Wildlife & Adventure

Dogs of Carthagena

Besides the curious admixture of the inhabitants which attracts your attention so forcibly, there are one or two other living objects, which I remarked. In the neighbourhood of Carthagena there are immense numbers of dogs to be met with of a very handsome appearance, but with nothing else to recommend them. They are very cowardly and fly from the least shew of resistance, in short and in truth ‘their bark is worse than their bite.’ For no sooner do you approach a negroe hut at night, than your ears are completely stunned with their discordant bow-wowing – and, if ignorant of their qualities, you may feel alarmed when you see them advancing by dozens yelling with open threats – but you have nothing more to do than to shake a stick at them, and immediately they run off. I must mention here, that a gentleman who accompanied us back to Jamaica brought a Scottish terrier with him, whose body exhibited numerous scars marks of wounds. Of this animal he told me that when he had first arrived at Carthagena no single dog would dare to face him – but that many of them would combine together to attack him, and even would have the worst of it – by which means his prowess was well known that with whatever odds, they would now never venture to call upon them. Do not the dogs in this respect only imitate their masters?

Turkey Buzzard – Bat called the Vampire

There is a very useful bird which I have frequently seen here and which is well deserved of notice. It is named among us as the Turkey-buzzard – is nearly of the size of a hen and of a black colour, and graceful form. Their utility is such, that they are never permitted to be killed – and but for them fevers, plagues and every disease which might arise from dirt, filth, and the fetid exhalations from putrescent animal & vegetable matter, would rage with fury. If any filth is left in the Streets you will perceive large numbers of them flocking to the scene as to a dinner or a feast – and they are the scavengers of Carthagena and well entitled to the public protection for the highly important services, which they render to that same public.

Vampire Bat in Carthagena

Directly opposite in character to this useful bird, Carthagena is infested with one, which is a great curse & nuisance as the other is a blessing and a benefit. The bird I allude to is that species of bat, which by naturalists is called the vampire. You must have often heard of the vampire bat – but our conceptions of it are widely different from the reality. This bat is of large size and is to be found in large numbers in almost every house. Suppose that overnight, you lie down fatigued and anxious for repose – Your sleep, we shall suppose, has been unusually sound, and you do not awake till late in the morning, when all at once you are sensible of great weakness and an unusual sensation in the feet, generally the big toe. A transient look will fill you with alarm and enable you to account very naturally for the unpleasant effects which you feel. From an aperture not much longer than the bite of a leach an immense quantity of blood has welled out, leaving the sheets & with the matrass soaked in blood. And all this mischief has been wrought by the vampire, who coming when you are asleep, pierces your toes, and drink[s] greedily your life’s blood. Strangers are more subject to the visitations of this horrible monster than, the natives and unless they use sufficient precautions they will suffer in the same way at many different times, and experience a considerable extraction. What is it in all the world, that causes these noxious animals, as well as the mosquitoes, to prefer tormenting a European than a South American. Is the blood of the former richer more plentiful and more delicious from that of the latter? Or is there any thing in the influence of the climate which acts upon the blood or skin, so as to prove disagreeable to these pests? These questions are questions, which can only be attempted to be resolved by conjecture, and I am afraid we must wait, until we attain a knowledge of the language of animals, and learn from the mosquitoes and the vampires themselves why they are such epicures in the article of blood.

[Seizure of Captain’s Money]

Having now furnished all that I had in mind to tell you of Carthagena, [and] its inhabitants, I shall before leaving it, I shall relate one or two circumstances – of a more personal nature. You must know, then, that the Custom House here are very strict in observing the state regulations, respecting the export of Columbian coin. So much per cent must be paid before exportation is allowed – and all found otherwise in your possession is forfeited. Gold in coin or bars may be exported – but gold dust cannot at all. Well, our Captain, having a good deal of business on shore sent to have his escritoire brought to his lodgings. It so happened that there were (I think) 40 doubloons in it, which, when it was carried to the custom House to be examined, were there seen by the searching officer who, after enquiring if they were the personal property of the Capt.n and receiving an answer in the affirmative allowed them to pass without scruple. A few days after the writing desk was required to be sent on board – and in it were the same doubloons and a very few more.
[Captain and his money].

The same officer as had allowed them to pass before now detained the desk and money, because [there] chanced to be a few more doubloons. The seizure of so considerable a sum (about £180) the private property of the Captain and which, having received it as passage money, he made no attempt to conceal, excited, as may be suppose[d] no slight uneasiness to our Commander. About the same time too, a M.r Teague, a passenger, had 250 silver dollars seized thro’ ignorance of the laws here, and, when he made application for their restitution, he was put off from day to day, and might never have discovered them, had he not applied to the [same] person as the Captain, viz. M.r Watts the British Consul. He, upon being informed of the circumstance of the seizure, waited upon the proper authorities, and by the cogent arguments (whatever they were) which he used, he procured the whole money to be restored at the expense of only 1 doubloon (£3-£4)! To the great disappointment I have no doubt of all the parties who had expected to have shared in the fortunate Capture, for I think, it will be easily supposed that little or none of the money would have gone into the public coffers.

[Personal adventure at Carthagena]

One day, when M.r Geach and I happened to be ashore – about this business, as the Capt.n was confined by the Gout, having some time left on hand, we determined to take a stroll – and see the nakedness of the land, our choice lay at first along the parapet wall which surrounded the city. We proceeded very leisurely examining and remarking upon the different pieces of cannon, which were planted there. Some were as I have already mentioned, in a wretched condition, whilst others were quite of a superior character. The latter, chiefly were brass, and cast either in Spain or France, and in general had either names or inscriptions on them. With the sentiment expressed by one inscription in particular, I was much struck and fearful lest I should forget it. I inconsiderately, and forgetful that I was not now in England the land of liberty, but in a country, where every thing at the present moment was viewed with an eye of suspicion, pulled out my pocket-book and jotted it down. The inscription was a quotation, if I mistake it not from Horace, and was in these words, ultima ratio requm. While the last argument of Kings intimating that when powerful states failed to convince their weaker allies by words, they have recourse to arms, as a last & incontrovertible argument. After having noted this down I restored my memorandum book to its former place and turned my attention to some other pieces. Happening to turn round in order to see some object, we were sensible to the rapid approach of a soldier, who upon coming up to us halted all at once and commenced a long harangue in which the words “Commandant and cannonen were all which were intelligible to us. We guessed however that he meant to tell us that the Commandant, whom we had passed seated in the miserable guard house, a few hundred yards from where we were, had observed me writing something respecting the cannon, and wished us to return to the Guard House. After he had delivered his message, he stood with an air of attention, awaiting our reply. Of course, as we were ignorant of Spanish, we could neither answer in the affirmative nor negative – but sheltering ourselves under the plea of “No Entiendo” (I do not understand), and asking him if Habas ustest Inglese, we continued our route, looking as innocent, and unconcerned as possible, although our very vitals quaked with fear, lest he should attempt to enforce our attendance upon the Commandant, in which case we should have been placed in a precarious predicament; as you may readily guess from what I [am] going to tell you. In my memorandum book I had written a few notes respecting the situation and appearance of Carthagena, which coupled with the very suspicious circumstance of having been seen making observations on the cannons, might have produced a confinement in the prison for an indefinite period, besides some other judgement not even so agreeable. When people are prejudiced in any opinion, it is so far from being an easy matter to disabuse them that even every trifling circumstance is exaggerated and heightened twisted and perverted to suit their previous sentiments. Hence the unimportant and often inaccurate details which I put down might easily have been misconstrued and the innocent intention of affording amusement and information to friends at home, might certainly have been magnified into a desperate and nefarious attempt to expose the true state of Cargthgena as to weakness and strength to those who might [seek] the possession of it.

From all the considerations, you may easily conceive the pleasure, nay the ecstasy which we felt, when we perceived that no obstruction was intended or offered to our onward course – and I promise you we did not spent much time in examining the remainder of the cannon, but on the contrary we proceeded with rather considerable speed looking neither to the right nor to the left, until after taking the most unfrequented streets and at times glancing backwards from fear of pursuit, our distance dispelled our fears and restored the equilibrium of our minds. Perhaps you may imagine that our fears were groundless, and that we were frightened at a shadow – but no, I have heard from persons long resident there that we ought to have esteemed ourselves exceedingly fortunate in escaping so easily, for in the present excited state of public feeling when one man can hardly trust his friends it would not at all have been a subject of surprise, if we had been most severely punished. In confirmation of this I was told the story of a young English gentleman who had been as thoughtless and imprudent as ourselves. He it seems was possessed of a fine talent for drawing, and in the course of his pictorial excursions, had thought that the view of Carthagena from the elevated heights of the Popa was a very fine subject for the pencil. Having once formed this opinion, he lost no time but set about the undertaking with great spirit. For some time, being unobserved, he got on most swimmingly, and much to his own satisfaction – but at last his object being discovered, his labours received a most disagreeable interruption, as he was suddenly arrested and conveyed to the public prison, from whence he did not escape / but with the utmost difficulty, and the most urgent intercession on the part of the British residents, and not till he had suffered a confinement of many months, and paid a heavy fine. To me, altho’ the consequences of my indiscretion turned out so fortunate, yet the apprehension, which I so deservedly felt will always serve to remind me to use more carefulness and circumspection in future.

The usual time of a packet’s stay at Carthagena is 3 days, but in consequence of the disturbed state of the country and the non arrival of the Bogata Mail, we were detained five days more.

Leave Carthagena – Menagerie

On Tuesday then, the 5th of October, at 4 P.M. we left the Harbour of Carthagena, and at 7 P.M. came to an anchor in the night.

Wednesday 6th – early this morning we weighed anchor, passed the Boca Chica, before mentioned, and lay off and on before the Town waiting for the Mail. At 12 A.M. the Mail was brought on board, when we finally sailed for Jamaica. Our deck resembled a complete menagerie. We had about 20 parrots and as many parraquets, 6 black monkeys, a tiger cat – and a racoon, which three last were sent by the British Consul to his friends. Beside these animals our captain himself had received a very peculiar animal, which the Columbians called “Coco-coco. It is covered with a smooth greyish-brownish skin, its fore and hind parts are perfectly denuded of hair, and as soft smooth and white as the human hand. His appearance in the head resembles that of a fox, tho’ the snout is rather short, and his tail seems to possess the same power as that of monkeys. During the day he is buried in profound sleep – but in the night season he is all life & activity. He is very tame, and very affectionate – an universal favourite with the ships company, and goes by the familiar name of Bobby. Which he has learnt to recognise. His principal food is biscuit – but he will eat animal food and has once or twice killed some poultry by entwining his long tail round their necks thereby producing strangulation.

One of our passengers, the Duke of Montebello, brought a bird called a the Toucan peculiar to South America, and remarkable for the size and strength of his bill, and a beautiful one with yellow plumage, named the Thoupiar/Troupiar [?]. This last was a fine singer and full of roguery like the magpie. Our collection of animals was completed by two Macaws, or large parrots – a reptile, not poisonous, called the “Cuano” – a curious species of duck, named “Muscovy” ducks, which had a peculiar appearance about the head and their feet were armed with long sharp claws – two wild turkeys, which were as different as possible from what are seen at home – and two large turtle, weighing each about 200 lbs weight.

With this miscellaneous cargo we now entered our voyage, having the wind pretty fresh but unfavourable. The Weather was fine.

Thursday 7 October – fine strong and nearly favourable breeze – W.r fine.

Friday 9th, Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th – breeze variable and W.r favourable.

Monday 12th, Tuesday 13th – fine W.r but nearly calm.

Read on … Jamaica (2)