncomplained of, was betwixt the years 1724 and 1738. This interval was fourteen years. Now as there has been no serious drought since 1792, it should be kept in mind that the present interval of favourable seasons, being nineteen years, already exceeds any other on record. We know not how soon another visitation may take place. Let us then be wise and prudent, from dear bought experience, and use every means in our power to be prepared for it.

 

15th August, 1811.



  1. February 28th, 1810. “The WHEAT sown on the 9th of November is now in full ear ; the grass at present is much burnt up. Fodder of WHEAT, BARLEY, or OATS, would be very serviceable.”
     
  2. “The GUINEA GRASS is likely to do wonders here : some looked green and beautiful during some very dry weather, which burnt up all the GRASS around it.”
     
  3. “On the 29th of November 1810, it was ascertained, that one acre of GREEN OATS, yielded at this season of the year MORE nourishment for Cattle, than any ONE HUNDRED acres of the Long Wood pastures.”

 Section VIII