Grand Bahama in 1887
(In November 1887, Mr. Powles, a Circuit Justice in the British colonial
judiciary, began a circuit of the islands. He went first to Bimini, then
to Grand Bahama, arriving there on the morning of November 18.)
"About 11 p.m. we got once more under weigh, and early next morning
were off the island of Grand Bahama, the next place at which I had to
hold a court.
As we hove in sight the waves were breaking against the reefs that surround
the island in every part, just as they are represented in Bierstadt's
picture of "A Nor'wester in the Bahama Islands," which was exhibited
in the Indian and Colonial Exhibition of 1886 and the American Exhibition
of 1887. If it is going too far to say they were "mountains high,"
they were certainly "hills high;" for every time they broke
they completely hid some houses that stood on high ground just in front
of us. Landing in a small boat under such circumstances is not a pleasant
operation, especially if you happen to be lame of one leg, and it is a
matter of importance to jump on shore at just the right moment. However,
we escaped with nothing worse than a wetting.
There was no work for me here, but my companion had to inspect the school,
and in the then condition of the wind and waves it was impossible for
our vessel to remain long where she was. It was therefore arranged that
she should be sent round/ in charge of the pilot, to meet us next day
on the other side of the island.
Meantime we were to be the guests of Mr. Joseph E. Adderley, an African
gentleman, who is both magistrate and schoolmaster—a combination
not uncommon in the smaller settlements. He owns a great deal of land,
and keeps a number of cows of a small but pretty breed, This is almost
the only island where the people now own cattle in any quantity, but they
complain that the price they fetch in Nassau is so low that it does not
pay to rear them.
The soil of the island is good, and might, with judicious manuring, be
made very productive; and it is so near Florida that a trade might easily
be established with the States. In the days of slavery it was fairly flourishing,
but now the curse of Nassau and the Nassau merchant is upon it.
It is about ninety miles long, and in some parts of considerable width;
yet, with all its advantages, it has but a population of 700 people, who
can barely exist.
Nearly all the inhabitants are black, some few only showing traces of
white blood. The slave-owners here must have been principally Scotchmen,
for the emancipated slaves all took their masters' names, and the names
here are nearly all Scotch, such as McPherson, Hepburn, and Grant./
Shipbuilding goes on here to a limited extent, but owing to the prevalence
of the truck system the unhappy workman derives but little benefit therefrom.
Mr. Adderley brought to my notice a case in which men building a schooner
for a Nassau merchant were being paid, at a low rate of wages, in flour
instead of cash. We "sampled" the flour, which was invoiced
to them at 1l. 16s. a barrel, and found it not fit for human food.
I attended the inspection of the school, where ninety-nine young darkies,
of all ages, are educated. The pupils were examined in the three R's,
and geography, history and music. The latter was evidently the favourite
subject, and the children sang well. But it was funny to watch ninety-nine
back youngsters singing such songs as "When the stormy winds do blow,"
and "The Blue Bells of Scotland."
The annual visit of the inspector of schools is a gala day in all these
settlements. Old and young are dressed in their best, homes are deserted,
work left to do itself as best it can, and the school-house and adjoining
yard are crowded with an excited throng. Those inside—the audience
I mean, not the pupils—stare open-mouthed at the proceedings, showing
rows of great pearly teeth; whilst those outside keep up a perpetual chatter
all the time.
Mr. Adderley and his family all do their own/ farm work; and, as they
have been utilizing seaweed for manure, are tolerably successful. This
was one of the very few places in the out-islands where I tasted fresh
milk, and the only one in the Bahamas in which I tasted fresh butter,
which is unknown even in Nassau itself. Here, too, I ate sugar-cane for
the first time. It was rather like stick at first, but very nice when
you get used to it.
A great deal of damage is done here to crops of all kinds by birds called
"blackbirds," that look like black parrots, and are in no way
related to their English namesakes.
My friend Mr. R. Bowdler Sharpe, of the Natural History Department of
the British Museum, tells me the proper name of these birds is the "Savanah
Mr. Adderley's house is a fair specimen of the dwelling of a well-to-do
islander. The outside walls, up to a certain height. Are built of stone
and covered with plaster, above which point they are continued by upright
pieces of pine wood, commonly canned lumber, connected together by wattled
palmetto leaves. As soon as the walls are completed, uprights are erected
to support a piazza. Both house and piazza are then covered in with a
large sloping roof common to both, thickly thatched with palmetto leaves,
which form a most useful and substantial shelter. The interior is then
divided by partitions into what are/ called the rooms. With few exceptions,
ceilings and glass are unknown in the out-islands. But thought the Adderley
house is thus primitive, it is not devoid of some of the elegancies of
life, and the scrupulous cleanliness of every portion of the interior
is very pleasant to look upon.
After a night comfortably spent on a bed stuffed with what is called bed-grass,
our crew came to fetch us, and we started to walk a mile to the head of
a large lagoon called Hawskbill Creek, where our schooner's boat was awaiting
us. The hawksbill is the sort of turtle out of whose shell "tortoiseshell"
ornaments are made. So the name raised hopes of catching something that
might fetch a price in the Nassau market. But we were out of luck, for
no turtles came our way.
A row of several hours brought us to where the Eastern Queen was lying,
about four miles at sea
Powles , L. D. The Land of the Pink Pearl or Recollections
of Life in the Bahamas. London: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle &
pp. 57 - 61