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 Occupations. Trees attract Moisture and RainCultivated Land has a similar Tendency. Experiment in reaping Barley-WheatYields per Acre 10½ Tons of green Fodder, in two Months from the Time of SowingLoss of Weight when hayed, 100 Pounds in 146Hints 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 Cloathing the Summit of the Hills.Favourable Report of Doctor Berry's Fermenting Balls.

To Andrew Berry, Esq. M. D.


YOUR official letter, dated the 12th of March contains some judicious remarks and valuable hints which are well deserving attention. These, and the testimony you have borne, in confirmation of opinions I have long held and promulgated in respect to the capabilities of this island, are highly gratifying to me ; for being thus spontaneously offered by one whose long experience in pursuing objects of improvement, similar to those in which I have been engaged for nearly five years past, will, no doubt, have some weight with the remaining few; whose minds have yet a bias to the absurd and erroneous idea "that St. Helena is a barren rock, and can never be made productive."

How can such assertions stand against your declaration of the quantity of land capable of cultivation ; against my own opinion (communicated officially) "that between two and three thousand acres are fit for arable land ;'' and against all that has already been done in the extension of the Company's farms ; as well as by the recent laudable exertions of several individuals ?

The present crops on Plantation-house farm were lately inspected by one of our principal cultivators. He had long been adverse to a change of system, but he now acknowledges their superiority, and the advantage of using the plough, and ex-presses astonishment at seeing Such exuberance on lands which lie had predicted would never repay the expense of bringing into cultivation.

This favourable change of sentiment has, indeed, for some time past, been pretty general : at length it is strengthened and confirmed by incontestible proofs. There can, therefore, be no doubt that the English practice of husbandry will gradually establish itself in all parts of the Island : since it tends to reduce the ex-pense of labour, and to ameliorate the lands. These circumstances will prove highly beneficial to the landholders: particularly if they will seriously turn their minds to those sources of wealth which have been pointed out to them in a paper entitled "On the importance of introducing agriculture on the island of St. Helena," published in the St. Helena Register for August, 1812.[1]

Every day produces some further proofs that this soil and cli-mate are as favourable as any in the world for cultivation. I need not recapitulate various successful experiments, which I have already published in the St. Helena Registers, on potatoes, barley, oats, and wheat ; and on Indian corn, beans, &c. &c. ; nor have I leisure to arrange many others that have been completed, or are now in process: yet I cannot deny myself the gratification of relating some circumstances regarding a very cheap method of cultivating potatoes, which originated in information I received from some captains of whaling vessels (who had landed on islands in the southern ocean), and in the present crops at the Plantation-house farm.

Those captains assured me, that they procure potatoes, in abundance, at some of those islands where a few were planted by that distinguished navigator Captain Cook. It may be supposed that in planting them they had not all the advantages of a well prepared and pulverised field : nevertheless they grew, and continue to grow, and now spread over a considerable space of land. This fact of the re-production of potatoes, during a period of forty years, and their spreading property appeared to deserve notice. I accordingly established the following experiment, with a view of ascertaining the second point; but which, however, was not so clearly and satisfactorily determined as the first; and this has given a result far exceeding what I expected.

The deductions that may be formed from a successive re-production during so many years, are of such a nature as will leave no doubt of the possibility of simplifying the potatoe culture at St. Helena (and in all similar climates where vegetation is not checked by frost) ; and of lessening the charge of labour to a mere trifle in comparison with what is required in the colder climates.

The experiment alluded to was this : on the 18th of June, 1812, I marked off two square rods in length, and one in breadth, of potatoes that bad been planted in rows on the 20th of January, 1812 : the haulm was completely fallen. Each row, in this oblong space, measured 33 feet in length ; and there were twelve rows in the breadth. With a view of ascertaining the spreading property of potatoes, I took up six intermediate rows ; leaving the same number for re-production. The six rows taken up yielded 78 pounds of small potatoes, or at the rate of 13 pounds from each 33 feet of row, or 223 bushels per acre.[2]

Five months afterwards, that is on the 20th of November, and some weeks after the haulm had again completely fallen, the six rows which were left in the soil, were also taken up. These yielded, of very fine large potatoes, 292 pounds. Thus, the increase, by leaving the crop in the ground, was in the proportion of 78 to 292, or from 223 bushels to 834 per acre. This calculation is on a supposition that if the six first rows had remained, their produce would have also increased to 292 pounds.

Besides this large produce in potatoes, the preceding crop was plainly discovered by the seed being entire, and of a darkish hue, and in some degree shriveled. These seed potatoes were separated, and weighed 7.5 pounds ; and, although not marketable, have been eaten by hogs. Wherefore, by retaining a crop in the ground, when not likely to be productive, or for which there is not a ready sale, it is proved that very little of it is lost, and a very great produce may be expected from the succeeding crop.

From this statement it will be seen that the difference between the produce of the six rows on the 18th of June, and the seed potatoes gathered from the remaining six rows on the 20th of November, was no more than three pounds : the former being 78 pounds, and the latter 75.

The experiment I have now detailed, led to another : which is, indeed, the old-established practice on this island ; and which, on my arrival here, I was disposed to condemn, as being so very opposite to English husbandry.

This practice is to leave in the ground, at the time of taking up potatoes, a sufficiency of seed for the following crop, and this is called "a self-sown crop."

Comparing a crop of several acres of the Church fields, treated in this manner, there is at present every appearance of its being even superior to a part of the same field that was regularly planted in rows, and with seed from the same crop as that left in the ground. This "self-sown crop" is, indeed, much more forward : which may be easily explained. It is evident that the seed, by remaining in the soil, had suffered no check in vegetation : whereas the other seed, by being taken up and exposed to the air in a building, for several weeks previously to being planted, must have been drier, and therefore less susceptible of the powers of vegetation, at the time they come into action in the regular course of nature.

Hence it is obvious that a succession of crops of potatoes may be obtained here, after a field has once been brought into cultivation, without any other expense than taking them up, and then harrowing the field. All that is necessary is to leave the requisite quantity of small seed potatoes in the ground at the time of taking up ; and I would recommend that the gathering of the crops should be postponed as long as possible, so that the potatoes, to be left in the soil, may receive some check in vegetation, by which the new crops may more nearly meet the most favourable seasons for vegetation ; that is, in the rainy months.

By this simple mode of cultivation, there would be no less than six expensive operations saved, to the farmer ; the first is, the taking up the seed ; the second, carrying it to the store-room ; the third, returning it to the field ; the fourth, opening the furrows ; the fifth, putting In the seed ; and the sixth, covering seed.

When all these circumstances are duly considered, it must be admitted that the saving of labour in the culture of potatoes on the island of St. Helena, would be immense ; and consequently that this essential article of food, for man and cattle, ought to be in the greatest abundance, and at very moderate prices ; particularly as St. Helena tenants are neither subjected to high rents, nor to poor-rates, nor to taxes of various descriptions, which bear hard upon English farmers.

These observations on potatoes will shew how little labour is required to bring the new lands into cultivation for corn ; for after enclosing, and paring, and burning the sward, spreading the ashes and twice ploughing and harrowing, the furrows are opened with the plough, the seed dropped in them, and then covered. These last operations are, in fact, a third ploughing ; which will bring the land into the finest state of pulverization and no further trouble, as I have already noticed, will be required for the two or three following crops, than to take them up with the plough about three weeks after the haulm has fallen ; leaving a sufficiency of small potatoes for seed. After the third or fourth crop is gathered, the land may be sown with barley-wheat, without danger from grub or other insects. This process has been successfully pursued at the Plantation-house farm : but if corn be attempted as a first crop, there is great risk of losing it by the ravages of the grub : this is the case in other countries as well as at St. Helena.

You must have observed, from the printed papers I occasionally transmitted to you whilst at Madras, that the main objects of my agricultural pursuits have been the extensive cultivation of corn, potatoes, and all sorts of esculents. The minute details I have given of many successful experiments on a variety of island products, cannot fail in carrying conviction to the mind of every reasonable man, that my views for the improvement of the island, are by no means speculative : being founded on the solid basis of facts incontrovertibly established : and which is, unquestionably, the surest mode of guarding against error.

There are, however, many other points that merit attention. Every thing that tends to increase our internal resources for the support of the inhabitants, or for administering to their comforts, or for the refreshment of ships, is undoubtedly deserving a place in the system that is now carrying on; and which, if pursued with ardour, will ultimately prove of infinite advantage to the landholders, and will tend to relieve this island (in a great degree at least) from its present dependence on other countries.

The virtues of the different species of Nopal, as an antidote for scorbutic disorders, have been so well established by the publications of your worthy relative, the philanthropic and much respected Doctor Anderson, and the advantages Captain Haig derived from the prickly Cactus, which abounds on Ladder Hill, and many other dry places here, afford the strongest arguments in favour of your suggestions on this subject. Due attention shall, therefore, be paid to the appropriation of a part of the Botanic Garden as a nursery for the Kew Nopal ; from whence, after being naturalised to the climate, it might readily be transplanted to the sides of the hills on either side of James' Town: which would serve for utility as well as ornament, and would also be conveniently situated for the supply of shipping.

The prickly, or Mauritius, Cactus, is apparently a hardy species. It grows well even upon the rocky surface, and the sides of Ladder Hill ; and thrives in a colder temperature, both to the northward and southward of Plantation-house, as well as at Long Wood. The hedges that have been already formed at those places, will soon become nurseries for its further propagation and as it possesses a triple advantage, by making the most impervious fences, by being useful as a vegetable, and by guarding itself against goats and other animals, I think that every means should be used to extend its culture.

The plants already growing on Ladder Hill, cover several acres. I shall recommend that the leaves of these, at proper seasons, should be planted all down the north-east point of the mountain : in order that ample supplies of this Cactus may be at hand for the shipping.

I acknowIedge my obligations to you for your endeavours to send supplies of the Nopal and Tuna to this island : but of all you sent, I received no more than sixteen leaves. These arrived in the rainy season, and were immediately put in the soil, but most of them were destroyed by white maggots that had bred in them, which I think is a strong proof they do not delight in moisture.

I concur in your idea that the establishment of a few villages in the interior would be desirable ; but this plan cannot conveniently be carried into effect until husbandry is farther advanced ; for at present most of the necessaries of subsistence, excepting potatoes and vegetables, are brought from James's Town : but when pork shall be raised at the farms, together with grain for feeding poultry and hogs, and wheat also raised, and ground in the interior into flour, the convenience of country habitations will be far greater than at present.

It is certainly a most serious evil that we have scarcely any class of inhabitants who are solely dependant on their own industry. Almost all are paid, clothed, and fed ; and it is to this evil may be traced the want of adequate supplies of milk and butter, of poultry and eggs, and I may well add of fish : for if there were persons here, whose existence solely depended on their exertions to provide those articles, they would be in the greatest plenty and at reasonable prices. The fishery is, indeed, upon the most wretched system. The boats are private property. The fishermen, in general, are either soldiers or slaves ; and as both are clothed and fed, and the former paid, what stimulus can they possibly have to exertion ? They set out in the evening, and have the option of being active, or of going to sleep in the boats ; and if they return in the morning with a very scanty supply, they imagine they have done all that could be expected ; or if they have caught more than they bring to the landing place, the surplus is either sold on shore for money, or to the shipping at the anchorage for spirits. Thus the present St. Helena fishery is unproductive ; tends to promote idleness, dishonesty, and intemperance : and it costs the annual labour of 130 able men : who, after a night's fishing, or sleeping and drinking, in the boats, are little disposed to labour during the day.

I am of opinion that thirty or forty expert fishermen, having an interest in their labour (upon an establishment similar to a South Sea whaler), farming the fishery at a very moderate rate, merely to give an exclusive privilege (as at Batavia, and I believe Columbo), would bring more fish to the inhabitants, and to the market, than the total number of men above-mentioned. This may be fairly presumed, from the comparatively great success of the gentlemen fishing parties when they return from a night's amusement.

From what has been said, you may perceive that a plan might easily be formed for availing ourselves of those innumerable bounties of nature, which are so abundantly spread around this small island. It is said, that not less than seventy-six different kinds of fish are in these seas,[3] some of which are large, and of excellent quality : and if double or triple the quantity that is now supplied to individuals, could, by any means, be procured, it would evidently diminish the demand for imported beef and pork.[4]

In respect to the Chinese, they are a good deal employed in agriculture ; that is, in fencing the lands, in paring and burning in driving carts, in planting and gathering potatoes, and many other offices : and some are already become expert ploughmen. But the establishment here is necessarily different from that in any other place. At Java, at Prince of Wales' Island, and other settlements, I am told, they are the leading persons in farming : and at Ceylon this was unsuccessfully attempted ; for they cultivated nothing more than for their own immediate wants, and were, in consequence of little service to that colony. If provisions were cheap, the experiment might be worth a trial here but, in the present state of St. Helena, it would certainly fail : because, if Chinese had lands, they would do as their neighbours ; for it could not be expected they would sell at lower prices. It was these considerations that induced me to form them into a regular establishment. The Company pay the labourers a shilling a day, and find them in rations ; and by this mode, their military services may be at command, and very useful in aiding the corps of artillery, in dragging of cannon, and carriage of ammunition ; in short. in employments similar to those of the artillery Lascars in India. As they are all placed under the direction of European overseers, it cannot be doubted that much more labour is obtained from them than if they were left to themselves. This mode of management, the Rt. Honourable Lieutenant-General admitted was far better than that he had introduced on the island of Ceylon by giving them lots of land. It is the mode I recommend, as the most advisable at first, in all places where Chinese may be introduced ; and where the prices of the products of the lands are high ; and particularly if the object should be, through their means to reduce those prices.

Your observations on the attraction of moisture and rain, appear to be judicious. Trees have usually been recommended for that purpose. I am of opinion, however, that cultivation has also a tendency to produce the same effect; and in proportion to the extension of arable fields, so will be the increase of moisture. This will readily be conceived by attention to the following facts.

On the 5th of May last, I cut down a square rod of barley wheat, that had been two months in the ground, from the time of sowing. The produce in a green state, was 146 pounds, or about 10 ½ tons per acre. It was carefully collected and dried in the air, until the 26th of May, when it weighed no more than 46 pounds; consequently, 100 pounds of moisture had been evaporated ; and if only half this weight be supposed to have been, at the time of cutting, absorbed In the soil and roots, under the thick shade of an exuberant crop, the total quantity of moisture would be 150 pounds on a square rod, or above ten tons upon an acre. These circumstances lead me to believe there is a more accurate mode of determining the comparative moisture, on ploughed and unploughed lands, than by the vapour glasses lately introduced In England.

As the planting of trees, for useful timber and fuel, is an important object here, I have always intended it should keep pace with cultivation. During the last four years several thousand pineasters and oaks have been set out, and there are still a good many in the nurseries. This year the nurseries are to be established on a larger scale. Every cone from the pineaster and cypress trees at Plantation-house has been collected, as well as the seeds of the Botany Bay willow. These trees, and the indigenous red wood, together with the largest species of Morgossa (Melia Azederach[5]) are, without exception, the finest trees for this island. Their growth is rapid ; they are all evergreens, stand the trade wind in the most exposed situations, are extremely ornamental, and most of them are equally useful for timber as for fuel. Under all these advantages, I should prefer them to the Arabian date for clothing the summits and sides of the highest ridges; and as upon these there is a cooler temperature, and a greater degree of moisture, it may be expected they would. grow with more luxuriance than those in the vicinity of Plantation-house. I do not, however, object to the Arabian date, since It would tend to the objects in view, and would be a valuable acquisition to the fruit trees of St. Helena.

The fermenting balls which you described in the Madras Gazette, of the 22d of February, 1812, were found to surpass even your most sanguine expectations. Some of the passengers in a ship where they were daily used, assured me, that, during the voyage to St. Helena, they had the lightest and finest bread they ever tasted on board ship : they compared their breakfast rolls to the French rolls in London. I should hope that a similar ferment may be produced here, by following your directions, and using the juice of the gum-wood tree, as you recommend, as a substitute for the Palmira, or cocoa-nut toddy.

Permit me to conclude, by expressing my best acknowledgments and thanks for your suggestions, and for the interest you take in the welfare of this island. I have endeavoured to make some return, by conveying to you such information as I conceived might be acceptable.

I am, Sir,
your most obedient, humble Servant,
St. Helena, 17th April, 1813. ALEXANDER BEATSON.

  1. Vide, Section XIX.
  2. A St. Helena bushel is 56 pounds avoirdupois.
  3. The fish most commonly taken and used, are mackarel, albacore, cavalloes, jacks, congers, soldiers, yellow tail, old wives, and bull's eyes ; and of shell-fish, stumps and long legs.
  4. During the active and meritorious administration of Governor Byfield, between the years 1727 and 1731, the quantity of fish caught was more than the blacks could consume. The consequences are stated to have been very advantageous to the Company's interests, by reducing (or rather withdrawing) the demand for salt beef and pork: and it seems the health of those who had formerly subsisted on salted meat, was much improved by a change of diet to fish and potatoes.

    If we suppose a population of 3600 to consume 2400 pounds of fish per day, and the established average price to be two-pence per pound, instead of the present rates, the value would be 201. per day, or more than 70001. a year. This, exclusive of salting fish, would be a good speculation for a few professed fishermen from England ; having proper fishing-boats like those used at Brighton. In these they might anchor at the distant fishing banks, and daily send on shore the fish in the smaller boats.

    Extracts from the General Letters to England regarding the Fishery, 1727 to 1731.

    1727. May 6th. Paragraph 36. "We have taken care that your blacks have always had their belly full of provision. We still get fish in great plenty, and have done so the year round, and in the coldest weather ; and don't at all doubt of getting tile like plenty this year ; for we don't loiter our time and dream out our days, but attend to our duty and mind your interest. if the fish, in cold weather, go a great way out into deep water, where our yawls can't lay, we get coarse salt on the mountains, fit out our long-boat, and go after them, and catch what we want, and salt them upon the spot ; and it often happens that they return with a very great quantity of neat fish, after their guts are out and their heads off. Those who say otherwise deceive you : what we write is truth."

    Paragraph 27. "No care is wanting to keep your blacks in heart, that they may be able to labour : and for this last twelvemonth, in which they have been fed with fish, have been more healthy than in any one year."

    1728-9, February 22d. Paragraph 7. "Your Honours' slaves, of whom we had the misfortune to loose five, together with the long-boat, as they were going for lime (as your Honours will see in our consultation of the 29th of October), have enjoyed their health since they have been fed with fish remarkably better than they ever did, when, at a very great expense, they were allowed salt provisions : and we have had, and still have, such good fortune in our fishery that we weekly catch more than they can well consume, and doubt not but our faithful endeavours to secure your Honours from any charge upon this account, will be attended with the like good success for the time to come : so that those who formerly told your Honours that fish were not to be had the year round, did it on purpose to deceive you : or knew not what they said-which latter seems most likely."

    March 30th. Paragraph 24. "We have still such good luck in our fishery, that we often catch more than your blacks can eat ; and we will be particularly careful to save your Honours the heavy charge of salt beef and pork."

    1729, December 10th. Paragraph 6. "Your slaves continue to thrive upon their diet of fish and potatoes. We hear very little now of fluxes, aching bones, or pains in the belly, though when they were fed with salt provisions, it was common to have 20 or 30 of them laid up at a time. Their food is now wholesome and not expensive ; the great plenty of fish which we still continue to catch, having effectually secured you from the former heavy charge of salt meat, and we faithfully assure your Honours we have exerted ourselves in such manner, that there is no likelihood you should again be at that expense it was what gave us great disturbance and uneasiness, and we could not rest till we had found means to remedy it."

    1730, April 19th. Paragraph 18. "We continue to catch fish in great plenty, with which your blacks are very well pleased."

    May 26th. Paragraph 2. "In our several letters this season we have been so full and particular in our account of matters of most consequence, that we have little material to lay before you now ; that of greatest moment is, to acquaint your Honours that having, with great pains and industry, supplied your blacks for these last three years with great plenty of fish, the greatest part of that superfluous chargeable cargo of salt provisions, sent for by Mr. Smith, at a great expense to your Honours, lies upon our hands unsold."

    1731, April 2d. Paragraph 17. "We will dispose of the salt beef as well as we can ; the blacks will little want it, for we still continue to catch fish in great plenty, and that yearly saves your Honours a great sum.

    December 28th. Paragraph 6, "We have still good luck in our fishery the year round ; upon which, and beef and pork, your blacks are plentifully fed."

  5. I have, at present, some beautiful specimens of the Melia, from seed received from Dr. Roxburgh, which was sown on the 26th of February, 1812. The young trees were transplanted on the 3d of October, 1812, and some are now three feet high, spreading out horizontal branches, and forming a thick foliage about four feet in diameter. The young trees when transplanted at seven months growth, had tap-roots, like a small parsnip. These roots were as long as the stems above ground, and both together, of the largest plants, measured from 18 to 24 inches. They are, therefore, peculiarly suited to this climate ; and are, by far, the best of all the Indian trees I have received. Neither the Teak nor Sissoo seed, nor any other of the many timber trees, for which I am indebted to Dr. Roxburgh's kindness and attention have succeeded at Plantation-house ; notwithstanding they were sown and treated according to his directions. However, the trees I have enumerated would be sufficient for every purpose ; and if the planting system be followed up, St. Helena, in the course of even twenty years, would yield a considerable supply of useful timber, and abound with fuel.

 Section XXVIII