Rambles in Search of the Picturesque in Barbados.

By Sir Robert Schomburgh

Drax Hall - Turner's Hall Wood - The Boiling Spring - Cole's Cave


If unacquainted with tropical scenery, we hear or read of the West Indies, our imagination pictures a luxuriance of vegetation, forests almost impenetrable, trees of gigantic size, and a perpetual verdure very different to the repose of nature to which we of a northern clime are accustomed during the dreary winter. The reader of Humboldt's personal narrative, or the pages of Paul and Virginia, will recollect with pleasure the classical description of nature as she appears under the tropics, which is therein pictured to the mind of the reader, and impressed upon the memory in colours with more or less force according to the strength of" his imagination. But to one acquainted with the forest, the hill, and the dale, in tropical countries, the perusal of those pages re-awakens the delight with which such scenes were viewed, and he gladly acknowledges that the authors of such descriptions watched Nature in her deepest recesses, and happily seized the striking features of the landscape, and conveyed a faithful picture to their pages.

If a traveller on his approach to the West Indies from Europe still bearing in mind the impression left by descriptions of Humboldt or St. Pierre, should land first in Barbados, he would doubtless be disappointed. The cry of "land-ahead!" brings him on the deck of his floating prison-house, and in misty or bluish outlines, according to the state of the atmosphere, he sees the island before him. As he draws nearer, the objects hitherto forming one mass, veiled in greyish haze, become distinct, and advancing towards the land, he imagines in stronger colour the picture which his fantasy formed of the tropical land. The anchor drops, and whatever may be the impression which the first sight of Bridgetown, encircled by mountains of moderate height, the gay painted houses, peeping from among avenues of palms and shrubberies, the hum of human activity, may make upon him, still he will confess himself that this is not the picture which he formed of West India scenery.

The high cultivation of the island of Barbados, where almost every inch of ground is submitted to the plough, the spade, or the hoe, is its characteristic feature, for the primitive aspect under which it shewed itself to the first settlers, gradually gave way to increased cultivation, and arrangements for domestic life and comfort. It has frequently been remarked, that Barbados in its appearance approaches closer to the mother country than any other colony in the West Indies.

I shall never forget with what delight I viewed the prospect from the height on which the military station of Gun Hill is erected. The valley appeared a continued field of sugar-canes, with clusters of houses, and in their neighbourhood the indispensable accompaniment of a sugar-work, the windmill; the comfortable mansion of the proprietor, surrounded with the shady evergreen ; the cottages of the labourers, extending in long lines, or scattered here and there in the rear, conveyed a lively picture of human industry. Like silvery threads through a carpet, wind the mazy roads through the cane-plantation, or stretch up the declivity of a hill. Equally vivid in my imagination is the prospect I enjoyed at Sturge's, where the eye has a greater range over the most cultivated part of the island, and ultimately rests on Carlisle Bay, with its shipping, and a sea-horizon to close the picture. These prospects are charming, nevertheless a want of something to make them perfect forces itself on the viewer,-it is the absence of forest, stretching here along the valley, or capping there the summit of the hills; features which, the painter will confess, are essential in a landscape; and I am sure that the greater number of those visiting Barbados for the first time, have shared with me this feeling.

It was not so when the first settlers landed on the lee shore of the island and erected their log-houses in 1625. Ligon, who visited the island in 1647, and has left us a description, regrets that the thick forest prevented him from enjoying walking, and his observation on the subject convinces me that the vegetation of Barbados once enjoyed tropical luxuriance. How different is it now, where, with the exception of some plantations of mahogany-trees, and the shrubbery which surrounds a habitation, only two or three spots are to be discovered where a few acres of virgin wood escaped the axe, and attest the former existence of the tropical forest.

Soon after my arrival in the island, I was told that there were still some relics of the former forest in the interior, and the two plantations, Drax Hall and Turner's Hall, were mentioned as the localities. I found opportunity to visit the first, which is only about nine miles from Bridgetown, and I must confess I was disappointed.

Various circumstances, for a time, prevented me from visiting Turner's Hall wood: its distance from the city, in that district which, from its resemblance to the Highlands in miniature, has been called Scotland, was one of the causes. The kind invitation of a friend, who occasionally resides in the neighbourhood, at length afforded me that opportunity, and in his company I left the valley of Scotland early in the morning on horseback, and ascended Forster Hill. The road was a mere bridle-path, which our horses found some difficulty in climbing. Large blocks of coral rock, no doubt hurled to their present position during the convulsions of our unstable earth, which gave Scotland its present appearance, and subsequently its name, were resting on the ridge of the hill. These ancient evidences of the changes which centuries hare produced in the island, are always of interest to me. Grotesque in their forms, they are clothed with a vegetation peculiarly their own. and I seldom pass any of these hoary, wiry-headed blocks, without inspecting the clusters of plants which have nestled upon them.

Our path followed the sharp ridge of the mountain, and turning round two gigantic coral blocks, we saw the small chapel dedicated to St. Simon before us, the coral rocks seemingly protecting it against the heavy onset of a gale. Between the chapel and the sugar plantation, Cheltenham, and somewhat to the north of the former, is a remarkable denudation, which exposes the peculiar geological feature of Scotland.

Cheltenham has received its name from a spring, the water of which is said to resemble those of the celebrated wells in Gloucestershire. I am not aware whether the Barbados spring has been analyzed, but I understand it is sometimes used medicinally by the people in its neighourhood. At no great distance from Cheltenham commences Turner's Hall Wood. I approached this remnant of the former tropical forest which once overspread the island with a peculiar feeling. Though the forest cannot vie in luxuriance with the virgin forests of the equatorial regions, still there were trees which in their height, and the beauty of their leafy crown, attested their tropical character. The road merely skirts the wood; on its side I observed the mango, the avocado, the lime, and orange, in the neighbourhood of the locust and the bully-tree. The effect is remarkable; civilization and nature, unrestrained, walk apparently hand in hand, and the imagination, which, led astray by the appearance of the noble trees, fancied itself in the virgin forest, is recalled by the sight of the citron, the mango, or the orange, proving that man has been here as busy as in the valley below.

Turner's Hall Wood might pre-eminently be called Locust Wood (Hymenaa cmirbaril). That tree, which must not be taken for the locust-tree of Scripture (Ceratonia siliqua), is here very common ; and its upright trunk and wide-spreading head, add greatly to the impressive character of the wood-scenery. The fustic trees were now almost deprived of their leaves, and the few which were left displayed a variety of tints, from yellow to purple. The fine broad leaf of the bully-tree of a shining green, adds to the diversity of the foliage. The stately fern-tree, belonging to a tribe which we in northern Europe know only as creeping plants, reaches here a height of twenty to thirty feet, and forms one of the most remarkable productions of vegetable nature, in consequence of its singular structure, and as offering the highest form of development in flowerless plants. In its vicinity stood the broad-leaved Heliconia, resembling in its outward appearance the useful banana tribe. A beautiful climber, the Securidaca volubilis, spread itself over the adjacent trees, and had put forth, even during the prevailing drought, its splendid racemes of purple colour. This wag really tropical scenery. A group of palms, the princes of the vegetable world, as Linnaeus appropriately named them, added to the grandeur of the scenery, and I now felt fully convinced of having returned to a tropical country

We followed a small path to the left to visit the Boiling Spring, one of the great curiosities of the island. After having made our progress through bushes and brambles, we were obliged to dismount, and descended, or rather tried to gain in the best way we could, a dry water-course, no doubt a turbulent stream during the rainy season, but at present without a drop of water. On its right side is the so-called boiling spring ; but this is a misnomer. The effect produced on the water by the gas ascending from the strata below, gives it the appearance of being in a boiling state. The gas is carburetted hydrogen, and its presence strengthens the probability that beds of coal exist in that district.

The excavation whence the gas arises, was almost dry ; there was, however, some mud at the bottom, which bubbled up. I had with me two delicate thermometers, and found there was no difference between the external air, and the temperature of the bubbling mud.

Our loud conversation brought a black woman to the spring. Vexation was depicted on her countenance, at our having encroached upon the sacred precincts without her guidance, but we soon gained her good graces by requesting her to set " the spring on fire." She returned with a burning torch and a large tin-tube, about two inches in diameter, which she fixed over the fissure whence the gas arose, and on applying the light to the aperture of the tube, it ignited and burnt with a strong clear flame. She enjoined us not to touch it during her absence, and called forth all her mystic power to make us fully aware of the great danger we should incur in disobeying her injunction. On her return she removed the tube, and emptied the pail of water into the hole, and the gas on its escape produced a bubbling on the surface, which gave the water the appearance of boiling. It has been remarked that the gas is more abundant after the rain than in dry weather. During the rainy season, the edge of the pool requires only to be touched with a lighted match, when it becomes encircled with a bright fire, which it is difficult to extinguish. Visitors generally suspend over the flame a saucepan containing cold water and eggs, which, if the gas ascends in an abundant stream, are boiled in about eight minutes.

I have already alluded to the peculiar structure of Barbados ; the greater part of which island has been encrusted or built up by minute marine animals. If we reflect upon the accumulated labour of the myriads which were required to build that crust by uniting the atoms of carbonate of lime, which were separated by organic forces, our feeble mind is lost in the mazes of time which must have elapsed since these wonderful architects laid the foundation of the high coral cliffs near Greg's Farm and Cotton Tower.

This superstructure, which rests upon a formation of an older period than the coralline rocks, is not always solid,-here and there are caverns which are of greater or less extent. After the awful hurricane in 1831, which destroyed or injured every building in the island, these caverns were used by some of the houseless inhabitants for shelter, for days and even for weeks, and the sign of smoke which still blackens the roof of many, proves generally what part of the cave was used as a kitchen.

In periods far remote, when slavery prevailed, the negro who fancied himself wronged, or who, too lazy to work, preferred a rambling life, selected generally one of these caves as a hiding-place during the day, while, during the night, he made his descent " to reap where he did not sow." The entrance to some of these caves was at that time so much overgrown with bushes and climbers, that it proved difficult to discover them.

Barbados is not without its traditions, and although it cannot boast of Blackbeards, Morgans, or other gentlemanly pirates and robbers, the old inhabitants will still shake their heads while passing some of these subterranean caves, and tell of robberies and midnight murders.

The largest of the caverns is called Cole's Cave. It is in the parish of St. Thomas, on the Spring estate. Its entrance I consider to be about 700 or 800 feet above the level of the sea. It was known in Hughes' time, who mentions it in his Natural History, published in 1750.

As the duration of my sojourn in Barbados was very uncertain, I was anxious, after my arrival, to see in a short time as much as I could of the island; and that hospitality which is unsurpassed in any other colony, afforded me every facility for that purpose.

No person was happier than Mr T. (who resides in the neighbourhood of the cave) at the prospect of lending me every assistance ; and in order to combine social recreation and physical inquiries, he invited a party of friends to accompany me on an excursion to Cole's Cave.

The few arrangements for our subterranean visit were soon finished. The apparel in which we intended to brave the mysteries of the cavern was certainly adapted to the occasion, and I doubt much whether the most enterprising pedlar in Monmouth Street or from the neighbourhood of Rag Fair, would have offered for the "old clothes" in which we were clad, as many shillings as the company consisted of persons.

We advanced in Indian file, and, as if to render our procession still more ridiculous, a monkey of surprising talent accompanied us; whether running before us or lagging behind, Jacco was sure to commit some mischief. It was impossible for him to pass a tree without trying to reach its top, and ere we thought he could have come down again, he was seated on his master's shoulder, screaming most lustily at the vain attempt of some dog to inflict canine punishment, the ire of which he had raised by biting his tail.

A number of black urchins with cane-trash, tar-barrels, and torches, followed our train, which was brought up by a servant with a mysterious bowl, a couple of black bottles, with "arrack" written in legible letters on them, and a basket filled with aromatic limes, white sugar, and a tea-kettle.

The entrance of the cave is in a gully, which bears the euphonious name of Jack-ina-box-gully. It will be requisite to give an explanation of these provincialisms. The island is rent in many instances by deep chasms which were caused by earthquakes and the currents oi the ocean, when that portion was still under the water, and which, after the elevatory movement, were deepened and extended by tropical currents of rain. Such a ravine is called a gully, and the one in question was formerly famed for the number of trees belonging to the genus Hernandia, which are called in Barbados "Jack-in-abox," from the peculiar structure of its fruit.

The cave is situated near the fork of two gullies; the descent to it is much more commodious than I expected; it had been described to me as dangerous. We reached the antechamber of the cave,-as I may term the tower-like cliffs which surround it,-without any accident. It is formed by an enclosure of perpendicular cliffs of

i coral rock, which admit feeble light only from above, and by a small fissure. Without any stretch of imagination, it might be likened to an old ruinous watch-tower. The mouth of the cave, black and undefined, occupies its western side.

We here made further preparations; some lighted torches, some divested themselves of part of their clothes, others had thrown themselves leisurely on rocks, which, according to the fashioning of dame nature, served as a chair or a couch. Jacco occupied a projecting rock, raised considerably above the common multitude, and looked wistfully upon us and our preparations.

I found that the thermometer which stood at 81 degrees in the outer air, had sunk to 79 degrees. We now entered the cave; it appeared to me as if a cooler air, or rather a draft of air, came out of it; however, it did not affect the thermometer. We had not advanced many yards, when a bevy of bats, no doubt disturbed in their cogitations by the glare of our lights, flew anxiously from spot to spot, and threatened to make nearer acquaintance with our hair.

The cavern, though narrow at the entrance, widens and becomes more spacious. It extends westward at its commencement. We found it dry, and I estimated the roof in some instances at from fifteen to sixteen feet above the ground ; it is in some places concave, and smooth in others; uneven, and set with stalactites which nearly touch the bottom. After we had advanced perhaps three hundred feet, we reached a part where the cave divides, one branch ertend* east by south, the other, south by west. The former does not extend very far, and the floor is somewhat higher than that of the latter. The stalactites are much more numerous in the shorter cave, and imagination has discovered in their appearance a resemblance to the various objects from which they have received their names.

The division of these two caves is called "the fork." We followed the larger cave, which first extends southward. It is spacious near the division, and the roof of this part of the cave presents a most remarkable appearance, in consequence of its being studded with numerous cavities or pits of a rounded form, resembling inverted saucers or calabashes. They are from a few inches to twenty inches in diameter, and from four to six inches deep.

What can be their origin ? This is a question which presses itself involuntarily upon the mind. Their inverted position renders the answer very difficult. I have seen, during my travels in Guiana, similar basins excavated in granite, and on the banks of the Caphiwuin, I recollect to have seen them likewise in greenstone, but they were not inverted. Humboldt observed them in hard stone on the Orinoco; and he tells us he used in one instance such a cavity a* a bowl to prepare lemonade in. I have found them filled witk rounded quartz pebbles, and as they are mostly to be met with near cataracts and where eddies and whirlpools abound, I can well imagine that the lapse of ages might have hollowed them out. It is impossible to witness "the universal hubbub wild" of these cataracts, without supposing that constant attrition, the consequence o( the whirling and twisting of the torrents above, should not leave impressions even upon the hardest rock below.

In Cole's Cave they are, however, inverted, and do not cover the bottom but the roof of the cavern. It has been supposed that they are places whence stalactites were formerly suspended, which, having dropped off, chemical agency co-operated to render the cavity smooth. It appears to me more likely that the stream brought down by the ravine, which, during freshets, flooded the cavern, was confined in its course by the tortuous winding of the subterranean passage, and, formed into eddies, produced these curious inversed cavities on the roof, upon a similar principle as the eddies near the cataracts in South America hollow out the much harder granites and greenstones. The presence of stalactites in the cavern is a demonstrative proof that the cavern was aerial when they were formed. We had not far advanced after leaving the fork, when we heard the distant murmur of running water, and saw a clear stream before us, which issued from the impending side of the cave, and continued south-westward, forming on its way miniature cascades. It is natural to suppose that this stream is the accumulated water from the surface, and the calcareous rock is so permeable that it easily descends until it reaches the cave. I found on its banks heaps of clay, and evident signs that it reaches occasionally a much higher level than it possessed now. At a short distance from the spot whence the stream issues, the cavern becomes more spacious, and a basin is formed. This has received the name of the bath.

The heat of the cave, in itself oppressive, was much increased by numerous torches. The beautiful basin of transparent water invited to a bath. The walls of the grotto consisted of carbonate of lime, sometimes so highly crystallized, as to reflect, like precious stones, the light of our torches, and served to heighten the remarkable character of the scenery.

The temperature of the water was 76 deg. Farenheit, but the air in the cavern became quite oppressive, to which the sulphureous smell of the portfires, with which we had the grotto illuminated, greatly contributed. The fate of the unfortunate Arabs in Algeria flashed across my mind.

The cave gradually lessens in height, and becomes ultimately so low, as to render it necessary to stoop, and to follow the course of the water upon " all fours." Its direction is here south-east.

I understand it is not possible to follow the stream much further, the cave becomes so low. Tradition says that a party who -wished to ascertain in wbat direction the stream was flowing, brought a duck with them, which, after having been marked, was put upon its surface, and carried away by the current. Some days afterwards it was discovered near Fontabelle, which in a straight south-western line is nearly seven miles distant from the cave. The duck, it is related, was in an exhausted state, and stripped of almost all its feathers, perhaps by passing through fissures, and coming in contact with projecting rocks. The story is possible, but not likely ; the water-shed is in that direction, and ages might have hollowed out a subterraneous course for the stream. Unfortunately there exists another version of the story, according to which the duck was recovered in Scotland district.

I was glad to reach again the open air, and to breathe the pure atmosphere. Near the entrance, partly protected by an overhanging cliff, we discovered a fire, and a smoking bowl diffusing a highly aromatic odour. Jacco, who had declined passing the threshhold of the cave, watched the bowl very intently, stretching out his paw, as if intending to become better acquainted with its contents, and withdrawing it as quickly when he felt how hot it was.


Bentley's miscellany, Volume 22 By Charles Dickens, William Harrison Ainsworth, Albert Smith


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