ONLY four days after leaving the gloomy gray of England in its cold and muddy winter, we reached the Azores, the little group of hilly islands far out in the Atlantic.
St. Michael's, where the ship stops to land some passengers, is quite a big townsaid to be the third largest in Portugal. It is an assemblage of pink and yellow houses, stretched along the brown, rocky shore, with a small harbour in front, and steep hills behind, and everywhere long lines of glass-houses in which pineapples are grown for the London market.
As we drop this island in the bumpy gray sea behind us, we part with Europe, and sail at once into the bluer sunny seas which lead us to the Spanish Main.
As day after day we steam across these endless plains of sea, we begin to think more and more highly of the bravery of those old sea-dogs of the Middle Ages, who, in their lumbering little sailing ships, and with their primitive maps and compasses, were not afraid to venture far across the seas to seek adventures greater than the home seas offered.
Gales had for them no terrors, their ships were tidy sea-boats, their rigging good, and they themselves had stout hearts and strong hands to work them. But what they had to fear far more was the fine, calm weather, when never a breath of wind disturbed the shining surface of the oily sea. There they would be idly rolling on the long, smooth swell without making a yard of progress from day to day.
And they did not carry tinned provisions, or stores of meat in freezing chambers, nor engines for condensing and turning salt water into fresh, as we do to-day; they only had a few barrels of pork preserved in brine, and water stowed in casks.
The danger was ever before them that if a breeze should fail to come in time they had the risk of running out of food, and thus of slowly drifting to death through thirst and starvation.
But the glorious dreams of adventure, of riches and loot, and of green islands and blue seas of the Spanish Main, drew them on to face the risks.
Here, out west of the Azores, in the centre of the Atlantic Ocean, is that part of it which is known as the Sargasso Sea. it is the point where all tides and currents seem to cease. It is marked by masses of yellow seaweed floating in bunches for miles and miles. It is hither that deserted, half foundered ships seem to drift And never to move away again, until they rot and sink into the depths for ever.
As we steamed across this great ocean in our powerful twin-screw liner with its comfortable airy cabins, its great dining-hall and restaurant, its laundry, and its tiled and marble swimming-bath and gymnasium, it seems impossible to bring the past into touch with the present, and yet on the fo'c'sle, half under the awning and half in the blazing sunshine, one sees a group of sailors, lounging and playing cards on the deck, many of them half clad or with handkerchiefs tied round their heads, and one could very easily imagine their forefathers looking much the same as buccaneers aboard the sailing craft in the olden days.
Cabin-boys there were in those vessels, cabin-boys who rose to be great sailors; and to-day there are cabinboys still, and they may rise to be great men if they make up their minds to it.
The Spanish Main
The " Spanish Main " was the Caribbean Sea, which lies between North and South America, where, were it not for the narrow neck of land which joins them (and which is called the Isthmus of Panama), North and South America would be separate continents.
Across the great bay thus formed lie a number of islands, some big, some little. These we know as the West Indies, and in the old times they were much used by the pirates and buccaneers as their lairs and hiding-places.
The countries all around the Caribbean Sea were first seized and occupied by the Spaniards, after the great scout, Christopher Columbus, had discovered them.
These lands were not only wonderful for their fertility in producing all kinds of plants, fruits, and corn, but also they held enormous wealth in gold and silver and precious stones. So when the Spanish ships began to arrive in Europe laden with the richest cargoes from the West, adventurers from every nation began to appear upon the scene, eager to get some of it.
The British were especially to the fore, probably because at that time (in Henry VIII's reign) many ceased to be Roman Catholics, and so had nothing but hatred for the Spaniards, who were particularly eager about pressing their religion on to other people, whether they liked it or not.
So it was not long before our old sea-dogs, Raleigh, Drake, Frobisher, Hawkins, and others, were to the fore with their ships in the Spanish Main, eager to check the increasing power of the Spaniards by cutting off their supplies and to gain some of their booty for their own country.
In addition to these, a great many adventurers from all nations got together in the West Indian Islands and made looting expeditions on quick-sailing vessels with which they used to board Spanish galleons and steal their valuable cargoes.
These men stuck at nothing. Murder came quite easy to them. They were known as "buccaneers" and pirates.
A " buccaneer " originally meant a man who used a "buccan," that is, a kind of frame for drying and smoking meat, and so preserving it for use on long voyages. A large number of people found this a profitable profession in the West Indian Islands, as the Caribbean Sea became a resort for ships ; but they also found it still more profitable occasionally to take a turn at ship-looting themselves, so the term " buccaneer " very soon came to mean much the same as pirate.
The aim of our commanders of those days was not quite so high as it would be now, for they combined a good deal of piracy with their patriotism-but it was the way of the world at that time ; and it certainly produced a breed of daring adventurers who gave to our nation the spirit and hardihood which have stuck to us for hundreds of years since, and which., let us hope, will go on among us for generations to come.
The Southern Cross
Soon after leaving the Azores my early rising (for I am generally up before half-past five) was rewarded by a fine view of the Southern Cross as it appeared above the horizon.
It made me feel back in South Africa again to see the old familiar sign which had guided me on many a night's march.
The constellation looks like this:
The direction of the Southern Pole is not shown by any one star as in the Northern heavens, but is given by two imaginary lines drawn as above until they meet.
One fine morning we found ourselves at daybreak off a low, green island. It might have been the Isle of Wight-but it wasn't.
It was Barbados.
The sea, of a marvellous blue, was bursting into white surf on the golden sand. Thick trees and slender palms crowded down to the water's edge and almost concealed the town and its widespread suburbs. Far back inland rose thickly cultivated hills and downs. All of a bright, light-green is the sugar-cane crop, which makes the wealth of the island.
In the bay, besides several cargo steamers, there lay at anchor a number of well-shaped, white-hulled sailing schooners. These run between the different islands with cargo and passengers, and are manned with smart crews of Negroes.
One could quite imagine them hoisting at any moment the " Jolly Roger " (skull and crossbones) and taking up the running from hundreds who have gone before them at Barbados as pirates of the Spanish Main. But they are very peaceful, and, though it may not be quite so exciting, they find that honesty pays best in the end.
Barbados is one of the few of the British possessions which was not taken by us from somebody else. It is an island to the eastward, and so nearer to England than the other West Indies.
It was occupied by a private expedition from England in 1605, which was fitted out and sent by Sir Oliver Leigh, of Kent, in a ship called the Olive Blossome, and was further peopled by emigrants sent out by the Earl of Carlisle and Sir William Courtier in 1628.
The Olive Blossome figures on some of the postage stamps of Barbados.
Barbados is only about as big as the Isle of Wight, but it has a large population-nearly 200,000-mostly Negroes. The Isle of Wight has only about 83,000-not Negroes. These Negroes are descendants of natives of West Africa, who were brought over and sold as slaves up till sixty years ago.
The capital is called Bridgeton, but there are more familiar names in the island. The tram runs you out along the coast to " Hastings," and farther on you come to " Worthing " and " Brighton."
One of the luxuries of the Island, besides its wealth of bananas, yams, pineapples, and sweet potatoes, is the flying fish. You see shoals of them as you glide along in your ship at sea ; they rise suddenly out of the waves, and with outstretched wings they skim over the water like swallows for fifty yards or more, and then dive neatly into the sea again. They are no bigger than a herring, and taste very like one when you eat them.
A Pirate King
One of the celebrated pirates of the Spanish Main was Bartholomew Sharp.
In 1680 he started with over three hundred desperate and hardy buccaneers ; he crossed the Isthmus of Panama on foot, and seized a number of canoes on the Pacific coast; be boldly attacked the Spanish fleet, which was lying quite unprepared at Penio, a small island near Panama, and after a most desperate fight managed to capture all the enemy's vessels.
With this fleet Sharp made a number of successful piratical raids on the Pacific coast. After this he disbanded his men, most of whom made their way back to the West Indies with their pockets full of money. This they did by going overland by the Isthmus of Panama ; but Sharp himself kept the best of the Spanish ships, one named the Most Holy Trinity, and in this, with a selected crew, he started to sail down the South Pacific coast and to return to the West Indies by going all the way round South America.
This, after many adventures and hardships, he succeeded in doing, but it took his gallant little ship (she was only 400 tons) eighteen months to do it.
The pirates made many attacks on Spanish towns on the way, and gained a good deal of booty. They were a tough and a rough lot, and yet, in spite of their being so rough, and in spite of their captain being so bold and successful, the crew mutinied against him because he would not hold Divine Service on Sundays I For this reason he was seized and chained up as a prisoner, while another captain was chosen and appointed in his place. This new captain was, however, killed a few days later in a fight.
When, after many weary months of cruising up the Atlantic coast, the Most Holy Trinity at length reached her port-Barbadosshe found lying there a man-of-war, H.M.S. Richmond.
This was not at all what she wanted, so she sheered off, and with all speed made for another concealed anchorage which she knew of in Antigua (pronounced Anteega). Here the booty was divided among the crew, and Captain Sharp took passage for home in a ship just sailing for England; and so he succeeded in doing what few pirates managed, and that was to get home with his money and without being hanged.
The island of Trinidad is of much the same shape and size as Wales. It lies only seven miles off the northern coast of South America. It was first discovered by Christopher Columbus, the great Spanish explorer, on July 31st, 1498, and it became a Spanish colony.
A hundred years later the island was visited by Sir Walter Raleigh in his search for El Doradothat is, a land of gold which was supposed to exist somewhere in that part of the world. Raleigh made a boat expedition up the mighty Orinoco River, which runs out of the mainland just opposite Trinidad.
He was always hoping to find the gold country, but as day after day of toilsome rowing was accomplished in the heavy heat of that country, and as his provisions ran short and his men began to die fast from fever and starvation, Raleigh was at length forced to give up his
expedition and return to Trinidad. But he did not sulk about or give way to despair; like a true Scout, he said cheerily that he had been learning how to tackle the difficulty in a better way for another time.
In 1594 the Duke of Northumberland fitted out an expedition of two small ships and two boats, and sailed from England to Trinidad, which he safely reached after a voyage of three months-it takes two weeks nowadays!
However, he did not do much good there. He found what he imagined to be gold ore and brought a great deal of it home, only to find that it was quite worthless.
Trinidad remained under the Spanish rule for nearly 300 years. The capital is called the Port of Spain, a beautiful town among green hills at the head of the great gulf or landlocked sea of Paria.
But when there was quarrelling between Spain and Great Britain in 1797, the British fleet, under Abercromby, came sailing in, and attacked the place with 8000 soldiers and sailors. The soldiers were under the command of General Picton, who was afterwards so
famous in the war in Spain, and who was killed when gallantly leading a charge at Waterloo. The fort which protected the Port of Spain stands on a wooded hill overlooking the place. It was stormed by the British troops, and captured after a feeble resistance; and so Trinidad came into our hands.
Port of Spain
To reach Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad, your ship has to come into the lagoon by one of three or four entrances between wooded islands of steep hills and ravines, and it is all very beautiful, and just the sort of place for a pirate's lair.
It was through these narrow entrances that Lord Nelson sailed with all his fleet in 1805 when he was in pursuit of the French fleet, which had managed to escape from him in Europe. He expected from his information to find them at Trinidad.
Directly he saw that the hoped-for enemy was not there, he turned his ships about and sailed with all speed to Grenada. No French there, but they had been seen at Antigua.
Away he went in full sail, only to find on arrival at Antigua that they had gone back to Europe a few days previously. He never paused, but at once pushed on to overtake them.
Out in the middle of the Atlantic he noticed two or three planks floating in the water. Scout as he was, Nelson recognised these as "signs" or tracks of the French fleet, and pressed on with all the more keenness. When in the end he met them, it was at Trafalgar, off the coast of Spain, and you know what happened there on October 21st.
The capital of the Trinidad of to-day is a bright, clean city of small houses standing in their own little gardens, which seem to have flowers and plants of every kind of brilliant colour, and also good shade trees and tall, graceful palms everywhere.
Among the flowers you see the tiny humming-birds, scarcely larger than a big bumble-bee, gleaming with every colour.
Overhead fly " jim crows, " neat, black, cheeky birds, and circling about in the blue sky are great buzzards, with their ugly bare heads, looking out for any offal that may be thrown away.
Trinidad is a warm place, where you have to wear a helmet to prevent sunstroke, but there is always a breeze blowing, which prevents the heat being excessive.
About thirty miles from Port of Spain is a lake of pitch. Sir Walter Raleigh used some Of it for making his ships water-tight. Nowadays the pitch is dug out and used for making asphalt for roads. The curious thing is that, although over a thousand tons of it are taken away every
year, the lake keeps filling itself up again all the time.
It is sufficiently hard to walk upon, and easy to dig; but wherever you dig a hole it Will in a few hours have filled itself up again.
Now we come to Cartagena (pronounced Cartahayna), on the north coast of Colombia, a fine old fortified seaport where much fighting was done in the old days. The town lies at the head of a lagoon or landlocked bay some ten miles long. To this there are two narrow entrances from the seaward which were strongly fortified, and the town itself has its walls and a castle on a commanding hill at the back. In spite of its strength, the gallant Captain Drake attacked the Place in 1586, when it was held by the Spaniards.
He sailed into the lagoon by the Boca Chica entrance at four o'clock in the afternoon, and anchored his ships at the point marked with the dotted cross on the map.
At nightfall he sent a party under Frobisher to attack the fort on the right of the inner harbour. This attack failed. But Drake had meant it to ; it was only made to draw off the attention of the Spaniards while he quietly landed another storming party on the long, narrow strip of beach which Sir Frederick Treves in his book (The Cradle of the Deep) calls
This party was under command of Carleil, a brave and dashing leader. For about two miles it made its way along the narrow strip of land as silently as possible, though under great difficulty owing to thick bush and mangrove swamp.
But the Spaniards were not altogether fools. They had some cavalry vedettes out watching this spit of land, and directly they saw Carleil's men coming along they galloped back to the town and gave the alarm. The defenders had built a rampart and ditch across the neck of the land, and had manned it with 300 musketeers and some small cannon.
A gap was left in the wall by which their cavalry could come in, and so soon as these had returned with their warning the opening was closed up with tubs filled with earth. And there were two vessels afloat close to the rampart, filled with more soldiers who could bring a flank fire to bear on the attackers. So Carleil's men found themselves in for a very tough and nasty job.
On finding how strongly the enemy were posted ready for them, they might very reasonably have said: "This is not good enough; we will slip quietly back to our ships."
But that was not their way ; they were Britishers, and their business was to break down the power of Spain.
So this is what they did, as Sir Frederick Treves describes it :
"As Carleil advanced, the Spaniards poured a torrent of shot upon the narrow way, the British kept silence and never fired. They crawled along the water's edge so as to be out of range until they were close under the wall. Then, at a given signal, they made a rush for the gap through the blizzard of bullets.
"Down went the wine butts like ninepins. A volley was fired in the very face of the horrified defenders of the breach, and with a yell the British fell upon them with pike and cutlass. Carleil, with his own hand, cut down the standard-bearer. The Spaniards, without more ado, turned heel and fled, helter-skelter, for the city. . . .
"The British tore after them like a pack of baying wolves. The flying crowd made an attempt to stand, but were swept down. . . .
"In a moment the market-place was gained, but every street leading from it was blocked with earthworks.
" Over these mounds went the Spaniards, and the buccaneers after them as if it were a hurdle race. Behind each barricade Indians were posted with poisoned arrows, but Drake's men jumped on their backs or their heads as they crouched, and gave them a taste of the long pikes if they had the heart to stand. . . .
" Whenever a stand was made by the garrison the pikes charged, and the breathless Cartagenians, scattered and bleeding, bolted down the dark alleys or hid under carts. In one of these street-fights the Spanish commander was taken by Captain Goring. . . .
" The town was taken, and taken handsomely; the fort that had defied Frobisher was seized and blown tip, and after a pleasant stay in Cartagena of six weeksduring which time Drake entertained the governor and bishop at dinner-that officer departed with 110,000 ducats in his pocket."
The Panama Canal
The great canal which is now being made through the isthmus of Panama to connect the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean begins on the Atlantic side at a place called Colon, and opens into the Pacific near Panama.
In this way disease has altogether been driven out, and Panama is to-day quite a healthy country to those who look after themselves.
The Americans were therefore able to take on 35,000 workmen, who now live there with their wives and families.
The way they are making the canal is to dam up the big central river in the valley through which it flows to the Atlantic. This will make it into a great lake 80 ft. deep and twenty-three miles long. Then they will dig a cutting through the mountains for nine miles towards the Pacific, which will form an outlet to the lake.
The lake will thus be 80 ft. above the sea-level; a set of three locks will therefore be employed to raise ships from the sea up to this height, and the locks will be so big as to take the very largest ships that are likely to be made ; that is to say, they will be 1000 ft. long, 110 ft. wide, and 70 ft. deep, having 42 ft. of water in them at their lowest. At present no ships are over 700 ft. long, or 90 ft. wide, or 30 ft. draft.
Through the mountains for nine miles a mighty trough has been cut. It is 500 ft. deep in some places, and 300 ft. wide at the bottom for the whole of its length.
Already since they have been at work on it, beginning in 1904, the Americans have completed three-quarters of their task, and in two years more they reckon that ocean-going ships and men-of-war will be passing through from sea to sea.
What It All Looks Like
When our steamer slid quietly up to the dock at Colon, the first thing we noticed among the crowd awaiting us was a guard of honour of American Boy Scouts. They looked very much like our own Scouts, except that instead of shorts and stockings they wore breeches and canvas gaiters. But they looked in face and eyes just like any British boys, and they put oil something bigger than a Scout's smile when I shook hands with them-it was a big grin of welcome.
There are no fewer than nine troops of them between Colon and Panama.
Colon, like other towns on the canal, at first looks like a town of gigantic meat safes among palm trees,
for every house is surrounded and covered in with wire gauze to keep mosquitoes out, and in that way they are fever-proof.
The work at the great locks and dam at Gatun is wonderful, because of the enormous size of everything. The dam, for instance, is one mile and a half long and half a mile thick!
The Calebra Cut, where the trough has been made through the mountains, is also a wonderful sight. Along the bottom are several lines of railway with continual trains of trucks running to and fro, getting the earth and rubbish out as fast as the great steam shovels can dig it, and the hundreds of boring drills can get it blasted.
It is a wonderful sight to see a steam shovel lift a big rock weighing nearly a ton in its " mouth," balancing it
very carefully so that it does not fall, while it swings it quietly over to a truck, and then gently lowers it into the train, and shoves it and butts it into its place for travelling comfortably.
For mile after mile these wonderful engines are at work on different levels, digging out the sides and bottom of the future waterway. And high up on the banks, or in the bush on either side, one passes poor old discarded locomotives, cranes, boilers, and trucks, thrown out to rot and rust and become overgrown with jungle, since they are worn out and done for. It is quite sad to see them.
But it helps to show one what an enormous amount of money must have been spent on the work.
Even out to seaward beyond the ends of the canal great dredgers are at work opening up the channel underwater, and huge breakwaters are being built to protect the mouth of the canal against bad weather.
The Death of Francis Drake
Porto Bello was a great pirates' resort, because it was a town to which much of the gold from Peru came to be embarked for Spain in the old days. So it saw a good deal of fighting by the defenders of the gold against the attacks of the buccaneers.
But one great point of interest in it to us Britons is that here the great sea scout Drake died and was buried.
He died and was buried in a manner worthy of such a hero. On January 28th, 1596, his fleet arrived in Porto Bello, and Drake lay sick to death of fever on board his ship. But he would not give in to death. He called for his clothes, and he put on his full uniform and sword. He was going to show his men that he was still full of pluck and spirit-he would "never say die till he was dead." But the deadly weakness overcame him ; he could only stagger a pace or two, and then he had to be lifted back on his bed. And there he lay, dressed for action, as his spirit passed away.
They did not take him ashore to be buried, but they gave him a seaman's funeral at sea; and along with him on either side they sank two ships to keep guard over him at the bottom.
So there lies Drake in a sailor's grave, like a Viking of old, with his ships, off the " Beautiful Port "-Porto Bello.
One morning at sunrise we found ourselves steaming over a smooth, blue sea into the port of Kingston, on the island of Jamaica.
Jamaica was first discovered by Columbus, the great
Spanish explorer, and was afterwards captured by the British expedition sent out by Cromwell in 1655, under Admiral Penn and General Venables.
Columbus, when asked by King Ferdinand of Spain what Jamaica looked like, crumpled up a piece of paper and laid it on the table, and said it looked like that.
And so it does ; ridge after ridge of mountains rises, with their sides all seamed and crumpled with ravines and valleys, up to the highest peak of the Blue Mountains nearly 8000 ft. above the sea.
The harbour of Kingston is a magnificent lagoon or landlocked bay, cut off from the ocean by a long, narrow spit of land, about fifteen miles long and only 100 yards wide. This is covered with bush and a few palm trees. This spit is called " The Palisades."
At the extreme point of it is a small town called Port Royal. This in the old days was a great headquarters for the sea-rovers and buccaneers. After we took the island, Port Royal became a Naval arsenal for our men-of-war. Lord Nelson spent many years of his service here, making Port Royal his headquarters. The first building we come to as our steamer glides up to the little settlement, with its red-roofed houses between the palm trees, is a long, low rampart pierced for big guns, with a small house perched upon it. This was 'Where Nelson lived. The little terrace on the rampart is called " Nelson's Quarter-deck, " because here he used to pace up and down, eagerly waiting for the French fleet.
A marble tablet has been set up which says:
In this place dwelt
And here also are great long buildings which used to be the sail-lofts for storing the sails of the mighty three-deckers which formed his fleet.
Down on the point are some low-lying modern forts for the protection of the entrance to the lagoon, but one of these has caved in like an apple pie after a Boy Scout has tackled it. In this case it was the great earthquake of 1907 which caused the destruction of even this strongly built work.
As our ship rounds the point, we enter into a beautiful inland sea, as smooth as a great lake, with the city of Kingston lying at the foot of the mountains, some five miles from the entrance.
As we approach the quays, we see that the town is chiefly of low houses with verandahs, and dusty white roofs, with lovely green palm trees in the gardens. It is beautifully bright and warm and peaceful. It is hard to believe that only five years ago it was just as calm and peaceful when a sudden heave of the ground took place, which smashed up every house and killed and injured thousands of inhabitants in the space of a few minutes.
As we come alongside the wharf, among the crowd waiting to welcome the ship we see the well-known uniform once more. A guard -of honour of Boy Scouts is drawn up to receive me. Two troops of them there are in Jamaica, but I expect hat before long there will be others as well.
Jamaica has been called " the cradle of the British Navy " from the time of Drake and Raleigh, and Rodney, Benbow and Nelson; and I hope that before long Sea Scouts will have started here, for it is a splendid place for boating and swimming, and will furnish many more good seamen for our nation in the future.
A motor run on the island showed one vast groves of banana plants all ripening for the British market. Everywhere the natives are Negroes, descendants of the slaves brought here in the old days from West Africa to work on the sugar plantations. Now they are all free men, of course, and are very cheery, friendly people, and very loyal to the King.
Spanish Town, about twelve miles from Kingston, is the old capital of the island, and contains an interesting cathedral and a quaint old central square in which stands a statue of Admiral Lord Rodney.
It was put up as a reminder of his great victory over the French Admiral de Grasse, on April 12, 1782, when he saved Jamaica and the West Indies for Great Britain.
The battle lasted for twelve hours, and the British losses amounted to 1090 seamen killed and wounded, while the French lost 14,000 killed, wounded, and prisoners. Two of the handsome guns of the French flagship Ville de Paris are mounted in front of Lord Rodney's statue.
Spanish Town is a small town of very picturesque old houses and beautiful gardens, but it is very quiet, hardly a soul to be seen, as the business is now all carried on at Kingston.
There are still a great many ruined walls and houses about, both inside Kingston and out in the country all reminders of the awful earthquake of a few years ago.
Otherwise the island is most beautiful and attractive and full of the spirit which existed when Marryat wrote his novels about it, such as "Midshipman Easy," and Scott's " Tom Cringle's Log.
Just as one may imagine Port Royal full of swaggering pirates, daring and dangerous,
open-handed and reckless, so one can easily imagine the streets of Kingston again filled
with dapper midshipmen, rolling jack tars, and puffy admirals, hospitable planters, and
beautiful Creoles. It is a delightful place, and I was very, very sorry to leave it.
Lewis P. Orans, 2002