MAPPING ABACO: A JOURNEY BACK TO THE c18


acaco-map-1778-crop

MAPPING ABACO: A JOURNEY BACK TO THE c18

From time to time I come across historic maps of the Bahamas in general and Abaco in particular. Many were included in a post I wrote some time ago about the maritime and geographic importance of Hole-in-the-Wall, HERE. Almost all pre-c20 maps of the Bahamas contain insights into the maritime and geo-political history of the islands that are worth investigating. One that recently caught my eye is a map dated 1778 from Italy, published in Venice, with the excellent title “Il Paese de’ Selvaggi Outauacesi, e Kilistinesi Intorno al Lago Superiore”, attributed to Antonio Zatta, John Mitchell and G T Raynal.  “The title translated, might read, “The Country of the Savage Ottowas and Christineaux on the shores of Lake Superior.” Except for Ile Royale, the large islands in the lake are fictitious. The somewhat distorted outline of southern Florida in the inset is in keeping with general lack of British knowledge about this area” Portinaro & Knirsch 

Zatta was a Venetian cartographer who produced some important maps in the 1770s and 1780s, including a 4-volume atlas of the world. Mitchell was a geographer and botanist, best known for the first comprehensive map of eastern North America (1755); Guillaume Thomas Raynal was a French writer and journalist most famous for his treatise on the ‘philosophical and political history of the establishment of commerce by Europeans in the the two Indies’, a work that was considered controversial (it was banned in France, and copies burned). 

THE COMPLETE MAP

Lake Superior, with the ‘Supplemento alla Florida Orientale’ inset – a strange juxtaposition…abaco-map-zatta-1778-sm

FOCUS ON FLORIDA

The ‘eastern Florida’ inset conveniently happens to include the northern Bahamas. Staying with Fl. for a moment, of note is the inclusion of C. Canaveral, spelled then as now. Key Biscayne is also shown. I wondered about the place marked Tartarughe Secche – ‘Dry Turtles’. It is now Dry Tortugas National Park. “Mostly water, this remote park features abundant marine & bird life plus a 19th-century fort. It comprises 7 islands, plus protected coral reefs. Garden Key is home to beaches and the 19th-century Fort Jefferson. Loggerhead Key has a lighthouse and sea turtles. On nearby Loggerhead Reef, the Windjammer Wreck, the remains of an 1875 ship, is a popular dive site. Bush Key is a nesting site for seabirds like sooty terns.”** I suspect that these coral reef islets were marked on maps in days before lighthouses because of the hazards they posed to navigation at sea; and because, like Hole-in-the-Wall on Abaco, they were useful navigation aids.

abaco-map-inset-italian-c18

ABACO & NORTHERN BAHAMAS

Unacknowledged in both the map and the inset titles, are the northern Bahamas islands. We can pass by Bimini, Andros and (Grand) Bahama which, apart from distinct oddities of scale, shape, and location are more or less as one might expect for the period. Let’s look at some details of the depiction of Abaco. 

acaco-map-1778-crop

  • ABACO(A) The first geographical jolt comes not from the well-known fact that historically, present-day Abaco was originally called Lucaya (or variations), but that (New) Providence was called Abacoa. Adding to the confusion, some early maps also show certain cays as ‘Abaco’, ‘Abacoa’, or in the case of Tilloo Cay in 1815, ‘Aboca’, possibly through errors or misunderstandings. This map is one of the few I have seen that shows both the mapped transition of Lucaya (or its variants) to Abaco; and of Abaco(a) to Providence. If anyone has any idea why this came about, I’d be pleased to know!
  • HITW? The next surprise is that Hole-in-the-Wall, an established and mapped nautical landmark for some decades, is not marked. Shown on maps since at least 1738, this is the first map I have found – other than the most basic – that does not feature HITW (in whatever language) or ‘Lighthouse Point’. An odd omission.
  • PORTO PICCOLO’s inclusion is interesting because it continues a tendency – eg 1738, Couvens & Mortier – to show Little Harbour as the only named settlement, though by 1778 there must have been others. LH was clearly a place of some significance, and this presumably had a nautical explantation: the harbour is perfectly placed to offer protection and a safe refuge in stormy weather.
  • CANAL DELA BALENA refers to what, by the early c20, was called ‘Whale Cay Channels’ (below), by which time it was more accurately mapped. Other c18 maps also show ‘Chenal Whale’ and ‘Whale Channel’, but considerably north of the actual location. But in those days, even the outline of Abaco and the location of the cays was usually endearingly wonky.whale-cay-abaco-map-crop
  • BARRA DI DUCHTWRECK I haven’t been able to find out much about this location, or the wreck that gave it its name. A map by Thompson (1815) calls it ‘Dutch Wreck Bar’, and I can only assume that at some time in the early c18 – or even the c17 – a Dutch vessel came to grief on the reef. I need to look into this more. Someday. Oddly, the modern Italian for a reef is barriera not barra. Maybe the word has changed over time, or the usage barra then was colloquial; or perhaps in mapping terms it was a generally accepted abbreviation.
  • I MIMBRES This reef or shoal area of is usually mapped as Matanilla Reef, Maternillo Bank or Reef, or variants. In 1656 this area – presumably dangerous for shipping – was the scene of a dramatic tragedy involving a treasure ship, the flagship of a fleet. I dug up reports of the events in Portugese which baffled ‘Google Translator. I was bailed out by an article about treasure hunter Robert Marx and his findings:

shipwreck-ac-marxshipwreck-ac-marx-copy-2bahamabank-1

If you have got this far at all, or even with the assistance of 2 or 3 Kaliks, thanks for bearing with me. The old Abaco maps are fascinating, and of course once one begins to dig, so more stuff emerges… and so on.

Credits: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, http://www.davidrumsey.com / Cartography Associates – in particular for licensing non-commercial use of material via a Creative Commons License; magpie pickings from multiple open-source sites.

**Dry Tortugas National Park review comments are eclectic and include “Crystal clear water, lots of wildlife, nice people and such a cool fort”; “The Dry Tortugas area first gained significance after the War of 1812” and “Constant nice breeze and comfortable night time temperatures for sleeping.”

ABACO’S WRECKS INVESTIGATED: SS HESLEYSIDE


SS Hesleyside (wreck), Schooner Bay Abaco (Keith Salvesen) O4

ABACO’S WRECKS INVESTIGATED: SS HESLEYSIDE 

Abaco, like many of the islands of the Bahamas, has its fair share of wrecks around its shores – both ancient and modern. I reference some of these under my RANDOM menu, with some maps, links, and general information. One that I didn’t include is the SS Hesleyside, a wreck that lies broken and wave-tossed on the rocks at Schooner Bay. To reach it, you will have to arrange at the entrance for a golf-cart to take you down to the shore. The price for your transport may be an invitation to take a tour of the community there, an ambitious enterprise that was started about 10 years ago.

charlton_steamship_co_charlton_mcallum_co_ltd_charlton_w_cflag

From where the Hesleyside lies, you get a long view across to Delphi, some 3 miles to the north. Delphi Club from Schooner Bay

For the energetic, you can walk the beach of Guinea Schooner Bay all the way to Delphi. However, the unpopulated strand is covered in seaweed (good for wildlife, though) and horrendous quantities of plastic, from micro off-cuts to macro bollards, oil containers and so forth. Frankly rather off-putting.

Guinea Schooner Bay, Abaco Beach Debris, Abaco

We visited Schooner Bay on a bright day with a strong wind that whipped up the waves all along the shoreline, with clouds of spray rather detracting from the photographic possibilities. The tide was high, and the remains of the wreck were at times barely visible. 

The bow, part of the central section towards the stern, and some sort of boiler (?) at the sternSS Hesleyside (wreck), Schooner Bay Abaco (Keith Salvesen) O1 copy

charlton_steamship_co_charlton_mcallum_co_ltd_charlton_w_cflag

SS Hesleyside was a British cargo ship built in 1900 in Sunderland, England for the Charlton Steamship Co. (Charlton, McAllum). Steam-powered, the 2600 ton vessel was more than 300 foot long.  In 1908 she was was sailing from the Azores to Key West when bad weather struck, and on 1st October high winds – described in contemporary reports as a hurricane –  drove her aground where her remains now lie, a part of the coastline known as the ‘Iron Shore’. Fortunately the crew were able to escape, and there was no loss of life.

SS Hesleyside (wreck), Schooner Bay Abaco (Keith Salvesen) O7SS Hesleyside (wreck), Schooner Bay Abaco (Keith Salvesen) O3SS Hesleyside (wreck), Schooner Bay Abaco (Keith Salvesen) O5

A dramatic account of the shipwreck was published in the New York Times. The hero of the crisis was fireman Jack Thompson, who with notable courage volunteered to swim ashore with a line, by which the rest of the crew were able to make their way to safety.

Report from the New York TimesSS Hesleyside NYT report (Coconut Telegraph) jpg

charlton_steamship_co_charlton_mcallum_co_ltd_charlton_w_cflag

In accordance with standard practice, a Court of Inquiry was held in Nassau two weeks after the event to investigate the circumstances. The Master was exonerated of blame, having “tried every means of getting the ship under control without effect”.  SS Hesleyside 5 Report (Abaco Palms)

One interesting nautical and topographical note  is that the site of the wreck is described as “about 18 miles north of Hole in the Wall”. The navigational importance of HITW as a landmark was known from as early as the c17, and it was the first location to be named in the earliest maps of Abaco. For a detailed history of HITW in maps, click HERE

Nautical Map, 1856, showing the seas around ‘Le Trou dans le Mur’, and the lighthouseNautical Map 1857
Hesleyside details wrecksite.euSS Hesleyside details (wrecksite.eu / Tony Allen) [the date is wrong]

charlton_steamship_co_charlton_mcallum_co_ltd_charlton_w_cflag

WHO, WHAT OR WHERE IS HESLEYSIDE?

It’s a place in Northumberland, UK – inland, but not very from where the ship was built. Many of the Charlton ships began with an H and ended in …side. It was – and is – a common practice to have a naming theme for vessels. 

Hiram; SS 'Hesleyside'; Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/ss-hesleyside-35255

THE WRONG SORT OF HESLEYSIDE

I got quite excited when I thought I had tracked down a painting in the Sunderland Museum of the SS Hesleyside. After all, there could hardly be two steam ships with the same name, could there? Wrong. There were in fact 3 ‘Charlton’ Hesleysides in all. There is some coincidence (but not necessarily ‘irony’, Alanis Morissette) that all 3 were wrecked.

Hesleyside (1) 

86089 

 

1882 

688 

Ex-Turgenief, 1882 purchased from Baxter & Co, Sunderland r/n Hesleyside, 24.7.1893 wrecked at Sosnowetz.

Hesleyside (2) 

110353 

 

1900 

2631 

4.10.1908 wrecked at Abaco, Bahamas.

Hesleyside (3) 

133508 

 

1912 

3994 

1933 sold to P. Hadoulis, Andros, 1935 sold to M. Sitinas, Andros, 24.5.1940 torpedoed and sunk in 48.30N 09.30W by U.37

The rather glamourised painting shown above shows Hesleyside Mark 3 her glory days. She was built in 1912 but was sold in 1933 to a Greek company and renamed SS Kymas. Under that name she was torpedoed by a U-boat in May 1940, and 7 of her crew of 30 were killed.  The photo below (which took me a long time to decide was the same Helseyside) shows a much more steamery, freightery looking vessel… 

hesleyside_40

Sources of information: plimsoll.org; NY Times; http://wrecksite.eu / Tony Allen; coconuttelegraph.net; http://www.abacopalms.com; Wiki; Sunderland Museum http://www.artuk.org/artworks/ss-hesleyside-35255; magpie pickings from all over the place.