Burial Ground & Almeda

Burial Ground at Habana

By this time our thoughts & feelings harmonised with the nature & intention of the place – nor did we seek to lessen but rather to increase their sombreness & melancholy by directing our steps to the burial ground which was close at hand. If I were to try to convey to you some idea of a  burial ground (remember I do not say a Church Yard, for there was no church shell) by any comparison with one at home, I should in vain tax my memory & your knowledge for one similar to that at Havana. I must therefore endeavour to describe it as far as words imperfectly can. At the entrance was a very handsome gateway of hewn stone, in the centre of which was an inscription, intimating that the place was dedicated to the memory & destined to be the last resting place of the inhabitants of the town & suburbs. Before it were several handsome volantes, amongst which I beg you will remember ours cut no contemptible figure – and also several very respectably dressed ladies, who were on the point of entering with us. From this gateway, a pathway, beautifully paved with flags stones – broad enough to enable three people to walk abreast; was carried longitudinally to the end of the grounds. This pathway was separated from the burial ground, by very handsome & elegantly designed railings of iron, which were further adorned here & there at regular intervals by being richly gilt. On either side was another similar footpath, embracing the breadth as the other did the length of the place. At the termination of the longitudinal walk, was a small Chapel, all solely for performing the funeral service. It was of small size and its appearance appropriate, & solemn. Over the large iron gate, leading into it (& thro’ the intervening spaces you could se the interior) was the text from scripture “Felices mortui, qui in Domino mori-unters.” The centre was occupied by an altar, & a platform of marble for receiving the coffin during the performance of service. Over the altar was the figure of our blessed Lord on the cross – & behind that again painted in a rude fashion on the walls, was a representation of the Archangel with his trumpet & the dead about to arise from their graves, at the awful voice which cried aloud “Exurgite mortui et venite ad judicorum.” The rest of the chapel was arranged in strict accordance with the design of the place.

When we had sufficiently satisfied our curiosity, we turned our attention to the graves or resting places of the dead. The aspect of these was very different from those with us. No numerous hillocks studded the ground, causing, those inequalities so common with us. On the contrary I could hardly believe I was in a burial ground, from looking for these in vain. The whole surface seemed almost level, – I say almost level because upon looking very attentively I could perceive some degree of rising – but then this rising was continuous & not broken as it would be, if each individual had had a separate home. Upon enquiring I was told that the blacks, & if I mistake not also the whites were interred in trenches – that quicklime was put on them & their remains trampled down to occupy as little room as possible. I did notice indeed some few separate birth[s], belonging to persons qui could purchase such an indulgence, as not to mix their more precious dust with the mass of common mould. Close to the church, the ground was hollowed out in family vaults which were solidly cased with stone, and shut in with marble covers – These were chiefly for the great men of the earth – the Condes – Ducs – Marquises of old Spain & Habana. On the coverings were sculptured (in North America) the arms & titles of the illustrious family – with the names of such of the their houses as lay interred there. Others belonged to mere men, as if (ha! ha! ha!) their descendant would not squander their riches & become so poor that to bury them in such a splendid monument would [be] a libel on poor humanity.

Of similar strength, elegance & construction were many vaults for the Clergy – 1st for the Archbishops of whom only one had died in that land from its first discovery – they being appointed only for a few years – & he died here, because when his time was up, he was so much beloved, that the people declared they would have no other – a most glorious testimony to Christian worth, as great as it was rare. Then came deacons _ & priests – curates & those who had deserved well of the Church.

I was sorry that no funeral took place while we were there, as I should like to have witnesses the ceremonies, usual on such occasions. But nevertheless we spent a considerable time there, walking up and down, making our remarks & comparisons. You will hardly believe when I tell you that there were many well dressed & young & beautiful women promenading about, as if it were quite fashionable to repair to those scenes which are eagerly shunned by our fair countrywomen. Whence arises this difference. I think it lies in the neglect of our Church yards – in suffering weeds & noxious plants to luxuriate unchecked – and in consequence a horror & disgust, which prevents them from visiting the last abodes of their deceased friends. If then our Church Yards were so neatly kept & as tastefully arranged – as open & as fresh as those of Habana, are should then find that these places would be resorted too for the purpose of pleasing meditation & that we should leave them better men & women then when we entered them.

When it was time, we again embarked on board our Volante’s, and got under weigh for the country. We could not go far as darkness was at hand, but what we did see filled us with admiration. The finely diversified view of hill & dale – of castles & houses all around – of the trees – high cultivation – & prospect of ornamental landscape – elicited from all of us an expression of pleasure & delight – the more intense at the cause which gave rise to it, was quite unexpected.

Almeda at Habana

Soon we directed our Volantes City-Ward and arrived at the Almeda just as the fashionables had began to assemble for their promenade. Here we dismissed our Volantes, and walked in one of the long avenues for foot-passengers, which are on either side of the centre path which is only for the equipages. The whole concern was conducted with great gravity & decorum. I never in all my life saw so many gigs together (for there were no other vehicles), the number I am told, and I readily believe it, to nearly 400. I could hardly help considering the whole as a pace. The Volantes were compelled to go down one side of the immensely long promenade, & to return by the other. There was no driving allowed. The pace was as solemn & slow, as if had been assisting at a funeral. The one followed in the wake of the others – & none were permitted to leave the lane of march. Dragoons were stationed at regular intervals, with a red flag on the end of a long staff, its [to] remove obstacles & preserve order – which services were in frequent requisition. All at once there would be a sudden halt, which like a shock of electricity, operated upon all behind the cause of the halt – and after 5 or ten [?], they would [go] on again.

From what I said you may easily conceive that we had abundance of time & opportunity to criticize the brave gents & the beautiful ladies who filled these gigs. I believe indeed we saw all the sites of Habana – nor did she blush to enter into comparison with any other city for beauty. The ladies were all brunettes & wore white gowns, leaving the shoulders and bosom bare. I saw no display of ribbons or jewels & perfectly at the time concurred with Thompson that beauty unadorned adorns the most. The senoras sat quite unconcerned at the ardent gazes of the spectators & outstared to as great perfection as our fashionables in London. We could not help laughing at some of the groupes of very fat women & lank lean cavaliers seated together with one or two peccaninies to make up the party. Altogether I was highly gratified & pleased with this the Hyde Park of Habana.

We had now loitered so long that it was become totally dark & we therefore thought of returning. But first being thirsty we had some coffee in a Coffee-house which was very crowded, and had two billiard rooms in active use. With the last of our coffee we departed, reached M.r Trilarren in the town, where having collected all our men – passengers & party, we started off in our gig for our Packet, which lay but a very short distance off, heartily wishing that next day might rise upon us with the pleasant prospect of a charge of wind, to enable us to leave Habana.

Monday 3rd March – my first object on getting up this morning was to ascertain the direction of the wind, when to my great regret, I found that it blew as hard and as previously from the same quarter as ever. I was so annoyed at this that altho’ our boat visited the shore several times, I had no spirits to take advantage of the opportunity and mentally resolved not to go to the Town any more. I believe my sentiments were participated in by all & by none I am sure more so than by our Mexican General & his family, to whom our protracted stay must have been very tiresome for the following reason. He never went ashore, nor his wife & family with the exception of two very young daughters, because he was apprehensive, that if he did so, his enemies at home would gladly seize upon this as a pretext to confiscate his immense wealth in mexico 0 and allege that from resentment at being banished, he had been plotting with the Spanish authorities at Habana, to restore the Spanish Domination in Mexico. But if the General did restrain himself from participating in the pleasures & honours which might have awaited him on shore – he could not complain of want of company on board – for officers & civilians – ladies & gentlemen crowded our small vessel to see him & from morning till night, we had always some strangers with us, who by the bye did not disdain to breakfast & dine with such humble persons as we were. Notwithstanding all this the Marquis frequently expressed his impatience to be off, and repeatedly make the most anxious [enquiries] as to the time when it was likely we could set sail.

Suspicions of two Schooners

About one oClock the wind altered several points, in our favour & the Captain resolved to start. We only awaited for one gentleman, who was going with us from Habana to  England, but where he was we could not tell. We had fired three guns for him before he was perceived, he was coming & in the mean time had prepared every thing for starting the moment he should come on board.

At three oClock he arrived – the anchor was weighed – the sails were set – and away we went out of the Harbour in gallant style. As yet we had very little motion, being under the lee of the land, but no sooner had we passed the castle than we pitched and rolled at no rate whatever – & all but we old stagers were too much occupied with themselves to be able to pay any attention to the other vessels who had sailed with us.

Not so regardless were we – for having so much money on board we were rather suspicious. To windward & ahead of us was a very fine schooner, which as it sailed a little before us, we had noticed to have plenty of men & large long brass piece amidships. Instead of making all sail she could, and going two miles for our mile she had very little sail set, and her topsails, tho’ loosed were lowered down to the cap. Behind us again was another & similar schooner, also well to windward of us, which had left after us. She had [all] sail set which she could carry & was very rapidly overhauling us – & the schooner ahead. I should likewise [say] that behind us was a large American ship bound thro’ the gulf – but of her we took no particular notice. The movements of the two schooners alone we carefully noted. The first, when the second was almost abreast of her, hoisted her topsails – and they both sailed in Company for some little time, shewing that if they pleased they could easily keep to windward of us. After a little while the first edged away off the wind, crossing our bows to leeward, & when we expected that she intended to go large before the wind in order to get into the gulf of Mexico, lo & behold as soon as she was under our lee, he hauled upon his wind & kept jogging along so as to keep pace with us – as did the second one to windward under shortened sail.

The consequence then of this manoeuvre was that we were thus sailing between both & liable to be attack[ed] on both sides at once. If these people had been honest, they must have been also fools – for otherwise their proceedings were quite inexplicable. But if they had piratical designs, their plan was well conceived, & might have been effectual, had they not excited our suspicions. We saw they could weather and outstrip us whenever they pleased – then why did one lose his advantage ground by running to leeward – for every sailor knows how desirable it is to get as much to windward as possible. Then also why did the one to leeward haul upon his wind immediately after – the question was utterly inexplicable on this supposition that they were honest & sensible people – but clear as noon day, if [they] had any designs of attacking and boarding us. This latter belief was the one which our Commander [held] & he proceeded to act with the energy which the circumstances required.

It was now gradually becoming darker & darker but we could still descry the two superior vessels – & perceive that they were gradually narrowing the ground between us and them. All hands were then called on deck, and each man took his station in order to put the ship about towards the land. Put down the helm – gently there, not too fast – helms a lee – tacks and sheets – mainsail haul –  pull round the yards quick men – work smartly –  haul aft the main sheet – with many other necessary orders were loudly given & promptly obeyed – for all were aware of the cause of this manoeuvre. As soon as we were fully about the guns were ordered to be loaded – the boarders pikes & tomahawks to be handed on deck – the musquets – pistols & cutlasses to be all prepared for instant use – and a sufficient quantity of ammunition to be taken from the Magazine. After this had been all done, the men were called to quarters & we awaited with some trepidation – for the event was somewhat unexpected – to see what would follow.

There was now too little light to enable us to observe the effect produced on the schooners by our proceeding – but no doubt, if our suspicions of their character were correct they must have been very much astonished & mollified at our escape – for escape it certainly was, since we were still in sight of Habana, and no firing could have taken place without exciting notice of those on shore, when immediately a French Corvette lying there would have come to our assistance. I have no doubt also but our jokers, concerned we had discovered their true character and that we had gone back again to our former anchorage. If they thought so, they were much mistaken, for after standing on for three hours we again tacked to pursue the same course as before, with this certainty that if our old companions were honest people we should never see them again, being too far ahead of us – and if we did see them, we should know for a certainty by what epithet to call them, & act accordingly. It also luckily so happened, that we could not clear so high as before, & could only make a North course whereas the Schooners must have made a good deal of Easting – thereby lessening the chance of meeting them. As a measure however of necessary precaution, all hands were on deck during the night, with arms and ammunition all at hand in case of need.

Altogether this was a most dismal afternoon & night – a heavy sea & louring sky – fresh breezes & occasional squalls – all our passengers sick & terrified – the necessity of haste & the uncertainty in which we were – all combined to fluster us and make us desponding. From these causes effects I was not free – & did not retire till very late, having my peculiar preparations to make as well as the others. I entirely agreed with our Master & Mate when they observed how wrong it was to have had all our money intended for Habana spread on deck, to be seen by all who came on board & which was capable of exciting the cupidity of the numerous boatmen & perhaps disguised spies who came with gentlemen or as bumboatmen.

For four days this scene had been daily exhibited – & any one in Habana might from this carelessness have known we had plenty of money. Is it to be thought then that such a tempting display would have been without effect in a place formerly so famous for the host of pirates that sailed from it – and that there were not many people, who would [not] be willing to risk their lives for so rich a prize, seeing what dangers they will encounter for a few slaves whose value is variable & which they may lose. No the supposition – is most improbable – and to admit it would be to admit that there existed in Habana more morality & less regard for money than experience has ever shewn it to possess from its first discovery until now. Besides we should not forget, that it must have been generally known how weakly armed & manned we were (with only two pop guns & 21 men) – which would hold out the inducement of a speedy and easy conquest, a prospect inspiriting to the veriest coward.
All this however is mere speculation, and perhaps the real truth as to our suspicions, will never be known till the day of final judgement when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed.

Tuesday 4th March – to day the objects of our suspicions were no where visible – but we were in sight of our American friend. The weather was cloudy and the breeze fresh and foul. The sea ran high, with short jumping waves which caused the Old Duke to bob & roll without intermission to our great annoyance. It was not the wind alone – which occasioned all this bobbery – but it was it & the current combined. For the current was running in our direction very strongly, whilst the waves were impelled in the opposite one producing a constant battle between the two opposing forces. Of course we made very little way.

Wednesday 5th – fine weather. Heavy sea. Fresh but foul wind. Several vessels in sight – none of them suspicious.

Thursday 6th – very fine weather. Moderate and favourable freeze. Still some sea, but much less.

Friday 7th – fine weather. Moderate and favourable wind.

Saturday 8th March – very fine weather. Moderate and favourable breeze.

Read on …