THE SPANISH MAIN
THERE is a large crowd of steerage passengers on our ship when she leaves Bridgetown. These
newcomers are Barbadians, who are going to Panama. The majority of them are men, but some
of the recruits for the Canal labour force are taking a wife and family with them. The
party has reserved quarters on the lower deck. A few of the darkies have provided
themselves with a hammock, but most of them have brought a deck chair, in which lounging
accommodation is afforded by a gaudy piece of carpet. Their clothes are made after a
Western fashion, but suggest an Oriental love of colour without any of the good taste in
finery which is common among Eastern races. However, a darkie in workaday costume
generally looks picturesque in this sunny part of the world.
At Port of Spain, in Trinidad, our next port of call, we make the acquaintance of East
Indians. These people are quite different from the aboriginal Indians of America; they are
natives of India, belonging to what is commonly
 known as the "coolie" class, who come to Trinidad to work on the sugar and cocoa
plantations. Their passage is paid, and they are employed under a system that is very much
like apprenticeship. When they have served their time as indentured labourers they are
under no further obligation to the planter. A few of the coolies have re-emigrated from
Trinidad to Panama; but they are not, as a rule, sufficiently muscular for the Canal work.
However, we shall see some East Indians among the motley population of the Canal Zone. The
women will be wearing their national costume of pretty draperies, nose rings, silver
anklets and numerous bangles, as is the custom in Trinidad; but the men will have
discarded their draperies for trousers and a vest.
A short drive through the country around Port of Spain gives us some idea of the
luxuriance of tropical vegetation. But it is not until our good ship has carried us out to
sea again that we begin to understand why this part of the world is so famous for its
beauty. In form, the scenery of Trinidad is a fair sample of West Indian grandeur; in
richness of clothing it is typically tropical.
In making her way from Port of Spain through the Gulf of Paria into the Caribbean Sea, the
steamer hugs the shore of Trinidad, thereby affording us a series of magnificent
views—mountains of volcanic formation, jungle-clad hills, palm groves, wooded
valleys, plantation. bedecked plains, all basking in the sunshine beneath a gloriously
Presently we notice there is land almost as close to the other side of the ship. Trinidad
was once part of the mainland; we are now in the neighbourhood in which volcanic
disturbances isolated a peninsular portion of Venezuela, and the little islands to the
west of Trinidad
 are the remains of the link. Only a few miles to the west of this island blockade is the
coast of Venezuela, hence the part of the Gulf of Paria which we have now reached is
almost completely land-locked. The straits which give access to the Caribbean Sea are
called the Bocas del Dragone, meaning Dragon's Mouths. It was through one of these mouths,
perhaps the very one we are now entering, that Columbus sailed soon after his discovery of
Trinidad; and our ship is steering a similar course to that which helped the famous
explorer to find the South American continent. As we emerge into the Caribbean Sea the
shore of the Paria Peninsula comes into view—we are getting a peep at the Venezuelan
district in which Columbus first set foot on the mainland of the New World.
For the remainder of the journey our route lies along the coast of the Spanish Main, past
Venezuela and Colombia, and by way of the north coast of the Isthmus of Panama to Colon.
We are on the threshold of a theatre in which have been enacted many of the most thrilling
dramas in the world's history—things that are supposed to have happened in imaginary
stories of adventure are tame in comparison with the things that actually happened on this
New World stage. A few of the actors are remembered by name, others merely as the
"Spaniards," the Portuguese," the "Indians," or the "English "; and some are spoken of as
great explorers or mighty conquerors, whilst others are dubbed bloodthirsty pirates or
savage heathen. Differences of nationality and religion have led some critics to bid us
believe one man was a villain and others to assure us that same man was a hero; but
innumerable facts tell us simply and clearly that the bulk of the actors were among the
bravest of all the brave men that ever lived.
 Whilst you are on these historic waters you will want leisure and quiet for dreaming your
own dreams. Very soon you shall be free to conjure up pictures of Spanish galleons sailing
this sea, pirate boats chasing the treasure vessels, the Spanish Fleet wreaking vengeance
on the sea-rovers, Hawkins coming along with a ship-load of slaves, Drake on his way to
plunder the "Treasure of the World," Raleigh bound for El Dorado. But first I want to make
sure that you know a few important facts concerning the development of Panama.
In 1501 Rodrigo de Bastida commanded an expedition to the New World, and discovered that
part of the coast of the Spanish Main lying between Cape Tiburon, on the Gulf of Darien,
and the port to which Columbus gave the name of Retrete on his arrival there a year later.
Following in the wake of Bastida and Columbus came Alonso de Ojeda, who began to colonize
the country round the Gulf of Darien, calling the district New Andalusia. He founded a
town, to which he gave the name of San Sebastian, on the eastern shore of the Gulf.
Glowing accounts of the newly discovered world were received by the Court of Spain, and
most of these reports were accompanied by samples of gold, So Spain gave the name of
"Castilla del Oro," or "Castle of Gold" to the region between Cape Gracias a Dios and the
Gulf of Darien, and sent over a governor together with several hundred colonists. Nicuesa,
first Governor of the Spanish Main, founded the town of Nombre de Dios, in Panama. Owing
to the unhealthiness of the site and numerous misadventures the Governor and most of the
A new expedition was sent to the mainland. It fitted out at Hayti, and with it as a
stowaway went a high
 spirited young rascal, named Balboa, who was running away from several people to whom he
owed money. When he was discovered, hiding in a cask, the Commander threatened to throw
him overboard. But he had a good tale ready, and a true one, too. He had already been to
the Spanish Main, with Bastida's expedition. The Commander decided that it would be well
to spare the life of such an experienced stowaway; and influenced by Balboa's stories of
the gold to be found in the Darien district he steered a course for San Sebastian. When
the expedition arrived at this destination they found only the deserted ruins of a town.
Evidently the settlers had been obliged to flee from the Indians. Balboa told his
Commander that there was a much better site for a settlement on the opposite shore of the
Gulf, and thither he piloted the expedition. The Indians tried to drive them away, but
were defeated, and the white men founded a new town, to which they gave the name of Santa
Maria la Antigua del Darien. Then Balboa and the Commander disagreed, and the quarrel
resulted in the latter being clapped into irons and sent back to Spain.
Balboa was now deputy-king of the Golden Castle. With great zeal he set about the work of
exploring the interior. Under his leadership a party of picked men plunged into the Bush;
they had to cut their way through dense forest, or follow a trail which led to an Indian
encampment, where there were hundreds of warriors armed with bows and arrows to dispute
their way. At last they reached the territory of a very powerful and wealthy Indian chief,
who received them peaceably; his eldest son took a great fancy to the "white chief" and
gave Balboa some valuable presents and some very exciting information. From his Indian
friend Balboa learnt that
 back of the mountains whose highest peaks could just be seen in the far distance there was
a sea, on the shores of which dwelt a rich and powerful nation, who, like the Spaniards,
possessed ships with sails, and that about a hundred miles from Darien there was a temple
of gold situated on the banks of a big river.
Balboa departed to look for the golden temple, but after hunting for it in vain for some
time he thought he ought to return to headquarters, to see how the colonists were faring.
Upon arriving at Santa Maria he found his services were badly needed to frustrate a
widespread Indian plot for driving the white men out of the land. Balboa did not wait to
be attacked; he at once made war on the Indians, who were taken by surprise and defeated.
Soon after he had given the natives this further proof of the white man's power,
reinforcements arrived from Spain, bringing to him from the King a commission as
Captain-General de la Antigua. Balboa now decided to lead an expedition southwards in
quest of the sea about which his Indian friend had told him.