Dominica News, Dominica Weather and Links ( Dominican News and Dominican Weather )

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The New York Times, January 24, 1886, p.10:

THE CAPITAL OF DOMINICA

A MORNING WALK IN THE NARROW STREETS OF ROSEAU.

...SOME ODD THINGS IN A VERY SMALL SHOP--THE LORD BISHOP.

    ...Antigua is about in latitude 17, and Dominica, which the Trinidad was now approaching, is just north of the fifteenth degree. After leaving Antigua, coming almost due south, we passed close to the westward of the island of Guadeloupe; but this was not one of our stopping places, and we were only near enough to see dimly its mountain peaks.
    And almost adjoining Guadeloupe, west of it, is Descada, a long narrow island; and just south of this the island of Marie Galante, (a French possession, I believe.) But we went past them all, bound for Dominica.

    Domin-eek is the local pronounciation of the name; Domin-eek-a will do, but never pronounce it with the accent on the second syllable, as you would naturally do... The mountains of Dominica, according to the guide books, are the highest in this part of the world, reaching up nearly 5,000 feet. When we first saw them their tops were enveloped in clouds--dark, thick lowering clouds; so they were all the time we were there; and so they were still when we left them...
    But Dominica, of course, is never cold, and it is anything but bleak. It is the wildest and most picturesque English island in the whole West Indies. It is very thinly populated, and large tracts of it have never even been explored. Unlike most of the other islands of the Caribbean group, it has creeks and rivers, large mountain lakes and beautiful cascades, in many places dashing hundreds of feet down the mountain sides. It has boiling springs, too, but they are so far in the interior that they are seldom visited by strangers.

    For there are no roads in Dominica--outside of Roseau, not a road on the island except little bridle paths made by the island ponies, that are as much as home on the hillsides as on a level. Whatever communication there is between the settlements is with ponies. Where there are no roads, of course, there are no wagons or carriages; and when you go to Roseau you need have no fear of being run over.
    Why Dominica is not better settled and cultivated I will not pretend to say. It is fertile, healthy, capable of raising anything that can be grown in a warm climate, and almost any weather desired can be had--from the greatest heat of the sea level to the cool and always breezy mountain sides, or the almost chilly mountain tops. Residents told me, after I got there, that they frequently suffered from cold in going over the mountain paths. I went no further than Roseau, and can testify freely that I did not suffer from cold there.

    We left Antigua on the afternoon of Monday, Oct. 5, at 5 o'clock, and when Tuesday morning dawned we were lying in the roadstead of Roseau. The ship had a habit of reaching all these ports early in the morning, timing her departures purposely so that she would reach the next place in time for a fair start at the day's work. This added pleasure to the trip, for in the West Indies early morning is the time of all times to stir about--the time to exercise, to see new places, and to enjoy the fresh cool air...
    Once more Capt. Fraser kindly gave me the use of the ship's boat, and with my little party I started ashore to see the beauties of Roseau, the capital of Dominica. We landed at a stone pier and stood in the front and main street of the town, facing the water, with a row of rather old buildings on the one side, and a heavy sea wall on the other, which showed signs of frequent hard batterings by heavy waves.
    These buildings in the front street were all of stone and two stories high--with one exception. This was a large wooden house (with some stores underneath,) which is occupied by Mr. Stedman, who represents the American Government in Dominica. They were curious old buildings, these along the water front, with places for shops, most of them, in their first stories, and sometimes a narrow balcony overhead, extending over part of the sidewalk. But I did not see that any business was in progress in any of them. Occasionally, in walking along, we came to a pony hitched in front of one of the buildings, and had to dodge him.
    When I spoke of the sidewalk a moment ago I meant the street, for there are no sidewalks in Roseau. The streets are narrow, all paved with rough cobblestones, and I think are about the most uncomfortable streets I ever walked in. The gutter is invariably in the middle of the street, and both sides slope down to it with a very steep slant, so that in walking along you have one foot up in the air and the other down in a valley.

    About the first thing we noticed in Roseau was the heat. We noticed it so suddenly and emphatically that we began to look about without delay for some shade. It was only between 8 and 9 in the morning, but the sun shone as I think I never saw him shine before--and I have seen some samples of his strength in Vera Cruz, which is said to be one of the hottest places in the world.
    We walked down the frontstreet one block, and then turned up into a side street, where there was shade on one side. All this time we furnished much amusement and apparently much gratification to all the natives within sight. They followed us about, watched us unceasingly, and called upon their friends to have a look... Anybody who is bashful about being stared at and audibly commented upon in the street cannot do better than spend a few months in some parts of the West Indies. The first town or two will harden him so that staring will have no terrors for him, and after that he will rather enjoy it. There is something novel and flattering when you walk through a town to think that the entire populace is staring at you.
    I think we saw one or two white men in Roseau, down by the wharf, but none after that. We went several blocks up the side street into which we turned, and rambled about in various directions (keeping in the shade as much as we could) till we had seen pretty much all there was to see of the town. One colored man came up to us and asked whether we wished to be shown the way to the hotel, but this attention we were forced to decline... we had no need of a guide, not caring whether we went east or west, north or south; and when a town is made up of four or five streets running one way and four or five streets running at right angles with them, a New-Yorker is not, as you may have noticed, particularly likely to get lost in it.

    We strolled here and there and everywhere, without any object in view, through the burning hot streets, over the rough and hilly cobbles, till I felt that nature's limit had been reached and I could go no further without refreshment. So I asked a young native where I could buy some cigars. He directed me down the street some distance, and we all walked down and entered a little shop. The part in it allotted to customers was not any larger than some of those tiny "cigar boxes" in New-York, where there is barely room for one clerk and one customer at the same time.
    We found a very polite young man (colored, of course) in attendance, and a stout, elderly colored dame, evidently the proprietress, overseeing things. The floor in the small space allotted to customers was littered with boxes, baskets, jugs, and various things that hardly belonged there, and there were two or three chairs and a small light metal table, from the top of which it was evident customers were in the habit of taking such beverages as were dispensed in another part of the establishment, and which we could see plainly enough through a sort of wooden grating, much like the hayrack of a horse's stall.
    The elderly dame, I should have mentioned, was decidedly Frenchy and spoke with a strong French accent. Everything about the place had a Frenchy air, for Dominica is so near the French colonies, (and, I believe, was once a French colony itself,) that half the people talk Creole French, and everything has a little the air of a decayed Paris struck by lightning. In this shop I am trying to describe the chairs we sat on were light French chairs; the metal table, I venture to say, came originally from France, (but many years ago.) And as the stout colored lady mixed cooling drinks for customers in the small pen beyond the racks, she talked to them in French. It may not have been pure French; very likely it was not, because I could not understand a word of it; and I am such a good French scholar that I can order several French dishes off a bill of fare with great sang froid.

    As soon as we went into the shop the Madame quit the department of the racks and bottles, and came in where we were and invited us to be seated. She inquired where we came from, where we were going, and how long we would stay in Roseau. She invited us very politely to inspect everything in the shop. And would not the ladies drink a glass of iced lemonade?
    There was magic in the name. We had heard the rattling of ice in the glasses, and until you go down to a hot place like Roseau, and stroll for half an hour through the baking streets, you will never know how comforting that sounds. Certainly, we would all try a glass of iced lemonade; and the sooner the better.
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    Dominica was the last of the Caribbean islands to be colonized by Europeans, due chiefly to the fierce resistance of the native Caribs. France ceded possession to Great Britain in 1763, which made the island a colony in 1805.
    In 1980, two years after independence, Dominica's fortunes improved when a corrupt and tyrannical administration was replaced by that of Mary Eugenia CHARLES, the first female prime minister in the Caribbean, who remained in office for 15 years.
    Some 3,000 Carib Indians still living on Dominica are the only pre-Columbian population remaining in the eastern Caribbean.
    CIA World Factbook: Dominica


Area of Dominica: 754 sq km
slightly more than 4x the size of Wash., DC

Population of Dominica: 72,386
July 2007 estimate

Languages of Dominica:
English official, French patois

Dominica Capital: Roseau


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    And what do you think she brought us? Here in this country, where lemons grow as thick as apples do at home--where hundreds of bushels of them go to waste every year, where in any month or any season, Summer or Winter, you can step out into the back yard and pick them off the trees, she brought us a quart bottle of some French stuff, imported from Paris and called lemonade.
    There came with it a plate of cracked ice, and this at least looked tempting. We tried the French lemonade, and found it quite as vile as we expected. But this was their idea of a good glass of lemonade. To make it out of lemons off their own trees would be too commonplace and cheap.

    We looked about the shop and saw several shelves full of queer-shaped jugs and pitchers made of red clay, some of which we bought. They came from Spain. But we found one thing that we had been looking for, and which we were glad to get. It was a genuine Carib basket. I had heard a great deal about these baskets on the ship, and had seen some of them, but had not before had a chance to buy one.
    I had understood that their name was "carry baskets," from the ease with which things could be carried in them. But I learned better in Dominica. They are made by the Carib Indians, two or three small bands of whom still live on this and other Caribbean Islands. They are sometimes larger than a steamer trunk, and from this run down in size till they are no larger than a cigar box. The most curious thing about them is that they are waterproof. They are very closely woven of something that looks like split bamboo, in two parts, and outer and an inner. Between the two a layer of large leaves is put, and they are then firmly woven together. The basket is made in two sections, a base and a cover, both exactly alike, except that the cover is the merest trifle larger than the base, so that it will fit down over it. When the two are put together they are like a trunk, without any trays or drawers inside, and a strap or a cord around them holds them tight together. The large ones make good trunks, and are extensively used for that purpose in the southern West Indies.
    They are commonly said to be waterproof, and I had the curiousity to try the small one I bought and see whether it would really hold water. Away down here in the further Caribbees I filled it up with Croton water brought down in the ships tanks. I found it as nearly waterproof as any ordinary trunk would be. It leaked a little; just about as much, I imagine, as a steamer trunk would. But for a basket it was much nearer waterproof than anything else I ever saw.

    After leaving this odd little shop, having bought some of the worst cigars (from one of the neighboring islands) that anybody could wish for, we walked a little further about the town. The buildings were nearly all of stone, most of them small, and generally only one story high. They came flat up to the street in every instance. I did not see one with even an apology for a yard in front of it.
    Presently we started back for the wharf, having seen, we believed, all the beauties of Roseau. Consul Jackson, at Antigua, had given me a note of introduction to Mr. Stedman, but we were to be in the place such a very short time I thought it hardly worth while to present it. When we reached the landing we found Capt. Fraser and another gentleman just coming up the steps.
    "I believe you are acquainted with this gentleman," Capt. Fraser said to me.
    I said I thought not.
    "Oh, yes you are," said the other gentleman. "I am Mr. Dupont, and I was purser of the Orinoco when you went out to Bermuda in her three or four years ago."
    Of course I remembered him then, and of course was glad to meet him again so far away from home. The ships running to Bermuda and those coming down here to the Windward Islands are owned by the same company--the Quebec Steamship Company--and Mr. Dupont had made a change of base, and instead of running to Bermuda was going back and forth among these islands, acting as supercargo and general agent for the ships. He had spent a good many months among these islands, and knew them thoroughly; and from this time on I found him a better source of information than the New-York directory, the Gazetteer, or even a cyclopedia.
    I do not think I have asked him a question about any of the islands that he could not answer. We had adjoining staterooms outside (for he went on down to Trinidad with us,) and I do not know any more pleasant part of the voyage than our after-dinner chats on deck, when, having drawn our steamer chairs up to the rail and loaded our pipes, we sat down and discussed the places we were just going to and had just left.

    When we returned to the ship we found on board the Lord Bishop of Dominica, who had come out to bid good-bye to Gov. Lees. I had the pleasure of meeting him, and found him not only a very solid and substantial man physically, but agreeable and communicative. He told me some things about the Catholic church on the island and about his own life there, among others that he frequently went all over the island on pony back. However, I did not know till just as he was going that he was the "Lord" Bishop, and then I heard Lady Lees on his departure say, "Goodbye, my Lord!" And there I had been talking to him for half an hour just as if he had been any ordinary man.

    Soon after his departure one of the mates came up and said to me:
    "Do you want to see Robinson Crusoe on his raft?"
    Looking over the portside, we saw about the smallest raft that ever was put together. It was made of two logs not more than eight or ten feet long, with a few boards nailed across the top, and on this two colored boys, a keg full of oranges, and a small box of limes. The boys were on a trading expedition, and wanted to sell their oranges and limes. As soon as we leaned over the side, they asked us to buy.
    "How much do you want for your oranges?" I asked.
    "A shillin' a hundred," the largest boy replied. That meant an English shilling--24 cents. The keg only held about 50 or 60 oranges.
    "And how much for limes?"
    "Sixpence a hundred," meaning 12 cents.
    I bought all they had, just to encourage West Indian trade. We lowered a little basket with a rope, and they filled it with oranges and we drew it up. It took several "drawings up" to load the entire cargo; and when, at the end, we lowered a small silver coin, and they were not able to make change, and we told them to keep the sixpence that was due us, they hardly seemed to know what such a thing meant...
WILLIAM DRYSDALE.

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1886 was equivalent to $22.88 in 2007.
The British pound was worth about $4.85 in 1884; with 20 shillings per pound, calling a shilling worth 24 cents is indeed correct.


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