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

To the Editor of the St. Helena Register.


I HAVE been amused, and I hope you will find edified, by your correspondent K's conversion of Mr. homespun, as related in your last mouth's Register. I confess to you that I had long been a downri g ht branch of the Homespun family : I have had my strong prejudices to old custom, and I verily believed it was totally impossible to surpass our home practice : but I have lately witnessed some things that have actually made my hair stand on end; 1 see the ploughs, with two or three horses, managed by two men, doing more work in one day, than any ten of my best slaves could perform in ten days ; besides these fellows, Mr. Editor, cost me a deal of money, for after the first purchase (dear enough, to be sure) I must teed and clothe them ; and after all, they are sometimes very saucy and idle. Now, thinks I, if I could only teach Caesar and Pompey, my two best men, to manage this new machine, and if I were to clap-to a couple of my best oxen, or horses, I should get more work from these two men, in one day, than I could otherwise get from the whole of my gang and my cattle would not be a hair the worse for it.

I am a man of figures, Mr. Editor, and I can make calculations; I can multiply pounds, shillings, and pence into each other, which, you will allow, is no small proof of my abilities ; and, therefore, you will readily admit I am not ignorant of the common rules of arithmetic. I have, indeed, reflected, very seriously upon Homespun's story, and as I think, it is clearly proved lie was a bit of a gooseacre, a self-conceited obstinate fellow, until he got new lights, I hope this confession, although at Homespun's expense, will prove to a man of your knowledge and penetration, that I am not undeserving to be ranked amongst those of “enlightened and liberal minds,” to whom K. has submitted the practicability of keeping a cow and pigs upon a small piece of arable land.

I will now tell you my plain notions upon “the new-fangled husbandry,” as Mr. Homespun called it ; which we have lately witnessed in this our island, where I have been born and bred, and from which I have never been farther than the fishing banks. You will, I hope, excuse me, if I should be a little long-winded ; but, when we folks are beginning to write for the public view, you cannot expect we can express ourselves in the same short way as other folks would.

Well then, Mr. Editor, I must also confess to you, that I am naturally what they call a sly fellow, and I own, when I first heard of all these new things, I thought they were down-right foolishness. I thought my grandsires knew all that was necessary to know. They planted yams, and potatoes, and beans, with the spade and pick-axe ; which had been the practice from time immemorial ; and, as I had never seen a plough, I did not like to shew either my ignorance or curiosity ; nor did I wish to appear publicly an advocate for new things; because I dreaded the jokes at the Almond-tree.[1]

I therefore thought it best to take a peep, unsuspected, at what was going on. I sneaked along the roads early of a morning, and had a good view of all that was doing, over the fences. I saw Mr. Fish,[2] with the said plough, getting on at a great rate ; tearing up the ground neatly on the Church fields : I saw Tom Stream,[3] and Johnny Spring[4] no less busy, and I was wonderfully surprised to see how much they did in a short time. A couple of horses, or three or four oxen, and a couple of men, were all they needed ; indeed, I am told, in Scotland two horses and one man do the business ; and when once we get our half­starved beasts and horses in good order, and in strength, by the green crops of corn I have also seen, there is no reason why we mayn't do the same likewise.

Now, thinks I to myself, if I can get Caesar and Pompey, with a few of my cattle, at present doing nothing, to do all these things, what a great saving it would be. These two able men, and one of the new machines, (that rolls on wheels like a wheel-barrow) with some of my beasts, would, I am positive, do me more service than 50 Caesars and 50 Pompeys. Away then, says I to myself, with your spades and your pickaxes ; and let me try the same things. The first cost will he nothing compared with what I shall gain.

After attentively observing the method of ploughing, I thought other things might be seen—I watched ; and saw drills opened with the plough, and potatoes dropped in, and then covered up. I then saw the said Fish, Stream, and Spring, (and favourably ominous I think it is, that these allied names come together) still using a plough to take the potatoes out of the ground ; nay, I saw more ; for the harrow was used ; and I wondered at the scraping it made ; for at one scrape, it scratched out, in a couple of hours, more potatoes than twenty of my slaves could gather in the course of the day. Such things are truly surprising : but when I considered the power of a claw hammer in drawing a nail, I concluded there must be something not less wonderful, although unfathomable to me, in the power of the new machine we have had introduced here, because I well know, that if I and my whole family, who are pretty numerous, were to tr y, with our fingers to draw a well-hit nail, we should not succeed. I have no knowledge of what they call mechanics ; I know nothing of the principles ; but this I know, that a claw-hammer will do the business with a small twist of the hand ; and so I take it to be with the plough.

Now, Mr. Editor, after seeing, (which you know is believing) I set to work : I bought a plough and a couple of harrows ; and I succeeded far beyond my expectation.

I then began with my calculations ; and I clearly convinced myself, and I hope I shall convince others, that by saving expense in labour I should be a great gainer. I ascertained I could bring into cultivation a wondrous deal more land ; that I could sell much more of my produce to the shipping ; that by having plenty of potatoes I might not only feed my family and slaves without the expense of buying, and the trouble of bringing from the valley ; and raise pigs, and assist my cattle when our seasons fail ; but that I should likewise keep more money in my pockets ; which have been rather empty of late ; and if I and my fellow planters could once contrive to furnish the breweries with barley for malting, we might get a deal of the money that is now sent to England, and this I understand amounts to eight or ten thousand pounds a year : and as Mr. Brabazon's brewery is now getting up, there will, no doubt, be a greater demand.

What a great gain would all this be to us planters. Being a man of calculation as I told you before) without pretension to much knowledge, I can easily satisfy myself, that a penny saved is a penny got ; and I perceive also that if all our pennies go into the Company's stores, or into the hands of the shipping gentlemen, or are sent to England, our purses must be very lank; and this is, I verily believe (nay I am perfectly convinced), the reason we are not so rich as we might be. I never thought of this until I read Homespun's story ; which made me think it was at least probable there was something wrong or rotten at bottom.

Now I see it plainly; and I will no longer be slack in trying to mend my ways, and my fortune ; by such means as are in my power. And, now, to conclude.—From all I have said, I think I have shewn you clearly, that I am no longer of “the mulish tribe.” I heartily wish my conversion may open the eyes of my dear countrymen, whose welfare I have sincerely at heart, in order that they may follow my good example.

There is one thing I forgot to mention, and I hope it is not too late, that if we can raise barley for the breweries, we can at the same time have plenty of straw for our cattle, if a dry season should happen, and also we might have plenty of manure, which I see by two or three papers in your Register is reckoned a good way of making our lands yield better crops. Perhaps you may have heard that we have not much come into this practice yet, and that we do tolerably well without manure, that is, we can have twenty or thirty successive crops of potatoes, without ever once thinking of manure, and yet I find it is considered absolutely necessary, and is very much the practice in the country you came from.

But to tell you the truth, Mr. Editor, I have not found that my lands pay so well after so many croppings. Something therefore is wanting, and this something, I take to he manure. So very bad indeed are some of the lands near me, that after 10 or 15 years of our Homespun management, we find, although the crops seem to grow well, they do not came to perfection ; they get what we call the rot. No doubt manure would act like a medicine, and might soon restore the lands to health and vigour.

The diseased farm I allude to, is that near the High Peak, and as I have long had an eye to that farm, but that its case seemed to me a desperate one, I thought it advisable to consult Mr. Fish ; who, no doubt, we may reckon our best land doctor here ; for as to Stream and Spring, they are as yet only Noting beginners, and cannot be expected to know much of these things.

When I asked Fish, “what he would do with that land?” he replied, “Do with it ! why, I would make a mine of it.” I did not immediately comprehend him, and he explained, he would make his fortune by it—“How so?” said I—“Easy enough,” said he, “for the land is good, and a great part of it, fit for the plough. In front of the new house, both in the vale or ravine, as well as on the west side, there are many fine acres, at present covered with coarse and useless grass.

“There is also a good large space inclosed around the premises, which I see it is needless to plant, unless it goes through a proper course. Land, you must know, is in a manner like your stomach, which I fancy you would not like to have constantly crammed with the same food ; and without any sort of seasoning : in time, you would not relish it; and disorders might follow.—Now I understand this land, or stomach, has tasted nothing for the last fifteen years but potatoes ; consequently, it baths that food, or, as we English farmers say, “it is tired of the crop.” This expression is very common with us, for we say such a field is “tired of clover,” and the like ; although this is a mode of express ion, on which some of our best agriculturists have differed. One thing, however, is certain, that if land, in its nature tolerably good, has been drained by repeated, or improperly managed crops, the best remedy for recovering such exhausted land, is by a few months fallowing ; and by frequently stirring it, and clearing it of every sort of vegetable substance. By this plain and easy mode (a sort of abstinence, if I may so express myself,) not only will its tone be recovered by the influence of air and moisture from the atmosphere, but weeds will be extirpated, and insects of every sort (and particularly the grub) will be effectually destroyed by being deprived of that food which is absolutely necessary for their subsistence, at the time the solar heats occasion a change from the oviparous state.”

I did not clearly understand the whole of those odd expressions ; but I however perceived, that Mr. Fish is, as I imagined, a very learned land doctor. I therefore candidly told him that I understood, only in a general way, all he had said, in which there seemed to be no small portion of good sense. I therefore requested him to go on, and tell me particularly the mode he would pursue with that farm, if it were in his own occupation.

He continued—“If that farm were mine, and I should be glad it was, if I had not so many other fish to fry,” (here he condescendingly suited his expression to my comprehension,) “I would, in the first place, clear the garden, comprising several acres, of all its rubbish, and lay the whole under a clean fallow, for at least six months. I would frequently stir the soil, and would not in all this time allow a weed to rear its head. Whilst this operation is carrying on, I would enclose 10 or 15 acres of the most level and best land, and pare off the sward and coarse grass, forming small heaps all over the field, and then set fire to them. The ashes should, if possible, be ploughed in immediately.[5] I would endeavour to give it two or three ploughings and as many harrowings, so as to pulverise the soil perfectly before I put a crop in it. I would then, just before the setting in of the rains (in January or June) open furrows, nearly level, and at the distance of two feet asunder ; and drop potatoes in them, at one foot apart in the rows. These, I would cover with the plough ; and by such means I should secure myself a good crop from this fresh land ; a crop which I am convinced would nearly repay all my expenses ; if I could sell it at the island price, which is eight times what I got for potatoes in England. But as I might not he able to do this, I would take care to have a good breed of pigs to consume the surplus produce at the farm ; I would give them and my sheep and cows a part ; and by keeping all those and my cattle, in what we call a farm yard, (and of which I have seen nothing of the kind in this island) I would soon have plenty of manure, or muck ; from which I should derive great profit by its meliorating effects on the lands when I am to prepare them for wheat; or as they begin to fall off in the powers of vegetation. My pigs would soon increase in number and size; and for which I should never be at a loss for a ready sale ; which is a vast advantage to a farmer : and whilst taking two successive crops of potatoes from the garden, and the new land, I would prepare another new field of the same size as the first, and treat it in the manner I have described ; and so on, till I had all the best land in cultivation. The first field and garden should next have a smothering crop of barley or oats, sown rather thick, and which, in two months from the seed, would yield me 12 to 16 tons per acre of green fodder. This would be a valuable acquisition to my stock; and by haying and stacking some, it would secure me against losses that I might otherwise sustain in my cattle, if a bad season should arrive.

“After these three crops, from each of these portions of land, I would again sow them with a crop of barley for malting ; and for which I should also have a ready sale to the breweries ; and gradually I would bring these lands by manuring, into a state, fit for bearing wheat : for furnishing a portion at least of that flour, which is at present imported here from other countries. It is by such means only, Mr. Calculator,” said he, “that you farmers can ever expect to be wealthy, like some that I know in England. You have the same, nay better means ; you have a charming climate, and a fine soil, and your lands give you two crops a year. The sale prices are high ; and you have always a ready market. What more can a farmer desire? All you want, my friend, is a little industry; and I am happy to see that many of you begin to be sensible of these truths.”

I was exceedingly pleased with Doctor Fish's lecture. My mind had been prepared to receive every word he uttered ; I was however at times rather puzzled : but I hope I shall hereafter convince you, by my next communication, that his care to instruct me, has not been thrown away.

I am, SIR,

Your obedient Servant, and constant reader,

August 6th, 1812.

  1. “Almond-tree,” in James Town, is the resort of idlers.
  2. Mr. Breame, of Norfolk , the superintendant of the Company's farms.
  3. Thomas Brooke, Esq. Secretary to the Government, and author of the History of St. Helena.
  4. John Defountain, Esq. Storekeeper.
  5. We observe by the Agricultural Report for 1812, a full confirmation of this practice. It is there stated, “that the newly enclosed lands in England, have in general proved fertile ; and the mode of breaking them up, in all improved districts, is by paring and burning. All the old objections to which having been proved futile and groundless, where subsequent good culture is persevered in ; namely—working the eradication of weeds, pulverising the soil, and giving these lands a fair portion of manure.”

    The good effects of paring and burning have been frequently manifested here, by a comparison of crops, that have had the benefit of turf ashes, with those where no ashes were spread. The superiority of the former is so great, that few would believe it, if they had not seen it.

 Section XIX