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100 Years Ago: January 1922


This is the eighty-fourth installment in my series of retellings of one-hundred-year-old National Geographic Magazines.



The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Islands of Bermuda” and was written by William Howard Taft, author of “Great Britain’s Bread Upon the Waters: Canada and Her Other Daughters”, “The Health and Morale of America’s Citizen Army”, “The Progressive World Struggle of the Jews for Civil Equality”, and “Washington: Its Beginnings, Its Growth, and Its Future” in the National Geographic Magazine.  [The author is the former President of the United States, and future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the U. S.]  The text to the article is from an address delivered before the National Geographic Society in February 1921.  The article contains fifteen black-and-white photographs, five of which are full-page in size.  The article also contains a sketch map of the Bermuda Islands on page 2.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

After a vacation to Bermuda with his wife the previous year, the author decided to make it the topic of this year’s address.  The Bermuda Islands were only twenty square miles, about one-fourth the size of Staten Island.  Though small, Bermuda had played a conspicuous part on the world’s stage.  They formed a microcosm of the history of the English-speaking world – the catastrophes, the vicissitudes, the political, economic, and religious controversies, and the development of the people.  The Bermudas were a group of 365 islands in the north latitude of 32 degrees and west longitude of 64 degrees.  There were only five important islands, and the whole group were so close that they were connected by bridges and causeways, so as to give the appearance of one island, with bays and inlets.  Strung together, they formed a fishhook with the stem pointing northeast and the curve of the hook pointing southwest.  From the tip of the hook to the far end was about 23 miles, with an average width from sea to sea of hardly a mile.  The area of the whole group was 19½ square miles.  The islands were nearly 600 miles from Cape Hatteras, 700 miles from Charleston, S. C., on the same latitude, 700 miles from New York City, and 750 miles from Halifax.  They were about 800 miles from the nearest of the West Indies, and the Gulf Stream passes 300 miles to their northwest.  The islands were irregular hills and ridges of comminuted shells, some reaching 250 feet in height.  The H. M. S. Challenger discovered, in 1873, that Bermuda rested on a lonely column of rock, alone in that part of the Atlantic.  The island was made from coral rock, but Darwin argued that coral could not work at more than 100 fathoms, so that great pillar could not be all coral and limestone.  The search for fresh water led to sinking wells 1,200 feet deep.  They were unsuccessful at finding for what they were looking but provided the answer to the undersea mountain’s makeup; below the cap of coral rock and limestone, the mountain was made of volcanic rock.  The top of that mountain was much greater than the visible islands, but everywhere was crowned with coral and limestone, which protruded as dangerous reefs on the north, west, and south sides of the island, as far as ten miles from their shores.

Bermuda was an awkward place for a ship to reach and safely land upon.  It was an important factor in the islands’ history.  It was a dangerous spot for ships coming out of the Gulf Stream.  The east coast of the islands had a direct course for the Canary Islands, and thus on to the Mediterranean and Europe.  Bermuda was all by herself in the scientific and naturalistic world.  Her red soil was the result of the weathering of limestone and coral rock.  The natural sciences – geology, zoology, actinology, arachnology, ichthyology, meteorology – had produced many articles and volumes about Bermuda.  The flora and fauna on that little punctuation point on the surface of the Atlantic were studied.  The charm and bodily comfort of the islands may have also motivated those men of science to mount expedition to them.  Sources of the spread of life, both plant and animal, were wind, currents, and birds.  Fish were naturally drawn to such a honeycomb of coral; their variety, beauty, and flavor should spawn a great industry.  Even the deep-sea monsters gathered there.  For a time. Bermuda was the center of a whaling industry, but fisheries, as a whole, had not been developed.  The waters were transparent, the sea bottom shallow, and the brilliant color of the many fishes made a beautiful picture in the mind’s eye.  The author referenced the “Color Plates I to XVI” in the next article.  The “Devil’s Hole” was a small pool formed in an island grotto.  Several fish were imprisoned there and others had been added; they had grown in size and number.  Birds, especially the aquatic species were numerous, 283 species visited the island yearly.  When the islands were discovered, their numbers and their tameness provided a great supply of meat and eggs.  Their numbers had declined, and efforts to preserve the most useful species failed.  There were no snakes in Bermuda.  The islands had a lizard and some varieties of turtles, but that was all of the reptile life.  The turtles were of huge size in olden times.  There were turtles still, in 1922, but they were too small to provide a marriage feast.  One gardener introduced a toad to eat the insects which were troubling him in the late 1800s.  By 1922, one ran across them frequently, their size was startling, compared to the most modest varieties at home.

Very early in the settlement, and before 1620, a vessel brought some enterprising rats which multiplied until they ravaged the islands, eating everything in sight.  Cat were introduced, to no immediate avail.  Suddenly, the rats were gone, leaving nothing but a plague of cats.  The insects were not nearly so numerous or troublesome as in the tropics, but the ants and mosquitoes swarmed in the summer time.  The spiders were terrible in size, but beautiful in appearance and, in fact, innocuous.  The flora of Bermuda was full of beauty and scientific interest.  Of the trees, plants, and shrubs in the islands, 80% also inhabited the West Indies and Southern Florida.  Nearly 9%, or 61 species, growing in Bermuda or its waters, were endemic and were not known to grow anywhere else in the world.  As Bermuda was 600 miles from anywhere and formed geologically recently, how those species reached the island was of scientific interest.  The Bermuda cedar furnished the prevailing green in the landscape.  It was the most abundant and characteristic tree of Bermuda.  There was no good evidence that this tree had grown elsewhere.  The wood was soft and easily worked, but faded on exposure.  It was not good for ship-building because it splintered too often.  It was planted along streets and approaches, and could be clipped into arbor arches and hedges.  It covered all the hills.  The purple Bougainvillea was entrancing in its beauty.  The oleanders were so fine and so gorgeous in their hues that it had been suggested that they be called the Oleander Islands.  Coffee, indigo, cotton, and tobacco were of spontaneous growth.  The Bermudas had the perfect climate for growing the castor-oil plant, having a maximum temperature of around 88 degrees and a minimum of about 48, with a mean of 70 degrees.  The mild climate promoted early growth of onions, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes. And beetroots.  As Mark Twain said, “The onion was the pride and joy of Bermuda…”.

In the three centuries of the history of Bermuda, there were many references to hurricanes and tornados.  Early in her history, Bermuda earned a reputation of being center of powerful hurricanes.  Sir Walter Raleigh writing in 1587, spoke of Bermuda as “a hellish sea for thunder, lightning, and storm”.  The early history of the islands was a story of shipwrecks.  The islands were discovered by Juan Bermudez, a Spaniard, in 1515, when he was wrecked on them.  A number of hogs he had on board his ship escaped and settled on the island, and multiplied.  In 1594, an Englishman named May was on a French ship which landed on top of the reefs.  May gave an account of the difficulties they met.  The Spanish hogs were too thin to eat.  After a five month stay, the survivors made their way in a small boat to Cape Breton in ten days.  In 1609 came the wreck which really started Bermudian history.  Sir George Somers, an admiral, and Sir Thomas Gates, a soldier, embarked in a fleet of seven vessels and two pinnaces from England to Jamestown, Virginia.  They met a furious storm and the Sea Venture, upon which were Somers and Gates, was separated from the fleet and sprang a leak.  Somers sighted land and, as he steered the hull toward the rocky banks, the wind drove her between two rocks, where she stuck fast.  The ship’s company, 150 men, safely deboarded.  They remained on the islands for nine months.  The built two pinnaces, and sailed on to Jamestown, minus two men who hid and remained on the islands.  Somers reported that “Bermooda” was the most plentiful place he had ever found for “ffishe, hogge, and fowle”. His report led to the colonists sent a ship to bring a cargo of hogs from the islands.  Somers departed in the pinnace which had brought him to Jamestown, but he died shortly after reaching Bermuda.  His heart was buried on the islands, but his body was brought back to England by his nephew and buried.

The two men who had remained on the island, were still alive when Somers returned.  When the nephew arrived to take Somers body home, a third deserter joined the two.  Washington Irving celebrated that triumvirate in a short story he called “The Three Kings of Bermuda”.  Two men, Sil Jourdan and William Strachey, who had accompanied Somers on those trips wrote and published accounts of the storm, the wreck, and the marvels of the islands.  When Shakespeare published his play, “The Tempest” around 1611; a commentator, Malone, was convinced that Shakespeare intended to make Bermuda the scene of his play.  That view was accepted by many, including Thomas Moore and Kipling. The theory was that Shakespeare read Jourdan’s book, and talked it over with Strachey, who was a close neighbor of his in 1610.  Resemblances to the circumstances detailed in the accounts of the storm and the wreck of the Sea Venture were traced in the lines and scenes of the play.  Other scholars placed the island in the play in the Mediterranean, or “in no country laid down in any map.  The glowing reports of the historians sharpened the interest of the Virginian proprietors in the islands.  Their original charter gave them jurisdiction over all islands within 100 miles of the mainland, which excluded Bermuda.  So, in 1612, they procured and additional grant, to include all islands within 300 leagues.  Their business interests were aroused not only by the islands’ hogs, fish, tobacco, and the whales in the neighboring waters, but also the findings of a substance called ambergris.  Ambergris was a solid fatty, inflammable substance of a dull gray or blackish color, possessing a sweet, earthy odor.  It was lighter than water and floated.  It accumulated in the liver or intestines of sperm whales and was thrown off by the animal from time to time in great pieces.  It floated on the surface of the sea, becoming lodged reefs and shores nearby.  It was found sometimes in chunks weighing from fifty to two hundred pounds.  Used in perfumery and pharmacy, and as a flavor in cooking.  It was so highly prized that it brought several pounds sterling an ounce in the London market.

After amplifying the Virginian charter to include the Bermudas, 120 of the Virginia adventurers bought all the rights of the original proprietors in the Bermudas, and a new company was incorporated by James I.  The charter was not granted until 1615, but the purchasers sent fifty settlers to the islands in July 1612.  The charter gave to the Company the islands, with all the fishing, mines and minerals, pearls, precious stones, and all other commodities, reserving only one fifth of the gold and silver for the crown.  It gave them the power to make laws and ordinances as were not contrary to the laws of England.  It directed them to divide the island, one quarter of the land was reserved for the Company for defraying public charges.  The remaining three-fourths of the island were divided into eight parts, or tribes, containing fifty shares of twenty-five acres each.  No one man was to own more than ten shares unless the company consented, and then no more than fifteen.  The people living in Bermuda had the rights of British subjects, but the Company had the power to correct, punish, parole, and govern such subjects.  Imports and exports were limited to trade between Bermuda and the Mother Country.  The first governor sent to the colony was Daniel Tucker, an early settler of Virginia.  The Company gave him instructions to frame the government.  The officers of the colony were to be Governor, sheriff, and secretary.  There were to be four ministers, one to each two parishes, with land set aside for each.  The council of the colony was to be the Governor, the sheriff, the secretary, two of the ministers, two captains of the chief forts, and the first overseer of the public lands.  The Governor and whole council were to sit as judges at general sessions twice a year, and would hear appeals.  The Governor was also required to hold, every second year, a general assemble for making laws, and for other important business.  In the assembly, the Governor presided and had a veto.  The council sat next to the Governor and, if they all agreed, could veto as well.  Each tribe selected four able persons as its representatives.  They were to have free voices in the assembly.

The first general assemble was held in 1620, and another in 1622.  The Bermuda Assembly, as constituted in 1622, lasted for about 120 years.  In 1674, the London Company sued the assembly because the Governor and council sat separately.  After that, the Governor did not call an assembly for ten years.  The taking of all legislative powers by the Governor led to the Company being ousted, and the Bermudas became a colony of the Crown, with a continuing assembly.  In 1730, two legislative bodies were created, the Governor and council, and the assembly.  In 1922, there were still two councils, the executive and legislative councils.  The assembly, which sat in Hamilton, Bermuda, was the same body which met in a parish church in St. George three hundred years prior.  In 1620, when the survey fixed the division of the eight parishes, one of the parishes had an “over plus” of 300 acres.  Governor Tucker took possession of [read stole] them on which he built a house.  In 1662, Norwood, the surveyor, prepared a map showing the shares and their ownership.  The parishes varied much in population.  Some were small in number of people and were much over-represented in the assembly.  The islands’ history was compiled from old papers, both local and from England, and arranged chronologically by General L. H. Lefroy, Governor from 1871 to 1877.  It was published in two large volumes.  The assembly and council have changed little in three hundred years.  The greatest change was the establishment of a separate court.  In the early days, the Governor had legislative, executive, and judicial powers.  Even after a separate court was established, the Governor and council continued to act as a court of equity and to be a supreme court of error.  That had been abolished by the establishment of a Supreme Court with a Chief Justice appointed by the Crown.  The Supreme Court exercised jurisdiction both at law and equity.  The assembly started as a petitioning and advisory board.  It acquired an independence and power in the making of laws and in taxation.  The franchise in the island was not given to the residents, but to the landowners.  In a population of 20,000, there were only 1,250 electors.

In the early years, the income of the islands was based on ambergris, it was rare and of great value.  Another source of revenue was from plundering the wrecks upon the island.  The chief agricultural product in the early years was tobacco.  The Company compelled its sale at a low price, and realized a handsome profit. This resulted in the growing and curing of tobacco to be largely given up.  The Company was anxious that the colonists should have religious instructions due to the prevalence of drunkenness, idleness, incontinence, and general immoral tendencies.  Some of the ministers who were sent from England were graduates of Cambridge and Oxford and were vested with considerable authority.  They did not hesitate to differ with the Governor.  On occasion, the Governor would imprison them; he would be sued for it upon leaving office.  The assembly passed a law that the ministers would receive their pay in interim, unless justly proceeded against.  By 1629, the number of colonists had reached 2,000.  By 1922, the population of the islands was 20,000.  From time to time, complaints were made about the character of those being sent to the islands which included people from jails.  Quakers sought the islands, and were persecuted.  Some foreign Quakers were banished.  Slaves were introduced to the islands as early as 1632, and slavery continued until it was abolished in 1834.  The Company had prohibited the use of cedar for shipbuilding, but when the island came directly under the Crown, the people abandoned agriculture for a time and devoted themselves to carrying trade between the American colonies and the West Indies.  In that time, farming was confined to the negroes and became a despised pursuit.  Because of that, from time to time there was famine in the islands, which could only be relieved by illicit trade with the American colonies.  It was during one of those famines that the Revolutionary War broke out.  Washington was desperate for gun powder, so he sent a ship from Philadelphia to Bermuda.  The crew, with the help of some locals, broke into the powder magazine and took the entire supply aboard ship and sailed it back to Philadelphia.

The importance of Bermuda to the Mother Country had been as a fortress and naval station.  Protected from attack by the outlying reefs, and its strategic position in relation to the West Indies, Great Britain had spent a great deal of money fortifying the island.  Bermuda was at one time considered as formidable as Gibraltar.  Because the British spent a great deal of money preparing Bermuda as a fortress, it had a marked influence on the economic fortunes of the islands.  It enabled the islanders to secure beautiful roads and extensive public works impossible otherwise.  When the trade between the U. S. and the West Indies became free, shortly after the War of 1812, the Bermudian mariners could not compete with U. S. and British sailing ships, and the islanders were driven again to agriculture.  In 1840, the development of the real wealth of the islands was begun with the raising for market of the U. S. early vegetables, The Bermuda potato and the Bermuda onion.  They attracted a high price.  The effect of the abolition of slavery was not so marked in the islands.  Most were domestic servants, not plantation workers.  Slave owners were paid roughly $600,000 for the six thousand slaves they held.  There were enough schools to educate the blacks, and they’ve made great progress.  In 1908, there were 1,298 electors, 852 white and 446 black, although blacks were two-thirds of the population.  Tourism, especially from the U. S. in colder months, was also a great source of income.  At times, they numbered as many as the local residents.  Land-owners paid no property tax.  No man was compelled to pay an income tax; British tax did not apply to subjects outside the British Isles.  There were some small parish dues.  Nowhere in the world were the taxes lighter than in the islands.

The beauty of the island scenery was due to a prevailing background of the green Bermudian cedar, or Juniper tree.  Dotted in the general background were the white houses of the cities and the country.  The beautiful roads added to the dazzling white of the picture.  They were made of coral rock, which packed and cemented itself.  The roads were no wide enough and the curves were too sudden for automobiles.  The roads were slippery when wet, and horses frequently fell on down grades.  The cities, Hamilton and St. George, were not large, and the population was well distributed through the islands with around 1,000 people per square mile.  In the early days, the colonists built their houses of cedar, but by 1922, houses were built of coral rock.  It was necessary to get all drinking water from the clouds.  Every roof from which water was derived was kept clean by whitewash.  The palace of a rich man and the hovel of a poor man were equally white.  From the happiness that seemed to prevail, the author thought a lesson could be derived with respect to our pursuit of happiness, which the Declaration of Independence postulated as one of our rights.  Bermuda had a close business relationship with the U. S., but the people were English in tradition.  They were the center for blockade-running during the Civil War, and lost as much as they gained from it.  The suggestion that America buy Bermuda and/or the West Indies was rejected by Britain, and by the islanders.  They considered themselves British and British only.



The second article in this month’s issue is entitled “Certain Citizens of the Warm Sea” and written by Louis L. Mowbray, Director, Miami Aquarium and Biological Laboratory.  Of the “34 Illustrations” documented on the cover, eighteen are black-and-white photographs, of which five are full-page in size.  The other illustrations are sixteen full-page color paintings of warm water fish and other sea creatures.  The paintings are numbered as Plates I through XVI in Roman numerals and represent pages 37 through 52.  While the article is just that, an article, it has many of the trappings of a field guide, for which the Geographic of the time was known.  While there are no definitions nor index, the creatures are described in the article with references to the paintings using Plate numbers, and the Plates’ caption titles list the animals common name as well as its genus/species in Latin.

Life in the sea was a continuous struggle for existence.  A fish pursuing another fish might attract a still larger fish and so on.  Even in the face of that ceaseless struggle, the warm seas teemed with life.  There, nature both poured forth and destroyed life with unsparing manner.  A single female fish held potential life in numbers running into the millions.  A six-pound mackerel produced 1,500,000 eggs at one time.  A cod weighing 21 pounds produced 2,700,000 eggs and a 77-pound cod, 9,100,000.  A 13-pound pollock produced 2,569,000 eggs, and a 23½-pound pollock over 4,000,000 at one spawning.  To counterbalance that explosion of life, the seas were a veritable warzone.  It was survival of the fittest.  The strife of the sea took many forms.  Fishes that fed in the shoals had a well-planned method of acquiring their living food.  When a shoal of smaller fish was located near the shore, the larger fish encircled the shoal, herding it to a compact mass, occasionally darting in and getting a mouthful.  During the melee, the surface water was lashed into foam, often for an area exceeding a mile.  Birds often fly over the shoals waiting for the attack to drive the food they sought near to the surface of the water.  Sea creatures often had protections, besides numbers, such as camouflage.  Many fishes of the warm seas were chameleon-like in their coloration and take on the hue of their surroundings.  Some fishes, to protect their young, carry their eggs in their mouths.  Some species were hermaphrodites, while others lived in the gill cavities of greater fish.  The sea-horses and the pipefish carried their young in pouches.  Into the battle stepped man, who looked to the sea for food.

The author doubted that anyone other than a biologist appreciated the living things of the sea more than do sportsmen.  Like the big-game hunters of the land, they came for the trill of the hunt.  The tarpon in Florida waters, like the tuna in California fishing areas, was the premier among game fishes.  The “Silver King”, as the tarpon was called, was one of the earliest large fishes for which sportsmen angled.  The tarpon was abundant in Florida waters on both coasts (Plate X).  The sailfish was considered a highly desirable fish to encounter, not only for the sport after being hooked, but for the excellent mounted trophy it made (Plate XII).  The marlin fish, a close relative to the sailfish, had the sharp, protruding snout, but the dorsal fin was much smaller (Plate XV).  Of the game fishes, the dolphin was mentioned in the front rank.  There was probably no other citizen of the deep which traveled so swiftly.  When idle, the dolphin’s movements were sluggish, but when in quest of prey, it moved with incredible rapidity (Plate VII).  Of all the deep-water fish, the dolphin possessed the greatest power to change its colors.  The bonefish represented a single species, inhabiting all warm and tropical seas.  Its bony structure is similar to the herring.  The color of the bonefish was a beautiful glistening silver (Plate IX).  Of all the silvery-colored fishes, probably none equaled the moonfish in beauty.  Those sluggish little fishes frequented shady places and sandy shores.  They were forever cleaning and preening themselves in the sand (Plate V).  The barracuda was a carnivorous pirate from the tropical and subtropical regions and had been recorded as reaching a length of eight feet (Plate I).  Feared more than sharks by the natives, the fierce barracuda became docile in captivity, as in the Miami Aquarium [See: “The Treasure House of the Gulf Stream” January 1921, National Geographic Magazine].

In the Florida markets, the grouper family was highly considered.  The groupers represented one of the largest families of fishes in tropical and subtropical waters.  Some of the species reached ten feet and 600 pounds.  The black grouper, one of the largest of the family, was extremely wary and was most difficult of fishes to land.  Trolling was far the best way to take a black grouper (Plate IV).  The Nassau grouper was another large member of the family.  It inhabited coral reefs and lived a solitary live, except during breeding season (Plate III).  The red grouper was not as large as its Nassau cousin, forty pounds being its top weight.  It was a good food-fish and was beautiful in appearance (Plate III).  The gag, a smaller-scale grouper, was an esteemed food-fish and one of the gamiest of the family.  Its habitat was the reefs of Florida and Bermuda (Plate IV).  The gamiest of the grunts, the margate fish, was another excellent food-fish (Plate VI), likewise the mutton-fish, of the snapper family (Plate II).  Some of the species mentioned were popular only locally, but the Spanish mackerel was popular worldwide.  Millions of pounds were ship north annually from Florida waters (Plate VII).  Associated with the Spanish mackerel was the kingfish, which was somewhat larger (Plate VII).  While wariness was a common trait of game fish, one species, the jacks, seemed to have no fear of man.  The amber jack was the largest and gamiest of the family; it inhabited both the shoals and deep waters of the Florida Keys, the West Indies, and the Bermudas.  Its cousin, the yellow jack was also a surface-living fish, similar in appearance and habit, but smaller in size (Plate XIII).  Most fishes of the Gulf Stream were well known, but occasionally new species were found and required classification.  Such a find was made in the case of Allison’s tuna.  One reason for the late discovery was that this powerful fish broke the lines meant for sailfish, with sharks taking the blame (Plate XIV).

Reptiles, as well as fish, had found the Gulf Stream a kindly habitat; but turtles, probably the most valuable of reptiles, were diminishing rapidly in many localities.  Without a doubt, the green turtle was the finest-flavored of the sea turtles and the most highly esteemed as food.  It inhabited the open seas of the tropics.  It reached a weight of 700 pounds, but averaged considerably less (Plate XVI).  Although statues covering the protection of the turtle are written, in 1922, between 1,500 and 2,000 green turtles were brought annually to Key West markets.  Man, although the greatest, was only one of the enemies of turtles.  Birds, including pelicans, man-o’-war birds swallowed the young before they could reach water.  The hawks-bill, or shell turtle was without question the most beautiful of the sea turtles.  It was the producer of the much-valued tortoise shell of commerce (Plate XVI).  Crustaceans played no mean part in the life of the sea.  High in the rank of American crustaceans stood the crawfish, or spiny lobster of southern salt waters.  It grew as large and was of even more delicate flavor than its northern cousin.  The Spiny lobster dwelt among the coral reefs (Plate XI).  At the Aquarium, many laboratory tests were being made of the structure and composition of marine forms peculiar to local waters.  Every stage of life of fish was studied.  Science had helped much in garnering the sea’s valuable materials.  Whether viewed merely as food in a world where food was becoming scarce; as interesting or beautiful creatures worth study and admiration; or as furnishing the material for a thrilling sport, the fishes of the southern Gulf Stream were receiving more and more attention.

And this is a list of caption titles to the Plates:

Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

Mutton Fish (Neomaenis analis)

Red Grouper (Epinephelus morio); Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus)

Gag (Mycteroperca microlepis); Black Grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci)

The Moon Fish (Selene vomer)

The Margate Fish (Haemulon album)

Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus maculatus); Kingfish (Scomberomorus cavalla)

The Dolphin (Coryphaena hippurus)

The Bone-fish (Albula vulpes)

Tarpon or Silver King (Tarpon atlanticus)

The Crawfish or Spiny Lobster (Panulirus americans)

Sailfish (Istiophorus nigricans)

Amber Jack (Seriola lalandi); Yellow Jack or Runner (Caranx ruber)

Allison’s Tuna (Thunnus allisoni)

Marlin or Spearfish (Tetrapturus imperator)

Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas); Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)



The third article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Land of the Basques” and was written by Harry A. McBride.  It has an internal subtitle “Home of a Thrifty, Picturesque People, Who Take Pride in the Sobriquet, ‘The Yankees of Spain’”.  The article contains twenty-five black-and-white photographs, of which seven are full-page in size.  The article also contains a sketch map of Spain with an inset of the Basque Provinces on page 66.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

Spanish trains had little ways and mannerisms all their own.  The author’s first experience was on the correo from Barcelona to Bilbao, an express taking 27 hours and carrying no sleeper cars.  The train made fifteen miles an hour and halted at innumerable stations.  At each stop, there was time to get out and walk around.  Each station had two anti-bandit rural policemen on guard.  Before long, the train was six hours behind schedule and struggled to make up time.  The next day, the train ran out of Aragon and Navarre into another world, the Basque provinces.  It was more hilly, more industrious, more modern – the New England of Spain.  The train arrived at each station on time.  The peasants the author met in Basque country greeted him with “Buenos”, short for “buenos dias”, or good-day.  The “Vascongados”, as the Spanish called them, or the “Euskaldunac”, as they called themselves, were decidedly different.  Euskara, the Basque tongue was as close to Spanish as it was to Polish.  Those “Yankees” of Spain proudly claimed to be the oldest unmixed race in Europe.  They had defended and retained the rights and liberties they had enjoyed since time immemorial.  They had certain privileges, and way back in 1202 they stubbornly refused to incorporate into Spain until those privileges had been duly recognized and acknowledged.  Those privileges gave the Basques a republic constitution in their three provinces, immunity from taxation, and freedom from national military service.  But the Basques took part in the “lost cause”, and at the conclusion of the second Carlist War, in 1876, most privileges were abrogated.  The much-hated salt monopoly, and the more-hated tobacco monopoly were imposed on the Basques.  Worse, they were compelled to serve under the most-hated military conscription.  The provincial governments still retained, however, a semblance of their ancient independence.  Their old military forces were now employed as customs, coast guard, and rural police.

Bilbao, with its hundred thousand people, was the largest Basque city and the second seaport of Spain.  It was nestled in a small round valley among green hills, with a river snaking around them.  The river was the Nervion, which had been canalized from the city to the Bay of Biscay, eight miles distant.  The hills encircled the city so closely that railways from all directions needed tunnels to reach it.  While the author compared the Basque provinces to New England, he named Bilbao the “Pittsburgh” of Spain.  Along the Nervion, between the city and the sea, were iron deposits.  Much of the iron ore was exported to German iron and steel makers, but smelting plants were also erected along the river producing steel rails and ship plating.  That was the reason Balboa became Spain’s chief shipbuilding center.  In 1897, the Balboa yards launched a Spanish cruiser which was destroyed a few months later at Santiago in the Spanish-American War.  The Narvion divided the city into two parts; one side the old town, with narrow streets, and the other, a new modern town with tree-lined avenues.  A large plaza, the Arenal, in the old town at the foot of the principal bridge was the focus of the city’s activity.  It was there that the evening promenades took place, with a military band playing music for the occasion.  The Arenal was also the center of the café life, with chairs and tables taking up most of what should have been the sidewalk.  The cafes were a male institution, a woman was seldom seen at one, unlike the cafes of France.  After lunch, and after dinner, husbands, fathers, and brother retired post haste to the café, met friends and secured tables.  The waiter, in a long white apron always received the same order: coffee, very black, and a set of dominoes.  After an hour or two at the café in the evening, the men went to the theater.  The shows usually ended after midnight.

While the morning routine in most northern Spanish cities had much the same sights and sounds, in Balboa two things occurred early morning which were unique to the largest Basque city.  First, the oil lamps of the anguleros were extinguished.  They were fishermen who caught angulas, very small eels, from the stone walls along the Nervion.  When fried, they were a delicacy.  The second, the shrieks of barefooted women stevedores were heard.  While iron ore was loaded with modern equipment along the river, coal was unloaded by hand.  Women, almost exclusively were employed in that occupation.  Besides the coal-ships, Norwegian freighters were seen along Bilbao’s waterfront.  They brought large quantities of cod, one of the chief articles of food, not only for the Basque provinces, but also Asturias and Galicia.  The author visited a peasant’s home in the country and had a midday meal.  The little stone farm-house sat upon a pretty green hill.  The ground floor was for the steers, pigs, and chickens, while the family live above.  It had small, simply-furnished rooms that were spotlessly clean.  The meal comprised of bacalao, boiled with just a touch of garlic and covered with sweet peppers.  On the side of the dish were garbanzos, giant savory chick-peas.  Each person had a jug of chacoli, an excellent homemade white wine.  For dessert there were luscious red plums from Vizcaya.  The author also took a side trip from Bilbao down to the sea.  Paralleling each side of the river was an electric tramway and paralleling each of those was a steam railway.  Town after town was seen on the way.  On the left bank, the Shipyard were succeeded by immense iron foundries and smelters, combining to fill the air with smoke.  In the hills, far beyond the river, occasionally the rumble of a dynamite explosion was heard.  Those were the mines.  From many of them, aerial cables with buckets full of red ore move continually to the river and carried empties back to the hillsides.  The river wound around between the hills and finally, rounding a corner, the sea came into view.  The strong sea breeze of the Biscay blew the fog of industry away and the author emerged again into sunny Spain.

At each side of the river mouth was a town – Portugalete on the left and Las Arenas on the right.  A beautiful and unusual bridge connected the two.  It was called the Puente Trasbordador.  On each river edge was a great tower of steel over two hundred feet tall.  Those towers supported a light iron bridge one hundred and fifty feet above the river, under which the largest steamers passed.  From that bridge was suspended a “flying ferry” supported by wires which was pulled from one side of the river to the other and back.  It hung within a few feet of the water.  Portugalete had narrow streets, and its balconied houses stretched picturesquely up the hillside, with a little Gothic church at the top.  Las Arenas was a modern village of seashore villas, and was a popular summer resort.  The King came nearly every summer to the yacht races.  He usually went over to Portugalete during his stay.  There were few harbors more beautiful in setting.  One breakwater of stone stretched far out to sea from Portugalete, and another of equal length from Las Arenas, with many ships anchored between them in the deep blue water.  The sardines from Biscay Bay were reputed to be better than those of Bordeaux.  One of the unique little pictures of the Basque towns by the sea was that of the barefooted sardine women walking gracefully through the narrow streets with great square wooden trays balanced on their heads.  On the trays were hundreds of silvery fresh sardines laid out in neat rows.  And the women cried, “Sardinas, sardinas, vivas!” indicating that their wares were still alive.

For administrative purposes, Spain was divided into forty-nine districts or provinces.  Regionalism was so strong that one could say that there were 49 national languages, 49 national costumes, 49 national dances, and last but not least, 49 national dishes.  That may have been an exaggeration, but the fact remained that the inhabitants of each district differed noticeably in characteristics from all the others.  A man from Barcelona was first a Catalan and second a Spaniard.  Likewise, an inhabitant of Coruna was less Spanish than Gallego, and a person from Bilbao placed his Basque nationality before his Spanish adherence.  Likewise, each district felt their dishes were the best, and turned their nose up to dishes from other provinces.  That spirit of regionalism must at one time divided, in slight degree, even the three Basque provinces, the smallest in Spain.  In the olden days, the men of Vizcaya wore blue caps, or “boninas”, those in Guipuzcoa preferred red ones, whereas the men of Alava were often seen in white headgear.  In recent years, the distinction had disappeared and blue was the color of men’s headgear in all three provinces.  The Basque were the leading athletes in Spain.  They supplied a goodly number of torreros for the bull ring.  The Basque sportsman also played ball; not baseball, but juego de pelota.  Pelota had become so popular that it was not only played in the Basque provinces, but also in Barcelona, Madrid, and even in Havana and Bueno Aires, the players being Basque in nearly every case.  The game had four players, two on a side.  Each player wore a cestus fastened to the right hand.  The ball was thrown at high speed from the curved cestus against the wall and the rebound must be caught and returned by the opponents.  Another popular sport in the Basque provinces was one confined to the mining regions – that of stone-drilling.  Oxen dragged enormous blocks of stone into an open space.  Each rock had marked upon its top surface eight rings indicating where the holes were to be drilled.  The contestants stood on the stone and hit one of the marks with a heavy iron bar, again and again, like a jack-hammer, deepening the hole with each blow.

In the early evening, after a festival of any kind, dancing generally took place, in open air, as often as not in the village plaza.  The youths from the cities loved to attend the village fetes.  Most interest was taken in the arresku, the great dance of the Basques.  The sound of the pipe and the tabor were heard in the lively cadence of the arresku.  An expert dancer, the master of ceremonies, threw his hat to the ground and danced toward the woman he had chosen to be the “queen of the ball”.  No Basque woman, no matter how high her social standing, refused that honor.  The dance was a mass of intricate movements of feet body and arms, even fingers played their part, as the participants advanced and retreated.  In a description of the “New England of Spain”, some mention of San Sebastian, the second city in the Basque provinces, was required.  It was the least Basque in character in the provinces.  It was a modern town on the Bay of Biscay, only a few miles from the French frontier.  It was the summer residence of the royal family and the most popular of Spanish resorts.  It had a fine casino and an unrivalled bathing beach.  In many ways San Sebastian was a serious rival for Monte Carlo.  The author spent his last night of his visit to Spain there.  It was winter; hence many shops and hotels were closed.  The casino offered the only amusement.  The author watched two men gamble, then drink at the bar while arguing whether Catalonia should be granted autonomy, before returning to the gambling tables.  Even in the excitement of gambling, the marked regionalism of Spain could not be forgotten.


At the bottom of the last page of text of the third article there is a short notice whose heading reads: “INDEX FOR JULY-DECEMBER, 1921, VOLUME READY”.  Its brief, one-line text reads: “Index for Volume XL (July-December, 1921) will be mailed to members upon request.”


The fourth and final article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Geography of Our Foreign Trade” and was written by Frederick Simpich, author of such articles as “Where Adam and Eve Lived”, “Mystic Nedjef, the Shia Mecca”, “The Rise of the New Arab Nation”, and “Everyday Life in Afghanistan”.  The article contains twenty-four black-and white photographs in spite of the fact that the cover states “With 25 Illustrations”.  Only one of those photographs is full-page in size.

The author begins the article by trying to imagine the birth of ocean trade – primitive men loading grain on their ship and sailing over the horizon, the women at home worrying for their love ones, and the joyous return with delicious new foods and odd woven stuff.  They may have brought back pearls, amber, or beautiful slave girls; but they definitely brought back tales of high adventure on the open sea.  Tradition said that the Phoenicians or the tribes on the north shores of the Persian Gulf were probable the worlds first sea-traders.  The author considered sea-traders to be practical geographers.  Columbus and Magellan were the kings of explorers; Drake and Hawkins were gentlemanly pirates; and Peary and Scott, courageous scientists.  But the sea-trader of 1922, whether running his own tramp schooner or in an office in New York or London must know, not only his maps, ports, winds, currents, and climate; but also, the people: their politics, products, language, needs, manners, and prejudices.  Many of the once blank spaces on the map had been filled in by the sea-trader; not only names and locations of towns, mountains and rivers, but also, the true characteristics of its people.  The fur-buyers and tea merchants were among the world’s greatest traders.  Many Yankee trade scouts knew their world maps intimately.  In Hamburg, the author met the owner of a brush factory in Brooklyn.  It made brushes for teeth, horses, shoes, and painting.  He was off to Russia to look for pigs’ bristles or horses’ tails.  He was called the “Hair Hound”.  Men like the Hair Hound could tell what, and how much the races in far away lands were producing above their own needs, knew what language in which to write them, and knew the steamer lines and railroad connections with the cheapest rates needed to transport the above-mentioned goods.  Trade had been called the “economic fruit of geographic environment”; and geography dictated the decision as to whether to invest or not in a foreign land.  A well-known banker asserted that commercial geography was the most important part of an international banker’s education.

It was the geographic pioneering of bold Latin sea-rovers in the fifteenth century that gave Europe its first adventure in ocean commerce.  Until that time, trade between nations was carried out by caravan, or mere coastal boats.  The old, overland “silk routes” could still be found, running from China to Syria, to Poland, and on to the Rhine.  It began at one great political center and ended at another.  Sea-traders had long plowed the Mediterranean and Chinese junk had reached India and up the Tigris.  Because of the warlike Turks and their predation of the caravans, the route of Marco Polo was risky and Europe was desperate for a sea route to India and beyond.  Finally, Vasco da Gama sailed around Africa, and reached India.  Six years prior, Columbus discovered the New World.  For two centuries, Europe was shaken by those voyages as the centers of power shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic coast; from Venice and Genoa to Spain and Portugal, then to France, to Holland, and finally to England.  When bigger ships came into use the importation of gold, diamonds, slaves, silks, and spices was followed by the import of more bulky raw materials, which were in turn exported as manufactured goods.  And England surged ahead.  Her splendid geographic position, her harbors, and her coal and iron mines enabled her to gain mastery of the sea.  Britain became Great Britain; the British Empire grew to such size as Rome’s might have reached had she worn her sword more in its sheath.  Yet in a moment when Britain was never so powerful, a new people rose and claimed coheirship.  In the eyes of an astounded world, the United States established her birthright in the freedom of the seas as no other heir of Tyre had ever done.  At one point, American ships carried 92% of her oversea trade.  The misfortunes of the sixties [i.e. the Civil War] triggered the decline of our merchant marine.  In 1922, the heritage of the World War had resulted in the return of our merchant ships to harbors around the world.

A Shipping Board chart in 1922 showed U. S. routes encircling the earth.  With representatives in every port, freighters on every sea, and a navy to protect them, Uncle Sam had fully atoned for the sixties, and recovered his rightful place among sea-traders.  But to stay on top he had to fight, fight boldly, skillfully, and doggedly, with all the weapons of commerce and diplomacy.  The World War so upset world economics that the U. S. was in an unprecedented international position.  Other nations owed America more than ten billion dollars – three times its own national debt in 1914.  A swiftly rising tide of immigrants flowed to America in a human stream from all the lands of Europe.  Every week our factories turned out shiploads of goods above our own requirements.  Finding markets abroad, and competing with other nations, some desperately struggling for economic life, was a full-time endeavor.  In the war-after-the-war, the battle for world trade, American consuls were our scouts and reporters in foreign lands.  They kept the homeland informed by mail and cable not only about our own foreign business, but also that of our competitors.  In the State Department at Washington there was a big map of the world bristling with colored pins, like a war map.  This map showed where the consuls were posted.  There were dense flocks of pins covering Europe and Latin America and thin patches over Africa and Asia.  Those pins indicated how trade was ruled by the peculiarities of the map and the distribution of various races and industries.  Our merchant fleet in foreign waters was the special charge of those consuls.  If an American ship “piled up” on the rocks, the nearest Yankee consul took charge of the wreck and cared for the crew and passengers.  He handled everything from mutinies and tariff tangles to quarantines and emigration troubles.  The fact was that our merchant fleet had grown so large that the consuls were overworked and expansion of our foreign service was required to protect our interests overseas.

Many countries had doubled their population in the previous century.  In Berlin the theory prevailed that overpopulation was the indirect cause of the war.  Since populations grew but the land area was fixed, the earth needed to yield more in order to feed the population.  Land value rose and states were led to fight for more territory and to seek foreign markets.  A country’s greatness was no longer measured in the number of tribes conquered as the Romans did, but by the use of its resources and the extent to which it bought and sold overseas.  The nomad, though providing some wool to the market, was not considered worth his space and needed to give way to farming.  In Egypt, Mesopotamia, and western Siberia, irrigation, railways, and a tide of immigrants were forcing the nomads to abandon his life and go to work or go the way of the American Indian.  The geographical consequences of the war were most felt in the Near East.  Caliphs had gone down and kings had come up.  Over all was the shadow of the Bagdad Railway and the odor of oil.  Persia, bankrupt for centuries, was suddenly galvanized into new life by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company’s work in Karun.  The world watched to see if the mandate experiments in Mesopotamia and Syria bore fruit; speculated on the problems of Palestine and its Jewish home; and followed with interest the struggles of Armenia and Georgia toward democracy.  Old caravan trails, blazed long ago, were abandoned, transected by new borders and supplanted by railways bringing new channels of traffic and sweeping change to that old Bible land.  Obscure, squalid, and once little-known ports were busy with new life.  England was spending millions at the Palestine port of Haifa.  Basra, old haunt of Sinbad the Sailor, became again, after ages of neglect, the great port of the Persian Gulf.  Bagdad, asleep for a thousand years, now had telephones, movie theaters, cars, electric fans, and new railways in three directions, and airplane flights to Mosul and Teheran.

Our steamship lines as marked on a map showed how foods, clothing, machinery, manufactured goods, and raw material flowed around the world, like the currents of air and water.  Our trade routes ran everywhere, but the heaviest lines went to Europe and the other Americas, then to Asia, Oceanica, and Africa.  More than half of our imports were crude of partly manufactured, and food made up less than one-fourth.  With the break-up of the cattle ranges in our West, we depended more on Mexico and South America for our beef.  Those great cow countries could not feed the world, and Mongolia and eastern Russia, were needed for grazing sheep, cattle and goats.  From the hot lands came raw materials like Philippine hemp, Indian Jute, Mexican sisal, and Brazilian and African rubber.  From South America and Asia, we got hides, skins, and bristles, while wool came from Argentina and Europe.  In Asia and the East Indies, we traded machinery, drugs, flour, and manufactured goods for silk, fibers, hides, coffee, tea, and rice.  The Yankee culture was carried to all quarters of the globe.  The Yankee trademark was everywhere, for Bombay to Brussels.  American signs invited one to eat, drink, or buy something “Made in the U. S. A.”  Our consuls battled with the theft of those trademarks, and considered it as piracy.  In world trade, coast cities grew greatest when built on harbors that connected by rail or river with inland regions of dense population and large production.  The sea made New York great and brought wealth to Baltimore and New Orleans.  Hamburg, as a trade-feeder, served inland Europe as far south Vienna and Prague.  Rotterdam waxed fat on the Rhine.  Navigable for 500 miles, the Rhine boasted more than 20,000 steamers, tugs, and barges – over 5,000,000 tons of shipping.  That traffic was supplemented by railways crossing and paralleling its banks, and a network of canals tied into the great river.  The author proposed getting steamboat trade started again on the Missouri, for cheap grain transportation by barge from Kansas to New Orleans, and then to ocean-going freighter.

Man-made laws, as well as winds and tides, had their effect on shipping.  Sugar, tobacco, hemp, pearls, perfume, and coconuts moved freely from Manila to America because of mutual free trade.  Likewise, Toronto trades easily with Trinidad.  But American exporters could not sell rifles to Mexico when an embargo was on; nor could a dye-maker sell his colors in Shanghai without a government permit.  Limits were placed on importation as well.  You could not take a souvenir tea-cup out of Germany without paying a tariff.  Flora, fauna, and climate of neighboring countries might be identical, but the people, in race, religion, speech, morals, and manners were different.  Yet it was their differences, in needs and tastes, and in resources and products, that led one tribe to trade with another, thus adding to the complex commercial geography of civilization.  In midwinter, our Denver cafes served ripe tomatoes from the Mexican west coast, while the senoritas of Mazatlan bought their clothes by mail order from Los Angeles.  Since the days of wampum, the unit of exchange had been a big factor in the world’s trade.  Even money had a geography.  One’s wealth depended on where you were when you counted your cash.  Lately, the German mark had lost so much value that the Germans had returned to the middle-age habits of barter.  They would buy raw cotton with the socks and underwear made from that cotton.  Geographically, England’s position as a distribution center was unique.  Goods gathered there from the Seven Seas were easily reshipped to other nation on the Atlantic, the Baltic, and the North Sea.  With no great “back country”, few inland waterways, and not enough factories to keep her ships busy, England’s trade was great because she drew on so many overseas colonies.  Norway, on the other hand, being without colonies, but rich in ships and good harbors, chartered her boats to others or sent them out as tramps to haul what they could find.  Holland, though producing little and being a mere speck on the map, was in the heart of the world’s commercial center.  As traders, the Dutch were without peers.

Intense propaganda marked the fight of nations for ocean trade.  Protecting American interests was one of our consuls’ greatest responsibilities.  Periodicals, lectures, fairs, motion pictures, and personal visits were used to make sales, to say nothing of deals and secret compacts among governments.  To push its trade in the South Seas, Japan had set up a commercial museum in Singapore, and was opening a similar one in Harbin for educational work in Manchuria, Mongolia, and Siberia.  From 1898, when U. S. influence was first felt in the Philippines, the people there began to flourish.  It was the first chance civilization had given them.  Even the harshest critic of our colony policy admitted the uplift of Manila, due to its commercial relationship with America.  Hawaii had increased its producing power fortyfold since “the days of the Empire”.  Puerto Rico basked in new-gained opulence, importing overseas luxuries and paying in native fruits at fancy prices.  It was so in Guam; it would be so in the Virgins.  America bought more and more products from the tropics.  It would be in our best interest to maximize the production of those items in our own colonies.  In 1922, we were paying foreigners fabulous sums each year for hemp, jute, sugar, fruits, coffee, tobacco, silk tea and rubber.  Latin America was our greatest storehouse.  From her we drew hides, asphalt, tobacco, rubber, sisal and fruits, as well as oil, silver, copper, zinc, wolfram, vanadium, and iron ore.  Without Cuba, we would have been sugarless, and 98% of all our coffee came from Brazil.  The pirate and buccaneers, the China clippers and Bedford whalers were gone, but the romance of trade and geography was not dead.  How amazingly complex was foreign trade, and yet how comfortable it made us.  We owe much the original sea-traders, who brought back new fruits and strange slave girls – the pioneers of barter on the sea.


At the bottom of the last page of the last article is a rather wordy announcement with the title “A ‘COUNTRIES OF THE CARIBBEAN’ MAP IF FEBRUARY”.  Continuing its comprehensive map program of 1921, with maps of the New Europe, Asia, South America, and the Islands of the Pacific, the National Geographic Society has compiled a handsome map in colors of the Countries of the Caribbean as a supplement to the February issue of The Magazine.  This map, size 44 x 25 inches, will show in detail Mexico, the republics of Central America, and the Islands of West Indies.  Insert maps include Guantanamo Bay, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and the Panama Canal Zone.  Maps of Africa and the World will be issued as supplements in subsequent issues.



Tom Wilson

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Six weeks late.  Looks like '22 will be spent catching up.



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