1811 - Jonathan Lambert, US-American Sailor and Self-appointed Ruler of Tristan da Cunha
A Proposal for Development of the Island
I reserved myself until I could by a year's residence give you some account of my Situation & of the Soil Clime & productions of this Island & the surrounding Waters. But however I have classed them above, I shall begin with the Climate, which is very healthy, being neither cold nor hot, but exceeding temperate—It never freezes, nor is there heat enough for ripening Melons, I think, at least not without Inclosures, of which I have none. It is rather windy, but no very severe gales as yet. In the Winter and Spring it rains often—rendering it very disagreeable to us, who have but a sorry Jackstraw's Hut, thatched with coarse grass without Floor &c. But we have Weeks together as fine Weather as Summer, and Vegetation goes on finely through the year. All the hardy kinds of Kitchen Garden Stuff flourish better in Winter than Summer, as in the latter Season they are apt to run for seed such as Cabbage, French Lapland & round Turnips, Beet Carrot Parsnip Pease Radish Lettuce Onion Parsley &c. &c. Potatoes suit the Soil, which is a light one, and composed for the most part of Vegetable Mould. A Stream of Water which might vie with many celebrated Streams. There are three constant Streams on this North side of the Island. The Land is coverd with Wood quite up to the Mountains, but of a creeping kind of a Shrub, many of the size of an Apple Tree. Ships may procure what Wood & Water they want for all culinary purposes.
Of Land fit for Cultivation I think there are 3 or 400 acres on this side, including a fine Meadow of about 12 or 15 acres. On this Cattle may feed the year round. I have a small flock of Geese which give me no trouble to feed, as they-find abundance of green herbage throughout the year & as I do not mean to kill any of them, except perhaps some spare Ganders until I have 50 breeding Geese, I may expect in a little time to have a good stock of them. Dunghill Fowls breed 3 or 4 times the Year. I have one now setting for the fourth time & I think she will make out to bring the fifth set of Chickens before Winter. Of Ducks I have only ten; having lost all my Turkeys, Muscovy Ducks, & all of the English Ducks except three, by their eating Fish Guts last Winter. I have a piece of ground about 10 or 12 acres containing two Ponds where the Sea Elephants abound, here I have 8 Sows & 4 Boars quite tame, all of which save 5 we have caught on the Island, of which there are many more; some we have shot and some have knocked down &c. All this Stock together with ourselves live at present on the flesh of the Elephant. The Pigs however may live altogether on Herbage where they are, for which purpose indeed, I put them down there, but I give them an Elephant once in 10 or 15 days to keep them in heart. The Dandelion grows here in the greatest luxurance and very abundant. All the Pigs live on these & on the root of a pleasant smelling Strawberry leaved kind of Geranium. We have a few wild Goats of which kind I suppose there are 12 or 16 left. I want a few Sheep, tame Goats and Rabbits to stock the Island with Game. We have the little black Cock in great numbers & in the fall are very fat and delicate. We caught some hundreds last year with a Dog, but I have none proper for them such as a Terrier would be.
The Mountains are covered with Albatross Mollahs Petrels Sea Hens &c.; A great deal of Feathers might be had if people were to attend to it. For the Waters they are well furnished, Fish are to be had at any time for the trouble of taking, whenever the Sea is smooth enough to fish from the Rocks. We have no Boat & of course can not have them so often as we want them—but on a kind of Raft of six pieces we push off on a smooth time, & take many Sheepshead Crayfish, Grampus & large Mackarel. From the Rocks which is the mode we are obliged to take, we supply ourselves sometimes, but are obliged to use a large piece of Elephant meat to entice .them near enough the Rock. Boat would be Victuals and drink to us. In the deep Waters there are large Fish as Cavallas, and a kind fat as Salmon, and I have no doubt but very large Grampus are to be found there. Sea Elephants are plenty, and they Pup yearly, coming up in the months of Augt & Sept. for that purpose. About a month or five weeks they take the Male, & then go off to feed, & in 6 or 8 weeks come up & remain a month or two to shed their old coat & get a new one, and from that time are for the most part lying about in the Sun asleep. The Males however stay off longer, as they are more exhausted by their Commerce with the Females, & are three times longer, of cours require a longer period to feed. Their food is chiefly Kelp, but I have found Squid in their stomach. During the Pupping Season the Black Fish are very numerous and equally rapacious, always on the look out for the Elephants great or small. I have seen them attack young or old ones, & carry young ones off. They run themselves aground on the Beach very often, so that we Lance them frequently and shoot into them. This last season I think a 1000 Pups were brought forth on this Island & as many more on the other two, & I suppose, when I passed near those Islands in the passage out to Bengal in the Grand Turk, they must have been almost innumerable—seeing some parties or other have been oiling here ever since—& so many yet remain. If they are not disturbed for two or three years, the increase must be great and profitable, especially if their skins are attended to & salted. We have killed about 80 since we landed, & I suppose shall kill about two a week through the Year. We have made about 1000 Gallons of Oil for the purpose of buying a Boat if possible. Of Seals we have taken a dozen.
Our Situation, like all new Settiers, has not been very comfortable. We have not eat bread these six Months—that parcel you so kindly supplied me with lasted about that time. But Turnips have been Bread to us. I hope to have as many Potatoes in 3 or 4 months, as will always stand by us while I remain on the Island, But Cloths I shall want, & must depend upon vessels for a supply of them. The prospect of one day making something from the Oil & Skins of the Elephants & Seals, from the Fish & other matters, consoles me for all other privations.
I shall now submit for your consideration a proposal which may perhaps be feazible & which you may on reflection adopt, viz. to join me in the business of making Oil & Skins on these Islands. The mode I shall recommend will be simple & the least expensive which can be undertaken, that is to buy a small fishing Schooner, of about 50 tons, such as may often be had very early in the Spring or late in the fall, in Cape Cod for 500 $ & if you wish to give your brother Jonson employment for a year or two, send him here in her, with 10 or 12 men. Two or three of these kind of Boats called at Cape Cod. Half Boats a kind of Whale Boat which cost about 25 $ there, with provisions enough for 12 months. For the purpose of saving the Oil, a Cistern, as they have at the Cape of Good Hope, should be made. Stones enough are on the spot. Lime and a Mason or two (many of a roving disposition may be found cheap in these times) with a frame suitable for the size of the Cistern, with Boards &c. to cover & make it tight. A plank flooring to Support the Casks, which should be filled from a small wooden Pump let down into the Cistern. The Building would answer for the Man to live in. Some Hhds. Salt which at Cape Cod cost 50$ Hhd.—and two or three Asses to carry blubber & Skins from a distance, for the greatest part of the work of the Oilers is to bring the Blubber to the Coppers. Two Boilers of Iron holding from 60 to 90 Gallons each, with Ladle Skimmer Cooler Strainer Knives Steels Grindstone Beaming Knives Clank for Beams &c. By the time a vessel gets here, I should be able to supply a considerable part of their daily food from my Pigs Potatoes & other Vegetables beside Fish &c. A Cistern 40 feet long 15 feet wide and 10 deep would contain from 1000 to 1100 Barrels, which may be made in 15 months, if the Boilers are kept properly going. And as the Elephant in general makes about a Barrel of Oil (tho’ some of the Males will produce 100 gallons) of course there would be as many skins as Barrels of Oil, besides at least 1000 Pup Skins— which are very fine & pretty, & no doubt would altogether average one dollar each. The Oil in the Cistern would require Barrels or other Casks to carry it to Market, but if it remained for some time, it would be always safe, and growing better for Standing to settle; and as the Cistern would last many years, the expence once defrayed, either by Oil Skins &c. it may always be kept full at very little expence & ready to ship whenever a market was to be found for it. If the proposal should be relished, I should like to be jointly concerned in it, but, as I have no Money to advance, I could only at first lend my assistance towards completing the business, while it would be your part to furnish the means to get it once underway.
I do not in the above Estimate include the Seal Skins, but there are many about these Islands, & perhaps 1000 or 1200 might be taken in 15 or 18 months, without neglecting any other part of the business or costing a farthing to obtain them. Fish would be an article worth attending to, as they are when salted and dried very fine & such as I have seen at the Isle of France for $6 the 110 lbs.—that however and the Seal Skins may remain in the background, making use of them when occasion may require to fill a small vessel with an assorted Cargo of Oil, Skins, Fish &c. for the Rio Market if it be thought proper. Oil was worth 5o cts when you was there, and that is more than it is worth in America, & a much nearer Market. Empty Pipes are plenty at Rio, and put in proper order might be stowed in the Hold and filled from the Cistern by the means of Barrels or half Brlls. and carried on board with great ease & safety, & the Casks always fresh furnished if the Oil sold at Rio. Even if the Oil sold at Rio for 3o cts per Gallon it would be worth pursuing, for the Cistern only once filled, could with very little aid from Men & a few Asses be always kept full, & the small Craft may make what speed she pleases to take it away, besides the means of being so readily furnished with casks and the vicinity of the Market to the Cistern. Elephant Skins I have seen in an English paper, sell well in London, why then may not Rio furnish a Market for them also, when well salted and dried, seeing so many English Merchants & Agents are constantly buying up everything which will answer as Remittances &c. And surely being a Roman Catholic Country, the Fish would sell as well as in most places. Upon the whole I feel satisfied that a Voyage (if Voyage it may be called, the interest of which would not cease at the end of that Voyage) of the kind would in the present times answer very well, & your Brother Jonson would find opportunity & encouragement for his well known talents & abilities. At any rate the Oil fit [outfit?] would not be great, say $ 2000, & the benefit would be lasting to you. The Men may be had upon Shares, & when the Cistern becomes full new arrangements may be made with a Crew if necessary. Bear in mind that one Ass is equal to two men in bringing Blubber, consequently 4 or 6 Asses with 3 Men would equal a Crew of 11 or 15 Men—8 or 12 of whom would require very different provisions from Asses, the latter finding Food at every step. Two Men at the Boiler & one to load the Asses & drive them, would do the work of many Men, & save great expence in Provisions & shares of the Oil as Wages. I leave it now to your consideration how far it will suit you to enter into a concern of the kind. At any rate the business should begin small, in order to see first what may be done (there is no doubt in my mind it will succeed & become very lucrative). What I have related above respecting the Elephant Seal Fish &c. may be relied upon, & I could with 2 or 3 more Men procure in two seasons a ton Feathers equal to any in the Market. Should any Vessel be bound to the Cape, or round it, do drop me a line & inform me of the Receipt of this if it comes to hand.
[Lambert died the following year.]
Thurm, Edvard Im; Wharton, Leonard C. (eds.)
The Journal of William Lockerby … And Other Papers ..
Publications of the Hakluyt Society, 2nd Series, 52