A FRUIT-SELLER

Jamaica is a land of perpetual peace and sunshine. The hills and valleys
of this, the most beautiful of all the fair islands of the West Indies,
are always clothed in a great profusion of the richest greenery; its
soil gives birth to almost every luscious fruit the world contains; the
sweet scents of its myriad blossoms give to the land an atmosphere of
the wildest loveliness; yet it is a country almost entirely barren of
native animal life. Birds there are in great numbers, and insects too;
fish of many kinds swarm in the rivers and mountain torrents, but the
languorous climate of the Queen of the Antilles gives shelter to no
four-footed game of the plains or forest lands. The place has no claim
on the hearts of sportsmen.

It is stated that there are a few wild pigs still roaming at large in
one or two of the forests in the north of the island, and certainly
there are a few alligators to be found among the swamps at the mouth of
the Rio Cobra River in Kingston Bay. But the prospect of finding a boar
or two, and the certainty of having a shot at a savage alligator, mark
the beginning and the end of the possibilities of the island so far as
exciting sport is concerned.

Of the two, the alligator gives more trouble and excitement to the
sportsman bent on slaughter; for though the West India alligator never
grows to the size of the African crocodile, he is easily large enough to
do an ordinary man to death.

Alligator shooting is one of the most unhealthy pleasures it is possible
to imagine. The beasts choose such unhealthy resting-places that the
sportsman has to run the risk of many fevers for every reptile he may
chance to kill.

A sluggish stream, or silent, deep lagoon, heavy with weeds and creeping
plants, alive with the buzz of insects, and half hidden by a deadly
steam of malarious vapour, is the sort of place dear to the hearts of
alligators. There it is that they are to be found, floating, log-like,
with half-closed eyes, or lying on the marshy bank with wide-open jaws,
basking in the yellow glare of a fearful sun. Wise men are content to
leave the beasts alone; but once we essayed the task of hunting them.

We started from Kingston Harbour in an open whaler, and ran before a
spanking breeze towards the murky creeks which run beyond the
half-deserted Fort Augustine. It was Fort Augustine most of all that, in
the days of old, gave to Jamaica its reputation as a country of death.
In the time of our fathers’ fathers, the British regiments were sent
from England to this same Augustine Fort, where they were destroyed in

[Illustration: OUTHOUSES ON A PLANTATION, JAMAICA]

companies, even battalions, by the malarious exhalations of those swamps
in which to-day we went to shoot the alligator. Seen from our little
boat, Kingston, just missing the deep shadow of the great mountain range
which overhangs the town, lay green, and gold, and white in the pale
glare of the sun. Fronting Kingston, Port Royal, a tiny strip of sand,
be-palmed and dotted with houses, lay symbolic of the Caribbean coral
reef. In line with Port Royal, but towards the lagoon, Fort Augustine
lay enshrouded in gloom, as though brooding over the tragedy of its own
sad history. And beyond the Fort, a great half-circle of the giant
harbour, we saw the swamp land–Hunts Bay and the mouth of the Rio
Cobra–a flat stretch of sand, yellow deepening into mud colour as it
left the sea, and then breaking into scrub, and low grass, and spikey
bush. Among the grass and the bush, and even through gaps of the high
tree-land beyond, one caught glimpses of dull water, silent and murky
and very still.

We anchored the boat and waded ashore, the clean water reaching our
arm-pits. In this manner we reached the fever-hole of Jamaica; the home
of every insect pest the West Indies can produce, the place in which the
Jamaican alligator still lives and moves and has its being. Not a
pleasant spot either to linger in or look upon, just evil swamp-land,
with the evil stench of damp vegetation and rotting wood. You step from
the sand of the seashore into brittle stubble, through which the water
surges as you pass. You squelch to the river-bank over rotting weed,
ankle-deep in slime, half smothered by a cloud of gnats, and
mosquitoes, and buzzing flies. It is the Jamaica Avernus–the white
man’s grave.

The Rio Cobra River at its mouth is emptied by a dozen twisting streams,
just as the trunk of a cotton tree is supported by many twisted roots.
Sometimes these twisted streams join together, sometimes they flow
apart; so if progress is to be made inland, much wading must be done. It
is in these little streams that alligators love to lie, so you must walk
warily, with your rifle ready. We waded many streams, and trudged
ankle-deep through long stretches of oily slime; we stumbled over logs
half hidden, and our stretched hands disturbed the nests of scores of
creeping things. The black guide, a famous sportsman of the swamp land,
grinned his joy at being really chief, the indisputable and
indispensable head of a party of white men. He forgot to tincture his
commands with respect, and though clad in nothing save a decayed merino
undershirt, looked and played the man.

“De beast there,” pointing a joyful finger to a heap of filth, green and
brown. Rifles were raised, and the explosions of three Winchesters
reverberated round those sickening pools. The green mass surged heavily,
and a streak of dark water showing in the centre of the thick slime
marked the place where the alligator had dived. “Him gone; never see him
more,” said our happy chieftain, and we trudged through more slime,
waded across more streams, some deep as our waist-belts, others with
water only ankle high. Once the youngest of us stealthily massacred a
floating tree stump, mistaking a twisted root for an opened jaw, and
then dropped to the rear under the glance of a contemptuous native.

“You want him log for rifle butt?” The youthful sportsman attempted no
defence.

Again we fired, this time at a sleepy family of two–a father and a son.
The son was hit, but the father had twisted and dived with the speed of
a springing snake. We could not reach the wounded one, which, lashing
his tail and snapping his jaws in the death agony, rolled into the river
to die.

We paused to drink tepid water drawn from a scorched barrel, and talked
and listened to stories of mighty bags; of beasts thirty feet long, shot
after fearful battles, of mauled natives, and of all the dangers of the
sport. Our thoughts and words were all of slaughter.

After the water–just enough to create a thirst–we trudged along, and
forgot everything save the hunting. The sun blazed down and scorched us
right through the thin stuff of our shirts. Blisters came on our hands
and arms, and our skins tingled as though we had rolled in countless
beds of nettles. But these things we only remembered afterwards; then we
strained our eyes and ears, waded into streams, and pushed through
rotten scrub in search of prey.

“We make much too plenty noise,” said our guide after a fruitless two
hours’ search. “We must sit down and wait.”

So our party divided, and I went with the black man and squatted against
the stump of a rotting tree overhanging the river and waited.
Fortunately the hunter did not object to my pipe, and the smoke did
something towards relieving me of the clouds of insect pests.
Conversation was not permitted. My companion knelt motionless, his eyes
straining riverwards; and I, inspired by his eagerness as well as by my
own curiosity, watched also.

The spit of mud that separated us from the river was covered by a
surface crust of grey-black sediment, hardened by the sun; from where we
sat a double line of little pools filled with soft inky slime stretched
to the water, and showed the direction of our coming. I examined the
surface of mud bay, and noticed that ours was not the only spoor. Ten
yards to my right I saw a place where very recently a heavy body had
rested–a mark which might have been left if a tree trunk had been
removed. I touched the black man on the shoulder and pointed to the
spot. He grinned and nodded. Evidently the marks were familiar to him.

I placed my rifle across my knees and waited. The still water of the
river showed a slight ripple here and there, and occasionally a splash
would mark the place where a fish had risen to a fly. The glare and the
strained attention tired my eyes, and I saw things through a slight
mist. Once I saw the water dividing as something passed towards the
shore, and I jerked my rifle to the shoulder. Then the moving strings
of

[Illustration: MID-DAY HEAT, JAMAICA]

water turned and ceased. And my companion scowled. The noise of a
distant rifle-shot came like the muffled noise of a pop-gun, and then a
green-black snout lifted itself above the water in midstream a few yards
to our right. Behind the snout a long black body appeared, only partly
submerged, and I made out the head and tail of an alligator. Slowly it
drifted towards the mud patch on which we were waiting. Presently a long
snout and a mud-encrusted head reached out of the water and rested on
the bank, and our gruesome enemy was within easy reach of our guns. Not
fifteen yards divided us. His little eyelids flickered like those of a
nervous lizard, and his sinister jaws were open just wide enough to show
the long line of white teeth. I brought my rifle round very slowly, and
fired from where I sat. The alligator twisted with the swiftness of a
cat and dived. I stood still and waited. The troubled water showed that
he had been hit; I could mark the direction of his flight by the fury of
his struggle. Once he lifted himself half out of the stream, and I fired
again. The result was a mad plunge towards the shore on which we stood.
I started back, but ere the beast found land, the water swirled again,
and I knew that he had turned aside. I followed him with my eyes, and in
midstream saw him churning the water with his tail and then plunging
round in circles; then he dived to the right, and I saw him no more.

“Him gone now,” said my guide. “You should have waited until him come
right up to the shore.”

I relit my pipe, and we retraced our steps.

In the fever swamps of Jamaica there are a few alligators, but I fear
that most of the sport of the place is to be found in the imagination of
the sportsmen and the tales of the native guides. Danger there is, but
that is the danger of the sun and the risk of fever; and in daring these
things there is little sport.

So we tramped back again and regained the sweet-scented water of the
bay. We waded to the boat, and the sensation of the clear sea-water
washing clean our sun-dried, muddy bodies gave us a few moments of
ecstasy. But we could not linger for fear of the dread cousin of the
alligator, the West Indian shark. We swam aboard, and hoisted our sail,
and sailed homewards. The boat was bare of awning, and the strong,
pitiless sun completed its burning work, so well begun in the swamp
lands. The charred barrel had exhausted its cargo of tepid water, and
there was no food. But the few hours’ sail was not unpleasant. We were
enveloped in the sweet breezes of God’s fair ocean, and soothed by the
fresh sea-scent. There were no miasmic exhalations, and no clouds of
winged insects. The mosquito was gone, and our scorched eyes might now
be closed or held half opened towards the cool breeze.

Those sanguine friends of the West Indies who think that the abolition
of the beet bounties necessarily means the industrial salvation of
Jamaica, forget that the beet bounties did not destroy West Indian sugar
industry, but only accentuated and accelerated a decay which had already
commenced long before their institution. Even before a beneficent home
Government allowed those European countries concerned in the cultivation
of the beet to create bounties which have helped to send the British
West Indies staggering to ignominious bankruptcy, the dry rot had
already attacked West Indian sugar.

At the time of Jamaica’s prosperity, foreign sugars were admitted into
English markets only on payment of a duty of something like £60 per ton;
even the produce of other British sugar colonies was taxed to enrich the
West Indian planter. The Jamaican planters felt aggrieved when, in 1836,
the East and West Indian sugar duties were assimilated; but when England
imported foreign sugar on the same terms as that produced in British
colonies the planters were filled with despair. On top of this grievance
came the decree of emancipation, and the total disorganisation of the
West Indian labour market.

For centuries Jamaica had waxed rich. In addition to a magnificent soil,
the planters had enjoyed “free” labour, ready markets, protection, and
high prices. Within a period of twenty or thirty years, with one
exception, all these advantages were swept away. The wonderful qualities
of the soil alone remained to encourage the despondent planter to work
on in hope of better times. From being the “protected” he became the
outcast; in place of being the absolute master of his workmen, he found
himself entangled in endless labour disputes; and his markets, once so
wonderfully capacious, dwindled almost to vanishing point.

Previous to the year 1836, the period of the beginning of the
“equalisation” of the sugar duties, the industrial condition of the
island was excellent, and the Jamaican planter was apparently entirely
prosperous. I say “apparently” purposely, for if we examine Gardner’s
_History of Jamaica_, published in 1873, we find that the actual
position of the proprietors of many of the Jamaican sugar estates in the
latter part of the eighteenth century was less satisfactory than one
would have supposed. In the year 1791 there were 769 sugar plantations
in the island; of these, “457 were in the hands of the men, or their
descendants, who possessed them in 1772. Since that date 177 have been
sold in payment of debts, 22 remain in the hands

[Illustration: A WAITER]

of the mortgagees or receivers, and 55 have been abandoned, though 47
have been newly established during the same period. The returns of the
Provost-Marshal from 1772 to 1791 showed great pecuniary embarrassment
among vast numbers in the colony. Astounding as it may appear, 80,021
judgments, amounting to £22,563,786, had, during that period, been
lodged at his office….” So much for the condition of the planters
during the period of Jamaica’s greatest prosperity.

The reason for the gradual decay of Jamaica may be read between the
lines of this report. In spite of prolific soil and wide markets, in
spite of inexpensive labour and the inflated prices obtained for his
produce, the Jamaican planter was constantly in difficulties–I had
almost written because of these things, and it will easily be seen that
the very things which made the country rich helped to impoverish the
character of the man. Life was too easy for the planter; he encountered
few difficulties; his business conducted itself. If a crop happened to
be poor, prices were increased to make up the difference, and the
planter did not suffer. His plantation produced sugar which was sold at
a fabulous figure; his slaves did the work his overseers ordered them to
do; for the rest, he was the most generous, the most hospitable, and the
most indolent of mortals. This was the type of man called upon to face a
situation of extraordinary difficulty. No wonder he allowed himself and
his country to slip down to despair and desolation.

Since the beginning of its distress, Jamaica has lost between 500 and
600 of its sugar plantations. The industry, once so rich and prosperous,
has become crippled and starved, and for many years Jamaica lay half
derelict, half forgotten.

The Jamaicans made no serious effort to stem the tide of their ebbing
fortunes. They talked a lot, petitioned a lot, and grumbled a lot, and
then they failed. There is no doubt that a little energy and enterprise
would have materially altered the commercial history of the island.
To-day, even though the majority of the sugar estates of Jamaica waste
over 30 per cent of sugar by their antiquated system of crushing, the
planters still manage to make both ends meet and keep a balance on the
profit side.

Sugar bounties, Free Trade, labour troubles, antiquated machinery and 30
per cent loss notwithstanding, sugar planters still manage to eke out an
existence. If the new methods of manufacture that some of the more
enterprising of the planters are now beginning to try had been
introduced fifty years ago, the history of the island would not be one
of failure and famine.

The problem representing the most serious difficulties to the Jamaican
planter has been the labour question. When we remember that the island
has a population of something like 700,000 coloured people and only
about 15,000 whites–the whites representing capital and the coloured
people the labour–we are at the beginning of the difficulty. First, how
shall the island be governed? When all the blacks were slaves and the
whites their masters, things worked smoothly enough; crimes were
committed, hundreds of thousands of people were abased and downtrodden,
but still the island of Jamaica was free from labour troubles. Then came
the Liberation Act. The slaves were released, and the majority of them
threw away their industry with their bondage, and sat in the sunshine
thanking their gods all day long. No doubt the primary cause of the
unsatisfactory condition of the labour market which prevailed for many
years was the action of the planters themselves. Enraged at their loss
of authority, for the most part they turned the full measure of their
anger on the wretched freed slaves.

When the Act came into force, meetings were held by planters at which
rates of wages were fixed,–needless to remark, on the lowest possible
scale,–and masters who had been humane, even kind, to their slaves
became overbearing and impossible employers. Enormous rents were charged
for labourers’ cottages, heavy fines were levied, and frequently the
poor negro found that he had no wage to draw for his week’s work.
Naturally enough, the natives became impatient of labouring under such
conditions, and many of them refused to work. The planters then resorted
to forcible ejectment. The discontented worker was flung into the open
road, destitute and helpless, to get his living when and how he could.
This was the beginning of the alienation of the labourers from the
estates. The negro found it easy to live on the produce of a patch of
land, and it became increasingly difficult to persuade him to work on a
plantation. Slavery was impossible–it could not last; and inconvenient
as the abolition has been to Jamaica, its chief evils have happily
already vanished. There is to-day little difficulty in obtaining plenty
of labourers for the plantations, and if he is treated fairly the free
negro makes at least as good a servant as he did in the days of slavery.

Because of the injudicious action of the planters at the time of the
slave liberation, much money has been spent by Jamaica in assisting
coolie immigration. It is difficult for one who has recently visited the
West Indies to imagine that it was ever necessary for Jamaica to import
coolie labourers. The negro to-day is willing to work for any man who
will treat him decently and pay him fairly and regularly. But necessary
it was a few years back, and in Jamaica are to be found to-day many East
Indians who thrive in the island, and do much useful labour in a
characteristically unostentatious manner.

The commercial salvation of Jamaica rests entirely with the people of
Jamaica. The abolition of sugar bounties, even the institution by this
country of a system of preferential tariffs founded on protection, would
mean much less to Jamaica than would the landing of 2000 British
colonists.

Jamaica wants men–men of the best type that Britain can send. The
infusion of new blood in her industries would effect a far greater
improvement in the industrial condition of the island than would the
introduction of the most enlightened system of fiscal

[Illustration: THE MARKET-PLACE, BARBADOES]

policy ever imagined. If there were more intelligent, unprejudiced
Englishmen to employ and direct the natives, labour difficulties would
quickly cease to exist. The great need of Jamaica is men–strong, young,
intelligent, enterprising Britishers. There is room for them in their
thousands.

* * * * *

One of the first impressions one gathers on landing in the colony is
that, though British in name, the place is really quite American as it
is British. This is a condition of affairs to be expected, since the
United States take about four-fifths of the total exports of the island,
and supply more than 50 per cent of her imports. It may be worth
repeating that the well-worn story of the agitation in Jamaica favouring
the annexation of the island by the United States is now entirely played
out. Even if the majority of the people of Jamaica demanded annexation,
England would not permit it, and even if England favoured the scheme,
the United States would not countenance it. The wily Yankee is content
to find in Jamaica a profitable market; it pays better to leave her
politics and domestic difficulties severely alone. The American has
already grasped the fact that there are dollars in Jamaica. The fruit
trade, now probably the most important in the island, has been built up
almost entirely by American enterprise and American capital. It is only
within the last year or two that English capital has been invested to
any great extent in this direction, though the trade has been of
growing importance to the island for many years. The establishment of
the Imperial line of steamers between Avonmouth and Jamaica was the
first effort made by this country to participate in an industry which
America had already found full of profit.

The Imperial direct steamer put Jamaica in direct mail communication
with Bristol. All the boats belonging to the line are specially arranged
for carrying bananas, and already the fruit trade of the island has been
enormously improved by the influence of the English market. For the
establishment of the line, Jamaica owes a deep debt of gratitude to Mr.
Chamberlain and Sir Alfred Jones.

The Jamaican fruit-grower is in the happy position of having a market
for his produce far larger than he can comfortably supply. America and
England are eager to purchase more bananas than the island now produces,
and the demand, already in excess of the supply, is still on the
increase. There are many dollars in bananas, and in this trade alone
there is room for more than 1000 Englishmen. The cultivation of the
banana is simplicity itself; the fruit can be gathered every month in
the year; the profits are large; the life of the planter is healthy,
pleasant, and free from loneliness.

Jamaica will become increasingly prosperous by the intelligent
development of her fruit, coffee and tobacco trades. Bananas,
pine-apples, oranges, grapes, mangoes and cocoanuts, properly cultivated
and exported, will help to bring the island to an extremely favourable
condition. The sugar trade will not be neglected now that the beet
bounties have been removed, and the island’s sugar and rum exports are
bound to increase by leaps and bounds. The exportation of pimento,
logwood, cocoa and tobacco is already steadily on the increase, and when
we remember that at the end of last year–after such a long period of
depression and deficits–the finances of the island showed a small
balance on the right side, the commercial future of Jamaica assumes an
extremely roseate hue. The fruit trade is still in its infancy, and the
cultivation of tobacco is in an even younger stage of development; these
two trades will grow in value by millions. The cultivation of cocoa is
already an important and lucrative Jamaican industry, and there are
still large areas of land admirably adapted for extension in this
direction; and new industries will arise.

Already there is a small company in process of formation for the
manufacture of starch from the cassava. Cassava starch is superior to
that made from corn or potatoes, and the ordinary varieties of Jamaica
cassava yield more starch to the acre than either corn or potatoes. It
is claimed, with every appearance of justice, that starch can be
manufactured from cassava at less than one quarter of the cost of the
starch made from other materials. Here is a new and extremely promising
industry.

Jamaica offers unequalled prospects to intelligent Britons who have
sufficient capital to enable them to embark in one or other of her
industries.

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