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Report by Consul Du Pont Syle on the commerce, trade, and industries of

Madeira for the year 1882.


The area of the island of Madeira is about 330 square miles, of which only about one-sixth, or 55 square miles, is under cultivation. The very latest information concerning the agricultural products of the island has been so admirably collected by Miss Ellen M. Taylor in her recently published “Madeira ; Its Scenery, and How to See It," that I cannot do better, having obtained the author's kind permission, than state it in her own words, with a few necessary corrections in the phraseology.*

Agriculture in Madeira is carried on in such a different way to what it is in England or elsewhere that it has the appearance of being rather a haphazard proceeding; nevertheless, though in many points it might be much improved and better crope obtained, it is wonderful what is done, and what great patience and industry are shown in building the innumerable little terraces on the mountain sides, in apparently inaccessible places, giving a inost fertile look to ravines which otherwise would present a rocky appearance with a scanty vegetation. These terraces, built with exceeding neatness, are irrigated by rivulets and levadas, and amply reward the labor bestowed on them, yielding good and constantly succeeding crops of grain, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Little grain is grown in the lowlands, which are given up almost entirely to vines and sugar-cane; but even so, here and there amongst these, in any little square patch or border, broad beans, cabbages, lupins, and pumpkins are crowded together and yield plentifully.

In the country a simple plow is drawn by oxen, where the land is not too steep, but much of it is dug with the enchada, a very useful garden implement. Weeds and roots are burnt on the ground and the ashes dug in; the ground is but slightly manured unless for sugar-canes or vines, and the crops of wheat and barley are poor in consequence; maize (milho) is much grown, and is very productive, especially on the north coast. There are water-mills for grain in all parts of the island, which work well and are in most cases eminently picturesque. At different times the potato disease has been severely felt in Madeira, but of late years the crops have been excellent, and, with slight exceptions, quite healthy. Madeira potatoes are remarkably good.

The batata, or sweet potato, has become a very important article in the Madeira market, as it produces all the year round; near the sea the Demerara batata will give three crops in the year, but up in the nountains yields but one.

The batatas are eaten as a vegetable, the patives making their meals sometimes entirely of them, and they are much used in the native sopas, or pottage of stewed vegetables.

Every cottage has its plot of cabbages and pumpkins, which are the chief ingredients of the sopas.

Onions are extensively grown, and exported in considerable quantities. They are more delicate in flavor than the English onion.

Spanish chestnuts, which ripen and produce abundantly in the autumn, are much eaten by the peasantry (either raw, boiled, or baked), as are also yams.

These yams are a beautiful feature in the vegetation, being the Caladium esculentum, and their large handsome leaves of varied green are much used in fattening pigs.

* As I shall have frequent occasion in this report to quote from Miss Taylor's book, for the sake of convenience I shall simply indicate these quotations by the letter (T).

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Almost every household possesses a pig; its flesh, which is fattened for Christmas fare, is the chief and almost the only luxury the poorer classes indulge in.

The pumpkin is an important item in Madeira cooking, and is grown almost everywhere, even at a greater altitude than 2,000 feet above the sea, climbing over trellises made from bank to bank of the almost dry river beds, hanging over the terrace walls, and furnishing food in the innumerable gourds it produces for the benefit of rich and poor, to whom it is almost indispensable.

The chow-chow, or pepinella, is a delicious vegetable, like a very delicate vegetable marrow; it is a climber, having a very handsome leaf.

Cauliflowers and peas may be grown almost all the year round; French and haricot beans, carrots, and turnips are never out of season.

The culture of fruit is but little understood in Madeira, where, with proper care and attention, the very best might be produced; the trees are but slightly pruned, and the crowded young fruit never thinned.

In a few cases, where good care and attention is given by people with gardens, the very best eating grapes, of various sorts, notably black and white muscatel, and the cape honey-pot grape, reward the extra trouble given; the splendid pines, too, produced for the London market, are a proof of what may be done with some energy and perservance.

The mango, custard apple, loquat, and Avogado pear are of quick growth and require but little attention. 'Captain Cook, when he touched at Madeira on his first voyage, in 1768, found the mango, bananas, pineapples, and guavas flourishing, as he says, “almost without culture.'

The fruit of the granadilla is very delicious, but not often met with, although a climber of very quick growth and covering many a cottage-trellised garden seat.

Strawberries have been much cultivated for sale for the last twenty years, and come in about March, producing till August; the mountain strawberry, once so plentiful under the chestnut trees, has become very scare; mulberries and figs in great abundance ripen so as to become very luscious; stone fruit is plentiful, but very inferior to English and French, and only wanting proper treatment; the same may be said of pears and apples. Raspberries, gooseberries, and currants will not repay the culture. Walnuts and Spanish chestnuts are very good and plentiful; lemons may be had all the year round.

Tomatoes and cucumbers grow in great abundance all through the summer. Madeira arrowroot is very superior, and great care is taken in its preparation; the best is from Magdalena and from a few private gardens near Funchal.

Capsicum and other red peppers are much grown, and have an extensive sale; they are very pungent, and never adulterated.

Coffee, which used once to be so abundant, has been scarce for many years, owing to the disease at the root of the trees; what there is is very superior, but there is every probability of the Liberian coffee flourishing and taking its place.

The woods of Pinus maritima are a great feature of the country at the present day in Madeira. Being of a rapid growth they are soon cut down for firewood. The stumps and roots are burnt on the ground, when a crop of rye is immediately sown, and after the harvest fresh pine seed is put in. The rye straw is the best for thatching and, used is in large quantities for the covering of their cottages amongst the poorer classes.

The use of the pine for firewood, garden, and vine trellis, or corridors, &c., has entirely superseded that of the valuable indigenous trees, which are thus saved for better purposes, while the forests in the interior, so important to the preservation of the water sources, are now less subject to devastation, though the charcoal-burners still make sad havoc in defiance of the law. The cones of the Pinus maritima attain a large size here, and are most useful for fuel, burning brightly and emitting a cheerful light.

The cane, Arundo donax, is planted extensively in the river beds for making latadas or corridors for the vines, and for gardening purposes. A large quantity of the finest and narrowest of these canes must be yearly used for the innumerable rockets which are in constant demand.

Willows for baskets and chairs, &c., are widely cultivated; there are large plantations in the valley of Machico and to the westward.


These in Madeira are literally manufactures, for, beyond sugar and flour mills, there is nothing else made by other than hånd work.

Cabinet-makers ought to rank first, but they are far distanced by the chair and basket makers in the amount of work required. There are several good inlaid-wood workers in Funchal.

The work in the handsome black wood of the til, with silver mountings and monogram (the designs being given), is very handsome, such as tables, cabinets, blotters, and inkstands, &c.; but these are only made to order.

Furniture shops are plentiful, and in some of these excellent wardrobes, chairs, and tables may be found of til or vinhatico, walnut or plain. Cedar-wood linings are generally used for glove and other boxes. The manufacture of many articles in wicker-work has increased enorinously within the last ten years. Sofas, tables, chairs, and baskets of all shapes are made, and shipped by thousands every year. The largest quantities are made at Camacha, and afford a lucrative occupation to many men, boys, and girls.

The fine baskets made of the peeled broom come chiefly from São Martinho, Santo Amaro, and that neighborhood, and are brought in weekly from these districts, either to the shops or for sale at the doors of houses and hotels.

Plaited straw for hats and bonnets comes from the Estreito and about Camara de Lobas.

Weaving is done chiefly at Ponta do Sol, the Canhas, Machico, Caniço, and Seixal. The hand-looms are very primitive and simple. The weavers are women, who are most ingenious in dyeing their wools with the roots and bark of trees.

Madder is used for crimson ; walnut bark for brown, any shado; mulberry and wild berberie root for yellow. Black and purple dye is made from logwood and copperas.

The beautifully embroidered bodices worn with the native costume are made at Ponta do Sol.

The stone-cutters are remarkably good workmen, as much of their work testifies, especially the balustrade round the terrace of the Empress's hospital. The hard gray cantaria comes chiefly from Cabo Girao, taken with difficulty from quarries on the face of this grand cliff. It is much used for door and window frames, for window balconies, steps, &c.

Houses are built of hard blue freestone, of which there is an unlimited supply from quarries and river beds; hence the houses are strong and well built. Much lime and sand is used with the stone; the former comes from Porto Santo, and is prepared in kilns in or near Funchal.

The wood used in building is generally chestnut, being hard and very suitable for this purpose.

The floors are either of American white or pitch pine, the latter being especially excellent and beautiful for the purpose, Madeira carpenters or joiners doing it full justice by their good workmanship. It is used for tho flooring of the Empress's hospital, and is worth observing.

The hampers, made of unpeeled broom, used for packing potatoes and onions, are manufactured in the Little Curral.

The Gaula people excel in cutting spoons of every size and shape, from soup-ladles for kitchen uso to salt-spoons. Folhado, being a very hard wood, is suitable for the larger, and lemon, orango, and box for the smaller sizes. Spindles are made either from the Erica arborea or Folhado, and the distaff from the thick cane, Arundo donax. Troughs of different sizes are much used by the poor, especially in kneading their bread, and are hollowed from a section of any tree large and hard enough; so that many fine trees are sacrificed for the purpose.

Very strong material is made from the wool of the island sheep; some dark brown, the natural color of the sheep, and other white. Very quaint, picturesque, little brown caps of various shapes are knitted by the shepherds about the west, at Prazeres and that part of the island, while watching their herds in the mountains. These little caps are by no means ugly, and are very becoming to the brown faces of their wearers, and are taking the places of the carapuça.

Flax is grown in many places, but is troublesome to prepare for spinning, this being all done by hard manual labor.

Embroidery is one of the chief employments of the women, both in the town and in the country, and was principally set on foot by Miss Phelps, in 1856, as an insular industry, to the great benefit and amelioration of the condition of a large class of women who had little or no means whereby to earn a living.

Knitting in fine thread, silk, and the threads of the aloe is very well done, and gives employment to many.

The aloe thread is used as well in stitching hats and bonnets, and is very strong; when dyed it makes effective doyleys of various colors.

Coarse and fine horse-hair chains are much in demand, and are cleverly made.

Feather flowers, once so beautifully made at the Santa Clara Convent, and especially by some nuns who died a few years ago, have much deteriorated; but the best best are still made at the convent.

Madeira coopers are celebrated for their not only excellent but beautiful handiwork.

The only candles made in Madeira are of tallow, and are superior to those of Lisbon. Charcoal is only used for ironing-stoves and by the blacksmiths. It is made in the mountains by the poorest peasantry.

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The oil used by the peasants in the mountains is expressed from the Laurus canariensis, and is most fragrant while the berries are being boiled before pressing.

The Madeira fruits make good preserves, and were highly famed as far back as the sixteenth century, and nuns and confectioners bad arrived at such perfection in the art that, an offering of every sort of confectionery in white sugar being sent to the Pope, the Madeira confectioners took rank as the first of the age.

The few nuns that still live in the convents preserve the art, but only in a measure, and candied fruits, jams of many sorts, and guava jelly are about the best things to be found in the Funchal shops.

Citron, pineapples, and bananas are exported to England in very large quantities.

The red pottery manufacture is on the São Roque road, where flower-pots chiefly are made; the water-vessels, infusas, and jars sold in the shops come from Portugal. At Santa Cruz delicate specimens of red pottery are made, and can be ordered at the Maria Pia Bazaar, where they keep them for sale, as well as a great variety of the Portugal ware from Caldas. The Oporto ware is quaint, and may be had in any china shop. It has a very original appearance and is very cheap; the plates in blue and white are very pretty, and the many-colored bowls delightfully original.


So far as I can learn, there are no traces of mines in the Madeira Islands. Some years ago the government, upon a rumor that coal was to be found on the north side of the principal island, caused a survey to be made, which resulted in the discovery of nothing. Some limestone quarries in Porto Santo, and the freestone referred to above, represent the total marketable mineral products of these islands.


The Portuguese peasant seldom eats meat. Vegetables and a morsel of fish form his staple food. Imagine, then, a government which lays a heavy tax upon fish, and ruthlessly exacts it from the poorest of the poor. Some idea of the oppressiveness of this tax upon the downtrodden peasantry may be gathered from the fact that in the budget for 1880-1881 the finance minister estimated the revenue from this tax would be $135,000. This was in Portugal, with a population of only 4,000,000.

Fish of the following tribes are to be found near the Madeira coast:

Perch, red mullet, beryx, barracuda, gurnard, sea-bream, picarel, flag-fish mackerel, zemdæ, gray mullet, wrasse, pike, herring, codfish, flatfish, eel.

Tunny of a very considerable size are caught in the deep-sea fishing-grounds, as well as the cherně. Turtles are taken chiefly during the summer time, and vary in size; they are not so prized as the West India turtles, but nevertheless make very fair soup.

Shrimps (Camarons) are sometimes offered for sale. Madeira lobsters are very different in appearance from those in England. Crabs are small, and not worth eating.

The Guelros or whitebait of Madeira are exceedingly good, and are chiefly caught after heavy rains, when they come in shoals to the muddy waters brought down by the mountain torrents.

At low tide innumerable limpets and periwinkles are seen on the rocks, and crabs of every size hurrying sideways into crannies. Sea urchins with long spines are most injurious in bathing, and are known to cause serious trouble to those who step on them. Occasionally the fishermen bring in curious sea monsters, the Urgamanta, for instance, the creature described in Victor Hugo's "Les Travailleurs de la Mer.” It is much dreaded by the diving boys around the ships at anchor, for it comes to the surface floating on its back, and endeavors to envelope its prey with its large and powerful double tlaps, and having done so, immediately sinks to the bottom.

The Pulro (octopus) sometimes is caught of a considerable size. The Portugal fishermen make a soup from this sea monster, which they consider a great delicacy.

The only fresh-water tish are eels, of which there are a variety. They are caught in the mountain streams.-(T.)

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