In the afternoon put to sea. — When in the offing, the Ships head was directed in W.S.W. course — a sore discomfiture & surprise to those on board who were most anxious to reach England. I did not think again to see the coast of S. America; but I am glad our fate has directed us to Bahia in Brazil.
Posted by Arborfield at 20:12
On the two succeeding days I took long walks & examined some rather curious points in the mineralogical composition of some of the Volcanic rocks, to which I was guided by the kindness of Lieut. Evans. One day I walked to the SW extremity of the Isld: the day was clear & hot, & I saw the Island not smiling with beauty, but staring with naked hideousness. — The lava streams are covered with hummocks, & are rugged to a degree which geologically speaking is not of easy explanation. The intervening spaces are concealed with layers of pumice, ashes, & volcanic sandstone. In some parts, rounded volcanic bombs, which must have assumed this form when projected red hot from the crater, lie strewed on the surface. When passing this end of the Isld at sea, I could not imagine the cause of the white patches, with which the whole plain was mottled: I now found out it was owing to the number of seafowl, which sleep in such full confidence, as even in midday to allow a man to walk up to & seize hold of them. These birds were the only living creatures I this day saw. On the beach a great sea, although the breeze was light, was tumbling over the broken lava rocks. — The ocean is a raging monster, insult him a thousand miles distant, & his great carcase is stirred with anger through half an hemisphere.
Posted by Arborfield at 07:33
The next morning I ascended Green Hill, 2,840 ft high, & walked from thence across the Isd to the windward point. — A good cart road leads from the coast settlement to the houses, gardens & fields placed near the summit of the central mountain. On the road side are milestones & cisterns, where each thirsty passer by can drink some good water. Similar care is displayed in each part of the establishment, & especially in the management of the Springs, so that a single drop of water shall not be lost. Indeed the whole Isld may be compared to [a] huge Ship kept in first rate order. I could not help, when admiring the active industry which has created such effects out of such means, at the same time regretting that it was wasted on so poor & trifling an end. — M. Lesson has remarked with justice that the English nation alone would ever have thought of making the Isd of Ascension a productive spot; any other people would have held it, without any further views, as a mere fortress in the ocean.
Near the coast, nothing grows, a little inland, an occasional green Castor oil plant & a few grasshoppers, true friends of the desert, may be met with. On the central elevated parts, some grass is scattered over the surface, much resembling the worse parts of the Welsh mountains. But scanty as it appears, about six hundred sheep, many goats, a few cows & horses, all thrive well. Of native animals, rats, mice, land-crabs are abundant: — of Birds the guinea-fowl imported from the C. Verd's, swarm in great numbers. — The Isd is entirely destitute of trees, in which & in every other respect it is very far inferior to St Helena. Mr Dring tells me that the witty people of the latter place say "We know we live on a rock, but the poor people at Ascension live on a cinder": the distinction is in truth very just.
Posted by Arborfield at 07:37
Reached the anchorage in the afternoon, & received some letters. This alone with such a surrounding scene, was capable of producing pleasant sensations. Those who have beheld a volcanic Island, situated within an arid climate, will be able at once to picture to themselves the aspect of Ascension. They will imagine smooth conical hills of a bright red colour, with their summits generally truncated, rising distinct out of a level surface of black horrid lava. — A principal mound in the centre of the Island seems the father of the lesser cones. It is called Green Hill, its name is taken from the faintest tinge of that colour, which at this time was barely perceptible from the anchorage. To complete this desolate scene, the black rocks on the coast are lashed by a wild turbulent sea. The settlement is near the beach, it consists of several houses & barracks, placed irregularly but well built of white freestone. The only inhabitants are Marines & some negroes liberated from slave ships, who are paid & victualled by government: there is not a private person on the island. Many of the Marines appeared well contented with their situation: they think it better to serve their one & twenty years on shore, let it be what it may, than in a Ship. — With which choice, if I was a Marine, I should most heartily agree.
Posted by Arborfield at 08:04
In my walks, I passed more than once over the grassy plain bounded by deep valleys, on which stands Longwood. — Viewed from a short distance, it appears like a respectable gentleman's country seat. In front there are a few cultivated fields, & beyond them at some distance the hill of coloured rocks called the Flagstaff, & the square black mass of the Barn. The view is rather bleak & uninteresting.
It is quite extraordinary, the scrupulous degree to which the coast must formerly have been guarded. There are alarm houses, alarm guns & alarm stations on every peak. — I was much struck with the number of forts & picket houses on the line leading down to Prosperous Bay; one would suppose this at least must be an easy descent. I found it, however, a mere goat path, & in one spot the use of ropes which are fixed into rings in the cliff, were almost indispensable. — At the present day two artillery men are kept there, for what use it is not easy to conjecture. Prosperous Bay, although with so flourishing a name, has nothing more attractive than a wild sea beach & black utterly barren rocks. In some other situations, which were formerly no doubt important, a couple of invalids were stationed; really the places are sufficient to kill the poor men with ennui & melancholy. — The only inconvenience I suffered in my walks was from the impetuous winds. One day I noticed a curious fact; standing on the edge of a plain terminated by a great cliff of about a thousand feet elevation, I saw at the distance of a few yards, right to windward, some Tern struggling against a very strong breeze, whilst where I stood the air was quite calm. Approaching close to the brink I stretched out my arm, which immediately felt the full force of the wind. An invisible barrier of two yards wide, separated a strongly agitated from a perfectly calm air. — The current meeting the bold face of the cliff must have been reflected upwards at a certain angle, beyond which there would be an eddy, or a calm.
Syms Covington Journal
I went to house the 13th; which is in a very decayed state, one room is a billiard room for visitors (wine sold also!). The remaining part serves as a barn and dwelling for the servants of the clergyman who inhabits the new house, which was built for Napoleon, but HE never inhabited it.
IN the interior part of island, houses are to be seen in all parts, with patches of cultivation. Pears, guavas, etc . are to be had here, Here is to be seen the gorze, and blackberry, etc., the latter now bearing fruit, and very plentiful. The small birds are numerous and pretty; partridges from France WITH blue feet and beak; pheasants indigenous to the islands, the male of which is said to be very beautiful BUT now out of season; horses, bullocks, sheep etc. are to be seen grazing on hills and valleys in THE interior. In many parts, ST. HELENA is very picturesque.
Posted by Arborfield at 11:43
My guide was an elderly man, who had been a goatherd when a boy, & knew every step amongst the rocks. He was of a race many times mixed, & although with a dusky skin, he had not the disagreeable expression of a Mulatto: he was a very civil, quiet old man, & this appears the character of the greater part of the lower class. — It was strange to my ears to hear a man nearly white, & respectably dressed, talking with indifference of the times when he was a slave. — With my companion, who carried our dinners & a horn of water, which latter is quite necessary, as all in the lower valleys is saline, I every day took long walks. Beyond the limits of the elevated & central green circle, the wild valleys are quite desolate & untenanted. Here to the geologist, there are scenes of interest, which shew the successive changes & complicated violence, which have in past times happened. According to my views, St Helena has existed as an Isd from a very remote period, but that originally like most Volcanic Isds it has been raised in mass from beneath the waters. St Helena, situated so remote from any continent, in the midst of a great ocean & possessing an unique Flora, this little world, within itself excites our curiosity. — Birds & insects, as might be expected, are very few in number, indeed I believe all the birds have been introduced within late years. — Partridges & pheasant are tolerably abundant; the Isd is far too English not to be subject to strict game laws. I was told of a more unjust sacrifice to such ordinances, than I ever heard of even in England: the poor people formerly used to burn a plant which grows on the coast rocks, & export soda; — a peremptory order came out to prohibit this practice, giving as a reason, that the Partridges would have no where to build!
Posted by Arborfield at 07:09
On viewing the Isd from an eminence, the first remark which occurs is on the infinite number of roads & likewise of forts. The public expenses, if one forgets its character as a prison, seems out of all proportion to the extent or value of the Island. So little level or useful land is there, that it seems surprising how so many people (about 5000) can subsist. The lower orders, or the emancipated slaves, are I believe extremely poor; they complain of want of work; a fact which is also shewn by the cheap labour. — From the reduction in number of public servants owing to the island being given up by the East Indian Company & consequent emigration of many of the richer people, the poverty probably will increase. — The chief food of the working class is rice with a little salt meat; as these articles must be purchased the low wages tell heavily: — the fine times, as my old guide called them, when "Bony" was here, can never again return. — Now that the people are blessed with freedom, a right which I believe they fully value, it seems probable their numbers will quickly increase: if so, what is to become of the little state of St Helena?
Syms Covington Journal
On the 11th, went to Napoleon's Grave, a distance of about two and a half miles from port. This tomb is situated in a valley, WHICH has gardens, houses, etc. The grave is simple for so great a man, having no more than a large oblong stone with no inscription, surrounded in same form by iron railings AND also with wooden railings round the iron ditto leaving a space of about ten to fifteen feet for visitors to walk, and that beautifully green with grass, with the willows and cypresses. Outside the wooden railings is the small beautiful, clear well, where he (NAPOLEON) constantly every morning used to send for water to wash etc. Beautiful, clear water. Here is stationed a non-commissioned officer, an old soldier, to take care that no one injures the above. The willow is strictly forbidden for anyone to touch, but from the cypresses, a small twig is allowed only. At the East end or head of tomb, within railings, is a geranium, planted by Lady Warren (Admiral Warren's wife) and HER daughters; at THE West end or foot are several Cape bulbs, etc. The house IS situated from THE tomb, about a mile, along a ridge of mountains.
Posted by Arborfield at 07:57
I obtained lodgings in a cottage within stone's throw of Napoleon's tomb. I confess this latter fact possessed with me but little inducement. The one step between the sublime & the ridiculous has on this subject been too often passed. Besides, a tomb situated close by cottages & a frequented road does not create feelings in unison with the imagined resting place of so great a spirit. — With respect to the house in which Napoleon died, its state is scandalous, to see the filthy & deserted rooms, scored with the names of visitors, to my mind was like beholding some ancient ruin wantonly disfigured.— During the four days I staid in this central position, from morning to night I wandered over the Isd & examined its geological history. The house was situated at an elevation of about 2000 ft; here the weather was cold & very boisterous, with constant showers of rain; — every now & then the whole scene was veiled by thick clouds.
Near to the coast the rough lava is entirely destitute of vegetation; in the central & higher parts a different series of rocks have, from extreme decomposition, produced a clayey soil which is stained in broad bands of many colours, such as purple, red, white & yellow.— At this season, the land moistened by constant showers produces a singularly bright green pasture; this lower & lower down gradually fades away & at last disappears. — In latitude 16° & at the trifling elevation of 1500 ft, it is surprising to behold a vegetation possessing a decided English character. But such is the case; the hills are crowned with irregular plantations of scotch firs; the sloping banks are thickly scattered over with thickets of gorze, covered with its bright yellow flowers; along the course of the rivulets weeping willows are common, & the hedges are formed of the blackberry, producing its well known fruit. When we consider the proportional numbers of indigenous plants being 52, to 424 imported species, of which latter so many come from England, we see the cause of this resemblance in character. These numerous species, which have been so recently introduced, can hardly have failed to have destroyed some of the native kinds. I believe there is not any account extant of the vegetation at the period when the island was covered with trees; such would have formed a most curious comparison with its present sterile condition and limited Flora. It is not improbable that even at the present day similar changes may be in progress. — Many English plants appear to flourish here better than in their native country; some also from the opposite quarter of Australia succeed remarkably well, & it is only on the highest & steep mountain crests where the native Flora is predominant. The English, or rather the Welsh character of the scenery, is kept up by the numerous cottages & small white houses, some buried at the bottom of the deepest valleys & others stuck up on the lofty ridges. — Certainly some of the views are very striking; I may instance that of Sir W. Doverton's house, where the bold peak called Lott is seen over a dark wood of firs, the whole being backed by the red, waterworn mountains of the Southern shore. —
But a glowing tropical style of landscape would have afforded a finer contrast than the homely English scenery, with the wile arid rocks of the coast.
Posted by Arborfield at 08:21
In the morning arrived off St Helena. This island, the forbidding aspect of which has been so often described, rises like a huge castle from the ocean. A great wall, built of successive streams of black lava, forms around its whole circuit, a bold coast. — Near to the town, as if in aid of the natural defence, small forts & guns are everywhere built up & mingled with the rugged rocks. The town extends up a flat & very narrow valley; the houses look respectable & from among them a few green trees arise. When approaching the anchorage, there is one striking view; an irregular castle perched on the summit of a lofty hill & surrounded by a few scattered fir trees, boldly projects against the sky. — It is called High Knoll hill.
Syms Covington Journal
On Friday, anchored at St. Helena, July 8th am, twenty days being rather a good passage in this part of year (distance from the Cape 1600 miles).
From the ship, St. Helena appears like a garrison on a large scale, viz. for wherever the eye is attracted it meets with a battery or multiples of guns, etc. The land, or Rock I should say, is very high, and most parts are inaccessible. It is very dark rock, and without herbage. At this time, the beginning of Winter, the climate is very pleasant, but on the mountains it is rather cold. It rains very frequently in the course of the day: showers, or a misty rain.
Posted by Arborfield at 07:42