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Account of Bermuda

Account of Bermuda
Sketch of a palmetta tree

Account of the Bermudas

Now, mia cara Madre, I shall proceed to give you some account of the Bermudas which I have hitherto purposely deferred doing till I should be able to throw all the observations I made during our eight days stay, into one connected whole.

These Cluster of Islands which we have been visiting is known by the general name of the Bermudas. They are in number about 20 or 30 comprehending all those small islands which are covered with vegetation, altho’ uninhabited. The names of the principal and largest islands are S.t George’s (off which we lay) - Ireland – Somerset – S.t David’s - and above all Bermuda or Somers Island, where the Governor resides. The whole circumference of these Islands is rendered unsafe to mariners by numerous and extensive coral rocks, which at the same time prove an ample & efficient barrier against any external enemy without putting our Government to the labour and expense of erecting artificial fortifications – for where nature has done so much the precautions of art are supererogatory. As you will afterwards see, the possession of the Bermudas is not a gain, but an actual & heavy loss to our revenues – and nothing but the circumstance that they are, as it were, the keys to our West Indian Colonies, would be sufficient to justify our retention of them. In this light alone they acquire a factitious value, which will continue to be solid so long as we are Masters of the West Indies.

Roofs of Houses at S.t George’s Whitewashed – reasons why

The Capital or Metropolis of the whole is Hamilton, situated on Somers Island, where the House of Assembly sit – and next to it in point of size and importance is S.t George’s Town, with which, from several visits, I am better acquainted. S.t George’s Town is built on an island of the same name, and lies close to the waters edge. One first peculiarity, which struck me as different from any thing, which I have yet seen, was that the sloping roofs of the houses were as carefully white washed as the walls themselves, so that with one glaring red exception, the eye met with nothing everywhere around but white – white – everlasting white. But it is wrong to condemn a practice, before we know the reason of its adoption, and a little delay before deciding our judgement and passing a sweeping censure, would serve to convince us that all is for the best. In this very case, two excellent purposes are accomplished by this universal white washing. 1st it is known that a white colour will absorb less heat than any other and will, consequently, contribute very remarkably to coolness, and what is synonymous with that in a hot climate, to comfort. 2ndly as the only water used here is the rain water, diligently collected, and carefully preserved the component parts of the white-wash are conducive to the better purification of the water. Altho’, however, a white colour contributes much to the coolness and comforts of the Inhabitants within, it must be confessed that it is equally productive of inconvenience and discomfort to the passers by, since nothing is more unpleasant & injurious to the eyes, than when they have to encounter on all sides, the furried rays of broiling Sun, reflected intensely from a white surface – owing to this circumstance I should imagine, that strangers coming here in the Summer would be peculiarly liable to attacks of Opthalmia & that of the worst kind.

Town of S.t George’s – Storehouses &.c

Such being the appearance of S.t George’s at a distance, which has led me to digress, allow me to bring you to a closer view.

The Town of S.t George’s is a very confined place, and in respect of size does not much exceed many of our large villages, which appellation might more appropriately be applied to it, were it not that the buildings are of a character superior to that, and besides it would offend the pride of the Bermudans to call it by so humble a name. The only large building, which I observed, was a very respectable Church, with an excellent four-face Clock. The common houses are either of wood made to imitate slates &.c or of stone, and in the interior are not destitute of comfort. There are no open shops, as with us, but you have every chance of finding what you may require in any part of the Town, as they are all Storehouses, and every Storekeeper is a Jamaican or a Geordie a’ things. Here, under the same roof, you will find wine – cards – iron tools – crockery wares – silks & Satins – medicines, and every other article of finery or utility, which are to be procured among us, only at the shops of those who deal exclusively in a certain line. This as the Irishman would say, is “mighty convanient,” but then you can seldom purchase any thing under less than double or treble the sum at which you could procure it at home – and the reason of this is that every thing here is imported, and as the islands lie considerably out of the general track of ships, the trade carried on is proportionally trifling. Thus tending to enhance greatly the price of whatever is imported.

Bad Markets

It is also a matter of considerable difficulty to procure provisions, even at an exorbitant rate. There is here no market place, and almost the only article obtainable is fish. Beef or Mutton, or any other meat we got none – altho’ there certainly must be some, as we saw a few miserable cows grazing in the fields. Some poultry & a small number of eggs we were obliged to be content with. The only persons, perhaps, who suffer least from the privation of animal food are soldiers, and soldiers with their officers. To supply them there are certain Government Contractors, who being bound by a written agreement, under a heavy penalty, are interested in cultivating the variety of cattle, and, as I was told by a middy, these men furnish very excellent beef to the Naval Establishment. But for all merchant vessels &.c no such advantages are provided and they will stand a poor chance, should they be short of meat, and lay their account with replenishing their stores at Bermuda, and in particular at S.t George’s, which is incomparably the dullest place I have visited.

Population character of, at Bermuda

The Population of S.t George’s consists of Mulattoes, Blacks & Whites. The character of the natives is that of persons very proud & very ignorant – their whole ideas of Geography are confined to the narrow extent of the Bermuda islands, and their conversation is limited to the state of the weather, of the crops and of the whale fishing &.c They are also said to be insufferably lazy, and from a desire to avoid trouble they neglect to improve the land to the extent of which it is capable. Instead they don’t wish to be wiser than their forefathers, who, as they say, did very well, without “fashing” themselves about Improvements, which were no improvements at all. This character of the Bermudans may be correct or not, but I have heard it ascribed to them by different persons.

Blacks at Bermuda

Of the Blacks some are slaves, but most are free. They present a very different appearance from their fellow Brethren of Brazil, for all of them are fully clothed and many of them most respectably. In particular, I met with several young Black women, whose dress for elegance and expensive materials might well vie with those of our fashionable belles. It is somewhat particular that so many of them should wear a perfectly white dress in preference to one of any other colour, and perhaps their objects is to contract the jetty black of their skins, with the pure white of these garments.

As Ireland is the chief naval Establishment, so S.t George’s is the headquarters of the military, upon whom in a great measure its prosperity depends.

All Tank Water used at Bermuda

I shall now conclude with a few remarks on the islands in general. In them there are no springs of water, but all that is used is rain water, collected in tanks. It is therefore easy to conceive how grateful and necessary heavy showers will prove, and what calamitous effects would arise from a long general and long continued drowth. Every person has a tank or place prepared for the reception of the water, which is allowed to remain there for an indefinite time and only drawn when required. Some of these I have seen and the sight has been sufficient to put all my thirst to flight. There was the water looking as green as grass, with a dead animal or two floating about in it – and yet, the Black, at least, drew a quantity of this water, and quaffed if off with great apparent zest. I am inclined to believe that I owe both my attacks of illness to my drinking this tank water, while on shore, as we know that unwholesome water is a frequent cause of disease.

Productions of Bermuda – Arrowroot – Cedar

The productions of the Bermudas are, from the cause I have just mentioned, viz. their laziness, extremely few. I shall enumerate the principal. The best arrowroot is grown here, and in very large quantities. The plant does not grow to any great height, and consists of several long leaves, like the blades of very long grass. This part is thrown Away and as the name implies, only the root is made use of. I procured a specimen, of which this will give you some idea and here you see it is divided at short distance by a sort of ring-like band, or rather indenture. This part is mown down by a peculiar apparatus, is then thoroughly washed, & under goes certain processes, before it comes to the state in which you see it. Arrowroot is one of the Staple articles of export here, and more attention is paid to the cultivation of it than to any thing else.

Another production of importance is cedar wood. Nearly the whole of the island is covered with the trees which are small in size and very thinly planted. Of course, from the superabundance of it is it very cheap and used for every purpose. I am told however, that it is only the common white cedar, that grows here, and not the red kind which is infinitely more valuable.

Palmetta Tree

The only other and valuable object of cultivation, that I know of, is the tree called the Palmetta, which has a solid trunk, its top is crowned with a sort of long & rather [thin] leaves, of which a superior species of straw is made. [See above sketch]. Those trees require no care, and as I was told, will bring in a profit of three or four Palmetta shillings each to the proprietor.

Straw hats and other articles made of this are in great request in the West Indies & America, on account of their durability and lightness.

Whale Fishery at Bermuda 

Besides these different articles of consequence the Bermudans dabble a little in the whale fishery – but their success is comparatively trifling. During the present year, so many whales, called hump-backs, appeared, that their whole attention was drawn to them, while the arrowroot crops were completely neglected. In consequence of this we found that it bore a much higher price than we had expected, being 1/8 p.r lb.

From all that I have seen of the Bermudas, I consider them the dullest places in the world, & the last to which I would think of retiring for pleasure.