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.
STOP PRESS March 2017 Thanks to the many people currently viewing this post & sharing it around. It was written, of course, before Hurricane Sandy converted the Hole into a Gap. There are links at the bottom of the page to some posts relating to the new ‘Gap-in-the-Wall’. In 2015 I went on the BMMRO research RHIB close to the hole / gap. If you are interested in the story and close- up photos, you’ll find them at HITW UNIQUE PERSPECTIVES ONE (past) and TWO (present & future).
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 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.
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…
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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.
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