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Antigua

Tuesday 27 August – this morning when I made my appearance for the first time on deck, my attention was attracted to several points. On our left was Montserrat far to Leeward – the small Island called Redonda or Round - S.t Nevis and S.t Kitts or Christopher also to leeward – and right ahead was Antigua, whilst behind was clearly visible the Island we had last left. At a little distance off, Antigua appeared to be a long Island, traversed by a ridge of hills, with here and here cultivated valleys. Down by the shore the country was much more level, and at one period we saw a fine large sandy beach, which recalled certain pleasing recollection of the delights of bathing in good bathing ground. As we approached that extremity where the Town of S.t John is situated, the hills became more irregular & separate – their forms more defined and diversified. At the extreme point visible to us is a cluster of very small Islands, called the Five Islands – and near to them a tolerably good harbour called Five Islands Harbour, which is semi-circular, with conical hills apart from each other at its entrance, and well cultivated slopes, with only sufficient wood to prove ornamental, shewing themselves in the back ground. A few miles beyond this, we descried a small insubstantial spot, with a mere latch of trees on the surface, and nearly opposite it on the main Island, you behind something that bears a striking resemblance to the stern of a line-of-battle ships. This has accordingly received the appropriate name of Stern Point. Still farther on again than these two objects, is to be descried another small Island apart so that you see the approach to Antigua by night is not at all safe. From 5 Islands Harbour to Stern Point the country is ridgy and of small height, with wood at the summit, and cases of cultivation in the inferior portions.

When you [come] opposite Sandy Island, and to Windward of it, you see at a short distance from you the entrance to S.t John’s Harbour. It is of considerable depth and forms a beautiful Bay. Looking at it from the outside on board, you would discover that the entrance on the right is hilly and woody. Over the Town at the bottom of the Bay the land is not so high but finely sloping and cultivated. Going round the Harbour to the left side of the entrance, the country presents one beautiful slope, rich with sugar and coffee plantations in every part. I know not how it happened – but so it was that the picture before me recalled to my mind such rural scenes as I have met with at home. The fields were neatly divided and there was land turned up – and land in full bearing of every different shade of colour. I had almost forgot to mention that at the entrance on the right a fort and flag staff on a pretty considerably large rocky hill, forms a very pretty object.

Land at S.t John’s Antigua – S.t John’s Harbour

At 1 P.M. we came to anchor at the mouth of the Harbour, as we should otherwise have taken too much time to beat up the wind being right out. Without any difficulty I obtained the Commander’s permission to accompany the Master & our passenger on shore, which gave a better opportunity of noting this fine Harbour.

Pulling up the Harbour on the right and left, were hillocks & interstices of cultivated spots, with numerous houses & huts. A good way up, on the left hand, is a large battery, and on the opposite side a hill larger than its neighbour, which form the limits of what appeared to be an outer Harbour. From each of these two points, may be said to commence an Inner Harbour, which is constituted by a magnificent sweep of hill and dale – with villages & plantations - & presenting in different parts every tint of colour, natural or artificial. A fine sandy beach occurred in several parts, and contrasted well with the adjacent verdure. Here and there the picturesque Cocoa, tall & graceful, with smooth, rounded stem till the near summit, from which hung down the dropping branches, concealing partially from your longing gaze its rich & juicy fruit, adorned the landscape. Nor was there wanting the fruitful banana, with its long, broad, & feathery leaves, and bearing its soft, sweet, and palatable fruit, at once affording nourishment and contributing to the pleasure of the gourmand. Right in the centre of the inner Harbour, a black & barren Island with flag staff, fort & a few ruinous houses upreared its head, and behind it on the mainland, various verdant lawns & flowery meads delighted the eye. A great number of small craft – shore boats – draggers &.c are perceived lying near the shore in a state of peaceful repose, and adding to the beauty of the whole scene. Behind this Island, or rather to one side of it, lay the Town of S.t John’s. The Town is apparently but not so in reality of very small extent, and above it to the right, is a conspicuous object, standing by itself apart in the shape of a large Church and extensive surrounding burial ground.

S.t John’s Antigua

The roofs of the houses are of a dark colour and probably covered with slabs of wood. To the left of the Town Proper, and close to it is a number of houses, enveloped among cocoa trees and the broad leafed bananas & plantains. In the rear of the Town the land rises gently to a tolerable elevation, on which are perched several genteel and detached houses.

All these observations I made as when we were some little distance from the Town – and but a short time elapsed ere we were close to it, and enabled to see the details and how far they detracted from [or] added to the opinion we had formed of the place from the general view.

The houses are built close to the water and consist principally of warehouses & stores – with large back yards. These were of large size and of excellent construction. For the convenience of landing or discharging goods, most of these warehouses had large substantial wharfs attached to them, raised on piles of stakes driven firm into the mud, & then covered over with boards.

S.t John’s is a place of great trade & its exports and imports are proportionately extensive. Hence we see these stores so large & convenient, and every resource had recourse to to facilitate the interests of trade. These wharfs project out very unequally and hence the approach of the shore is also unequal. At one of them we landed, belonging to the Post Master, and from thence passed up a large yard, when we reached the Office, and there deposited our Mails. This done we were at liberty to take a stroll for an hour or two, of which we gladly availed ourselves. We passed up this street, and down that – turned off to the right, then to the left, until in this way we had seen a considerable portion of the Town. It [sic] know not how to describe it, so as to give you any thing like a correct notion of it. It is extremely irregular. Every man in building has followed his own fancy and his own notions of elegance and convenience. Very many of the houses are detached from each other, only connected by an ugly wooden boarding behind which is a garden or yard. That [there] are some, nay many large & elegant dwellings, I do not deny, but the effect of the whole is patchy & mean. Remember I speak comparatively, having in my minds eye, our ain touns – I must not forget to mention most particularly the Court House. It is a very handsome & elegant erection, of hewn stone, and would be an ornament in any Capital in Europe. The style of Architecture of extremely simple & fine, and the execution, for aught I know to the contrary, faultless.

Church at Antigua

The streets, as is usual in purely English Towns in the West Indies deserves that little should be said in their praise. They are very quiet – and this being the idle period, there is no appearance of bustle or business. I am told, however, that in the sugar months the whole town presents a very different aspect – that every person is fully occupied, and the streets full of liveliness and bustle.

When we were walking up the acclivity of the main street; we came close upon the church I have alluded to as seen conspicuously from the Harbour. This we determined to inspect more closely. To do this, we were to leap over the wall, the gates being locked, and this I felt no hesitation in doing, as we were no body snatchers, but on the contrary were influenced by the most laudable motives. The feat besides was not a difficult one, as the wall was low. We entered, at the back of the church, between which and the wall, but a narrow space intervened. In order to get a good notion of it, we circumnavigated the whole. It is of considerable size and built in the shape of a cross. The material is brick of a dull red, and the general aspect is venerable if not imposing. In front is a large door to which you ascend by a broad flight of steps – and from these steps to the iron gate by which you enter, is a beautifully clean, broad, & compact foot path also of bricks.

Reflections on Church Yard at Antigua

All around numerous simple and elegant monuments of marble & stone record the past existence of their various occupants of their various occupants. Poetry & prose are equally rife as with us. The language of panageric, often inflated and bombastical is to be read by the side of simple names & dates, and the short but sincere and impressive record of regret and affection paid to departed worth. I know not how it was, but my mind was deeply impressed with awe, as I gazed around me, and considered how frail & uncertain is the life of man in all climates. I have entered many burial grounds at home without having reflection or retrospection aroused – but here I believe, that the consideration of my being in a foreign clime, and gazing on such a mournful scene, while all nature smiled around me, and the sun was careering thro’ a cloudless sky, stirred up a train of thought at once pleasing & sad. I fancied to myself, how many of those who reposed around me, till the awful trump shall rouse them from their slumber, had perhaps drawn first breath in my native land – how many had left their homes in the gladsome days of youth, and come out here full of health and happy in the hope, never, never to be realized, that at no very distant period they would return rich, to spend their remainder of their days in the bosom of their relations, and have their eyes by the kind hand of affection. How many, thought, I have hopes & thoughts thus and have been cut off in the prime of their days – and how many having found their hopes delusive of the speedy acquirement of wealth have dried broken hearted – and how many have been so long in obtaining a competency, that death has cut them down in their harvest of their life, whilst they were proposing after another year, or month, or week to consummate their long cherished wishes. Alas for the uncertainty of this temporary existence. An inspection of many of the inscriptions on the stones led me that many, indeed by far the greatest proportion had quitted the stages, when hope was still young, and youth promised them many pleasures yet to come. Absorbed in reflection, I pictured to myself all these several cases – and my heart saddened at the view – till the reflection came to my comfort, that all is for the best, and a man is no farther distant from the Kingdom of Heaven here, than at home. Religion alone can dispel the gloom which deepens ere a death-bed away from native hills, and dearest ties – and points out that place, where the spirits of friends & relatives, if found worthy, should be reunited – never again to the separated.

         While we were in the sacred place, few words passed between us – the influence of the scene being more or less felt by us all. I cannot but say however, that we all observed with expressions of regret that several pigs and poultry were here and there seeking a livelihood wherever they could find it. The pigs turning up the ground, and the poultry picking eagerly up, whatever came into view.

         Half an hour or more was spent by us, not unprofitably I hope, when having satisfied our curiosity, we bid adieu to the solemnising scene, and made our exit by the same we had entered. Our departure was followed by the lightening of the loads which depressed our spirits – and it was resolved nem. con. that we should visit the works of a sugar plantation situated on a considerable eminence, from which also, we could have the most extensive views of the Town and surrounding scenery.