To the Gold Coast for Gold
By Richard F. Burton
Public Domain Books
FROM LISBON TO MADEIRA.
My allotted week in Lisbon came to an end only too soon: in the society of friends, and in the Camonian room (Bibliotheca Nacional), which contains nearly 300 volumes, I should greatly have enjoyed a month. The s.s. Luso (Captain Silva), of the ’Empresa Insulana,’ one of the very few Portuguese steamers, announced her departure for December 20; and I found myself on board early in the morning, with a small but highly select escort to give me God-speed.
Unfortunately the ’May weather’ had made way for the cacimbas (mists) of a rainy sou’-wester. The bar broke and roared at us; Cintra, the apex of Lisbon’s extinct volcano and the Mountain of the (Sun and) Moon, hid her beautiful head, and even the Rock of Lisbon disdained the normal display of sturdy flank. Then set in a brise carabinée, which lasted during our voyage of 525 miles, and the Luso, rolling like a moribund whale, proved so lively that most of the fourteen passengers took refuge in their berths. A few who resisted the sea-fiend’s assaults found no cause of complaint: the captain and officers were exceedingly civil and obliging, and food and wines were good and not costly.
From Madeira the Luso makes, once a month, the tour of the Azores, touching at each island–a great convenience–and returning in ten days.
Early on Thursday, the 22nd, the lumpy, churning sea began to subside, and the invisible balm seduced all the sufferers to the quarter-deck. They were wild to sight Madeira as children to see the rising of the pantomime-curtain. There was not much to gaze at; but what will not attract man’s stare at sea?–a gull, a turtle, a flying fish! By the by, Captain Tuckey, of the Congo Expedition, remarked the ’extraordinary absence of sea-birds in the vicinity of Madeira and the Canaries:’ they have since learned the way thither. Porto Santo appeared as a purple lump of three knobs, a manner of ’gizzard island,’ backed by a deeper gloom of clouds–Madeira. Then it lit up with a pale glimmer as of snow, the effect of the sun glancing upon the thin greens of the northern flank; and, lastly, it broke into two masses–northern and southern–of peaks and precipices connected by a strip of lowland.
It is generally held that the discovery of the Madeiran group (1418-19) was the first marking feature of the century which circumnavigated Africa, and that Porto Santo was ’invented ’by the Portuguese before Madeira. The popular account, however, goes lame. For instance, the story that tried and sturdy soldiers and seamen were deterred from advancing a few miles, and were driven back to Portugal by the ’thick impenetrable darkness which was guarded by a strange noise,’ and by anile fancies about the ’Mouth of Hell’ and ’Cipango,’ reads like mere stuff and nonsense. Again, great are the difficulties in determining the nationality of the explorers, and settling the conflicting claims of the French, Genoese, Portuguese, Spanish, English, and Arabs. History, and perhaps an aptitude for claiming, have assigned the honour exclusively to Lusitania: and every guide-book tells the same old tale. But I have lived long enough to have seen how history is written; and the discovery was, at best, a mere re-discovery, as we learn from Pliny (vi. 36), whose ’insulae purpurariae’ cannot be confounded [Footnote: Mr. Major, however, would identify the Purple Islands with Oanarian Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, both possibly Continental.] with the Fortunate Islands, or Canaries. The ’Gaetulian dye’ of King Juba in the Augustan age is not known. Its origin has been found in the orchilla still growing upon the Desertas; but this again appears unlikely enough. Ptolemy (iv. 1,16) also mentions ’Erythía,’ the Red Isle–’red,’ possibly, for the same reason; and Plutarch (in Suet.) may allude to the Madeiran group when he relates of the Fortunate Islands: ’They are two, separated only by a narrow channel, and at a distance of 400 leagues (read 320 miles) from the African coast.’
The Jesuit, Antonio Cordeyro, [Footnote: Historia insulana das Ilhas a Portugal sugoytas, pp. 61-96. Lisbon, 1717.] who borrows from the learned and trustworthy Dr. Gaspar Fructuoso, [Footnote: As Saudades da Terra, lib. i. ch. iii, Historia das Ilhas, &c. This lettered and conscientious chronicler, the first who wrote upon the Portuguese islands, was born (A.D. 1522) at Ponta Delgada (Thin Point) of St. Michael, Azores. He led a life of holiness and good works, composed his history in 1590, left many ’sons of his soul,’ as he called his books, and died in his natal place, A.D. 1591. The Madeiran portion of the two huge folios (some 4,000 pages of MS.) has been printed at Funchal, with copious notes by Dr. A. Rodrigues de Azevedo, Professor of Literature, &c., at the National Lyceum; and a copy was kindly lent to me, during the author’s absence in Lisbon, by Governor Viscount de Villa Mendo.] declares in 1590: ’The first discoverers of the Porto Santo Island, many say, were those Frenchmen and Castilians (Spaniards) who went forth from Castile to conquer the Canaries; these, when either outward or homeward bound, came upon the said island, and, for that they found it uninhabited and small, they abandoned it; but as they had weathered a storm and saved themselves there, they named it Port Holy.’ Fructuoso (i. 5) expressly asserts that the Portuguese sailed from Lisbon in June 1419 for ’the Isle of Porto Sancto’(in 32° N. lat.), which two years before had been discovered by some Castilian ships making the Canaries, the latter having been occupied a short time previously by the French; wherefore the pilot took that route.’ The Jesuit chronicler continues to relate that after the formally proclaimed annexation of the Canaries by the Normans and Castilians (A.D. 1402-18), Prince Henry, the Navigator, despatched from Lagos, in 1417, an expedition to explore Cape Bojador, the ’gorbellied.’ The three ships were worked by the Italian master-seaman Bertholomeu Palestrello or Palestro, commonly called Perestrello. The soldiers, corresponding to our marines, were commanded by the ’sweet warman,’ João Gonçales da Camara, nicknamed ’O Zargo,’ the Cyclops, not the squint-eyed; [Footnote: Curious to say, Messieurs White and Johnson, the writers of the excellent guide-book, will translate the word ’squint-eyed:’ they might have seen the portrait in Government House.] his companion was Tristão Vaz Teyxeyra, called in honour ’the Tristam.’ Azurara, [Footnote: Chronica do Descobrimento de Guiné. By Gomes Eannes de Azurara, written between A.D. 1452-53, and quoted by Prof. Azevedo, Notes, p. 830.] a contemporary, sends the ’two noble squires,’ Zarco and Tristam, ’who in bad weather were guided by God to the isle now called Porto Sancto’ (June 1419). They returned home (marvellous to relate) without touching at Madeira, only twenty-three miles distant; and next year (1420) Prince Henry commissioned Palestrello also.
The Spaniards prefer to believe that after Jehan de Béthencourt’s attack upon the Canaries (A.D. 1403), his soldier Lancelot, who named Lanzarote Island, touched at Porto Santo in 1417; and presently, sailing to the south-west, discovered Madeira. This appears reasonable enough.
Patriotic Barbot (1700), in company with the mariner Villault de Belfons, Père Labat, and Ernest de Fréville, [Footnote: Mémoire sur le Commerce Maritime de Rouen.] claims the honour for France. According to that ’chief factor for the African Company,’ the merchants of Dieppe first traded to West Africa for cardamoms and ivory. This was during the reign of Charles V., and between 1364 and 1430, or half a century before the Portuguese. Their chief stations were Goree of Cape Verde, Sierra Leone, Cape Mount, the Kru or Liberian coast, then called ’of Grain,’ from the ’Guinea grains’ or Malaguetta pepper (Amomum granum Paradisi), and, lastly, the Gold Coast. Here they founded ’Petit Paris’ upon the Baie de France, at ’Serrelionne;’ ’Petit Dieppe,’ at the mouth of the St. John’s River, near Grand Bassá, south of Monrovia; and ’Cestro’ [Footnote: Now generally called Grand Sestros, and popularly derived from the Portuguese cestos–pepper.] or ’Sestro Paris,’ where, three centuries afterwards, the natives retained a few words of French. Hence Admiral Bouet-Willaumez explains the Great and Little ’Boutoo’ of our charts by butteau, from butte, the old Norman word still preserved in the great western prairies.
Barbot resumes that in 1383 the Rouen traders, combining with the Dieppe men, sent upon an exploring voyage three ships, one of which, La Vierge, ran down coast as far as where Commenda (Komenda or Komání) and Elmina now stand. At the latter place they built a fort and factory just one century before it was occupied by the Portuguese. The Frenchman declares that one of the Elmina castles was called Bastion de France, and ’on it are still to be seen some old arithmetical numbers, which are anno 13’ (i.e. 1383); ’the rest being defaced by weather.’ This first factory was afterwards incorporated with the modern building; and in 1387 it was enlarged with the addition of a chapel to lodge more than ten or twelve men, the original garrison.
In 1670 Ogilvy [Footnote: London: Printed by Tho. Johnson for the author, and to be had at his house in White Fryers, MDCLXX.] notes: ’The castle (Elmina) was judged to be an Antient Building from several marks of Antiquity about it; as first by a decay’d Battery, which the Dutch repaired some years ago, retaining the name of the French Battery, because it seems to have been built by the French; who, as the Inhabitants say, before the coming of the Portugals harbour’d there. The Dutch when they won it, found the numerical Figures of the year thirteen hundred; but were not able to make anything of the two following Characters. In a small place within also, may be seen a Writing carved in Stone between two old Pillars, but so impair’d and worn out by the weather that it is not legible.’ At Groree, too, similar remains were reported.
The adventurers, it is said, carried on a good trade till 1430-90, when the civil wars distracting France left her without stomach for distant adventure; and in 1452 Portugal walked over the course. M. d’Avezac, who found Porto Santo in a French map of the fourteenth century, [Footnote: Bulletin de la Société de Géographie, cinquième série, tome v. p. 260. Also ’Iles de l’Afrique,’ in the Univers. Paris, 1868.] seems inclined to take the part of ’quelques précurseurs méconnus contre les prétentions trop exclusives des découvreurs officiels.’
Barbot’s details are circumstantial, but they have not been confirmed by contemporary evidence or by local tradition. The Portuguese indignantly deny the whole, and M. Valdez in his ’Complete Maritime Handbook’ [Footnote: Six Years of a Traveller’s Life in Western Africa. London, Hurst & Blackett, 1861.] alludes contemptuously to ’Norman pirates.’ They point out that Diego d’Azembuja, the chief captain, sent in 1481 to found São Jorje da Mina, our ’Elmina Castle,’ saw no traces of previous occupation. But had he done so, would he have dared to publish the fact? Professor Azevedo relies upon the silence of Azurara, Barros, and Camoens concerning the French, the Spaniards, and the English in the person of Robert à Machim. But this is also at best a negative argument: the ’Livy of Portugal’ never mentions the great mathematician, Martin Behaim, who accompanied Diego Cam to his discovery of the Congo. In those days fair play was not a jewel.
The truth is that it would be as easy to name the discoverer of gunpowder or steam-power as to find the first circumnavigator of the African continent. I have no difficulty in believing that the Phoenicians and Carthaginians were capable of making the voyage. They were followed to West Africa in early days, according to El-Idrisi and Ibn. el-Wardi, by the Arabs. The former (late eleventh century) relates that an Arab expedition sailed from Lisbon, shortly after the eighth century, and named Madeira and Porto Santo the ’Islands El-Ghanam and Rákah.’ However that may be, the first Portuguese occupants found neither men nor ruins nor large quadrupeds upon any of the group.
The English accident of hitting upon Madeira, and the romantic tale of Master Robert à Machim, or Machin, or Macham, and Mistress Anne d’Arfet, or Darby, or Dorset, which would have suited Camoens, and which I have told elsewhere, [Footnote: Wanderings in West Africa, vol. i, p. 17. Chapter II., ’A Day at Madeira,’ was written after my second and before my third visit.] and need not repeat, was probably an ’ingenious account’ invented for politico-international ends or to flatter Dom Enrique, a Britisher by the distaff-side. It is told with a thousand variants, and ignored by the learned Fructuoso. According to the apocryphal manuscript of Francisco Alcoforado, the squire who accompanied the Zargo, this elopement took place in the earlier days of Edward III. (A.D. 1327-77). The historian Antonio Galvão fixes upon September 1344, the date generally accepted. Thus the interval between Machim’s death and the Zargo’s discovery would be seventy-four years; and–pace Mr. Major–the Castilian pilot, Juan Damores (de Amores), popularly called Morales, could not have met the remnant of the Bristol crew in their Moroccan prison, and could not have told the tale to the Portuguese explorers.
M. d’Avezac (loc. cit. p. 116) supports the claims of the Genoese, quoting the charts and portulans of the fourteenth century in which appear Italian names, as Insule dello Legname (of wood, materia, Madeira), Porto Sancto, Insule Deserte, and Insule Selvaggie. Mr. R. H. Major replies that these Italian navigators were commandants of expeditions fitted out by the Portuguese; and that this practice dated from 1341, when two ships officered by Genoese, with crews of [footnote: Amongst the ’ridiculous little blots, which are “nuts” to the old resident,’ I must confess to killing Robert Machim in 1334 instead of 1344; ’Collegio’ was also translated ’College’ instead of ’Jesuit Church.’] Italians, Castilians, and Hispani (Spanish and Portuguese), were seat to explore the Canaries.
’Holy Port’ began badly. The first governor, Perestrello, fled from the progeny of his own she-rabbit. This imprudence was also committed at Deserta Grande; and, presently, the cats introduced by way of cure ran wild. A grass-clad rock in the Fiume Gulf can tell the same tale: sheep and lambs were effectually eaten out by rabbits and cats. It will be remembered that Columbus married Philippa, third daughter of the navigator Perestrello, lived as a mapper with his father-in-law, and thence travelled, between 1470 and 1484, to Guinea, where he found that the equatorial regions are not uninhabitable by reason of the heat. He inherited the old seaman’s papers, and thus arose the legend of his learning from a castaway pilot the way to the New World. [Footnote: Fructuoso writes that in 1486 Columbus gave food and shelter to the crew of a shattered Biscayan ship; the pilot dying bequeathed to him papers, charts and valuable observations made on the Western Ocean.]
Long years rolled by before Porto Santo learnt to bear the vine, to breed large herds of small cattle, and to produce cereals whose yield is said to have been 60 to 1. Meanwhile it cut down for bowls, mortars, and canoes, as the Guanches did for shields, its thin forest of ’Dragons.’ The Dragoeiro (Dracaena Draco Linn., Palma canariensis Tourn.), which an Irish traveller called a ’dragon-palm,’ owed its vulgar name to the fancy that the fruit contained the perfect figure of a standing dragon with gaping mouth and long neck, spiny back and crocodile’s tail. It is a quaint tree of which any ingenious carpenter could make a model. The young trunk is somewhat like that of the Oreodoxa regia, or an asparagus immensely magnified; but it frequently grows larger above than below. At first it bears only bristly, ensiform leaves, four feet long by one to three inches broad, and sharp-pointed, crowning the head like a giant broom. Then it puts forth gouty fingers, generally five, standing stiffly up and still capped by the thick yucca-like tufts. Lastly the digitations grow to enormous arms, sometimes eighteen feet in girth, of light and porous, soft and spongy wood. The tree then resembles the baobab or calabash, the elephant or hippopotamus of the vegetable kingdom.
Amongst the minor uses of this ’Dragon,’ the sweet yellowish berries called masainhas were famous for fattening pigs. The splinters made tooth-picks which, dipped in the juice, secured health for human gums. But the great virtue resided in the Sanguis Draconis, the ’Indian Cinnabaris’ of Pliny, [Footnote: N.H. xxxiii. 38.] who holds it to be the sanies of the dragon mixed with the blood of the dying elephant. The same semi-mystical name is given to the sap by the Arab pharmists: in the Middle Ages this strong astringent resin was a sovereign cure for all complaints; now it is used chiefly for varnishes. The gum forms great gouts like blood where the bark is wounded or fissured: at first it is soft as that of the cherry, but it hardens by exposure to a dry red lump somewhat like ’mummy.’ It has no special taste: when burnt the smell is faintly balsamic. The produce was collected in canes, and hence the commercial name ’Dragon’s blood in reeds.’
Mr. P. Barker Webb believed the Dragoeiro to be a species peculiar to the Madeiras and Canaries. But its chief point of interest is its extending through Morocco as far as Arabo-African Socotra, and through the Khamiesberg Range of Southern Africa, where it is called the Kokerboom. As it is utterly African, like the hippopotamus, the zebra, and the giraffe, we must account, by transplantation from Socotra, for the D. Draco seen by Cruttenden in the mountains behind Dhofar and on the hills of El-Yemen. [Footnote: Journ. R. Geogr. Soc. p. 279, vol. viii. of 1838.] The line of growth, like the coffee-shrub and the copal-tree, suggests a connection across the Dark Continent: thus the similar flora of Fernando Po Peak, of Camarones volcano, and of the highlands of Abyssinia seems to prove a latitudinal range traversing the equatorial regions, where the glacial epoch banished for ever the hardier plants from the lower levels. When Humboldt determined it to be a purely Indian growth, he seems to have confounded the true ’dragon’ with a palm or some other tree supplying the blood. It was a ’dazzling theory,’ but unsound: the few specimens in Indus-land, ’its real country,’ are comparatively young, and are known to have been imported.
The endogenous monster, indigenous to the Elysian Fields, is to the surrounding vegetation what the cockatrice is to the cock, the wyvern to the python. I should say ’was,’ for all the replants at Madeira and the Canaries are modern, and resemble only big toothsticks. But ’dragons’ proper have existed, and perhaps memories of these portents long lingered in the brain of protohistoric man. Even if they had been altogether fabulous, the fanciful Hellenic mind would easily have created them. The Dragoeiro with its boa-like bole, its silvery, light-glancing skin, and its scars stained with red blood, growing in a wild garden of glowing red-yellow oranges, would easily become the fiery saurian guarding the golden apples of the Hesperides.
Porto Santo and Madeira, though near neighbours, are contrasts in most respects. The former has yellow sands and brackish water, full of magnesia and lime, which blacken the front teeth; the latter sweet water and black shingles. The islet is exceedingly dry, the island damp as Devonshire. Holy Port prefers wheeled conveyances: Wood-and-Fennel-land corsas or sledges, everywhere save on the New Road. Finally, the wines of the northern mite are comparatively light and acidulous; of the southern, luscious and heady.
Both scraps of ground are of kindred although disputed origin. Classicists [Footnote: Plato, Timaeus, ii. 517. His ’fruit with a hard rind, affording meat, drink, and ointment,’ is evidently the cocoanut. The cause of the lost empire and the identity of its site with the Dolphin’s Ridge and the shallows noted by H.M.S. Challenger, have been ably pleaded in Atlantis, &c., by Ignatius Donnelly (London, Sampson Low, 1882).] find in these sons of Vulcan, the débris of Platonic Atlantis, a drowned continent, a ’Kingdom of Nowhere,’ which some cataclysm whelmed beneath the waters, leaving, for all evidence, three shattered groups of outcrops, like the Channel Islands, fragments of a lost empire, the ’bones of a wasted body.’ Geologists, noting that volcanoes almost always fringe mainlands, believe them destined, together with the Cape Verdes, to rampart in future ages the Dark Continent with a Ghaut-chain higher than the Andes. Other theorists hold to a recent connection of the Madeiras with Mount Atlas, although the former rise from a narrow oceanic trough some 13,000 to 15,000 feet deep. Others again join them to Southern Europe and to Northern America. The old Portuguese and certain modern realists make them a continuation of the Serra de Monchique in the Algarves, even as the Azores prolong Cintra; and this opinion is somewhat justified by the flora, which resembles in many points the tertiary and extinct growths of Europe. [Footnote: Such is the opinion of M. Pégot-Ogier in The Fortunate Islands, translated by Frances Locock (London, Bentleys, 1871). Moquet set the example in 1601 by including Madeira also in the ’Elysian Fields and Earthly Paradise’ of the ancients.]
Porto Santo was till lately distinguished only for pride, poverty, and purity of blood. Her soil, according to the old chroniclers, has never been polluted, like São Thomé and other colonies, by convicts, Jews, or other ’infected peoples.’ She was populated by Portuguese ’noble and taintless’–Palestrellos, Calaças, Pinas, Vieyras, Rabaçaes, Crastos, Nunes, Pestanas, and Concellos. And yet not a little scandal was caused by Holiport when the ’Prophet Fernando’ and the ’Prophetess Philippa’ (Nunes), ’instigated by the demon and the deceitfulness of mankind,’ induced the ecclesiastics to introduce into the introit, with the names of St. Peter and St. Paul, the ’Blessed Prophet Fernando.’ The tale of murder is told with holy horror by Dr. Gaspar Fructuoso, and the islanders are still nicknamed ’prophetas.’ Foreigners, however, who have lately visited them, speak highly of their simple primitive ways.
I boated to the Holy Port in 1862, when Messieurs Blandy’s steamship Falcon was not in existence. And now as the Luso steamed along shore, no external change appeared. A bird’s-eye view of the islet suggests a podão or Madeiran billhook, about six miles by three. The tool’s broken point is the Ilha da Cima, facing to north-east, a contorted pile which resembles a magnified cinder. The handle is the Ilheu Baixo, to the south; and the blade is the tract of yellow sandy lowlands–the sole specimen of its sort in the Madeiras–connecting the extremities. Three tall cones at once disclose vulcanism; the Pico de Facho, or Beacon Peak (1,660 feet), the Pico de Anna Ferreira (910 feet), and the sugarloaf Pico de Castello (1,447 feet). The latter rises immediately north of the single town, and its head still shows in white points the ruins of the fort which more than once saved the population from the ’Moors.’ The lower levels are terraced, as usual in this archipelago, and the valleys are green with vines and cereals. The little white Villa Baleira is grouped around its whiter church, and dotted with dark vegetation, trees, and houses, straggling off into open country. Here lodge the greater part of the islanders, now nearly 1,750 souls. The population is far too thick. But the law of Portugal has, till lately, forbidden emigration to the islanders unless a substitute for military service be provided; the force consists of only 250 men, and the term of service is three years; yet a remplaçant costs upwards of 50l. Every emigrant was, therefore, an energetic stowaway, who landed at Honolulu or Demerara without shoes and stockings, and returned in a few years with pounds sterling enough to purchase an estate and a pardon. Half-a-dozen boats, some of them neat little feluccas with three masts, are drawn up on the beach: there is not much fishing; the vine-disease has raged, and the staple export consists of maize in some quantities; of cantaria, a grey trachyte which works more freely than the brown or black basalt, and of an impure limestone from Ilheu Baixo, the only calcaire used in Funchal. This rock is apparently an elevated coral-reef: it also produces moulds of sea-shells, delicately traced and embedded in blocks of apparently unbroken limestone. Of late a fine vein of manganese has been found in the northern or mountainous part of the island: specimens shown to me by Mr. J. Blandy appeared remarkably rich.
Under the lee of Porto Santo we enjoyed a dry deck and a foretaste of the soft and sensuous Madeiran ’Embate,’ the wester opposed to the Leste, Harmattan, Khammasin, or Scirocco, the dry wind which brings wet. [Footnote: The popular proverb is, ’A Leste never dies thirsty.’] Then we rolled over the twenty-five geographical miles separating us from our destination. Familiar sites greeted my eyes: here the ’Isle of Wood’ projects a dwarf tail composed of stony vertebræ: seen upon the map it looks like the thin handle of a broad chopper. The outermost or extreme east is the Ilha de Fora, where the A.S.S. Forerunner and the L. and H. Newton came to grief: a small light, one of the many on this shore, now warns the careless skipper; but apparently nothing is easier than to lose ships upon the safest coasts. Inside it is the Ponta de São Lourenço, where the Zargo, when startled, called upon his patron Saint of the Gridiron; others say it was named after his good ship. It has now a lighthouse and a telegraph-station. [Footnote: The line runs all along the southern shore as far as the Ponta do Pargo (of the ’braise-fish,’ Pargus vulgaris), the extreme west. At Funchal the cable lands north of Fort São Thiago Minor, where ships are requested not to anchor. It is used chiefly for signalling arrivals from north and south; and there is talk of extending it to the Porto da Cruz, a bay on the north-eastern side. It would be of great advantage to Madeira if steamers could here land their mails when prevented from touching at Funchal by the south winds, which often last a week. Accordingly a breakwater has been proposed, and Messieurs Blandy are taking interest in the improvement.] The innermost of this sharp line of serrated basaltic outliers is the Pedra do Furado, which Englishmen call the Arch-Rock.
The substantial works of the Gonçalo-Machico highway, the telegraph-posts, and the yellow-green lines of sugar-cane, were the only changes I could detect in Eastern Madeira. Nothing more charming than the variety and contrast of colours after the rusty-brown raiment which Southern Europe dons in mid-December. Even the barren, arid, and windswept eastern slopes glowed bright with the volcanic muds locally called laterites, and the foliated beds of saibros and maçapés, decomposed tufas oxidised red and yellow. As we drew nearer to Funchal, which looks like a giant plate-bande, tilted up at an angle of 40°, we were startled by the verdure of every shade and tint; the yellow-green of the sugar and common cane (Arundo sagittata), of the light-leaved aloe, banana, and hibiscus; the dark orange, myrtle, and holm-oak; the gloomy cypress, and the dull laurels and bay-trees, while waving palms, growing close to stiff pines and junipers (Oedro da Serra), showed the contrast and communion of north and south.
Lines of plane-trees, with foliage now blighted yellow and bright green in February, define the embouchures of the three grim black ravines radiating from the upper heights, and broadening out as they approach the bay. The rounded grassy hill-heads setting off the horizontal curtains of dry stone, ’horticultural fortifications’ which guard the slopes, and which rise to a height of 3,000 feet; the lower monticules and parasitic craters, Signal Hill, Race-course Hill, São Martinho and Santo Antonio, telling the tale of throes perhaps to be renewed; the stern basaltic cliff-walls supporting the island and prolonged in black jags through the glassy azure of the transparent sea; the gigantic headlands forming abutments for the upper arch; the chequered lights and shades and the wavy play of sunshine and cloudlet flitting over the face of earth; the gay tenements habited in white and yellow, red, green, and, not unfrequently, blue; the houses built after the model of cigar-boxes set on edge, with towers, belvederes, and gazebos so tall that no one ascends them, and with flat roofs bearing rooms of glass, sparkling like mirrors where they catch the eye of day; the toy-forts, such as the Fortaleza do Pico de São João, built by the Spaniards, an upper work which a single ironclad would blow to powder with a broadside; the mariner’s landmark, 2,000 feet high, Nossa Senhora do Monte, white-framed in brown-black and backed by its feathery pines, distance-dwarfed to mere shrubs, where the snow-winds sport; the cloud-cap, a wool-pack, iris-tinted by the many-hued western sky, and the soft sweet breath of the serre-chaude below, profusely scented with flower and fruit, all combined to form an ensemble whose first sight Northern travellers long remember. Here everyone quotes, and so will I:–
Hic ver assiduum atque alienis mensibus æstas.
Though it be midwinter, the land is gorgeous with blossoms; with glowing rose, fuchsia, and geranium; with snowy datura, jasmine, belladonna, stephanotis, lily, and camelia; with golden bignonia and grevillea; with purple passion-creeper; with scarlet coral and poinciana; with blue jacaranda (rosewood), solanum and lavender; and with sight-dazzling bougainvillea of five varieties, in mauve, pink, and orange sheets. Nor have the upper heights been wholly bared. The mountain-flanks are still bushy and tufty with broom, gorse, and furze; with myrtle, bilberry and whortleberry; with laurels; with heaths 20 feet high, and with the imported pine.
We spin round fantastic Garajáo, [Footnote: Not the meaningless Garajão, as travellers will write it.] the wart-nosed cliff of ’terns’ or ’sea-swallows’ (Sterna hirundo), by the northern barbarian termed, from its ruddy tints, Brazen Head. Here opens the well-known view perpetuated by every photographer–first the blue bay, then the sheet of white houses gradually rising in the distance. We anchor in the open roadstead fronting the Fennel-field (’Funchal’), concerning which the Spaniard spitefully says–
Donde crece la escola Nace el asno que la roya.
Wheresoe’er the fennel grows Lives the ass that loves to browse.]
And there, straight before us, lies the city, softly couched against the hill-side that faces the southern sea, and enjoying her ’kayf’ in the sinking sun. Her lower zone, though in the Temperates, is sub-tropical: Tuscany is found in the mid-heights, while it is Scotland in the bleak wolds about Pico Ruivo (6,100 feet) and the Paül (Moorland) da Serra. I now see some change since 1865. East of the yellow-washed, brown-bound fort of São Thiago Minor, the island patron, rises a huge white pile, or rather piles, the Lazaretto, with its three-arched bridge spanning the Wady Gonçalo Ayres. The fears of the people forbid its being used, although separated from them by a mile of open space. This over-caution at Madeira, as at Tenerife, often causes great inconvenience to foreign residents; moreover, it is directly opposed to treaty. There is a neat group, meat-market, abattoir, and fish-market–where there is ne’er a flat fish save those who buy–near those dreariest of academic groves, the Praça Academica, at the east end proper, or what an Anglo-Indian would term the ’native town.’ Here we see the joint mouth of the torrent-beds Santa Luzia and João Gomes which has more than once deluged Funchal. Timid Funchalites are expecting another flood: the first was in 1803, the second in 1842, and thus they suspect a cycle of forty years. [Footnote: The guide-books make every twenty-fifth year a season of unusual rain, the last being 1879-80.] The lately repaired Sé (cathedral) in the heart of the mass is conspicuous for its steeple of azulejos, or varnished tiles, and for the ruddy painting of the black basaltic façade, contrasting less violently with the huge splotches of whitewash, the magpie-suit in which the church-architecture of the Madeiras and the Canaries delights. The São Francisco convent, with its skull-lined walls, and the foundations of its proposed successor, the law courts, have disappeared from the space adjoining the main square; this chief promenade, the Praça da Constituição, is grown with large magnolias, vinhaticos, or native mahogany (Persea Indica), and til-trees (Oreodaphne foetens), and has been supplemented by the dwarf flower-garden (Jardim Novo) lately opened to the west. The latter, I regret to say, caused the death of many noble old trees, including a fine palm; but Portuguese, let me repeat, have scant sympathy with such growth. The waste ground now belonging to the city will be laid out as a large public garden with fountains and band-stands. Finally, that soundly abused ’Tower of Babel,’ alias ’Benger’s Folly,’ built in 1796, has in the evening of its days been utilised by conversion into a signal-tower. So far so good.
But the stump of caes, or jetty, which was dashed to pieces more than a score of years ago, remains as it was; The landing-place calls loudly for a T-headed pier of concrete blocks, or a gangway supported upon wooden piles and metal pilasters: one does not remark the want in fine weather; one does bitterly on bad days. There has been no attempt to make a port or even a débarcadère by connecting the basaltic lump Loo (Ilheu) Fort with the Pontinha, the curved scorpion’s tail of rock and masonry, Messieurs Blandy’s coal stores, to the west. Big ships must still roll at anchor in a dangerous open roadstead far off shore; and, during wet weather, ladies, well drenched by the surf, must be landed with the aid of a crane in what should be the inner harbour. The broken-down circus near Reid’s is to become a theatre, but whence the money is to come no one knows. The leper hospital cannot afford to make up more than nine or ten beds. The jail is in its old disgraceful state, and sadly wants reform: here the minimum of punishment would suffice; I never saw the true criminal face, and many of the knick-knacks bought in Madeira are the work of these starving wretches. The Funchal Club gives periodically a subscription ball, ’to ameliorate, if possible, the condition of the prisoners at the Funchal jail’–asking strangers, in fact, to do the work of Government. The Praça da Rainha, a dwarf walk facing the huge yellow Government House, alias Palacio de São Lourenço, has been grown with mulberries intended for sericulture. Unfortunately, whatever may here be done by one party (the ’ins’) is sure to be undone when the ’outs’ become ’ins.’ There has been no change in the ’Palace,’ except that the quaint portraits of one-eyed Zargo, who has left many descendants in the island, and of the earlier Captains-General, dignitaries who were at once civil and military, have been sent to the Lisbon Exhibition. The queer old views of Machim’s landing and of Funchal Bay still amuse visitors. Daily observations for meteorology are here taken at 9 A.M. and 3 and 9 P.M.; the observatory standing eighty feet above sea-level.
As our anchor rattles downwards, two excise boats with the national flag take up their stations to starboard and port; and the boatmen are carefully watched with telescopes from the shore. The wiser Spaniards have made Santa Cruz, Tenerife, a free port. The health-officer presently gives us pratique, and we welcome the good ’monopolist,’ Mr. William Reid, and his son. The former, an Ayrshire man, has made himself proprietor of the four chief hostelries. Yates’s or Hollway’s in the Entrada da Cidade, or short avenue running north from the landing-place, has become a quasi-ruinous telegraph-station. Reid’s has blossomed into the ’Royal Edinburgh;’ it is rather a tavern than an hotel, admitting the ’casuals’ from passing steamers and men who are not welcome elsewhere. One of these, who called himself a writer for the press, and who waxed insultingly drunk, made our hours bitter; but the owner has a satisfactory and sovereign way of dealing with such brutes. Miles’s has become the Carmo, and Schlaff’s the ’German.’ The fourth, Santa Clara, retains her maiden name; the establishment is somewhat collet monté, but I know none in Europe more comfortable. There are many others of the second rank; and the Hôtel Central, with its café-billiard and estaminet at the city-entrance, is a good institution which might be made better.
We throw a few coppers to the diving-boys, who are expert as the Somali savages of Aden, and we quit our water prison in the three-keeled boats,
Magno telluris amore Egressi
’Tellus,’ however, is represented at Funchal by chips and pebbles of black basalt like petrified kidneys, stuck on edge, often upon a base of bare rock. They are preferred to the slabs of Trieste and Northern Italy, which here, with the sole exception of the short Rua de Bettencourt, are confined to flights of steps. The surfaces are greased by rags and are polished by the passage of ’cars’ or coach-sleighs, which irreverents call ’cow-carts;’ these vehicles, evidently suggested by the corsa, or common sleigh, consist of a black-curtained carriage-body mounted on runners. The queer cobble-pavement, that resembles the mosaics of clams and palm-nuts further south, has sundry advantages. It is said to relieve the horses’ back sinews; it is never dusty; the heaviest rain flows off it at once; nor is it bad walking when the kidney-stones are small. The black surface is sometimes diapered with white pebbles, lime from Porto Santo. Very strange is the glare of moonlight filtered through the foliage; the beams seem to fall upon patches of iced water.
We had not even the formality of a visit to the Custom-house: our unopened boxes were expected to pay only a small fee, besides the hire of boat, porters, and sledges. A cedula interina, costing 200 reis (11d.), was the sole expense for a permit to reside. What a contrast with London and Liverpool, where I have seen a uniform-case and a cocked hat-box subjected to the ’perfect politeness’ of certain unpleasant officials: where collections of natural history are plundered by paid thieves, [Footnote: When we last landed at Liverpool (May 22), the top tray of my wife’s trunk reached us empty, and some of the choicest birds shot by Cameron and myself were stolen. Since the days of Waterton the Liverpudlian custom-house has been a scandal and a national disgrace.] and where I have been obliged to drop my solitary bottle of Syrian raki!
I was hotelled at the ’Royal Edinburgh,’ and enjoyed once more the restful calm of a quasi-tropical night, broken only by the Christmas twanging of the machete (which is to the guitar what kit is to fiddle); by the clicking of the pebbles on the shore, and by the gentle murmuring of the waves under the window.
NOTE.–The Madeiran Archipelago consists of five islands disposed in a scalene triangle, whose points are Porto Santo (23 miles, north-east), Madeira (west), and the three Desertas (11 miles, south-east). The Great and Little Piton of the Selvagens, or Salvages (100 miles, south), though belonging to Portugal and to the district of Funchal, are geographically included in the Canarian group. Thus, probably, we may explain the ’Aprositos,’ or Inaccessible Island, which Ptolemy
[Footnote: The great Alexandrian is here (iv. 6, §§ 33-4) sadly out of his reckoning. He places the group of six islands adjacent to Libya many degrees too far south (N. lat. 10°-16°), and assigns one meridian (0° 0’ 0”) to Aprositos, Pluitana (Pluvialia? Hierro?), Caspeiria (Capraria? Lanzarote?), and another and the same (1° 0’ 0”) to Pintouaria (Nivaria? Tenerife?), Hera (Junonia? Gomera?), and Canaria.]
includes in his Six Fortunates; and the Isle of SS. Borondon and Maclovius the Welshman (St. Malo). The run from Lizard’s Point is laid down at 1,164 miles; from Lisbon, 535; from Cape Cantin, 320; from Mogador (9° 40’ west long.), 380; and 260 from Santa Cruz, Tenerife. The main island lies between N. lat. 32° 49’ 44” and 32° 37’ 18"; the parallel is that of Egypt, of Upper India, of Nankin, and of California. Its longitude is included within 16° 39’ 30” and 17° 16’ 38" west of Greenwich. The extreme length is thus 37-1/2 (usually set down as 33 to 54) miles; the breadth, 12-1/2 (popularly 15-16 1/2); the circumference, 72; the coast-line, about 110; and the area, 240–nearly the size of Huntingdonshire, a little smaller than the Isle of Man, and a quarter larger than the Isle of Wight. Pico Ruivo, the apex of the central volcanic ridge, rises 6,050-6,100 feet, with a slope of 1 in 3.75; the perpetual snow-line being here 11,500. Madeira is supposed to tower from a narrow oceanic trough, ranging between 13,200 and 16,800 feet deep. Of 340 days, there are 263 of north-east winds, 8 of north, 7 of east, and 62 of west. The rainfall averages only 29.82 to 30.62 inches per annum. The over-humidity of the climate arises from its lying in the Guinea Gulf Stream, which bends southward, about the Azores, from its parent the great Gulf Stream, striking the Canaries and flowing along the Guinea shore. (White and Johnson’s Guide-Book, and ’Du Climat de Madère,’ &c., par A. C. Mourão-Pitta, Montpellier, 1859, the latter ably pleading a special cause.)