Doctor Berry's official Letter to Governor Beatson—suggests the Kew Nopal and Cactus Tuna, the Arabian Date, and Guinea Grass—Doctor Berry's fermenting Balls an excellent Substitute for Yeast—Captain Haig's Report on Nopal—a nutritious and valuable Antiscorbutic.
To the Honourable Colonel Beatson, Governor, &c. &c. &c. St. Helena.
HAVING whilst traversing the most interesting parts of this extraordinary volcanic island, seen, with much satisfaction, the very beneficial consequences that have resulted from your Zealous and unremitted endeavours to encrease the means of subsistence to the inhabitants, and to render the Island thereby a less expensive tenure to England, I trust you will excuse the liberty I now take of enclosing a letter from Captain Haig, commanding the ship Regent, detailing the advantage he has received for his ship's crew ; and of expressing my confident hope of this public address being the means of also adding the culture of the Nopal to the list of your objects of public improvements.
The leaves that Captain Haig has been able to obtain for his crew, are from a prickly Cactus, supposed in India, to be a native of the Mauritius, and there used only as a fence before the Tuna was generally known and distributed. If these leaves have been found as a vegetable so much superior to the watery poor vegetables procurable for sailors, and these even in inadequate quantity, and at a price too high to be furnished for any length of time, how much superior would the leaves of the Kew Nopal, and of the Cactus Tuna be found ; as the many publications of the late revered Doctor James Anderson, of Madras, have so amply shown.
These publications extensively distributed, and the numerous supplies of Nopal and Tuna that were issued at Madras, always with a view of part being landed at this island, as plants that would be of the greatest value to the crews of the large fleets that resort here, and are detained for often a long period of time, from their capability of thriving on the barren inhospitable looking exterior of this island, render it unnecessary for me to say much on this part of the subject, it having engaged so much the attention of the philanthropic Doctor Anderson ; and which must be well known here from his many publications received.
Having stated thus much, Honourable Sir, it is impossible for me, to avoid mentioning my disappointment at not being able to find one plant of the Cactus Tuna, and but a very few of the Kew Nopal : so few as to be more an object of curiosity than utility.
The Kew Nopal being, however, the Cactus of most value. both as a plant for rearing the fine cochineal, and therefore called Cactus Cochinilifer, as well as its superiority as a vegetable for sea-stock, I hope the endeavour I made while at Madras to support Dr. Anderson's most anxious wish of establishing the culture of the Nopal and Tuna as a vegetable, principally for sea-stock, and as a vegetable for the poor, will be some apology for the liberty I now take in pressing this subject on the attention of the government of St. Helena, and of recommending that a portion of the Botanical Garden, as It is called, in James's Town, may be appropriated for this most useful purpose. I mention this garden as being public property, and from its being enclosed, and thereby protected from any depredation by goats, and where nearly an adequate culture of Nopal plants may be made, at little or no expense to government, without much encroaching on the ground that may be thought necessary for the culture of vegetables for the family inhabiting the house there ; and if even a small sum was charged on the supplies of Nopal leaves furnished, to reimburse and expense incurred, and for transport, if necessary, to the shipping ; I should consider it proper, on attaching some value to the supply, which being furnished gratis, might tend to diminish ;—such being the general tendency of mankind to prize according to the difficulty of obtainment. I feel the less hesitation in recommending this principal culture in that garden, as its object as a Botanical Garden has been frustrated, and from its limited scale, and the little that is growing in it of a foreign and valuable nature : from the many seeds from many quarters, and particularly from India, that have been forwarded, it would seem badly calculated for the continuance of such an object. But for the culture of the Kew Nopal, it will answer well, the only thriving plants of this Cactus being there : the very few at Plantation-house and Long Wood being of so stunted a growth, though long in the ground, as to show that either the ground or the elevation is not favourable to the luxuriant growth of this esculent plant. There is also another species of Cactus growing in the Botanical Garden of a large size, what Dr. Anderson called the China Nopal : I wish attention to be paid to this distinction in making plantations, as the Kew Nopal is alone the object of culture as a vegetable ; the leaves of the Kew Nopal are more retuse, narrower, and less thick, with fewer and shorter thorns, and the full grown leaves, not too old, are of a dark green, while the other, or China Nopal leaves are of a lighter green. And with a less lucid surface : these distinctions will prevent any mistake. There being no Tuna plants on the island ; and the plant for the fortifications and for the enclosures against the depredations of goats, being what is denominated the Mauritius Cactus, I will request some baskets of the Tuna leaves, and of Tuna seed to be sent here by the first opportunity, in the expectation that it may meet with attention, so as in a few years to form fences and enclosures in James's Valley—thereby affording an equally formidable fence, while its leaves will be a more agreeable vegetable for its more acid nature.
Having now stated, Honourable Sir, all that can be necessary for me to say on the subject of this address, which I trust will meet with your approbation ; I will take the liberty of trespassing a little longer on your time, by mentioning what appears to me of import. next in consequence to the increase of agriculture, which has so successfully engaged your attention ; the benefits resulting from it, I have heard acknowledged in the most honourable and gratifying manner, by such of the old soldiery as I have met in my excursions, who have uniformly stated, that in the reductions of the prices of articles of food, and particularly in the abundant supply and reduced prices of potatoes, they have subsisted better since your government commenced, than they ever did before.
The government, by taking agriculture on an extensive scale into their own hands have done this general good : but from the wide field that is yet open, the whole of the interior of the island for six or eight miles in every direction, being capable of cultivation, a long perseverance must still be given to make this island what it should be, favoured as it is by situation in the tropic. I almost despair of its being effected, unless there are some small divisions of land, and some villages established in situations where there is water, there being in the interior only proprietors of land and slaves, from which there is little stimulus to industry.
It must be evident that the apathy and difficulty of increasing agriculture—of there being no adequate supply of milk, and much less of butter, where there are so many cattle and sheep—and the scanty supply of eggs, where there should be an abundant stock of poultry, can alone be under such circumstances, from there being no lower class of inhabitants dependant on their own industry, and no establishment or settlement for the slaves when grown up.
There are no villages for them, or small spots of ground to cultivate, as is the case in the West Indies.
The Chinese also who are here, are not so much employed in agriculture as in labour. I think an experiment may be made with prospect of future benefit, by establishing men in small communities in a few places on the island, and to insure their industry, by the ready sale of what they may rear, in a public market, giving them premiums at first, and land on perpetual lease, and such annual quit rent after a certain lapse of years, as may be agreed upon ; in this manner the government land may be sold with public and private benefit.
But to ensure the moisture and rain, on which extensive agriculture must depend, it will be necessary to clothe the summit of the mountainous ridges in the interior with trees, all the elevated ridges being naked, there being no trees higher than the ridges, by which, clouds are not attracted, nor vapours condensed : the rocky summits of mountains of the exterior, tending still further by their naked surface to keep vapour clouds elevated, by which they are blown past, to fall in rain at sea. The few gum-wood trees which are said to be indigenous, seem to have so little hold of the ground on the sides of the ridges of Diana and High Peak, as to be of little value either as a wood of utility, or for firewood. It should therefore be cleared away at Long Wood, where it interferes with agriculture, leaving only intermediate rows for shelter, for it occupies at present, ground capable of agriculture without being of the smallest use, and is not sufficiently elevated to answer the purpose I am recommending : the peaks that should be covered with wood, being elevated far above the level of Long Wood.
As it would be an undertaking of labour and expense, more perhaps than would be given to cover the sides of the ridges towards the summits with wood, I have suggested to some gentlemen, and particularly to Major Hodson, as Arabian dates are sent here for sale (the seeds of which will grow), that if he would put some of these seeds in his pocket on going to these peaks, and make his servants stick them into the rich soil on these elevated ridges, be might clothe them with trees in this easy, slow, but general manner, that would not be eaten by the goats, would take strong and from its luxuriant growth in Mysore, which in climate and elevation approaches that of these peaks, there can be little doubt of their thriving, and when any more useful trees can be reared these trees may be cut down or thinned. I have also suggested that the seed of the Guinea grass scattered on these summits would grow and distribute itself, and be the means of affording the best of fodder to the fine English cattle reared on the island.
The fir tree which you have reared with the same view, and mean to distribute at low rates, will be planted where they can be enclosed, and taken care of, but even some of these may be planted on these peaks, and if surrounded with a circular wall for a few feet, may be then left without further care, a few prickly pear leaves covering the top of the enclosure. In India, where there is more heat, you must have seen considerable plantations made this way, and as on these peaks there cannot be any other attention required or for watering, a good deal may be done, by employing some of the Chinese in this way. Lower down there are springs, in which many of the forest trees of the Malabar mountains will grow. In furtherance of this object, I will transmit a copy of this letter for introduction in the public prints in India, with the view of soliciting seeds being sent here, and will make particular requests myself to be more certain. I shall request them being directed to the Town Major of St. Helena, to be reported by him, and disposed of as government, or individuals may wish.
It gives me pleasure to learn from you that the fermenting balls which I described in the Madras Gazette of the 22d February, 1812, had been so useful as to afford excellent fermented bread to the fleet that sailed at that period for England. I have not been able to do any thing in the way you wish, of endeavouring to make a similar ferment to improve the bread at St. Helena—not having received the plants I requested, nor a bottle of the juice of the gum-wood tree : but from what I tasted of this juice, I think it will afford all that can be required in this way, it being a saccharine juice, which when allowed to approach the acetous fermentation, will so nearly approach the Cocoa nut or Palmira Toddy, as to be equally useful as a ferment.
On speaking to the baker in James's Town respecting the weakness of his ferment, and of his bread not being sufficiently raised, he attributed the failure to the impurity and badness of the wheat flour : this may certainly be obviated by having grain sent instead of flour, to be ground at St. Helena, by which there would be little danger of its being spoiled or impure. I mention this to show that I have not been inattentive to your wish, but as you have taken the subject into consideration, I shall add no more to this already too much extended Letter.
|I have the honour to be, with respect, Honourable Sir,||your very obedient Servant,|
|St. Helena, 12th March, 1813.||ANDREW BERRY.|
To Dr. Berry.
AS you are well acquainted with the virtue of the Nopal, I send you some that has been gathered by my Lascars on this island ; on the arrival of the Regent, I incurred an expense of 18 to 20 shillings per day for a supply of greens for my ship's company, which (consisting entirely of Lascars) was far from being agreeable to them, and having accidentally discovered the Nopal near Major Hodsons house, my men have since constantly preferred using it. I have no doubt that from this preference a more beneficial effect must result to them than from the light waterish kind of greens usually supplied to the shipping ; as it is a plant that requires little care in rearing, and scarcely any soil, I think under the auspices of the present Governor, it might be raised in great abundance on the rocks of this island ; there are many ships that seldom give potatoes to their Lascars or Chinese ; and those nations of India who have once experienced the benefit of its antiscorbutic qualities, will be able to continue it without expense. and when properly strung over a ship's stern, it will afford a good nutriment long after potatoes are decayed.
|I am, Dear Sir, your's obediently,||JAMES HAIG.|
|Ship Regent, March 5th, 1813.|