Sitting under the shade of a verandah

In Britain we have lost the art of correct perspective. We see distant
things through jaundiced eyes; as a nation we are too prone to regard
over-sea lands and peoples with compassion tempered with contempt, or
with envy and timidity. To ensure our respect and sympathy a country
must be successful; we have no room in our Empire for failures. America,
because of her commercial genius and industrial enterprise, we respect
and revere and imitate. We exaggerate the successes of the States and
credit the American with commercial omnipotence. The word American
stands in the unprinted national dictionary as meaning efficient,
successful, up-to-date. I have heard that English tradesmen have
labelled English-made goods “American” in order that a quick sale might
be ensured in Britain’s capital. We refuse to believe that America has
ceased to be related to us by ties of kinship; to the Englishmen of the
homeland Americans are first cousins. And so it is, conversely, with
England and the West Indies.

At home we are apt to think of the West Indies as a scattered group of
poverty-stricken islands, barren of riches, planted somewhere in some
tropical sea, and periodically reduced to absolute desolation by
hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanoes. The poverty of the Western
Indies is proverbial. Occasionally Imperial Parliament brings forward
some measure, which, in the opinion of some individual, might tend to
relieve the distress and commercial poverty of our West Indian
possessions; at other times a fund is started at the Mansion-House to
help the West Indian victims of some fearful tornado or earthquake. That
is all that is generally known of the great islands of the Caribbean
Sea. In our dreams of Empire we prefer to think of Canada, Africa, and
strenuous Australasia. Commercially and politically our West Indies are,
according to the general idea, more than half derelict, and wholly
without the attractions of wealth and promise. We forget that these
Western islands were at one time the richest of England’s possessions;
we do not realise how rich they, some day, will again become. If Britain
only understood aright she would know that it is only through her own
neglect, through her half-hearted, penurious West Indian policy, that
our Caribbean Empire is not in the front rank of her richest possessions
to-day. The riches of the West Indies played a large part in the
formation of Britain’s greatness. We swept the islands clear of all
their surface wealth at a period when England was most in need of gold.
And because to-day we cannot send ships from Plymouth with empty

[Illustration: LIGHTERMEN, OFF BARBADOES]

holds and crowded quarter-decks, to return from a six months’ voyage in
the Indies crowded with treasure and glory, we count the islands barren.
We forget that West Indian wealth was invested in Britain’s greatness
years before we had an empire. We forget that Britain’s navy was founded
by men who were trained to war and seamanship among those islands of the
West. More than once have these islands seen the pride and glory of
England hanging in the balance, and once, at least, the Indies knew
before the homeland that a blow, which had threatened the very
foundations of British greatness, had been hurled in vain.

That was in the time of Burke and Fox and Rodney. Spain and France and
Holland had combined, and in one great battle threatened to crush the
power of England, and to wrest from her the supremacy of the seas.
England trembled, and the popular party advocated surrender and peace.
France and Spain wanted the Indies. Rodney sailed from England to uphold
the power and dominion of his race. He sailed amidst the sullen silence
of a people whose power he was to uphold. A few weeks after his sailing
a message was despatched from Parliament commanding him not to fight. He
was to strike his colours and surrender the Indies. But the message
arrived too late. Rodney had already fought and won when the craven
message reached him. The battle had happened off Dominica, and the flag
of England remained triumphant in the Caribbean Sea. The English ships
were victorious, and Rodney had saved his country against his country’s
will. And since that day no one has challenged England’s supremacy in
the islands of the West.

The history of the West Indies is filled with chapters as strong even as
this; in no corner of the world have so many brave deeds been done for
“England, home, and beauty.” Stories of mighty Spanish galleons sunk by
British ships of war; of pillage and bloodshed and treasure; of the
battles of France and Spain and England; of the wealth of the Spanish
main, intercepted among these islands, and stored in some West Indian
port for convenience of British merchant adventure houses, are
encountered at every step on our journey through the records of the
Caribbean group. We read of buccaneers and filibusters; of Morgan, the
last of the tribe, knighted and made Vice-Governor of Jamaica; of the
doings of the redoubtable Kidd; of the bloodiness of Blackbeard; of the
countless list of names, some high-sounding, which at last were painted
in crimson splashes on the gallows slip at Port Royal headland. Port
Royal itself deserves a niche in the temple of fame. The richest and the
most vicious town the world ever knew; so it was before the clean ocean
washed away its vice and corruption, and buried it deep in the pure
water of the blue Caribbean. When Morgan knew it, when the prizes of
Kidd and the others were moored alongside its treasure-laden wharves,
the strip of land contained the richest city in the world.

Bearded seamen, bronzed and weather-stained, but decked with priceless
jewellery and the finest silks of the Orient, swaggered along its quays,
and gambled with heavy golden coins whose value no one cared to
estimate. The drinking shops were filled with cups of gold and silver,
embellished with flashing gems. Each house was a treasure store. The
place was a gilded hell, and mammon held sovereign sway over its people.
Such wealth and vice and debauchery had never been dreamed of. Common
seamen bathed in the richest wine, and hung their ears with heavy gold
rings studded with the costliest gems. Dagger thrusts were as common as
brawls, and the body of a murdered man would remain in a dancing-room
until the dancing was over. Gold and precious stones were cheap, but
life was cheaper. And every man in that crowd of pirates lived beneath
the shadow of the gallows.

Finer it is to remember the Western voyages of Drake and Hawkins and all
the old sea-dogs who first proclaimed the might of British seamen.
Picture them, scurvy-stricken, reduced by disease and famine, resting
and recruiting in the wide bays of any West Indian isle. Imagine their
joy at finding luscious fruits and sweet, health-giving water. Then see
them in their tiny ships darting from behind the cover of some wooded
neck of land, surprising a galleon ten times their weight, scuttling the
little vessel and manning the Spanish leviathan with British seamen. How
many little English barques lie beneath the dark blue waters of the Gulf
of Mexico! Having found their prize and tasted the joy of victory, the
British captains thirst for more. They sail the Spanish seas in a
Spanish ship, and sack the coast towns, levying heavy toll; they fight
great battles and pound the deeply laden treasure ships with Spanish
cannon trimmed by British gunners. They select the richest spoil and
fling the rest to the waves. How many bars of gold and silver, how many
crates of silks, and iron boxes filled with gems; how many sacks of
doubloons have sunk in these Western waters, and lie there now, buried
amidst the skeleton of a rotting vessel!

All these things were done in these seas by Englishmen in the days of
old, done for greed of gain and the lust of bloodshed. Done also in the
name of religion, and because two sects, worshipping the same God,
quarrelled in regard to ritual; and because one sect put a sword at the
throat of the other and said, Do as we do, or die. Just as the
Inquisition proved to be the undoing of the might and wealth of Spain,
so did the Inquisition, indirectly, give the West Indies to the English.
The West Indian waters formed the training school of Drake and
Frobisher, Hawkins and Raleigh; and these men founded the navy. In later
days Rodney revived the Caribbean school, and there Nelson learned how
to outwit the French in ocean battles. Because of these things, but not
only because of these things, do we owe a great debt to these Antillean
islands.

So far as we are concerned the history of the Indies is a medley of
romance, the romance of British greatness. There we laid the foundation
of our Empire; the Caribbean Sea is the font of the temple of our
greatness.

But, for the islands themselves, there is little record

[Illustration: SUNRISE OVER THE HILLS, JAMAICA]

of history save where their existence first influenced the politics of
Europe. The Spaniards were the first white men to tread their fragrant
shores and bring destruction to a race of wild red men whose first
instinct was that of fear. Columbus, the Genoese mariner, first and
greatest of all explorers, anchored his tiny vessels in Morant Bay,
Jamaica, on his second voyage to America. The beauty of the place
bewildered him, and when his patron, the King of Spain, asked for a
description of the island, the artistic Genoese crumpled a piece of
paper, and presented that as a picture of the rugged formation of the
Queen of the Antilles. Four times did Columbus journey to the Indies,
which were annexed by him to the Spanish Crown. The horrors of the early
Spanish rule can only be imagined. Millions of the gentle Caribs were
transported to the mainland, and worked to death in the Spanish gold
mines. Those that were permitted to remain were, if they survived the
Inquisition, pressed into slavery.

So the Spaniards ruled for a century and a half; for one hundred and
sixty years they claimed the bulk of the West Indian islands as their
own. This claim was uncontested by the powers of Europe, but the
Spaniards were harassed always by the buccaneers, French and English,
whose ships swept the main in search of prey. Whether England was at war
with Spain or not, the English sea-dogs were always at the throats of
Spaniards in the western hemisphere.

The Protector Cromwell essayed to break the Western power of Spain, and
sent Penn and Venables to crush them out of the Indies. In an
engagement off Domingo the British were defeated, but the doughty
English captains retired on to Jamaica, which they annexed to England.
Then the French filibusters drove the Spaniards out of Hayti, and gave
it to the crown of France. The French had held the smaller
Antilles–Martinique, St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Antigua. In
times of war with France, Britain had taken these islands, but they had
been retaken by the French. It was in Rodney’s time that they all came
permanently under the English flag. Nowadays the British hold all the
larger islands, the French retain the smaller lands of Martinique,
Guadaloupe, Deserva, Marie Galante, Les Saints, St. Bartholomew, and
part of St. Martin, the Dutch hold five, the Danish three, and Spain
still holds three. One or two are part of the Venezuelan Republic,
Puerto Rico belongs to the U.S.A., and several are independent.

Sitting under the shade of a verandah, watching the brilliant
butterflies and many-coloured birds fluttering and wheeling among the
sweet-scented flowers of Jamaica, it is difficult for one to remember
how one passed out of England–I had almost written out of the
world–and reached this land, which surely should be called God’s
Island. But, I remember, a day or two ago we reached Turk’s Island, and
after handing a few bags of mails to a black, buccaneer-like boatman,
who said he was the postmaster, we glided along the shore–a few miles
of low-lying, palm-treed coral-land–and sailed into the Caribbean Sea.
And so we reached the tropics–the other side of the world. At last we
were among the hundred isles of the West Indies, and in the full glare
of the tropic sun. The paint blistered and bubbled on the handrail, and
the sea seemed a giant mirror, on which the sun flashed silver-white,
with never-ceasing, blinding force. There seemed to be no air; the space
it should have occupied was transparent, and, apparently, empty. It was
difficult to move; truth to tell, I remember feeling a little
uncomfortable; but, all the same, it was heavenly.

By Turk’s Island it rained. There was a sudden darkness, the blinding
sun disappeared, the air became cooler, and then down came the rain. The
deck of the ship became a waterfall, and for thirty minutes or so we
were enveloped in a furious deluge.

But ten minutes after the rain had ceased, the deck, the sails, and the
canvas deck-awnings were dry as though sun-scorched for centuries. That
was our weather. We lived on fruit and tepid baths. It was too hot for
sleep, too hot for work, too hot for conversation. In the tropics the
only thing possible is “nothing”–and a long, iced drink.

Lolling on deck in the daytime, we could watch the flying fish, the
dolphin, the drifting nautilus, and the hungry shark; or view the
islands as slowly they glided backwards into impenetrable haze. To the
right Cuba, a thin irregular line on the horizon, glistening gold above
the blue-white of the sea; to the left Hayti, the land in which the
black man is supreme, and where, in spite of science and the twentieth
century, cannibalism and child murder exist. The white patches, which
show above the green of the plantations as you crawl along the shore,
are houses. They stand as monuments to the French, who once were masters
of the land–masters until, by order of their Government, the
French-owned slaves were free–when, by way of exercising their
new-found freedom, the niggers slaughtered every white on the island.
Since then Hayti has been a republic–a republic with many presidents
and many disturbances.

At night there was the wonderful moon and the cool, fresh air. It was
pleasant to watch the sea; astern, we left a living, toiling, twisting
thread of silver foam; ahead, our bows struck the water, and it flashed
fire. Sometimes all was dark; sometimes the sea blazed with
phosphorescent light. But always overhead the yellow moon and the golden
stars were studded in the blue-black dome of night.

A few hours after leaving Turk’s Island we found Jamaica. Afar off,
through the brilliant air of the morning, we saw a tiny pepper-box,
which presently turned into a sugar-caster, and gradually, by many
complicated but interesting evolutions, developed into a full-fledged
lighthouse. The lighthouse is on Morant Point, and Morant Point is the
beginning of Jamaica. Columbus named the island Santa Gloria; he was the
first European to be bewitched by that low coast-line, all gold shot
with green and darker green, stretching back from the sea to the foot of
the great Blue Mountains; the Blue Mountains, whose peaks, shrouded in
white mist, are buried deep in the hazy sky. Along the shore we sailed,
past cane plantations, banana groves, white houses, snow-white roads,
and great everlasting clumps of graceful palm-trees. Ahead, standing out
at the end of a neck of land, we saw Port Royal–the real, wonderful,
most romantic Port Royal, doubly robed in glory by fiction as well as
history. Here came Nelson, Rodney, Jervis, Collingwood, and every mighty
sailor England ever had.

Moored to these wharves have lain prizes, rich beyond compare, newly
snatched from Spain and France. Here England’s flag, proudly flung from
masts of wooden warships, has proclaimed victory; and here also English
ships, battered and war-stained, have lain under the dread banner of the
buccaneer. For Port Royal was a pirate stronghold centuries before it
became a British naval base.

Sailing along the six miles of narrow coral ridge which connects the
town with the land, it is not difficult to conjure up the Port Royal
Nelson knew. The palm-trees and the luxuriant tropical foliage still
abound; the native craft and the nigger boatmen do not seem to belong to
to-day, and Kingston, hidden and guarded by this strip of land, seems
somehow to suggest romance and mystery. The sea all round is studded
with treacherous coral reefs, some of which, just showing above the
water, are thickly grown with palm-trees. The effect is beautiful in the
extreme; the clumps of trees, planted apparently on nothing, are growing
straight out of the sea.

As you round Port Royal you discover Kingston, a large, white,
straggling town, on the land side entirely hemmed in by the Blue
Mountains, and seawards washed by the waters of a lagoon seven or eight
miles long, and nearly half as wide. Slowly we steamed to the town,
passing an ancient, dismantled and deserted fort, which once mounted its
hundred guns.

[Illustration: KINGSTON HARBOUR AND PORT HENDERSON]

I remember that our good ship was at last made fast to the wooden quay,
and the black-faced, white-coated labourers grinned us greeting as we
stepped ashore. After some excitement with many half-castes representing
the Customs, the hotels, and the buggies, who each and all claimed a
portion of our baggage, we safely emerged from the dock district into
the dusty main road of Kingston. It was strange to find up-to-date,
twentieth century, American, electric cars screaming along roads which,
if they were ever built at all, were certainly completed two centuries
back; and it was even more strange to learn that these cars have not
entirely depopulated Kingston.

I remember being possessed of a great idea of walking to my hotel. A
fresh sea breeze was blowing, and the prospect of a stroll through the
town was peculiarly inviting. But unfortunately the dock gates were
barricaded with buggies, and to successfully evade the manœuvres of
one only meant falling into the clutches of another. Passage between the
vehicles there was none, and when I attempted to step through one
carriage to get clear of the others, the fiendish driver whipped his
ponies and whirled me out of the dockyard before I could regain my
presence of mind. Outside, the delighted man claimed me as a passenger,
and when I found that I was sitting on a singularly pompous and
overheated Britisher, who had been captured in the same enterprising
manner, I forgot to be angry, and began to apologise. The result was
entirely satisfactory–the pompous Britisher never forgave me. We
dropped him, I remember, the first time the ponies took it into their
heads to slow up, but the worthy man seriously offended our driver by
refusing to pay. For half an hour they wrangled in the crowded main
street, and frequently I feared the sudden death of my white friend.
However, the storm came to a sudden and dramatic finish by the skilful
capture of the weary Englishman by another buggyman. We left him cursing
Jamaica and buggies, and particularly all black men. After a series of
adventures and narrow escapes we at last reached the Constant Spring
Hotel. The driver suggested that I should pay him a sovereign, but he
accepted ten shillings with the utmost cheerfulness. Afterwards I
discovered that the fare was certainly not more than a dollar.

I sat in a comfortable wicker chair in the commodious entrance hall of
the hotel and tried to collect my scattered senses. The excitement of my
buggy journey, and the interest of my first glimpse of the capital of
the Queen of the Antilles, had somewhat unstrung my thinking faculties.
I was alone in a strange hotel in a strange country. My luggage was
heaven knows where, and my companions, Forrest and the others, were left
on a crowded quay somewhere down in the dock district.

I called for a cooling drink and mentioned my trouble to the coal-black
waiter.

“That’s al’ light, sah. They come soon, sah.”

So I remained in that comfortable chair in the vestibule of the hotel
and waited. A ragged, disreputable-looking

[Illustration: CONSTANT SPRING, JAMAICA]

John crow, perched on a bush of scarlet blossoms just in front of where
I sat, regarded me with a look of thoughtful contempt. As my nerves got
more settled I became conscious of the rich perfumes of the flowers; the
insects were buzzing and chirping outside, and the strong sun gave to my
shaded resting-place an air of quiet coolness. Graceful negresses were
watering the flower-beds; they carried the watering-cans on their heads
until they found the particular plant they wished to sprinkle with the
refreshing liquid. Their movements were slow and deliberate and very
graceful.

It was a peaceful summer day; from where I sat I could see, afar off, a
thin edge of blue beyond the distant confines of the town, and I made
out the white patches of the sails of little vessels. I lit my pipe and
waited. Suddenly there was a jangle and a crash, and a buggy stopped at
the hotel door; in it the head of my friend Forrest appeared from amidst
a heap of sketch-books, easels, portfolios, and virgin canvases. I could
see by the agonised expression on his flushed countenance that he was
very angry. I called the waiter and told him to help the poor struggling
artist to disentangle himself from the debris of his paraphernalia.

Poor Forrest came to where I sat and sank into another wicker chair. He
seized my cooling drink and emptied the glass at one gulp.

“Where am I?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“Where’s Large and the Colonel?”

I shook my head.

“Seen my luggage?”

I shook my head again.

He glanced through the doorway and caught sight of the disreputable John
crow perched on the bank of scarlet blossoms, and, fumbling for a
pencil, made his first Jamaican sketch there and then. I ordered another
cooling drink, and so we waited for our luggage and our friends.

Jamaica is the largest and most important island in the British West
Indies. It contains an area of some two thousand odd square miles, and
supports a population of three quarters of a million people, only two
per cent of whom are white. The blacks claim the predominating
proportion of seventy-seven per cent, the “coloured” people represent
nearly twenty per cent, and the remainder of the population is made up
of whites, Indian coolies, and Chinese. The ten thousand coolies at work
on the plantations in the interior have become a force in the island,
and they are destined to play a considerable part in the commercial
salvation of the country. The negroes are, of course, the descendants of
the slaves imported from Africa in the days of the slave trade; the
coloured class are the offsprings of the union of the whites with the
blacks, or of the half-breeds with the negroes. The coolies are of
recent importation from India, and the Chinese have come, no one knows
how, to trade with the negroes in up-country districts.

In the days of old, Jamaica waxed fat on the profits of her sugar
estates and the rich prizes of her rum trade. Fortunes were made almost
without effort or exertion by old-time planters. Sugar was sold at
absurdly high prices, and the planters cultivated their plantations
entirely by slave labour.

The Emancipation Act of 1834 flung the industries of the island out of
joint, and although the Imperial Government granted compensation to the
extent of nearly six millions sterling to the owners of the three
hundred thousand slaves they had liberated, the dry rot of decay set in,
and Jamaica fell from her high position among commercial communities.
The richest planters sold out their plantations and returned to the old
country; the poorer planters who remained in the island were terribly
handicapped for lack of labour. The freed slaves refused to work for
their late masters, and the labour difficulty set in. Factories were
forced to stop work; fields lay unplanted and untended for lack of
workers. And this labour difficulty has remained more or less acute from
that day to this. It was believed by the authorities that the
introduction of the ten thousand coolies would help to solve the
difficulty. The negroes had built for themselves little huts, and were
content to live on the native fruits and vegetables. The pleasant
indolence of their new life suited their tastes to a nicety; the rewards
offered in return for their labour were neither sufficient nor in any
way attractive. The warm climate and rich soil were all the Jamaican
African required to make his life all that he desired. Sugar
plantations were abandoned and rum factories were shut down, and poverty
came to the land of wood and water. Naturally the white people resented
the idleness of the blacks, and several eruptions occurred; the Gordon
riots, and other disturbances less notorious, were directly caused by
the impatience of the whites and the impertinence of the blacks.

Fine as is the picture of those three hundred thousand Africans climbing
the mountain sides of their island prison-home in order that they might
face the sun on the morning of the emancipation, we must not ignore the
prospect of the valleys, lying in the deep shadows of those mountains,
which were to be half desolated by the glory of that sunrise. If the
black men were willing to work as hard now, or even half as hard, as
their fathers once were forced to work, we should hear no dreary stories
of Jamaica’s poverty. The island has got an ideal climate, a
marvellously productive soil, and labourers in plenty; it lacks but the
spirit of labour. The natural wealth of the country is vast enough, but
the harvesters are idle and unwilling to work. The fact that the
Government was forced to bring ten thousand coolies from distant India
to work in the plantations and factories is a lasting disgrace to most
of the five hundred thousand black men and many of the hundred and fifty
thousand coloured folk. The pity of it is that neither of these classes
seems to feel the sting of the disgrace. The negro has in his being no
instinct for labour; the women only are willing workers.

[Illustration: A NEGRO]

Solve the Jamaica labour problem and the commercial problem will solve
itself.

The climate of the island is as nearly perfect as any climate can hope
to be. It is a country of perpetual sunshine and blue skies. The heat of
the day is tropical, but it is always tempered by cool sea breezes; and
when the sun has gone the evenings and the nights are deliciously cool
and refreshing. The island is really possessed of many different
climates. The towns and villages among the hills on the mountain slopes
are always cooler than the cities of the plains. The climate of the
place has always been grossly maligned by people of the homeland. On my
first journey out to Jamaica I imagined that I should find the place
filled with yellow fever and malaria; I thought of it as a sort of West
Africa–only a little worse. And I found it the most pleasant and
healthy place imaginable. In spite of all the statements and statistics
to the contrary, the conservative people of England still believe that a
journey to the Queen of the Antilles includes the risk of yellow jack.
Fevers there are, of course, just as in England there are coughs and
colds; and I would choose a Jamaica fever before an English cold. Yellow
fever is a disease which attacks you when you least expect it, and
leaves you quite dead, or nearly so. It is an uncanny, unwholesome
thing, and is not a respecter of persons. Really, for all practical
purposes, Jamaica is free of yellow fever; the disease has been stamped
out. People die of it even to this date; but even England is not
entirely free from smallpox. Yet one cannot describe smallpox as one of
the characteristics of our little island. In the same way it would be
foolish to associate Jamaica with yellow fever.

The Jamaicans discuss the disease with dispassionate, respectful dread.
It is a thing to be avoided; if met face to face it must be combated
with heroism, and a particular remedy peculiar almost to every
inhabitant. Many there are alive on the island who have had the yellow
jack and lived; many more there are who still mourn the loss of those
who bowed before its malignant power. The younger colonists–those
people who have lived there only ten or fifteen or twenty years–talk of
the ’97 outbreak; the old inhabitants speak of the last real epidemic,
the ’77 affair. So and so went down then, and poor old what’s-his-name
died in two hours. I met one man who told me of a picnic he gave in the
mountains some seven years ago. Sixteen guests sat down; eight died of
yellow fever before the year closed down. That would be in the ’97
outbreak. But these are rare cases.

Malarial fever is common in the towns and some parts of the country in
Jamaica, but it is a little fever without strength; it is not dangerous.
There is no malignant malarial. Though Jamaicans contract malarial as
frequently perhaps as Englishmen catch cold in London, the malarial is
not so dangerous as the cold. So it is not of much account. Jamaica is a
pleasanter place to live in than London, but new arrivals should adapt
themselves to the condition of things. Clothes and habits admirably
adapted for the English climate are generally out of place in a tropical
island.

The staple products of the island are entirely agricultural. Jamaica has
embraced the fruit trade. Half the total value of her exports is
represented by her over-sea trade in bananas, oranges, grape fruit, and
pine-apples. The sugar and rum trades take secondary positions, but
coffee is rapidly coming to the front.

To-day the island has little political significance save for the fact
that it is a strong naval base. It is probable that the completion of
the Panama Canal will give to it a more important status in the
political world. With the opening of the new ocean route to the East,
Jamaica will become a naval base of the utmost importance to Britain.

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