Letitia Research Notes – Cape Verde Islands and Rio de Janeiro.

These papers were gathered during my research into the wreck of the “Letitia” in the Cape Verde Islands and the travails of its passengers. In view if the “disease season” they spent very little time on the island of St Jago in the Capital Porto Prayo.


St Jago – The British Consul, John Goodwin, wrote shortly after the ‘Letitia’ incident in 1828.:

“Porto Praya.

This is the chief town of St Jago and the Capital of the Verdes. It is situated on the southern side of the Island and contains about two hundred and fifty houses and a thousand inhabitants. It stands upon a tableland about 150 feet above the level of the sea, under a chain of barren mountains. It is the Residence of the Governor General and likewise is the chief seat of commerce in the Cape Verde Islands. Its regular trade is chiefly in the hands of the Americans but many English Vessels bound for the Indian and South Pacific Oceans touch here to take water and provisions. Water is put on board at a dollar a pipe, and livestock of all kinds, vegetables, fruit and tropical productions in general are furnished at reasonable prices. The harbour of Villa da Praia is considered to be safe from the 1st November till the middle of July when the rollers set in from the southward, and make the anchorage insecure. St Jago is always unhealthy but it is particularly so during August, September and October in which months the rain comes down in torrents, forming large pools of water, the exhalations from which produce fever and sickness.”

[UK TNA Ref. F O 63/351]



St Jago – The Colonial Magazine and Commercial Maritime Journal .

A very informative article on the Cape Verde Islands in the early nineteenth century was published in “The Colonial Magazine and Commercial Maritime Journal” published in England, edited by Robert Montgomery Martin. It was republished Vol 2 Issue 23 in Boston in Littell’s “Living Age” in 1844.



St Jago – Hawkesworth’s Voyages, and Beaglehole’s Life of Captain Cook.

These travel accounts provide perceptions of Cape Verde Islands during Cook’s voyages.

July was undoubtedly an unsuitable time for ships to be calling at St Jago. These unhealthy fevers and diseases were well known to mariners to be prevalent at the time. The harbour was known to be insecure from August to October, when storms rolled in from the Atlantic. Captain Cook’s Log of his third journey, when, after almost coming to grief against Boa Vista, a little north of St Jago in the same group of islands, he called in for fresh water and provisions at St Jago in precisely the same week, though fifty six years earlier, reported the gales right through the week he was in the vicinity.

[Hawkesworth’s Voyages. Cook’s Third Voyage. 13 to 18 August 1772.]


Moreover, two of his sailors died and others fell ill from fevers caught in St Jago.

[‘The Life of Captain Cook’ by J C Beaglehole. Chapter XIII.]



St Jago – John White RN, in the First Fleet – 1787..

“Half after One, the Sirius leading into Port Praya Bay, on a sudden brought to, as we imagined…..we were not a little surprised to see her, at two o’clock, throw out the signal for the convoy to keep nearer the commanding officer; then make sail and bear away, steering south west. At six in the evening we lost sight of the island, running with a smart top gallant, and steering sail, breeze at north east.

The entrance into this bay appeared to be about a mile, between two bluff points, wwhich makes it secure from every wind except a southerly one; and when that prevails a very high sea tumbles into it.

The appearance of the town and the island, from the distant view we had, gave us no favourable opinion of them. The face of the country seemed to be sterile in the extreme.”

[“Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales” by Surgeon Captain John White RN, in the First Fleet.]


St Jago – John Hunter RN, in the First Fleet – 1787.

“When we opened Port Praya Bay, we were suddenly taken aback with the wind from the north west, and every ship appeared to have the wind in a different direction. In this situation it was thought that any attempt to gain the anchorage under such unfavourable circumstances might be attended with the danger of some of the ships getting on board each other; it was therefore determined to give up the intention, and the signal was made for that purpose.

[J Hunter, “An Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island, p. 14.]



Rio de Janeiro – Brazil in 1828 by Reverend Robert Walsh.

An account in Volume ONE of Rio de Janeiro by the Rev. Walsh describes the situation in the town, particularly the problems for Irish settlers, the German influence and related riots. There is nothing in any relevant papers or correspondence which refers to these problems.

[“Notices of Brazil in 1828 and 1829” by Rev. Robert Walsh LLD, MRIA, Rector of Finglas. Pub. London Frederick Westley & AH Davis 1830.]