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St Thomas Island I

ST THOMAS ISLAND I (SAo THOME), a volcanic island in the Gulf of Guinea immediately north of the equator (o 23' N.) and in 6 40' E. With the island of Principe (Prince's Island), it forms the Portuguese province of St Thomas. From the Gabun, the nearest point of the mainland of Africa, St Thomas is distant 166 m., and from Cameroon 297 m. The extreme length of the island is 32 m. the breadth W. to E. 21 m.; the area is about 400 sq. m.

From the coast the land rises towards lofty verdant mountains (St Thomas over 7000 ft.). At least a hundred streams, great and small, descend the mountain-sides through deep-cut ravines, many of them forming beautiful waterfalls, such as those of Blu-blu on the Agua Grande. The island during its occupation by the Netherlands acquired the name of " The Dutchman's Churchyard," and the deathrate is still very high. Malaria is common in the lower regions, but the unhealthiness of the island is largely due to the absence of hygienic precautions. During the dry season (June to September) the temperature ranges in the lower parts between 66-2 and 80-6 F., and in the higher parts between 57/2 and 68; in the rainy season it ranges between 69-8" and 89-6 in the lower parts, and between 64-4 and 80-6 in the higher parts. On coffee Mount (2265 ft.) the mean of ten years was 68-9, the maximum 90-5 and the minimum 47-3. The heat is tempered by the equatorial ocean current. The rainfall is very heavy save on the north coast.

The soil is exceedingly fertile and a considerable area is densely forested. Among the products are oranges, lemons, figs, mangoes, and in the lower districts the vine, pineapple, guava and banana. The first object of European cultivation was sugar, and to this the island owed its prosperity in the 16th century; sugar has been displaced by coffee and, principally, cocoa, introduced in 1795 and 1822 respectively. In 1907 the export of cocoa (including that from Principe) was over 24,000 tons, about a sixth of the world's supply. The cocoa zone lies between 650 and 2000 ft. above the sea. Vanilla and cinchona bark both succeed well, the latter at altitudes of from 1800 to 3300 ft. Rubber, quinine, cinnamon, camphor and the kola-nut are also produced, but since 1890 -when the production was under 3000 tons cocoa has been almost exclusively grown. About 175 sq. m. were in 1910 under cultivation. The value of the imports was 175,000 in 1896 and 708,000 in 1908; that of the exports was 398,000 in 1896 and 1,760,000 in 1908. The shipping trade (190 vessels of 490,000 tons in 1908) is chiefly in the hands of the Portuguese. The revenue (1909-1910) was about 195,000, the expenditure 162,000.

At the census of 1900 the inhabitants were returned at 37,776, of whom 1012 were whites (mainly Portuguese). The town of St Thomas, capital and chief port of the province, residence of the governor and of the Curador (the legal guardian of the servicaes, i.e. labourers), is situated on Chaves Bay on the N.E. coast. It is the starting-point of a railway 9 m. long, which connects with the Decauville railways on the cocoa estates. The inhabitants, apart from the Europeans, consist (i ) of descendants of the original settlers, who were convicts from Portugal, slaves and others from Brazil and negroes from the Gabun and other parts of the Guinea coast. They number about 8000, are a brown-skinned, indolent race, and occupy rather than cultivate about one-eighth of the island. They are known as " natives " and use a Negro-Portuguese " lingua de S ThomeV' (2) On the south-west coast are Angolares some 3000 in number descendants of two hundred Angola slaves wrecked at Sete Pedras in 1544. They retain their Bunda speech and customs, and are expert fishermen and canoemen. (3) Contract labourers from Cape Verde, Kabinda, etc., and Angola. These form the bulk of the population. In 1891, before the great development of the cocoa industry, the population was only 22,ooo. 1 St Thomas was discovered on the 21st of December 1470 by the Portuguese navigators Joao de Santarem and Pero de Escobar, who in the beginning of the following year discovered Annobom (" Good Year "). They found St Thomas uninhabited. The first attempts at colonization were Joao de Paiva's in 1485; but nothing permanent was accomplished till 1493, when a body of criminals and of young Jews taken from their parents to be baptized were sent to the island, and the present capital was founded by Alvaro de Carminha. In the middle of the 16th century there were over 80 sugar mills on the island, which then had a population of 50,000; but in 1567 the settlement was attacked by the French, and in 1574 the Angolares began raids which only ended with their subjugation in 1693. In 1595 there was a slave revolt; and from 1641 to 1644 the Dutch, who had plundered the capital in 1600, held possession of the island. The French did great damage in 1709; the sugar trade had passed to Brazil and internal anarchy reduced St Thomas to a deplorable state. It was not until the later half of the igth century that prosperity began to return.

The greatly increased demand for cocoa which arose in the last decade of the century led to the establishment of many additional plantations, and a very profitable industry was developed. Planters, however, were handicapped by the scarcity of labour, for though a number of Cape Verde islanders, Krumen and Kabindas sought employment on short-term agreements, the " natives " would not work. The difficulty was met by the recruitment of indentured natives from Angola, as many as 6000 being brought over in one year. The mortality among these labourers was great, but they were very well treated on the plantations. No provision was, however, made for their repatriation, while the great majority were brought by force from remote parts of Central Africa and had no idea of the character of the agreement into which they were compelled to enter. From time to time governors of Angola endeavoured to remedy the abuses of the system, which both in Portugal and Great Britain was denounced as indistinguishable from slavery, notwithstanding that slavery had been legally abolished in the Portuguese dominions in 1878. In March 1909 certain firms, British and German, as the result of investigations made in Angola and St Thomas, refused any longer to import cocoa from St Thomas or Principe Islands unless the recruitment of labourers for the plantations was made voluntary. Representations to Portugal were made by the British government, and the Lisbon authorities stopped recruitment entirely from July 1909 to February 1910, when it was resumed under new regulations. British consular agents were stationed in Angola and St Thomas to watch the working of these regulations. (See statement by Sir E. Grey reported in The Times, July 2nd, 1910). As one means of obviating the difficulties encountered in Angola the recruitment of labourers from Mozambique was begun in 1908, the men going out on a yearly contract.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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