Overland Journey to India
We landed at Gibraltar at noon, and embarked about five o'clock on the evening of the 10th. Of this time - of which a good deal was made by the more active of our passengers - I was unable to avail myself, being occupied in duties which I could not properly desert. Some of the party provided themselves with mules, and made an interesting excursion over the rock. The view of the African shore from Gibraltar Bay is, towards sunset, peculiarly beautiful - the fortress of Ceuta, standing out purple and red in the setting sun, in mimic rivalry of that on the European shore. One huge mass of mountains, of the Atlas group on the African side, with the Sierras of Andalusia on the Spanish shore, fill the mind with beauty' for a long while on leaving or on approaching Gibraltar.
After staying but a few hours, our gallant vessel was again on her course. The weather, unfortunately, was not propitious. On leaving Gibraltar we encountered a heavy gale of wind, which lasted four days. The wind was westerly, and, as is usual in such circumstances, the mercury in the barometer kept rising as the gale increased. When at its height, the column stood at 30.114, and began steadily to descend as the storm abated. How useful is this instrument to the mariner - how faithful its prognostications of storm and calm!
Pursuing our way up the Mediterranean, the vessel steers direct for Malta, by which we approach the African shore. On the 14th we were off Algiers. The bay and town, with the villas around, were plainly visible by the naked eye: we were little more than six miles off. The country adjoining appeared fertile and well-cultivated, and we could see roads, gardens, and enclosures, with fields and vineyards, all looking in good condition. Cape Faroe, and the promontory of the Seven Capes, are jagged, irregular headlands, very distinctly visible. Cape Bon was another headland which came into sight. We likewise passed within view of the dreary island of Pantellaria, which is evidently the huge tumulus of an extinct volcano. It is about thirty-six miles in circumference, and seems about three thousand feet in height. The raptured craters and streams of lava are easily traceable, with beds of loose stones hurled down the mountain's side during some of its fiercer explosions. A large mass of cloud, which might readily be mistaken for the smoke of smouldering fires, almost constantly rests on the summit of the mountain. There is a considerable town, of the same name with the island, near the seashore on the western slope, and vineyards and gardens appear scattered about in surprising abundance. It belongs to the king of Sicily, and is used as a penal settlement, whither the Sicilian convicts are sent.
Our coal had been so heavily taxed by the storm, which had only now abated, that we were at one time on the point of making for Tunis. The wind got round upon us, and it is astonishing how rapidly in these seas the swell goes down after a gale. Six hours after it had ceased to blow the waves were nearly smooth, and the speed of the vessel almost doubled.
We reached Malta at daybreak on the 17th of December, and proceeded to land with as little delay as possible. Had we come in an opposite direction, we should have had to perform a troublesome quarantine. The island of Malta, which now belongs to England, is sixty miles from the nearest point in Sicily, and two hundred from the African shore. It attains at one place an elevation of six hundred feet. The climate is fine and healthy, though hot in summer, and suffers occasionally from the sirocco, which blows from the south-east, and occurs chiefly in September. The mean annual temperature is 67 degrees; the variation of the yearly means from 1820 to 1840 was no more than 3 degrees; the extreme range during the year is about 24 degrees.
Malta consists entirely of calcareous rocks, with scarcely any soil, diluvium, or abraded matter. The country has rather an arid appearance, but it produces grapes in abundance, and other fruits. At a distance, the view is rendered lively by the great number of windmills perched on the heights, and employed for grinding corn. The inhabitants speak a language partly Arabic and partly Italian, the former predominating.
The port of Malta consists of two splendid harbors, separated from each other by the narrow promontory called Mount Xiberras. On this stands the capital, Valetta. Marsamuscetta is the name given to the western or quarantine harbor; the other is called Valetta, or the great Harbor. The entrance to this last is guarded on the one side by the fortress of St. Elmo, on the other by that of Ricasoli, both of remarkable strength. On Fort St. Elmo is one of the most brilliant lighthouses in the Mediterranean. The great Harbor runs away into numerous creeks and inlets. In one of these is the dockyard, victualling-yard, and arsenal, with a wet-dock just finished, which is said to have cost the government not much under a million sterling. In another is the merchant shipping wet-dock and storeyards. A number of British, American, and French ships of war are commonly at anchor in the port: one British line-of-battle ship, of the largest size, with the admiral's flag on board, being of the number. The vast variety of forms, and diversity of appointments, of the mercantile vessels, especially of those from the Levant, present a most picturesque appearance.
It is seldom the traveler to or from the East can find leisure to examine the whole of the noble sights in or around Malta. There are abundance of excellent guide-books, of which a supply can at all times be procured from the admirable library of Mr. Muir, for those who have leisure and inclination for such things. I shall confine myself to a short notice of those which, during my brief visit now and on a former occasion, I was able to examine.