“GLIMPSES OF LIFE ALONG A CORAL REEF” A c19 NATURALIST VISITS ABACO


GLIMPSES OF LIFE ALONG A CORAL REEF by F. H. HERRICK

This post is aimed at those with a particular interest in the flora and fauna – especially avifauna – of Abaco and its Cays. It is a naturalist’s account from 1886 of an expedition to Abaco, interspersed with a few line drawings. It’s an easy read if you are interested in Abaco, its history, and the state of natural life on the islands 125 years ago. Those who have come to this site for the photos and / or even the occasional jest are warned to expect neither. However, to tempt waverers I’ll highlight below (by way of a quiz) some intriguing aspects of the 9-page article. I have had to edit it to correct the many ‘literals’ in the open-source material; however the c19 spellings are retained. I’ve also added coloured subject-matter codes as follows: PLACE NAMES; BIRDS; PLANTS; FISH; CREATURES

In 1886, Herrick visited Abaco with a party of naturalists. This trip predated by 3 years the publication of Charles Cory’s groundbreaking ‘Birds of the West Indies‘. There would have been scant readily-available published material about the natural history of the Bahamas, let alone of Abaco itself. Herrick and a friend left the main party and went on their own wider explorations of Abaco with two local guides. Herrick recorded their findings, which were subsequently published in ‘Popular Science Monthly‘ in 1888. In Herrick’s wide-ranging account of the adventure you will find the answers to the following 15 questions. If any one of them whets your appetite to read this historic account, press the link below the quiz!

  • What fruit might you have found growing in fields on Abaco in 1886?
  • What was the local name for the perforated rock at Hole-in-the-Wall?
  • What is an “egg-bird”?
  • What was causing “the gradual extermination” of flamingos?
  • What were “shanks” and “strikers”?
  • To what human use were Wilson’s Terns put?
  • How many eggs does a tropic-bird lay?
  • What law prevented the shooting of tropic-birds, and indeed any other bird, by naturalists?
  • What sort of creature is a “sennet”?
  • Which was rated the better for eating – grouper or ‘barracouta’ (sic)?
  • Who or what is or are “grains”?
  • What common creature had a burning touch like a sharp needle?
  • What bird was reckoned to have the call ‘loarhle-ee’ ?
  • What – or indeed who – was described as a “pilepedick”?
  • What creature laid 139 eggs?

ABACO NATURAL HISTORY Popular Science Monthly Volume 32 January 1888

ABACO & HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, BAHAMAS: A SHORT HISTORY IN MAPS


ABACO & HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, BAHAMAS: A SHORT HISTORY IN MAPS

To begin with, here is a fabulous recent photograph of the actual Hole-in-the-Wall taken by well-known Abaco nature tour guide Ricky Johnson. This picture inspired me to delve into the history of Abaco and its the southernmost extremity, to see how far back it can be traced; and how the island’s recorded history has evolved since the Columbian era.(Photo Credit: Ricky Johnson)

I started by trying to establish the earliest map, and the earliest mention of Hole-in-the-Wall. I don’t have access to written archival material, so I looked instead at historic maps of the Caribbean / Bahamas / Lucayas. The very earliest, from the late c16, simply depict the Bahama Islands / Lucayas as rather random-looking blobs which bear little relation to their actual geographical location or their shape. The islands mostly have quite different names, or variants of familiar spellings. Over the course of 5 centuries, one can trace the progress of place names to those used today – including of Abaco itself. The gradual development of settlements can also been seen – at Little Harbour, Crossing Rocks and ‘Cheeric Sound’, for example, as well as on the ‘Keys’.

The trail starts in the c16. The earliest map I have so far found is the Abraham Ortelius map of 1592, which is a good example of the rather basic map-making of the time. It is quite hard – near impossible – to relate the position of ‘Haraco’ to the other islands depicted.

ADDENDUM I have now uncovered an even earlier and far more ambitious map published in 1550 by the Spanish cartographer Diego Gutiérrez. His incredibly intricate map, for the period, is decorated with volcanos, mermaids, monkeys, and variety of fantastical sea creatures. The first image is a detail of the whole map, showing the Bahamas, a sea monster, and a graphic shipwreck. I have also included an image of the whole map so that the extraordinary range and complexity of this early map can be seen in its entirety.

This colourful and charming 1679 map shows that a very basic style of mapping was still common in the c17

This famous map by A.M.Mallet from 1683, with its enjoyable sea battle vignette, is another good example of the very general nature of the maps, although the design and draftsmanship has advanced considerably

Things become much clearer and more detailed in the c18. The relationship of the islands to each other is shown in geographic reality; and many more details and place names are included. The earliest specific reference to Hole-in-the-Wall (as it now is) that I have so far found is in a 1738 map by Johannes Couvens & Cornelius Mortier. ‘Abaco’ is now spelled as we know it, with ‘Hole in the Rock’ clearly marked. Little Harbour is mentioned, as are 2 ‘Keys’, presumably indicating settlements. 

A 1750 map by Robert of Paris shows the southern tip of Abaco as ‘Trou dans le Roc’. You’ll have to trust me on this – the writing is tiny and impossible to enlarge legibly. The French name is not just because the map maker was French, but probably because it was the name given by French settlers who are believed to have lived in that part of Abaco in the c18 (and quite possibly earlier). Many more settlements are shown, especially on the Cays.

The Cartographer Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, in a 1764 map, also used the french name, though in the plural ‘Trou dans les Roches’, as this much enlarged portion of his ‘Cartes des Isles Lucayes’ shows. Little Harbour – ‘Petit Havre’ – is again included as a distinct settlement, and a few Cays are also named.

John Blair’s map of 1779, below, shows clearly ‘the Hole in the Rock’ – indeed, it is the only named place on Great Abaco. The southern end of Florida looks worryingly fragmented…

For the new century, a map by George Cook dated 1800 shows the first appearance of Little Abaco as a separate entity. Again, Hole in the Rock is the only place on Great Abaco that is marked. Maybe this evidences a continuing significance as a navigation aid.

The good clear map by Thompson dated 1815 provides plenty of excellent detail hitherto lacking in maps of the northern Bahamas. Another name for Hole-in-the-Wall has crept in, shown as ‘Hole of the Rock’. There are some oddities here. A ‘Rocky Point’, usually associated with the south west coast below Sandy Point, is marked on the east coast. Little Harbour is shortened to L.H., indicating perhaps that it had become a familiar enough settlement to warrant abbreviation – unless it stands for Light House, referring to the long-defunct lighthouse there… The word ‘Kay’ is used, a half-way house between the earlier ‘Key’ and the later ‘Cay’. The positions of the Kays seems (now) amusingly off-cay – indeed the relative scales to the main island are quite strange. Green Turtle Cay is some way nor’-nor’-west of Little Abaco…

Harrison’s much simpler map in 1818 also uses ‘Hole of the Rock’, which is the only place shown.                              

As the  c19 progressed, far more sophisticated and detailed map-making – including nautical charts – was undertaken. This extract from a much larger chart by Edmund Blunt from 1827 is the first mapped reference I can find of the name change from ‘Rock’ to ‘Wall’. It is also the earliest I have found Crossing Rocks mentioned on a map, though apparently as a shipping warning rather than an indication of a viable settlement. Walt Disney has yet to visit ‘Key Gorda’.

A new name for the southern extremity entered the scene in 1833 on Thomas Starling’s map of the West Indies. The tip is simply called ‘Light Ho. Pt’, with no reference to Holes, Rocks or Walls – an interesting variation (see below). I have found no other instances of this name.

The interest lies in the fact that the evidence suggests that the Lighthouse at Hole-in-the-Wall was not actually completed until 1836, yet Starling was specifically referencing it 3 years earlier. One could deduce that there was already a basic lighthouse of some description there, soon to be superseded; or perhaps that construction of the Lightstation had already commenced in 1833, and Starling was confident of its eventual completion and wanted to be ahead of the competition… On the left is the notice at the lighthouse station today.

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For a time, maps continued to use ‘Rock’ rather than ‘Wall’ – the 1843 Findlay map has reverted to ‘Hole in the Rock’. Great and Little Abaco are again separately named.

In 1857, a very detailed nautical chart of the area was published. The survey seems to have been carried out by the British Navy for the French, and now detailed depth measurements enter the picture. It seems that new techniques have recently been discovered. I have used only one of the 3 areas mapped, a detail of the southern tip of Abaco. Here, in french, we are back to ‘Wall’ rather than ‘Rock’. For the first time, the lighthouse and associated lightstation buildings have been included, but I haven’t been able to decipher the words in brackets under ‘Phare’.

Mitchell, in a far more basic (pretty border though) 1872 map,reverts to ‘Hole in the Rock’

Two near-identical maps were published in the late c19: the first, by Hardesty, New York, in 1884; the second, by Rand McNally, in 1890. Extracts are shown below, side-by-side. This time, both clearly show ‘Hole in the Wall’. Cay is still spelled ‘Key’. And for the first time I have seen, Cherokee gets a mention as ‘Cheeric’ or ‘Cheerie’ Sound.

      

In the final year of the c19, George Cram of Chicago pubished the most ambitious map of the region so far. By 1899 shipping routes were so well-established that they could be added to maps, increasing their usefulness and therefore sales. He’s back to ‘Hole in the Rock’, though. The names of the Cays are more familiar here, and Pelican Harbor is now included. Cherokee is still in its early form.

The c20 saw the use of the name ‘Hole in the Wall’ becoming predominant, as shown on this Waterlow’s map from 1919. The map also uses the modern-day ‘Cherokee Sound’; and surprisingly this is the first map I came across that names Marsh Harbour (and also Wilson City). The map also marks all Bahamas lighthouses (oddly, although ‘Hole in the Wall’ is marked on a similar map from that period by Harrison & Sons, the red dot for the lighthouse is missing there – presumably in error, since the lighthouse was well-established and functioning at that time). I am left wondering when the hyphens became included in ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’. They are not universal, I have noticed, but seem to be the preferred usage nowadays, making the place a lot more niggly to type!

To end with, a photo of the lighthouse (now automatic) and some of the abandoned buildings. For an account of an intrepid trip to this part of South Abaco CLICK ===>>> ‘TO THE LIGHTHOUSE…

  • This post is by no means exhaustive, and any suggestions, additions or corrections are welcome by way of the COMMENT box or by email to rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com
  • Apologies for the very small writing on many of the maps, but in most cases it was not possible to enlarge the image further without also making the written details illegible. 
  • The photos, apart from Ricky’s, are mine. Acknowledgement is given to the variety of sources used for the map extracts, which come mainly from catalogues / sales advertising or open online archives. Any problems? Let me know!

POST SCRIPT: I am very grateful to Marinas.com for permission to download this wonderful aerial image of Hole-in-the-Wall lighthouse and its outbuildings, looking towards the southern tip of Abaco. They have generously enabled a completely cost and watermark-free download. I have added the © detail. Thanks, guys. 

AFTERTHOUGHT I have received a query as to exactly where the eponymous Hole in the Wall, or Rock, can be found in relation to the lighthouse. At the foot of the page is an annotated map which I should no doubt have provided in the first place. The consensus of those who have walked to it (I haven’t yet) is that you’d be well advised to wear walking shoes / boots. Mary Wallace Chamie in a recent POST (check out the link for her VG photos, of which I have included 2 small tasters) says this:

“At first the hike was easy as we followed a cement path through a maze of sea grapes and then hiked further down until we reached the beach.  We took a left at the beach and started hiking across limestone that was full of potholes and sharp edges.  We walked carefully through the maze until we reached a point where we could finally see the Hole in the Wall.

    We then headed back across the limestone craters and up the hill to the lighthouse.  One suggestion I have to any beach comber who takes this hike.  Wear your walking shoes! ” 

To which I can now add this ‘distance shot’ from the sea, which makes it all completely clear. I have contacted the photographer via Panoramia but had no reply. Credit as annotated. If you are the photographer, Hi!. And if you object to its inclusion, please let me know and I’ll remove it…

 

LINKS TO OTHER HOLE-IN-THE-WALL POSTS

ABACO HISTORY: SHIPS, MAPS & HOLE-IN-THE-WALL

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL ABACO: HISTORIC 1803 DESCRIPTION & AQUATINT

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL TO GAP-IN-THE-WALL: HURRICANE SANDY SMASHES ABACO LANDMARK 

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL BEFORE SANDY DEMOLITION: FIRST & LAST EVER IMAGES

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, ABACO: THE ‘HOLE’ THAT’S NO LONGER A WHOLE

HOLE-IN-THE WALL ABACO: “MIND THE GAP” – A NEW ISLET IS BORN