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A Voyage Round the World, Vol. I By James Holman Characters: 29271

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Passion for Travelling-Author's peculiar situation-Motives for going Abroad-Resources for the Blind-Embark in the Eden, Capt. Owen, for Sierra Leone-Lord High Admiral at Plymouth-Cape Finisteire-Arrival at Madeira-Town of Funchal-Wines of Madeira-Cultiwition of the Grape-Table of Exports-Seizure of Gin-Fruits and Vegetables-Climate -Coffee, Tea, and Sugar Cultivation-Palanquin Travelling-Departure from Madeira

The passion for travelling is, I believe, instinctive in some natures. We have seen men persevere in their enterprises against the most formidable obstacles; and, without means or friends, and even ignorant of the languages of the various countries through which they passed, pursue their perilous journeys into remote places, until, like the knight in the Arabian tale, they succeeded in snatching a memorial from every shrine they visited. For my own part, I have been conscious from my earliest youth of the existence of this desire to explore distant regions, to trace the varieties exhibited by mankind under the different influences of different climates, customs, and laws, and to investigate with unwearied solicitude the moral and physical distinctions that separate and diversify the various nations of the earth.

I am bound to believe that this direction of my faculties and energies has been ordained by a wise and benevolent Providence, as a source of consolation under an affliction which closes upon me all the delights and charms of the visible world. The constant occupation of the mind, and the continual excitement of mental and bodily action, contribute to diminish, if not to overcome, the sense of deprivation which must otherwise have pressed upon me; while the gratification of this passion scarcely leaves leisure for despondency, at the same time that it supplies me with inexhaustible means of enjoyment. When I entered the naval service I felt an irresistible impulse to become acquainted with as many parts of the world as my professional avocations would permit, and I was determined not to rest satisfied until I had completed the circumnavigation of the globe. But at the early age of twenty-five, while these resolves were strong, and the enthusiasm of youth was fresh and sanguine, my present affliction came upon me. It is impossible to describe the state of my mind at the prospect of losing my sight, and of being, as I then supposed, deprived by that misfortune of the power of indulging in my cherished project. Even the suspense which I suffered, during the period when my medical friends were uncertain of the issue, appeared to me a greater misery than the final knowledge of the calamity itself. At last I entreated them to be explicit, and to let me know the worst, as that could be more easily endured than the agonies of doubt. Their answer, instead of increasing my uneasiness, dispelled it. I felt a comparative relief in being no longer deceived by false hopes; and the certainty that my case was beyond remedy determined me to seek, in some pursuit adapted to my new state of existence, a congenial field of employment and consolation. At that time my health was so delicate, and my nerves so depressed by previous anxiety, that I did not suffer myself to indulge in the expectation that I should ever be able to travel out of my own country alone; but the return of strength and vigour, and the concentration of my views upon one object, gradually brought back my old passion, which at length became as firmly established as it was before. The elasticity of my original feelings being thus restored, I ventured, alone and sightless, upon my dangerous and novel course; and I cannot look back upon the scenes through which I have passed, the great variety of circumstances by which I have been surrounded, and the strange experiences with which I have become familiar, without an intense aspiration of gratitude for the bounteous dispensation of the Almighty, which enabled me to conquer the greatest of human evils by the cultivation of what has been to me the greatest of human enjoyments, and to supply the void of sight with countless objects of intellectual gratification. To those who inquire what pleasures I can derive from the invigorating spirit of travelling under the privation I suffer, I may be permitted to reply in the words of the poet,

Unknown those powers that raise the soul to flame,

Catch every nerve, and vibrate through the frame;

Their level life is but a smouldering fire,

Unquench'd by want, unfanned by strong desire.

Or perhaps, with more propriety, I may ask, who could endure life without a purpose, without the pursuit of some object, in the attainment of which his moral energies should be called into healthful activity? I can confidently assert that the effort of travelling has been beneficial to me in every way; and I know not what might have been the consequence, if the excitement with which I looked forward to it had been disappointed, or how much my health might have suffered but for its refreshing influence.

I am constantly asked, and I may as well answer the question here once for all, what is the use of travelling to one who cannot see? I answer, Does every traveller see all that he describes?-and is not every traveller obliged to depend upon others for a great proportion of the information he collects? Even Humboldt himself was not exempt from this necessity.

The picturesque in nature, it is true, is shut out from me, and works of art are to me mere outlines of beauty, accessible only to one sense; but perhaps this very circumstance affords a stronger zest to curiosity, which is thus impelled to a more close and searching examination of details than would be considered necessary to a traveller who might satisfy himself by the superficial view, and rest content with the first impressions conveyed through the eye. Deprived of that organ of information, I am compelled to adopt a more rigid and less suspicious course of inquiry, and to investigate analytically, by a train of patient examination, suggestions, and deductions, which other travellers dismiss at first sight; so that, freed from the hazard of being misled by appearances, I am the less likely to adopt hasty and erroneous conclusions. I believe that, notwithstanding my want of vision, I do not fail to visit as many interesting points in the course of my travels as the majority of my contemporaries: and by having things described to me on the spot, I think it is possible for me to form as correct a judgment as my own sight would enable me to do: and to confirm my accuracy, I could bring many living witnesses to bear testimony to my endless inquiries, and insatiable thirst for collecting information. Indeed this is the secret of the delight I derive from travelling, affording me as it does a constant source of mental occupation, and stimulating me so powerfully to physical exertion, that I can bear a greater degree of bodily fatigue, than any one could suppose my frame to be capable of supporting.

I am frequently asked how I take my notes. It is simply thus: I keep a sort of rough diary, which I fill up from time to time as opportunities offer, but not from day to day, for I am frequently many days in arrear, sometimes, indeed, a fortnight together: but I always vividly remember the daily occurrences which I wish to retain, so that it is not possible that any circumstances can escape my attention. I also collect distinct notes on various subjects, as well as particular descriptions of interesting objects, and when I cannot meet with a friend to act as my amanuensis, I have still a resource in my own writing apparatus, of which, however, I but seldom avail myself, as the process is much more tedious to me than that of dictation. But these are merely rough notes of the heads of subjects, which I reserve to expatiate upon at leisure on my return to old England.

The invention of the apparatus to which I allude is invaluable to those who are afflicted with blindness. It opens not only an agreeable source of amusement and occupation in the hours of loneliness and retirement, but it affords a means of communicating our secret thoughts to a friend, without the interposition of a third party; so that the intercourse and confidence of private correspondence, excluded by a natural calamity, are thus preserved to us by an artificial substitute. By the aid of this process, too, we may desire our correspondent to reply to our inquiries in a way which would be quite unintelligible to those to whom the perusal of the answer might be submitted. This apparatus, which is called the "Nocto via Polygraph," by Mr. Wedgwood, the inventor, is not only useful to the blind, but is equally capable of being rendered available to all persons suffering under diseases of the eyes; for, although it does not assist you to commit your thoughts to paper with the same facility that is attained by the use of pen and ink, it enables you to write very clearly and legibly, while you have the satisfaction of knowing that you are spared all risk of hurting your sight. It is but an act of justice to refer such of my readers as may feel any curiosity on this subject, to Mr. Wedgwood, for full particulars respecting his various inventions for the use of the blind.

Having given these personal explanations-rendered necessary by the peculiarity of my situation, and the very general curiosity which appears to exist on the subject, if I may judge by the frequency of the interrogatories that are put to me-will now conclude my preliminary observations,

Nor will I thee detain

With poet's fictions, nor oppress thine ear

With circumstance, and long exordiums here;

but place myself at once on board H.M.S. Eden, at Woolwich, on the 1st of July, 1827, having been previously invited to take a passage to the coast of Africa, by her captain, W.F.W. Owen, Esq., who was appointed superintendent of a new settlement about to be established on the island of Fernando Po. The commission with which this gentleman was charged, afforded him peculiar advantages, as he was to retain the command of his ship, independently of the Commodore on the African station, for the purpose of facilitating his operations in the island. I had resolved to visit Sierra Leone, and other places on the western coast of Africa, principally from an early anxiety I felt to explore that part of the world, and also, strange and paradoxical as it may appear, for the benefit of my health. That a man should visit Sierra Leone for the benefit of his health, seems to be as unreasonable as if he were to seek for the vernal airs of the south in the inclement region of Siberia. But, I am strongly inclined to believe, that the apprehensions of European travellers on this subject are often as fatal as the climate that produces them. In my own case, I was not only free from any apprehensions concerning fevers and those diseases which are incidental to a tropical climate, but, having been recommended to try the effects of a warm region, I anticipated an improvement in my general health from a short residence at a spot, which incautious modes of living, in addition to the insalubrity of the climate, have rendered fatal to so many of my countrymen. At the same time, I am not insensible to the fact, that all Europeans are more or less susceptible of those disorders which are prevalent within the Tropics; especially on the western coast of Africa, in Batavia, Trincomalee, and different parts of the West Indies; but it is equally certain that fear is a great predisposing cause of disease, and that the despondency to which most persons give way while they are under the influence of its effects, increases the mortality to a considerable extent. It has been generally observed, that those persons who happen to be so actively engaged in any engrossing pursuit, as to have no leisure for the imagination to work upon their fears, are less liable to the fever, and, if attacked, are better able to encounter its virulence, than the timid and cautious. In the event of an attack, if the patient keeps up his spirits, and prevents desponding thoughts from occupying his mind, there is every reason to hope for a favourable result-

The sons of hope are Heaven's peculiar care,

Whilst life remains 'tis impious to despair.

There are, of course, some constitutions more susceptible of the disease than others; and it may also be observed, that young people are more exposed to danger, than those who have passed the meridian of life.

We left Woolwich on the following day, July the 2nd, for Northfleet, where we remained a week, for the purpose of making observations, regulating the chronometers, &c. We also took in our guns, 26 in number, of the following calibre-18 32-pound carronades, 6 18-pound ditto, and 2 long 9-pounders, with a full proportion of shot. This quantity of metal alone (for the carriages had been previously taken on board and fixed at Woolwich) brought the ship bodily down in the water four inches, drawing, when on board, 15 feet 2 inches forward, and 15 feet 6 inches abaft. We also received, on the day after, as much powder as could be put in the magazines. On Monday, the 9th, we left our moorings, and proceeded down the Thames, anchoring for the night. On the following day we arrived in the Downs, where we remained for about six-and-forty hours, and from thence proceeded down Channel, and anchored in Plymouth Sound, on Saturday the 14th of July, immediately after which I accompanied my brother, Lieutenant Robert Holman, R.N., who came on board for me, to his house at Plymouth, where I spent a very agreeable time, amongst my old shipmates, relatives, and friends. For the last few days, indeed, my enjoyment was marred by illness, but that was merely the bitter, which a wise Providence mingles in the cup of life.

The period of my stay at Plymouth happened to be one of general congratulation and excitement, owing to the arrival of his present Majesty, then Lord High Admiral; who came there on a visit of inspection. His Royal Highness held regular levees, which were numerously attended. The opportunity to wait upon his Royal Highness was to me a source of sincere gratification, of which I gladly availed myself. But I must acknowledge that a faint hope arose in my mind, that the peculiar circumstances in which I was placed might interest his Royal Highness on my behalf, and lead to some change in my situation favourable to the objects I had so long cherished. I ventured to indulge in the thought, which, perhaps, I scarcely suffered myself altoget

her to define, that I might be relieved from the obligations of my appointment at Windsor, by which I am under restrictions, both as to time and space; and be permitted to enjoy some equivalent consideration, which would leave me free to prosecute the plans to which I had devoted the whole energies of my mind. As it was, I had only obtained permission to go abroad for the benefit of my health; but the remedy was in itself an incitement to further travel, so that I should no sooner have reaped the advantage of my leave of absence, and with renewed health, acquired an increased desire for exploring distant countries, than I should be compelled to relinquish my undertaking, and the apprehension of a sudden recall constantly presenting itself to my mind, checked in a great measure the enjoyment of my pursuit. But my sanguine wishes, and unconfessed hopes, faded like a dream; and I turned again to the sea, to contemplate the bounds that were placed to my ambitious projects. Had it been otherwise-could I have followed unchecked the course of my own impulses, I should not have circumscribed my plan to any precise limits, but would have pursued my travels, wherever the slightest point of interest encouraged me to proceed.

Possibly it is better as it is. I have much reason to be grateful for the protecting hand of Providence that preserved me throughout my wanderings; and, had I been less restrained by the force of circumstances, I might not now, perhaps, possess the power of recording the results of my researches.

In consequence of having been confined to my bed by severe indisposition, I was unable to walk to the boat when the Eden was ready to sail, and had nearly lost my passage; but my anxiety to proceed overcame all my difficulties, and ill as I was I saved my distance by hastening in a coach to the waterside, where Captain Owen had kindly provided a boat for my reception.

On the 29th we got under weigh at 9 A.M., with a fresh breeze from the eastward.

Gallant before the wind she goes, her prow

High bearing and disparting the blue tide

That foams and flashes in its rage below.

Meantime the helmsman feels a conscious pride,

And while far onward the long billows swell,

Looks to the lessening land, which seems to say, 'farewell!'

We did not long enjoy our easterly breeze, for in the evening the wind became variable, the rain fell in torrents, accompanied with lightning and thunder, and the night was dark and dismal, with an irregular sea, which made the ship very uneasy; then followed one of those scenes of confusion which can be witnessed only on shipboard; the creaking of timbers as they were strained by the conflict of the elements, the uproar of a multitude of voices, the ludicrous accidents arising from the pitching and rolling of the vessel, things breaking loose in all directions, chests flying from side to side, crockery smashing, people hallooing, others moaning and groaning, accompanied with frequent evomitions, and occasionally a general scream, from some extraordinary crash. With tumultuous noises of this kind I was entertained as I lay on my bed, not from sea-sickness, but from previous indisposition. Towards morning the wind settled in the N.W., blowing very strong, and the Eden continued rolling a great deal the whole day. This breeze fortunately kept up the two following days, when the weather became very fine, and the wind light and variable. The whole of this day (Thursday, August 2nd) we were in sight of Cape Finisterre. On Sunday the 5th the weather was very fine and warm, with a moderate breeze; we had eleven sail of vessels in sight, the greater part of which, from their regular order of sailing, were supposed to be the experimental squadron under the command of Sir Thomas Hardy. Divine service was performed by the Rev. Mr. Davy, a Church Missionary, who, with his wife, was bound to Sierra Leone, to perform the duties of a missionary and teacher to the liberated Africans; his wife taking upon herself to instruct the female part of that community. The following day, in 36? deg. N. lat., we saw several flying fish, which I mention merely because it was thought to be very unusual to see them so far to the northward.

On Wednesday, the 8th of August, we came in sight of Porto Santo. The first appearance of land always produces a degree of interest in the ship even to sailors, but to passengers it is generally the cause of great excitement. In the afternoon we saw Madeira,[1] and on the following day we rounded the west end of the island, and stood for Funchal Roads, having passed along the north side in order that Captain Owen might ascertain its length, which he found to be thirty-four miles; this was precisely the same distance that he had calculated it to be on a former measurement. He had taken this trouble a second time, in consequence of some navigator having expressed a different opinion on the subject. In the evening we anchored in thirty-six fathoms water, the Loo Rock bearing N. by E. We found a Portuguese sloop of war and several small merchant vessels lying here. The next morning I went on shore with the surgeon and purser of the Eden, both of whom have since died of fever on board the same ship.

The general landing place for ships' boats is at the Loo Rock on the west side of the bay, which is at the extremity of the town on that side, and you have more than a mile to walk over a very badly paved road before you arrive at the centre of the town; you may, however, land on the beach near the custom-house, from whence you immediately enter the best part of the town, but the surf is sometimes so rough that you cannot attempt this point without risking a ducking, or the upsetting of your boat, which you must immediately haul up on the beach or keep outside the surf.

Notwithstanding we had left England in the height of summer we found a great difference in the climate, the weather being exceedingly hot. On the following day I was invited to dine and take up my residence at Mr. Shortridge's during our stay at Madeira. We met a large party at dinner, consisting of Captain Owen, with some of his officers, the Rev. Mr. Deacon, and a number of the most respectable English residents. Madeira is so frequently visited by ships from different parts of Europe, and has been so fully described, that it may, perhaps, appear superfluous to attempt any further account of a place already so well known; but as all men are supposed to possess a certain portion of vanity, and as travellers are proverbially accused of laying claim to the discovery of some facts which had escaped the observation of their predecessors, I venture to throw together, into as brief a compass as possible, the result of my inquiries, in the hope that I may add something to that which is already known, and, at all events, with a strong confidence in the accuracy of my remarks.

The wine, being of vital importance to the prosperity of the island, presents the first claim to the attention of a stranger. A sort of controversy, with better reasons on the one side than the other, prevails, respecting the relative qualities of the wines produced at the north and the south sides of the island; in which the vineyards at the north side have suffered what appears to be an indiscriminate and injudicious censure. The grape chiefly grown there is the Virdelho, which the most experienced planters allow to be productive of the strongest and most esteemed of their wines; and when it is of the growth of the southern vineyards it is held in the highest estimation. It must, however, be admitted that the northern aspect is unfavourable to the grape, and that the greater proportion of the wines from that side are only fit for the still. The cause of this may be referred to a variety of circumstances; such as the marked difference in the soil and aspect and the mode of cultivation, the vines being trained upon trees; whilst on the south side the more approved system is practised of training them upon horizontal trellis work, raised two or three feet from the ground, by which the plant is supported and the fruit exposed to the full influence of the sun. A great superiority of flavour is, no doubt, thus obtained: on the north side, the grapes are entirely of the white kind, whilst on the south there is a great variety, but chiefly of the red, from which it is said the finest wine is made. The famed vineyards of the Malmsey and Sercial wines, are towards the west end of the south side. There is but a very small quantity of either grown on this spot of the first rate quality, or indeed of any value as a characteristic wine, for on the easternmost part of this situation there is a constant flow of water rushing from the summits of the rocks, that greatly deteriorates the value of the growths over which its influence extends. The practice of plucking the leaves of the vines to admit the genial heat of the sun to the fruit, as well as a free circulation of air, has been found most beneficial in bringing the fruit to perfection. This process is also a source of emolument to the planter, as the leaves form an excellent food for fattening cattle destined for the shambles, giving also to the meat a fine and delicious flavour.

The wines of Madeira generally may be divided into three denominations, and may be thus described.

Tinto is a red wine, the produce of the Burgundy grape, transplanted to Madeira. It is drank in perfection in the second and third years, before it has deposited its extractive matter, after which it becomes a full bodied Madeira wine, of the usual colour and flavour.

Sercial is the produce of the Hock grape: a pale, lively, and very high-flavoured wine. It ought not to be drank in less than seven years, and it requires a much greater age to reach perfection.

Malmsey, when genuine, is a rich and highly cordial wine. There is a variety of it called green Malmsey, bearing some resemblance to Frontignan.

The first quality of the Madeira wine is certainly equal to the finest production of the grape in any part of the world, for its aromatic flavour and beneficial effects: therefore it is much to be lamented that so small a quantity of it, in its pure state, should find its way to foreign markets: and that its character should be sacrificed to the sordid speculations of any unprincipled traders. Wine drinkers in England are very commonly deceived into the idea that a voyage to the East or West Indies is sufficient to ensure the excellence of the wine; but this is an obvious fallacy, for if the wine were not of a good quality when shipped from the island, a thousand voyages could not make it what it never had been. It is well known to every merchant in Madeira, that a great proportion of the wines so shipped are of an inferior quality, and are purchased in barter by persons who are commonly known by the name of truckers.

I may here observe, as a general remark, that fine Madeira wines are equally improved by the extremes of heat and cold, and that damp is always hurtful to them.

Burgundy vines have lately been introduced into Madeira. The generally received opinion that the wines of Teneriffe and the Azores are brought here for the purpose of giving them the Madeira flavour, and sending them to foreign markets as the produce of the island, is very erroneous. Although smuggling is openly carried on, and to an extent that ought to set at rest so fallacious an opinion, any one acquainted with this island must be aware of the utter impossibility of introducing foreign wines with a view to exporting them again as native produce; for, in the first place, the whole of the inhabitants would be likely to resist such an attempt, from a conviction that the introduction would militate against their own interests, and from the obvious apprehension that the increased quantity as well as the inferior quality of the adulterated wines, would injure the character and reduce the price of their own.

The great increase too, which it would occasion in the amount sent out of the island, would render it very difficult for the speculators in the spurious wines, to avoid detection. It is, therefore, much more reasonable to suppose, that these mixtures take place in the markets to which the wines are sent: the great demand for them tempting the persons engaged in the traffic, to embark in an imposition which has had the effect of deteriorating the wines so materially, that at last they began to lose their previous character, to get out of fashion, and, consequently, to fall off in demand as well as in price. This system of intermixing different wines, to swell the quantity of some favourite wine, is known to prevail to a great extent in those of France and Portugal. The Clarets of the London market, are principally prepared for the purpose, and, in the transit, lose much of the pure nature of the original production: and the quantity of adulterated Port that is sold in England is almost incredible. It is also a well known fact, that there is more Tokay[2] sold on the Continent and in England, in one year, than the limited space where it is grown, on the mountains of Hungary, could produce in twenty years.

But there is also, independently of this vitiation to which the wines are liable, another cause for the inferior quality of those wines which are really the produce of the islands. A few Englishmen, and other foreigners, of a grade very different from that of the respectable English merchants who have been long established here, hit upon the expedient of exporting wines instead of attending to the business which they had originally established on the island. They thought it would turn out profitable to buy up cheap, and, of course, inferior wines, for the purpose of sending them to the European markets, under the impression that any thing would sell that was known to be the genuine production of Madeira. By this method of enlarging their business, the worst description of the native produce got abroad, and was substituted in place of the best. There are, of course, a great variety of qualities; but there is not a greater quantity of the first quality than is required to flavour their inferior wines; and it is only by appropriating it to that purpose, that they could be enabled to furnish a sufficient quantity for the immense demand in the various markets which they have to supply.

It will be seen from the following account of the exportation of wine from Madeira, that the demand was rapidly decreasing in 1825, 6, and 7, owing to the causes above mentioned.

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