Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2012 Issue

Exploring the Downtown National Library of Jamaica


Hans Sloane's account of Jamaica.


Though a work of natural history, Sloane’s book is still quoted in every civil history of Jamaica, its lengthy and versatile preface being one of the most interesting readings about the island. Everything of interest would attract his attention, as the oldest Spanish ruins in Jamaica, for example. When the conquistadore Juan de Esquivel took possession of the island in the name of Diego Columbus, in 1509, he established a colony named Nueva Sevilla. In the late 17th century, almost nothing remained of this first (or second, according to some) settlement that had been abandoned more than a hundred years ago. As a matter of fact, little was known of the Spanish reign in Jamaica. Sloane went to the North Coast to visit the ruins of Nueva Sevilla, especially those of the famous Peter Martyr d’Aghiera’s church. Martyr, the author of a respected body of work about the New World, never set a foot in Jamaica. He had been, nonetheless, appointed Abbot of the island – an honorary title - as he was an influential member of the Council of the Indies. The Spanish historian Padron suggests he was upset at the magnificent church the Abbot of the nearby Hispanola had erected ; so he ordered a bigger one to be built in Jamaica. Sloane gave a description of what remained of the ambitious front door of the building, including the wooden head of a saint with a knife going through his head. The size the church should have reached, if ever completed (which was never the case), gave an idea of the opulence of the colony at a time. The historical value of this testimony is so unique, it was reproduced word by word by the Barbadian Charles Leslie in his later A New and Exact History of Jamaica (1 vol. in-12°, Edinburgh, 1739, wrongfully credited to Sloane by Barbier in its French translation*, and still sold by most booksellers as Sloane’s account), and by almost every historian who wrote about the island ever since.

Hans Sloane also gave accounts of the sick he attended all over the island, including a certain « H.M » (Henry Morgan), whom he visited shortly before his passing, giving the last – and dull - description of the buccaneer. Sloane probably did not rest a lot. Still working as the personal physician of the Duchess, he would find time to roam the island to collect every natural specimen encountered. He loved plants and put them between two sheets of paper to dry them, planning to bring them back to the old and ignorant World. Whenever the subject of his attention was not so easily captured, he would ask his friend, the Reverend Garret Morr, to draw it from life – most of the copper-plates of the first volume were engraved from his drawings. Amongst the most intriguing things the botanist gathered were a live crocodile, an Iguana and a giant snake he said was tamed by an Indian it would follow like a dog to its master. Sloane noticed the inhabitants of the island were drinking a lot of chocolate, as a medicine. One of the most striking discoveries of the New World, chocolate, had then little in common with what we drink nowadays ; it was a thick mixture of cacao, spices, aromates and plants. « The nuts themselves are made of several parts, like an ox’ kidney, Sloane wrote about the beans of cacao, some lines being visible on it before broken, and his hollow within, its pulp is oily and bitterish to the taste. » When tasting the local chocolate, he found it « nauseous, and hard of digestion ». Never short of ideas, he sweetened it by adding some milk to it. The result was so palatable, he brought back his recipe to London where, according to the Natural History Museum (NHM) of London, it « brought him considerable income during his lifetime ». In the 19th century, long after Sloane’s death in 1753, his recipe was picked up by Cadbury. The wrappers read: « Sir Hans Sloane’s Milk Chocolate, Prepared After the Original Recipe,» an achievement that could already fill any man’s life, as most kids around the world will tell you. But, believe it or not, Sloan had even more than milk chocolate to offer to the world !

*Histoire de la Jamaïque, alledgedly translated into French by a French Dragon (soldier) by the name of Raulin. 2 volumes in-12°, A Londres, chez Nourse, 1751 : 2ff, 285pp / 1ff, 248pp / 6 folding plates by N.B. de Poilly.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Jenner (Rev. George Charles). <i>The Evidence at Large...Respecting Dr Jenner's Discovery of Vaccine Inoculation,</i> presentation copy from Edward Jenner to Rev. Rowland Hill, 1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Houdini (Harry).- Maggi (Girolamo). <i>De tintinnabulis liber postumus...de equuleo liber,</i> Harry Houdini's copy, Amsterdam, H. Wetstein, 1689. £600 to £800
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Meyer (Henry Leonard). Coloured Illustrations of British Birds, and their Eggs , 7 vol. in 2 plus Illustrations of British Birds, 4 vol., 1842-50 and [1835-51]. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>An Entirely New Romantic Drama, in Three Acts, by Mr. Wilkie Collins, called The Frozen Deep,</i> 1857. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Lighthouses and Islands of Ireland, c. 125 drawings, 1867. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Shelley (Lady Jane). Diary, 1853 & 1860. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Scottish Binding.- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, bound in contemporary brown polished calf decorated with the figure of a Chinese spearman, by ?James Scott of Edinburgh, 1778. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Man Within,</i> first edition, signed by the author, 1929. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Mellan (Claude, 1598-1688). The Holy Face, or the Veil of St Veronica, [c. 1649 and later]. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Desaguliers (John Theophilus). <i>A Dissertation concerning Electricity,</i> W. Innys, and T. Longman, 1742. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Le Jeune (Paul). <i>Relation de se qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'anné 1636 enuoyée au R.Pere Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus en la Province de France,</i> 1637. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Stumpf (Johann Rudolph). <i>Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckern Chronicwirdiger thaaten beschreibung, </i> Zurich, Froschauer, 1586. £3,000 to £4,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> George Washington, Letter Signed to General James Clinton, preparing for the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, 1778. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising to send reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Edison, Autograph Letter Signed, to Western Union President William Orton, 1878. $10,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> William, Bishop of Coventry, vellum charter granting the church of Rochdale to the Cistercian Abbey of Stanlaw, in Latin, 1222. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> FDR, Photograph Signed & Inscribed, framed with wood removed from the White House roof, 1927. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Dubuffet, archive including many letters written while painting in NYC, 1951-72. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autograph Letter Signed, describing the source of his patience, 1939. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Lithograph portrait of Albert Einstein by Hermann Struck, signed by both, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Charles The Bold, Duke of Burgundy, Letter Signed to Johann IV of Nassau, in French, 1470. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Cocteau, Autograph Letter Signed, in French, 1919. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Louis Armstrong, two Autograph Letters Signed to Erich Kauffmann, his lip salve purveyor, 1965-70. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Wernher von Braun, Autograph Letter Signed to Jonathan Cross, 1975. $5,000 to $7,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions