Journal of a Voyage from Falmouth to Jamaica & Carthagena & back

Sailed 8th August – Returned 4th December 1829

On Saturday 8 of August 1829 – the Duke of York Packet was appointed to carry the Jamaica and Carthagena Mail to their several destinations but, as is often the case, an order was issued for the detention of the Packet for two days. After that period, as no further delay was ordered, the vessel left her moorings early on the morning of Monday 10th of August, and only waited for the receiving of the Mails & despatches, in order to be able to start immediately. The usual scene of hurry and bustle as presented by a vessel on the point of sailing was not “a wanting.” There were passengers, with their luggage just coming off in time, there again were provisions of various descriptions were pouring in, in short to an inexperienced eye, an appearance of bustle and confusion prevailed which would require more time to disentangle, than the near approach of the Mail seemed likely to allow. In a very short time, however, this bustle subsided, and when the commander came on board at ½ past 11 A.M. the decks had been cleared and all hands were ready ‘dare vela ventis,’ &.c to get under weigh.

For several days previous to 10th the wind had been unfavourable – but we were fortunate enough to have a favouring breeze, and weather, which tho’ cloudy, was pleasant. At 5 P.M. we took our departure from the Lizard and committed ourselves top the boundless world of waters, with the opinion that we would no longer see “terra firma,” until we should reach Barbadoes.

Tuesday 11th – August light but fav.ble airs and fine W.r

Wednesday 12th – strong breezes, with clouds and rain.

Thursday 13th – wind and w.r variable. Saw a large steam vessel, but too far off to be spoken with, very squally in the afternoon.

Friday 14th – very strong & favourable breezes with a heavy cross sea, which scarcely left the decks dry for a moment. Weather variable.

Saturday 15th – from this day till Wednesday 2nd September we have been favoured with beautiful weather & moderate but favourable breezes. During all this time no particular occurrences happened worth mentioning, the special object of all our passengers was to kill time que aeuque modo. For this laudable purpose we had games of chess, cards, backgammon &.c Whilst this routine was agreeably interrupted by the call to breakfast, lunch, dinner &.c thus time passes away, but still on leaden wings – for the very circumstances that the amusements above mentioned are necessary or compulsory detracts much from the pleasure, which they would afford, were they voluntarily entered into. Hence ennui can never by any means be excluded from a very long voyage – and the consequence is, that, in whatever they engaged, they experienced an almost positive indifference or want of excitement. In this state of matters, a change of weather which took place was even a sort of relief.

On Wednesday 2nd September – the weather was changeable, being alternatively cloudy, rainy & fine. The wind also veered about – to W by S directly against us, and then to other quarters. Towards evening we had nearly a dead calm – the lightning was awfully vivid and extensive & over the horizon brooded a dense mass of clouds, which seemed to portent a sudden storm – so that, altho the hurricane season is hardly arrived (Being 20th Sept.r) we were uncertain as to what might follow this sudden turn of things, and therefore the Captain ordered the main topsail to be reefed as a measure of precaution, while at the same time both courses were brailed up, and the main & fore topgallant were furled.

Thursday Sept.r 3rd – weather unsettled – very heavy but passing showers of rain. At 6 oClock the breeze freshened inn our favour and continued steady all night.

For some days after the weather was fine and the wind favourable. Once or twice we encountered a shower, which in these climates is always heavy & short duration.

Reach Barbadoes

On the morning of Tuesday 8th Sept.r early, the island of Barbadoes came in sight. It appeared to be of very considerable extent. Its two extremes gradually sloped from the centre to the shore. The centre itself altho’ the most elevated part of the island was but of moderate height and by no means entitled to be called a mountain. But a small quantity of wood is grown, and that too in very detached portions, and this rises, not from the carelessness of the Barbadians or the infelicity of the soil, but purely from motives of prudence. The whole island is cultivated even down to the sea shore, and where wood would have otherwise adorned the landscape, is more profitably occupied by fertile fields and luxuriant crops. With a distant view of this appearance of the country we sailed along the Eastern side of the island, on turning round the extremity, we soon found ourselves in Carlisle Bay, and in front of Bridgetown, the Capital of the island.

At ½ past 2 P.M. we came to anchor and the Captain, along with Messrs. Oviatt Ackers & Hawkin went on shore. As the day was already far spent, & we were certain of not sailing till tomorrow afternoon, I determined not to go ashore, but see what I could on board. The first thing to which I directed my attention was the natural objects which surrounded me.

Appearance of Bridgetown & Carlisle Bay in Barbadoes

We were lying in the middle of a beautiful Bay (called Carlisle Bay), which formed the figure of a crescent, along the boundaries of which lay scattered in fine confusion the different streets & houses of Bridgetown the capital of the island. One would have hardly been aware of the existence of a tolerably large town there, for numerous coco & other trees, while they imparted a delightful charm to the scenery, being intermixed with the buildings, served at the same time to conceal from the view of the Newcomer the real extent of the place. Altogether the scene presented quite a new character to me, different from any thing I had seen, and prepossessed one at once in favour of the natural beauties of the West Indies. Had there been besides a large number of vessels, to fill up the wide space of the Bay, the spectacle would have been still more pleasing – but this is not the proper season for the West Indian and we found only 1 or two vessels at anchor. I can hardly describe my feelings when contemplating for the first time an island in the West Indies, and compared in my own mind of the pleasing reality, with the disagreeable and horrible imaginings with which fire side Travellers at home are accustomed to invest our Western colonies. To the favourable impression this produced by the appearances of the island the weather perhaps contributed not a little, for the clear blue sky, the perfect stillness and tranquillity which reigned around, soothed the mind and prepared it to be pleased and delighted with every thing around.

Visited by numerous [Bum Boats]

In a short time my attention was withdrawn from the shore, and directed with curiosity to what was going on on board. Numerous boats came along side, in which were women of colour and black slaves. These were freighted with various articles of merchandise, peculiar to the country, and which they arrayed along the deck for inspection and choice. Our decks soon presented the novel sight of a fair, where you might have preserved Tamarinds – preserved Ginger – guava jelly – pickles of every description and various fruits – and all at a very reasonable rate. Of the fruits I purchased several kinds merely for the purpose of tasting what was new to me. With some I was pleased – others I disliked.

Preserves – Alligator Pear

There was a large pear, called the Alligator pear, which from the look of it I had expected to find delicious – but how was I surprised when it almost melted in my mouth, and tasted somewhat like cream. In the centre of it was large kernel, which is not eaten, and which will stain white articles so deeply as to serve for marking ink. The proper mode of [eating ?] this pear is to mix it with pepper and salt and eat it with Salt meat, to which in the opinion of its admirers, it communicates a delicious flavour. For my own part I perfectly agree with those who say that it is disagreeable to the taste of him who eats it for the first time – but whether I shall ever become fond of it, after I have tried it several times I cannot say – but if so, so much the better as I shall then have one pleasure more than I have now.

The Shaddock and Mangoe

The next fruit I ventured upon was the shaddock, of which you will [have] a very good idea, if you conceive to yourself an orange as large as a mans head. Indeed when I saw them for the first time, such is their resemblance that I really thought them to be such as I say. The insides of them also is like the orange & some are red, others clear – but the taste is different. They are considered one of the finest fruits in the West Indies – and prove very refreshing in a climate so hot. There are several kinds, but I did not as yet know what is their peculiar differences.

A fruit called the Mangoe next was subjected to the gustatory papillae of my tongue – and I expected to like them well. Their shape was somewhat like our Magnum bonum plums, and some of them had also such colour, and general appearance, but with a thick, & not transparent skin, while others shewed like the fine bloom of our peaches & nectarines. The smell of the Mango I thought approached to that of the strawberry – which rendered me more eager to ‘pree’ them. After the first mouthful, it would have been difficult to tell whether I like or disliked them – for the flavour combined, in my opinion, that of a vegetable (which formed the disagreeable constituent) and of a fruit, (which formed the pleasant ingredient). A few trials however decided me in liking it – & now I consider is as a most delightful fruit – full of juice, and beneficial to the health.

[Women at Barbados]

All the preserves were excellent of their kind, and Barbadoes is famous for them. But what a clatter clatter – what a Babel of voices might be heard among the sellers of them. All talking, talking, yet all looking to their own interest – and as they all belong – I had almost said to the ‘fair sex’ – but that would be a misnomer to the coloured part of the female population, all were ladies of colour, they screened themselves behind the privilege of their sex & cheated us poor sailors with might and main. Of all sights I have seen abroad this at Barbadoes surpasses every other, and the circumstances attending it would seem to countenance the very general opinion that the restrictions of morality and the grants of female modesty are either very lax or very little attended to here. Night at last put an end to all the squabbling and chaffering and left us some repose from the eternal babbling which had so long stunned our ears.

Country around Bridgetown – Guinea grass – Indian corn

Wednesday 9th September. After breakfast this morning I went on shore accompanied by Edward Oke. The weather but beautiful, but the heat had begun to be oppressive as we approached the land, at a sort of key, solidly built, within which there was a narrow space where small vessels might anchor, and lie perfectly secure from all winds. At the landing place were congregated many Black and mulattoes, who, offered their services in a way the most disgusting and offensive. Passing them we struck off to one of the Streets, which conducted us to the country. As we went on, fell in with a very civil mulatto, with whom we went into a field, and examined different productions, which I had never seen growing. We saw Guinea Grass which attains a height beyond that of a man – guinea corn, the grains of which are round, white & not much larger than bird seed. We visited also a large field of the Indian corn, which is an article of very considerable produce thro’out the island. Between the thick stalks of this corn were planted a large quantity of the cotton plant, which was not however, in bearing.

Tamarinds – Mahogany – Sambox & Calabash trees

After looking at the smaller objects, we were directed to the Tamarind tree, which is one of considerable size – to the Mahogany tree, which bears a hard nut like fruit, in which is the seed – to the lofty Sambox tree, the trunk of which is thickly studded with a short thorn, like a cocks spur, indented as it were into the tree, and effectually preventing all attempts to climb it – and lastly to the Calibash trees, the fruit of which attains so enormous a size. Besides all these, every where around us were flowers, whose brilliant diversified colours, attracted the eye, but whose want of odour or fragrance disappointed the olfactory organs.
Not far from where we had been so highly pleased, we entered a windmill, of a simple yet sufficiently effectual contrivance, in which guinea and Indian corn were a being ground to powder. While we were witnessing the introduction of the corn into a wooden sloping funnel, and its reappearance from a small stroup in the shape of a coarse powder, to which state it had been reduced by the agency of a huge circular stone, which was put in motion by a simple piece of machinery connected with the windmill. A Black overseer, with his indispensable concomitant a whip, but one by no means large or thick, came in, and for a trifling consideration, let us over a considerable [part] of the estate.

State of Cultivation of Barbadoes

Every part appeared to be cultivated, so that little or no room was left for woods & shrubberies – and fully justifies the opinion that the Barbadians are so intent on gain, that they begrudge every piece of ground, which is not made to yield a profit by its produce. From this property we proceeded about 4 miles into the country, till we arrived at the foot of a slope which rose gently and led to the higher but less fertile part of the country. Meanwhile the sun poured his scorching rays upon our heads – and the air was so heated, that respiration was sometimes affected. I did not however regret these inconveniences, as I could say they I had seen a good part of the country, so as to enable me to speak of it from sight, and not from report. Of almost all the W.I. islands, Barbadoes is said to be the most fertile, and I truly believe it, both from a certain degree of ocular proof, and from the circumstance which I have heard mention, that it contains a population of 110,000, being a number greater than any island of the same extent, anywhere contains. And besides a greater proportion of the inhabitants are very wealthy, by the sale of the abundant produce of their estates.

Bridgetown Capital of Barbadoes

Returning from our walk into the country we bent our steps to the Town with the view of inspecting it more closely. It is built of stone, – and is substantial but has no pretensions to elegance. All the houses are commonplace in their exterior, altho’ I have no doubt but that in their interior decorations they are not wanting in splendour. At the one end of the town is a bronze statue of Lord Nelson, and constitutes the only public ornament of the place. The streets are tolerably good. In all the streets thro which we passed, we scarcely saw a white man, but great numbers if Blacks, & Mulattoes. This I am told is no proof that there are few or no whites among the population, as I might have [been] led to suppose, – for there are many – but they are too lazy and too careful of themselves to expose their dear persons to the heat of the noon day sun. Except in the morning and evening they confine themselves to the house – and pursue their amusement, and take exercise only at those times.

Character of the Barbadians

The general character of the Barbadians is that of an industrious, painstaking, money– getting class of people, with a mixture of pride combined with their self interest. If you could ask one, who he is, he will answer with a proper spirit, that he is a free Barbadian. They are disposed to call themselves above the natives of then other islands and claim for their own insular spot, the proud appellation of Little England, either because it was the first of the islands possessed by us, or from some other cause. They boast that if King George should ever be compelled to quit his hereditary dominions, he has only to come to them, and they will support and defend him. To my surprise, also I was told that the name of Scotland was given to a part of the island – so that we have here Little Englishmen and little Scotsmen.

Betsy Austin & Hannah Lewis

After our walk was finished we retired to an Hotel (or Board and Lodging House as it is termed) kept by one Betsy Austin a woman of colour. This is more frequented than the only other Inn kept by Hannah Lewis, also a woman of colour. They are both well fitted up – and you have a good display of cut crystal, mirrors & silver plate – for the pleasure of looking at and using which you are expected to pay handsomely. Along with the Hotel department, Betsy Austin, and Hannah Lewis manufacture a vast quantity of preserves which always find a ready sale when the two monthly packets touch at Barbadoes. By these means they have no doubt realised a pretty sum, & in other words made their fortune which here as in other parts of the money respecting world, will secure for them that consideration, which otherwise might be denied to them on account of their colour. At three P.M. we went on board and awaited the arrival of the Captain with the Mail to take our instant departure.

[Ackers & Oviatt Passengers]

Two of our passengers from England left us at Barbadoes, viz. a M.r W.m Ackers and M.r W.m Oviatt. The[y] seemed both to belong to class of commercial gentlemen, and presented good specimens of that intelligence and information which so frequently characterises the English Merchant. The former had resided for many years at Caraccas, situated on the main land, and along with M.r Oviatt was on his way to that place, to which they proposed to proceed in a small Boat. They were both pleasant in their manners had seen much of the world, and knew well the regulations of polished society. M.r Ackers was a man of a stout make – warmly eager after whatever interested him – and rather choleric – but withal good tempered, and soon appeased. M.r Oviatt was not so stout by any means – which could be easily accounted for by the circumstance that he had been long a martyr to gout. From morning till night they spent their time in playing at chess, with which they appeared to be very well acquainted.

At 5 oClock the Captain came on board with the Mail when we immediately started with a favourable wind and fine weather, for the island of S.t Vincent, carrying with us one passenger from Barbadoes, the Reverend M.r Barker for Grenada.

Read on … St Vincent & Grenada