In The Bahamas (continued)
The majority of the islands forming this archipelago are of coral formation, and this, as has already been stated, formed one of the reasons for the selection of the Bahamas by this expedition. The coral reefs, to be described later, are covered with a kind of sandy loam. Some of the islands, however, are of volcanic origin, and the soil on those islands needs only heat and moisture to make it produce enormous crops. Mr. William Drysdale, formerly of the “New York Times," gives, in an admirable book, the following description of the soil of New Providence and its fertile properties:
“The whole island is a mass of stone of the coral limestone order. But this rock is soft, and trees and plants grow in it as well as in the earth. There is hardly a bare spot in the whole island, except where it has been cleared. In some places are large tracts of pine woods; in others, the ground is hidden by dense masses of a sort of chaparral, growing ten to twelve feet high, and nobody would suspect the foundation. There is a foot or two of soil in some places that has come from nobody knows where. But the usual process of making a garden is to break an acre or so of the rock with a sledge or crowbar, mash it up fine, and mix in enough earth to prevent the rock from hardening again. In this compound anything under the sun will grow, and grow luxuriantly.
“A man who takes this much trouble to make a garden can have green peas and fresh lettuce and all the other vegetables every day in the year. There is no season when vegetation does not flourish, and when the garden is once made, it is always there. Men go out with crowbars and set cocoa-nut trees, and in a few years they are tall and beautiful, and bear a cocoa-nut (so the saying goes) for every day in the year. There is nourishment for plants in the material of the rock.
"Where this coral limestone rock came from is a question that scientific people can settle for themselves. It makes no difference where it came from; it is here, and is very useful. Nearly all the houses are built of it. You have only to saw down into the quarries to get beautiful big blocks of it that make handsome and substantial houses. The blocks harden by exposure to the air, and in this climate soon become as durable as granite. Out of the rock, too, water-tanks are built to catch rainwater". *
The innumerable reefs, with their warm lagoons, are the site of important turtle and pearl fisheries, as well as the sponge fishery, and of the salt and ambergris industries. In the larger islands are produced immense quantities of fruit of all kinds, especially pine-apples, grape-fruit, oranges, pomegranates, and bananas. Other important productions include the sugar-cane, tobacco, ginger, coffee, and indigo. As a matter of fact, there is hardly a tropical fruit or product that will not grow in this archipelago, and most of the European vegetables can be cultivated without difficulty.
Plant life, in its myriad forms, is most luxuriant. The mango is a fruit rarely seen out of the tropics, but to a white person the taste is certainly an acquired one, for certain specimens of this fruit taste very strongly of turpentine. Then there is the luscious and juicy sapodilla, a kind of pear. If the fruit falls prematurely from the tree the natives put it in their beds to ripen, after which it is on sale in the open market! The Bahama cherry reminds one of the English fruit because of its ruby colour, but its flavour resembles that of the raspberry. There are many other kinds of fruit growing in the Bahamas, fruits with strange names, novel forms, and sickly flavours. Although most of them are very palatable to the Bahama natives, they seldom find much favour with European and American visitors.
- “In Sunny Lands". By William Drysdale, Harper Brothers, New York.
William Drysdale (1852-1901)