Home Cape Verde History Foto's MyBooks Books Maps/Cartography Postcards Familie-foto's Heuijerjans Links Contact
Source: Gutenberg.org: William Dampier / A Voyage to New Holland

William Dampier - A Voyage to New Holland (1699)





I got not in till the next day, February 11, when I come to an anchor in the road, which is the leeward part of the island; for it is a general rule never to anchor to windward of an island between the tropics. We anchored at 11 o'clock in 14 fathom clean sand, and very smooth water, about three-quarters of a mile from the shore, in the same place where I anchored in my voyage round the world; and found riding here the Newport of London, a merchantman, Captain Barefoot commander, who welcomed me with 3 guns and I returned one for thanks. He came from Fayal, one of the western islands; and had store of wine and brandy aboard. He was taking in salt to carry to Newfoundland, and was very glad to see one of the King's ships, being before our coming afraid of pirates, which of late years had much infested this and the rest of the Cape Verde Islands.

I have given some account of the island of Mayo and of other of these islands in my Voyage round the World, but I shall now add some further observations that occurred to me in this voyage. The island of Mayo is about 7 leagues in circumference, of a roundish form, with many small rocky points shooting out into the sea a mile or more. Its latitude is 15 degrees north, and as you sail about the isle, when you come pretty nigh the shore, you will see the water breaking off from those points; which you must give a berth to and avoid them. I sailed at this time two parts in three round the island, but saw nothing dangerous besides these points; and they all showed themselves by the breaking of the water: yet it is reported that on the north and north-north-west side there are dangerous shoals that lie farther off at sea; but I was not on that side. There are 2 hills on this island of a considerable height; one pretty bluff, the other peaked at top. The rest of the island is pretty level and of a good height from the sea. The shore clear round hath sandy bays between the rocky points I spoke of, and the whole island is a very dry sort of soil.


On the west side of the isle where the road for ships is, there is a large sandy bay and a sandbank of about 40 paces wide within it which runs along the shore 2 or 3 miles; within which there is a large salina or salt pond, contained between the sandbank and the hills beyond it. The whole salina is about 2 miles in length, and half a mile wide; but above one half of it its commonly dry. The north end only of the pond never wants water, producing salt from November till May, which is here the dry season of the year. The water which yields this salt works in from out of the sea through a hole in the sandbank before mentioned, like a sluice, and that only in spring tides when it fills the pond more or less, according to the height of the tides. If there is any salt in the ponds when the flush of water comes in it presently dissolves: but then in 2 or 3 days after it begins to kern; and so continues kerning till either all or the greatest part of the salt water is congealed or kerned; or till a fresh supply of it comes in again from the sea. This water is known to come in only at that one passage on the north part of the pond; where also it is deepest. It was at a spring of the new moon when I was there; and I was told that it comes in at no other time but at the new moon spring tides; but why that should be I can't guess. They who come hither to lade salt rake it up as it kerns, and lay it in heaps on the dry land, before the water breaks in anew: and this is observable of this salt pond, that the salt kerns only in the dry season, contrary to the salt ponds in the West Indies, particularly those of the island Salt Tortuga, which I have formerly mentioned, for they never kern there till the rains come in about April; and continue to do so in May, June, July etc. while the wet season lasts; and not without some good shower of rain first: but the reason also of this difference between the salt ponds of Mayo and those of the West Indies why these should kern in the wet season, and the former in the dry season, I shall leave to philosophers.

Our nation drives here a great trade for salt, and have commonly a man-of-war here for the guard of our ships and barks that come to take it in; of which I have been informed that in some years there have not been less than 100 in a year. It costs nothing but men's labour to rake it together, and wheel it out of the pond, except the carriage: and that also is very cheap; the inhabitants having plenty of asses for which they have little to do besides carrying the salt from the ponds to the seaside at the season when ships are here. The inhabitants lade and drive their asses themselves, being very glad to be employed; for they have scarce any other trade but this to get a penny by. The pond is not above half a mile from the landing-place, so that the asses make a great many trips in a day. They have a set number of turns to and fro both forenoon and afternoon, which their owners will not exceed. At the landing-place there lies a frape-boat, as our seamen call it, to take in the salt. It is made purposely for this use, with a deck reaching from the stern a third part of the boat; where there is a kind of bulkhead that rises not from the boat's bottom but from the edge of the deck to about 2 foot in height; all caulked very tight. The use of it is to keep the waves from dashing into the boat when it lies with its head to the shore to take in salt: for here commonly runs a great sea; and when the boat lies so with its head to the shore the sea breaks in over the stern, and would soon fill it was it not for this bulkhead, which stops the waves that come flowing upon the deck and makes them run off into the sea on each side. To keep the boat thus with the head to the shore and the stern to the sea there are two strong stanchions set up in the boat, the one at the head, the other in the middle of it, against the bulkhead, and a foot higher than the bulkhead. There is a large notch cut in the top of each of these stanchions big enough for a small hawser or rope to lie in; one end of which is fastened to a post ashore, and the other to a grappling or anchor lying a pretty way off at sea: this rope serves to haul the boat in and out, and the stanchions serve to keep her fast, so that she cannot swing to either side when the rope is hauled tight: for the sea would else fill her, or toss her ashore and stave her. The better to prevent her staving and to keep her the tighter together there are two sets of ropes more: the first going athwart from gunwale to gunwale, which, when the rowers benches are laid, bind the boats sides so hard against the ends of the benches that they cannot easily fall asunder, while the benches and ropes mutually help each other; the ropes keeping the boat's sides from flying off, and the benches from being crushed together inwards. Of these ropes there are usually but two, dividing the boat's length as they go across the sides into three equal parts. The other set of ropes are more in number, and are so placed as to keep the ribs and planks of the boat from starting off. For this purpose there are holes made at certain distances through the edge of the keel that runs along on the inside of the boat; through which these ropes passing are laid along the ribs so as to line them, or be themselves as ribs upon them, being made fast to them by rattans brought thither, or small cords twisted close about both ropes and ribs, up to the gunwale: by which means though several of the nails or pegs of the boat should by any shock fall out, yet the ropes of these two sets might hold her together: especially with the help of a rope going quite round about the gunwale on the outside, as our longboats have. And such is the care taken to strengthen the boats; from which girding them with ropes, which our seamen call fraping, they have the name of frape-boats. Two men suffice to haul her in and out, and take in the salt from shore (which is brought in bags) and put it out again. As soon as the boat is brought nigh enough to the shore he who stands by the bulkhead takes instantly a turn with the hawser about the bulkhead stanchion; and that stops her fast before the sea can turn her aside: and when the two men have got in their lading they haul off to sea till they come a little without the swell; where they remove the salt into another boat that carries it on board the ship. Without such a frape-boat here is but bad landing at any time: for though it is commonly very smooth in the road, yet there falls a great sea on the shore, so that every ship that comes here should have such a boat, and bring or make or borrow one of the other ships that happen to be here; for the inhabitants have none. I have been thus particular in the description of these frape-boats because of the use they may be of in any places where a great sea falls in upon the shore: as it does especially in many open roads in the East and West Indies; where they might therefore be very serviceable; but I never saw any of them there.


The island Mayo is generally barren, being dry, as I said; and the best of it is but a very indifferent soil. The sandy bank that pens in the salt pond has a sort of silk-cotton growing upon it, and a plant that runs along upon the ground, branching out like a vine, but with thick broad leaves. The silk-cotton grows on tender shrubs, 3 or 4 foot high, in cods as big as an apple, but of a long shape; which when ripe open at one end, parting leisurely into 4 quarters; and at the first opening the cotton breaks forth. It may be of use for stuffing of pillows, or the like, but else is of no value, any more than that of the great cotton-tree. I took of these cods before that were quite ripe, and laid them in my chest; and in 2 or 3 days they would open and throw out the cotton. Others I have bound fast with strings, so that the cod could not open; and in a few days after, as soon as I slackened the string never so little, the cod would burst and the cotton fly out forcibly at a very little hole, just as the pulp out of a roasting apple, till all has been out of the cod. I met with this sort of cotton afterwards at Timor (where it was ripe in November) and nowhere else in all my travels; but I found two other sorts of silk-cotton at Brazil, which I shall there describe. The right cotton-shrub grows here also, but not on the sandbank. I saw some bushes of it near the shore; but the most of it is planted in the middle of the isle, where the inhabitants live, cotton-cloth being their chief manufacture; but neither is there any great store of this cotton. There also are some trees within the island, but none to be seen near the seaside; nothing but a few bushes scattering up and down against the sides of the adjacent hills; for as I said before the land is pretty high from the sea. The soil is for the most part either a sort of sand, or loose crumbling stone, without any fresh-water ponds or streams to moisten it, but only showers in the wet season which run off as fast as they fall, except a small spring in the middle of the isle, from which proceeds a little stream of water that runs through a valley between the hills. There the inhabitants live in three small towns, having a church and padre in each town: and these towns, as I was informed, are 6 or 7 miles from the road. Pinose is said to be the chief town, and to have 2 churches: St. John's the next, and the third Lagoa. The houses are very mean: small, low things. They build with figtree, here being, as I was told, no other trees fit to build with. The rafters are a sort of wild cane. The fruits of this isle are chiefly figs and watermelons. They have also callavances (a sort of pulse like French beans) and pumpkins for ordinary food. The fowls are flamingos, great curlews, and guinea-hens, which the natives of those islands call galena pintata, or the painted hen; but in Jamaica, where I have seen also those birds in the dry savannahs and woods (for they love to run about in such places) they are called guinea-hens. They seem to be much of the nature of partridges. They are bigger than our hens, have long legs, and will run apace. They can fly too but not far, having large heavy bodies and but short wings and short tails: as I have generally observed that birds have seldom long tails unless such as fly much; in which their tails are usually serviceable to their turning about as a rudder to a ship or boat. These birds have thick and strong yet sharp bills, pretty long claws, and short tails. They feed on the ground, either on worms, which they find by tearing open the earth; or on grasshoppers, which are plentiful here. The feathers of these birds are speckled with dark and light grey; the spots so regular and uniform that they look more beautiful than many birds that are decked with gayer feathers. Their necks are small and long; their heads also but little. The cocks have a small rising on their crowns, like a sort of a comb. It is of the colour of a dry walnut shell, and very hard. They have a small red gill on each side of their heads, like ears, strutting out downwards; but the hens have none. They are so strong that one cannot hold them; and very hardy. They are very good meat, tender, and sweet; and in some the flesh is extraordinary white; though some others have black flesh: but both sorts are very good. The natives take them with dogs, running them down whenever they please; for here are abundance of them. You shall see 2 or 300 in a company. I had several brought aboard alive, where they throve very well; some of them 16 or 18 months; when they began to pine. When they are taken young they will become tame like our hens. The flamingos I have already described at large. They have also many other sort of fowls, namely pigeons and turtledoves; miniotas, a sort of land-fowls as big as crows, of a grey colour, and good food; crusias, another sort of grey-coloured fowl almost as big as a crow, which are only seen in the night (probably a sort of owls) and are said to be good for consumptive people but eaten by none else. Rabeks, a sort of large grey eatable fowls with long necks and legs, not unlike herons; and many kinds of small birds.

Of land animals here are goats, as I said formerly, and asses good store. When I was here before they were said to have had a great many bulls and cows: but the pirates who have since miserably infested all these islands have much lessened the number of those; not having spared the inhabitants themselves: for at my being there this time the governor of Mayo was but newly returned from being a prisoner among them, they having taken him away, and carried him about with them for a year or two.

The sea is plentifully stocked with fish of divers sorts, namely dolphins, bonetas, mullet, snapper, silver-fish, garfish, etc. And here is a good bay to haul a seine or net in. I hauled mine several times, and to good purpose; dragging ashore at one time 6 dozen of great fish, most of them large mullet of a foot and a half or two foot long. Here are also porpoises, and a small sort of whales that commonly visit this road every day. I have already said that the months of May, June, July and August (that is, the wet season) are the time when the green-turtle come hither and go ashore to lay their eggs. I look upon it as a thing worth taking notice of that the turtle should always, both in north and south latitude, lay their eggs in the wet months. It might be thought, considering what great rains there are then in some places where these creatures lay, that their eggs should be spoiled by them. But the rain, though violent, is soon soaked up by the sand wherein the eggs are buried; and perhaps sinks not so deep into it as the eggs are laid: and keeping down the heat may make the sand hotter below than it was before, like a hot-bed. Whatever the reason may be why Providence determines these creatures to this season of laying their eggs, rather than the dry, in fact it is so, as I have constantly observed; and that not only with the sea-turtle but with all other sorts of amphibious animals that lay eggs; as crocodiles, alligators, iguanas etc. The inhabitants of this island, even their governor and padres, are all negroes, wool-pated like their African neighbours; from whom it is like they are descended; though, being subjects to the Portuguese, they have their religion and language. They are stout, lusty, well-limbed people, both men and women, fat and fleshy; and they and their children as round and plump as little porpoises; though the island appears so barren to a stranger as scarce to have food for its inhabitants. I enquired how many people there might be on the isle; and was told by one of the padres that here were 230 souls in all. The negro governor has his patent from the Portuguese governor of St. Jago. He is a very civil and sensible poor man; and they are generally a good sort of people. He expects a small present from every commander that lades salt here; and is glad to be invited aboard their ships. He spends most of his time with the English in the salting season, which is his harvest; and indeed, all the islanders are then fully employed in getting somewhat; for they have no vessels of their own to trade with, nor do any Portuguese vessels come hither: scarce any but English, on whom they depend for trade: and though subjects of Portugal, have a particular value for us. We don't pay them for their salt, but for the labour of themselves and their beasts in lading it: for which we give them victuals, some money, and old clothes, namely hats, shirts, and other clothes: by which means many of them are indifferently well rigged; but some of them go almost naked. When the turtle season comes in they watch the sandy bays in the night to turn them; and having small huts at particular places on the bays to keep them from the rain, and to sleepin: and this is another harvest they have for food; for by report there come a great many turtle to this and the rest of the Cape Verde Islands. When the turtle season is over they have little to do but to hunt for guinea-hens and manage their small plantations. But by these means they have all the year some employment or other; whereby they get a subsistence though but little else. When any of them are desirous to go over to St. Jago they get a licence from the governor and desire passage in any English ship that is going thither: and indeed all ships that lade salt here will be obliged to touch at St. Jago for water, for here at the bay is none, not so much as for drinking. It is true there is a small well of brackish water not half a mile from the landing-place which the asses that carry salt drink at; but it is very bad water. Asses themselves are a commodity in some of these islands, several of our ships coming hither purposely to freight with them and carry them to Barbados and our other plantations. I stayed at Mayo 6 days and got 7 or 8 ton of salt aboard for my voyage: in which time there came also into this road several sail of merchants ships for salt; all bound with it for Newfoundland.

The 19th day of February, at about one o'clock in the morning, I weighed from Mayo Road in order to water at St. Jago, which was about 5 or 6 leagues to the westward. We coasted along the island St. Jago and passed by the port on the east of it I mentioned formerly which they call Praya; where some English outward-bound East-Indiamen still touch, but not so many of them as heretofore. We saw the fort upon the hill, the houses and coconut-trees: but I would not go in to anchor here because I expected better water on the south-west of the island at St. Jago Town. By eight o'clock in the morning we saw the ships in that road, being within 3 leagues of it: but were forced to keep turning many hours to get in, the flaws of wind coming so uncertain; as they do especially to the leeward of islands that are high land. At length two Portuguese boats came off to help tow us in; and about three o'clock in the afternoon we came to an anchor and took the prospect of the town. We found here, besides two Portuguese ships bound for Brazil whose boats had towed us in, an English pink that had taken in asses at one of the Cape Verde Islands and was bound to Barbados with them. Next morning I went ashore with my officers to the governor, who treated us with sweetmeats: I told him the occasion of my coming was chiefly for water; and that I desired also to take in some refreshments of fowls, etc. He said I was welcome, and that he would order the townsmen to bring their commodities to a certain house, where I might purchase what I had occasion for: I told him I had not money but would exchange some of the salt which I brought from Mayo for their commodities. He replied that salt was indeed an acceptable commodity with the poor people, but that if I designed to buy any cattle I must give money for them. I contented myself with taking in dunghill-fowls: the governor ordering a crier to go about the town and give notice to the people that they might repair to such a place with fowls and maize for feeding them where they might get salt in exchange for them: so I sent on board for salt and ordered some of my men to truck the same for the fowls and maize while the rest of them were busy in filling of water. This is the effect of their keeping no boats of their own on the several islands, that they are glad to by even their own salt of foreigners for want of being able to transport it themselves from island to island.


St. Jago Town lies on the south-west part of the island in latitude about 15 degrees north, and is the seat of the general governor and of the bishop of all the Cape Verde Islands. This town stands scattering against the sides of two mountains, between which there is a deep valley, which is about 200 yards wide against the sea; but within a quarter of a mile it closes up so as not to be 40 yards wide. In the valley by the sea there is a straggling street, houses on each side, and a run of water in the bottom which empties itself into a fine small cove or sandy bay where the sea is commonly very smooth; so that here is good watering and good landing at any time; though the road be rocky and bad for ships. Just by the landing-place there is a small fort, almost level with the sea, where is always a court of guard kept. On the top of the hill, above the town, there is another fort which, by the wall that is to be seen from the road, seems to be a large place. They have cannon mounted there, but how many know not: neither what use that fort can be of except it be for salutes. The town may consist of 2 or 300 houses, all built of rough stone; having also one convent, and one church.


The people in general are black, or at least of a mixed colour, except only some few of the better sort, namely the governor, the bishop, some gentlemen, and some of the padres; for some of these also are black. The people about Praya are thievish; but these of St. Jago Town, living under their governor's eye, are more orderly, though generally poor, having little trade: yet besides chance ships of other nations there come hither a Portuguese ship or two every year, in their way to Brazil. These vend among them a few European commodities, and take of their principal manufactures, namely striped cotton cloth which they carry with them to Brazil. Here is also another ship comes hither from Portugal for sugar, their other manufacture, and returns with it directly thither: for it is reported that there are several small sugar-works on this island from which they send home near 100 ton every year; and they have plenty of cotton growing up in the country wherewith they clothe themselves, and send also a great deal to Brazil. They have vines of which they make some wine; but the European ships furnish them with better; though they drink but little of any. Their chief fruits are (besides plantains in abundance) oranges, lemons, citrons, melons (both musk and watermelons) limes, guavas, pomegranates, quinces, custard-apples, and papaws, etc.


The custard-apple (as we call it) is a fruit as big as a pomegranate, and much of the same colour. The outside husk, shell, or rind, is for substance and thickness between the shell of a pomegranate, and the peel of a seville orange; softer than this, yet more brittle than that. The coat or covering is also remarkable in that it is beset round with small regular knobs or risings; and the inside of the fruit is full of a white soft pulp, sweet and very pleasant, and most resembling a custard of any thing, both in colour and taste; from whence probably it is called a custard-apple by our English. It has in the middle a few small black stones or kernels; but no core, for it is all pulp. The tree that bears this fruit is about the bigness of a quince-tree, with long, small, and thick-set branches spread much abroad: at the extremity of here and there one of which the fruit grows upon a stalk of its own about 9 or 10 inches long, slender and tough, and hanging down with its own weight. A large tree of this sort does not bear usually above 20 or 30 apples, seldom more. This fruit grows in most countries within the tropics, I have seen of them (though I omitted the description of them before) all over the West Indies, both continent and islands; as also in Brazil, and in the East Indies.

The papaw too is found in all these countries, though I have not hitherto described it. It is a fruit about the bigness of a musk-melon, hollow as that is, and much resembling it in shape and colour, both outside and inside: only in the middle, instead of flat kernels, which the melons have, these have a handful of small blackish seeds about the bigness of peppercorns; whose taste is also hot on the tongue somewhat like pepper. The fruit itself is sweet, soft and luscious, when ripe; but while green it is hard and unsavoury: though even then being boiled and eaten with salt-pork or beef, it serves instead of turnips and is as much esteemed. The papaw-tree is about 10 or 12 foot high. The body near the ground may be a foot and a half or 2 foot diameter; and it grows up tapering to the top. It has no branches at all, but only large leaves growing immediately upon stalks from the body. The leaves are of a roundish form and jagged about the edges, having their stalks or stumps longer or shorter as they grow near to or further from the top. They begin to spring from out of the body of the tree at about 6 or 7 foot height from the ground, the trunk being bare below: but above that the leaves grow thicker and larger still towards its top, where they are close and broad. The fruit grows only among the leaves; and thickest among the thickest of them; insomuch that towards the top of the tree the papaws spring forth from its body as thick as they can stick one by another. But then lower down where the leaves are thinner the fruit is larger, and of the size I have described: and at the top where they are thick they are but small, and no bigger than ordinary turnips; yet tasted like the rest.

Their chief land animals are their bullocks, which are said to be many; though they ask us 20 dollars apiece for them; they have also horses, asses, and mules, deer, goats, hogs, and black-faced long-tailed monkeys. Of fowls they have cocks and hens, ducks, guinea-hens, both tame and wild, parakeets, parrots, pigeons, turtledoves, herons, hawks, crab-catchers, galdens (a larger sort of crab-catchers) curlews, etc. Their fish is the same as at Mayo and the rest of these islands, and for the most part these islands have the same beasts and birds also; but some of the isles have pasturage and employment for some particular beasts more than other; and the birds are encouraged, by woods for shelter, and maize and fruits for food, to flock to some of the islands (as to this of St. Jago) than to others.


St. Jago Road is one of the worst that I have been in. There is not clean ground enough for above three ships; and those also must lie very near each other. One even of these must lie close to the shore, with a land-fast there: and that is the best for a small ship. I should not have come in here if I had not been told that it was a good secure place; but I found it so much otherways that I was in pain to be gone. Captain Barefoot, who came to an anchor while I was here, in foul ground, lost quickly 2 anchors; and I had lost a small one. The island Fogo shows itself from this road very plain, at about 7 or 8 leagues distance; and in the night we saw the flames of fire issuing from its top.