Tuesday 15th June – this morning I have full leisure to contemplate the appearance of Belize, as it presented itself to our view from the situation of our anchorage – and it was not difficult to come to the conclusion that it resembled no place which I had yet seen. The site of Belize is very low, with no high land in its neighbourhood to impart to it that specie of beauty, which a town acquires solely from being embosomed amongst hills, or built at the foot of a range of mountains. But nevertheless it is not by any means destitute of pleasing qualities – and it possesses advantages which some might prefer in it to the more imposing aspect of other Cities. Far to the South you can just discern several peaks of mountains dimly espied thro’ the haze – but every where in the immediate vicinity of Belize, the country is low and covered with umbrageous trees, brushwood &.c
In front of the Town lay an open Bay of the waters of which are seldom disturbed in their usual calm tranquillity by any wind, since they are sheltered by the numerous Kays, reefs & flats, which I have mentioned. The appearance of Belize itself from our deck was prepossessing and picturesque in the extreme – the descent, and comfortable-looking houses, clean as are our homes, and thickly interspersed with the cocoanut, the orange and the tamarind trees, which seemed to conceal, and yet artfully to show off the half hidden dwellings, recalled many pleasing recollections to my mind of native rural scenes. But alas I found that to view this picture at a respectable distance, and close at hand gave origin to very different feelings and opinions – just as the spectator in a theatre, deceived by the effect of distance, is enchanted with the exquisite beauty of scenery, which if he were permitted to get behind the scenes, he would pronounce to be most unnatural, and execrable.
Houses in Belize
Our Master having occasion to go on shore for freight I gladly accompanied him. As we gradually gained the shore my favourable opinion as gradually began to change. All indeed that belonged to nature remained unaltered, but the work of man sunk rapidly in my estimation. We landed at a miserable wharf, close to a very tolerable wooden bridge, thrown over the river – and found ourselves in a part of the world comparatively little frequented and little known. Those habitations which had looked so nice in the Bay and which we had supposed to have been handsomely built of stone, proved to be nothing else than wooden erections, painted over. They resembled almost in every respect the description of houses which I mentioned as having seen at Halifax. Some of them consist of three stories, most of two, and many of only one. The lower flats are used as store-houses or shops, the upper as the residence of the family. There is one circumstance in which the Houses of Belize differ from those of Halifax and that is in the foundations which in the former are constructed in two ways. Very many of the houses have foundations of brick work, carried to the height of 4 or 5 feet above the ground – while all the rest of the building is of wood, – in others again you have the whole superstructure of the house supported entirely on thick unhewn pillars of mahogany, placed at each corner, so that you can easily creep under the house, and perhaps in any case of emergency, it might be possible to walk off with the house, and all. This mode of architecture is not adopted without a reason – it is one which the nature of the place, and every regard to comfort calls for – for during the rainy season, the whole of the town is one entire puddle, thro which you have often to wade knee deep. All the houses in Belize are separate from one another, and have a common wooden paling in front, exactly such as you see before many of our gentlemen’s Cottages in the country. Between each house you have different fruit trees growing, such as the Mango, orange, & Tamarind. These serve the double purpose of a shade from the solar heat, and of giving a fine effect to an otherwise dull and uninteresting town. I think the Belizeans might with much advantage borrow an improvement in their houses from the Kingstonians, and that is in the matter of piazzas or verandas. Not a single dwelling is provided with these conveniences so general and so grateful in Jamaica, and in consequence the hapless stranger has no shelter in walking the streets from the downwards rays of a tropical sun. For my own particular part I suffered much from this evil, and would be well content to concede greater praise to the place, if they would only consult their own; as well as the comfort of others, by furnishing themselves forthwith with piazzas and verandas.
Altho I dare say almost all the houses are comfortable to the inhabitants, and admirably adapted to the climate by their numerous windows &.c still there is hardly a single fine building, which indeed is not to be expected. The Governor’s dwelling is tolerably large – by no means elegant – but I understand he designs to make a total alteration. The house in which the Secretary resides is a very fine one considered one of the best and belongs to a M.r Bennet one of the wealthiest members of the community here. The only other very good house is the post office, which is large and handsome.
In such an out of the way place as Belize I did not expect to find the streets good, nor was I mistaken. They were miserable, unpaved concerns and are rather cart roads than Christian footpaths. I observed a good deal of stagnant water, which no one took the trouble to remove, altho’ it totally impeded your progress in that direction and obliged you to make a long detour to gain a certain point. What must be the state of the streets in the rainy season.
The inhabitants of this important town of 350 or 300 houses are principally English, with a large admixture of Blacks, Spaniards and a few Mosquito Indians. I was surprised to see so many black people, many of whom are free and all of them enjoy much comfort and liberty. The Mosquito Indians are a wild savage looking race, but I believe perfectly peaceable.
[Exports] and Climate of Honduras
The chief export, as you must be aware, from Belize is the Mahogany, called the Honduran. This valuable wood is brought, or floated down the River Belize, even as far as 300 or 400 miles from its commencement. The wood-cutters are strong hardy men, who proceed to the heart of the woods at certain seasons, and labour incessantly amidst wet and dry – rain or sunshine, until they have, as they think, cut down sufficiently. The wood season was just beginning, while we were there, and before we left several small rafts had been sent down. There are sometimes thirty or forty sail waiting for a cargo and in scarce or severe seasons many are obliged to return empty. But mahogany is not the only article of exportation – altho it is certainly the principal – there are large numbers of the hawkbill Turtle caught, the shell of which affords what is so well known among us by the name of Tortoise-shell. The price which this article bears generally affords a handsome remunerating return to the fishermen – it is determined by the greater scarcity or plenty of the Turtle, and varies from 5 or 6 dollars a pound to 11 or 12. Besides Mahogany and Tortoise-shell there are several other articles of minor importance, as different dye woods &.c
The climate of the Honduras is esteemed very healthy, and it is said that West Indians who go thither for their health, speedily recover. The yellow fever & black vomit are unknown, and the most common disease is intermittent fever, which a first might be conjectured to prevail from the marshy nature of the country. The cause of the healthiness of Belize is the circumstance that they have no land breeze which would bring in its train all the noxious vapours and disease spreading particles, which are always generated in a hot climate. The cooling and refreshing sea breeze almost always prevails, and by its genial influence proves a proficient preservative of the health.
I have now concluded my remarks which I could collect respecting Belize, and there is only one thing which I ought to have mentioned, whilst speaking of the Blacks, and that is, that I for the first saw a company of the 2nd West Indian Reg.t consisting of Black men. They had a very soldierly appearance, and I am told, show themselves as expert at drill and parade as the best disciplined of our white troops.
Wednesday 16th – the whole of this day was occupied in inspecting the town, and environs – and I could find nothing farther to add to what I have said. At night the Master, Mate and myself were invited to be present at a dance given by a mulatto, and his black wife, named Wilson – and as I was anxious to see as much as possible of the manners and amusements of the people we willingly accepted the invitation. The dance was given in their house, which consisted of one large room which was cleared of every encumbrance to give as much space as possible to the dancers. At 8 oClock when we arrived we found every thing prepared for eating, drinking, and dancing. On a large sideboard were disposed glasses and bottles containing brandy, Rum, and wine, with abundance of cake to eat. At one end of the room was the band, which I must say was superior to what I had ever expected to see among blacks. It consisted of a flageolet, flute, tambourine, and drum. From all these instruments the performers elicited most excellent music which would not have disgraced many a ball room at home – and no wonder since they had all been in a regimental band. Around the room were placed chairs for us & a few equally privileged persons, and benches for the commonalty or canaille – the large centre space being left open for those who designed to trip it on the light fantastic toe. Shortly after our arrival, the company invited began to assemble – and no sooner was the sound of the drum and the fife heard, discoursing most enlivening music, than the doors, which in this hot climate are obliged to be left open for the admission of air, were blocked up as it were with the bodies of numerous eager spectators who by their involuntary movements of their hands, heads & feet, shewed how much they longed to join the merry throng within. Nay more three or four window places destitute however of glass, which were not far from the ground, were crowded altho I will not say with a galaxy of beauty, but certainly with a galaxy of eager black and brown genial faces.
The dance was opened by what seemed to be a foursome reel, in which the actors displayed much skill and activity – which one would have imagined to have [been] incompatible with the excessive warmth on an atmosphere rendered doubly warm by the breathing of so many human bodies. Then followed a great variety of dances Spanish & English, as the fandango, the Bolero, the waltz and a Quadrille. I confess I was completely taken by surprise, when I saw so much good & elegant dancing performed by negroes & mulattoes – and that moreover they kept the most perfect time to the music. Many of the negroes have come from Jamaica & Barbadoes, there having learnt the English mode, they have communicated it to the native blacks here – and on the other hand so much intercourse taken place with the Spaniards here that the peculiar dances of that nation are equally well known. It is impossible to describe the excessive fondness of the coloured people for this article of amusement – no age is an exception from it – I witnessed the tender infant hardly able to steady its feeble steps, inspired by the music endeavouring to imitate the movements of its mother – and I have seen a very old woman engaged with heart and soul in the enrapturing mazes of the Banjee, and yielding to none of her youngest competitors in activity of feet & buoyancy of spirit. All ages spend night after night in disallowing the musicians draught of salutatory pleasure without becoming weary of it – and indeed some have confessed that they find it absolutely necessary to fatigue themselves with active exercise ere they can hope to procure any sleep. With such a predisposing or innate love of dancing it may easily be supposed that none were awkward in accepting an invitation to dance at the house where we were. If the room would have allowed it, all would have been moved with the spirit of Terpsichore, and no where would she find more ardent votaries – for it is considered that he or she who can foot it longest, is entitled to claim the merit of being the best dancer. That you may be fully sensible by how severe an act of penance this honour is obtained, imagine yourself to be in a room heated to 120 or 130 degrees of Fahrenheit, there you perspire freely without motion and then imagine how incalculably hotter one must feel when great bodily exertion is made, and that exertion kept up intermittently for the space of an hour. You cannot, I am persuaded, conceive even a distant approximation to such melting heat – unless you were put into an bakers oven for the space of an hour. I myself made the experiments, and performed a few pirouettes in such a place – once and only once did I or shall I say – in a second I was bathed in a perfect float of perspiration – the action of heart was vehement and irregular, and my respiration – impeded and laborious for some minutes – and in short I experienced such a train of uneasy feelings, as to make me more cautions for the future.
In the midst of dancing, eating, drinking, talking and laughing the night wore on and the bell of the Town had chimed the midnight hour ere all the guests and spectators had taken their departure, and we among the rest had bid adieu for a time at Belize and gone on board.
Thursday 17th June – received the Mails on board at ½ past 9 A.M. and started immediately. Weather variable, occasionally squally – wind fresh and against us. At 20 minutes past 6 P.M. came to an anchor off Kay Bokel, which is but a short distance from Belize. This we were obliged to do because the Pilot would not venture to advance during the night, amidst the numerous Keys & reefs, with a foul wind, and an unknown force of current.
Friday 18th June – left our anchorage at 4 A.M. Weather cloudy with squalls and accompanied with rain. Wind unfavourable. At 7 p.m. the Pilot left us, not far from Half Moon Kay.
Saturday 19th – weather cloudy, rainy and squally – foul wind.
Sunday 20th – miserable squally weather with rain. W.d foul.
Monday 21st – fine weather – foul wind.
Tuesday 22nd – very fine but hot weather – light variable wind and calms. In sight of the island of Cozumel, off Yucatan, which appeared to us very long and low.
Wednesday 23rd – almost a dead calm, there being according to and old song “not a breath of air the blue waves to curl.” Weather tremendously hot.
Thursday 24th – a stark calm all day – And yet notwithstanding the current carried us 70 miles to the northward in our favour. In the evening a moderate breeze sprung up, which tended greatly to allay the dreadful heat by which both mind and body are affected. Caught a shark today.
Friday 25th – beautiful weather – light and favourable breezes.
Saturday 26th – beautiful weather. On the Bank of Campeche and in sight of the low land of Yucatan – very light but favourable breezes until the afternoon, when the wind freshened much.
Sunday 27th – beautiful weather – fresh and favourable breezes.
Monday 28 – much rain in the morning with light winds – but at 10 A.M. the weather cleared up & proved pleasant & cloudy – winds favourable
Tuesday 29th – rainy & cloudy weather which prevented us from seeing the land. Wind favourable and so fresh that we were obliged to shorten sail, as our distance to run to Vera Cruz was short.