On the 22d of May our fleet cast anchor in the roads of St. Helena. Here we found nine homeward-bound East India ships under convoy of His Majesty's frigate the Phaëton, Captain Fleetwood Pellew.
This solitary, though beautiful spot, lies in the great South Atlantic Ocean, in latitude about 15° South, and longitude about 5° West from Greenwich. It is distant from the African continent about 1000 miles, and from the South American, 1500. St. Helena was discovered by the Portuguese in 1508, on the 21st May, being the festival of St. Helen. The English settled it in 1660; in a few years afterwards it was taken by the Dutch; and in 1674 it was retaken by the English, under Captain Munden; and it has ever since remained in the possession of the East India Company. Its length is no more than ten miles, and its breadth at the widest part about seven. The population is between four and five thousand souls. It is so defended by nature and art that it is deemed impregnable.
This little island has been so often and so well described, that nothing remains for me but to express my admiration of the sublime and romantic scenery it contains, some part of which I have presumed to present to the publick. It would require a much more able pen than mine to describe the gigantic rocks which present themselves to the curious traveller in his ascent to the top of Ladder Hill. Some of these rocks, of stupendous size, seem scarcely attached to the hill, but appear almost in the act of tumbling down headlong on James Town seated in the valley below. The sterile and rocky ascent to the summit of High Knole, another lofty eminence, exhibit scenes such as Salvator Rosa would have chosen to paint; while the delicious valleys of Sandy Bay contain the most delightful sylvan retreats, the fabled haunts of fauns and satyrs, nymphs and naiads, and the sequestered bowers of pastoral innocence and love.
Every person on board, whose connexions were in England, was in eager expectation of finding letters from their friends waiting for them at St. Helena. It is impossible to describe the gratification the perusal of letters from those we love and esteem affords the mind after an absence of eighteen months from one's native country, and still at the distance of many thousand miles from it. Packets of newspapers were also received as most valuable presents. I took the first opportunity of going on shore, and hastened to present a letter of introduction to the Governor of the Island (Governor Beatson), with which my kind friends at Canton had furnished me. I found that gentleman at Plantation House, his country residence. After the most polite reception, the Governor sent an intelligent soldier to conduct me to the most remarkable places in the Island.
Col. Doveton's House near Sandy Ridge, St. Helena.
James Town, St. Helena, looking to Ladder Hill Barracks.
I visited in succession Ladder Hill, High Knole, Diana's Peak, Lot and his daughters, Sandy Ridge and Bay, and was charmed at the beauty and variety of the views they presented. On the 24th I breakfasted with the Governor by appointment, at Plantation House. Several elegantly-dressed ladies, Captain Pellew, and the Governor's Aide-de-camp, were of the company; the party was a most agreeable one, all of them conversant with the fine arts, upon which, and other interesting topics, the conversation was maintained for nearly two hours; while my portfolio contributed something towards their amusement.
I continued my rambles, after taking my leave of the Governor, until near five o'clock P.M. when I attended Captain Pellew, in James Town, and accompanied him in the Phaëton's boat, on board the frigate. In our way we saw a melancholy and disgusting sight, a contention between two ravenous sharks for a dead body which had floated from the town; it being calm, and the sea perfectly clear, we could plainly see the horrid contest. I had the honour of dining with Captain Pellew, and a large party; and after a moderate enjoyment of the bottle, that gallant officer requested a lieutenant to take me round his beautiful frigate of thirty-two guns, which equally gratified and obliged me. The frigate's boat conducted me afterwards on board the Hope, at seven o'clock, the signal for sailing flying; and at eight the fleet, consisting of thirteen sail, the Phaëton taking the lead, majestically moved under a fine breeze from the roads of St. Helena, steering homeward. Adieu! sweet lonely spot, where Solitude had taken her abode for thousands of years, until restless man at last accidentally discovered her retreat, and forced her to seek repose in other regions!
This little island was uninhabited at the time of its discovery; the nearest land to it is the Isle of Ascension, at the distance of about 800 miles North. It is demonstrative of the perfection to which the wonderful art of navigation is arrived, that a single ship shall unerringly sail to the port of so diminutive a spot, situated in the vast expanse of the wide Atlantic!
There are some wild goats on the island; some cattle and sheep are also bred there, but the pasturage is not sufficient to support the number necessary for general consumption. The soldiers, servants, and labourers, are therefore served with fresh meat only four times in the year; a few meals at each period. If the use of fresh provisions was unlimited, the Island would not answer the purpose for which it is held by the company at a great expence; because it could not in that case, at all times, furnish the company's homeward-bound ships with the necessary refreshments. The sea, however, supplies the inhabitants with fish in abundance; and the gardens produce the finest vegetables, especially cabbages and potatoes, equal to any to be found in the English markets.
The arrival of the homeward-bound East Indiamen spreads joy and gladness over all the Island. Every body quits the country, and repairs to James Town; balls, plays, and entertainments, succeed each other; and many a pretty Helenite, on these occasions, makes such a successful display of her charms, that she is removed by Hymen from the solitudes of St. Helena for ever. The departure of the fleet is, therefore, matter of lamentation and mourning to those left behind. This sensation in the breasts of the unsuccessful candidates for the blessings of the Hymen gave rise, probably, to the following anecdote: "A lady one day, in conversation with the Captain of an Indiaman, asked if London was not very dull, when the East India fleet left England?"
Notes about this version of Wathen:
The title page and plates were scanned from an original copy of Wathen. The scanned images have been resized and edited to remove minor blemishes. The JPG images on this page are at high compression (50%) to minimise file size. The text is exactly reproduced from an original copy of Wathen.
Contributed by Barry Weaver.
Details of the original:
Wathen, T.E. Journal of a Voyage, in 1811 and 1812, to Madras and China; returning by the Cape of Good Hope and St. Helena. Black, Perry & Co., London, 1814.
Text: pp. xx, 246.
Plates: Twenty four coloured aquatints.
Number 517 in Abbey.
Abbey, J.R. Travel in Aquatint and Lithography, 1770-1860, from the Library of J.R. Abbey: Vol. I, World, Europe, Africa. Curwen Press, London, 1956.
Last updated: 19 December, 2011