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Endeavour journal, 13 September 1768 (Series 03.019)

Notes: Page header reads: 'Madeira'
Author: Banks, Joseph, Sir, 1743-1820
Date: 13 September 1768
Series title: Series 03: The Endeavour journal of Joseph Banks, 25 August 1768 - 12 July 1771
Frame numbers:
Transcript: 13. This morn about 11 the product boat (as it is calld by English Sailors) which is the boat from the oficers of health who must give leave before any ships crew can land, came on board, and we immediately went on shore in the town of Fonchiale, the Capital of the Island, situate in Latitude 32:40 North, calld so from the Fennel which grows in plenty upon the rocks in its neighbourhood and which is calld Funcho in the Portugese Language. Here we immediately went to the house of the English Consul Mr Cheap, one of the first merchants in the place, where we were receivd with uncommon marks of civility; he insisted upon our taking possession of his house and living intirely with him during our stay which we did and were by him furnishd with every accomodation that we could wish. Leave was procurd by him for us to search the Island for whatever natural productions we might find worth taking notice of, people were also employd to procure for us fish and shells which we could not have spard time to have collected ourselves, horses and Guides were also got for Dr Solander and myself to carry us to any part of the Island which we might chuse to visit. But our very short stay which was only five Days inclusive made it impossible to go to any distance, so we contented ourselves with collecting as much as we could in the neighbourhood of the town, never going above three miles from it during our whole stay.

The season of the year was undoubtedly the worst for both plants and insects, being the hight of the vintage, when nothing is

green in the countrey but just on the verge of small brooks, by which these vines are waterd; we made shift however to collect specimens of several plants, &c : of which a catalogue follows as it is not worth while to mix them in the Journal, where they would take up much room.

The five days which we remained upon the Island were spent so exactly in the same manner, that it is by no means nescessary to divide them, I shall therefore only say, that in general we got up in the Morn, went out on our researches, retur[n]d to dine, and went out again in the Evening; one day however we had a visit from the Governor, of which we had notice before and were obligd to stay at home, so that unsought honour lost us very near the whole day, a very material part of the short time we were allowd to stay upon the Island: we however contrivd to revenge ourselves upon his excellency, by an Electrical machine which we had on board; upon his expressing a desire to see it we sent for it ashore, and shockd him full as much as he chose.

While at this place we were much indebted to Dr Heberden, the cheif Physitian of the Island, and brother to the Physitian of that name at London; he had for many years been an inhabitant of the Canaries and this Island, and had made several observations cheifly philosophical, some however were Botanical, describing the trees of the Island: of these he immediately gave us a copy, together with such specimens as he had in his possession, and indeed spard no pains to get for us such living

specimens of such as could be procurd in flower.

We tryed here to learn what Species of wood it is which has been imported into England, and is now known to Cabinet makers by the name of Madeira mahogeny, but without much success, as we could not learn that any wood had been exported out of the Island by that name; the wood however of the tree calld here Vigniatico, Laurus indicus Linn. bidds fair to be the thing, it being of a fine grain and brown like mahogeny, from which it is dificult to distinguish it, which is well shewn at Dr Heberdens house where in a bookcase vigniatico and mahogeny were placd close by each other, and were only to be known asunder by the first being not quite so dark colourd as the other.

As much of the Island as we saw shewd evidently the signs of a volcano having some time or other possibly produced the whole; as we saw no one peice of stone which did not evidently shew signs of having been burnt, some very much, especialy the sand which was absolutely cinders. Indeed we did not see much of the countrey, but we were told that the whole was like the specimen we saw of it.

When you first aproach it from seaward it has a very beautifull appearance, the sides of the hills being intirely coverd with vineyards almost as high as the eye can distinguish, which make a constant appearance of verdure tho at this time nothing but the vines remaind green, the grass and herbs being intirely burnt up except near the sides of the rills of water by which the vines are waterd, and under the shade of the vines themselves; tho these very few Species of plants were in perfection the greater part being burnt up.

The people here in general seem to be as idle, or rather uninformd a set as I ever yet saw; all their instruments, even those with which their wine, the only article of trade in the Island is made, are perfectly simple and unimprovd. Their method is this: the Grapes are put into a square wooden vessel, of dimensions according to the size of the vineyard to which it belongs, into which the servants get (having taken off their stockins and Jackets) and with their feet and Elbows squeeze out as much of the Juice

as they can; the stalks &c are then collected, tyed together with a rope and put under a square peice of wood which is pressd down by a Leaver, to the other end of which is fastned a stone that may be raisd up at pleasure by a screw; by this way and this only they make their wine, and by this way probably Noah made his when he had newly planted the first vineyard after the general destruction of mankind and their arts; tho it is not impossible that he might have used a better, if he rememberd the ways he had seen us'd before the flood.

It was with great dificulty that some (and not as yet all) of them were persuaded not long ago to graft their vines and by this means bring all the fruit of a vineyard to be of one sort, tho before the vine which it producd had been spoild by different sorts of bad ones which were nevertheless sufferd to grow, and taken as much care of as the best, because they added to the quantity of the wine. Yet were they perfectly acquainted with the use of grafting, and constantly practisd it on their chestnut trees, by which means they were brought to bear sooner much than they would have done had they been allowd to remain unimprovd.

Wheel carriages I saw none in the Island of any sort or kind, indeed their roads are so intolerably bad that if they had them they could scarcely make use of them: they have however some horses and mules, wonderfully clever in traveling upon them, notwithstanding which they bring to town every drop of wine they make upon mens heads, in vessells made of goat skins. The only imitation of a carriage they have, is a board a little hollowd out in the middle, to one end of which a pole is tyed by a strap of whitleather, the whole machine comeing about as near the perfection of a European cart as an Indian canoe does to a boat with this they move the pipes of wine about the town. Indeed I suppose they would never have made use even of this had not the English intr od[u]ced vessels to put their wine in which were rather too large to be carried by hand, as they used to do every thing else.

A speech of their late governeur is recorded here, which shews in what light they are lookd upon even by the Portugese, (themselves I beleive far behind all the rest of Europe, except possibly the Spaniards): it was very fortunate said he that this Island was not Eden in which Adam and Eve dwelt before the fall, for had it been so the inhabitants here would never have been induc'd to put on Cloaths; so much are they resolvd in every particular to follow exactly the paths of their forefathers.

Indeed were the people here only tolerably industrious, there is scarcely any Luxury which might [not] be produc'd that either Europe or the Indies afford, owing to the great difference of Climate observable in ascending the hills; this we experien[c]d in a visit to Dr Heberden, who lives about two miles from the town, we left the Thermometer when we set out at 74 and found it there at 66. Indeed the hills produce almost spontaneously vast plenty of Wallnutts, chestnutts, and apples, but in the town you find some few plants natives of both the Indies, whose flourishing state put it out of all doubt that were they taken any care of they might have any quantity of them. Of these I mention some: the Banana tree, (Musa sapientum Linn.) in great abundance; the guava (Psidium pyriferum Linn.) not uncommon; the pine apple, Bromelia ananas Linn. of this I saw some very healthy plants in the provadores Garden; Mango, Mangifera indica Linn. one plant also of this in the same garden Bearing fruit every year; Cinnamon, Laurus cinnamomum Linn. very healthy plants of this I saw on the top of Dr Heberdens house at Fonchiale, which had stood there through the winter without any kind of Care having been taken of them. These without mentioning any more seem very sufficient to shew that the tenderest plants might be cultivated here without any trouble; yet the indolence of the inhabitants is so great, that even that is too much for them; indeed the policy of the English here is to hinder them as much as possible from growing any thing themselves except what they find their account in taking in exchange for Corn, tho the people might with much Less trouble and expence grow the corn themselves. What corn grows here, which indeed is not much, is of a most excellent quality, Large graind, and very fine; their meat also is very good, mutton, pork, and beef more especialy, of which what we had on board the ship was agreed by all of us to be very little inferior to our own; tho we Englishmen value ourselves not a little on our peculiar excellence in that production. The fat of this was white like the fat of mutton, yet the meat Brown, and coarse graind as ours, tho much smaller.

The town of Fonchiale is situated at the Bottom of the Bay, very ill Built, tho larger than the size of the Island seems to deserve. The houses of the bettermost people are in general large but those of the poorer sort very small, and the streets very narrow and uncommonly ill pavd. The Churches here have abundance of ornaments, cheifly bad pictures and figures of their favourite saints in lac'd cloaths; the Convent of the Franciscans indeed which we went to See had very little ornament; but the neatness with which those fathers kept everything was well worthy of commendation, especialy their infirmary, the contrivance of which deserves to be taken particular notice of; it was a long room, on one side of which were windows, and an altar for the convenience of administering the sacrament to the sick; on the other were the wards, each just capable of containing a bed, and lind with white duch tiles; to every one of these was a door communicating with a gallery which ran paralel to the great room, so that any of the sick might be supplied with whatever they wanted without disturbing their neighbours.

In this Convent was a curiosity of a very singular nature; a small chapel whose whole lining, wainscote, and ceiling, was intirely compos'd of human bones, two large thigh bones across, and a skull in each of the openings. Among these was a very singular anatomical curiosity, a skull in which one side of the Lower jaw was perfectly and very firmly fastned to the upper by an ossification, so that the man whoever he was must have livd

some time without being able to open his mouth, indeed it was plain on the other side that a hole had been made by beating out his teeth, and in some measure damaging his Jaw bone, by which alone he must have receivd his nourishment.

I must not leave these good fathers without mentioning a thing which does great credit to their civility, and at the same time shews that they are not bigots to their religion: we visited them on Thursday Even just before their supper time; they made many apologies that they could not ask us to sup, not being prepard; but said they, if you will come tomorrow, notwishstanding it is fast with us, we will have a turkey roasted for you.

There are here, beside friarys, 3 or 4 houses of nunns. To one of these (Sa'nta Clara) we went, and indeed the ladies did us the honour to express great pleasure in seeing us there; they had heard that we were great Philosophers, and expected much from us, one of the first questions that they askd was, when it would thunder; they then desird to know if we could put them in a way of finding water in their convent, which it seems they were in want of; but notwishstanding our answers to these questions were not quite so much to the purpose as they expected, they did not at all cease their civilities, for while we stayd, which was about half an hour, I am sure there was not the fraction of a second in which their tongues did not go at an uncommonly nimble rate.

It remains now that I should say something of the Island in general, and then take my leave of Madeira till some other opportunity offers of visiting it again, for the climate is so fine that any man might wish it was in his power to live here under the benefits of English laws and liberty.

The hills here are very high, much higher than any one would imagine, Pico Ruevo the highest is 5068 ft which is much higher than any land that has been measured in Great Britain; indeed as I hinted before the whole Island has probably been the production of a Volcano, notwishstanding which its fertility is amazing, all the sides of the hills are coverd with vines to a certain hight, above which are woods of chestnut and pine of immense extent; and above them forests of wild timber of kinds not known in Europe, which amply supply the inhabitants with whatever they may want. Among these some there were whose flowers we were not able to procure and consequently could not settle their Genera, particularly those calld by the Portugese Mirmulano and Pao branco, both which, and especialy the first, from the Beauty of their leaves promise to be a great ornament to our European gardens.

The inhabitants here are supposd to be about 80,000; and from the town of Fonchiale (its custom house I mean) the King of Portugal receives 20000 pounds a year, after having paid the Governor and all expences of every kind, which may serve to shew in some degree the consequence which this little Island is of to the crown of Portugal; was it in the hands of any other people in the world its value might easily be doubled, from the excellence of its climate capable of bearing any kind of crop, a circumstance which the Portugese do not make the least advantage of.

The Coin current here is intirely Spanish, for the Balance of trade with Lisbon being in disfavour of this Island all the Portugese money naturaly goes there, to prevent which Spanish money is allowd to pass: it is of three denominations, Pistereens, Bitts, and ½ bitts; the first worth about 1 shilling, the 2nd 6 pence, the third 3 pence; they have also Portugese money of Copper, but so scarce that I did not in my stay there see a single peice.