Because I have exhausted so much space on a description of Jamaica, and
the people of Jamaica, it must not be imagined that the shadow of the
Queen of the Antilles clouds all the other West Indian islands into
insignificance. Trinidad, St. Lucia, Dominica, and the rest of the
Caribbean group, have much to say in the history of the West Indies. The
Jamaica I have described, the Jamaicans I have mentioned, may be taken
as being typical of West India. The natives of the other islands are the
brothers and sisters of Jamaicans; the roads, and plantations, and
mountains of the other islands differ from those of Jamaica only in the
matter of proper names. In the West Indies there are many Rio Cobra
rivers, though only one of them is known by that name. The bamboos, the
pine-trees, and the banana clumps are of the same species in all the
different islands. So for the purposes of this book I thought it more
convenient to describe Jamaica and mention the other places.
Barbadoes, the most windward of the group, is a densely populated
island only twenty-one miles long. It is an important place and does a
good trade in sugar. The West Indian Imperial Department of Agriculture
has its headquarters in Bridgetown, the Barbadian capital, and the
climate of the island is most salubrious. Barbadoes has been under the
unbroken rule of the British for three centuries. Its history, in common
with most West Indian histories, opens with long chapters containing the
records of great prosperity, of a little island overflowing with riches;
of millionaire planters, West Indian luxury, sumptuous mansions filled
with gold and silver plate, rare carvings, European art treasures, and
the choicest wines. Until very recently Barbadoes was the central market
of all the West Indian islands. It was the shipping centre of the West.
All the wealth of the Indies had to be landed on the Barbadian quays for
transhipment to England, and much of the dust of the wealth remained.
Sugar plantations flourished in the island; the planters had no
grievances. Even when the decree of emancipation came, and all the
slaves were freed, Barbadoes did not suffer. The country was too small
to allow any of the freed negroes to cultivate food-plots on their own
account; every acre of the island was tenanted and firmly held. So there
was no industrial upheaval. The negro had to work or starve, and
naturally he chose the former alternative. The prosperity of the
planters continued, and the blacks easily settled down to their new
condition of free labour. But the introduction of bounty-fed beet sugar
completely altered the
[Illustration: ROSEAU, THE CAPITAL OF DOMINICA]
story. Ruin swept over the island like a tainted wind. The planters,
always improvident, fell one by one, and Barbadoes sank to the bankrupt
condition of Jamaica.
Nowadays it has recovered somewhat; the introduction of efficient
machinery and modern methods of cultivation have resuscitated the
industry to some extent. But even to-day Barbadoes does not present the
gilded appearance of sumptuous wealth that it must have had less than a
Barbadoes is an island of coral formation, and its dusty roads are
always of a blinding whiteness. Some of the buildings in and about
Bridgetown are remarkably handsome, and, as in Kingston, Jamaica, a
tramway system connects the capital with its suburbs.
Seen from the sea Barbadoes presents a remarkably flat appearance; there
are no great mountains or wooded heights in this little isle of rest.
One sees nothing but a flat stretch of luxuriant greenery dotted with
white hamlets, and streaked with snow-white roads. The harbour of the
capital is always crowded with shipping, the quays and dockyards are
filled with merchandise, and among the wharf sheds a brilliant crowd of
natives cheerfully assumes an air of indolent exertion.
St. Lucia is larger than Barbadoes, and its thickly-wooded hills and
sugar-loaf mountains offer greater attraction to the artistic visitor.
But commercially it has not the value of its smaller neighbour. Though
much larger, the population of St. Lucia is only about one quarter that
of Barbadoes. The revenue and the imports and exports are considerably
less valuable. Castries, the capital, is the principal coaling station
for the English in the West Indies. The island has a romantic history.
More frequently than any other West Indian isle has its nationality been
changed. First French, then British, French again, and then, finally won
from France by Abercromby, it has remained British ever since. It was in
the harbour of Castries that Rodney collected the scattered British
Fleet before attacking De Grasse, and establishing the absolute
supremacy of Britain in the Indies.
The island is of volcanic and not coral formation, and it is famous for
its sulphur springs at Souffriere. The French King Louis XVI. caused
several fine baths to be erected at these springs for the use of his
troops when the island was part of his domain; though the baths are now
in ruins, they remain as one of the showplaces of the island–one of the
links of the romantic chain of West Indian history.
The French island of Martinique is mainly associated with its famous
volcano, Mont Pelee, which gave fearful evidence of its activity two
years ago by destroying the prosperous town of St. Pierre. Before the
annihilation of this city, which was one of the largest and richest
ports in the West Indies, Martinique was counted one of the fairest and
richest islands in the West. Coffee, sugar, and the richest fruits were
largely cultivated, and the colony was generally in a most prosperous
condition. But the disaster has cast a gloom over the colony; many of
the planters and merchants have left its
[Illustration: MONT PELÉE, MARTINIQUE]
shores and found new homes in places less obviously treacherous.
Probably many years will elapse before Martinique once more regains the
prosperity which was buried beneath the lava streams of Mont Pelee.
The appearance of the place to-day is not attractive. The blackened ruin
of a rich city lies on the surface of the land like an unwholesome scar.
The people have not yet recovered from the shock of that terrible
visitation. And at the summit of the dread volcano the gathering mists
always suggest new disaster. The colonists have lost faith in a land in
which life is held at the mercy of a live volcano. They seem to feel
that they are sitting at the feet of a fearful death. Martinique is a
land of high mountains; it is a rugged, picturesque, wild country,
menacing rather than alluring–a fit resting-place for the giant Mont
Pelee. So the island appears to-day, as you view it from the deck of an
ocean liner. Two years ago the place was a laughing, wooded, sunlit
isle; St. Pierre was the capital of West Indian gaiety. The French
trained natives, gayer and more brilliant than the British blacks,
laughed in the little shaded paths about the foot of Pelee. And the
reflection of the twinkling lights of St. Pierre danced on the surface
of the captive waters of the bay.
It should not be understood that I suggest that Pelee’s lava-cascade
destroyed the whole of Martinique. Pierre was but a corner of the
island. Fort de France and the other towns remain. The few thousand
souls that perished left behind a population which still numbers over
one hundred and fifty thousand people. The fruit trees and the
plantations, the factories and nutmeg groves, remain. But the ashes of
St. Pierre remain also, and above the ashes the giant crater of Mont
Pelee still frowns beneath her crown of lowering mists.
Dominica is British. Though of volcanic formation the island is not
possessed of a Mont Pelee. A marvellously productive country is
Dominica, happy in the possession of plantations richly productive of
limes, cocoa, sugar, and coffee.
It is another land of wood and water. Hundreds of tiny, rushing streams
flow down from the mountains through the rich valleys into the sea. And
all the mountain sides and deep ravines are clothed in verdant forest
Roseau is the capital–a picturesque if somewhat dilapidated city
bearing unmistakable evidence of its French foundation. The roofed
market-place is near the sea-shore, and the cool sea breeze makes the
place endurable even in the hottest hour of a crowded day. Among the
bush-land of the interior a few Carib families still remain–shy,
inoffensive people, who do not readily mix with the more vigorous
The climate of the island is rather humid but most salubrious. If there
is one island in the rich West Indian group of fertile countries whose
soil is worthy of the title richest, that isle is Dominica. As a
fruit-producing country the little land of high mountains and hot
springs is destined to become pre-eminent.
[Illustration: AN OLD MAN, ST. THOMAS]
Even Barbadoes in its palmiest days was not richer than Dominica is
certain some day to be. Acres of the most fertile country in the world
lie fallow within the confines of this island, whose name is written
large in Britain’s naval history. Virgin forests of wild fruit trees
still cover vast tracts of a country which one day will be claimed by
English husbandmen. Like Jamaica, Dominica cries out for men–new men,
new energy, new enterprise. In England we associate our West Indian
islands with only a dead prosperity. In the West Indies one encounters
ample evidence of present wealth and great promise of future riches.
Antigua is a British sugar island–a hundred square miles of gently
undulating country, which in appearance is more English than West
Indian. From a tourist standpoint it is famous for the beauty of its
white-sanded bays, and for the old naval dockyards at Elizabeth Harbour.
St. Kitts, or St. Christopher, to give the oldest West Indian Colony its
full and dignified title, is an island of an area of only sixty-eight
square miles. Almost every acre of the land is well planted with
flourishing sugar cane. Adjoining St. Kitts is its sister colony, Nevis.
Only a strait three miles in width separates the two islands. Nevis is
chiefly interesting by reason of the fact that in a once-stately mansion
known as Montpelier, Nelson was married to a rich widow of the island.
Trinidad, the most southernly and the second largest island of the
British group is, in a way, the most remarkable of all. Port of Spain,
the capital, ranks with Kingstown, Jamaica, as an extraordinary example
of the actual wealth of the Indies. Only a few cities on the mainland,
capitals of gigantic South American States, exceed Port of Spain in size
and importance and wealth. Yet this chief town of Trinidad is the
capital of an island only fifty-five miles in length–the capital of a
sea-girt country which might easily be pocketed by many of the Southern
republics. In many ways Port of Spain is vastly superior to all the
towns of its neighbouring continent. Life there is safer; in Port of
Spain there are no cut-throats–no quick-fingered rascals of the
revolver-shooting fraternity. The climate of Trinidad is more salubrious
than that of any of the inland countries; and in its towns more
attention is paid to the comfort, health, and convenience of residents
and visitors. Yet, for our purpose, Trinidad may be counted as a South
America in miniature.
One notices, in the tangled undergrowth in the forests, in the
ever-brilliant foliage of the wooded heights and green valleys, a
something that one had not noticed in the other islands. The place is
indescribably foreign. It is not like the countries we have already
seen, yet it is not unlike them. Trinidad is a West Indian island, but
in appearance it more closely resembles the South American mainland than
any of its sister-lands in the Caribbean group. Naturally so, since the
salt-water isthmus that separates the land from Venezuela at one point
only measures seven miles. Save for that seven miles of blue sea,
Trinidad would be a part of the romantic continent whose imprint and
nature is written in vivid colours throughout the island’s tangled
forests and deep, still lakes.
The enchanting island has a history brimming with romance. Its story
contains the names of Columbus, its discoverer; Raleigh, who visited the
place in search of a gold mine, and many of our famous old British
sea-dogs. Trinidad started of course by being annexed to Spain; then
France took the place and held it until just over one hundred years ago,
when England claimed it as her own. The white inhabitants to-day are
members of these three European races. The coloured people are pure
negroes, Indian coolies, and Spanish, French and English half-breeds.
The latter element is particularly strong. Consequently, in Trinidad
there are many political agitators.
Visitors will land from their mail steamer at Port of Spain and find
themselves in a foreign-looking British West Indian capital, in an
atmosphere of tramways, telephones, suffocating heat, negroes, and
spasmodic bustle and noise. It is a town containing buildings
reminiscent of its Spanish, French, and British periods of Government.
Houses in all the styles of each nationality will be found on every
side. Each particular style of architecture has of course been
West-Indianised–altered for comfort’s sake, and so stage-managed, as it
were, that it is converted into style suitable for a living place in the
fearful heat of the hottest island in the Indies. The tourist will find
the market-place and a few interesting churches. He will feel that he
has been landed into a hothouse. The atmosphere of Trinidad is like
that of an English hothouse on a scorching summer-day. The brilliant
foliage and the constant banks of gaudy blossoms will help to support
the illusion. He will pant for breath and speedily seek the cool shelter
of a heavy verandah. It may be that at first he will wish that he had
not landed. But after an hour or two he will have become accustomed to
the curiously-suffocating heat, and the beauty of the place will
evidence to him the wisdom of his coming.
He will remain for a day or two in Port of Spain, and then in the course
of many excursions he will visit the chief places of interest. The pitch
lake is an inexhaustible sea of most valuable asphalt. Nearly two
hundred thousand tons of this asphalt were exported last year: it is a
most valuable commercial commodity, and one of the wonders of the
island. Though it cannot be described as being beautiful, or even
picturesque, this hundred-and-ten acre patch of fathomless bitumen is
worth seeing. Commercially it is of the utmost value to the island,
since the annual value of the pitch exported is something like one
hundred and fifty thousand pounds. The waterfall at blue basin should be
seen by all who land in Trinidad. Nothing could be more fascinating than
the heavy fall of this mass of water, which, emerging from a wooded
tunnel, tumbles into a pool filled with rocks and walled by the heavy
foliage of the greenest trees. It is a fairy glen filled with the
gorgeous beauty of wildest tropical loveliness, and always echoing the
strong music of falling water. You find the place by way of winding
slippery paths; you approach it through a light haze of tinted mists,
and when you stand face to face with the broad white streak of falling
water you are half stunned by the noise and the heavy splashing. The
beauty of the place is overpowering. The heavy noise of falling water is
so out of place in that brilliant valley of languorous silence that it
produces something in the nature of a discord–an entrancing,
There are other towns beside Port of Spain to visit. San Fernando,
Arima, and Princestown should be seen if one’s visit is likely to be a
long one. True, they are typical of all other little West Indian towns,
but each contains an individuality–a something not held in common with
other towns, so, if you can spare the time, see them all. Then there are
the Maraval Reservoirs and the Five Islands.
Tobago is a little island attached to the Government of Trinidad. It is
a healthy West Indian colony supporting a population of 20,000 souls,
only about one hundred of whom are white. The industries of Tobago are
purely agricultural: coffee, cocoa, and india-rubber are extensively
cultivated. From the tourist’s point of view the little place is chiefly
famous for its beautiful birds and butterflies. The angler can find many
varieties of fish in its rushing streams, and fruits and vegetables grow
in the richest profusion all the year round.
Hayti is a black republic–a place where the negro race is predominant.
No white man may claim any plantation or even an acre of land in the
Haytian republic as his own. The negroes refuse to grant land tenures to
any “white trash.” Europeans exist in the island only on sufferance, and
they are subjected to much the same treatment as in the days of old was
meted out to negro slaves. It is the least desirable country in the
world for the white man to select as his home.
The republic spreads about halfway across the island of San Domingo,
whose history is rich in tales of bloodshed, piracy, and worse. The
first of the West Indian islands to be annexed by Europe, San Domingo,
or Española as Columbus named it, was the earliest Spanish settlement in
the western world. As in Jamaica the Spaniards introduced religion so
effectually that the original inhabitants, the gentle Caribs, were
crushed out of existence. The Africans were introduced to do the work of
the plantations. The Haytian portion of the island was afterwards
wrested from Spain by the French buccaneers, who presented it without
reserve to the Crown of France. The French did much to improve the
island; plantations were established, cities were formed, churches were
built, and the planters found that their country was, naturally, the
richest of all the Caribbean group.
When the revolution broke out in France the new Government decided
against the slave labour, and so the negroes obtained their freedom. The
freed slaves promptly turned against their late masters, slaughtered
every white man, woman, and child in the island, and proclaimed the
independence of Hayti as a black republic. Napoleon despatched an army
corps to avenge their murdered countrymen, but yellow fever made the
ultimate conquest of the island impossible. And so, mainly because of
the insalubrity of its climate, Hayti remains a free republic. The
language and religion, and some of the customs, of France remain. But
the Government is practically under the sway of a despotic President,
who exercises all the power of an Emperor, while pandering to the vanity
of his people by calling them free, and his government representative.
Though nominally elected by a popular assembly he really governs by
right of might, and he is as a rule dethroned after much bloodshed by a
rival Haytian giant. The President sees to it that he secures the
affection and loyalty of the trained soldiery, and all his friends and
most powerful supporters are given gaudy uniforms and high-faluting
titles in the Haytian army. It is a Gilbertian style of government and
[Illustration: HUTS ON A COUNTRY ROAD, JAMAICA]
counted entirely humorous were it not for the constant bloodshed.
Morally the Haytians are impossible people. Snake worship and
cannibalism, and all the old superstitions of barbaric Africa, still
prevail in the gilded republic. Their religion is frequently but a thin
veneer of polish, worn to cover the arts of fetish worship and human
sacrifice. The lives of the citizens are not respected so much by the
prevailing government as are the political rights of the electorate. The
whole republic is one festering mass of corruption. The officials are as
a rule entirely corrupt, the European church has practically no real
existence, sober “home life” is almost unknown. The men of the place are
as a rule entirely vicious, unlicensed and unprincipled; the women are
unmoral and entirely without culture.
It is a curious place to look upon, this Hayti; but it is a most unsafe
place to travel in. The people of the capital, Port-au-Prince, live in
the midst of a city of fine buildings and garbage-littered streets; the
women parade the white squares in European costumes of Parisian silks
and high-heeled, patent-leather shoes. The men swagger in gaudy,
tinselled uniforms of extravagant design and indifferent workmanship,
trailing tailor-made swords, and jingling heavy South American spurs.
Their manners are entirely without polish, though they swagger with the
air of a crack German cavalry colonel mixed with the braggadocio of a
half-bred Spanish Mexican. The children of the reigning officials and
the sons of the richest merchants are sent to Paris to be educated.
These young people return to Hayti with a deep knowledge of all the
vices of the gay capital, and many trunks filled with gaudy finery
which, probably, have been obtained on credit. The condition of the
people of the black republic is similar to that of any Gold Coast tribe
of negroes with a rich country and a knowledge of the vices of
Europe,–similar, except that whereas the Haytians are all powerful and
independent, the Gold Coast tribe is watched by a strong white
government and kept within the bounds of decency.
It will be gathered that Hayti is not a pretty place. I would not have
troubled to mention it at all had it not been that the black republic
has a profound significance to all British people who take their Empire
seriously. Hayti is the world’s object lesson of what a country must
become so soon as the negro obtains fairly within his grasp the reins of
government. In discussing the West Indian problems it would be well if
Britain always kept in mind the condition of this one black republic in
the west. Why? Because it is estimated that Jamaica has a population of
seven hundred and fifty thousand people, ninety-five per cent of whom
are coloured. Education is spreading rapidly among the people of our
largest West Indian colony, and in the market-places and among the huts
of the native villages one constantly hears the phrase “political
freedom” and “Government of Jamaica by Jamaicans.” In a government
elected entirely by the people of the island, Jamaica will be ruled by
black men–just as Hayti is. And the real nature of a negro can never
be discovered until he is placed in a position of unfettered power.
Hayti is a very few hours sailing distance from Jamaica, and Kingston is
the resting-place and recruiting-ground for all the deposed or
temporarily overshadowed Haytian presidents. President Salomon, one of
the most powerful rulers Hayti ever had, was at one period a refugee of
Jamaica, and there he became the intimate friend of Gordon. The Gordon
riot was crushed by the Jamaican Government (though the strong man who
dealt summarily with the rioters was disgraced in consequence), and
Salomon returned to rule in Port-au-Prince. But in Jamaica to-day there
is evidence that intrigue and disaffection have not been entirely
banished from the hearts of all her coloured citizens.