Page images

verdant all the year. Its flowers are of the finest and most beautiful species; and the wild profusion with which many of them grow-skirting the shore or shedding their fragrance in the cool sequestered lanes, fully entitle it to this appellation, The Island is famous for its myrtles. This beautiful shrub grows here with great luxuriance; and in the depth of winter it is to be seen without any protection, flourishing in defiance of the cold blast, and peeping forth in verdure amidst the lightly-falling snow. Among its wild flowers and herbs are to be found the bee-orchis, the fox-glove, the rock-samphire, and a great variety of others, highly interesting to the botanist.

Here also, attracted by the profusion of flowers, are found the most splendid of the butterfly tribe. The beetles are of the most brilliant species. That very curious little insect the mole-cricket is frequently met with, and numerous others, equally desirable to the entomologist.

The geology of the Island is particularly worthy the attention of the scientific visitor. It abounds with a diversity of sands, minerals, clays, and calcareous substances; as freestones of different kinds, red and yellow ochre, alum, micacious or silvery sand, &c. Small quantities of native sulphur and copperas stones are picked up on the shores; and pipe-clay is very plentiful. The lofty parts of the Island are composed of immense masses of calcareous matter, principally of a chalky nature, incumbent on schistus, which runs under the whole Island, and appears at low-water mark in the coast near Mottistone; this becomes indurated by exposure to the air. The lower strata of the Island is generally found to be a thick dark blue clay, called by the common people plotnore.

Near the base of Bembridge Cliff a stratum of coal discovers itself. It is supposed to run through the



southern part of the Island, as it appears again at Warden's Ledge, Freshwater. On the north side of this stratum is seen a vein of white sand and another of Fuller's earth; and on the south the groupings of these different kinds of matter is completed by a vein of red ochre. The stratum of coal has been an object not merely of curiosity but of speculation. A shaft was sunk at Bembridge, but the vein was so thin, that the undertaking was immediately abandoned, as unlikely to be productive of any real advantage.

Limestone, which is common in the Island, is burnt for manure. Cowes castle was built of it, though a very small part of the old edifice remains. A large stone quarry is seen at Binstead, which served in ancient times to erect the splendid cathedral; and is now worked in modern days to form the beautiful structures which adorn the adjacent town and neighbourhood.

Extraneous fossil remains or petrifactions are among the natural curiosities of the Island; they abound in the range of cliffs which run along the southern shore, and are often discovered in digging pits; presenting to the eye of the astonished labourer the remains of a former world. Some of the strata, in which they are most plentiful and interesting, are the green, or chlorite sand-stone; a ferruginous sand-stone, in which will be found the ostrea diluviana, or antedeluvian oyster, of an enormous size; and the upper lime-stones, which particularly abound with ammonites, (some very large,) of several species, these may be conveniently examined in the vicinity of Shanklin.

The Culver or white cliffs present the fossils peculiar to the chalk. Headon Hill exhibits several strata which contain fossil shells, and are peculiarly interesting, as these strata are supposed to display alternate fresh and salt water deposition. Fossil wood in fine

preservation, still presenting its original grain, is frequently found in many places, particularly at Bembridge and Shanklin. In the cliffs at Ventnor is a variety of alconii. There is also a variety of other bivalve and univalve shells, which will reward the researches of the curious. The cliffs at Alum Bay are also worthy of notice, from the different colours of the sand, and the singular manner in which they are arranged. These sands may be obtained tastefully displayed, in all their variety of colour, in glass vessels, so constructed as to form a pleasing ornament.

The chief towns are Newport, Ryde, Cowes, Brading, and Yarmouth. Its villages are numerous, and situated in the most fertile and romantic parts of the Island. They are generally admired by visitors, for the neatness of the cottages, and the unadorned simplicity of the peasantry. The population of the Island rapidly increases :-the total number of inhabitants now amount to nearly 40,000.

The inhabitants of this lovely spot are not distinguished by any very remarkable peculiarities. The scattered population of the southern part, living remotely from each other, have for many generations been subject to great disadvantages, both of an intellectual and moral nature; but the influx of visitors every year, and the residence of many respectable families for a considerable period, together with the settlement of some of the gentry on their estates, which adorn the romantic parts of the Island, are gradually dispersing this mental darkness; and the children of the cottagers are now receiving the elements of knowledge and virtue.


Historical Records.

THE character, manners, and state of the early inhabitants of the Island are involved in considerable obscurity. From its situation, it is most likely it has ever retained an impression, through the lapse of successive ages, corresponding with the original and advancing character of the inhabitants of Great Britain in general.

The Island was known to the Romans by the name of Vectis, which classical appellation it still retains. The name of Wight was probably derived from the British guith, or guict, signifying separation. The Roman standard was first planted in it by Vespasian, during the reign of the Emperor Claudius, A.D. 43. There are, however, but few traces of the Roman government to be found. Almost the only vestige consists of a series of coins, turned up by the plough, in a field to the north of Carisbrook castle.

In the year 495 the Saxons obtained possession of the Island. Cerdic and Cinric were the conquerors who overcame the inhabitants of the Island, and made a dreadful slaughter of them at Carisbrook.

In 534 Cerdic died, having bequeathed the Island to his nephews Withgar and Stuffa. These tyrants drew the sword on those who survived the conquest

of Cerdic, and are supposed to have completely extirpated the original inhabitants of the Island. War again spread its darkening cloud over this beautiful spot; and in 661 it was desolated by Wulfar, king of Mercia, who gave it to Adelwach, king of the south Saxons, as a pious present to his baptismal sponsor. It remained under his authority till 686, when Caedwalla, king of Wessex, a lineal descendant of Cerdic, destroyed Ethelwald, and stretched his iron sceptre over this little Island of the sea. Such was the destructive spirit of the Saxons, that the population of the Island at this period was reduced to 1200 families.

The Danes, whose warlike achievements were felt in various parts of Britain, did not suffer the Island to escape their ravages. From 897 to 1066, it was subjected to their occasional incursions, and all the cruelties and horrors of war were felt by the inhabitants. It was also invaded by Earl Godwin and his son Tosti.

When Britain was conquered by the Normans, the heroic William bestowed this Island upon his kinsman, William Fitz-Osborne, who had been marshal of his army at the battle of Hastings. Four years after, Fitz-Osborne fell in a battle on the continent; and the lordship of the Island descended to his third son, Roger-de-Brete ville, Earl of Hereford. The nefarious transaction of dethroning the conqueror the Earl devised, in connexion with Ralf-de-Ware, Earl of Norfolk, and other nobles, among whom was Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland. The latter, says the historian of the Island, either suddenly repenting the rash engagement, or in hopes of great rewards for the discovery, went over immediately to Normandy, and submitting himself to the King's mercy, disclosed the conspiracy. This Earl had been loaded with favours by the conqueror, who, besides giving him his

« PreviousContinue »