PICK AND SHOVEL
AS it was a Sunday there was no work done on the first day of my stay in camp; all hands had the usual holiday, which they chiefly employed in fishing and mending their clothes. I walked up the ravine and was surprised to find that so much of the landslip had been already removed. The trench was about twenty feet broad, and ultimately attained a depth of upwards of twenty feet in places. It extended for some distance along the face of the cliff — if that term can be properly applied to a steep slope of a sort of natural concrete, a compact but somewhat brittle mass of stones and earth. It was at the foot of this cliff that we expected to find the cave described by the pirate, but how far we should have to dig down through the accumulation of earth and rocks that had fallen from above and now filled up the bottom of the ravine it was not easy even to conjecture.
Our object, it will be seen, was to clear the face of the cliff until we came to the original bottom of the ravine. Though the cliff was, as I have explained, composed of brittle matter, as if in an intermediate state between earth and rock, and of comparatively modern formation, it was easy to distinguish it from the much looser soil of the landslip that lay along its sides; this last, too, was of a very different colour being reddish-brown, whereas the cliff was slate-blue.
The men had constructed several little paths leading from the trench, down the ravine, to the edges of the chasms and precipitous steps which are frequent in this gully, and the earth and stones that were dug out of the trench were carried down these paths in the wheelbarrows and tilted over the precipices. As we gradually filled up these chasms the roads had to be extended farther down the ravine, and at last we had formed a great dyke which stretched right across it. I was satisfied that all the operations had been conducted with judgment, and, if the treasure were in the ravine at all, there was but little doubt that we should find it.
The same rules that had been laid down by the doctor for the discipline of the camp were observed during my stay on shore. All hands turned out at dawn, and cocoa and biscuit were served out. Then we worked hard from half-past five till nine, at which hour the temperature in that closed-in ravine became so high that it was quite impossible even for a black man to work with pick and shovel. A bath in the sea, to refresh ourselves and wash off the clinging red dust, was our next proceeding. Then we put off our working clothes for others, and partook of a good breakfast, consisting chiefly of oatmeal, which we found by experience was the best food to work on. During the heat of the day we lay in our tents, almost panting for breath at times, so intolerably hot and close it was. At half-past three we returned to the ravine and did another three hours' work. After this was another bath, then supper. There was a whole holiday on Sunday and a half-holiday on Wednesday.
Even during the early hours of the morning, when the sides of the ravine shaded us from the sun, digging was hot and trying work for white men. We were, of course, bathed in perspiration all the while, and were, consequently, very thirsty, so that the cook was kept busily employed in going backwards and forwards between camp and trench to refill our water-bottles.
In the middle of the day the sun, blazing on the sands, made them terribly hot. No one could step on them with bare feet, even for a moment; one could not even lay one's hand on the ground. The sand here is mixed with a finely granulated black mineral substance, and I think it is the presence of this that causes so great an absorption of heat. I have never found sands elsewhere, even in the Sahara, attain so high a temperature.
We were not altogether lazy out of digging hours. One's clothes had to be washed, water had to be brought down in breakers and demijohns from the distant issue in the cliffs, and firewood had to be gathered. We sometimes went out in a body to perform this last duty. We would climb high up the mountain-sides, where the dead trees lay thickest, and throw down the timber before us as we descended, until we had accumulated a large quantity at the bottom.
I shared one of the tents with Pursell, while the doctor and Powell occupied the other. On my first night on shore we caught three turtle. Our black cook, who was always looking out for them, came to my tent and reported that while prowling about the beach he had observed several large females crawling up the sands. It was a very dark night, so, taking a lantern, four of us set out. We soon came across one of the creatures, and followed her quietly until she had reached a spot far above high-water mark, and then we turned her over on her back. This is by no means an easy undertaking when one has to deal with a seven-hundred-pound turtle, and requires at least four men to carry it out. The turtle does not permit this liberty to be taken with her without offering considerable resistance: with her powerful flippers she drives the sand violently into the faces of her aggressors, attempting to blind them, so that caution has to be observed on approaching her. We turned over three turtle, and, on the following day, salted down the meat that we could not eat in a fresh state.
Turtle are kept alive for weeks on board ship, even in the tropics, and all the care that is taken of them consists in placing pillows under their heads, as they lie on their backs on deck—so as to prevent apoplexy, I suppose—and in throwing an occasional bucket of water over them. These creatures seem to be able to do without food for a very long period. We found that we could not employ this method of keeping alive the turtle we caught, for, though we constantly poured buckets of water over them and shaded them with matting, they could not exist on these blazing sands; and the practice, cruel enough at sea, would have been much more so here.
The paid hands enjoyed turtle-hunting, and were inclined, thoughtlessly, to turn over more turtle than were required for purposes of food; so that I had to give an order that no turtle should be turned over without leave, and the destruction of the creatures was strictly limited to the requirements of the larder. A similar law was made for the protection of the silly sea-birds, and the only animals that could be slaughtered with impunity were the unfortunate land-crabs, for they had no friends among us to take their part and legislate on their behalf. They were now not nearly so plentiful in the vicinity of the camp as they had been. They had begun to give up their ignorant contempt for man, and on only one occasion during my stay on shore was it considered necessary for four of us to sally forth with sticks, before supper, and slay about a hundred each.
The turtle were now so plentiful that we could have caught in a fortnight sufficient to last us for six months, had we even lived on nothing else. The Trinidad turtle are of large size — 500 to 700 pounds — and their flavour is excellent. We had turtle soup and turtle steak every day for breakfast and dinner so that we became utterly weary of the rich food, and I do rot think any of us wish to see calipash or calipee for a long time to come.
We did not neglect the other useful products of the island. We gathered the wild beans, and found them a very welcome addition to our diet. Of fish we always had plenty. Powell was our great fisherman, and was the inventor of the seine constructed of wire-fencing which I have already described. In addition to the edible fish I have mentioned as swarming in these waters, there are several other species that we looked upon with some doubt, and refrained from eating. Some of these were of quaint forms and dazzling colours, so that their appearance seemed to warn us of their poisonous nature. There were fish of brilliant blue, others with stripes of white and purple, others with vermilion fins and yellow bands like those of a wasp. Sea-snakes abounded in the pools. These, according to the Italian cook we had on the Falcon, are edible; but we did not venture to try them. They attain the length of five feet and are of a grey colour, with yellow stripes. They appear to be of savage disposition, for, when harpooned, they twist about and bite with fury anything within their reach.
I stayed on shore altogether for a fortnight, and kept a journal of our proceedings, which, together with several sketches, specimens of the flora, and other articles, were washed out of the life-boat and lost when we abandoned the island. The loss of the journal however matters little, for our life on shore was almost devoid of incident, and was chiefly made up of monotonous work with pick, shovel, and wheelbarrow.
We dug away, still through loose soil that had evidently formed part of the landslip, and removed some thousands of tons; but we did not come to the foot of the cliff, or the cave which is described to be there. Some of the stones that we had to remove in the course of our digging were very large. W e had a quantity of strong ropes and blocks on shore, and when we came across an exceptionally big rock, we clapped a number of watch-tackles one on the other, and, by putting all hands on the fall of the last tackle, we obtained a very powerful purchase, equivalent, I calculated on one occasion, to the power of five hundred men. We found bones and bits of decayed wood among the earth, but the former always proved to be the remains of a goat and not of a pirate, and the latter were the fragments of dead trees and not of chests of loot.
But shortly before Christmas there were some encouraging signs. We had now got down to a considerable depth, and we noticed that, when a pick was driven into the bottom of the trench, a hollow sound was given out, as if we were on the roof of a cavern, and, occasionally, little holes would open out and the earth would slip down into some chasm underneath. We dug still deeper, and we came to a collection of very large rocks, which we were unable to move. They were jammed together, and evidently formed the roof of a cavern, for, wherever we could clear away the earth that lay between any two of these rocks, we looked down through the opening into a black, empty space, the bottom of which we could not touch by thrusting through our longest crowbar. This looked promising, for it was just such a cavern as this that we were seeking.
We found that the rocks were too close together to allow of our effecting an entrance from above, so we dug down along the side of the last and largest of these until we came to its foot; and there indeed was a sort of cavern, partly filled up with loose earth which we cleared out.
There was no treasure in it, and nothing to show that any human being before us had ever visited the spot. I think it was at this stage of our operations that each man began very seriously to doubt whether we were searching in the right place at all, and whether there might not be some further clue that was missing, and without which search would almost certainly be futile. But, whatever may have been thought, there was, so far as I can remember, no expression given to these doubts, and each worked on with the same cheery will as at the beginning, even as if he were confident of success. These men were determined, in an almost literal sense, to leave no stone unturned, and not to abandon that ravine until they had satisfied themselves as to whether the treasure was or was not there. On the Sunday after my arrival on shore, December 22nd, we went off in the whale-boat to see how Pollock was getting on. The weather had been exceedingly fine throughout the week in South-west Bay, and we might have launched the boat on almost any day; but, though there had been no heavy wind in the neighbourhood of the island, there had been a considerable swell at the anchorage for part of the time, and Pollock reported that the yacht had tumbled about a good deal. He had found opportunities for landing at the pier with the dinghy, and had brought off some breakers of water from the cascade and a quantity of firewood. He had been very lucky with his fishing, having caught several germanic, weighing from twenty to forty pounds apiece, and an abundance of other fish. Ted Milner was now token on shore with us. while Arthur Cotton was left on board.
We worked away steadily in the ravine until Christmas Day, when there was, of course, a holiday. We had a most luxurious dinner on shore, as also had the three men on board the vessel. The menu of our shore-dinner was as follows: Turtle soup, boiled hind fish, curried turtle steak, boiled salt junk, tinned plum-pudding. For vegetables we had preserved potatoes and carrots, and Trinidad beans. Good old rum was the only beverage. There were some other luxuries, chief of which was a box of cigars, which had been put away for this occasion. Christmas Day was intensely hot, so that we remained in our tents, having no energy for exploring mountains. With the exception of Jacko's disgraceful intoxication, no incidents of note occurred.
On the Sunday after Christmas Day, Pursell and myself set out to explore the weather side of the island, taking our lunch in our pockets — biscuits, figs, rum, and tobacco. We crossed the Sugarloaf Col and descended upon the coast of South-east Bay, then we turned to the right and followed the shore to the extreme south end of the island, where Noah's Ark falls a sheer wall into the surf.
There was a quantity of wreckage in this bay, and in one place we found a topmast and some ribs of a vessel which might have been the remains of the hull I had seen here nine years before. The broken bits of planks, timbers, barrels, hencoops, and other relics of ships were piled quite thickly on the rocks above high-water mark, and we came across a square-faced gin bottle, full of fresh water, which, from its position, could not have been washed ashore, but must have been left here by some human being. We saw the footprints of turtle, showing that every sandy beach on this island is frequented by numbers of these creatures. In view of the threatened turtle famine we read of, it might be worth someone's while to come here for a cargo of them, but the difficulty of getting any quantity off alive would be great.
The scenery of East Bay is very extraordinary, for here the signs of volcanic action are more evident than on any other portion of the island. At the south end of the bay there is no sandy beach; masses of shattered rocks, fallen from above, strew the shore, and between these are solidified streams of black lava, which appear to have followed each other in successive waves, one having cooled before the next has poured down upon it, so that a series of rounded steps is formed. The ledges of lava extend far out to sea, producing a dangerous reef, on which the sea always breaks heavily.
As we advanced over the boulders there towered above us on our right hand the perpendicular side of Noah's Ark, of a strange red colour, looking like molten iron where the sun's rays fell upon it. A quantity of red debris from the roof of this mountain was also lying on the shore, and at the north end of it we observed that a gigantic couloir — as it would be called in the Alps — of volcanic ashes and lava sloped down from its summit to the gap which connects it with the Sugarloaf. It was obvious, from the vast amount of these fire-consumed debris and waves of lava surrounding its base, that Noah's Ark had once been a very active volcano, and I think it highly probable that there is a crater at the top of it. Though it is perpendicular on three sides, it might be possible to ascend it from the fourth side by the couloir connecting it with the gap under the Sugarloaf; but the attempt would be risky, and a slip on its steep, sloping roof would mean a drop over a wall 800 feet in height.
We clambered over the rocks until we came to the end of Noah's Ark, and we stood on a ledge of lava and gazed at one of the strangest sights of this strange island. The base of the great red mountain is pierced by a magnificent tunnel, known as the Archway, which connects South-west Bay with East Bay. What seem to be gigantic stalactites depend from its roof; and the different gradations of colour and shade on its rugged sides, from glowing red in the blaze of the sun to terra-cotta, delicate pink, and rich purple, and then to deepest black in the inmost recesses, produce a very beautiful effect. The heaving water is black within it, save where the white spray flashes, but, looking through it, one perceives, beyond, the bright-green waves of South-west Bay and the blue sky above them.
The sea does not flow freely through the tunnel, except at high water; for, on the side we were standing on, its mouth is crossed by a ledge of lava, which is left dry by the receding tide. But inside the tunnel there is deep water, and the ocean swell always penetrates it from South-west Bay, dashing up its sides with a great roar, which is repeated in hoarse echoes by the mountain.
According to an ancient description of Trinidad, quoted in the South Atlantic Directory, the Archway is 40 feet in breadth, 50 in height, and 420 in length. I think it far higher and broader than this, at any rate at its mouth. No doubt the action of the surf is continually enlarging it.
Pursell and myself, having admired this beautiful scene for some time, turned back, crossed the rocky promontory of East Point, and proceeded along the sands till we came to the Portuguese settlement, which I wished to examine more carefully than I had been able to do when here with the doctor a month before.
We had lunch by the side of the river which flows under the Portuguese ruins, and then commenced to explore. The Portuguese had certainly selected the only spot on the island at all suitable for a permanent settlement; for not only is there here the best supply of water, but there is also a considerable area of fairly fertile land, though it is greatly encumbered with rocks. The downs by the river are densely covered with beans, which also grow all over the ruined huts. It is possible that these beans were originally planted here by the settlers, and have since spread over all the downs between this and Southwest Bay; for they are not to be found on the other side of the island.
The huts, of which the rough walls of unhewn stone alone remain, are built in terraces one above the other on the hill-side. A great deal of labour was evidently expended in the construction of these terraces, and of the roads leading to them, and quantities of stones had been piled up in order to obtain a level surface. This must have been a picturesque little village in its day — whenever that day was, for, though I have searched diligently, I can find no record to show at what period Trinidad was used as a penal settlement by the Portuguese. Amaso Delano, writing of his visit to the island in 1803, speaks of a "beach above which the Portuguese once had a settlement"; and a still older narrative alludes to a Portuguese penal establishment here as a thing of the long past. Halley, who was here in 1700, took Trinidad in the name of the King of England — as I have already mentioned — and he says nothing of such a settlement.
Near the huts we found places where the soil had been cleared of stones, for purposes of cultivation, and there were several walled-in enclosures.
We saw a good deal of broken pottery and tiles lying about, not such as we had discovered in Southwest Bay, of Oriental manufacture, but of a very rough description, probably home-made. For, on the top of a hill overlooking our ravine, we came across a hole that had evidently been dug for the purpose of extracting a sort of clay that is there, and there were signs of fire near it, and many fragments of earthenware, so we conjectured that we were looking at all that remained of the ancient Trinidad pottery-works.
We did not return to South-west Bay by the Sugarloaf Col, but by another route, which the shore-party had discovered in the course of a previous Sunday's tour of exploration. This lay over the gap in the downs at the back of our bay. It presented no difficulties; but the soft soil and tangled vegetation made the climb a rather laborious one.