Important acquisitions

Papers relating to the devastation committed by goats on the island of St. Helena.

Author Beatson, Alexander.
Title Papers relating to the devastation committed by goats on the island of St. Helena.
Imprint St. Helena : Printed for S. Solomon by J. Coupland,
Date of Publication 1810
Language English
Notes This is one of the first items printed on the island of St Helena; it addresses, among other things, the issue of the harm that could be caused to a local ecosystem by the introduction of an alien species, in this instance - goats. St Helena is a small island (47 square miles in area) in the South Atlantic Ocean, which was occupied by the English East India Company from 1658 onwards. Regarded as one of the most isolated islands in the world, it was nevertheless colonized by the English due to its important strategic position as a stop-off point for ships sailing from Asia or South Africa to Europe. In 1807 the Scottish army officer Alexander Beatson (1759-1830) was appointed as governor of the island, a post he held from 1808 to 1813. Beatson found that the island, which still belonged to the East India Company, was in a very impoverished state. He set up a series of improving measures for the island and the islanders and was able to use a printing press, which had been set up in 1806, to communicate his plans. A newspaper was printed on the island in 1807, but no book publication is recorded until 1810, with an abstract of the laws usually being regarded as the island's first publication. The present pamphlet was printed the same year, and contains the text of Beatson's proposal to print the abstract of the laws and ordinances, so may in fact precede it. The pamphlet's main text is Beatson's essay "Remarks on the evil consequences which have resulted from the introduction of goats upon the island of St. Helena". Beatson had a strong interest in agriculture and he had seen at first-hand how the introduction of goats to St Helena had greatly changed its landscape, as they had eaten much of its native vegetation and posed a constant threat to the vegetables and crops grown by the islanders. According to Beatson, goats had been introduced by the Portuguese as early as 1543, on what was then a thickly forested island. The Portuguese did not leave a permanent settlement on St Helena and the goat population had been left to grow unchecked in the absence of any natural predators. By 1809, according to Beatson, there were 1811 sheep and 2887 goats on the island, and he argues in favour of exterminating the goat population. The rest of the pamphlet consists of reports on Beatson's own agricultural experiments on the island growing cereal crops and a record of the ensuing lively debate among the islanders over whether the goat population should be exterminated or not. Beatson in his final contribution to the debate, in a minute dated 29 November 1810, suggests that until a decision on the goat issue is made by the Court of Directors of the East India Company, landowners should be allowed to shoot goats trespassing onto cultivated land, with the animals' owners being compensated five shillings per goat. The final contribution to the debate is a minute by William Doveton, a local landowner and "grazier", who was working for the East India Company. Doveton argues against total extermination of the goat population, regarding them as valuable property, but does support the culling of goats that stray onto cultivated land. Despite his failure to eradicate the goat population, Beatson continued to experiment with agriculture on the island until he left in 1813. His experiments, details of which he published in 1816 in 'Tracts relative to the island of St. Helena', have been described as a major contribution to the beginnings of global environmentalism. 200 years on St Helena continues to grapple with the problems caused by the depredations of alien species and sustaining farming in area with poor, thin soil, which is susceptible to drought. In 2012 it was reported that the legislative council of St Helena was considering an increase in the fine for letting goats (and sheep) stray on to Crown land. A rise from 25 pence to 250 was proposed, in the hope that a "more meaningful" deterrent would help protect vulnerable plants and trees. Beatson would no doubt have approved.
Shelfmark RB.s.2880
Reference Sources Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; bookseller's notes
Acquired on 29/11/13
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