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Waterton's Wanderings.
The Wanderings - The Third Journey, 1820.
Chapter 4
Chapter 4 Pages

• 1  • 2  • 3  • 4  • 5 • 6 • 7 • 8 • 9

⮞⯈ Chapter 1 ⮞⯈ Chapter 2 ⮞⯈ Chapter 3

THIRD JOURNEY in Waterton's own words ...continued ...

▼ Chapter 4, p. 1.

Fishing for a Cayman. A shark-hook useless. Sting-rays. Turtle and Guana Nests. Numbers of eggs. Another failure. Meeting a Jaguar. Guard against fever. More failures. A native hook and way of baiting. The Cayman's dinner-bell. Caught at last. How to secure the reptile. Mounting a Cayman. An improvised bridle. Skin and teeth of the Cayman. Embarkment for England. Collision with the Custom House.



Click to enlargeFishing for a Cayman.
About an hour before sunset we reached the place which the two men who had joined us at the falls pointed out as a proper one to find a cayman. There was a large creek close by and a sandbank gently sloping to the water. Just within the forest, on this bank, we cleared a place of brushwood, suspended the hammocks from the trees, and then picked up enough of decayed wood for fuel.
(The cayman in the picture was photographed in Georgetown in 2012.)

The Indian found a large land-tortoise, and this, with plenty of fresh fish which we had in the canoe, afforded a supper not to be despised.

The tigers had kept up a continual roaring every night since we had entered the Essequibo. The sound was awfully fine. Sometimes it was in the immediate neighbourhood; at other times it was far off, and echoed amongst the hills like distant thunder.

It may, perhaps, not be amiss to observe here that when the word tiger is used it does not mean the Bengal tiger. It means the jaguar, whose skin is beautifully spotted, and not striped like that of the tiger in the East. It is, in fact, the tiger of the new world, and receiving the name of tiger from the discoverers of South America it has kept it ever since. It is a cruel, strong and dangerous beast, but not so courageous as the Bengal tiger.

A shark-hook useless.
We now baited a shark-hook with a large fish, and put it upon a board about a yard long and one foot broad which we had brought on purpose. This board was carried out in the canoe, about forty yards into the river. By means of a string long enough to reach the bottom of the river, and at the end of which string was fastened a stone, the board was kept, as it were, at anchor. One end of the new rope I had bought in town was reeved through the chain of the shark-hook and the other end fastened to a tree on the sandbank.

It was now an hour after sunset. The sky was cloudless, and the moon shone beautifully bright. There was not a breath of wind in the heavens, and the river seemed like a large plain of quicksilver. Every now and then a huge fish would strike and plunge in the water; then the owls and goat-suckers would continue their lamentations, and the sound of these was lost in the prowling tiger's growl. Then all was still again and silent as midnight.

The caymen were now upon the stir, and at intervals their noise could be distinguished amid that of the jaguar, the owls, the goat-suckers and frogs. It was a singular and awful sound. It was like a suppressed sigh bursting forth all of a sudden, and so loud that you might hear it above a mile off. First one emitted this horrible noise, and then another answered him; and on looking at the countenances of the people round me I could plainly see that they expected to have a cayman that night.

We were at supper when the Indian, who seemed to have had one eye on the turtle-pot and the other on the bait in the river, said he saw the cayman coming. Upon looking towards the place there appeared something on the water like a black log of wood. It was so unlike anything alive that I doubted if it were a cayman; but the Indian smiled and said he was sure it was one, for he remembered seeing a cayman some years ago when he was in the Essequibo.

At last it gradually approached the bait, and the board began to move. The moon shone so bright that we could distinctly see him open his huge jaws and take in the bait. We pulled the rope. He immediately let drop the bait; and then we saw his black head retreating from the board to the distance of a few yards; and there it remained quite motionless.

▲ Chapter 4, p. 1.

▼ Third Journey - Chapter 4, p. 2.

He did not seem inclined to advance again; and so we finished our supper. In about an hour's time he again put himself in motion, and took hold of the bait. But probably suspecting that he had to deal with knaves and cheats, he held it in his mouth but did not swallow it. We pulled the rope again, but with no better success than the first time.

He retreated as usual, and came back again in about an hour. We paid him every attention till three o'clock in the morning, when, worn out with disappointment, we went to the hammocks, turned in and fell asleep.

When day broke we found that he had contrived to get the bait from the hook, though we had tied it on with string. We had now no more hopes of taking a cayman till the return of night. The Indian took off into the woods and brought back a noble supply of game. The rest of us went into the canoe and proceeded up the river to shoot fish. We got even more than we could use.

As we approached the shallows we could see the large sting-rays moving at the bottom. The coloured man never failed to hit them with his arrow. The weather was delightful. There was scarcely a cloud to intercept the sun's rays.

I saw several scarlet aras, anhingas and ducks, but could not get a shot at them. The parrots crossed the river in innumerable quantities, always flying in pairs. Here, too, I saw the sun-bird, called tirana by the Spaniards in the Oroonoque (Orinoco), and shot one of them. The black and white scarlet-headed finch was very common here. I could never see this bird in the Demerara, nor hear of its being there.

Turtle and Guana Nests.
We at last came to a large sandbank, probably two miles in circumference. As we approached it we could see two or three hundred fresh-water turtle on the edge of the bank. Ere we could get near enough to let fly an arrow at them they had all sunk into the river and appeared no more.

Numbers of eggs.
We went on the sandbank to look for their nests, as this was the breeding- season. The coloured man showed us how to find them. Wherever a portion of the sand seemed smoother than the rest there was sure to be a turtle's nest. On digging down with our hands about nine inches deep we found from twenty to thirty white eggs; in less than an hour we got above two hundred. Those which had a little black spot or two on the shell we ate the same day, as it was a sign that they were not fresh, and of course would not keep; those which had no speck were put into dry sand, and were good some weeks after.

At midnight two of our people went to this sandbank while the rest stayed to watch the cayman. The turtle had advanced on to the sand to lay their eggs, and the men got betwixt them and the water; they brought off half a dozen very fine and well-fed turtle. The eggshell of the fresh-water turtle is not hard like that of the land-tortoise, but appears like white parchment, and gives way to the pressure of the fingers; but it is very tough, and does not break. On this sandbank, close to the forest, we found several guana's nests; but they had never more than fourteen eggs apiece. Thus passed the day in exercise and knowledge, till the sun's declining orb reminded us it was time to return to the place from whence we had set out.

Another failure.
The second night's attempt upon the cayman was a repetition of the first, quite unsuccessful. We went a-fishing the day after, had excellent sport, and returned to experience a third night's disappointment. On the fourth evening, about four o'clock, we began to erect a stage amongst the trees close to the water's edge. From this we intended to shoot an arrow into the cayman: at the end of this arrow was to be attached a string which would be tied to the rope, and as soon as the cayman was struck we were to have the canoe ready and pursue him in the river.

Meeting a Jaguar.
While we were busy in preparing the stage a tiger began to roar. We judged by the sound that he was not above a quarter of a mile from us, and that he was close to the side of the river. Unfortunately the Indian said it was not a jaguar that was roaring, but a couguar. The couguar is of a pale, brownish-red colour, and not as large as the jaguar. As there was nothing particular in this animal I thought it better to attend to the apparatus for catching the cayman than to go in quest of the couguar. The people, however, went in the canoe to the place where the couguar was roaring. On arriving near the spot they saw it was not a couguar, but an immense jaguar, standing on the trunk of an aged mora-tree which bended over the river; he growled and showed his teeth as they approached; the coloured man fired at him with a ball, but probably missed him, and the tiger instantly descended and took off into the woods. I went to the place before dark, and we searched the forest for about half a mile in the direction he had fled, but we could see no traces of him or any marks of blood; so I concluded that fear had prevented the man from taking steady aim.

▲ Chapter 4, p. 2.

▼ Third Journey - Chapter 4, p. 3.

We spent best part of the fourth night in trying for the cayman, but all to no purpose. I was now convinced that something was materially wrong. We ought to have been successful, considering our vigilance and attention, and that we had repeatedly seen the cayman. It was useless to tarry here any longer; moreover, the coloured man began to take airs, and fancied that I could not do without him. I never admit of this in any expedition where I am commander; and so I convinced the man, to his sorrow, that I could do without him, for I paid him what I had agreed to give him, which amounted to eight dollars, and ordered him back in his own curial to Mrs. Peterson's, on the hill at the first falls. I then asked the negro if there were any Indian settlements in the neighbourhood; he said he knew of one, a day and a half off. We went in quest of it, and about one o'clock the next day the negro showed us the creek where it was.

The entrance was so concealed by thick bushes that a stranger would have passed it without knowing it to be a creek. In going up it we found it dark, winding, and intricate beyond any creek that I had ever seen before. When Orpheus came back with his young wife from Styx his path must have been similar to this, for Ovid says it was

Arduus, obliquus, caligine densus opaca,

and this creek was exactly so.

When we had got about two-thirds up it we met the Indians going a-fishing. I saw by the way their things were packed in the curial that they did not intend to return for some days. However, on telling them what we wanted, and by promising handsome presents of powder, shot and hooks, they dropped their expedition and invited us up to the settlement they had just left, and where we laid in a provision of cassava.

Guard against fever.
They gave us for dinner boiled ant-bear and red monkey: two dishes unknown even at Beauvilliers in Paris or at a London city feast. The monkey was very good indeed, but the ant-bear had been kept beyond its time: it stunk as our venison does in England; and so, after tasting it, I preferred dining entirely on monkey. After resting here we went back to the river. The Indians, three in number, accompanied us in their own curial, and, on entering the river, pointed to a place a little way above well calculated to harbour a cayman. The water was deep and still, and flanked by an immense sandbank; there was also a little shallow creek close by.

On this sandbank, near the forest, the people made a shelter for the night. My own was already made, for I always take with me a painted sheet about twelve feet by ten. This thrown over a pole, supported betwixt two trees, makes you a capital roof with very little trouble.

We showed one of the Indians the shark-hook. He shook his head and laughed at it, and said it would not do. When he was a boy he had seen his father catch the caymen, and on the morrow he would make something that would answer.

More failures.
In the meantime we set the shark-hook, but it availed us naught: a cayman came and took it, but would not swallow it.

Seeing it was useless to attend the shark-hook any longer, we left it for the night and returned to our hammocks.

Ere I fell asleep a reflection or two broke in upon me. I considered that as far as the judgment of civilised man went, everything had been procured and done to ensure success. We had hooks and lines and baits and patience; we had spent nights in watching, had seen the cayman come and take the bait, and after our expectations had been wound up to the highest pitch all ended in disappointment. Probably this poor wild man of the woods would succeed by means of a very simple process, and thus prove to his more civilised brother that, notwithstanding books and schools, there is a vast deal of knowledge to be picked up at every step, whichever way we turn ourselves.

In the morning, as usual, we found the bait gone from the shark-hook. The Indians went into the forest to hunt, and we took the canoe to shoot fish and get another supply of turtle's eggs, which we found in great abundance on this large sandbank.

We went to the little shallow creek, and shot some young caymen about two feet long. It was astonishing to see what spite and rage these little things showed when the arrow struck them; they turned round and bit it: and snapped at us when we went into the water to take them up. Daddy Quashi boiled one of them for his dinner, and found it very sweet and tender. I do not see why it should not be as good as frog or veal.

▲Chapter 4, p. 3.

▼ Third Journey - Chapter 4, p. 4.

Cayman hook

A native hook and way of baiting.
The day was now declining apace, and the Indian had made his instrument to take the cayman. It was very simple. There were four pieces of tough, hardwood a foot long, and about as thick as your little finger, and barbed at both ends; they were tied round the end of the rope in such a manner that if you conceive the rope to be an arrow, these four sticks would form the arrow's head; so that one end of the four united sticks answered to the point of the arrowhead, while the other end of the sticks expanded at equal distances round the rope, thus:

Cayman hook [From the Wanderings 1893 edition,
published by Thomas Nelson & Sons. ]

Now it is evident that, if the cayman swallowed this (the other end of the rope, which was thirty yards long, being fastened to a tree), the more he pulled the faster the barbs would stick into his stomach. This wooden hook, if you may so call it, was well-baited with the flesh of the acouri [see glossary], and the entrails were twisted round the rope for about a foot above it.

Nearly a mile from where we had our hammocks the sandbank was steep and abrupt, and the river very still and deep; there the Indian pricked a stick into the sand. It was two feet long, and on its extremity was fixed the machine: it hung suspended about a foot from the water, and the end of the rope was made fast to a stake driven well into the sand.

Cayman hook in place. [From the Wanderings 1893 edition,
published by Thomas Nelson & Sons.]

The Cayman's dinner-bell.
The Indian then took the empty shell of a land-tortoise and gave it some heavy blows with an axe. I asked why he did that. He said it was to let the cayman hear that something was going on. In fact, the Indian meant it as the cayman's dinner-bell.

Having done this we went back to the hammocks, not intending to visit it again till morning. During the night the jaguars roared and grumbled in the forest as though the world was going wrong with them, and at intervals we could hear the distant cayman. The roaring of the jaguars was awful, but it was music to the dismal noise of these hideous and malicious reptiles.

Cayman Caught at last.
About half-past five in the morning the Indian stole off silently to take a look at the bait. On arriving at the place he set up a tremendous shout. We all jumped out of our hammocks and ran to him. The Indians got there before me, for they had no clothes to put on, and I lost two minutes in looking for my trousers and in slipping into them.
We found a cayman ten feet and a half long fast to the end of the rope. Nothing now remained to do but to get him out of the water without injuring his scales: "hoc opus, hic labor."

We mustered strong: there were three Indians from the creek, there was my own Indian Yan, Daddy Quashi, the negro from Mrs. Peterson's, James, Mr. R. Edmonstone's man, whom I was instructing to preserve birds, and lastly myself.

▲ Chapter 4, p. 4.

▼ Third Journey - Chapter 4, p. 5.

How to secure the reptile.
I informed the Indians that it was my intention to draw him quietly out of the water and then secure him. They looked and stared at each other, and said I might do it myself, but they would have no hand in it; the cayman would worry some of us. On saying this, "consedere duces," they squatted on their hams with the most perfect indifference.

The Indians of these wilds have never been subject to the least restraint, and I knew enough of them to be aware that if I tried to force them against their will they would take off and leave me and my presents unheeded, and never return.

Daddy Quashi was for applying to our guns, as usual, considering them our best and safest friends. I immediately offered to knock him down for his cowardice, and he shrunk back, begging that I would be cautious, and not get myself worried, and apologising for his own want of resolution. My Indian was now in conversation with the others, and they asked if I would allow them to shoot a dozen arrows into him, and thus disable him. This would have ruined all. I had come above three hundred miles on purpose to get a cayman uninjured, and not to carry back a mutilated specimen. I rejected their proposition with firmness, and darted a disdainful eye upon the Indians.

Daddy Quashi was again beginning to remonstrate, and I chased him on the sandbank for a quarter of a mile. He told me afterwards he thought he should have dropped down dead with fright, for he was firmly persuaded if I had caught him I should have bundled him into the cayman's jaws. Here, then, we stood in silence like a calm before a thunderstorm. "Hoc res summa loco. Scinditur in contraria vulgus." They wanted to kill him, and I wanted to take him alive.

I now walked up and down the sand, revolving a dozen projects in my head. The canoe was at a considerable distance, and I ordered the people to bring it round to the place where we were. The mast was eight feet long, and not much thicker than my wrist. I took it out of the canoe and wrapped the sail round the end of it. Now it appeared clear to me that, if I went down upon one knee and held the mast in the same position as the soldier holds his bayonet when rushing to the charge, I could force it down the cayman's throat should he come open-mouthed at me. When this was told to the Indians they brightened up, and said they would help me to pull him out of the river.

"Brave squad!" said I to myself. "'Audax omnia perpeti,' now that you have got me betwixt yourselves and danger." I then mustered all hands for the last time before the battle. We were four South American savages, two negroes from Africa, a creole from Trinidad, and myself a white man from Yorkshire. In fact, a little tower of Babel group, in dress, no dress, address, and language.

Daddy Quashi hung in the rear. I showed him a large Spanish knife which I always carried in the waistband of my trousers: it spoke volumes to him, and he shrugged up his shoulders in absolute despair. The sun was just peeping over the high forests on the eastern hills, as if coming to look on and bid us act with becoming fortitude. I placed all the people at the end of the rope, and ordered them to pull till the cayman appeared on the surface of the water, and then, should he plunge, to slacken the rope and let him go again into the deep.

I now took the mast of the canoe in my hand (the sail being tied round the end of the mast) and sunk down upon one knee, about four yards from the water's edge, determining to thrust it down his throat in case he gave me an opportunity. I certainly felt somewhat uncomfortable in this situation, and I thought of Cerberus on the other side of the Styx ferry. The people pulled the cayman to the surface; he plunged furiously as soon as he arrived in these upper regions, and immediately went below again on their slackening the rope. I saw enough not to fall in love at first sight. I now told them we would run all risks and have him on land immediately. They pulled again, and out he came -- "monstrum horrendum, informe." This was an interesting moment. I kept my position firmly, with my eye fixed steadfast on him.

Mounting a Cayman. An improvised bridle.
By the time the cayman was within two yards of me I saw he was in a state of fear and perturbation. I instantly dropped the mast, sprung up and jumped on his back, turning half round as I vaulted, so that I gained my seat with my face in a right position. I immediately seized his fore-legs, and by main force twisted them on his back; thus they served me for a bridle.

He now seemed to have recovered from his surprise, and probably fancying himself in hostile company he began to plunge furiously, and lashed the sand with his long and powerful tail. I was out of reach of the strokes of it by being near his head. He continued to plunge and strike and made my seat very uncomfortable. It must have been a fine sight for an unoccupied spectator.

The people roared out in triumph, and were so vociferous that it was some time before they heard me tell them to pull me and my beast of burden farther inland. I was apprehensive the rope might break, and then there would have been every chance of going down to the regions under water with the cayman. That would have been more perilous than Arion's marine morning ride:

Delphini insidens vada cærula sulcat Arion.

▲Chapter 4, p.5.


▼ Third Journey - Chapter 4, p. 6.

The people now dragged us above forty yards on the sand: it was the first and last time I was ever on a cayman's back. Should it be asked how I managed to keep my seat, I would answer, I hunted some years with Lord Darlington's fox-hounds.

Capturing the cayman. (Wanderings in South America, Charles Waterton, Unit Library Ltd., London, 1903

The people now dragged us above forty yards on the sand: it was the first and last time I was ever on a cayman's back.
(Wanderings in South America, Charles Waterton, Unit Library Ltd., London, 1903)
More pictures of this incident - and the cayman, click here.
■ The cayman on display in Wakefield Museum.


After repeated attempts to regain his liberty the cayman gave in and became tranquil through exhaustion. I now managed to tie up his jaws and firmly secured his fore-feet in the position I had held them. We had now another severe struggle for superiority, but he was soon overcome and again remained quiet. While some of the people were pressing upon his head and shoulders I threw myself on his tail, and by keeping it down to the sand prevented him from kicking up another dust. He was finally conveyed to the canoe, and then to the place where we had suspended our hammocks. There I cut his throat; and after breakfast was over commenced the dissection.

Now that the affray had ceased, Daddy Ouashi played a good finger and thumb at breakfast: he said he found himself much revived, and became very talkative and useful, as there was no longer any danger. He was a faithful, honest negro. His master, my worthy friend Mr. Edmonstone, had been so obliging as to send out particular orders to the colony that the Daddy should attend me all the time I was in the forest. He had lived in the wilds of Demerara with Mr. Edmonstone for many years, and often amused me with the account of the frays his master had had in the woods with snakes, wild beasts and runaway negroes. Old age was now coming fast upon him; he had been an able fellow in his younger days, and a gallant one, too, for he had a large scar over his eyebrow caused by the stroke of a cutlass from another negro while the Daddy was engaged in an intrigue.

Skin and teeth of the Cayman.
The back of the cayman may be said to be almost impenetrable to a musket- ball, but his sides are not near so strong, and are easily pierced with an arrow; indeed, were they as strong as the back and the belly, there would be no part of the cayman's body soft and elastic enough to admit of expansion after taking in a supply of food.

The cayman has no grinders; his teeth are entirely made for snatch and swallow: there are thirty-two in each jaw. Perhaps no animal in existence bears more decided marks in his countenance of cruelty and malice than the cayman. He is the scourge and terror of all the large rivers in South America near the line.

One Sunday evening, some years ago, as I was walking with Don Felipe de Ynciarte, Governor of Angustura, on the bank of the Oroonoque, "Stop here a minute or two, Don Carlos," said he to me, "while I recount a sad accident. One fine evening last year, as the people of Angustura were sauntering up and down here in the Alameda, I was within twenty yards of this place when I saw a large cayman rush out of the river, seize a man, and carry him down before anybody had it in his power to assist him. The screams of the poor fellow were terrible as the cayman was running off with him. He plunged into the river with his prey; we instantly lost sight of him, and never saw or heard him more."

I was a day and a half in dissecting our cayman, and then we got all ready to return to Demerara.

It was much more perilous to descend than to ascend the falls in the Essequibo.

The place we had to pass had proved fatal to four Indians about a month before. The water foamed and dashed and boiled amongst the steep and craggy rocks, and seemed to warn us to be careful how we ventured there.

I was for all hands to get out of the canoe, and then, after lashing a long rope ahead and astern, we might have climbed from rock to rock and tempered her in her passage down, and our getting out would have lightened her much. But the negro who had joined us at Mrs. Peterson's said he was sure it would be safer to stay in the canoe while she went down the fall. I was loath to give way to him, but I did so this time against my better judgment, as he assured me that he was accustomed to pass and repass these falls.

▲Chapter 4, p.6.


▼ Third Journey - Chapter 4, p. 7.

Accordingly we determined to push down: I was at the helm, the rest at their paddles. But before we got half-way through the rushing waters deprived the canoe of all power of steerage, and she became the sport of the torrent; in a second she was half-full of water, and I cannot comprehend to this day why she did not go down; luckily the people exerted themselves to the utmost, she got headway, and they pulled through the whirlpool: I being quite in the stern of the canoe, part of a wave struck me, and nearly knocked me overboard.

We now paddled to some rocks at a distance, got out, unloaded the canoe and dried the cargo in the sun, which was very hot and powerful. Had it been the wet season almost everything would have been spoiled.

After this the voyage down the Essequibo was quick and pleasant till we reached the sea-coast: there we had a trying day of it; the wind was dead against us, and the sun remarkably hot; we got twice aground upon a mud- flat, and were twice obliged to get out, up to the middle in mud, to shove the canoe through it. Half-way betwixt the Essequibo and Demerara the tide of flood caught us, and, after the utmost exertions, it was half-past six in the evening before we got to Georgetown.

We had been out from six in the morning in an open canoe on the sea-coast, without umbrella or awning, exposed all day to the fiery rays of a tropical sun. My face smarted so that I could get no sleep during the night, and the next morning my lips were all in blisters. The Indian Yan went down to the Essequibo a copper-colour, but the reflection of the sun from the sea and from the sandbanks in the river had turned him nearly black. He laughed at himself, and said the Indians in the Demerara would not know him again. I stayed one day in Georgetown, and then set off the next morning for headquarters in Mibiri Creek, where I finished the cayman.

Here the remaining time was spent in collecting birds and in paying particular attention to their haunts and economy. The rainy season having set in, the weather became bad and stormy; the lightning and thunder were incessant; the days cloudy, and the nights cold and misty. I had now been eleven months in the forests, and collected some rare insects, two hundred and thirty birds, two land-tortoises, five armadillos, two large serpents, a sloth, an ant-bear and a cayman.

Embarkment for England.
I left the wilds and repaired to Georgetown to spend a few days with Mr. R. Edmonstone previous to embarking for Europe. I must here return my sincerest thanks to this worthy gentleman for his many kindnesses to me; his friendship was of the utmost service to me, and he never failed to send me supplies up into the forest by every opportunity.

I embarked for England on board the Dee, West-Indiaman, commanded by Captain Grey.

Banks and the Congo.
Sir Joseph Banks had often told me he hoped that I would give a lecture in public on the new mode I had discovered of preparing specimens in natural history for museums. I always declined to do so, as I despaired of ever being able to hit upon a proper method of doing quadrupeds; and I was aware that it would have been an imperfect lecture to treat of birds only. I imparted what little knowledge I was master of at Sir Joseph's, to the unfortunate gentlemen who went to Africa to explore the Congo; and that was all that took place in the shape of a lecture. Now that I had hit upon the way of doing quadrupeds, I drew up a little plan on board the Dee, which I trusted would have been of service to naturalists, and by proving to them the superiority of the new plan they would probably be induced to abandon the old and common way, which is a disgrace to the present age, and renders hideous every specimen in every museum that I have as yet visited. I intended to have given three lectures: one on insects and serpents; one on birds; and one on quadrupeds. But, as it will be shortly seen, this little plan was doomed not to be unfolded to public view. Illiberality blasted it in the bud.

We had a pleasant passage across the Atlantic, and arrived in the Mersey in fine trim and good spirits. Great was the attention I received from the commander of the Dee. He and his mate, Mr. Spence, took every care of my collection.

Collision with the Custom House.
On our landing the gentlemen of the Liverpool Custom House received me as an old friend and acquaintance, and obligingly offered their services.

Twice before had I landed in Liverpool, and twice had I reason to admire their conduct and liberality. They knew I was incapable of trying to introduce anything contraband, and they were aware that I never dreamed of turning to profit the specimens I had procured. They considered that I had left a comfortable home in quest of science; and that I had wandered into far-distant climes, and gone barefooted, ill-clothed and ill-fed, through swamps and woods, to procure specimens, some of which had never been seen in Europe. They considered that it would be difficult to fix a price upon specimens which had never been bought or sold, and which never were to be, as they were intended to ornament my own house. It was hard, they said, to have exposed myself for years to danger, and then be obliged to pay on returning to my native land. Under these considerations they fixed a moderate duty which satisfied all parties.

▲Chapter 4, p.7.


▼ Third Journey - Chapter 4, p. 8.

However, this last expedition ended not so. It taught me how hard it is to learn the grand lesson, "æquam memento rebus in arduis, servare mentem."

But my good friends in the Custom House of Liverpool were not to blame. On the contrary, they did all in their power to procure balm for me instead of rue. But it would not answer.

They appointed a very civil officer to attend me to the ship. While we were looking into some of the boxes to see that the specimens were properly stowed, previous to their being conveyed to the king's depôt, another officer entered the cabin. He was an entire stranger to me, and seemed wonderfully aware of his own consequence. Without preface or apology he thrust his head over my shoulder and said we had no business to have opened a single box without his permission. I answered they had been opened almost every day since they had come on board, and that I considered there was no harm in doing so.

He then left the cabin, and I said to myself as he went out, I suspect I shall see that man again at Philippi. The boxes, ten in number, were conveyed in safety from the ship to the depôt. I then proceeded to the Custom House. The necessary forms were gone through, and a proportionate duty, according to circumstances, was paid.

This done, we returned from the Custom House to the depôt, accompanied by several gentlemen who wished to see the collection. They expressed themselves highly gratified. The boxes were closed, and nothing now remained but to convey them to the cart, which was in attendance at the door of the depôt. Just as one of the inferior officers was carrying a box thither, in stepped the man whom I suspected I should see again at Philippi. He abruptly declared himself dissatisfied with the valuation which the gentlemen of the customs had put upon the collection, and said he must detain it. I remonstrated, but it was all in vain.

After this pitiful stretch of power and bad compliment to the other officers of the customs, who had been satisfied with the valuation, this man had the folly to take me aside, and after assuring me that he had a great regard for the arts and sciences, he lamented that conscience obliged him to do what he had done, and he wished he had been fifty miles from Liverpool at the time that it fell to his lot to detain the collection. Had he looked in my face as he said this he would have seen no marks of credulity there.

I now returned to the Custom House, and after expressing my opinion of the officer's conduct at the depôt, I pulled a bunch of keys (which belonged to the detained boxes) out of my pocket, laid them on the table, took my leave of the gentlemen present, and soon after set off for Yorkshire.

I saved nothing from the grasp of the stranger officer but a pair of live Malay fowls, which a gentleman in Georgetown had made me a present of. I had collected in the forest several eggs of curious birds in hopes of introducing the breed into England, and had taken great pains in doing them over with gum arabic, and in packing them in charcoal, according to a receipt I had seen in the gazette from the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal. But these were detained in the depôt, instead of being placed under a hen; which utterly ruined all my hopes of rearing a new species of birds in England. Titled personages in London interested themselves in behalf of the collection, but all in vain. And vain also were the public and private representations of the first officer of the Liverpool Custom House in my favour.

At last there came an order from the Treasury to say that any specimens Mr. Waterton intended to present to public institutions might pass duty free; but those which he intended to keep for himself must pay the duty! A friend now wrote to me from Liverpool requesting that I would come over and pay the duty in order to save the collection, which had just been detained there six weeks. I did so. On paying an additional duty (for the moderate duty first imposed had already been paid), the man who had detained the collection delivered it up to me, assuring me that it had been well taken care of, and that a fire had been frequently made in the room. It is but justice to add that on opening the boxes there was nothing injured.

I could never get a clue to these harsh and unexpected measures, except that there had been some recent smuggling discovered in Liverpool, and that the man in question had been sent down from London to act the part of Argus. If so, I landed in an evil hour: "nefasto die," making good the Spanish proverb, "Pagan a las veces, justos por pecadores": At times the innocent suffer for the guilty. After all, a little encouragement, in the shape of exemption from paying the duty on this collection, might have been expected, but it turned out otherwise; and after expending large sums in pursuit of natural history, on my return home I was doomed to pay for my success:

Hic finis, Caroli fatorum, hic exitus illum,
Sorte tulit!

▲Chapter 4, p. 8.


▼ Third Journey - Chapter 4, p. 9.

Thus my fleece, already ragged and torn with the thorns and briers which one must naturally expect to find in distant and untrodden wilds, was shorn, I may say, on its return to England.

However, this is nothing new. Sancho Panza must have heard of similar cases, for he says, "Muchos van por lana, y vuelven trasquilados": Many go for wool and come home shorn. In order to pick up matter for natural history I have wandered through the wildest parts of South America's equatorial regions. I have attacked and slain a modern Python, and rode on the back of a cayman close to the water's edge; a very different situation from that of a Hyde Park dandy on his Sunday prancer before the ladies. Alone and barefoot I have pulled poisonous snakes out of their lurking- places; climbed up trees to peep into holes for bats and vampires, and for days together hastened through sun and rain to the thickest parts of the forest to procure specimens I had never got before. In fine, I have pursued the wild beasts over hill and dale, through swamps and quagmires, now scorched by the noon-day sun, now drenched by the pelting shower, and returned to the hammock to satisfy the cravings of hunger, often on a poor and scanty supper.

These vicissitudes have turned to chestnut hue a once English complexion, and changed the colour of my hair before Father Time had meddled with it. The detention of the collection after it had fairly passed the Customs, and the subsequent order from the Treasury that I should pay duty for the specimens unless they were presented to some public institution, have cast a damp upon my energy, and forced, as it were, the cup of Lethe to my lips, by drinking which I have forgot my former intention of giving a lecture in public on preparing specimens to adorn museums. In fine, it is this ungenerous treatment that has paralysed my plans, and caused me to give up the idea I once had of inserting here the newly-discovered mode of preparing quadrupeds and serpents; and without it the account of this last expedition to the wilds of Guiana is nothing but a--fragment.

Farewell, gentle reader.

(end of the Third Wandering)

From Wanderings in South America, the North-West of the United States, and the Antilles,
in the years 1812, 1816, 1820, & 1824.
With Original Instructions for the perfect preservation of Birds, Etc. for Cabinets of Natural History.
Charles Waterton, Esq.,
Introduction by the Rev. J. G. Wood, Macmillan and Co., 1880, London.

▲Chapter 4, p.9.


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