No island in these waters will be approached with greater interest and expectancy than the island of St. Lucia. This is not on account of its winsome beauty, although there are many who hold it to be the loveliest spot in this gorgeous crescent. It is not by reason of its size, for it covers an area less than that of the county of Middlesex. It has no natural features to make it remarkable, unless they be certain sulphur springs and the towering rocks known as the Pitons. Yet for centuries little St. Lucia was the most important island in the West Indies. As such it looms majestically in the history of these troubled seas. To the many who strove to find a footing in the archipelago, St. Lucia was ever the key to the attainment In every fresh scheme of conquest the little island was the goal to be reached, the guerdon of the conqueror. Hold St Lucia, and the rest may perish!
There can hardly be a spot that, for its size, has played a more stirring part in the history of arms or in the chronicles of the British navy and army. There is no dot of land that has been so desperately fought over, so savagely wrangled for, as this too fair island. St. Lucia is the Helen of the West Indies, and has been the cause of more blood-shedding than was ever provoked by Helen of Troy. Seven times was it held by the English, and seven times by the French. For no less than one hundred and fifty years it was the arena of the most bitter and deadly strife. Whenever war broke out between England and France, the call that at once rang out in the west was ever the same : “To St. Lucia ! To St Lucia ! ”
The panic-ridden town of Castries has seen more of the storming of heights, of the rushing of trenches and of the battering of forts, than any town across the seas. It has witnessed gladiatorial combats that would have thrilled the Colosseum at Rome. Here at St. Lucia is that spit of land, La Vigie, the look-out, where the watchman, whether French or English, never slumbered nor slept. Here are Gros Islet and Pigeon Island, made memorable by Rodney as the scenes of his dashing sea-story.
Here, too, is that ever famous hill, the Morne Fortune, which for a century or more was the height around which every battle raged. Whoever held the Morne Fortune, the Lucky Hill, held the island. It would be hard to tell how many times it was stormed, how often the English took it, and how often the French. Assuredly can it be said that within no like ring of ground do the grass and the brambles cover a greater company of British dead. It hides the French dead also. Every patriotic Frenchman is proud of the Morne, for the soldiers of that gallant country made the hill as renowned for deeds of valour as did the men they fought with. How many memories, cherished in the hearts of mothers, wives and sweethearts, must have clung about this ” green hill far away ” ! Even yet there must be, hidden away in old bureaus, letters with the faded heading, ” Morne Fortune.” Some of these would narrate, with all the glee of a lad, how the boats landed, how the slopes were rushed, and how, to the cheering of his company, the famous Morne was taken. Lucky Hill ! Other papers in more formal writing would tell how the lad had sickened and grown silent, how he had longed for little more than news from home and an end to his miseries, and how, at last, his company had carried him away and buried him on the side of the Lucky Hill.
As the steamer is nearing the harbour it may be well to scan, in the briefest summary, the remarkable chronicles of this island.
In 1605 some English colonists landed out of the Olive Blossome, which had recently been advancing the empire in simple fashion at Barbados (page 7). In less than two months these enterprising folk were massacred by the Caribs.
In 1635 the king of France generously granted to Messieurs Latine and Du Plessis “all the unoccupied lands in America.” They modestly selected Martinique, leaving St Lucia for the time to the unappeasable natives.
In 1639 the English again attempted to establish a colony on the comely island, but the adventurers were promptly massacred or scattered by the Caribs.
In 1642 the king of France ceded St. Lucia and other islands to the French West Indian Company. The company being composed of needy speculators effected little ; although in 1650 they succeeded in selling St. Lucia and Grenada to Messieurs Houel and Du Parquet for 16601., obtaining in this way some desirable ready money. Du Parquet in the following year erected a fort and in spite of angry opposition from the natives founded an uneasy settlement of forty colonists.
In 1660 the French and English conspired together to wheedle the island from the now confiding Caribs. This noble work accomplished, they fell out between themselves and began that struggle for the possession of the island which lasted for one hundred and fifty years.
In 1664 a party of English from Barbados landed at Anse du Choc and wrested the island from the French. In 1667 by the treaty of Breda it was restored to France again.
In 1722 George I., apparently out of bravado, granted St. Lucia to John, Duke of Montagu. It was an unkind gift. That nobleman tried to possess himself of his property but failed very lamentably.
In 1728 both the British and the French held such strong positions on the place that, in order to save further bloodshed, they agreed to regard St. Lucia as neutral. By the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle it was formally made neutral, but in spite of agreements and treaties the fighting never ceased.
In 1756, on an outbreak of war with France, St. Lucia was captured by the English. In 1763, by the treaty of Paris, it was restored to France. The French now put the island in order and moved the chief fort from La Vigie to the hill which was destined to become so famous as the Morne Fortune.
In 1778, England being again at war with France, the two fleets made for St. Lucia with all press of sail. The British arrived first. The Morne Fortune was stormed and St. Lucia was once more in the hands of the English.
In 1781 the great French fleet under De Grasse bore down upon this unhappy settlement with no less than ” twenty-five sail of the line.” They landed at Gros Islet and made a desperate attempt to seize the island, but the enterprise failed. In 1783, by the treaty of Versailles, St Lucia was handed back once more to the French.
In 1794 the English, under General Grey, landing at various spots, took the Morne Fortune at the point of the bayonet. The British flag was planted on the summit by the Duke of Kent, the father of Queen Victoria. Late in the same year Goyrand made a sudden onslaught and seized St. Lucia for the French, gaining all but two forts. In the following year the English were ignominiously driven out of the island by Victor Hugues, the friend of Robespierre. In their flight they left their women and children behind. These unhappy people were, however, sent to Martinique by the French under a flag of truce.
In 1796 a large British force under Sir Ralph Abercromby and Sir John Moore stormed the Morne Fortune and, after much desperate fighting, captured it. In 1802, by the treaty of Amiens, St. Lucia was again given back to France.
It will be noticed that, throughout these many changes, the English had the better of the fighting and the French of the diplomacy.
Finally in 1803 Commodore Hood came in hot haste to St. Lucia and anchored in Anse du Choc Bay. The island was held at the time by General Nogues. La Vigie and Castries were easily taken by the British, whereupon the French general retired to the Morne Fortune and refused to surrender. The Morne was stormed at 4 A.M. on June 22 and in less than an hour the works were carried at the point of the bayonet with small loss to the attacking force. With the storming-party was the gallant Sir Thomas Picton, the hero of Badajoz.
In 1814 the fair and fickle St. Lucia was finally ceded to Great Britain.
St. Lucia as approached from the sea is as dainty and beautiful an island as the heart could wish. Softly wooded to its highest peaks, there is nothing to suggest that it has been the firebrand of the West Indies, the island of strife, whose glades have been reddened with blood and whose slopes are riddled with the graves of valiant men. At the end of a verdant fiord, which would tempt any lazy holiday-maker, is Castries. This town receives its name from Marshal de Castries, who in 1785 was the French Minister of the Colonies. To the right of the entrance into the harbour of Castries is Cul de Sac Bay where the British fleet hid, in the famous attack of 1778, to the undoing of the French (page 115).
Castries itself is quite at the water’s edge, a squat, shy place, crouching at the feet of the circle of great hills which shuts in the far end of the inlet. The hill ahead is the Morne Duchazeau. It has a saddle-shaped summit with two faint peaks, one representing the pommel and the other the cantle of a rough-rider’s saddle. It was to the top of this height that Abercromby dragged his gunswith what labour heaven knowswhen he made his attempt on the Morne Fortune in 1796. The peak to the left is Morne Chabot, taken by Moore at the time of the same desperate assault. The hill to the right is the most beautiful of the three, as well as the nearest to the town. It is very green, for it is covered with trees to the sky line, with plantain and cocoanut, with mango and bread-fruit.
This is the never-to-be-forgotten Morne Fortune.