FROM THE DISCOVERY OF THE ISLAND, TO
THE YEAR 1673.
Discovery of the Island. — Its first inhabitants. — The Portuguese abandon St. Helena. — The Dutch settle on it, and likewise abandon it. — Settlement formed by the East-India Company, and confirmed by charter. — The Island taken by the Dutch, and retaken the same year. — Taken again by the Dutch, and recovered by Sir Richard Munden.
AT the period of the discovery of a passage to the Eastern World by doubling the Cape of Good Hope, the traffic between Europe and India was carried on by the Moors. This jealous people, regarding the arrival of the Portuguese in that quarter as an alarming invasion of their commerce, determined, by secret treachery as well as open hostility, to circumvent the projects of such formidable rivals. Their intrigues, and the perfidy of the Zamorim of Callicut, involved the Portuguese in a war with that prince; and King Emmanuel, to give a decided superiority to the Portuguese arms, equipped a fleet of twenty sail for the eastern seas. This armament was commanded by the celebrated Vasco de Gama, who proceeded a second time on a voyage round the Cape of Good Hope. But before lie sailed from Lisbon, three ships had been dispatched as a reinforcement to Pedro Alvarez de Cabral, the Portuguese admiral in India. This force, under the command of John de Nova, a gentleman of noble family, attacked and defeated a fleet belonging to the Zamorim. Nova having been shortly after appointed commodore of the returning ships from India, discovered, on the 21 st of May 1501 (the anniversary of Helena, mother to the Emperor Constantine), the island which is the subject of the present pages, three years and six months after De Gama had first doubled the southern promontory of Africa. The event was attended by the loss of one of the fleet, which a tradition (now nearly forgotten) states to have happened off Deep Valley. St. Helena was then inhabited only by sea-fowl, and occasionally by seals, sea-lions, and turtle. No other animals are said to have been found upon it, and it is supposed that this was the first time its shore had ever been visited by human footstep. The interior of the island was one entire forest; and even some of the precipices overhanging the sea were covered with gum-wood trees. The other indigenous productions, besides the trees and shrubs mentioned in the preceding chapter, were the wire or doop grass of India, wild celery, samphire, and probably purslain, and water-cresses, which, with the advantage of fine water in abundance, a mild climate, productive soil, and commodious anchorage, situated in the direct track of ships sailing from India to Europe, rendered St. Helena of infinite importance in the estimation of its discoverers.
But what chiefly contributed to improve its advantages, were the labours of Fernandez Lopez, an unfortunate nobleman, of whom a curious incident is recorded in a Portuguese history of their discoveries, and is corroborated by a note in the Introduction to Camoens' Lusiad. After a victory gained near Goa by the celebrated Alphonso Albuquerque [their Governor-General], the Indian commander, Rosto Mocus, was compelled by the articles of capitulation to give up some Portuguese noblemen who had deserted, and become apostates. They were delivered up, on condition that their lives should be spared; but Albuquerque determined to make a terrible example; and after mutilating them in the most cruel manner, by cutting off their noses, cars right hands, and the little finger of their left hands, sent them on board the ships for Europe. Thus degraded and mangled, the prospect of re-visiting friends and country afforded no consolation to the mind of Fernandez Lopez, one of the sufferers. Unwilling to encounter the ignominy which his crimes had occasioned, he preferred a voluntary exile; and was, in the year 1513, at his own request, landed at St. Helena, with a few negro slaves. Such were the first inhabitants of the island. It often happens, that when the degree of punishment exceeds, or is even no move than proportioned to the crime, indignation against the offender is lost in commiseration of his sufferings: and it is not surprising that many were solicitous to afford Lopez every comfort and convenience which his forlorn condition would admit. Hogs, goats, and poultry, were landed for his sustenance; partridges, pheasants, guinea-fowl, pea-cocks, and other wild fowl, were let loose; roots and vegetables of various sorts were also introduced, and figs, oranges, lemons, and peach-trees planted. A taste for botany and gardening proved a seasonable relief to his wretchedness, and lightened the burden of many an hour. His knowledge in the management of fruit-trees enabled him to select the situations best suited to each kind, and to bring them to great perfection. Supplies of moisture for his plantations and garden-grounds were obtained from several springs, the discovery of which is ascribed to his researches. The live-stock and wild-fowl increased abundantly under his fostering protection, and in a few years overspread the face of the country. In occupations like these, more humble, but assuredly more praiseworthy, than those that had recently engaged his attention, he passed four years; at the end of which period he was removed from the island by orders from Portugal.
The Portuguese were anxious to conceal the situation of the island from the knowledge of other nations, and are said to have succeeded in keeping the secret until the 8th of June 1588, when it was descried, at day-break, about seven or eight leagues distance, by Captain Cavendish, who was on his return from a circumnavigating voyage. The lightness of the breeze prevented him from getting in that day; but the following morning a boat was sent to discover a convenient anchorage, which was chosen opposite Chapel Valley, in twelve fathom water. The state of the island at that period is circumstantially described by the writer of Captain Cavendish's voyage, in the following words: "The same day, about two or three o'clock in the afternoon, we went on shore, where we found an exceeding fair and pleasant valley, wherein divers handsome buildings and houses were set up; and one particularly, which was a church, was tiled, and whitened on the outside very fair, and made with a porch; and within the church, at the upper end, was set an altar, whereon stood a very large table, set in a frame, having on it the picture of our Saviour Christ upon the cross, and the image of our Lady praying, with divers other histories painted curiously on the same. The sides of the church were hung round with stained cloths, having many devices drawn on them.
"There are two houses adjoining to the church, on each side one, which served for a kitchen to dress meat in, with necessary rooms, and houses of office. The coverings of the said houses are made flat, where is planted a very fair vine; and through both the said houses runneth a very good and wholesome stream of fresh water.
"There is also over and against the church a very fair causeway, made up with stones, reaching unto a valley by the sea side, in which valley is planted a garden, wherein grows a great store of pompions and melons; and upon the said causeway is a frame erected; whereon hang two bells, wherewith they ring to mass; and near to it a cross is set up, which is squared, framed, and made very artificially of free-stone, whereon is carved in cyphers what time it was built, which was in the year of our Lord 1571.
"The valley is the fairest and largest low plot in all the island, and is exceedingly sweet and pleasant, and planted in. every place either with fruit or with herbs.
"There are fig-trees which bear fruit continually, and very plentifully; for on every tree you may see blossoms, green figs, and ripe figs, all at once, and it is so all the year long. The reason is, that the island standeth so near the sun. There is also great store of lemon-trees, orange-trees, pomegranate-trees, pome-citron-trees, and date-trees, which bear fruit as the fig-trees do, and are planted carefully, and very artificially, with pleasant walks under and between them; and the said walks are overshadowed with the leaves of the trees; and in every void place is planted parsley, sorrel, basil, fennel, anniseed, mustard-seed, radishes, and many very good herbs. The fresh-water brook runneth through divers places of this orchard, and may, with very pains, be made to water any tree in the valley.
"This fresh-water stream cometh from the tops of the mountains, and falleth from the cliff into the valley the height of a cable, and hath many arms issuing out of it, that refresh the whole island, and almost every tree in it. The island is altogether high mountains and steep valleys, except it be on the tops of some hills, and down below in some of the valleys, where great plenty of all those fruits before spoken of do grow. There are much more growing on the tops of the mountains than below in the valleys; but it is very toilsome and dangerous travelling up unto them and down again, by reason of the height and steepness of the hills.
"There are also upon this island great store of partridges, which are very tame, not making any great haste to fly away, though one come very near them, but only run away, and get up into the cliffs. We killed some of them with a fowling-piece. They differ very much from our partridges which are in England, both in bigness and also in colour, and live in coveys, twelve, sixteen, and twenty together. You cannot go ten or twelve score paces but you shall spring one or two coveys at least.
"There are likewise no less plenty of pheasants in the island, which are also very big and fat, surpassing those which are in our country in bigness and numbers in a company; they differ not very much in colour from the partridges before spoken of. We found moreover in this island plenty of guinea-cocks, which we call turkeys, of colour black and white, with red heads; they are much the same in bigness with ours in England; their eggs are white, and as big as a turkey's egg.
"There are in this island thousands of goats, which the Spaniards call cabritos, which are very wild; you shall see one or two hundred of them together, and sometimes you may see them go in a flock almost a mile long; some of them (whether it be the nature of the breed of them, or the country, I know not) are as big as an ass, with a mane like a horse, and a beard hanging down to the very ground; they will climb up the cliffs, which are so steep that a man would think it impossible that any living creature could go there. We took and killed many of them, for all their swiftness, for there are thousands of them upon the mountains.
"Here are, in like manner, great store of swine, which are very wild and fat, and of great bigness; they keep altogether upon the mountains, and will very seldom abide any man to come near them, except it be by mere chance, when they are found asleep, or otherwise, according to their kind, are taken lying in the mire.
"We found in the houses, at our coming, three slaves, who were Negroes, and one who was born in the island of Java, who told us that the East Indian fleet, which were in number five sail, the least whereof was in burden eight or nine hundred tons, all laden with spices and Callicut cloth, with store of treasure, and very rich stones and pearls, were gone from the said island of St. Helena but twenty days before we came hither.
"When the Portuguese touch at the island, they have all things in plenty for their relief, by reason that they suffer none to inhabit there that might eat up all the produce of the island, except some very few sick persons of their company, whom they suspect will not live until they come home; these they leave there to refresh themselves, and take them away the year following, with the other fleet, if they live so long." Captain Cavendish remained at the island twelve days.
The next British commander that visited St. Helena was Captain Abraham Kendall, of the ship Royal Merchant: which, with the Penelope, Captain Raymond, and the Bonaventure, Captain James Lancaster, were fitted out from London, in the year 1591, on an East-India voyage. On their arrival at the Cape of Good Hope, the Royal Merchant, was obliged to put back to England. The other two ships were afterwards separated in a violent gale of wind, and the Admiral was never heard of more. Captain Lancaster proceeded to India; and, after many disasters, reached St. Helena on the 3rd of April 1593. Here he found a man (John Segar) who had formerly belonged to the Royal Merchant, and had been left behind, from that ship, on her return home. The poor creature was diseased in his mind, apparently from apprehensions that all probability was cut off of re-visiting his native land; and such was the effect of his joy, at once more beholding the faces of his countrymen, that for eight days lie took no natural rest, and died, literally for want of sleep. Captain Lancaster remained nineteen days at St. Helena; from whence he was compelled by distress to steer to St. Domingo, where his ship drove out to sea, with only five men on board, and Captain Lancaster arrived in England, in a French vessel, the 24th of May 1594. This was the first voyage undertaken to India by English merchants; and a second was equally unfortunate; for out of three ships, which sailed in 1596 from England, not one returned. No further attempt was made by the English to open a traffic with the East, until the incorporation of the India Company. That event, so memorable in the commercial annals of England, took place in the year 1600, under the auspices of Queen Elizabeth. They opened their concern with a capital of seventy-two thousand pounds; part of which was immediately laid out in the equipment of four ships, viz. the Dragon, Hector, Ascension, and Susan, all under the command of Captain Lancaster. In the occurrences of this voyage the importance of St. Helena was most advantageously experienced by the Company. After successful negociations, by which the Indian trade was opened and established, the Ascension and Susan were sent to England, laden with spices, and were followed by Captain Lancaster, in the Dragon, accompanied by the Hector. These two ships encountered a violent tempest, off the Cape of Good Hope, which occasioned the loss of the Dragon's rudder; and after extreme difficulties and hardships, they reached St. Helena on the 16th of June. In the shelter of this safe and commodious haven Captain Lancaster repaired his damages, whilst an abundance of wild goats and other refreshments, obtained on shore, gave new vigour and renovation to his exhausted men; and on the 11th of September 1603 they arrived safe in England.
At this period St. Helena was likewise known to the Dutch and Spaniards; and their ships' crews not only procured refreshment during their stay, but the salt, deposited by the seawater in the hollows of rocks, was applied in curing the fresh provisions for sea store. The Dutch, however, are accused of destroying the stock, and laying waste the plantations, to distress the Spaniards; who, in their turn, are charged with retaliation by repeating the mischief.
The ambition of the court of Lisbon to acquire Eastern dominion was well seconded by some of its viceroys there, who carried their conquests from the confines of China to the eastern shores of Africa; and the Portuguese flag was displayed in the ports of Sofola, Mombaza, Melinda, Magadoza, Mozambique, and other places. These acquisitions seem, in their opinion, to have obviated the necessity of retaining St. Helena, which was accordingly deserted, and remained for a long time desolate. It is, indeed, asserted, that the Portuguese were driven out of it by the Dutch, who succeeded the former in the possession of the island, and retained it till the year 1651, when they established a colony at the Cape of Good Hope, and abandoned St. Helena. On this event, the English East-India Company settled on it in the same year; and obtained, ten years after, a continuation of it to them, by charter from King Charles the Second. By this charter they were privileged to export for the infant colony, duty free, all kinds of provisions, stores, ordnance, ammunition, and every thing requisite for the supply and defence of whatever garrisons or fortifications they might think proper to maintain, or erect, on the island; they were also empowered to send thither any persons desirous of becoming settlers, and to govern them in such legal and reasonable manner as the Company might judge fit. The offers held out upon this occasion were accepted by many; who, on their arrival, had lands allotted them. Additional supplies of black cattle were procured from Madagascar; yams were introduced from the same quarter. Some slaves were likewise imported from thence, to work in the plantations; and, after the year 1666, the island received a considerable increase of inhabitants by the dreadful fire in London, which ruined so many families, and, like other public calamities, induced numbers to seek relief in distant climes. An opinion has prevailed, that St. Helena was assigned, together with Bombay and Tangier, by the Portuguese, to the English, as part of the dower of Catherine, Queen to Charles the Second; but this supposition is not justified by any authentic information, and is evidently erroneous, as the marriage of King Charles with that Princess did not take place until two years after he had assigned St. Helena, by charter, to the Company.
The Dutch, probably regretting the advantages they had relinquished in the safe and convenient port of St. Helena, as well as from a desire to distress our commerce, availed themselves of the war which broke out between England and Holland, in the year 1665, and made a successful attack on the island; but they did not long retain their conquest; for, in less than twelve months, the English again recovered their possession. This occurrence is twice noticed in Anderson's History of Commerce, but he does not mention any particulars.
No fortifications seem to have been built on it by the Portuguese or Dutch. The first fort of which we have any information, is said to have been a triangular redoubt, erected in the year 1665, on the site of the present Government-house, and called Fort James, probably, in compliment to the Duke of York (afterwards King James the Second), who was all active patron of commerce, and at the head of an African Company. The appellation of James's Valley is derived from the old fort, and that of Chapel Valley from the Portuguese chapel, the ruins of which were visible when the island was first settled by the English. This chapel was constructed with the timber saved from the Portuguese ship that had been wrecked off Deep Valley. It is mentioned by Tavernier, who visited St. Helena in 1649, as having been the residence of a Portuguese Franciscan for the period of fourteen years.
From the deficiency of records, until the year 1673, it is impossible to attain a particular knowledge of events prior to that period. Oral tradition must, therefore, supply the want of more authentic documents. The memory of an aged slave, who had been brought to the island at the time of its first settlement by the English, is the only authority we have for the names of the first five Governors, viz. Dutton, Stringer, Swallow, Coney, and Bennett. The next successor was Captain Anthony Beale; during whose government, in the latter part of the year 1672, the Dutch attempted to land at Lemon Valley, but were assailed by such tremendous showers of rocks and stones, rolled upon them from the precipices on either side, that they found a further advance impracticable. They retreated to their ships, and remained off the island until night; when they were directed, by the light of a fire, to a landing-place, called Bennett's Point, said to have derived that appellation from the planter's name who kept watch with his slave there. The commonly received opinion is, that the Dutch killed the planter, and that the slave guided them up the country; but there is also a report that the master offered his services to the enemy, and that the slave was put to death, to prevent his giving evidence, at any subsequent period, of that treachery. The latter account is more consistent with a statement, mentioned twelve years after this period, on record; wherein W. Coxe, a planter, is declared to have been the person who betrayed the island to the Dutch. If this was the case, the landing-place probably took its name from its having been adopted as a post of observation by Governor Bennett. The enemy, consisting of about five hundred men, marched up Swanley Valley: but this access must have since undergone a great change (apparently from repeated torrents of rain), as very few, among the most active and agile natives of the island, can now travel there, without infinite difficulty and danger. Upon the arrival of the Dutch near High Peak, it is said they were met by a detachment from the garrison, and a skirmish ensued, in which the English were overpowered by numbers, and routed. The victors then proceeded to Ladder Hill, and marched a party down to attack the fort, where they were repulsed several times; but as they were in possession of the hill, which completely commands the town, the English Governor did not deem the fort tenable, and retired, with his people and their most valuable effects, on board some English and French ships then in the Roads.
In the list of Governors contained in Lieutenant Leech's MS. the name of Dyke appears, as successor to Kedgwin; but the official records prove, that the latter was immediately succeeded by Field. Dyke must, therefore, have been the Dutch officer's name who was left in command when the island was taken; and, consequently, the predecessor, not the successor, of Kedgwin. Whatever records might have been extant at this period, must have been either lost, or destroyed, or taken away by Governor Beale, as it is not known that any were found when the English recovered their possession: but information respecting several occurrences which happened immediately after that event, had been preserved in some notes and memoranda, by a very respectable and intelligent inhabitant, who died, at an advanced age, in the year 1769. As this gentleman had frequent opportunities of conversing with those who had a perfect recollection of the circumstances, and as his testimony is corroborated, in some material points, by the official records, we have every reason to believe it correct. The ships in which the Governor and his followers sought refuge proceeded to the coast of Brazil, where a British squadron, consisting of his Majesty's ships Assistance, Levant, and Castle fire-ship; and the Company's ship Mary and Martha soon after arrived. The squadron was commanded by Captain (afterwards Sir Richard) Munden, who appears to have been ordered to St. Helena for the purpose of giving convoy to the East-India homeward-bound fleet. That he should have gone so far to the westward as the coast of South America is not surprising when we consider the very circuitous track pursued in times much more recent, by ships performing the same passage. This deviation from the direct course afforded him intelligence of the capture of the island, and enabled him to make the necessary preparations for its recovery, which he was resolved to attempt.
Among those that retreated from St. Helena with Governor Beale, was a negro, called Black Oliver, who had lived some years on the island, and had a thorough knowledge of its interior, as well as exterior, parts. This man, on his arrival at Brazil, was sold to a Portuguese there, from whom Sir Richard redeemed him, and had reason to congratulate himself on the happy consequences which resulted from this transaction. The squadron arrived off the island about the evening of the 14th of May 1673, unobserved by the Dutch; who, had they kept any kind of look out, might have made an opposition that would have occasioned some bloodshed. On the following morning, about three o'clock, a party of two hundred men, commanded by Captain R. Kedgwin, an officer of the Assistance, were conducted by the faithful Oliver to Prosperous Bay (whence its name). They landed at a place now called Kedgwin's Rock, and proceeded to an accessible part of the precipice above the bay, which the most active man of the party ascended, taking with him a ball of twine, to which a rope was afterwards fastened, and hauled up, and thus enabled the others to follow. Whilst he was in the act of climbing this difficult ascent, his comrades below frequently called to him by name to hold fast, and "hold fast, Tom," is the appellation by which the spot has been ever since known. Jonathan Higham, a soldier employed on this service, who afterwards settled on the island, was often heard to say, that, had twenty men opposed them from above, their advance would have been effectually prevented. After the whole detachment gained the heights, they marched, through Long Wood, to the Hutts, where they arrived about daybreak; and, after stopping for refreshment at a farm-house there, the ruins of which are still to be seen, they proceeded to the summit of Rupert's Hill, on the east side of James's Valley. At the same time, Sir Richard Munden appearing with his ships before the town, it immediately surrendered, without the loss of a man on either side. Among other measures adopted by Sir Richard for securing his conquest, two pieces of ordnance were placed on that part of Rupert's Hill which projects towards the sea, now called Munden's Point. This at once accounts for its name, without having recourse, to the laboured and improbable tradition, that the party who took the island were landed from off the sprit-sail yard of the Assistance, upon Munden's point, and that the place derives its name from that circumstance. Even admitting it to be possible that a ship of war could approach sufficiently near to effect a disembarkation in so unusual a style; it is clear that a party on Munden's Point rocks, having no communication with the town, except by the sea, or by climbing a precipice nearly perpendicular, could have been of little service in reducing the garrison.
In the mean time, intelligence had reached Holland of the taking of St. Helena from the English; and a ship, called the Europe, was immediately dispatched for the island, with a new Governor on board, who, upon his arrival, found himself, unexpectedly, a prisoner to Sir Richard Munden: and, by the stratagem of displaying the Dutch flag, Sir Richard soon after decoyed six India ships of that nation so close in, that their Vice and Rear Admirals were taken, with a great quantity of silver on board, The remaining four escaped, merely through the impatience of the English, who prematurely commenced the attack.
On Sir Richard Munden's departure from St. Helena, he left the government in charge of Captain Kedgwin, with detachments from the different ships, amounting, in the whole, to one hundred and sixty persons; in which number was included a Captain Gregory Field, from the ship Levant, who was afterwards Governor.