Kingsley, Charles. At last: a Christmas in the West Indies. New ed. (London: Macmillan & Co., 1887).

Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) was the son of the vicar of Holne, Devon, was born in 1819. Educated at King's College, London, and Magdalene College, Cambridge, he became curate of Eversley in Hampshire in 1842. Kingsley became a supporter of Chartism and helped to form the Christian Socialist movement.

In the summer of 1854 the Kingsleys moved to Bideford on the north coast of Devon, where Kingsley wrote his historical romance Westward Ho! (1855) perhaps the most widely read of all his novels, except The water-babies (1863). Kingsley made a tour of the West Indies in 1869-70, producing the work At last: A Christmas in the West Indies (1871). He wished to see the places where much of his novel Westward Ho! was set and among the aspects of the area which surprised him was the extent to which at that time it was such a mixture of different ethnic groups. This comes out for example in his description of the horse-races in Trinidad [p.266-367]:


Dear --,
I have been to the races: not to bet, nor to see the horses run: not even to see the fair ladies on the Grand Stand, in all the newest fashions of Paris via New York: but to wander en mufti among the crowd outside, and behold the humours of men. And I must say that their humours were very good humours; far better, it seemed to me, than those of an English race-ground. Not that I have set foot on one for thirty years: but at railway stations, and elsewhere, one cannot help seeing what manner of folk, beside mere holiday folk, rich or poor affect English races; or help pronouncing them, if physiognomy be any test of character, the most degraded beings, even some of those smart-dressed men who carry bags with names on them, which our pseudo-civilization has yet done itself the dishonour of producing. Now, of that class absolutely none. I do not suppose that the brown fellows who hung about the horses, whether Barbadians or Trindad men, were of very angelic morals: but they looked like heroes compared with the bloated hangdog roughs and grooms of English races. As for the sporting gentlemen, not having the honour to know them, I can only say that they looked like gentlemen, and that I wish, in all courtesy, they had been more wisely employed.

But the Negro, or the coloured man of the lower class, was in his glory. He was smart, clean, shiny, happy, according to his light. He got up into trees, and clustered there, grinning from ear to ear. He bawled about island horses and Barbadian horses-for the Barbadians mustered strong, and a fight was expected, which, however, never came off, he sang songs, possibly some of them extempore, like that which amused one's childhood concerning a once notable event in a certain island -

I went to da Place
To see da horse-race,
I see Mr. Barton
A-wipin' ob his face.

Run, Allwright,
Run for your life,
See Mr. Barton
A-comin' wid a knife.

Oh, Mr. Barton,
I sorry for your loss;
If you no believe me,
I tie my head across."

That is-go into mourning. But no one seemed inclined to tie their heads across that day. The Coolies seemed as merry as the Negros; even about the face of the Chinese there flickered, at times, a feeble ray of interest.

The coloured women wandered about, in showy prints, great crinolines, and gorgeous turbans. The Coolie women sat in groups on the grass -ah Isle of the Blest, where people can sit on the grass in January - like live flower-beds of the most splendid and yet harmonious hues. "As for jewels, of gold as well as silver, there were many there, on arms, ankles, necks and noses, which made white ladies fresh from England break the tenth commandment.

I wandered about, looking at the live flower-beds, and giving passing glances into booths, which I longed to enter, and hear what sort of human speech might be going on therein: but I was deterred, first by the thought that much of the speech might not be over-edifying, and next by the smells, especially by that most hideous of all smells - new rum. At last I came to a crowd; and in the midst of it, one of those great French merry-go-rounds, turned by machinery, with pictures of languishing ladies round the central column. All the way from the Champs Elysées the huge piece of fools' tackle had lumbered and creaked hither across the sea to Martinique, and was now making the round of the islands; and a very profitable round, to judge from the number of its customers. The hobby-horses swarmed with Negresses and Hindoos of the lower order.

This description of street life in Port of Spain continues the same theme [p. 89-90]:

When you have ceased looking - even staring at the black women and their ways, you become aware of the strange variety of races which people the city. Here passes an old Coolie Hindoo, with nothing on but his lungee round his loins, and a scarf over his head; a white-bearded, delicate-featured old gentleman, with probably some caste-mark of paint on his forehead; his thin limbs, and small hands and feet contrasting strangely with the brawny Negroes round. There comes a bright-eyed young lady, probably his daughter-in-law, hung all over with bangles, in a white muslin petticoat, crimson cotton-velvet jacket, and green gauze veil, with her naked brown baby astride on her hip; a clever, smiling, delicate little woman, who is quite aware of the brightness of her own eyes. And who are these three boys: in dark blue coatees and trousers, one of whom carries, hanging at one end of a long bamboo, a coupe of sweet potatoes; at the other, possibly, a pebble to balance them? As they approach, their doleful visage betrays them. Chinese they are, without a doubt: but whether young or old, men or women you cannot tell, till the initiated point out that the women have chignons and no hats, the men the men hats with their pig-tails coiled up under them. [...]

But why do Chinese never smile? Why do they look as if someone had sat on their noses as soon as they were born, and they had been weeping bitterly over the calamity ever since? They too must have their moments of relaxation: but when? Once and once only, in Port of Spain, was a Chinese woman, nursing her baby, burst into an audible laugh: and we looked at each other, as much astonished, as if our horses had begun to talk.

There again is a group of coloured men of all ranks, talking eagerly, business, or even politics; some of them as well dressed as if they were fresh from Europe; some of them, too, six feet hight and broad in proportion; as fine a race, phyiscally as one would wish to look upon; and with no want of shrewdness either, or determination, in their faces: a race who ought, if they will be wise and virtuous, to have before them a great future. Here come home from the convent school two coloured young ladies, probably pretty, possibly lovely, certainly gentle, modest, and well-dressed according to the fashions of Paris or New York; and here comes the unmistakeable Englishman, tall, fair, close shaven, arm in arm with another man, whose more delicate features, more sallow complexion, and little moustache, mark him as some Frenchman or Spaniard of old family. Both are dressed as if they were going to walk up Pall Mall or Rue de Rivoli; for "go-to-meeting clothes" are somewhat too much de rigueur' here; a shooting-jacket and wide-awake betrays the newly-landed Englishman. Both take off their hats with a grand air to a lady in a carriage; for they are fine gentlemen indeed, and intend to remain such: and well that is for the civilization of the island [...]

(I found this here, among other descriptions. )