Simanaitis Says

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THANKS TO Englishman Algernon E. Aspinall, I offer compelling information here on the Montserrat brogue, John Teach (aka Blackbeard the pirate), a Caribbean counterpart of Forty-Niner’s sourdough, and how to avoid a tourist’s tattoo.

Aren’t old guidebooks fun?


The Pocket Guide to the West Indies, Colonial Edition, by Algernon E. Aspinall, Duckworth & Co., 1912. Neither of my usual sources lists it.

“Every year,” writes Aspinall, “our beautiful and historical possessions in the West Indies attract an increasing number of visitors from England, who find in them a pleasant refuge from the rigour and fogs of winter.”


Regions shown in red were outposts of the British Empire in 1912. Today, they’re a mixed array of sovereign states, Commonwealth realms and British Overseas Territories. This and other images from The Pocket Guide to the West Indies—Colonial Edition.

Together with the usual guidebook data on transportation, hotels and the like, Aspinall includes lots of local folklore. For instance, he notes the Irish brogue spoken by those on Montserrat, one of the Leeward Islands, about halfway down the Caribbean chain stretching from Florida to Venezuela.

This linguistic oddity dates from 1632, when a group of transported Irish were moved from nearby Nevis and settled in Montserrat. Two decades later, Oliver Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland added to Montserrat’s transported Irish.

(Today, more than half of Montserrat is an unpopulated Exclusion Zone, the result of devastation from Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and the island’s Soufrière Hills volcano, which had major eruptions in 1995.)


Laborie, St. Lucia. “The graceful trees are coco-nut palms.”

In Aspinall’s era, St. Thomas was a Danish colony. (It became a U.S. possession in 1917.) Of its accommodations, Aspinall writes, “At the Grand Hotel and at Mrs. C.E. Taylor’s establishment, called “1829,” the pension terms are 8s. 4d. per day.”

Hmm…. See and consult Aspinall’s Dollar and Sterling tables in the back of the Guide. In 1912, 8s. and 4d. was $1.92 + 8¢ = $2.

Both the Grand Hotel and Hotel 1829 were still there when I lived on St. Thomas. Hotel 1829 had a super Twelve-Boy Curry; I recall it cost more than $2, but then it was the 1970s.


By the same author. This book is listed at both and

On a St. Thomian legend: “John Teach, or Blackbeard, was a scoundrel of the deepest dye…. He had fourteen wives… and would blow out all the candles in his cabin and blaze away with his pistols right and left at random.”

Had I fourteen wives, I suspect I would do the same.


A street in St. John’s, Antigua.

Aspinall offers a recipe for pepper-pot, more or less along the lines of Caribbean stews I’ve enjoyed, but with an odd twist. Fry small pieces of pork until they’re brown, add a cut-up partially roasted fowl, an onion, a dozen shallots and a few dry chillies into an earthenware pipkin, locally called a “buck-pot.”

Add a sauce consisting of moist cane sugar, salt and cayenne pepper mixed well in water, with seven to ten tablespoons of cassareep (the concentrated juice of the bitter cassava) added until the concoction is brown.

So far, so good.

But then, “This is boiled and allowed to simmer for one and a quarter hours, and then boiled up again next day for half an hour. On the third day the pepper-pot will be ready for table.

“The pot must be constantly replenished, and if heated up day after day it will last for many years. The writer has been privileged to partake of a pepper-pot said to be over one hundred years old.”

I believe I’ll pass in favor of the Twelve-Boy Curry.

Aspinall’s advice on apparel is more easily accepted: “Ladies should shun openwork blouses, which are a source of great attraction to mosquitoes and, owing to the action of the sun, give the wearer the appearance of being tattooed when she appears in evening dress.”

Noted. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

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