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A Holiday Trip in the Diocese of Nassau

By H. T. S. Cassell

From Mission Life, Vol I (first series) (December 1, 1866), pages 499-509.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007


[Since the above was printed, news has come of the terrible hurricane which has desolated these islands. Some idea of the extent of the ruin and distress which it has caused may be gathered from the fact, that half the churches in the diocese have been destroyed. The Bishop appeals to churchmen at home to help in the work of restoration.]

(By an Old Pupil Teacher.)

THE diocese of Nassau was separated from that of Jamaica in 1861. It consists of the Bahamas, Turks, and Caicos, in all about five hundred islands, forming a group about six hundred miles in length, extending from the north-east portion of Cuba to the coast of Florida. [See "Work in the Colonies."]

Many of these islands are very small, mere uninhabited rocks and shoals; but there are twelve of considerable size, over which, with many of the smaller, the population is spread. The chief town is Nassau, situated on the north shore of the island of New Providence, which derives its importance from the safety and excellence of its harbour. The climate is very fine, and most beneficial in all diseases of the lungs and throat. When the benefit is sought in time, a certain and speedy recovery may in all cases be anticipated. The whole of the original population of these islands, represented as being numerous when discovered by Columbus, has totally disappeared--all having perished under the Spanish rule; and it is now succeeded by Europeans and the white descendants of former settlers, with the negroes, consisting of the emancipated slaves, their children and grand-children, and the Africans liberated from slave ships. The total number is estimated at thirty-eight thousand seven hundred.

The diocese is divided into fifteen parishes, the work of which is at present divided amongst only five clergymen. It will easily be understood how great is the need of a considerable addition to this number. One of them writes:--"Our visits from one island to another, and from one station to another, preaching and baptizing the children, are something like a shepherd setting his mark upon his sheep, and then letting them go in the wilderness."

The accompanying narrative was written by a late pupil teacher in a school at Oxford, and sent to the boys formerly under his charge. It will help many of our readers, we think, to realise the circumstances under which the work of the Church in this diocese is being carried [499/500] on, and give an increased interest to any further particulars we may be able to give of it hereafter:--

"I left Nassau on the morning of Wednesday the 22d of November, and embarked with all my traps on board the little schooner Jeannette, of five tons burden only, which had lately arrived at Nassau laden with sponges, and was now returning. The Bishop and a clergyman named Saunders drove to a place called Delaport Point, where we had arranged to lunch, and where they were to wait for the schooner.

"We weighed anchor directly I stepped on board. We soon cleared the shipping and passed the man-of-war which protects the town and harbour, till we came to the lighthouse, where we had to tack about between the shore and the numerous cays, or small islands, which form the northern boundary of Nassau.

"It was a glorious morning, the sky was without a cloud, and the sea with scarcely a ripple. The water was so transparent that as I leant over the stern, I could see the bottom of the sea as plainly as possible. It was alive with playful little zebra fish, with their black and yellow bodies, whilst corals of various shapes, colours, and sorts, sponges, bright sea-weeds, and many other beautiful productions of nature abounded.

"Now I must give you a little description of our vessel, a tiny, wee thing to battle with a rough sea, as she often has to do. Under the deck at the fore part is the cabin fitted with two berths, or bed-places, just large enough for a man. No room to turn and twist in, but hard boards at sides and bottom, and a rug to cover you, unless you are very luxurious and take blankets and pillow with you. At the after end is the hold, where the merchandise is stowed, such as fish, sponges, sugar-cane, and conches. The deck is protected from the waves by a little low rim or ledge about four inches high. Above the deck are the masts, rigging, anchors, &c., of a schooner. The cabin is raised a little above the deck, and serves as a seat. The crew of two men besides the captain are all black men, as are all the sailors and captains of the small ships of these islands.

"The captain was named George, and the two sailors John and Arthur. We all soon became very friendly, and Arthur told me there was capital shooting and fishing at Andros. The time passed very pleasantly from nine till twelve o'clock, when we sighted Delaport Point, and an hour afterwards we were anchored in the little bay behind the point. Delaport is a very pretty little place; from the deck of the schooner I could see a cottage, with its palmetto [500/501] thatched roof just rising above a group of tall shrubs, while the bay was fringed with the graceful palms and lofty cocoa-nut-trees.

"I went ashore with Arthur in the schooner's boat, and as we rowed we saw some barracootas, a kind of fish gamboling on the sandy bottom of the bay.

"At the cottage I found the Bishop and Mr Saunders, who had arrived some time before, and had got lunch ready, which we soon attacked. Although my voyage had been, short the sea air had given me a quick appetite, and I relished the lunch more than I had done any meal for a long time.

"After lunch we drove to West-End Point, nine miles off, where the Bishop directed the schooner to meet us, there to embark for Andros.

"We skirted the sea nearly all the way, and soon outstripped the Jeannette, which unfortunately had the wind against her. Our way for some distance lay along a pretty green lane, which reminded me of the lanes of dear old England. We stopped at the caves, which are very interesting, and visited by all who come to Nassau; thence to a large dilapidated house, which was inhabited by a black man and his family, but was formerly a large slave-owner's mansion, at the time that slaves were allowed at Nassau. The children, who seldom or never went to school, and who, to judge from their staring faces, had never before seen a white man, were all congregated at the gate nearly naked. They were very pleased, however, to hold the Bishop's horse when asked; and when leaving, and the Bishop gave them some money, they replied, 'Tanky, masse.' We met a few old men and women as we drove, whom we always spoke to, pleasing them very much, by calling 'Daddie,' or 'Auntie,' as the case might be. 'How d'ye do, daddie?' we would say, and then immediately the great straw hat would be pulled right off, and they would reply, 'Me bery well tanky, masse.' About six o'clock we came to another lone house, where another black man named Damon Bethel lived. Here we stopped till the schooner caught us up. Damon was very polite, and invited us all in, and soon loaded the tables with presents of oranges, sugarcanes, and green corn. Damon very kindly brought us hot coffee, and we made our supper, which was very acceptable. Then the Bishop knowing Damon was a long way from a church, had the evening service there in the room. Mr Saunders read prayers and the Bishop preached, and we all sang the evening hymn. By this time it was ten o'clock, so we all turned into bed. Now I daresay you will wonder how a poor black man had beds enough for three [501/502] extra people; well, we had not beds, but you must remember that in missionary life one has to makeshift with anything, so I lay clown on a bench, Mr Saunders on three chairs, and the Bishop had a bed. Tired with the day's exertion we slept till the sun rose, about half-past five. By eight o'clock we embarked. The wind was now very fresh, and the waves were beating over the ship, putting out the fire, and drenching us all. The Bishop went below, but I stayed on deck, wrapped in my rug. As I was lying on the top of the deck, it was only the spray that wetted me, and I did not mind that. The vessel was now on the ocean. Fathoms and fathoms of water lay beneath her, but she bounded fearlessly over the waves, bringing us every moment nearer to Andros, which lay about forty miles to the S. W. Every now and then the schooner would startle a shoal of flying fish, which would leap out of the water and pursue their course in the air for a few seconds, flying like birds. So the time passed till three o'clock, when the joyful cry arose, 'Land.' By four we were within the reef and running down the shore to Fresh Creek, where the Bishop stops. We could see the place about a mile off, by a tall cocoa-nut-tree which stands at the entrance to the creek. The land looked very inviting after a rough sea passage.

"Precisely at five we landed at Fresh Creek, the chief settlement at Andros. Mr Sweeting, the catechist, met us at the landing, and took us at once to his house, which was a model of cleanliness, with its palmetto-thatched roof and white-washed walls. And now you must remember that every one I shall introduce you to is black, even Mr Sweeting, who is a nice gentlemanly man. The Bishop is very fond of him, and says that he has not a better catechist in his diocese, not even among the white men.

"You may imagine with what kind of appetites we sat down to dinner, after the sea breeze and. abstinence from eight o'clock till five. At half-past six we had service in the church, which was built by Mr Sweeting himself, and the service and singing were very hearty. Mr Sweeting read the first lesson, and I the second. We went to bed early, and were better accommodated than at Damon's, for Mr Saunders and I got a beautifully white bed, and the bishop had a room to himself. By six o'clock next morning I was out walking on the beach, picking up shells of a larger sort, called micker-a-mockeras,' and at eight I returned to breakfast, where I found beef-steaks, hominy, fresh eggs, fish, conches, &c., laid out by Mr Sweeting and his niece. Hominy is ground Indian corn, boiled to a soft pulpy kind of mass. It is eaten with butter, and forms a [502/503] capital substitute for bread. After breakfast I got Arthur and another young man named Joseph to go out fishing; we took our lines, got on board the schooner, sailed out of the creek, and proceeded to a small cay, where the fish abound. When we got there, a little black boy who accompanied us dived for the conches, from which to make baits. He soon got us half-a-dozen, and we then went to the other side of the cay, dropped anchor, and began fishing. My line was about fifty feet long and a little thicker than whip-cord. I had a piece of conch on the hook and began. In a minute or so Joe had hooked a fine turbot, which was of the most lovely colours. By the time he had got his on deck, I felt a smart tug at my own line, and hauled up another of the same sort. We caught several sorts, mutton fish and margot predominating, when a shoal of blue fish came round. We could just see a mass of blue, but too deep to distinguish what they were; but Joe immediately caught a very large one. He was obliged to play it about for some time, for directly it was hooked it darted about in all directions. This attracted the notice of a shark, who seized it. Joe felt an immense strain on his line, and could scarcely say 'a shark!' before line, blue fish, shark and all, were gone. This spoilt our sport, and we returned to dinner after a pleasant three hours. After dinner the men, women, and children came to Mr Sweeting to practise some new hymn tunes, and I spent an hour or so teaching them several for the coming season of Advent. They have a very remarkable ear for music, and soon picked up the tunes after I had sung a verse or two. After practice it was proposed to fish for a shark. This we hailed with delight. A large hook, with a chain attached, was fastened to a rope about as thick as a good-sized clothes line, and very long. Two fish were put on for bait, and were thrown a long way into the sea, while we stood on the rocks. After we had waited ten minutes, and had almost given it up, Arthur, who stood nearest, whispered that he could see two large sharks passing. This showed us they were attracted, and four of us grasped the rope. No sign of a bite occurred, and I was playing with the rope, when it was jerked out of my hand and nearly upset me. Fortunately the others were more careful, and I caught the rope again. We all pulled our hardest, for we had got hold of one who was in his own clement and was almost as strong as we were. Nearer and nearer he was hauled up, till his white sides and yawning jaws gleamed in the moonlight. Up the rocks we dragged him, but for a time durst not venture near. Soon he ceased to struggle, and then with an axe we gave him several [503/504] blows on the head, and so despatched him. He looked a fine fellow as he lay stretched out. His two rows of teeth were almost as sharp as needles. From the tip of his tail to his snout he measured six feet. We were so tired and hungry that we went back to supper, and then about eleven to bed. The next morning I was up at six, refreshed, and thought I would take a walk in the woods, for Andros is the finest wooded island in the Bahamas, and is covered with forests containing many fine trees of different kinds, such as mahogany, cedar, mastick, button-wood, and iron-wood--all durable wood. I took my gun, as I thought I might see some birds, and soon got into the woods, till I could almost fancy myself to be a second Robinson Crusoe. The only living thing that crossed my path were lizards, and, without exaggeration, there were hundreds of them. Now and then I came to a clearing with sugar-canes growing, or green corn, or else cotton-plant. Every few yards were to be seen, clinging to the trees, large masses of black, looking like huge bears about to climb them. They were ants' nests, and contained thousands each of those busy little creatures. The sun was very hot and, the insects troublesome--getting into my nose, up my sleeves, and biting me--so I sat down and cooled myself under a tree. In the evening the people came again to sing hymns, and I made them learn 'Adeste fideles' for Christmas. They were very polite, and fond of shaking hands--every person I met I shook hands with, sometimes several times a day. The next day was Sunday, and we expected a large congregation from all parts. They kept arriving up till eleven in crowds; some even came overnight, and many walked fifteen miles, so the church was full. Before service I took a class in the Sunday-school, and, owing to Mr Sweeting's good teaching, I was pleased at the way in which they said their collects and answered questions on the gospel. The service in church (which was crowded) was very good and hearty. In the morning the Bishop administered the Holy Eucharist to forty-two people; and in the afternoon the rite of confirmation to twenty, and baptism to some little children. I forgot to mention I had a bathe in the morning, in a little bay near where we caught the shark: I did not venture in far, for I was alarmed lest a shark might avenge himself on me for destroying his brother. After evening service I taught the people the Easter hymn.

"The next evening the people came for the last time to practise hymns, for the Bishop proposed to sail the next morning to another settlement called Nicholl's Town, forty miles off, and hold service there on Thursday. On Tuesday morning I had no time to try for [504/505] the snipes again, so I packed up and was jest ready to start at breakfast time. At nine o'clock the whole settlement came out to see us off, and wish us good-bye. You would have been astonished to see the fowls, sugar-canes, and green corn which were presented to the Bishop--nearly or quite everybody contributed something. One young black lady gave me a fowl, which I brought to Nassau. After a great deal of shaking hands we at length got off, the Jeannette again weighed anchor, and with feelings of regret I left Fresh Creek, for I had spent four very pleasant days there. We sailed in white water all the way--that is to say, within the reef, close to the shore and we had a fair wind. The shore, with its bays, creeks, palm-groves, and green foliage delighted the eye, while the numerous little cays added not a little to the pleasant scene. We passed Calabash Bay, where we had walked the day before Pigeon Bay, famed for those birds; Golding's Sound, where the birds of that name abound; then past Green Turtle Bay, where the lazy turtle could just be seen, basking in the sun; then Saddle-Back Bay, named from its shape and lastly, Mastick Point, named from the tree so called. As we went along we had a tow-line overboard to catch barracootas, but they were not hungry. I saw two small sharks, of about twenty pounds each, coming towards us, but on seeing us they dashed off frightened. We did not go quite so far as Nicholl's Town, because the anchorage is bad; so we stopped about three miles off in Conch Sound, famous for that beautiful shell-fish. We arrived at six in the evening, having done the forty miles in nine hours. As soon as we anchored, Mr Sweeting went ashore to prepare a lodging at Mr Miller's. He came back to say the Bishop and one other could be accommodated, for it was the only house near, and a very small one. Mr Saunders and myself slept on board. As there was nothing to do before bed-time, I took up the line we caught the shark with and baited it, and threw it over. They would not bite, however, and we talked of Church matters at Nicholl's Town, which Mr Sweeting had heard were at low ebb, from no regular catechist being there, and the Baptists having seduced our people to join them. The Bishop had landed some time, and we could see they had lit a fire to keep off the mosquitoes. We now had supper, and soon after went to bed. Before doing so I tied my fishing-line to a spare anchor, as I felt sure some fish would bite before morning. Mr Saunders was already snoring, and the sailors in the hold were fast asleep, The candle was burning, however, and I made my arrangements. My rug for a mattress was spread out, as I had seen some cockroaches about, and [505/506] I did not know what other vermin might be there. I only took off my coat, waistcoat, and boots, and with my braces and collar loosed, lay down to sleep. After a good night's rest I awoke, and went on deck with my greatcoat on. The air was chilly and the deck wet with dew. The sea seemed all on fire, and I rubbed my eyes, thinking I was dreaming. After a little while I found that it was glowing with that phosphorescent light which is frequently seen in these latitudes. The moon was still up, so I looked for my line, but to my great astonishment line and anchor were both gone. I did not trouble about them, but crept back to bed, and found by my watch it was three o'clock, so I had three hours more to sleep. At half-past six I got up and looked after the anchor and line, which had been dragged overboard by a fish. The anchor was attached to the ship, so I hauled at the rope and soon got it up. My line was still attached, but the hook, a large new one, was either bitten or broken off. I was rather annoyed at losing the fish, but glad the line was not gone too. I felt so uncomfortable from sleeping in my clothes, that I felt a bathe would be very refreshing; so when Joe went ashore I got into the boat with him. When we landed I left my clothes on the beach, and told Joe to row me about forty yards out. I knew there would be no sharks at the early morning tide, so I pitched in without any fear, and went down a few yards among the conches. I soon came up and swam ashore, but when I landed I thought I should have gone mad from the mosquitoes and sandflies, which attacked every part of my body. When I was dressed I did not mind them, and I was so refreshed by my swim that I thought I would take a walk along the shore before breakfast. The tide was going out, and I saw some of the largest and queerest lobsters I had ever seen. I was too frightened to attack them with only my fingers. The plantations on my right were well cultivated, and palms, cocoa-nuts, oranges, lemons, &c., grew in the utmost profusion. I called at a large house, and found an old black woman living there. She was very talkative; told me her name was Mrs Defleur, and that her husband was dead, and she had only two daughters left, but that the plantation and house belonged to her. She also told me she was a Baptist, and I was rather amused at the pictures hung round. They were two old numbers of Punch pinned against the wall. One was the 'British Slave,' and I expect the old lady had hung it up in sympathy for the slave, as probably she had been one herself when young, for the slaves here have only been freed about thirty years.

"I now returned and met the Bishop, who had also come for a walk. [506/507] We went together to Mr Miller's, where we found breakfast ready for us, and Mr Saunders and Mr Sweeting waiting. I will tell you what we had, for I daresay you could not guess what out-inland fare is. First, Johnny cake, or rather journey cake, which is eaten by the Americans instead of bread and butter; then mutton fish and margot fish, which I had caught that morning; some conches of Mr Saunders's cooking, for he is a great hand at that, and few know how to do it properly; lastly, salt junk, for all our fresh meat was gone, and you can never get fresh meat at the out-islands unless you keep your own sheep and oven. Our sauces were growing all around us, and I had only to walk a yard or two to get cayenne pepper, the less pungent pepper grass, the mustard plant, and the lime for its juice.

After breakfast the Bishop and Mr Saunders went to Nicholl's Town, while I went on board the Jeannette to visit a large vessel loading with oranges. She was called the Pearl, and was loading as fast as possible in baskets of 100 oranges each. The blacks were bringing them in little boats, laden to the brim, from off their plantations. I think they were getting two shillings and sixpence per 100. The load was to be 80,000. We stayed here a long time, and came back only in time for dinner, which we cooked on board the Jeannette, and then carried it to the house. After this meal the Bishop, Mr Saunders, and myself, went to visit an old mulatto woman, about eighty years old. She had been very wealthy some years ago, and had kept slaves, and had gone to London at the time the slavery question was so vigorously discussed by Wilberforce, Clarkson, and others. She was very free with us, and told the Bishop she liked to see bishops looking old and venerable. She said she should put my name down in her book to remember me, and she told me to let her look at my nose. "Ah," she said, "sharp, and I see you are bad tempered, ain't you?" The old lady was so infirm that she could scarcely move, but she sent out for some cocoa-nuts for us, and told Mr Saunders she had left in her will an acre of ground to build a house on for the priest when he went his rounds. When we got back to Miller's it was dusk, and the mosquitoes bothered us horribly, so we lit a fire, and the smoke drove them away. We sat talking by the fire till bed-time, when we wished the Bishop good-night, and Mr Saunders and I came down the hill, hailed the boat, and were soon on board the schooner. The dew had begun to fall so fast that we resolved not to go out fishing that night, which we had resolved to do. I, however, wanted very much to fish, and was yet so sleepy that I could scarcely keep awake; so I hit upon a plan to answer [507/508] both purposes. I fixed a new hook to my line, baited it, and threw the bait overboard, taking the other end down into the cabin. When I lay down I fastened the end round my leg, blew out the candle, and went to sleep. The fish, however, did not pull me out of bed, and I lay quiet all the night, to my intense mortification, for I should like to have had a large fish pull me out of the berth. I looked before I went to bed to see if a shark could pull me into the sea, as he did the anchor, but the cabin window was too small for me to get through. The sun was just about to rise when I got up, and I went again with Joe to have another swim. This time the Bishop joined me, and Joe was to look out for sharks, as we went into deeper water. We both pitched off the boat and had a good swim. When we got tired we swam ashore, Joe keeping near us. After breakfast we started for Nicholl's Town to hold service at eleven. Mr Saunders and the crew went by the schooner, while the Bishop, Mr Sweeting, and myself walked. We had packed everything on board but the breakfast things, so the Jeannette started; but we found our walk of three miles rather troublesome, as we had to carry them, and part of the way was over sharp rocks. We were just starting when we found we had forgotten the Bishop's washing-basin, and already our hands were full. Here was a dilemma; I had a basket, two bottles of wine, and an umbrella to carry, the Bishop's hands were full, and Sweeting's more than full. At length it was arranged that I should wear it on my head like a helmet. It just came to my nose; and now being loaded we started. To our great delight we found the Jeannette had anchored a little way off round the point, to take in some of the old mulatto woman's cocoa-nuts; so we joyfully got rid of our loads, basin and all, and proceeded on our way. The old woman laughed heartily at the strange procession coming towards her house, and told me I looked very funny in my strange hat. At ten o'clock we reached Nicholl's Town.

"Several people came to church, and the Bishop spoke nicely to them of the danger and sin of dissent. The service was over about one, and the people were very pleased with the Bishop.

"We had now finished at Andros Island, and had only to return. We had a fair wind, and the Jeannette bobbed up and down merrily under full sail. We had our dinner on board, and hard work it was to keep it on the plates.

"The wind sprang up again at nine, and we sighted land at ten. The moon was very bright, and we did not slacken sail, for we could distinctly see the reefs, shoals, and rocks. At twelve we dropped [508/509] anchor at West-End Point, left all our things on board, and landed at once. After a three miles' walk we reached Damon Bethel's house, where we slept the night we left for Andros. There the Bishop's carriage met us at two o'clock in the morning, and we started on our drive to Nassau. We passed the caves again, and Delaport Point, and at last Nassau came in sight. I was too sleepy to notice anything, but it was broad moonlight, and very pleasant. By four we reached the Bishop's house, where I wished him and Mr Saunders good-night, and went to my own lodgings. I could make no one hear, so I climbed the garden wall, opened a door that is usually left unfastened, woke the servant boy; who made me a bed on the parlour floor. I threw myself down at once, and did not wake till the cathedral bell went for morning service.

December 1865. Nassau, Bahamas, W. I.

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