To the Gold Coast for Gold
By Richard F. Burton
Public Domain Books
PRELIMINARY: TRIESTE TO LISBON.
The glory of an explorer, I need hardly say, results not so much from the extent, or the marvels of his explorations, as from the consequences to which they lead. Judged by this test, my little list of discoveries has not been unfavoured of fortune. Where two purblind fever-stricken men plodded painfully through fetid swamp and fiery thorn-bush over the Zanzibar-Tanganyika track, mission-houses and schools may now be numbered by the dozen. Missionaries bring consuls, and consuls bring commerce and colonisation. On the Gold Coast of Western Africa, whence came the good old ’guinea,’ not a washing-cradle, not a pound of quicksilver was to be found in 1862; in 1882 five mining companies are at work; and in 1892 there will be as many score.
I had long and curiously watched from afar the movement of the Golden Land, our long-neglected El Dorado, before the opportunity of a revisit presented itself. At last, in the autumn of 1881, Mr. James Irvine, of Liverpool, formerly of the West African ’Oil-rivers,’ and now a large mine-owner in the Gulf of Guinea, proposed to me a tour with the object of inspecting his concessions, and I proposed to myself a journey of exploration inland. The Foreign Office liberally gave me leave to escape the winter of Trieste, where the ferocious Bora (nor’-nor’-easter) wages eternal war with the depressing and distressing Scirocco, or south-easter. Some One marvelled aloud and said, ’You are certainly the first that ever applied to seek health in the “genial and congenial climate” of the West African Coast.’ But then Some One had not realised the horrors of January and February at the storm-beaten head of the ever unquiet Adriatic.
Thus it happened that on November 18,1881, after many adieux and au revoirs, I found myself on board the Cunard s.s. Demerara (Captain C. Jones), bound for ’Gib.’ My wife was to accompany me as far as Hungarian Fiume.
The Cunard route to ’Gib’ is decidedly roundabout. We began with a run to Venice, usually six hours from the Vice-Queen of the Adriatic: it was prolonged to double by the thick and clinging mist-fog. The sea-city was enjoying her usual lethargy of repose after the excitement of the ’geographical Carnival,’ as we called the farcical Congress of last September. She is essentially a summering place. Her winter is miserable, neither city nor houses being built for any but the finest of fine weather; her ’society’-season lasts only four months from St. Stephen’s Day; her traveller-seasons are spring and autumn. We found all our friends either in bed with bad colds, or on the wing for England and elsewhere; we inhaled a quant. suff. of choking vapour, even in the comfortable Britannia Hotel; and, on the morning of the 23rd, we awoke to find ourselves moored alongside of the new warehouses on the new port of Hungarian, or rather Croatian, Fiume.
Fiume had made prodigious strides since I last saw her in 1878; and she is gradually taking the wind out of the sails of her sister-rival. While old Tergeste wastes time and trouble upon futile questions of policy, and angry contrasts between Germans and Slavs, and Italians and Triestines, Fiume looks to the main chance. The neat, clean, and well-watered little harbour-city may be called a two-dinner-a-day place, so profuse is her hospitality to strangers. Here, too, we once more enjoyed her glorious outlook, the warm winter sun gilding the snowy-silvery head of Monte Maggiore and raining light and life upon the indigo-tinted waters of Fiume Bay. Next to Naples, I know nothing in Europe more beautiful than this ill-named Quarnero. We saw a shot or so of the far-famed Whitehead torpedo, which now makes twenty-one miles an hour; and on Nov. 25 we began to run down the Gulf en route for Patras.
It was a pleasure to emerge from the stern and gloomy Adriatic; and nothing could be more lovely than the first evening amongst the Ionian Islands. To port, backed by the bold heights of the Grecian sea-range, lay the hoary mount, and the red cliffs, 780 feet high, of Sappho’s Leap, a never-forgotten memory. Starboard rose bleak Ithaca, fronting the black mountain of Cephalonia, now bald and bare, but clothed with dark forests till these were burnt down by some mischievous malignant. Whatever of sterility deformed the scene lay robed under a glory of colour painted with perfect beauty by the last smile of the sun. Earth and air and sea showed every variety of the chromatic scale, especially of rose-tints, from the tenderest morning blush of virgin snow to the vinous evening flush upon the lowlands washed by the purple wave. The pure translucent vault never ceased to shift its chameleon-like hues, that ranged between the diaphanous azure of the zenith and the faintest rainbow green, a border-land where blue and yellow met and parted. The air felt soft and balmy; a holy calm was on the face of creation; all looked delicious after the rude north, and we acknowledged once more that life was worth living.
Patras also has greatly improved since I last saw her in 1872. The malaria-swamps to the north and south of the town have been drained and are being warped up: the ’never-failing succession of aguish fevers’ will presently fade out of the guide-books. A macadamised boulevard has been built, and a breakwater is building. The once desert square, ’Georgios A’,’ has been planted with trees, which should be Eucalyptus; and adorned with two French statues of bronze which harmonise admirably with the surroundings. The thoroughfares are still Sloughs of Despond after rain, and gridirons of St. Laurence in dusty summer; but there are incipient symptoms of trottoirs. And throughout there is a disappearance of the hovels which resembled Port Sa’id in her younger day, and a notable substitution of tall solid houses.
All this has been brought about by ’fruit,’ which in Patras means currants; that is, ’Corinthian grapes.’ The export this year is unusual, 110,000 tons, including the Morea and the Islands; and of this total only 20,000 go to France for wine-making. It gives a surprising idea of the Christmas plum-pudding manufacture. Patras also imports for all the small adjacent places, inhabited by ’shaggy capotes.’ And she will have a fine time when that talented and energetic soldier, General Türr, whom we last met at Venice, begins the ’piercing of the Isthmus.’ À propos of which, one might suggest to Patras, with due respect, that (politically speaking) ’honesty is the best policy.’
Being at Patras on St. Andrew’s Day, with a Scotch demoiselle on board, we could hardly but pilgrimage to the place of the Apostle’s martyrdom. Mrs. Wood kindly sent her daughters to do the honours. Aghyos Andreas lies at the extreme south of the town on the system of ruts, called a road, which conducts down-coast. The church is a long yellow barn, fronting a cypress-grown cemetery, whose contents are being transferred to the new extramural. A little finger of the holy man reposes under a dwarf canopy in the south-eastern angle: his left arm is preserved at Mount Athos in a silver reliquary, set with gems. Outside, near the south-western corner, is the old well of Demeter (Ceres), which has not lost its curative virtues by being baptised. You descend a dwarf flight of brick steps to a mean shrine and portrait of the saint, and remark the solid bases and the rude rubble arch of the pagan temple. A fig-tree, under which the martyrdom took place, grew in the adjacent court; it has long been cut down, probably for fuel.
The population of Patras still affords a fine study of the ’dirty picturesque,’ with clothes mostly home-made; sheepskin cloaks; fustanellas or kilts, which contain a whole piece of calico; red leggings, and the rudest of sandals; Turkish caps, and an occasional pistol-belt. The Palikar still struts about in all his old bravery; and the bourgeois humbly imitates the dingy garb of Southern Italy. The people have no taste for music, no regard for art, no respect for antiquities, except for just as much as these will bring. They own two, and only two, objects in life: firstly, to make money, and secondly, to keep and not to spend it. But this dark picture has a bright side. No race that I know is so greedy of education; the small boys, instead of wending unwillingly to school, crowd the doors before they are opened. Where this exceptional feeling is universal we may hope for much.
The last evening at Patras showed us a beautiful view of what is here called Parnassus (Parnassó), the tall bluff mountain up the Gulf, whose snows at sunset glowed like a balass ruby. We left the Morea at 2 A.M. (December 2), and covered the fifty-two miles to Zante before breakfast. There is, and ever has been, something peculiarly sympathetic to me in the ’flower of the Levant.’ ’Eh! ’tis a bonny, bonny place,’ repeatedly ejaculated our demoiselle. The city lies at the foot of the grey cliffs, whose northern prolongation extends to the Akroteri, or Lighthouse Point. A fine quay, the Strada Marina, has been opened during the last six years along the northern sea-front, where the arcades suggest those of Chester. It is being prolonged southwards to the old quarantine-ground and the modern prison, which rests upon the skirts of the remarkable Skopo, the Prospect Mountain, 1,489 feet high. This feature, which first shows itself to mariners approaching Zakynthos from north or from south, has a saddle-back sky-line, with a knob of limestone shaped like a Turkish pommel and sheltering its monastery, Panaghia of Skopo, alias Our Lady of the Look-out. Below it appears another and a similar outcrop near a white patch which has suggested marble-quarrying; and the northern flank is dotted with farmhouses and villas. The dwarf breakwater, so easily prolonged over the shallows, has not been improved; but at its base rises a brand-new opera-house, big enough for a first-rate city. Similarly at Barletta they raised a loan to build a mole and they built a theatre. Unlike Patras, Zante long had the advantage of Italian and then of English rule; and the citizens care for music more than for transformation-scenes. The Palikar element also is notably absent; and the soldiers are in uniform, not in half-uniform and half-brigand attire. I missed the British flag once so conspicuous upon the southern round tower of the castle, where in days, or rather nights, of old I had spent not a few jolly hours; but I heard with pleasure that it is proposed to make a haute-ville of the now deserted and crumbling triangle, a Sommerfrisch where the parboiled citizens of Athens will find a splendid prospect and a cooling sea-breeze.
Mr. E. Barff kindly accompanied us in the usual drive ’round the Wrekin,’ for which we may here read the ’wreck.’ We set out along the sea-flank of the Castle hill. This formation, once a regular hog’s-back, has been split by weather about the middle; and its southern end has been shaken down by earthquakes, and carved by wind and rain into precipices and pinnacles of crumbling sandstone, which form the ’Grey Cliffs.’ Having heard at Patras the worst accounts of Zante since it passed under Greek rule, I was not a little surprised by the excellent condition of the roads and the general look of prosperity.
Turning to the right we entered Mr. Barff’s garden-house, where the grounds were bright and beautiful with balsam and mignonette, dahlias and cyclamens, chrysanthemums and oleanders, jasmine and double-violets, orange-blossoms, and a perfect Gulistan of roses, roses of York and Lancaster, white, pink, and purple, yellow and green–a perfumed spring in dreary December. Laden with bouquets we again threaded the olive-grounds, whose huge trunks are truly patriarchal, and saw basking in the sun old Eumæus, the Swine-King, waiting upon his black and bristly herd. The glimpse led to a characteristic tale. A wealthy Greek merchant in London had made the most liberal offers to his brother, a shepherd in the hills of Cephalonia; the latter returned his very best thanks, but declared himself perfectly happy and unwilling to tempt fortune by change of condition to England. Greece, it is evident, has not ceased to breed ’wise men.’
We returned, viâ the landward flank of the hog’s-back, along the fine plain (’O Kampos’) bounded west by the range called after Mount Meriy, the apex, rising 3,274 feet. Anglo-Zantiots fondly compare its outline with the Jura’s. The look of the rich lowlands, ’the vale,’ as our charts call it, suggested a river-valley, but river there is none. Every nook and corner was under cultivation, and each country-house had its chapel and its drying-ground for ’fruit,’ level yards now hidden under large-leaved daisies and wild flowers. We passed through the Graetani village, whose tenants bear a bad name, and saw none of the pretty faces for which Zante is famed. The sex was dressed in dark jackets and petticoats à l’italienne; and the elders were apparently employed in gathering ’bitter herbs,’ dandelion and the wild endive. Verily this is a frugal race.
The drive ended with passing up the Strada Larga, the inner High Street, running parallel with the Marina. After Turkish fashion, trades flock together, shoemakers to the south and vegetable-vendors to the north. There are two good specimens of Venetian palazzetti, one fantastic, the other classical; and there is a rough pavement, which is still wanting in Patras. A visit to the silk-shop of Garafuglia Papaiouanou was obligatory: here the golden-hued threads reminded me of the Indian Tussur-moth. Also de rigueur was the purchase of nougat and raki, the local mandorlato and mastaché, almond-cake and grape-spirit.
Zante appears to me an excellent home for a large family with a small income. A single man lives at the best hotel (Nazionale) for forty-five francs per week. A country-house with nine bedrooms, cellarage, stabling, dog-house, orangery, and large garden, is to be had for 25l. a year. Fowls cost less than a franc; turkeys, if you do not buy them from a shipchandler, two francs and a half. The strong and sherry-flavoured white wine of Zante rarely exceeds three shillings the gallon, sixpence a bottle. And other necessaries in the same proportion.
But, oh that St. Dionysius, patron saint of Zante, would teach his protégés a little of that old Persian wisdom which abhorred a lie and its concomitants, cheating and mean trickery! The Esmeralda, after two days and one night at Zante, was charged 15l., for pilotage, when the captain piloted himself; for church, where there is no parson; and for harbour dues where there is no harbour. It is almost incredible that so sharp-witted a race can also be so short-sighted; so wise about pennies, so foolish about pounds.
On Saturday we left Zante in the teeth of a fresh but purely local north-easter, which whistled through the gear and hurled the spray high up Cape Skinari. The result was, as the poet sings–
That peculiar up-and-down motion Which belongs to the treacherous ocean.
Not without regret I saw the last of the memorious old castle and of Skopo the picturesque. We ran along the western shore of Cephalonia, the isle of three hundred villages: anyone passing this coast at once understands how Greece produced so many and such excellent seamen. The island was a charming spectacle, with its two culminations, Maraviglia (3,311 ft.) and Elato (5,246 ft.), both capped by purple cloud; its fertile slopes and its fissured bight, Argostoli Bay, running deep into the land.
We fondly expected to pass the Messina Straits by daylight, and to cast another glance upon old Etna, Scylla and Charybdis, the Liparis and Stromboli. And all looked well, as about noon we were abreast of Cape Spartivento, the ’Split-wind’ which divides the mild northers and southers of the Straits from the raw Boras and rotting Sciroccos of the Adriatic. But presently a signal for succour was hoisted by a marvellous old tub, a sailer-made-steamer, sans boats, sans gunwales; a something whose dirt and general dilapidation suggested the Flying Dutchman. I almost expected to see her drop out of form and crumble into dust as our boys boarded her. The America, of Barletta, bound from Brindisi to Genoa, had hurt her boilers. We hauled in her cable–these gentry must never be trusted with a chance of slipping loose–and tugged her into Messina, thereby losing a valuable day.
The famous Straits were almost a replica of Ionian Island scenery: the shores of the Mediterranean, limestone and sandstone, with here and there a volcanic patch, continually repeat themselves. After passing the barren heel of the Boot and its stony big toe, the wady-streaked shores become populous and well cultivated, while railway trains on either side, island and continent, toss their snowy plumes in the pride of civilisation. The ruined castles on the crags and the new villages on the lowlands told their own story of Turkish and Algerine piracy, now doomed to the limbo of things that were. In the evening we were safely anchored within the zancle (sickle) of Messina-port, whose depth of water and circular shape have suggested an old crater flooded. It was Sunday, and we were greeted with the familiar sounds, the ringing of cracked bells, the screaming of harsh, hoarse voices, a military band and detached musical performances. The classical facade of the Marina, through whose nineteen archways and upper parallelograms you catch a vista of dark narrow wynd, contrasts curiously with Catania: the former is a ’dicky,’ a front hiding something unclean; while the latter is laid out in Eastern style, where, for the best of reasons, the marble palace hides behind a wall of mud. The only new features I noted were a metal fish-market, engineer art which contrasts marvellously with the Ionic pilasters and the solid ashlar of the ’dicky;’ and, at the root of the sickle, a new custom-house of six detached boxes, reddest-roofed and whitest-walled, built to copy children’s toy cottages. Croatian Fiume would blush to own them. Of the general impurity of the town and of the bouquet de Messine the less said the better.
As we made fast to the Marina our tobacco was temporarily sealed after the usual mean Italian fashion. Next morning an absurd old person, in a broad red baldrick, came on board and counted noses, to ascertain that we had not brought the dreaded small-pox from the Ionian Islands. After being graciously and liberally allowed to land, we were visited by the local chapmen, whose goods appeared rather mixed–polished cowhorns and mildewed figs, dolls in costume and corrosive oranges; by the normal musical barber, who imitates at a humble distance bird and beast; and by the vendor of binoculars, who asks forty francs and who takes ten. The captain noted his protest at the Consulate, and claimed by way of sauvetage 200l. The owners offered 200 lire–punds Scots. Briefly, noon had struck before we passed out of the noise and the smells of Messina.
Our good deed had cost us dear. A wet scirocco had replaced the bright norther and saddened all the view. Passing the tide-rip Charybdis, a meeting of currents, which called only for another hand at the wheel; and the castled crag of naughty Scylla, whose town has grown prodigiously, we bade adieu to the ’tower of Pelorus.’ Then we shaped our course for the Islands of Æolus, or the Winds, and the Lipari archipelago, all volcanic cones whose outlines were misty as Ossian’s spectres. And we plodded through the dreary dull-grey scene of drizzling scirocco–
Till, when all veilèd sank in darkling air, Naught but the welkin and the wave was there.
Next morning showed us to port the Cone of Maritimo: it outlies Marsala, whose wine caused the blinding of Polyphemus, and since that time has brought on many an attack of liver. The world then became to us pontus et aer. Days and nights were equally uneventful; the diary tells only of quiet seas under the lee of Sardinia and of the Balearics, ghostly glimpses of the North African coast and the steady setting in of the normal wester, the indraught of ’the Straits.’
On Friday (November 9) the weather broke and deluged us with rain. At Gibraltar the downpour lasted twenty-four hours. We found ourselves at anchor before midnight with a very low barometer, which suggested unpleasantries. Next morning we sighted the deep blue waters of the Bay, and the shallow brown waters of the Bayside crested with foam by a furious norther, that had powdered the far Ronda highlands with snow. Before noon, however, the gale had abated and allowed me to transfer myself and African outfit on board the Fez (Capt. Hay), Moroccan Steamship Company, trading to North Africa. This was a godsend: there is no regular line between Gibraltar and Lisbon, and one might easily be delayed for a week.
The few hours’ halt allowed me time to call upon my old friend, M. Dautez, a Belgian artist. Apparently he is the only person in the place who cares for science. He has made extensive collections. He owns twenty-four coins from Carteia, whereas Florez (Medallas, Madrid, 1773) shows a total of only thirty-three. Amongst his antiquities there is a charming statuette of Minerva, a bronze miniature admirably finished. He has collected the rock fauna, especially the molluscs, fossil and modern. He is preparing an album of the Flora Calpensis. His birds’ nests were lately sold to an Englishman. All these objects, of immense local interest, were offered by him at the lowest possible rate to the Military Library, but who is there to understand their value? I wonder how many Englishmen on the Rock know that they are within easy ride of the harbour which named the ’Ships of Tarshish’? Tartessus, which was Carteia, although certain German geographers would, against the general voice of antiquity, make the former the country and the latter the city, lay on both sides of the little Guadarranque stream, generally called First River; and the row of tumuli on the left bank probably denotes the site of the famous docks. I was anxious to open diggings in 1872, but permission was not forthcoming: now, however, they say that the Duke of Medina Sidonia would offer no objections.
Gib, though barbarous in matters of science, is civilised as regards ’business.’ It was a treat to see steamer after steamer puff in, load up with blue peter at the fore, and start off after a few hours which would have been days at Patras, Zante, and Messina. Here men work with a will, as a walk from the Convent to the Old Mole, the Mersa or water-port of a Moroccan town, amply proves. The uniforms are neat and natty–they were the reverse five years ago–and it is a pleasure to look upon the fresh faces of English girls still unstained by unconsumed carbon. And the authorities have had the good sense to preserve the old Moorish town of Tárik and his successors, the triangle of walls with the tall tower-like mosque for apex, and the base facing the bay.
We left Gibraltar at 5 P.M. on Saturday (December 10), giving a wide berth to the hated Pearl Rock, which skippers would remove by force of arms. Seen from east or west Gib has an outline of its own. The Britisher, whose pride it is, sees the ’lion of England who has laid his paw upon the key of the Mediterranean,’ and compares it with the king of beasts, sejant, the tail being Europa Point. The Spaniards, to whom it is an eyesore, liken it to a shrouded corpse, the outlined head lying to the north, and declare, truly enough, that to them it is a dead body.
The norther presently changed to the rainy south-wester, the builder of the Moroccan ’bars’ and the scourge of the coast fringing North-west Africa, Rolling set in with the usual liveliness. Events were not eventful. The first midnight found us off Cape Trafalgar, and the second off St. Vincent. At 4 P.M. (December 12), we saw the light of Espíchel (Promóntorium Barbaricum), the last that shines upon the voyager bound Brazilwards. Before nightfall we had left Buzio lighthouse to starboard. We then ran up the northern passage in charge of a lagging pilot; and, as the lamps were lighting, we found ourselves comfortably berthed off that pretty toy, Belem Tower.
Next morning broke upon a lovely view: no wonder that the Tagus is the pride of Portuguese bards. The Rosicler, or rosy dawn-light, was that of a May morning–the May of poetry, not of meteorology–and the upper windows of distant Lisbon were all ablaze with the unrisen sun. It was a picture for the loveliest colours, not for ’word-painting;’ and the whole scene was classical as picturesque. We may justly say of it, ’Nullum sine nomine saxum.’ Far over the rising hills of the north bank rose shaggy Cintra, ’the most blessed spot in the habitable globe,’ with its memorious convent and its Moorish castle. The nearer heights were studded with the oldest-fashioned windmills, when the newest are found even in the Canaries; a single crest bore its baker’s dozen, mostly decapitated by steam. Advancing we remarked the glorious Belem monastery, defiled by its ignoble modern ruin to the west; the new hippodrome crowning the grassy slope; the Bed House of Belem, now being brightened up for Royal residence during the Exhibition of 1882; the Memoria and the Ajuda Palace, more unfinished, if possible, than ever. As we approached the bulk of the city the marking objects were the cypressed Prazeres Cemetery; the red Necessidades Palace, and the Estrella, whose dome and domelets, built to mimic St. Peter’s, look only like hen and chickens. Then in due time came the Carmo Church, still unrepaired since 1755; Blackhorse Square, still bare of trees; the Government offices, still propped to prevent a tumble-down, and the old Custom House, still a bilious yellow; the vast barrack-like pile of S. Vicente, the historic Sé or cathedral with dumpy towers; the black Castle of São Jorge, so hardly wrung from the gallant Moors, and the huge Santa Engracia, apparently ever to be a ruin.
I spent a pleasant week at Lisbon, and had a fair opportunity of measuring what progress she has made during the last sixteen years. We have no longer to wander up and down disconsolate
Mid many things unsightly to strange ee.
If the beggars remain, the excessive dirt and the vagrant dogs have disappeared. The Tagus has a fine embankment; but the land side is occupied by mean warehouses. The sewers, like those of Trieste, still want a cloaca maxama, a general conduit of masonry running along the quay down-stream. The Rocio has been planted with mean trees, greatly to the disgust of the average Lusitanian, who hates such sun-excluding vegetation like a backwoodsman; yet the Quintella squarelet shows what fine use may be made of cactus and pandanus, aloes and palms, not to mention the ugly and useful eucalyptus. The thoroughfares are far cleaner than they were; and Lisbon is now surrounded by good roads. The new houses are built with some respect for architectonic effect of light and shade: such fine old streets as the Rua Augusta offend the eye by façades flat as cards with rows of pips for windows. Finally, a new park is being laid out to the north of the Passeio Publico.
Having always found ’Olisipo’ exceptionally hospitable and pleasant, I look forward to the days when she will be connected with Paris by direct railway. Her hotels are first-rate; her prices are not excessive; her winter climate is delightful, and she is the centre of most charming excursions. The capital has thrown off much of her old lethargy. Her Geographical Society is doing hard and honest work; she has nobly expiated the national crime by becoming a ’Camonian’ city; and she indulges freely in exhibitions. One, of Ornamental Art, was about to be opened when I last saw her, and it extended deep into the next spring.