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The rivulets which disembogue at the western side of the lagoon are not worthy of notice.
On turning easterly from the north-west corner we discovered two narrow deep cuts leading into the other lagoon, and although intricate, afford a ready means of escape or communication. Leaving them to be explored by my assistant, the survey was carried along the northern shore to the entrance, which we reached on the 28th.
On the 1st of April we had completed the examination of the channels, and moved outwards to the Sapotilla Cays. The only object of interest to be noticed on the northern shore of the lake is Popa Island; the southern side of which is clothed with a species of elm to which the name of Somewood has been given, and which proves to be exceedingly valuable ship timber; it resembles very much the Spanish elm of Jamaica. We attempted to trace the edge of the bank in the ship; but the current baffled all our efforts; indeed, very nearly swept us past the Cape. However, we were fortunate enough to gain the Valiente channel, and threading our way through the Crawl Cay passage, entered the other lagoon on the 6th of April, and on the following day reached the Boca del Toro.
Some few years back a few English emigrants, chiefly people of colour from the islands of Old Providence and St. Andrews, formed a settlement here, but seeing they could not compete with the traders whom they found in possession of the commerce carried on with the Indians, and that they had no means of redress for the many grievances they were exposed to, they made a formal demand to the New Grenadian Republic for protection; which, probably, having heard of the attempt which was about to be made to effect a communication with the Pacific from this lake, gladly seized the opportunity of planting their flag on this hitherto unknown and ungoverned shore. Accordingly, in a short time public officers took possession of the settlement, and issued a proclamation of laws for its government. These circumstances naturally enticed hither other adventurers, chiefly natives of the Republic, and the scattered colony may now probably amount to two or three hundred persons. It appears, however, that the authorities soon after their arrival, were alarmed by a threatened attack from the Mosquito king, who, in a formal message declared his right to the whole of this shore from Salt creek to the Island of Escudo de Veragua.
However, it is certain that during the fishing season the Mosquito men have not only found their way as far as Escudo, but taking advantage to land, have overpowered the native tribes on the shore, and by exacting tribute, become a terror, not only to the Indian, but European inhabitants. Before the evacuation of the small fort at Matina on the Salt creek, it is well known that the Spanish government paid an annual tribute to prevent their incursions; and the traders when forming their establishments are obliged to make extensive presents to prevent molestation. The Republican government looking on the Mosquito men as nothing more than a lawless tribe of marauders, have not condescended to reply to his majesty; but have taken the precaution to guard against an attack by reinforcing the little garrison they had established at the
east end of Columbus Island, and where they have also rudely planted a few small pieces of ordnance.
Having completed the examination of the channel, we commenced exploring the hidden mangrove creeks on the western side of Provision Island, and numerous excellent little harbours on the southern shore and around Coco Cay, and from thence the south-west part of the lagoon.
On the 22nd we reached Shepherd's harbour, and placing the ship within a cable's length of the Iguana creek, commenced watering, which with two canoes we accomplished in three days. During this time our boats were engaged in making a particular survey of this beautiful basin, under the direction of Mr. Mooney, mate, whose ability and indefatigable zeal demands from me the strongest expressions of recommendation and I rest satisfied that the plan, and several drawings to which his name is attached, will convince you how valuable a second assistant I have; and how deserving of that encouragement the young surveying aspirant always so liberally receives from your hands.
The island which forms the northern boundary of this splendid harbour was named Guana Cay. I have, however, with the sanction of the commandant, ventured to call it Shepherd's Cay, from the circumstance of its being in the possession of a person of that name, who was the principal of the party that attempted to open a communication from hence to the town of David in the Pacific; but as this interesting question is so exciting a subject at the present moment, I am sure you will not begrudge me a few of your valuable moments, while I enter more fully into the attempt I have just alluded to.
It is well authenticated, that from some cause hitherto unexplained, probably from the deadly hatred of the natives, no settlement was ever permanently formed by the Spaniards between the river Belem or Conception in the province of Veragua, and Salt creek in Costa Rica. Its value, however, appears to have been known to the enterprising merchants of Jamaica at a very early period, and they have for a considerable time carried on a commerce with the natives, receiving in exchange for dry goods and hardware, tortoise-shell and sarsaparilla, the principal products. The trade was conducted principally by agents, during the last fifteen or twenty years; the most influential of these was Mr. P. Shepherd, who with one or two other respectable individuals, at the latter part of this period, had the whole trade in their hands, the Jamaica merchants becoming their creditors; and under grants from the Mosquito king, obtained by the means I have already alluded to, had formed trading posts at Toboboo bight, Blewfields Inlet, at the head of the Chraco Mola river, Baboon Bluff, Frenchman's creek, Bocas del Toro and Orago, Coita and Monkey points, and Salt creek.
Seeing the advantageous position of Guana Cay, (Shepherd's Cay,) Mr. S. Sepherd, a well known shipbuilder at Jamaica, (builder of H.M. schooner Monkey,) was induced by his brother, the trader, about nine years ago, to dispose of his business, and bringing with him twenty or thirty negroes, established himself on the island.
The valuable timber of the country soon became known to him, and
in a short time he had launched two or three small vessels, and also cultivated the banks of the rivulets immediately opposite; where may be seen every species of tropical vegetation in the greatest luxuriance; the soil being the most fertile that can well be imagined; requiring agricultural labour of a very light character.
Shortly after they had established themselves, the trading brother met with some inhabitants of the opposite ridge, who gave so glowing a description of the commercial prospects of that country, that the two Shepherds, and another person, immediately commenced the enterprising undertaking of cutting a road across. The accompanying correspondence will give you a full account of what followed, and may yet be accomplished. It is only to be regretted that these individuals failed, from the illiberality of the party on the other side, who urging on the work at the entire expense of the projectors, were found truckling with the government to obtain the whole tract of land.
It was shortly after this that the New Grenadians established themselves at Boca del Toro. I have already alluded to the circumstances which they allege led them here; but I have no doubt, hearing of the probable success of this bold undertaking was the principal reason. fact, this may be gleaned from their proclamation, which of course put an end to any further exertions; and, indeed, from circumstances which occurred during my stay, in which I was obliged to interfere, they are evidently trying to drive the Shepherds from the settlement, with a view of seizing on a spot so exceedingly valuable. The whole account I have transmitted to the commander-in-chief, which he has forwarded to our minister at Bogota.
What a sad pity that we cannot see these magnificent harbours in the hands of an enlightened government. Only imagine the ignorance of a set of people, who will talk of a reward of the paltry amount of 10,000 fanagadas of land for the construction of a rail-road across a mountain ridge from 2 to 7,000 feet in height, where not the smallest plain is to be seen, and where every ravine during the height of the rains is scarcely passable.
Again, look at the limits of the province, designated in their proclamation, and it will be seen that the rivers there mentioned, cannot be found in any existing chart that I have met with, and I have some very good old MSS. The public authorities could never point out to me what they supposed to be the river Culebras, the most important, as the western limit of the Republic. In fact, I cannot, perhaps, give you a better idea of the liberality that may be expected from this pseudo-liberal government, than by telling you that, hearing a project was on foot to effect a communication with the Pacific through the River St. John and Lake of Nicaragua, they actually threatened war with Central America should it be attempted. Were these discouraging circumstances removed; the only obstacle to prevent this fertile country receiving the industrious energy of the European, is the constant rains which beset it. However, Mr. Shepherd has assured me, that, at his settlement he has never witnessed a day that he could not employ his people for some hours; and
that, in point of health a complaint is seldom heard. In the space of nine years he has only had two deaths from among his thirty companions. I may also state that during our sojourn on the coast, we had only two cases of fever, which terminated favourably.
I had some hesitation in naming this lagoon, some call it Admiralty bay, others Admiral Columbus' bay, and as the name of Columbus does not appear upon any chart of this shore, I think we cannot do better than perpetuate it here. The commandant at Boca del Toro calls the eastern part Admiralty bay.
Having found how useless it would be to attempt getting the ship along the north-west shore against the current, while finishing the remaining part of the lagoon and the Dragon channel, Mr. Lawrence was employed in examining that part of the coast, and was successful enough to carry the triangulation as far as Salt creek.
Our work in the lagoon being completed, we obtained equal altitudes at Lime point on the 10th, and on the following day took our departure from the coast. As I had surmised, before we had got thirty miles to the northward we were drifted up to Escuda: however we were fortunate enough to reach Corn island in four hours, and to obtain an excellent meridian altitude.
Having determined the rates of our watches, and from them deduced the difference of longitude, we found that our station at Lime point (supposing Corn island to be correctly posited) was one mile too far westward; but when we come to take into consideration the small errors that may reasonably be supposed to exist in the measuring of the three meridian distances, that by which Captain Owen establishes Corn island, (I believe from Cape Gracios a Dios which would involve another,) ours from Port Royal to Cape Valiente, and the last and again those that would under the most favourable circumstances creep into a triangulation twenty-nine miles in extent, in a direct line; I certainly could not venture to alter our scale, at least until the measurements were repeated, which I hope to effect next year.
After refreshing our crew I gave a few days to adding soundings to Owen's sheet between Monkey point and St. John, yet unfinished, and on the 22nd we anchored at the latter place.
In a former letter I told you of my disappointment in not meeting here Mr. Bailey, however, we fortunately fell in with an American merchant intimately acquainted with him, and who was kind enough to give me the following account of his work.
Mr. Bailey having ascertained the possibility of constructing a railroad from the head of the Lake of Nicaragua across the Isthmus to the Pacific, the government voted him 2,000 dollars to undertake the examination of the River St. John, with a view to ascertain the practicability of constructing a canal which would avoid the rapids, to obtain the difference of level between the lake and the Atlantic; and how far the river could be made available to steam navigation. To assist him were appointed his son, a captain of engineers, and from twenty to thirty native pioneers. However, so arduous was the undertaking that it appears the
only object effected, was the survey of the river on an extensive scale; at the conclusion of which they were nearly all disabled by sickness, their funds expended, and consequently their expedition at an end. Aud from the wretched state of affairs I fear there is no prospect of his receiving any further encouragement from his Government.
With respect to the mode of navigating this river, Mr. Higgins the American traveller I have spoken of, and indeed several others who have frequently made the voyage of it, and the lake, say that nothing can be more correct than the description given by Roberts in Constable's Miscellany. As to the possibility of cutting a canal, although several report favourably, I think it is merely because they are interested in the success of such an undertaking: their opinions being given from what they have seen in passing to and fro as fast as the rapids would permit, and the impenetrable woods, which line the banks would allow them to see. As to navigating it by steam vessels at the present moment it is out of the question.
From some cause or other the force of the stream appears to have taken the direction of the Colorados branch, where it sweeps every thing before it. The consequence is that the shallows are growing in the other, and so rapidly that the bongo (trading canoes) are now frequently left aground for several days; and it was, with some difficulty that we could find a passage over the bar for our yawl to water.
The damming up of the Colorados could no doubt be effected, although at a considerable cost and immense labour: yet it should be borne in mind that the country is subject to severe earthquakes. On the 22nd of May two shocks were felt at the village, the last of which so alarmed the inhabitants, that they were on the point of quitting their huts. We were at sea about thirty miles north of the harbour, and felt one of them distinctly.
From Mr. Higgins' account, Mr. Bailey has also examined a part of the southern shore of the lake between Granada and Nicaragua, and if he could be furnished with a small decked boat of light draught, he would still carry on the work; the rude bongo and canoe employed by the natives being perfectly unadapted for such a service. This could be easily sent to him in frame, or indeed already constructed, either by the river, or across the narrow isthmus which separates the part of St. John in the Gulf of Papagayo, from the town of Nicaragua, only a distance of fifteen miles on a cart road; so that it would appear access to the lake is more easily attainable from the Pacific than the Atlantic.
Mr. Higgins met Captain Belcher in Realejo in December last, who had succeeded in getting one of his boats as far as the east end of Lake Leon. I find also that a German savant ascended the St. John at the commencement of the season, with the intention of making a tour of the lakes, and passing through Costa Rica to return by way of Salt creek, where the packet of this month expects to pick him up.
I had understood that Mr. Bailey was employed by a company of American speculators. This, however, is not the fact, although I learn from Mr. Higgins that the merchants concerned in the South Sea fishery