Map of Abaco (part) - van Keulen 1728


I’ve posted several times about the desolate, unpopulated area on the southern tip of Abaco known as Hole-in-the-Wall. It’s a place of history and mystery – indeed arguably the most historically, geographically and nautically important location on the entire island. The material in this post has to an extent been combined from earlier posts a couple of years back, since when a great many more people have been showing an interest in the wildlife and history of Abaco (thanks!) and may be new to the history and significance of HITW…

Although Abaco is identifiably – though not geographically reliably – mapped from as early as 1550 (only 58 years post-Columbus), the earliest map of Abaco showing any actual named place is the van Keulen map of 1728 in the header picture. The importance of HITW (‘Hole Rok’ marked on the east side) is clear. Indeed it is the only settlement shown. Thereafter, the place is mapped variously as Hole-in-the-Rock, Trou dans la Roche and Hole-in-the-Wall, before finally settling on the last name. HITW was clearly a significant nautical landmark from at least the c16. You can read more on this topic at HITW – A SHORT HISTORY IN MAPS

Incidentally, note the early spellings including of the word ‘Cay’ as ‘Kee’ in the bottom right corner – doubtless an explanation for the pronunciation today, when one might otherwise rhyme the word with ‘Bay’.


The print above, dated 1803, is the earliest depiction of HITW that I have traced. For now, note the familiar ‘Hole’ between the two ships; and the outcrop to the right showing that another, larger ‘Hole’ had, by the early c19, collapsed. Remains of the outcrop, now badly eroded, can still be seen. Read more about pictures of HITW in SHIPS, MAPS & HITW , or in HOLE TO GAP, including a more recent print by Winslow Homer (below) which I contend is the proof that his famous painting ‘Glass Window’ in the Brooklyn Museum is of Abaco and not (as claimed elsewhere) the famous Glass Window on Eleuthera. Of which more another time…

Hole-in-the-Wall Picture

The sad fact is that although the name lives on and probably always will, in October 2012 Hurricane Sandy smashed the Hole in the Wall to smithereens, leaving what one can best describe as GAP IN THE WALL.

Here is the position of the Hole, shown before Sandy struck. Note the outcrop at the tip (bottom right corner), as seen in the old print above hole-in-the-wall-rock-abaco-location

One of very few photos taken from the sea that I have come across. There’ll be more, and much closer, in the next post Hole-in-the-Wall distance shot

The view from the lighthouse down to the ‘Land’s End’ promontory (RH)Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

An aerial view of ‘Land’s End’ (with thanks to marinas.com for free use permission)Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse, Abaco annotated

The Hole, very shortly before Hurricane Sandy blasted away the bridge – the perfect place for a picnic…Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco ©Jessica Arrington

Or, as the storm approaches, maybe not…. Jack Bowers took this wonderful (and dangerous to acquire) sea-level shot – possibly the last photo ever of the intact arch427937_4820129308023_1041770732_n

Photos of the ‘Ex-Hole Now Gap’ taken within a very few days of the storm. Note the pale fresh stone HOLE-IN-THE-WALL ABACO post Sandy 1 Luc LavalleeHOLE-IN-THE-WALL ABACO post Sandy 2 Luc LavalleeHOLE-IN-THE-WALL ABACO post Sandy 3 Tara Lavallee

This post covers the history of Hole-in-the-Wall over the last 400 years or so, with links to earlier posts from a couple of years back. Then there’s a bit of a gap, I’m afraid, back to the LATE PLEISTOCENE EPOCH roughly 125,000 years ago when the landmass was formed… 

PART 2 will show how the ‘Hole’, the promontory and the lighthouse now look in 2015 from the ocean. During a recent highly successful whale-watching expedition with Charlotte & Diane from the BMMRO, we took the RHIB close to the point and took a seaward look at it from both sides, the first time I had done so. A few days before we’d been to Hole-in-the-Wall for birdwatching purposes by conventional means – the thirty mile round trip by truck along the track from the ‘Y’ of the Highway (NB no hire cars allowed). You can read an early post about this perilous adventure in TO THE LIGHTHOUSE…

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL LIGHTHOUSE: THE LANTERN ROOMHole-in-the-Wall, Abaco - Lantern Room (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: S. Wright, RH, marinas.com, Jessica Arrington, Jack Bowers, Luc Lavallee, Tara Lavallee, open source images




A ‘heads-up’ from the excellent ABACO SCIENTIST shows the devastating power of a hurricane-force wind, even at Cat 1 level. After centuries, the eponymous Hole-in-the-Wall has been blasted by Sandy into a Gap-in-the-Wall. Abaco has acquired a new islet, as yet to be named (I propose ‘Sandy Isle’… Or maybe ‘Storm Rock’). The photo below is by Justin Sands, and shows the new view of the southeastern extremity of Abaco. There was until recent times a very similar rock formation on Eleuthera, the Glass Window. It, too, was smashed by a storm and a new road bridge had to be built to link the separated parts (see end of post for image).

This is what the same view looked like until last week, with the ‘bridge’ still standing

Here is a very good close shot by well-known and all-knowing Abaco nature guide Ricky Johnson. There won’t be any more photos like this now… You can see what a large amount of combined wind and wave force it must have taken to blow the bridge apart.

The landmark lighthouse and defunct outbuildings at Hole-in-the-Wall sit just north of a promontory, a sort of Land’s End jutting into the ocean between Abaco and New Providence. The road to it is 15 miles of deteriorating surface through the pine forest of the National Park, and is not for the faint-hearted… see TO THE LIGHTHOUSE

A while ago I traced the history of Abaco, and in particular Hole-in-the-Wall, in maps. I got back as far as 1584 for Abaco itself, a map by Ortelius where Abaco appears as ‘Haraco’ and the geographical relationships are… vague.

The first mention of Hole-in-the-Wall that I managed to trace was on a map by Couvens in 1737. The name is shown as ‘Hole in the Rock’, and that name alternated with the present one in both English and French, with variations, until settling on ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ in the c20.

To see the full cartographical post see HISTORY OF ABACO / HOLE IN THE WALL IN MAPS

I also researched the pictorial history of Hole-in-the-Wall. Eventually I came across what may be the first pictorial representation of the Hole in the Wall. It is a fascinating aquatint from 1803 by J. Wells, published in The Naval Review and based on a sketch by a ship’s officer that accompanied a description of the southern end of Abaco for the Review. To put the picture’s age into perspective, it was completed 2 years before Nelson’s decisive victory against the combined French and Spanish navies at Trafalgar.

If you are still awake & would like to see the full post, click HOLE IN THE WALL: 1803 DESCRIPTION & AQUATINT


The other notable depiction of Abaco is a print made by (or in conjunction with) the famous artist Winslow Homer, at the time that he was commissioned to produce work in the Bahamas in the 1880s. This print is the subject of ongoing research by myself and others. It is called ‘On Abaco Island’ and clearly shows the Hole in the Wall as we knew it until last week.

Winslow Homer also produced a well-known painting, the original of which is in the Brooklyn Museum, entitled ‘Glass Windows’. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to conclude that the painting is based almost exactly on the view in the print. Even if one ignores the geological evidence (eg the structural detail of the rock at the apex of the arch), note the cloud formations that match perfectly. The print predates and was the template for the painting. If the print was the result of Homer’s time in the Bahamas and an undocumented (?) visit ‘On Abaco Island’, so must the painting be…

However, the Homer / Brooklyn painting ‘Glass Windows’ is generally identified with the similar ‘rock hole’ formation on Eleuthera that is actually known as the Glass Window. As I mentioned earlier, the Eleuthera formation suffered the same fate in a storm, and a new road bridge now connects the two sides.Picture credit http://www.eleuthera-map.com (see also http://www.abacomapbahamas.com)

It isn’t easy to tell whether there is any geological similarity between rock structure in the painting and the Glass Window on Eleuthera. However the contention (mine, anyway) is that the Winslow Homer painting ‘Glass Windows’ is of the Hole in the Wall, Abaco and should be recognised as such. The poignancy of last week’s events at HitW – the loss of a well-loved island feature that can never be replaced – arguably makes the thesis more significant.

One further nugget in support of the case is that I have very recently discovered contemporary written evidence that in the second half of the c19, around the time that Homer was working in the Bahamas, the Hole in the Wall, Abaco was known locally as the ‘glass window’. That would explain Homer’s naming of the painting based on the Abaco print, and strengthens (concludes?) the argument that it is, indeed, of Abaco and not Eleuthera. QED. Repatriate Winslow!