Tour Of The Caribbean - The Five Islands
( Originally Published 1925 )
ONE of the most pleasant ways of seeing the northern Bocas is by means of the steamer which plies between Port of Spain and Chacachacare, the outermost of the three islands which form the channels.
On the passage the vessel calls at the Five Islands. These dots of land form one of the most picturesque groups to be met with in this world of islands. They are all very small, all very green, all have grey, tide-worn cliffs, while on each is a fascinating villa with a red, or striped, roof and white walls. One little isle is so minute that it is entirely taken up by the house that crowns it—a Venice within the circuit of a child's garden.
The settlement is given up wholly to enjoyment. It is a sea sanctuary for the hot days of summer. It is the idler's archipelago. The islands are those of the nursery tale, and of the Willow Pattern Plate. Send a boy there with a boat, a fishing-rod and a bathing-dress, and he would believe that he had found the Hesperides of his classical studies. He will find tiny coves and dark caves where he can " go a-pyrating," miniature beaches, six paces wide, to land his treasure, a jungle the size of his school-room, and a cape that he can sit astride of. His sister will be enamoured of the arbour by the sea, of the stone stairs leading up from the landing-place, of the doll's-house terrace, and of the blue pool so close below her window that she can almost touch the water.
Beyond the Five Islands and near to the Boca de Monos is the island of Gaspar Grande. On the point of it are the remains of the Spanish fort which the British had set their hearts upon taking when Harvey and Abercromby anchored off the island on February 16, 1797. The fort is at the opening into Chaguaramas Bay, a bay of entrancing loveliness. Here, on the day named, four Spanish line-of-battle ships were lying, together with a gun brig.
The English were busy all night making preparations for the taking of the fort and the capture of the ships. At two in the morning the tree-covered cliffs around the bay were illuminated by a wild column of flames. The Spaniards had set fire to their vessels, and in the glare the water was seen to be dotted with boats all rowing for the shore. Out of the five men-of-war the English saved but one, the San Damasco. The rest were burned to the water's edge. When the daylight came the fort on Gaspar Grande was found to be deserted.
To any who may be interested in pelicans the Five Islands and the bay that saw the burning of the ships may be commended. These pelicans are curiously ungainly birds who, although puffed up with self-satisfied wisdom, have an aspect of extreme and shabby old age. Apparently overlooked in the progress of evolution they have become so obsolete as to be ridiculous, for they ought long ago to have retired into the fossil state. To be consistent with their environment they should be hovering over a lagoon full of saurians or should be watching from a swamp the dull movements of palaeolithic man.
They fish and with surprising success, but in the most uncouth and primitive manner. They flap to and fro over the sea with an assumption of boredom, then suddenly drop into the water and come up with a struggling fish. There is no suggestion of diving, no pretence to the graceful art of the gannet. They simply tumble into the sea, with their wings open, like an untidy parcel. That they reach the water head first seems to be purely an accident.
The well-known legend of the pelican and her indiscreet method of feeding her young in times of stress was in ancient days often employed to point a moral lesson to the young. The modern schoolboy or girl remains unmoved by the recital of the pelican's virtues. John Sparke, in his account of Hawkins' second voyage, thus describes the devotion of the bird and adds some criticism upon the appearance of the misguided fowl which is in accord with the average mariner's estimate of female qualities. " I noted," he says, " the pelican, which is feigned to be the lovingest bird that is, which, rather than that her young should want, will spare her heart's blood out of her belly ; but for all this lovingness she is very deformed to behold."