Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Some Lands of Opportunity

A. Hyatt Verrill always saw business potential in the Caribbean and South America. At one time he owned and operated a sulphur mine on the island of Dominica. Here in the only article we have discovered in Pan-American Magazine, he explains these potential ventures.

Some Lands of Opportunity

By A. Hyatt Verrill

From Pan-American Magazine, January 1918, collected by Alan Schenker, digitized by Doug Frizzle August 2011.

We hear a great deal regarding the opportunities presented by Latin American trade, but there is another large field which has, until recently, been overlooked and neglected and which has many advantages over South America, and regarding which very little has been said. Stretching in a great crescent from Porto Rico to the tip of South America are the Lesser Antilles, an archipelago of small islands under the flags of Holland France, and the United States and which, with that three Guianas—British, Dutch and French—present a splendid opportunity for manufacturers, exporters, merchants and financiers.

The advantages of dealing with these European dependencies bordering the Caribbean Sea are numerous. They are within easy reach, their governments are as stable as their mother countries; there are ample and reliable banking facilities, their currency is that of Europe; there are no inland transportation difficulties requiring special packing and last, but by no means least, they are more prosperous today than for many years past. Moreover, they lie directly in the path to the Panama Canal and our own Gulf ports, and their trade is largely with the United States. If we wish to establish a lasting trade with any of our southern neighbors these countries bordering the Caribbean will prove worthy of our attention, for they are less exploited, less known and less developed than any of the larger republics of South America.

Another matter, which should be borne in mind, is that many of the great Latin American countries are capable of producing and manufacturing many goods and articles similar to our own and hence the exports which we can sell them are limited, and each year, will decrease in numbers while, at the same time, competition is very keen.

The Smaller Colonies

It is quite a different matter with the Lesser Antilles and the Guianas. In these places there is no possibility of producing the commodities which we can provide, while many of their resources and exports cannot be obtained elsewhere in the western hemisphere. Hence there is no reason why a lasting, remunerative trade should not be established which would endure for all time.

Many Americans have an idea that these European colonies are too small to bother with; that they are populated only by negroes; that there are no large towns and that they are half civilized, backward, unprogressive and buy little. Nothing could be more erroneous. Many of the islands are small—by comparison—it is true, and upon the maps they appear as mere specks, but a surprising amount of country can be crowded on to an island thirty miles long and a dozen miles wide, and many of them are densely inhabited. It is also true that the inhabitants are principally colored, but the American who judges these colored people by the colored race in the United States makes a grave mistake, and one must completely overcome race prejudice and must be prepared for an entirely new view of the negro if he is to deal with the Lesser Antilles and the neighboring Guianas. Many of the colored merchants, planters, and officials of these places are millionaires; the majority have beet highly educated in France and England; many are graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, and they are as keen business men, as alive to the world's doings and as progressive, courteous, intelligent and wide-awake as any of our own color and nationality.

That there are but a few large cities or towns is of no importance, for in countries which are wholly agricultural, large cities cannot be expected. Georgetown, the capital of British Guiana, is a thriving, up-to-date city of nearly 70,000 inhabitants; Port of Spain, Trinidad, is one of the most modern and well-built cities in the tropics and can boast a population of 75,000, and there are numerous other cities with over 25,000 inhabitants. But the majority of the people are scattered here and there in small villages or on their own lands, and the larger towns are merely trade centres or distributing points. Roughly, the total population of the Lesser Antilles and the Guianas is about 2,300,000, divided as follows: Virgin Islands of United States 50,000; Dutch 115,000; French 525,000; British 1,500,000. Surely enough to tempt our efforts to secure this market. Moreover, poverty, as we know it, does not exist, for a bountiful nature supplies all man's wants with little effort on his part, and no one need starve or suffer from cold and, while beggars are numerous and labor is woefully cheap, yet a vast amount of money is in circulation and the people spend freely what they have.

Another misconception regarding these European colonies is that they are financially in bad shape owing to the war. As a matter of fact, exactly the opposite is the case, for, paradoxical as it may seem, the colonies of the Allies have benefited marvellously by the struggle of their mother countries, whereas, the colonies of neutral Holland have been helped in some ways, but in many ways have suffered greatly. This peculiar condition of affairs is easily understood if we look into the matter and understand conditions as they exist in the Antilles. Before the war, the commerce of the French and British colonies was mainly with Europe and the market value of many of the West Indian products had dropped until crops were scarcely worth harvesting, and as a result, the colonies were in sad plight, while the Dutch colonies carried on an enormous trade with Germany as well as with the Netherlands.

Economic Changes

With the cessation of German trade and the interning of the Hamburg-American ships, the Dutch were robbed of their most lucrative market. But 'tis an ill wind that blows nobody good, and the rise in rubber, sugar, cocoa, nutmegs, spices and other products did much to keep the Dutch colonies' heads above water, and at the same time, it raised the French and British colonies to a state of prosperity beyond their wildest dreams.

Before the war, limes were worth so little that they were left to rot by thousands on the ground and lime juice was considered highly profitable at £15 per hogshead. Today, limes are worth so much that a laborer can make more by stealing a pocketful of the fruit than by a day's labor while the juice has soared to £30 or even £45 per hogshead. It is the same with nearly everything else. Nutmegs, not worth harvesting before the war, are making fortunes for the lucky owners of nutmeg groves; sugar has transformed paupers to millionaires; timber, never before of enough value to cut, is bringing high prices for gun carriages and rifle stocks; mineral resources, hitherto unconsidered, are being eagerly taken up and developed; logwood, mangrove bark, anotto, gums and a thousand and one other products are being gathered and exported at immense profits, and up and down the islands, from St. Kitts to Demerara, prosperity reigns.

With the shutting off of German trade, and the larger part of the French, British and Dutch trade as well, has come an increasing demand for American goods and supplies and the colonials have been obliged to depend more and more upon the United States for both their imports and their exports. A few firms and individuals have reaped the benefit of the state of affairs, but like wise business men, they have said nothing and few outside the inner circle know that here, almost at our doors, is a field hitherto almost untouched but offering giant inducements to those who are alive to it.

Even with the American firms already established in these colonies there are countless opportunities still open and a vast number of articles, which the inhabitants would welcome and would purchase eagerly, have never yet been introduced to these markets. The salesman who would be successful here must not expect to find conditions as they are in the north, or as in the larger South American countries, and, above all, he must learn not to judge by appearances.

Often a prominent well-to-do merchant may be as black as ebony and his visible stock in trade may be packed in disorderly array on the shelves of a tiny, dingy, ramshackle, wooden shop, and yet he may do an enormous business, he may have hundreds of regular customers, and he may be worth enough to buy out the firm you represent. Don't make the mistake of one young salesman whom I met in the islands a short time ago. I advised him to stop at a certain British island and mentioned the name of a merchant of my acquaintance. But the quiet, sleepy, little antique town did not appeal to him, the merchant was a "nigger with a hole in the wall" as the salesman expressed it, and so my advice was ignored and the salesman sailed blithely on to South America with sublime confidence that he had not missed anything.

A few days later, I dropped in to see my black merchant friend and mentioned the salesman's goods, which were of a character never known on the island.

“I’m sorry he didn't call.” remarked the “hole in the wall" merchant; “I would gladly have placed a ten thousand dollar order with him.'' Three days later that same ''nigger" bought an estate for which he paid $375,000 in cold cash.

Here, in these undeveloped, little-known islands are innumerable opportunities in almost any line or industry. The majority of the people have been living in much the same way for centuries and they have had the same class of goods, and a limited assortment at that, for years and they really know very little of what the United States has to offer.

They are quick, however, to see the advantages and superiority of anything new or better and hence supply creates the demand in these colonies, and anything adapted to local needs,—and the peoples' pockets,— meets with a ready sale. This I know from personal experience for many articles, taken to the colonies for my personal use, appealed so strongly to the natives that the local merchants found it necessary to obtain a stock for their customers.

Must Know The People

But of course one must understand the people and their ways, must be familiar with conditions and climate, and must know the requirements, in order to be successful in this market. It is useless to try to introduce goods unsuited to the colonies or their people, or articles too costly to be within the reach of all. The laboring class earn but little and must confine their purchases to low-priced goods, and quantity must largely take the place of quality; it's the volume of trade, not the profits on a few sales, which count in these places. But this does not mean that the people will buy cheap, shoddy or inferior goods; they know values and demand full returns for their money.

Such a thing as a Five and Ten Cent Store is unknown and the man who first establishes a chain of such stores in the Lesser Antilles or in Guiana, will reap a fortune. It might not be possible to conduct a profitable business at five and ten cents, but it would be quite feasible to conduct stores where nothing would be over sixpence and a shilling. On one of my trips I met an educated, intelligent, colored minister who was returning to his island home after a brief visit to New York. When asked what had most impressed him in our metropolis, what do you suppose was his reply? Was it skyscrapers, the huge bridges, the elevator or the subway; the crowds or the big shops? No, of all the wonders he had seen the most marvellous to his eyes were the Five and Ten Cent Stores.

It is not alone as a market for such goods that these European colonies offer inducements. Transportation is still primitive and much of the freighting is done on human heads, or by dugout canoes and clumsy lighters propelled by sail or oars. Here then, is a splendid chance for the introduction of simple and reliable motor boats and motors for while outboard motors and a few motor boats are in use the field has never been thoroughly exploited. Automobiles and motor cycles are widely used in all these colonies and yet the motor industry, and especially the accessory and supply end of it, is still in its infancy in these places. For example, there are nearly one thousand motor-driven vehicles in and about Georgetown, British Guiana, and there are also a number of good sized garages and repair shops and yet, at the time this was written, there was not a single power-driven air pump, a carbon-burning outfit or an acetylene welding apparatus in the entire colony, while spark-plugs, tire pumps, non-glare lamp glasses and many of the commonest accessories had never been introduced.

So, too, there is a wonderful opportunity for the wide-awake American to establish a lucrative business in exploiting various products of these colonies which are practically unknown to our people. There are countless fruits and vegetables, medicinal plants, fibres, woods and timbers, gums and waxes, oils and perfumes, dye-woods and nuts which have never been grown, gathered, marketed or shipped systematically or intelligently and for which there should be a ready market in the United States. Many industries, now lacking in the colonies, could also be profitably established. There is a superabundance of water power and untold tons of paper stock lies rotting, and yet there is not a paper mill in operation, despite the fact that paper is high in price and is in great demand throughout the colonies.

So too, all the gunny sacks, used in packing cocoa, coconuts, sugar, rice and other products, are imported from overseas and are very expensive and yet there is abundant material and facilities for manufacturing bags and bagging locally.

Practically all lumber is imported although there are limitless forests abounding with trees which could supply the entire local demand for timber of all kinds and with enough valuable lumber for export to afford a paying business by itself. Another very large and important import is cement, for concrete is universally used in the colonies, but no one has yet attempted to start a cement plant, although all the necessary raw materials are available in many places.


The fisheries also have been woefully neglected. The Caribbean Sea, as well as the large Guiana rivers, abounds with fish,—I have seen a ton of Tuna thrown away for lack of local demands; lobsters are abundant and grow to enormous size, often weighing twenty pounds; gigantic crabs fairly swarm on land and in the sea and green turtles are a drag on the market, and there is no earthly reason why all this food should not be saved and preserved in local canneries. These are but a few suggestions, selected at random, and there are hundreds of other openings equally as promising or better, but space forbids an enumeration of them all.

Even in the smaller islands, the natural resources are scarcely known, for the people content themselves with raising and shipping the same products as did their ancestors, and agriculture is carried on in an old fashioned, slip-shod, haphazard manner, and not one-quarter as much is produced as is possible. But one must not expect to become a prince of agriculture in these colonies or to wrest a fortune from the ground by competing with the native planters on long established estates, even if these men do follow the methods of their great-grandfathers. It takes time to establish a paying estate, the best land near the coasts has been taken up and, as a rule, hand labor is cheaper than machinery. A far more promising future lies in developing new enterprises and in seizing long-neglected opportunities which have been overlooked or ignored by the natives who have not the means or knowledge to enter new fields of industry.

Owing to the rugged character, the immense mountains, the deep gorges and the limited area of' level land on the smaller islands there is little chance of their agricultural development beyond its present stage and while there are tremendous chances for increased trade, for commerce, for industrial development and for exploiting natural resources, yet the possibilities will always be limited by the size and physical characteristics of the islands and if ambitious, energetic people really desire unbounded opportunities they should look to the Guianas.

Here, on the northeastern corner of South America, is a country vast, untouched and largely unknown; a land of incredible richness, of untold resources, of immeasurable possibilities and withal under the dominion of Great Britain, Holland and France.

To the majority of those few Americans who have ever heard of Guiana, the name is synonymous with sweltering heat, poisonous snakes, pestilence and dangerous criminals. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. French Guiana, it is true, is hot, unhealthy and has been the dumping ground for the worst type of French convicts, many of whom have escaped and have taken to the "bush" and are worse than savages; the evil reputation of French Guiana has given a bad name to its neighbors.

British and Dutch Guiana, however, are very different from French Guiana. They are not unhealthy, they possess an excellent climate, there are no convicts at large; poisonous snakes are less common than in New York State; yellow fever has not been known for over thirty years; there are few dangerous diseases and one can live as comfortably and safely in Georgetown or Paramaribo as in any North American city of the same size.

Undeveloped Regions

Notwithstanding that these countries have been under Dutch and British rule for centuries, they are scarcely more developed today than two hundred years ago. A mere strip along the coast is under cultivation—less than one three-hundredth of British Guiana's area is cultivated—a few short railways connect the principal towns, the great rivers are navigated by steamers for a few score-miles and, here and there, a timber grant, a gold placer, a rubber plantation or similar industries are in operation a hundred miles or so from the coast. But the great bulk of the country—thousands of square miles in fact, is absolutely untouched while a very large area is unexplored and unknown.

Here, indeed, are opportunities for the progressive American with capital and energy who seeks new fields to conquer. There are vast agricultural possibilities; rubber and balata abound in the forest; there are inexhaustible supplies of such valuable timbers as greenheart, cedar, crab-wood, purple-heart, lignum-vita.; and nearly two hundred other woods. There are gums, medicinal plants, fibres, dyewoods, nuts, oils and many other wild products of great value but almost unknown to the outside world, and gold, diamonds, cinnabar, graphite, copper, iron, manganese, bauxite, platinum, antimony, kaolin, clays, mica and ochres are among the mineral riches while in addition there are vast areas of natural pasturage for cattle raising.

To many people this may sound amazing, for the popular idea of the interior of northern South America is of an impenetrable jungle and endless forests. While this is perfectly true of a large part of the Guianas, yet, back of the forest belt and about 200 miles from the sea, are enormous stretches of open grassy savannas; those in British Guiana alone cover an area of over 15,000 square miles.

Today, this enormous natural grazing ground is of little value and the few thousands of semi-wild cattle which roam over it are practically worthless, owing to the difficulties of transportation. When a railway is constructed from the coast to the hinterland all this will be changed and to build such a road, to tap the wealth of the forests, the savannas and the unknown districts of Guiana, would bring returns immeasurable in their magnitude.

Sooner or later this will be done; some day steel rails will stretch from the Atlantic to the upper waters of the Amazon and the Orinoco and the solitudes will echo to the scream of locomotive whistles while, from the mighty forests, the great tablelands and the far-reaching savannas of Guiana, wealth will pour forth to enrich the world.

I know this country intimately; I have travelled over its great rivers, have run its rapids, have tramped its forests, have roamed its savannas and have seen its wealth, and it is no exaggeration to state that here, in Guiana, is an opportunity for empire building, a source of latent riches and a field for development such as the world has seldom seen.

Into Unexplored Panama

This seems to be a very good, and new story, not reflected in Verrill's formal autobiography. From a 1922 magazine article, the images have just barely survived the three generations of copying, but 'you have to take the rough with the smooth' as Verrill would say.

Into Unexplored Panama

Among Darien's Most Primitive Peoples—A Savage Wedding in the Panamanian Jungle— Venturing Into Dangerous Territory—With the Indomitable Kunas—Trails Blazed by Balboa.

By A. Hyatt Verrill

Photographs by the Author

Travel magazine, October 1922, Collected by Alan Schenker, digitized by Doug Frizzle, August 2011.

One hundred and fifty miles from the Panama Canal lies the Darien district, a region rich in natural resources, difficult of access and almost unknown. Once the center of Spanish civilization, with thriving settlements along the banks of its rivers, it shows, to-day, no traces of the old conquest. Save for a few miserable villages, this area is now no more than a vast, unbroken jungle lying between the Bayano River and the Colombian frontier in the provinces of Panama and Colon. The inhabitants are Indians as primitive and, in certain sections, as savage as the natives of the forests, in the distant time when Balboa and his adventurous band hewed their way across the Isthmus.

Incredible as it may seem, less than two hundred miles from up-to-date Americanized cities of the Zone, there are Indians living in an unexplored portion of the district, so ferocious in character that no white man venturing into their territory is permitted to return alive. My visit to their villages was the first exception to this barbarous rule. Since the days of Balboa these “wild” Kunas have maintained their racial purity and independence, driving back or killing all outsiders who enter the "forbidden" district which extends, approximately, from the Atlantic coast to the western mountain ranges.

Panamanians sometimes confuse this mysterious tribe with the San Blas Indians of the Atlantic coast and neighboring islands, but they are markedly different. The San Blas Indians are a mixed race, friendly and industrious, who carry on an extensive trade in ivory-nuts and coco-nuts with Colon. They are apt to object to strangers remaining in their villages overnight; yet, there are missionaries, police and other aliens dwelling with them. Besides, many of their men have been sailors on whaling and merchant vessels and speak English with a fluent command of American slang. Although they claim relationship with the Kunas, they call themselves Towalis and fear the real Kunas as much as all the other races do.

It was to study these primitive tribes, and, especially, the Kunas, that I made my first trip through the district. The boat which launched me on my journey into Darien was a strange and uncomfortable craft. Her only accommodations consisted of a deck, thick with accumulated grease and filth, and as this was crowded with nearly a score of negro, Chinese and Panamanian passengers, to say nothing of the half-naked crew of six and a goodly assortment of freight, I finally climbed to the roof and slung my hammock between the davits.

El Real de Maria is the high-sounding name of the village where at last we disembarked, and never was a spot less appropriately christened. The village consists of ramshackle, wattled houses, a few Chinese shops and endless filth, and the pigs and cattle that wander at will among the houses outnumber the human inhabitants ten to one. At this miserable place I secured the services of two half-breed negro boatmen and a large cayuca or dugout, and, with our outfit stowed in the long, narrow craft, we bade farewell to El Real and headed up the Tuira for the Indian country.

After a day's journey the river narrowed considerably; the forests upon its banks grew more luxuriantly; the current became swifter. Soon we heard voices ahead and, swinging around a wooded point, arrived at the first Chokoi village. At a landing-place below a steep bank were a number of cayucas and about them clustered a crowd of men and women, naked save for loin-cloths and strings of gaudy beads. At sight of us the women and girls scurried up the bank and out of sight like a covey of frightened partridges, and a number of the men did the same thing. The others grinned and greeted us in Spanish, and, accompanied by quite an escort of Indians, we clambered up the bank to the place where the chief awaited us. He was a striking character clad as he was in an old duck coat and loin-cloth, with his fine, kindly face framed in a mane of white hair. He shook hands very gravely, welcomed me in Spanish and led the way to his house where, from every nook and corner, curious brown faces were peering forth at the strangers.

The chief's house, like all Chokoi dwellings, stood raised on posts about ten feet from the ground and was entered by means of a rude ladder consisting of a notched log. The interior was divided by invisible boundaries into three parts; one for the men, another for the women and children and a third for the kitchen. The furniture consisted of mats made of the soft, inner bark of the rubber tree and low, carved, wooden stools which served both as seats and pillows. Calabash dippers, sieves and earthen pots comprised the culinary utensils, and the kitchen fire was built on a bed of clay plastered over the cane floor. Here and there, bright-hued loin-cloths and strings of beads, hung to posts and rafters, gave a touch of color, and numerous painted, grotesquely carved images representing various birds, beasts and reptiles, as well as human figures, were fastened to the timbers. These I found were not true idols but fetiches, which the Indians utilize for nearly every possible purpose. There are gods of hunting, of sickness, of crops, of love, of the household, of children and of anything and everything. If one of the images proves inefficient, it is promptly mutilated or destroyed and another is made to take its place, for the practical Indian only values a god so long as it fulfills its purpose. Within the chief's house was a large gathering: a dozen or more men, as many women and girls and innumerable children of all ages.

Unlike the North American Indians, these Chokois were far from unemotional. They told stories, laughed and joked good-naturedly. Like all the South American aborigines, the Chokois are short, the men averaging only five feet four inches in height, but powerfully built with enormously developed chest and arm muscles, a result of much poling and paddling. They are a copper-brown in color, with broad, rather flat faces, many of them closely resembling Malays. Their arts are few, unlike most tribes, they have no knowledge of spinning or weaving, but they are experts at wood-carving and make stools, clubs, musical instruments and other articles from the hardest woods. The Chokois are, however, chiefly an agricultural people, growing maize, rice and other tropical plants on tiny areas of cleared land near the rivers, and depending very little upon hunting or fishing.

Throughout the day of my arrival the people busied themselves preparing for a wedding to be given the next day at a neighboring village. Dressed in all their finery, the Chokois were wonderful and fearful to behold. From head to foot they were painted with scarlet anotto, yellow ochre, the black from some vegetable juice and the brilliant blue of berries, as well as white from kaolin. No two were decorated alike, with the exception of the inevitable red, tribal marks, painted horizontally across the nose and cheeks of everyone. About their waists they wore broad, gaudily colored belts of beads from which were suspended their scarlet, blue, yellow or purple breech-cloths. String after string of variegated beads were wound about their chests and draped diagonally like bandoliers over their shoulders. Bands of silver encircled wrists, ankles and arms, and about their necks hung collars of silver and mother-of-pearl. In their ears dangled silver earrings, generally so enormous that they were tied together behind their necks. But most striking of all were their headdresses. Several were unpretentious enough to content themselves with fillets of beads, stuck with scarlet Hibiscus; the majority, however, were topped off with huge crowns of wood or bamboo, consisting of basketry frames in which bits of painted wood or split bamboo were inserted and which, at a short distance, had exactly the appearance of feather crowns, similar to those worn by the Indians of Brazil and Guiana.

When we set forth at daybreak for the neighboring village we were accompanied by quite a fleet of cayucas, laden with men, women, children, dogs, household utensils and provisions. There was, in fact, a general exodus, for the wedding, with its subsequent merrymaking and feasting as well as drinking, was to continue for a week.

After a journey of several hours we reached the village where a score or more of cayucas of every imaginable size and in every possible stage of decay and disrepair were drawn upon the bank. In these canoes and squatting on tree trunks were Indians, ablaze with color and gay with their most cherished ornaments. Our canoe was fairly lifted from the water and run far up the beach by the Indians who flocked about, chatting and laughing and begging for biscuits and other dainties.

The village lay just beyond the top of the river bank, a cluster of half a dozen thatched huts on stilts, all decorated with flowers, streamers of dyed cloth and gaily painted dance-fetishes or gods. In the centre of the village, a large, open shed of thatch had just been built; within it stood a small square platform of wood raised a few inches above the ground with a carved and painted post at each corner. Suspended from the roof above this platform was a strange contrivance consisting of several hoops of varying sizes to which were hung a number of wooden pendants gaily painted and roughly carved in the forms of human figures and of animals. As the peculiar object swung in the breeze, the wooden images swayed, knocked against one another and emitted a peculiar tinkling, musical sound. The platform proved to be the dancing stage and the dancers kept time to their steps by striking carved dance-sticks or wands against the tinkling pendants above their heads.

As soon as we reached the village great calabashes of chicha were passed around and, although this beverage looked far from appetizing, to refuse to drink would have been an insult to our hosts. I drank as moderately as possible, but the Chokois knew no such thing as moderation. They swallowed gallons of the chicha and were soon highly exhilarated and ready for the dance. In all this the women took no part. They merely stood about, laughing, looking on and clapping their hands or droning a weird song in time to the beat of the big drums, the shrill flutes and the sonorous tones of the Pan's pipes.

Suddenly, two men, dressed in all their finery, faced one another and commenced to dance. In their hands they carried calabash rattles and beautifully carved, dance-sticks of cocobolo. The beat of their feet upon the resonant platform, the tapping of their dance-sticks, the shaking of their rattles and the musical inkling of the dangling contrivance over their heads made a strange, rhythmical accompaniment to their steps. As soon as one man tired, he would dash from the platform, gulp down a calabash of chicha, and another man would immediately take his place. Hour after hour this continued until all the men had danced themselves into exhaustion; then the women took possession and, crowding one another on the dance platform, pranced, cavorted and shuffled about to their hearts' content. Finally the bride-to-be appeared, a young girl painted in a peculiar pattern of vivid scarlet and carrying a carved, wooden tray full of ears of corn. Followed by all the dancers, she walked to a newly built house, mounted the ladder, and squatting on the floor, commenced to shell the corn. Then, taking a portion of it, she pounded it in a wooden mortar, worked it into a dough with water and commenced to bake it over a fire which she kindled in a corner of the hut. The bridegroom then approached, hung his crown and weapons to a rafter, placed his sleeping-mat on the floor and, seating himself upon a low, wooden stool, accepted the corn-cake the girl offered him and started to eat it in silence. The girl then stole off to the river, returning a few moments later with her red paint washed off and replaced by designs in black. Apparently the wedding ceremony was now over, for there was no further dancing.

Long before sundown most of the Chokois were snoring soundly in semi-drunken stupors. It was evident that we had nothing further to gain by remaining, so we embarked in our cayuca and, heading up the Capetti, soon left our Indian friends far behind.

About noon the next day we rounded a bend and came suddenly upon a small, shed-like house on the summit of a steep bank. The yelping of dogs greeted us, and, an instant later, two strange figures appeared upon the bank and gazed at us curiously. Their straight aquiline noses, high foreheads, long heads and high cheek-bones were very different from the features of the Chokois, and their skin, save where it was hidden under broad patches of coal-black paint, was pale yellow instead of coppery brown. The costumes consisted of short, shirt-like, sleeveless tunics of gaudy colors in geometrical designs with trouser-like skirts of equally brilliant hues. Around their calves and ankles were tightly-bound bands of woven cotton, broad, gold bands encircled their arms, and in their noses hung triangular, gold rings. They were Kuna women—the first I had seen—and the younger of the two carried a naked baby upon her hip. Fortunately no man was present, and as the women were apparently ignorant of the purpose of a camera, I secured a number of photographs.

This was an unusual stroke of luck, for throughout my entire stay among the Kunas I was never afterwards permitted to take a picture of one of the women.

The two women, as well as the entire tribe on the Capetti, were, my boatmen informed me, "tame" Kunas. In other words, they were friendly and peaceable, and members of a sub-tribe quite distinct from their relatives in the "forbidden" district, who are known locally as the "wild" Kunas.

As usual, the yelping of mongrel curs first apprised us of the fact that we were nearing an Indian settlement, and, a moment later, a savage figure appeared for a second upon the bank and then ducked out of sight among the shrubbery. From this momentary glimpse, I should have taken him for the wildest of wild Indians. Painted as he was, inky black with huge, red circles around his eyes and mouth, he presented a frightful appearance; but there was no hostile movement, and, as the cayuca grated against the bank, several men, including the black-painted fellow, stepped out from the path. They appeared friendly enough and led us a short distance inland to a well-built house.

Unlike the Chokoi houses, those of the Kunas are walled with cane and are two stories in height. Near this main house was a smaller structure, which I later discovered served as the women's quarters. Harem-like, the women are segregated and never allowed to appear in daylight. Physically they seem very delicate and, according to the men are unable to withstand bright sun or to take long journeys. So, day in, day out, they remain in the semi-darkness of their separate buildings, weaving hammocks and cotton cloth, making their strange garments and preparing meals, until evening, when they steal forth to the river to bathe and procure water.

There were half a dozen men gathered in the main house and several more soon arrived. The place was well furnished, judged by Indian standards, and showed unmistakably that the Kunas were a race superior to the Chokois. The men's apparel, also, indicated a higher degree of civilization. They all wore trousers, most of them shirts, as well, and several had on odd tam-o-shanter-like head-coverings of finely woven, bright-colored cotton and pita-hemp fiber. In appearance they were distinctly and strikingly Mongolian. With their pale-yellow skins and almond-shaped eyes they bore no resemblance to any Indians I had ever seen. When they spoke, it was in the sing-song tones of the Chinese, and any one of them could readily have passed as a Chinaman.

But my ambition to explore the "forbidden" district was still unsatisfied. Finally I broached the subject, and the "tame" Kunas did their best to discourage me. They insisted that we would all be killed or driven back, adding that even they would not dare attempt to go beyond the Membrillo's mouth into the district of their wild kinsmen. I learned, however, that there were more Kuna villages on the Pukro, and, after a few days stay, headed down the Capetti and up the Tuira for the Pukro River.

Once beyond the Membrillo, we were in the "forbidden" district where we felt that at any moment we were liable to be welcomed by poisoned arrows from an unseen foe. We had no knowledge as to the location of the first villages, but, feeling sure that they would be situated on the tributaries rather than on the main river, I headed up a small stream, a day's travel beyond the Membrillo. Through this section the banks were covered with dense forests and the abundance of bird and animal life testified to the fact that it had never been disturbed by hunters. The creek itself was shallow and it required all the efforts of my men to drag and push the cayuca over the shoals and up the rapids. With no good camping spot in sight, we pushed on until nightfall, hoping to find some sandbar or open space. Then, without warning, we suddenly collided with a big canoe tied to the bank, and the next second shadowy figures sprang up about us. Our canoe was seized and dragged onto the shore and we found ourselves surrounded by Indians. In the darkness it was impossible to distinguish features or other details, but I could see that all the Indians wore their hair long, either hanging below the waist or looped in a huge mass on one side of the head, and I knew that we were among the "wild" Kunas at last.

Not a single one of them made an attempt to seize or even touch us; yet all were armed with bows and arrows, and, by means of broken Spanish and a few significant gestures, they made it plain that we were captives. With some leading the way and others following behind, we marched off through the jungle for a mile or more, and then, crossing a small stream, approached a group of houses. Here we were led to a good-sized hut; by the flickering light of a fire I could make out the faces of our captors, and a hideous-looking crew they were. Most of them wore shirts and breech-clouts, some appeared in ragged trousers only and a few were naked save for their loin-cloths; but all had been painted from head to foot in solid black, blue or scarlet with great circles of other colors about their eyes, and on every face a most unpleasant and savage expression glowered down on us. Not a member of our welcoming committee was able to speak or understand a word of Spanish, so apparently there was no means of communicating intelligently with our captors. Despite the uncertainty, not to say danger, of our predicament, I could not help laughing at the strange spectacle of a white man and two mulattos sitting in the center of a circle of savage Kunas in absolute silence, and evidently waiting for some miracle which would enable us to understand one another.

Presently the miracle arrived in the person of a huge, fat, but very dignified individual, clad in a cotton shirt and breech-clout, with a scarlet cotton cap surmounting the mass of hair looped up to one side of his head. Unlike the others, he was not painted, save for a red perpendicular line on his nose, but in his ears dangled heavy gold rings, and a necklace of cowries and gold bangles hung upon his chest. For a moment he looked us over gravely and then, seating himself in a hammock, he spoke to me in fairly good Spanish. His manner was so thoroughly pompous and judicial, and his questions so peremptory, that I began to feel like a criminal in a courtroom before the prosecuting attorney.

After questioning and cross-questioning me as to my intentions, my reasons for entering his district, my nationality and my past, present and future, he turned and addressed the other men assembled. At length, after a long and heated discussion, the chief asked me for my photographs of the Guiana Indians, and they all gathered about them, as excited as a lot of boys. It was evident that the old chief felt kindly disposed toward us, and, after his second speech, all the others, with the single exception of one evil-faced fellow, voted in our favor. As soon as our opponent was quieted, the chief informed me that I would be permitted to remain in the "forbidden" district for two weeks, with certain reservations: I was held responsible for my boatmen, who were confined to the immediate vicinity of the hut; I was forbidden to go about unaccompanied by Kunas, to take any photographs or attempt to approach the quarters of the women whom they guarded so jealously. We were allowed to remain on account of our photographs. According to these logicians, they could not very well exclude people who had been permitted to live among tribes more primitive than themselves. Later I learned that their only objection to photographs was the fear that in the pictures they would appear as naked as the Guiana Indians. After I convinced them that this would not be the case, a number of the men, including the chief himself, posed for me; but I was never allowed to photograph the women to their knowledge, although, by stealth and at the risk of my life, I did manage to secure a few pictures. During our visit among these Kunas I recognized in my hosts a most interesting and intelligent race. The chief, particularly, possessed an intelligence far surpassing that of any other Indian I have ever met. Still, despite his intellectual curiosity and, especially, his keen interest in the natural sciences, he was, fundamentally, as superstitious as the rest of his race.

In the course of our friendly discussions, the chief informed me that members of the tribe had, at times, visited the Panamanian settlements, carefully concealing their identity, for fear of retaliatory measures on the part of their hosts. But the promiscuity of the wild Kunas ends there. Until the end of our stay we heard the same story: that we were the first outsiders to gain access to their territory and remain among them. A stranger seldom attempts to enter the district, but, if he does, he is first warned off, and then killed, should he venture to return. Outrageously brutal as this may sound, one who has observed the results of contact with civilized man, as exemplified by the other Indians, can scarcely blame the Kunas for the stand they take, or begrudge them a secret admiration for their success in maintaining their independence and the purity of their stock. Approximately five thousand of this intrepid tribe are now dwelling in the "forbidden" district, with, possibly, another five hundred of the "tame" kinsmen scattered over the adjacent territory.

During my two weeks stay among the Kunas I secured a vast amount of data and valuable information. Try as I might, however, I was unable to induce them to sell or trade a single utensil, weapon, ornament or other article for my collections, with the exception of a splendid harvest god which they discarded on account of inefficiency.

At last, on the day before my departure, I decided to make one final attempt to secure some specimens of Kuna handiwork, and, knowing the almost universal unwritten law of the Indians, which decrees that a gift must be returned for a gift, I summoned all the men of the village and distributed everything I possessed among them. Beads, powder and shot, mirrors, knives, machetes, fish hooks, files, cotton cloth and other trade goods were divided and passed around; then came all my extra clothing, all the supplies I could spare, all my surplus ammunition, until, at last, I was reduced to the barest necessities and the garments I stood in. Impassively the Kunas received the presents and, without comments, departed to their various houses. I gave up in despair.

But the next morning, as we were preparing to leave, the old chief brought out a bundle of bows and arrows, a roll of the beautiful Kuna cotton cloth, a big drum and a gorgeous dress and presented them to me. Even as I was thanking him, another man arrived loaded with a hammock, a blow-gun, several musical instruments and a carved stool. For the next half hour I was busily occupied in accepting the gifts which were pressed upon me, until every article I had coveted, admired or attempted to secure was in the pile of presents which had accumulated.

And then, just as I thought the last had arrived, an ugly chap, who had wanted to slice off my feet, appeared. With a murderous leer which he intended for a smile, he handed me a magnificent basket. Within was a woman's dress, a number of the prized cowry-shell necklaces, several beautifully engraved calabashes, three of the odd, palm wood and fiber combs worn by the men and one of the closely woven and brightly colored headbands of the chiefs. All his former animosity was forgotten, and, as I thanked him for his gift, he fumbled in his garments. With a ludicrous expression of shyness upon his broad, yellow face, he handed me a tiny, exquisitely carved god of lignum vitae with eyes of uncut emeralds. It was his personal god, his most highly prized possession and the greatest pledge of friendship he could bestow, for he had given me the fetish to insure my safety and to protect me on my journey. I realized that in my former enemy I had, now, a steadfast, lifelong friend, that I, alone, of all white men, had won the confidence, the trust and the friendship of the wild Kunas and that, for me, henceforth, their country was no longer the "forbidden" district.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Tree That Grows While You Wait

Once again Alan has provided me with a story that I have been looking for some time. Even though I have read many works on tropical plants, this is very interesting.

A Tree That Grows As You Wait

By A. Hyatt Verrill

From St. Nicholas Magazine, October 1915, courtesy Alan Schenker, digitized by Doug Frizzle, August 2011

How many boys and girls have ever seen a plant grow? Not the kind of plant which springs from the seed planted by a magician or an East Indian fakir, but a real, bona-fide plant with green leaves, stout stalk, and roots embedded in old mother earth. It sounds like a fairy tale, and reminds one of Jack and his bean-stalk to think of such a thing; but, nevertheless, if the readers of St. Nicholas should visit the West Indies, they could actually watch a tree grow. The name of this tree which grows while you wait is familiar to every one, and its fruit may be seen in nearly every grocery store and at every fruit-stand, for this tropical "hustler" is the banana.

The banana-tree is a very interesting tree in many ways, but the rapidity with which it grows, under certain conditions, is its most remarkable peculiarity.

Even under ordinary conditions the banana-tree grows very rapidly, and in less than a year from the time that the tiny "sucker" is planted a tall, banner-leaved tree develops and bears its great bunch of luscious fruit; but even this marvelous growth (which would be like planting an apple-seed in the spring and in autumn of the same year picking apples from the tree produced by this seed) is slow and commonplace compared to that which the tree can attain under certain conditions.

If a good-sized, healthy banana-tree is cut off a few feet above the ground during the wet season, the tree will not die, but, nine times out of ten, will send up a new shoot from the centre of the trunk and will grow fast enough to make up for lost time, for within forty-eight hours it will rear waving green leaves triumphantly above the severed trunk.

It is when first starting this new growth that the tree can actually be seen growing, however, and the accompanying photographs were taken in order to show how rapidly the tree recovers from an injury and the manner in which the remarkable feat is accomplished.

In the first picture the big fleshy stalk, or trunk, is shown as it appeared when freshly cut at ten o'clock in the morning. Twenty minutes later, the centre of the trunk had pushed itself above the smooth surface of the cut and had grown nearly an inch in height, as shown in the second picture. Owing to a heavy tropical shower, no more pictures could be obtained for several hours, and I was obliged to seek shelter and leave the tree unobserved. At five in the afternoon the tree was again visited, when, lo and behold! a green shoot several feet in height rose proudly from the centre of the stalk, as shown in the third photograph. By the following afternoon the smooth, green shoot had unrolled, and four broad and perfect leaves waved above the old trunk as if in defiance of our efforts to check the upward growth of this ambitious tree. Thus, in thirty-one hours the plant had overcome an injury that would prove fatal to most trees, and had developed to a fairly respectable height, as shown by the fourth picture. A month later the new tree was as large and flourishing as before it was mutilated, and it was impossible to discover where the old trunk had been cut off.

Perhaps you wonder how it is that the banana-tree can thus produce a new growth from the centre of its trunk. The secret lies in the fact that the trunk of the banana-tree is not hard and woody like other trees, but is really composed of undeveloped leaves wrapped tightly together in a spiral form. When the tree grows, these rolled-up leaves push upward and merely unroll; thus no time is lost in forming buds and growing leaves as do ordinary trees. When the trunk is cut off, it doesn't interfere with the growth of the leaves, because they are always pushing up from the centre of the stalk. If you will roll a sheet of paper tightly and push against one end, you will see exactly how the leaves are pushed up from the trunk of the banana-tree, and, if you cut the roll in two, you will find that it doesn't prevent you from pushing out the centre of the roll as before.

Although the banana-tree repairs an injury so rapidly and well, the shoot formed from the cut stalk seldom bears fruit or flowers. As these shoots are taller and stronger than the original trees, however, they are much better adapted to withstand wind and storms, and the natives frequently cut off the banana-trees in order to force them to produce the strong, fruitless growth and to serve as wind-breaks for other crops.

Perhaps, now that I have told you about the rapid growth of this interesting tree, you may be anxious to learn more of the banana and its uses.

In the north we think only of the banana as a fruit, but, by the natives of the countries where it grows, it is used for a great many other purposes. The broad leaves, before they are torn and frayed by the wind, are often cut and used as umbrellas, and it is a funny sight to see a long line of natives walking along the road, each carrying a big, green banana-leaf above his head. After being dried, the leaves are made into thatch for houses and buildings, they are used as padding for harness and saddles, for packing about fruit and fragile articles, as bedding for horses and cattle, for chafing-gear on vessels' rigging, and for many other purposes. The fleshy trunks of the trees form a rich fertilizer for gardens and fields, and the fibres are made into ropes, lines, and cordage. In fact, the famous Manilla hemp is really the fibre of a species of banana. The fruit is eaten raw when ripe and cooked while green, and, in addition, it is dried and made into excellent flour. When fermented, bananas produce excellent vinegar, and a fiery liquor is also distilled from them.

We seldom see more than two varieties of bananas in the north,—the common yellow fruit and the red variety. Unfortunately these are two of the most inferior kinds. No one knows just how many varieties of bananas exist; but over three hundred occur in the West Indies, and among these may be found kinds to suit every taste and use. The most highly esteemed for eating when ripe are the tiny "fig bananas" or "lady-fingers'' a dainty variety scarcely four inches in length, with a skin as thin as paper and with sugary, highly-flavored pulp. There are also orange bananas, green bananas speckled with brown and red, bananas with streaks and spots of black, bananas with rough, warty skins, and scores of varieties of red and yellow bananas of every imaginable shape and size. The natives laugh at the idea of eating red bananas and think them the coarsest and most worthless of all, using them only as vegetables, when green, or as food for cattle and pigs. Unlike the ordinary banana, the red variety requires two years to mature, and, for this reason, they are not so widely grown and command a higher price than the yellow fruit.

Bananas have been cultivated for so many ages that they are now found throughout the tropics of the whole world, and, like many other cultivated fruits, the banana has almost lost the power of producing seeds. If you look carefully at the central part of the banana, you will find traces of tiny seeds, but these will not grow if planted, and nowadays bananas are all grown from the shoots, or "suckers," which spring from about the roots of the trees.

In planting a banana-tree, one of these shoots is placed in a hole in the earth, and, within a few months, it becomes a stout tree ten or twelve feet in height and six inches or more in diameter. Very soon a big conical pink bud appears among the leaves. Daily the bud expands and the flower-stalk grows outward, while the petals curve back and drop off, leaving behind each one a tiny "hand" of young and undeveloped fruit. Within nine to twelve months after the sucker is set out, the tree is fully grown and the big bunch of fruit is ready to cut. But, instead of cutting off the fruit, the entire tree is felled, for the banana bears but once in its lifetime. Long before the tree is cut, however, new stalks have sprung up around the base of the trunk, and each of these, if left undisturbed, would grow into a tree, bear its fruit and die down, while around each parent-stalk other suckers would spring up. As this would go on indefinitely until the soil was exhausted and the trees formed a veritable jungle, the banana-planters remove all but four or five of the shoots in each group. In thinning out the suckers, care is taken that those left are of various sizes and ages so that, while one is in fruit, another will be blossoming, another will be half grown, and still another will be just sprouting from the ground. In this way, the planter keeps a continual succession of bearing trees, which makes bananas a very profitable crop—even though each tree bears but once.

Bananas have many advantages over other trees and fruits aside from the rapidity of their growth and the fact that a crop may be gathered every month in the year. They are wonderfully free from disease and insect enemies, and a worm-eaten banana is rare indeed. Locusts are almost the only insects which injure the trees, and even these pests rarely cause serious damage. Weeds affect bananas very little, and, among the parasitic creepers, plants, and choking vines of the tropics, the banana-tree is able to hold its own, and flaunts its broad leaves and bears its bunches of golden fruit in defiance of its enemies.

Few people realize the enormous numbers of bananas which are brought into the United States, for we seldom see more than one or two bunches hanging in a shop at one time, and the price remains about the same at all seasons. If we visit the docks at Boston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, or New York, where the banana ships unload, we will be filled with wonder and surprise at the number of bunches which fill the holds of the ships. Each year there are some fifty million bunches brought into the United States, and, allowing one hundred bananas to the bunch, this means that over five billion bananas are consumed in our country each year. Most of these bananas are brought from Central America and Jamaica, but great quantities come from South America, Mexico, Cuba, San Domingo, and the other West Indian islands, and great fleets of steamships, thousands of miles of railways, countless river steamboats, enormous wharves, armies of men, and even entire towns and villages are devoted exclusively to the banana industry.

So abundant are bananas in their native lands that they form the chief article of food for many of the natives, and practically all the inhabitants of lands where the fruit grows eat bananas in one form or another at least once a day throughout their lives. A native must be poverty-stricken indeed to be so poor that he cannot afford a few banana-trees, and nearly every dooryard or garden contains at least one banana- or plantain-tree.

Plaintains are species of bananas which lack the sweet, delicate taste, and are eaten as vegetables either boiled, fried, baked, or mashed like potatoes; and as plantains and bananas may be purchased in their native lands at ten cents a bunch, the wolf finds few doors at which to knock in banana-land.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Englands Buried Treasures

Hyatt Verrill visited Great Britain with his family and published several of his books in England.

England's Buried Treasures

A boom in buried gold arouses thoughts of lost hoards


The Sun; Nov 26, 1933; The Baltimore Sun, collected by Alan Schenker, digitized by Doug Frizzle, August 2011.

With the world clamoring for gold, and the price of the yellow metal almost double its normal value, searching for lost treasures has aroused greater interest than ever before.

Pirates' hidden hoards, the secret treasures of Incas and Aztec, sunken galleons, wrecked liners, loot of conquest concealed by raiders fleeing from the vengeance of ravished Indians—all are being sought on land beneath the sea. Ancient maps and charts, traditions, fragments of history, fiction and fact, radio finders, hypnotism, divining rods—all are being employed by the seekers after these almost fabulous lost treasures.

Very possibly more money is being spent in the search than ever will be recovered, but there is a lure, a fascination about treasure hunting that is irresistible. It is a game rather than a profession, a gamble, to be sure, with the chances against the gambler; in most cases a matter of luck. But granted that the treasure is authentic and actually exists, and that there is historic, documentary evidence to indicate its hiding place, treasure seeking may become a practical business venture or an engineering problem. Such, for example, is the famous treasure of King John Lackland of England, which James R. H. Boone, formerly of Baltimore, now is reported to be seeking.


More than seven centuries have passed since that autumn day in 1210 when the treasure of King John was lost. For more than 700 years the gold and jewels and precious vessels have rested beneath the sands of the Norfolk coast. There is no question as to their existence and their loss, no question as to the general area in which they lie (for the facts are well known historically)—yet no attempt to recover them has been made until now. Very largely this is the result of the British law which has always provided that all treasure trove belonged to the crown, and it is a thankless task to spend time and money recovering lost treasures merely to have them seized by the authorities to enrich the Bank of England.

But recently the law has been somewhat modified, and if Mr. Boone is successful in locating King John's lost treasure he will doubtless add to his fortune.

It was when fleeing from his enemies that luckless King John lost the treasure. With infantry and cavalry, with long trains of pack horses, wagons and carts, carrying baggage, supplies and the riches of the court, King John attempted to take a short cut across the Wash of Welland, a shallow bay or estuary bare at low tide.

But the creaking carts, the burdened pack animals, the plodding carriers, the soldiers weighted down with armor found marching across the sands difficult and slow. Feet, hoofs and wheels sank deeply into the damp sand. Casting aside arms and armor, jettisoning baggage and provisions to lighten vehicles and beasts of burden, the men struggled to cross the treacherous wash ere the tide turned.


King John and a few followers reached the farther shore in safety, but before the carts and carriers, the horse and foot soldiers were more than half way across the estuary the tide came sweeping in from the sea. Like the hosts of Pharaoh, the army and the baggage trains were overwhelmed by the rapidly rushing waters. Here and there a man or a horse swam to the shore. But, weighed down with mail, many were drowned, the treasure-laden carts and pack animals sank deeper into the quicksands, and when at last the tide receded and the wash again stretched bare between the points of solid land there was scarcely a sign of the riches that had vanished in the gleaming wet sand.

No one can say what that lost treasure was worth, or what it would be worth today. History and tradition agree that King John had with him jewels, golden and silver vessels and utensils, the loot of battles and conquest.

Will the treasure be found? Can it be recovered? Who can say. To be sure, 700 years is a long time, and winds and tides and man have wrought great changes in the wash where King John's treasure was lost. According to Sir William St. John Hope, the exact spot where the treasure sank was where there is a line of sand dunes today, and quite close to the railway embankment between Sutton and Long Walpole. During the seven centuries that have passed since that fateful day in 1216 the coast of Norfolk has risen inch by inch from the sea. Where there were sand flats covered by the tides there are now dry sand dunes. If King John's treasure lies intact beneath these barren hills of wind-blown sand it is merely a question of steam shovels and dredges and the removal of countless tons of sand in order to remove it. But, on the other hand, the scouring tides, the winter's storms, the seas and the shifting sands may have scattered the treasure far and wide. It may have sunk slowly deeper and deeper, until it now lies hundreds of feet beneath the surface; or it may have been carried far from the spot where it was originally lost. So, after all, the search for King John's treasure resolves itself into a gamble.


That such an immense and authentic treasure should have remained practically unsought in a country like England may seem amazing and incredible to many. But, strangely enough, there are few if any countries in the world where there are so many lost, hidden and buried treasures the actual existence of which are borne out by history. And, in addition, there are countless traditional lost treasures which unquestionably exist, as well as many times more of a semi-fabulous or legendary character.

Among the most noteworthy of authentic lost treasures in England is the loot of Croyland and Peterborough. The history of this treasure is very similar, in its way, to that of the treasure of King John; it was lost in attempting to ford the River Nen. It was nearly four centuries before King John's treasure-laden army was overwhelmed by the tides of Welland Wash—in the year 870, to be exact— that raiding Vikings attacked and sacked Croyland, Peterborough and other towns. With two carts loaded to capacity with their loot of gems, silver and gold, the Norsemen headed for the coast where their long dragon-prowed boats were moored. But in fording the Nen the carts sank from sight in the mud and silt of the river bed, and not an ounce of gold nor a single jewel has ever been recovered.


ANOTHER English treasure whose existence is established by history is of more recent origin. This is the treasure hidden in the "Money Coppice" on King George's estate on the Isle of Wight. Although in this case the approximate location of the treasure—amounting to several thousand pounds sterling—is known, yet no one has ever been able to find it. This, however, is not so surprising as it may seem, for the owner who concealed the hoard hid it so effectually that he could not find it himself.

It was in the bloody and turbulent days of King Charles I that a stanch royalist, one Eustice Mann, decided that his fortune would be safer under ground than in strong boxes where it might fall into the hands of Cromwell's, forces. So at dead of night he dug a hole in the little wood on the island and buried his treasure in true piratical style. But quite obviously he forgot one important item which, according to tradition, the buccaneers never overlooked. He quite neglected to mark the hiding place of his wealth or to make a chart with crosses and bearings and similar symbols and cryptic ciphers, as all professional treasure hiders should do.

As a result of his carelessness when, with a King again on the British throne, friend Mann shouldered pick and shovel and entered the coppice to disinter his fortune, he discovered to his dismay that brush and saplings and weeds and grass had so altered the appearance of the patch of woods that he hadn't the remotest idea where he had interred the treasure. Although he dug and dug, and although many have searched the coppice since then, poor Eustace Mann's treasure still lies hidden in the mold of the "Money Coppice," and if ever it is found in all probability it will be by accident.

Still another historic treasure is that supposedly hidden in or near the keep of ancient Wallingford Castle. Today little of the old castle remains, aside from its half-ruined tower covered with a mantle of ivy. But the immensely strong stone walls that surrounded the castle grounds are still in perfect shape. There is no valid reason for doubting that the treasure was hidden there, for the castle's history is as old, as romantic and as filled with deeds of violence, of bloodshed and of intrigue as that of any old castle in Britain. But there is some reason to doubt that the hoard is still secreted on the grounds.

Several years ago a gardener employed about the castle devoted considerable time to digging in the earth about the ruined keep. Then one day he vanished completely, leaving behind him a steady job, his limited wardrobe and a goodly hole in the ground. Naturally the local inhabitants put two and two together and were convinced he did find a hidden hoard, and if so he showed rare judgment in decamping and saying nothing instead of broadcasting his find and being forced to turn it over to the Crown. But the chances are that if he did find treasure it was some small sum buried in time of stress or war and not the Wallingford treasure.


Far more romantic is the treasure reputed hidden on Cavesham Heights, near Reading, only a few miles from Wallingford Castle.

Here, from time immemorial, has been the famous Well of St. Anne, which, during the Middle Ages, was credited with miraculous powers and was one of the most revered and holy shrines of all Europe. Like the Lourdes of today it attracted pilgrims from far and near; the lame, halt and blind, cured of aches and ills by drinking the water of the well, cast offerings of gold and jewels into the shaft, until there was danger of its being choked by the accumulating mass of treasures. In time of peril, when invaders or enemies or the Cromwellian Roundheads threatened, the people hurried with their treasures to St. Anne's Well, and buried their riches in the earth near by, firm in the belief that even their foes would respect its sanctity. As far as known, the only treasures ever recovered have been a few stray coins which have been dug up from time to time.

Today the holy well is surrounded by modern houses and villas, and the top of the shaft is protected by an iron grating. Deemed unfit for drinking purposes, its miraculous waters are undisturbed, green with slime and foul with fallen leaves. As one goes into the dark moss and fern-grown stone shaft, it seems a most fitting repository for ancient treasures; one can almost vision the piles of golden trinkets, coins and jewels hidden under the black surface of the water. Perhaps some day the local officials will decide that the far-famed well is a menace to public health and, pumping it out, discover the mass of mud-and-slime-covered offerings made by devout pilgrims centuries ago. But on the other hand, the skeptical authorities may order the well filled in, in which case whatever the shaft holds will be lost forever.


Many—in fact, most—of the authentic historical treasures of Great Britain are those of the church, for in the troublous days of English history of centuries past the church was not only rich, but was forever the object of attack and looting by one faction or another. In order to safeguard their possessions in time of danger, the priests and monks sought to conceal their treasures in the most effective manner—which, of course, was burying them or dropping them into some convenient moat, pond or stream. In fact, judging by the pages of history, the clerics must have devoted most of their time to interring and disinterring their treasures.

Practice makes perfect, as the old saying tells us, and with so much practice at treasure hiding the priests became past masters of the art. As a result, very few of their many hidden treasures have ever been found. On the other hand, far more of their hidden hoards were recovered by their owners, once danger was past, than was the case with secular treasures—for the prelates and friars were not fighting men, and compared to the fatalities of civilians their losses were insignificant. Though monasteries, cathedrals, abbeys and churches might be burned or destroyed, there would always be monks or priests left to disinter or salvage their riches and to carry on until the next outbreak of hostilities. But now and again the vast treasures secreted by the churchmen were never recovered and still remain where they were hidden centuries ago.


Among such are the golden gates of the Glastonbury Abbey, hidden in 1535 at the time of the abolition of monastic orders. In addition to the golden portals, there was a treasure in golden vessels, silver and gold candelabra, altar pieces, minted coins and an enormous sapphire that belonged to the abbot of Glastonbury, who was executed by order of King Henry VIII. Tradition tells us that the worthy abbot invoked a most fearful curse on whosoever should disturb his hidden treasures, which may perhaps account for the fact that no one has ever found them. But more probably it is because no one can definitely say where the riches are concealed. The people of Caldey Island, off South Wales, believe that the Glastonbury treasure was brought from the mainland and buried on their isle. Hut it is more logical to assume that the treasure was buried or submerged within a short distance of the Abbey itself.


Then there is the treasure of Evesham Abbey, in Worcestershire. In addition to its other previous belongings, its jeweled chalices and crucifixes, its golden candelabra and altar pieces, the abbey boasted huge bells of solid silver.

Hidden in time of danger by the Abbot Lichfield, these have never been found. Local tradition assures us that the treasure was secreted in a subterranean passage under the River Avon, and that the secret tunnel since then has caved in, leaving no trace of its existence. But another and equally reasonable tradition is that the bells and the other valuables were dropped into the old moat about the abbey. In this case, they doubtless are still there, buried deep in the soft mud and silt and decomposed leaves, but not by any means beyond the possibility of salvage.

But perhaps the greatest of all the lost church treasures of Great Britain was that of St. Andrew's Cathedral in Scotland. Not only did the cathedral possess a vast treasure of its own in the form of sacred utensils and vessels, plate and jeweled objects, but, in addition, the spoils taken from the vanquished English at the Battle of Bannockburn were deposited in the cathedral. At the time of the bitter wars between the Catholics and Protestants the enormous treasure of the cathedral suddenly vanished. That priests had secreted it somewhere was obvious, but no trace of it could be found.

However, a secret underground tunnel once was discovered, with a hidden stairway leading downward. Again, in 1879, a search was made and a second subterranean passage leading to an opening outside the cathedral's grounds was found, but there was no trace of the lost treasure.


Even teeming London has its hidden treasures. During the fire of 1666 incalculable sums were buried and many were never dug up. By tradition, too, treasure is buried somewhere in the grounds of the historic Inner Temple, where it was hidden by the Knights Templar in the fourteenth century. Somewhere under the Tower of London lies another treasure of gold coins. There is another hoard in or near the Adelphi Arch.

From time to time laborers' picks or steam shovels excavating for new buildings disinter hoards of gold and precious gems from the muck of London's subsoil. Busy Longacre, Leicester Square, Soho and Cheapside, Mansion House Corner and Highbury Lambeth and Stepney, Piccadilly and Haymarket— every section of England's capital and its suburbs has yielded hidden treasure.

Marvelous objects are some of these: The model of a Roman galley wrought of solid gold. A golden altar of Diana. A gold chandelier weighing 1,000 ounces. Pots of ancient coins. Chests of golden plate. Bishops' golden mitres incrusled with gems. Silver objects innumerable. Caskets of jewels. Chalices and croziers blazing with precious stones. These are but a few of the precious objects unearthed in London. Yet it is safe to say that many more treasures still remain buried under the thoroughfares and buildings of the city.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.