THE island of St. Helena is situated in 15° 55' south latitude, and 5° 49' west longitude from Greenwich. It lies within the limit of tile south-east trade wind, and is distant 400 leagues from the coast of Africa, the nearest continent. The extreme length of the island is 10½ miles, its breadth 6¾, its circumference about 28 miles, and its surface, in acres, 30,300.
The island, when observed at sea, presents to the eye the appearance of an abrupt and rugged rock, divested of tree, shrub, or herbage. A nearer approach brings in view the central eminences, distinguished by a softer outline, clothed with verdure, and towering to the clouds. Advancing still nearer, the scene again changes, and the green summits are shut from sight by the intervening craggy and stupendous cliffs, that seem to overhang the sea. Their great elevation excites in the mind of a stranger an idea of being too near the land; whilst the seaman, acquainted with the coast, proceeds safely to the anchorage which may be within a cable's length of the shore: and in his progress, the exterior aspect of the island, and the disposition of its batteries and military works, impress an opinion of defensive strength. On rounding Munden's Point the eye is suddenly relieved by a view of the town, seated in a narrow valley between two lofty mountains; and the interspersion of trees among the white houses, has an effect picturesque and pleasing in a high degree. This valley, known by the name of James's Valley, is on the N. W. and leeward side of the island, in which situation there is good anchorage from 8 to 25 fathoms; and fresh water is conveyed in leaden pipes to the wharf, from a spring at two miles distance, which affords a plentiful supply.
Malham, in his Naval Gazetteer, states "the greatest rise and fall of water, at the time of new and full moon, to be 39 inches, and that it does not sensibly differ for the space of twenty minutes at the time of high and low water." But Captain Leigh, of the honorable Company's ship Georgiana, who has been long on the St. Helena station, and, of course, has had many opportunities of forming an accurate judgement, has observed the rise sometimes to exceed 5 feet. The variation of the compass, in 1768, was 12° 47' west; and, in 1796, was 15° 47' 30". The surf, at times, is tremendous, particularly about Christmas, and many lives were lost in approaching and leaving the shore, until a new wharf and landing-place were constructed by Governor Brooke.
Upon landing, and passing the draw-bridge, the way leads between a line of heavy guns and a double row of trees, of a lively green, generally in full leaf, being a species of the banian of India, and named in Bengal the peepel tree. The town is entered by an arched gateway, under a rampart, or terrace, forming one side of a parade about 100 feet square. This parade, were it not disfigured by some mean buildings on the right, would have a handsome appearance. On the left side are the government-house and main guard-room: the former is inclosed with a wall, having the semblance of embrazures, and is called the Castle. It contains the Governor's habitation, and the offices of government. The church, fronting the gateway, is a neat, and not inelegant edifice. The principal street commences between it and a pallisade inclosing the Company's garden. It consists of twenty-eight houses, most of them neat and well constructed, and, divides into two other streets; one on the east, leading to that side of the country; the other proceeding to the upper part of the valley, where are situated the barracks, the new garden, and the hospital. In this street there are a number of shops, well stored with European and Indian commodities; but the houses in general are far inferior to those in the lower part of the town, where the principal inhabitants reside.
The two hills, or ridges, between which, the town is situated, are Rupert's on the cast, and Ladder Hill on the west.
The roads by which access is gained into the interior, are formed on the sides of these hills, and the ascent is so easy and safe, that carts and oxen pass along without danger or difficulty. For the first mile or two, the traveller observes little else than nakedness and sterility, but his curiosity is soon gratified by the sudden prospect of verdure, woody heights, neat dwellings, and cultivated plantations.
The island is unequally divided by a lofty chain, or ridge of hills, running nearly east and west in a curved direction, and bending to the south at each extremity. From this chain alternate ridges and valleys branch off in various directions, but chiefly north and south. Diana's Peak, towards the cast end of this chain, is the highest point of the island, and rises nearly 2700 feet above the level of the sea. From the summit of this peak no point intercepts the horizon; the whole island is beneath the scope of vision; the ridges and hollows diverging from the chain are traced to the sea. Houses and plantations diversify the prospect, and the contrast of verdant and naked mountains forcibly strikes the attention, and renders the scene at once novel, picturesque, and majestic.
The summits and sides of most of the interior heights are wooded with the cabbage-tree of the island, the red-wood, string-wood, dog-wood, and other indigenous trees and shrubs; and in situations less elevated, the gum-wood was formerly to be found in great abundance; but at present few trees of this kind are left standing, except at Long Wood, where they have been protected by the injunctions of the Company, and cover unequally a surface of nearly 1500 acres.
Clear and wholesome springs issue from the sides of almost every hill; but as they have neither volume nor sufficient length of current, they form only inconsiderable rills. From this circumstance it happens that in a country so calculated to produce picturesque cascades, there are no falls of water of any magnitude. One stream projects its whole quantity from a
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|The Barn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||2015|
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|Long Wood House . . . . . .||1762|
|Official country residence of the Lieutenant-Governor.|
height of about 300 feet perpendicular, but becomes a shower before it reaches the cavity below: when, indeed, it is swollen by torrents, it descends in a continuous column, but its effect and beauty are in that case tarnished by the mud involved in its mass.
It is somewhat remarkable, that whilst many of these springs and rills abate considerably, or are entirely dried up, after any long intermission of rain, a few remain undiminished. There are, in particular, two streams, one in Fisher's Valley, and the other at the Briars, which are thought to be enlarged in size during a continuance of dry weather, and at such times seem to glide with increased velocity, transparent and pure. This circumstance, if the volume of the streams really be increased, is irreconcilable to the common hypothesis, that all springs are supplied from the clouds. But there is a possibility, that, at a season of severe drought, when the other springs are much diminished, or totally dried up, there may be some deception in the appearance of a current, which, continuing the same, may seem to be increased. The fact should be established by actual measurement, before a new system be founded upon it. The other springs on elevated situations are obviously supplied by the rains, or the clouds, which are so constantly in contact with the summit of the hills, where moisture is so abundant and the springs are numerous. In lower situations, some of the springs, which are also dependent upon the fall of rain, are not so immediately affected from this cause; but require a considerable time to manifest their abundance. This is remarkable of a spring at the Governor's country residence which supplies the High Knoll aqueduct. The heaviest fall of rain does not affect it till after the lapse of weeks, when it shows the recruit of water that it has received; and it continues to supply a plenteous stream much longer than many other springs. Possibly this may be the case, in a greater degree, with springs which are in a still lower situation. But if the quantity of water that issues from the springs at the Briars, and in Fisher's Valley, be actually increased in the time of severe drought, the extraordinary supply must be accounted for upon different principles.
It would be difficult, perhaps, in any country, to meet with a more uncommon and romantic prospect than Sandy Bay, when seen from parts of the main ridge. Though in general a bird's-eye view lies before the spectator, hills rise above him to an elevation much greater than the spot on which he stands. Those on the left, richly clothed with trees to the very summits, display a wonderful contrast to the wild and grotesque nakedness that, triumphs on the right, where shelving cliffs, surmounted by huge perpendicular or spiral masses of rock, are multiplied under every shape and aspect. The downward view consists of a variety of ridges, eminences, and ravines, converging towards the sea, into one common valley. Among this scenery are interspersed the dwellings of planters, the different forms of gardens and plantations, and the pasturing of cattle; the prospect closing with the distant sea, rushing in between two black, craggy cliffs, which the surf whitens with its spray. The infinite diversity of tint that overspreads the whole of this extraordinary picture, the majesty of one part, the reposing beauty of another, and the horror of a third, cannot fail to delight and astonish every observer of nature.
The Governor's country residence, which lies about three miles from the town, is called the Plantation-House, and is a well-built, handsome edifice, erected in the years 1791 and 1792. Art has been combined with nature to render this, in the opinion of many, the most beautiful spot on the island. Here the landscape-painter has a fine subject for his pencil; and a considerable fund of amusement is afforded to the botanist. Not only the indigenous productions of the island, but plants and trees from distant and opposite climes have been introduced within the inclosure. The mimosa of New South Wales, the pine of the North, and the bamboo of India, seem to outvie each other in the luxuriance of their growth.
Thunder, lightning, or storms, rarely disturb the serenity of this mild atmosphere, in which so small a portion of electric fluid is supposed to exist, that it was imagined a machine for collecting it would be useless: but experiment has exposed the error of this supposition.
In James's Town, the thermometer, in the shade, seldom rises above 80 degrees; but the reflected heat from the sides of the Valley, when there is little wind, and the sky is clear, resembles that of India. In the country the temperature is much more moderate and uniform. Sir Joseph Banks, on being furnished with a professional report from the Company's botanist at St. Helena, made the following observations upon it
"From this abstract it appears, that the summer, in that elevated situation (the Plantation-House), is not so hot as in England, 72° being the highest point at which the thermometer was observed in 1788, while 76° is marked as the point of our summer heat. The winter is also much milder than ours, ranging between the 55th and 56th degrees of Fahrenheit's scale; a temperature in which the vegetation of leaves proceeds with more equability, perhaps, than any other.
The rain is divided more after the manner of our temperate climates than of the tropical ones; every month has its share; and the July, August, and September seem to be the stormy seasons there, with more rainy days in February than in either of those months. Cloudy days also exceed in number, almost two to one, those in which the rays of the sun fall upon the earth without interruption, and scorch the vegetation. This is particularly suited to pasture and trees, but not to the ripening of European fruits. The timber which grows on the upper part of Madeira would answer here."
Iron ore is said to be found in some parts of the island, but any idea of its fusion is precluded by the scarcity of fuel. Appearances also of gold and copper ore have been discovered. In Turk's-cap Bay there exist veins of a stone which takes a beautiful polish, and some of it will bear cutting for seals. Lime is plentiful, and some of it of an excellent quality, being a concretion of sand and shells. The Sandy Bay lime seems to partake of the quality of puzzolana, by hardening in water; but the cement used in ordinary buildings is generally mud, which, in many parts of the island, answers exceedingly well.
The soil inclines to clay, and loam abounds in saline particles, and is of a greater depth, by many feet, than is requisite for the purposes of agriculture. In this medium climate, it is well adapted to both European and Indian productions. The wood of the cabbage-tree is very durable, and answers well for rafters; the redwood (a species of ebony), and the gum-wood, are also valuable for the purposes of building but the latter must be kept from the influence of the weather. Of this tree there are three kinds, (all evergreens,) the common, the bastard, and the dwarf gum-wood. The last is generally called the shrub, or scrub-wood: it seldom attains a greater height than three feet; but some of the old inhabitants remember to have seen it much higher. This, as well as the first-mentioned species, bears a blossom somewhat resembling the daisy in Europe. The common gum-wood, when it arrives at maturity, has a tolerably straight stem, about 20 or 30 feet high, and spreads its branches and leaves like an umbrella. The bastard kind, has less of this peculiarity, and its leaves are smoother, and of a deeper tint, and do not possess the gummy texture so perceptible in the other two sorts. Its blossoms are in small bunches. From the trunks of all three an aromatic gum exudes, which renders the wood extremely pleasant when used as fuel. A liquid of a sweet flavor, which the natives call toddy, issues spontaneously from the trunk of the common and bastard gum-wood. It is obtained by means of a bottle on the tree, so placed as to catch the natural exudation, which fills in the course of a night.
The constant moisture which prevails on Diana's Peak and other woody eminences in its vicinity, seems to favor the theory that trees have an attractive influence on the clouds. That in woody countries there exists a greater degree of humidity than in places divested of that clothing is a fact which experience has placed beyond all doubt. But it is a circumstance which may be remarked, that in no part of St. Helena are trees so numerous as at Long Wood, and yet few situations on the island are so little benefited by rain: whilst a barren eminence, not above two miles distant from it, is deluged with torrents. During the fourteen years that Lieutenant-Governor Robson had his official residence at Long Wood, it was his constant complaint, that, when flattered by hopes of deriving benefit from clouds which he saw rise to windward and approach towards his grounds, his expectations were disappointed by a change in their direction towards the higher grounds, whether wooded or barren.
The clouds, floating at a certain height in the atmosphere, yield humidity to the higher parts of the island without discharging any moisture on the low lands; where, after a long continuance of drought, the roots of grass, &c. perish. The earth, in consequence, loses its adhesion, and when a heavy fall of rain occurs, it is washed from the declivities, which are thus divested of the means of vegetation, and either deepen into gullies, or stand in the form of prominences, where the texture is sufficiently hard to resist the effects of the rain; which seems to be the natural history of all the barren ridges that in fantastic figures terminate abruptly at the sea, and form the exterior of the island.
From these causes the luxuriance of vegetation increases in proportion to distance and height from the sea; and upon the very summits of the interior hills oxen are to be seen up to their knees in grass; and the process of digestion being forwarded by the repose which the animal enjoys from the general diffusion of springs in those situations, the upper lands are, on every account, regarded as the prime pastures of the island; whereas the ridges and ravines, which diverge towards the sea from the central eminences, have their verdure and their water distinct. The native wire-grass may cover the ridge, while the water from the central springs seeks the bottom of the valleys. The nourishment which ought to be combined is thus separated; and the animal must toil in descending for the one or re-ascending for the other, to have the process of nature in the generation of nourishment fulfilled. In severe droughts, the cattle have died by the side of the water, unable to regain the scanty pittance of grass which the ridge might afford.
Fruits, particularly vines, figs, oranges, and lemons, ripen best in the valleys near the sea; which are also well adapted to the growth of plantains and bonanoes; all these fruits requiring a great degree of heat, and the enriched soil and shelter of the valleys. From a garden more interior, but finely watered and sheltered, of no greater extent than three acres of ground, 24,000 dozen apples, of a large size, were gathered in one season, besides peaches, guavas, grapes, and figs, in abundance. Cherries have been tried, but without success. Gooseberry and currant bushes turn to evergreens, and do not bear fruit. The island, however, is not to be considered as possessing a general fertility. The greater part of it is a barren, reluctant waste. Even in the best cultivated and richest spots, that often make abundant returns, the expectations of the gardener are frequently disappointed; and from occasional causes in the earth or the atmosphere, his labour is defeated, and his crops often fail.
A species of yam, introduced from Madagascar, is cultivated principally in the valleys. It requires almost a constant soak of water, for fifteen months to bring it to perfection. In its raw state, it has an acrid, and almost a caustic quality; but after many hours boiling, it becomes a wholesome and nourishing food. The attention of the farmers, however, has, for the last eighteen years, been peculiarly directed to the cultivation of potatoes, for the obvious reason, that three, and sometimes four, crops of that vegetable can be produced for one of yam, independently of their finding a more ready sale to the ships. Cabbages, pease, beans, and other vegetables, are raised in abundance.
The fern-tree grows, in the upper lands, to a size larger than in most countries, and is in request by botanists in England; and the myrtle, to which the climate seems peculiarly adapted, attains a height of near to thirty feet. The sort of grass that prevails in the higher parts is the English vernal grass; and in the low lands, the wire-grass, or doop, which is extremely sweet and nutritious, and suffers less from dry and hot weather than any other sort. But it has been supplanted, to the injury of many pastures, by a coarse herb, called cow-grass, originally from the Cape of Good Hope, which is now extremely common. Lucerne is found to succeed in some situations; and if it could be more generally cultivated, it would prove exceedingly advantageous. The exterior crust of the island, near the sea, produces, spontaneously, a shrub, to which the natives give the name of samphire; but it is probably the barilla, as its ashes yield a large quantity of marine alkali, with which a good soap has been manufactured,
The breed of cattle and sheep on the island is originally English. The beef is of an excellent quality; but, in consequence of the great demand from the Company's shipping for fresh provisions, a bullock is seldom allowed to attain the age of four years. Rabbits abound in some situations; pheasants and partridges are become numerous, since the Government has given them protection; and every garden is enlivened by the notes of the canary-bird. Guinea-fowl, with which the island was once well stocked, are now seldom to be seen.
Of fish it has been computed that seventy-six species frequent the coast. Those most commonly taken and used, are mackarel, albecore, cavalloes, jacks, congers, soldiers, old-wives, and bull's-eyes; and of shell-fish, long-legs and stumps. The two last resemble the lobster in taste and colour, and have the same kind of tail. Rock-oysters are found in some situations, hardly distinguishable from the rock, forming a solid congeries, which may be separated into distinct fish. The coal-fish, so called from the black hue of its skin, is from two to three feet in length, and very thick about the neck; it is singularly high-flavoured and delicate, and not unlike a salmon in taste; but so scarce, that seldom more than six or eight are caught in a year. The flying-fish about the shores of St. Helena, when pursued by porpoises, sharks, or other rapacious enemies, often meet death in a different element by dropping on the rocks. Some of them have been picked up in this situation which measured more than two feet in length, a size to which they are supposed seldom to attain in other parts of the world. The general mode of fishing practised here is that by hook and line, either from the shore, or from boats moored either by a stone or a grapnel. Whales are frequently seen, and have, in a few instances, been killed by South-Sea whalers in the Roads. Between the months of December and March turtle frequent the island, and are often taken by the fishing-boats.
The shores and neighbourhood of the island abound in sea-fowl, which deposit their eggs in the cliffs and detached rocks around the coast. Their haunts, covered with white dung, exhibit a fantastic appearance upon an insulated rock, called Shore Island, being sometimes mistaken for a ship under sail. Their eggs are collected in the months of October and November, and in flavour somewhat resemble those of a plover. One species of these fowl, however, prefer making their nests in the woody, central eminences of the island, and are often seen flying across the country with a fish in their beaks.
Upon an average of five years, viz. from 1801 to 1805 inclusive, 165 ships touch annually at St. Helena; and in war time, the long detention for convoy experienced by large fleets (the crews and passengers of which are frequently equal to the whole population of the island), occasions such an extra consumption of stock and refreshments, that the mere productions of the island itself could never be adequate to such exigencies, were it not supplied with ample quantities of salt meat from England, and of rice from Bengal. These articles as they are cheaper than fresh provisions, constitute the principal food of the inhabitants and garrison. Salt meat is issued to them from the Company's stores, under prime cost, and every other article at only ten per cent. advance, including freight. Beef is now sold at 6½ per pound alive, having been lately raised to that price; and, as it is principally destined for the King's or the Company's shipping, no person can kill even his own ox without permission from the Governor—a rule which has existed since the year 1752. The market-prices of other articles of provision vary according to the demand; in the year 1805 the rates were as follow:
Mutton, from 14 to 18d. per lb.
Pork, from 18 to 20d. per ditto.
Grown fowls, 9 to 12s. each.
Turkeys, 30 to 40s. ditto.
Geese, 25 to 30s. ditto.
Ducks, 10 to 12s. ditto.
Potatoes, 8 to 10s. per bushel.
Milk, 4d. to 6d. per quart.
Eggs, 5s. per dozen.
Mackarel, 8d. per dozen.
Bull's-eyes, 9d. per ditto,
Albicore, baracoota, dolphins, and bonito, 2d. per lb.
Turtle and coal-fish, 8d. per ditto,
Conger, conger-eels, cavalloes, silver-fish, and old-wives, 3d. per lb.
Stumps and soldiers, 2d. each.
Long-legs, 6d. each.
Shortly after the first settlement of St. Helena, the Company were anxious that experiments should be made to ascertain its resources and capability. Indigo, cotton, sugar-canes, and vines, were introduced. Rum, sugar, wine, and brandy, were brought to some degree of perfection; and, at a more recent period, crops of barley, and other grain, were raised at Long Wood, which were subsequently found not to answer. The intrinsic value of St. Helena consisting in its local situation, as a place of refreshment and rendezvous for the homeward-bound ships from India, the attention of the Court of Directors has been confined to the objects which most conduced to that important purpose. On this ground, even the cultivation of corn has been deemed of less consequence than that every acre should be appropriated to raising live-stock, roots, and culinary vegetables. As the island, on this account, cannot be devoted to commercial produce, its profits or revenues must consequently be very small, and its annual expense to the proprietors considerable. The returns which it makes for this expenditure apply to the accommodation and the security of the Company's commerce, against the hazards of the sea and the hostilities of an enemy. Its waters, its vegetables, and its climate, seem peculiarly adapted to the recovery of scorbutic patients; and instances frequently occur of those who have been sent to the hospital in the last stages of the sea-scurvy, in the course of two or three weeks being restored to perfect health, vigour, and activity.
By the registered returns of the year 1805, the population of the island is stated at 504 white inhabitants, 1560 blacks, of whom 329 were free; making a total of 2064, exclusive of the garrison and civil establishment of the Company. Five thousand one hundred and eight acres are in the hands of individuals, besides goat-ranges, which are the outskirts of the island, affording the chief supply of fresh meat both to the inhabitants and the hospital.
Lands, in general, are supposed to yield a nett profit of between 7 and 8 per cent. The price of labour is high; a carpenter cannot be hired under six or seven shillings a day. A mason's wages vary from four to five shillings; and those of a labourer from two shillings to half-a-crown, or to a black man, engaged by the year, from ten to twenty pounds. In this case clothing is likewise to be provided, as well as maintenance, and medical attendance in the event of sickness. The value of slaves depends very much upon their character. The sum of 150l. has been paid for a good husbandman, but a man of bad character may be purchased for 30l. The price of this species of labour, comparatively with that of a free man, is always high, because the slave is only influenced by the desire of avoiding stripes; and exceptions to this rule constitute estimable characters. To obviate as much as possible this degrading defect, a plan has lately been adopted by Governor Patton, and a subscription set on foot, for distributing to the slaves honorary medals and pecuniary rewards, proportioned to their merit, from which great advantages have already resulted; and if the system be followed up, the most important effects may be expected, both in a moral and political point of view. The total want of religious instruction among this class of people has, doubtless, contributed to their depravity; for the amendment of which a regular attendance at public worship has been enjoined, under police regulations.
Although it must be confessed that, prior to the promulgation of the present slave-laws, instances have now and then occurred of barbarous cruelty towards slaves; yet that vice by no means forms a common feature in the character of the white inhabitants; who, on the contrary, in general approve themselves humane and kind masters.
The island comprises only one parish; but, for the more regular performance of the county and parish officers' duties, it is divided into three districts, viz. the cast, the west, and the south, or Sandy Bay division. There are two churches, one in the town, and another in the country. Strangers, whilst they remain at the island, are accommodated in private houses, at the rate of one guinea per day; for which an excellent table, good wines, and comfortable lodgings, are provided.
By repeated charters from the Crown of Great Britain, the possession of St. Helena is assigned in perpetual property to the East India Company as Lords Proprietors, with powers of sovereignty and legislation. The supreme and executive authority within the island, is vested in the Governor, and a Council composed of the Lieutenant-Governor and senior civil servant. They are the immediate representatives of the Lords Proprietors, and the superintending agents of all their concerns at the island. They are also justices of the peace, and commissioners of Oyer and Terminer and gaol delivery, and they exercise the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Court, in granting letters of administration, and proving wills, &c. The Governor is exclusively intrusted with the powers of the Secret Committee of the Court of Directors. When the Council are not assembled, the authority of the whole board concentrates in him; and, by charter from the Crown, when there is occasion, he may exercise the powers of Captain-General.
The civil establishment consists of an Accountant, Pay-master, Store-keeper, and the Secretary to Government, with their assistants, some of whom are the heads of inferior departments; and promotions take place by seniority.
The military force of the island is composed of a corps of artillery, commanded by a Lieutenant-Colonel; a regiment of infantry, and five companies of white and black militia, who are at present upon the footing of volunteers.
The Governor is allowed a town and country residence, and a liberal table, at the Company's expense, with servants, horses, &c. The Lieutenant-Governor has likewise the privilege of a town and country house, some land, servants, and a few horses. The other member or members of Council are each allowed a town residence; and, by the orders of the Court of Directors, dated 1796, the remaining Company's houses were allotted to the two senior civil servants next to Council, the Engineer, Chaplain, and head Surgeon. There are not, at present, barracks for a third part of the garrison officers; and house-rent is not only very high, but at times it is impossible to procure a lodging. From those circumstances the Company's servants have experienced much inconvenience.
The primary formation of the island, or the cause of its original existence, forms a curious subject for philosophical conjecture, but does not belong to the recorder of occurrences which succeeded to the event of its discovery. The general supposition is, that if the island did not owe its first existence to fire, it certainly had been subsequently exposed to the influence of that active element; of which the volcanic productions so abundant upon its surface, emulating those of Sicily and Italy, give sufficient confirmation. This much is all that it is expedient here to mention; more especially as an inquiry into this subject has occupied the talents of a writer much better qualified for such a research, in the philosophical description of the island, published in the year 1805; to which the reader is referred, if he be desirous to examine into the natural history of St. Helena, as well as into the civil and political occurrences which succeeded to its occupation.
One observation, however, occurs upon a remark of that writer, suggested by the records of the island, which it may be proper to mention. He assigns reasons for adopting the opinion that no apprehension need now be entertained that the island will again be visited by any convulsions of nature; in which it is devoutly to be wished that his judgement may be confirmed. But in a letter from the Governor and Council, which is dated on the 16th of June 1756, the following passage occurs: "On the 7th instant, a little before seven o'clock in the morning, were sensibly felt, in several parts of the island, two small shocks of an earthquake, but did no manner of harm." Some of the most respectable of the present inhabitants of the island have likewise affirmed, that a sensation was felt by a variety of people of credibility, in different situations upon the island, at the same instant, like a trembling of the earth, accompanied with a noise resembling distant thunder, in the year 1782, by which the glasses on a side-board were agitated, and struck against each other; and a number of blacks, who were employed in a yam plantation, were so terrified as to abandon their work.
After thus having suggested the apprehended possibility of so dreadful a calamity revisiting the island, against the reasoning of an intelligent writer, who represents it as unlikely, it behoves us to re-consider the peculiar comforts and advantages which its inhabitants at present enjoy. St. Helena is gifted with considerable attractions and advantages, both local and natural: the temperature and salubrity of the climate are not exceeded in any part of the world; the variations of heat and cold are moderate, and generally fluctuate near the point most congenial to animal existence; it is fanned by a constant and equable wind, surrounded by plenty and variety of fish, and refreshed by numerous springs of excellent water; the seclusion of its inhabitants is relieved by the frequent arrival of visitants; and this intercourse chequers and corrects their uniformity of life, and tends to improve both the manners and the mind. The climate seems to be peculiarly adapted to the constitutions of Europeans, of whom many have resided here for a long series of years without suffering any malady. The only endemic disorders to which the natives are subject, are of the catarrhal kind: these, as they belong to the inflammatory class, may in some measure account, notwithstanding their general robust health, for the few instances among the islanders of longevity; according to the information of a professional friend, who has assisted this account with his opinion and judgement.
The anchorage in the Road is safe and sheltered; and though the vessels riding there sometimes drive to sea, this is owing rather to the steep declivity of the bank, than to the force or impression of the wind. The surf is occasionally high and dangerous; but the ocean beyond it is never ruffled by those hurricanes which in other climates occasion so much distress. The approach from the south-east is smooth and commodious; and on departing for Europe, the ship glides away before a gentle and a steady breeze.
|Cuckold's Point . . . . . . . . . .||2672 feet.|
|Halley's Mount . . . . . . . . . . .||2467|
It seems unreasonable to deny that Nature may have immense subterraneous reservoirs, or to refuse her the power of fabricating water in the bowels of the earth. Chemistry instructs us it can be done on the surface, and it is highly probable much better below. We know that many lakes of magnitude send forth perpetual rivers, but we do not impute the capacity of affording them, or the undiminished quantity of the lake itself, either to rain or snow; its constant plenitude must arise from its communication with waters below its bed, that have no connexion with those which come from above. We know that the absorption from the surface, after the longest rains, does not proceed deeper than sixteen inches; we know, from an experiment of common superficial earth, put to the thickness of ten feet into an appropriate receptacle, that after an exposure of eight years to the whole rain that fell, no part of it passed through it; and the inhabitants of St. Helena know, that common* earth, made into mortar, is a dry, defensive covering to houses, whilst the coating is not actually broken or injured by the weight or force of the showers. How, then, is the rain to arrive at the first latent source of a great river? Admitting it to pass through the mould at the surface, it must soon come to strata of clay, or impervious stone; these are impassable to water from above; but cut through them, and you find original water below that has never communicated with the clouds. Besides, it is computed that the whole depth of fall through England, in one year, does not, in the wettest seasons, exceed forty inches; and this whole aggregate quantity does not appear equal to supply all the rivers of England, in their ordinary fulness and speed of course, for more than three or four months together. We may distinguish, then, as is done by geologists with their mountains, and call those rivers primeval, that have their native issues from the recluse caverns of the earth; those secondary, that are fed by the melting of transient or primordial snows; and those temporary, that depend on the contingencies of Heaven.
It may be asked, What is the natural reason of the increased bulk of the streams in Fisher's Valley and at the Briars? Is it that the drought, making the ground more porous, and thence rendering it less weighty and compact, the resistance to the escape of its water from the fountainhead is diminished, and its passage outward made more pervious and easy? But it is better to assign no reasons for phenomena than to assign weak ones; better to avoid the frailty of hypothesis, and better to remain in contented ignorance, than suffer the mind to rest on shallow, insufficient explanation.
* In the eighth chapter, where the roofing of houses in James's Valley is mentioned, the earth employed for this purpose, taken from the sides of the valley, is certainly not common earth, but mixed with a portion of volcanic ashes, to which this property is imputed. The clay-soil in the interior of the island does not possess the same property of resisting the rain.