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Source: Gutenberg.org: Edward Wilson Landor / The Bushman Life in a New Country

Edward Wilson Landor - The Bushman (1841)




The reader may naturally expect to be informed of the reasons that have induced me thus to seek his acquaintance. In one word--I am a colonist. In England, a great deal is said every day about colonies and colonists, but very little is known about them. A great deal is projected; but whatever is done, is unfortunately to their prejudice. Secretaries of State know much more about the distant settlements of Great Britain than the inhabitants themselves; and, consequently, the latter are seldom able to appreciate the ordinances which (for their own good) they are compelled to submit to.

My own experience is chiefly confined to one of the most insignificant of our colonies,--insignificant in point of population, but extremely important as to its geographical position, and its prospects of future greatness,--but the same principle of government applies to all the British settlements.

A few years ago, I was the victim of medical skill; and being sentenced to death in my own country by three eminent physicians, was comparatively happy in having that sentence commuted to banishment. A wealthy man would have gone to Naples, to Malta, or to Madeira; but a poor one has no resource save in a colony, unless he will condescend to live upon others, rather than support himself by his own exertions.

The climate of Western Australia was recommended; and I may be grateful for the alternative allowed me.

As I shall have occasion hereafter to allude to them incidentally, I may mention that my two brothers accompanied me on this distant voyage.

The elder, a disciple of Aesculapius, was not only anxious to gratify his fraternal solicitude and his professional tastes by watching my case, but was desirous of realizing the pleasures of rural life in Australia.

My younger brother (whose pursuits entitle him to be called Meliboeus) was a youth not eighteen, originally designed for the Church, and intended to cut a figure at Oxford; but modestly conceiving that the figure he was likely to cut would not tend to the advancement of his worldly interests, and moreover, having no admiration for Virgil beyond the Bucolics, he fitted himself out with a Lowland plaid and a set of Pandaean pipes, and solemnly dedicated himself to the duties of a shepherd.

Thus it was that we were all embarked in the same boat; or rather, we found ourselves in the month of April, 1841, on board of a certain ill-appointed barque bound for Western Australia.

We had with us a couple of servants, four rams with curling horns-- a purchase from the late Lord Western; a noble blood-hound, the gift of a noble Lord famous for the breed; a real old English mastiff-bitch, from the stock at Lyme Park; and a handsome spaniel cocker. Besides this collection of quadrupeds, we had a vast assortment of useless lumber, which had cost us many hundred pounds. Being most darkly ignorant of every thing relating to the country to which we were going, but having a notion that it was very much of the same character with that so long inhabited by Robinson Crusoe, we had prudently provided ourselves with all the necessaries and even non-necessaries of life in such a region. Our tool chests would have suited an army of pioneers; several distinguished ironmongers of the city of London had cleared their warehouses in our favour of all the rubbish which had lain on hand during the last quarter of a century; we had hinges, bolts, screws, door-latches, staples, nails of all dimensions--from the tenpenny, downwards--and every other requisite to have completely built a modern village of reasonable extent. We had tents, Macintosh bags, swimming-belts, several sets of sauce-pans in graduated scale, (we had here a distant eye to kangaroo and cockatoo stews,) cleavers, meat-saws, iron skewers, and a general apparatus of kitchen utensils that would have satisfied the desires of Monsieur Soyer himself. Then we had double and single-barrelled guns, rifles, pistols, six barrels of Pigou and Wilkes' gunpowder; an immense assortment of shot, and two hundred weight of lead for bullets.

Besides the several articles already enumerated, we had provided ourselves with eighteen months' provisions, in pork and flour, calculating that by the time this quantity was consumed, we should have raised enough to support our establishment out of the soil by the sweat of our brows. And thus from sheer ignorance of colonial life, we had laid out a considerable portion of our capital in the purchase of useless articles, and of things which might have been procured more cheaply in the colony itself. Nor were we the only green-horns that have gone out as colonists: on the contrary, nine-tenths of those who emigrate, do so in perfect ignorance of the country they are about to visit and the life they are destined to lead. The fact is, Englishmen, as a body know nothing and care nothing about colonies. My own was merely the national ignorance. An Englishman's idea of a colony (he classes them altogether) is, that it is some miserable place--the Black-hole of the British empire--where no one would live if he were allowed a choice; and where the exiled spirits of the nation are incessantly sighing for a glimpse of the white cliffs of Albion, and a taste of the old familiar green-and-yellow fog of the capital of the world. Experience alone can convince him that there are in other regions of the world climes as delightful, suns as beneficent, and creditors as confiding, as those of Old England.

The voyage, of course, was tedious enough; but some portion of it was spent very pleasantly in calculating the annual profits which our flocks were likely to produce.

The four noble rams, with their curly horns, grew daily more valuable in our estimation. By the sailors, no doubt, they were rated no higher than the miserable tenants of the long-boat, that formed part of the cuddy provisions. But with us it was very different. As we looked, every bright and balmy morning, into the pen which they occupied, we were enabled to picture more vividly those Arcadian prospects which seemed now brought almost within reach. In these grave and respectable animals we recognised the patriarchs of a vast and invaluable progeny; and it was impossible to help feeling a kind of veneration for the sires of that fleecy multitude which was to prove the means of justifying our modest expectations of happiness and wealth.

Our dogs also afforded us the most pleasing subjects for speculation. With the blood-hound we were to track the footsteps of the midnight marauder, who should invade the sanctity of our fold. The spaniel was to aid in procuring a supply of game for the table; and I bestowed so much pains upon his education during the voyage, that before we landed he was perfectly au fait in the article of "down-charge!" and used to flush the cat in the steward's pantry with the greatest certainty and satisfaction.

Jezebel, the mastiff-birch, was expected to assist in guarding our castle,--an honourable duty which her courage and fidelity amply warranted us in confiding to her. Of the former quality, I shall mention an instance that occurred during the voyage. We had one day caught a shark, twelve feet long; and no sooner was he hauled on deck than Jezebel, wild with fury, rushed through the circle of eager sailors and spectators, and flew directly at the nose of the struggling monster. It was with difficulty that she was dragged away by the admiring seamen, who were compelled to admit that there was a creature on board more reckless and daring than themselves.

We were now approaching the Cape Verd Islands. I daresay it has been frequently mentioned, that there is in these latitudes a vast bed of loose sea-weed, floating about, which has existed there from time immemorial, and which is only found in this one spot of the ocean; as though it were here compelled to remain under the influence of some magic spell. Some navigators are of opinion that it grows on the rocks at the bottom of the sea, beneath the surface on which it floats. Others maintain that it has been drifted across the Atlantic, having issued from the Gulf of Mexico. Here, however, it is doomed to drift about hopelessly, for ever lost in the wilderness of waters; on the surface of which it now vegetates, affording shelter to small crabs, and many curious kinds of fishes.

One of the latter which we caught, about an inch in length, had a spike on his back, and four legs, with which he crawled about the sea-weed.

We approached the Island of St. Jago, sailing unconsciously close to a sunken rock, on which (as we afterwards learnt) the "Charlotte" had struck about six weeks before whilst under full sail, and had gone down in a few minutes, barely allowing time for the crew to escape in their boat.

Notwithstanding we had been five weeks at sea when we dropped anchor in Porto Praya roads, the appearance of the land was by no means inviting to the eyes. A high and extremely barren hill, or large heap of dry earth, with a good many stones about it, seemed to compose the Island. Close to us was the town, a collection of white houses that looked very dazzling in the summer sun. Beside, and running behind it, was a greenish valley, containing a clump of cocoa-nut trees. This was the spot we longed to visit; so, getting into the captain's boat, we approached the shore, where a number of nearly naked negroes rushing into the sea (there being no pier or jetty) presented their slimy backs at the gun-wale, and carried us in triumph to the beach. The town boasted of one hotel, in the only sitting-room of which we found some Portuguese officers smoking pipes as dirty as themselves, and drinking a beverage which had much the appearance of rum and water. There was no one who could speak a word of English; but at length a French waiter appeared, who seemed ravished with delight at the jargon with which we feebly reminded him of his own lively language "when at home." Having ordered dinner, we wandered off in search of the coca-nut valley, and purchased bananas for the first time in our lives, and oranges, the finest in the world.

Those who have been long at sea know how pleasant it is to walk once more upon the land. It is one of the brightest of the Everlasting flowers in the garland of Memory.

We walked along the sea-beach, as people so circumstanced must ever do, full of gladsome fancies. There was delight for us in the varied shells at our feet; in the curious skeletons of small fishes, untimely deceased; in the fantastic forms of the drifted sea-weed; in the gentle ripple of the companionable waves by our side. And little Fig, the spaniel, was no less pleased then ourselves. He ran before us rejoicing in his fleetness; and he ran back again in a moment to tell us how glad he was. Then as a wave more incursive than its predecessor unexpectedly wetted his feet, he would droop his tail and run faster with alarm, until the sight of some bush or bough, left high and dry by the last tide, awakened his nervous suspicions, and dreading an ambuscade, he would stop suddenly and bark at the dreadful object, until we arrived at his side, when, wagging his tail and looking slyly up with his joyous eyes, he would scamper away again as though he would have us believe he had been all the time only in fun.

What profound satisfaction is there in the freedom of land after so long a confinement! The sunshine that makes joyous every object around us finds its way into the deeps of the heart.

And now we determined to bathe. So we crossed over a jutting rock, on the other side of which was a beautiful and secluded little bay, so sheltered that the waves scarcely rippled as they came to kiss the shell-covered beach. Here we soon unrobed; and I was the first to rush at full speed into the inviting waters. Before I got up to my middle, however, I saw something before me that looked like a dark rock just below the surface. I made towards it, intending to get upon it, and dive off on the other side; but lo! as I approached, it stirred; then it darted like a flash of lightning towards one side of the bay, whilst I, after standing motionless for a moment, retreated with the utmost expedition.

It was a ground-shark, of which there are numbers on that coast.

We lost no time in putting on our clothes again, and returned in rather a fluttered state to the inn.



We remained a week at St. Jago, the captain being busily engaged in taking in water, and quarrelling with his crew. One day, at the instigation of our friend, the French waiter, we made a trip of seven miles into the interior of the island, to visit a beautiful valley called Trinidad. Mounted on donkeys, and attended by two ragged, copper-coloured youths, we proceeded in gallant style up the main street, and, leaving the town, crossed the valley beyond it, and emerged into the open country. It was a rough, stony, and hilly road, through a barren waste, where there scarcely appeared a stray blade of grass for the goats which rambled over it in anxious search of herbage.

At length, after a wearisome ride of several hours, we descended suddenly into the most fertile and luxuriant valley I ever beheld, and which seemed to extend a distance of some miles. A mountain brook flowed down the midst, on the banks of which numerous scattered and picturesque cottages appeared. On either side the ground was covered with the green carpet of Nature in the spring of the year. Everywhere, except in this smiling valley, we saw nothing but the aridity of summer, and the desolation caused by a scorching tropical sun. But here--how very different! How sudden, how magical was the change! Every species of vegetable grew here in finest luxuriance. Melons of every variety, pine-apples, sweet potatoes, plantains, and bananas, with their broad and drooping leaves of freshest green and rich purple flower, and ripe yellow fruit. Orange-trees, cocoa-nut trees, limes--the fig, the vine, the citron, the pomegranate, and numerous others, grateful to the weary sight, and bearing precious stores amid their branches, combined to give the appearance of wealth and plenty to this happy valley. It was not, however, destined to be entered by us without a fierce combat for precedence between two of our steeds. The animal whom it was the evil lot of Meliboeus to bestride, suddenly threw back its ears, and darted madly upon the doctor's quadruped, which, on its side, manifested no reluctance to the fight.

Dreadful was the scene; the furious donkeys nearing and striking with their fore-feet, and biting each other about the head and neck without the smallest feeling of compunction or remorse; the two guides shrieking and swearing in Portuguese at the donkeys and each other, and striking right and left with their long staves, perfectly indifferent as to whom they hit; the unhappy riders, furious with fright and chagrin, shouting in English to the belligerents of both classes to "keep off!" The screams of two women, who were carrying water in the neighbourhood, enhanced by the barking of a terrified cur, that ran blindly hither and thither with its tail between its legs, in a state of frantic excitement--altogether produced a tableau of the most spirited description. Peace was at length restored, and we all dismounted from our saddles with fully as much satisfaction as we had experienced when vaulting into them.

There is little more to say about the valley of Trinidad. The cottagers who supply the town of Porto Praya with fruits and vegetables are extremely poor, and very uncleanly and untidy in their houses and habits. We had intended to spend the night with them, but the appearance of the accommodations determined us to return to our inn, in spite of the friendly and disinterested advice of our guides.

St. Jago abounds with soldiers and priests; the former of whom are chiefly convicts from Lisbon, condemned to serve here in the ranks.

The day for sailing arrived, and we were all on board and ready. Our barque was a temperance ship; that is, she belonged to owners who refused to allow their sailors the old measure of a wine-glass of rum in the morning, and another in the afternoon, but liberally substituted an extra pint of water instead.

There is always one thing remarkable about these temperance ships, that when they arrive in harbour, their crews, excited to madness by long abstinence from their favourite liquor, and suffering in consequence all the excruciating torments of thirst, run into violent excesses the moment they get on shore. St. Jago is famous for a kind of liquid fire, called aguadente, which is smuggled on board ship in the shape of pumpkins and watermelons. These are sold to the sailors for shirts and clothing; there being nothing so eagerly sought for by the inhabitants of St. Jago as linen and calico.

Our crew, being thoroughly disgusted with their captain, as indeed they had some reason to be, and their valour being wondrously excited by their passionate fondness for water-melons, came to a stern resolution of spending the remainder of their lives on this agreeable island; at any rate, they determined to sail no farther in our company. The captain was ashore, settling his accounts and receiving his papers; the chief-mate had given orders to loose the fore-topsail and weigh anchor; and we were all in the cuddy, quietly sipping our wine, when we heard three cheers and a violent scuffling on deck. In a few moments down rushed the mate in a state of delirious excitement, vociferating that the men were in open mutiny, and calling upon us, in the name of the Queen, to assist the officers of the ship in bringing them to order. Starting up at the call of our Sovereign, we rushed to our cabins in a state of nervous bewilderment, and loading our pistols in a manner that ensured their not going off, we valiantly hurried on deck in the rear of the exasperated officer. On reaching the raised quarter-deck of the vessel, we found the crew clustered together near the mainmast, armed with hand-spikes, boat-oars, crow-bars, and a miscellaneous assortment of other weapons, and listening to an harangue which the carpenter was in the act of delivering to them. They were all intoxicated; but the carpenter, a ferocious, determined villain, was the least so.

At one of the quarter-deck gangways stood the captain's lady, a lean and wizened Hecate, as famous for her love of rum as any of the crew, but more openly rejoicing in the no less objectionable spirit of ultra-methodism. Screaming at the top of her voice, whilst her unshawled and dusky shoulders, as well as the soiled ribands of her dirty cap, were gently fanned by the sea-breeze, she commanded the men to return to their duty, in a volume of vociferation that seemed perfectly inexhaustible. Fearing that the quarter-deck would be carried by storm, we divided our party, consisting of the two mates, three passengers with their servants, and Mungo the black servant, into two divisions, each occupying one of the gang-ways.

In a few moments the carpenter ceased his oration; the men cheered and danced about the deck, brandishing their weapons, and urging one another to "come on." Then with a rush, or rather a stagger, they assailed our position, hoping to carry it in an instant by storm. The mate shouted to us to fire, and pick out three or four of the most desperate; but perceiving the intoxicated state of the men we refused to shed blood, except in the last extremity of self-defence; and determined to maintain our post, if possible, by means of our pistol-butts, or our fists alone. In the general melee which ensued, the captain's lady, who fought in the van, and looked like a lean Helen MacGregor, or the mythological Ate, was captured by the assailants, and dragged to the deck below. Then it was that combining our forces, and inspired with all the ardour which is naturally excited by the appearance of beauty in distress, we made a desperate sally, and after a fearful skirmish, succeeded in rescuing the lady, and replacing her on the quarter-deck, with the loss only of her cap and gown, and a few handfuls of hair.

After this exploit, both parties seemed inclined to pause and take breath, and in the interval we made an harangue to the sailors, expressive of our regret that they should act in so disgraceful a manner.

The gallant (or rather ungallant) fellows replied that they were determined to be no longer commanded by a she-captain, as they called the lady, and therefore would sail no farther in such company.

I really believe that most of them had no serious intention whatever in their proceedings, but the officers of the ship were firmly convinced that the carpenter and one or two others had resolved to get possession of the vessel, dispose of the passengers and mates somehow or other, and then slip the cable, and wreck and sell the ship and cargo on the coast of South America.

Whilst the truce lasted, the second mate had been busily engaged making signals of distress, by repeatedly hoisting and lowering the ensign reversed, from the mizen-peak. This was soon observed from the deck of a small Portuguese schooner of war, which lay at anchor about half a mile from us, having arrived a few hours previously, bringing the Bishop of some-where-or-other on a visitation to the island. The attention of the officer of the watch had been previously attracted towards us by the noise we had made, and the violent scuffle which he had been observing through his glass. No sooner, therefore, was the flag reversed, than a boat was lowered from the quarter-davits, filled with marines, and pulled towards our vessel with the utmost rapidity. The mutineers, whose attention was directed entirely to the quarter-deck, did not perceive this manoeuvre, which, however, was evident enough to us, who exerted ourselves to the utmost to prolong the parley until our allies should arrive.

The carpenter now decided upon renewing the assault, having laid aside his handspike and armed himself with an axe; but just at this moment the man-of-war's boat ran alongside, and several files of marines, with fixed bayonets, clambering on to the deck, effected a speedy change in the aspect of affairs. Perceiving at once how matters stood, the officer in command, without asking a single question, ordered a charge against the astonished sailors, who, after a short resistance, and a few violent blows given and received, were captured and disarmed.

There was a boy among the party called Shiny Bill, some fifteen years of age, who managed to escape to the fore-shrouds, and giving the marine who pursued him a violent kick in the face, succeeded in reaching the fore-top, where he coiled himself up like a ball. Two or three marines, exasperated by the scuffle, and by several smart raps on the head which they had received, hastened up the shrouds after the fugitive, who, however, ascended to the fore-top-mast cross-trees, whither his enemies, after some hesitation, pursued. Finding this post also untenable, he proceeded to swarm up the fore-top-gallant-mast shrouds, and at last seated himself on the royal yard, where he calmly awaited the approach of the enemy. These, however, feeling that the position was too strong to be successfully assailed by marines, deliberately commenced their retreat, and arrived on deck, whilst their officer was hailing the immovable Bill in Portuguese, and swearing he would shoot him unless he instantly descended.

Disdaining, however, to pay the least attention to these threats, Shiny William continued to occupy his post with the greatest tranquillity; and the officer, giving up the attempt in despair, proceeded to inquire from us in Portuguese-French the history of this outbreak. The scene concluded with the removal of the mutineers in one of the ship's boats to the man-of-war, where, in a few moments, several dozen lashes were administered to every man in detail, and the whole party were then sent on shore, and committed to a dungeon darker and dirtier than the worst among them had ever before been acquainted with. But before all this was done, and when the boats had pulled about a hundred yards from the vessel, Shiny Bill began to descend from his post. He slipped down unobserved by any one, and the first notice we had of his intentions was from perceiving him run across the deck to the starboard bow, whence he threw himself, without hesitation, into the sea, and began to swim lustily after his captive friends. Our shouts--for, remembering the abundance of sharks, we were very much alarmed for the poor fellow--attracted the attention of the officer in the boat, to whom we pointed out the figure of Bill, who seemed as eager now to make a voluntary surrender, and share the fate of his comrades, as he had previously been opposed to a violent seizure. The swimmer was soon picked up, and, to our regret, received in due season the same number of stripes as fell to the lot of his friends captured in battle.

The prisoners remained several days in their dungeon, where they were hospitably regaled with bread and water by the Portuguese Government; and at the end of this period (so unworthy did they prove of the handsome treatment they received) the British spirit was humbled within them, and they entreated with tears to be allowed to return to their duty. The mates, however, refused to sail in the same vessel with the carpenter, and it was accordingly settled that he should remain in custody until the arrival of a British man-of-war, and then be returned to his country, passage free.