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Mibiri CreekMibiri Creek - The House of Mr Charles Edmonstone

In Demerara, Waterton met his future father-in-law, Charles Edmonstone, and they became firm and lasting friends.

Mr. Edmonstone's home was at Warrow's Point* on Mibiri Creek. Charles Waterton always found that his health recovered during his stays at Mibiri creek. Edmonstone became a most valued friend;his nephew, Archibald, also showed Waterton great kindness and hospitality. Archibald knew much about the local wildlife and the forest. Many years later Waterton recalled that he still had Archibald's catalogue in which he described nearly 70 trees found in the Mibiri Creek locality, including their eventual size, qualities, uses and their Indian names.
■ More about Mibiri Creek in the Guyana Gallery, page 6.

(* Warrows Point. Perhaps a reference to the Warows.
"There are five principal nations or tribes of Indians in ci-devant Dutch Guiana, commonly known by the name of Warow, Arowack, Acoway, Carib and Macoushi. They live in small hamlets, which consist of a few huts, never exceeding twelve in number. These huts are always in the forest, near a river or some creek." Wanderings, Third Journey, Chapter 2, Native Indans.)

Click to enlargeLieutenant Colonel Thomas Staunton St. Clair recounts his meeting with Charles Edmonstone during his travels in the West Indies and America in 1806 to 1808 (2) .

The following extract from his book (2) sets the scene:

"The Negro huts, standing on top of a hill, presently appeared in view, and we soon arrived at this wood-cutting settlement. We found the owner standing at the edge of the water, ready to receive the governor, knowing the boat the moment he saw it. He told me, he had ordered his cook to prepare a good dinner, on hearing the distant repoart of our gun. (a short while before, a member of the party had shot a bird a 'tiger-bird' - going by the description on p. 172, a rufescent tiger-heron (tigrisoma lineatum) )

On ascending the hill to his house, several parrots in couples flew over our heads, crossing the savannah to their roosting places, every now and then making a muttering noise, as if in conversation with each other; and, though the house was small and old, ...... we found ourselves perfectly happy in Mr. Edmonstone's pleasant company. ... I presently had a fine view of all the buildings on this woody property, and, seating myself on the stump of an old tree, I drew the sketch from which the annexed engraving has been executed. In the foreground stood a fine cockarito, or wild cabbage, with one or two negroes, and their wives and children to the right a little way below them. The fine feathery grass raised its head, like ostrich-plumes far above the waters of the savannah; while two egrets, beautifully white, were below fishing. The lowest building on the right hand was the boat-house; that above it, the dwelling house, with an enclosed garden, filled with fruit trees; and on the top of the hill were the Negro huts, with some cocoa-nut trees. The whole was backed and encompassed by an evergreen forest, which perhaps cannot be surpassed, even in the west Indies.

The manicol and various species of palm, each beautiful in its kind, adorned the scene. Little birds of the brightest colours, flying from tree to tree, were displaying their splendid plumage to the sun, whilst their pendulous nests were seen hanging from the extremities of the branches; some deep, and open at the top; others, with an aperture in their sides; and others, still more cautiously constructed, with the entrance at the bottom, and having a curious passage nearly to the top, where the eggs were deposited."

Click to enlargeSt. Clair sketched this scene while visiting Edmonstone's settlement. In left foreground, two male slaves are cutting wood, next to them are "their wives and children." In the very lower right hand corner is the boat-house, above it the main dwelling house, "and on the top of the hill were the Negro huts, with some cocoa-nut trees"

Waterton's wife, Anne, was the daughter of Charles Edmonstone and Helen Reid. Helen was the daughter of a Scot, William Reid, and Princess Minda, the daughter of an Arowak chief.

Waterton and Anne married in 1829, first in Brugge (Bruges), Belgium, and then in Sandal Magna, Yorkshire. A dark and exotic creature, Anne Waterton died shortly after giving birth to a son, Edmund - the couple's only child. Charles was overcome with grief and could not bear to talk about his young wife throughout the remainder of his long life.

Anne's two sisters, Helen and Eliza, described by Charles Darwin as "mulatresses", remained with Charles Waterton as his housekeepers and joint foster mothers to his son. These ladies, whom he loved and regarded as his own sisters, stayed with Waterton until his death and, had he had his way, they would have kept Walton Hall, but his son Edmund thought differently.

John Edmonstone - Darwin's Negro Bird-Stuffer
When Charles Edmonstone returned to Scotland, he was accompanied by John Edmonstone, a freed black slave who made his living in Edinburgh teaching university students the art of taxidermy. He lived at 37 Lothian Street in Edinburgh, just a few doors down from where Charles Darwin and his brother, Erasmus, lived. John learned his trade from Charles Waterton, who had met him at the Edmonstone's house in Guyana - then Demerara. Darwin employed John at the rate of 1 guinea (i.e. £1/1/- or £1.05) an hour when he heard that he was a protégé of Waterton.

"I am going to learn to stuff birds, from a blackamoor, I believe an old servant of Dr. Duncan: it has the recommendation of cheapness, if nothing else, as he only charges one guinea, for an hour every day for two months." Charles Darwin, in a letter to Susan Darwin, 29th January 1826. (3)


■ More about John Edmonstone in the "Wanderings"

■ Read more about John Edmonstone in Darwin's Negro Bird-Stuffer, R. B. Freeman. (PDF).
Published 1 August 1978. Notes and Records, the Royal Society Journal of the History of Science.

Amazon Conservation TeamMy thanks to Mark Plotkin of the Amazon Conservation Team, for drawing my attention to Freeman's interesting article about John Edmonstone. The team is presently active in Suriname, Colombia & Brazil - Protecting the Amazon in partnership with indigenous people.

~~~

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Staunton St. Clair recounts his meeting with Charles Edmonstone during his travels in the West Indies and America in 1806 to 1808 [2]. The then Lieutenant St. Clair set sail on 25th November 1805 from Greenock on the armed merchantman Brilliant (Vol 1. p 58), and after a voyage of 39 days arrived at Stabroek on 3rd January 1806 (Vol. 1, p. 88). He left on 9th June 1808 on board the Fanny of London to commence his next adventure.

1."Some Account of the Writer of the Following Essays", by himself. Charles Waterton writing at Walton Hall on 30/12/1837 and published in the First Series of his Essays on Natural History, Chiefly Ornithology, 1857 (new edition).
2. Thomas Staunton St. Clair, A Soldier's Recollection of the West Indies and America: With a Narrative of the Expedition to the Island of Walcheren, A Residence in the West Indies and America (London, 1834), in 2 volumes.
3. The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, Volume 1, 1826 - 1836, edited by Frederick Burkhardt and Sydney Smith, Cambridge University Press, 1985. ISBN 0 521 25587 2.

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