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The Madeira Islands, 540 miles southwest of Lisbon, Portugal, are a Portuguese archipelago positioned about 360 miles directly west of Morocco, Africa in the north Atlantic Ocean. They are an autonomous region of Portugal, with Madeira Island and Porto Santo Island being the only inhabited islands.

The Islands, known originally to the Romans as the Purple Islands, were discovered by Portuguese sailors in the early 15th Century. These islands are famed worldwide for their Madeira wine, embroidery artisans, a perfect (low humidity) climate, striking scenery and beautiful flowers.

Islands of Cape Verde, Canary,
Madeira, and Azore. Thomson. 1814

Islands of Cape Verde, Canary, Madeira, and Azore. Thomson. 1814.

Madeira Island (740 sq km) is the largest island of the group. It's a rugged, mountainous rock, famed for its elevated sea cliffs, including Cabo Girao, the planet's second highest.

Funchal, the capital city, has a population of 100,000 inhabitants. From its natural harbor, Funchal literally covers the slopes of an ancient volcano, with many of its narrow streets reminiscent of those in San Francisco, California.

The Indiana Progress, October 6, 1875, Indiana, Pennsylvania, USA

The universal mode of getting about is either to ride on horseback or in a bullock-sledge on runners, or to be carried in a hammock. There is, however a fourth mode of descending from the mountains for three or four miles on a few roads, and this is by sledges. A car, to hold either two or three persons is placed on wooden runners and descends the steep, wall-inclosed roads principally by its own weight.

Bullock Car on the Island of Madeira

Bullock Car on the Island of Madeira.

At starting, and where the inclination is not great, it is dragged down by two of the wonderfully active Madeira peasants, who run by its side at the rate of eight or nine miles an hour, each guiding it by a leather thong attached to its front on either side. It requires but little or no exertion to draw it along, for the road is everywhere steep, and always smoothly paved with pebbles or long stones, to which additional smoothness and even polish, beyond that produced by mere friction, is given by the constant application of grease to the runners of the bullock cars. When, however, the road becomes very steep, the men stand on the framework of the car with one foot, while with the other they guide or check it, and the car then shoots down by its own weight with a velocity that is not a little exciting, and after the first dash off, extremely agreeable. The speed is often more than twenty miles an hour. It is wonderful how the angular corners are turned, the car lurching up first toward one wall and then toward the other; with what ease speed is slackened or arrested and how seldom any serious accident happens. Merchants living in their quintas often make use of these sledges to go to their counting-houses in the morning, returning in the afternoon, usually on horseback.

Fraser's Magazine.

March 9, 1900, The Evening Record,, Greenville, Pennsylvania, USA

Romantic Madeira Islands

John R. Packard Writes Concerning

Mediterranean Sea,
Opposite Ancient Carthage
February 1900

Special Correspondence Evening Record.

We are now on our way to Malta. We came in sight of Oporto, Thursday,11 a.m., Feb. 8. In early morning scores of pilgrims were on the hurricane deck on he lookout for land. The scene was ne of great delight. Far in the "distance we could see what seemed like fog rising from the sea. Soon we could distinguish the dim outline of the high mountains. "Land!" ."Land!" resounded throughout the great ship. We steamed slowly along the rugged, picturesque coast. We were then eight days out from Boston, and some of the passengers were a little "bedraggled" as they appeared on decks for the first time.

The land panorama will never be forgotten. Great green steep hills separated by immense ravines down which flowed rushing streams pouring their crystal waters into the bosom of old ocean. The hills everywhere were covered with spring verdure. Flowers in bewildering variety and color could be seen. Clouds hung low in the heavens that morning. The land is cultivated well, and from the soil come such products as sugar cane, oranges, pineapples, lemons, limes, grapes, from which the world-renowned Madeira wine of commerce is made, coffee, many cereals, and bananas. As we were nearing a village on the mountain slope a group of Roman Catholic priests were talking of the sights when one of them remarked: "I see a church," and handed his field lass to a bystander for a view. The gentleman from Michigan looked very intently for a time and then wittily remarked. "The First Methodist Episcopal church." There was an uproar of laughter when the jolly priest answered "You are loyal, my boy, but you are lying."

Funchal, Madeira.

Another scene of excitement was witnessed when the American flag was displayed from the main mast for the first time. Many voices joined in singing "The Star Spangled Banner." At two o'clock we had anchored in a strong and breeze in the harbor of Funchal. The harbor has no protection. The wind was high, and one of the ship's great anchors was lost never to be recovered. Our proud ship was with much difficulty and after the loss of much valuable daylight chained down a distance of one and one-half miles from shore. The gang-ways were then loosened and the tourists, or rather a part of them were carried ashore in stout and spacious row boats manned by trained Portuguese sailors whose lives are largely spent upon the waters. Native lads amused us by diving for coins. They are skilled divers and never lose a dime when they once see where it falls. They draw the line at copper cents.

The Madeira islands are very old and were once thought to be the remote confines of the world. They are five in number, but only two are valuable, and are owned by Portugal. The capital is Funchal, with 18,000 inhabitants. It is a quaint city indeed, and is entirely out of the usual route of American passenger travel. The map will tell you that Madeira is about 150 miles south of the strait of Gibraltar. No guide book or pen can properly describe this unique city. One must see the low houses, narrow streets paved with small, round, hard stones. Some paths and lawns of great length are inlaid with white and brown stones no larger than a half dollar. The mercury always remains around 60 to 70 degrees, and is a paradise for invalids. Liverpool and London steamers and sailing vessels ply regularly with Funchal. Here is seen the primitive mode of conveyance the sledge drawn by oxen, and are called "coolie cars." Here are the native Portuguese with wooden plows and donkey. But the city is wonderfully interesting and beautiful. Within this picturesque and prosperous city may be found the "casino," the most elegant and expensive building of all, dedicated to gambling, where French women and men of every principal country come in great numbers and spend fortunes in a day.

The religion of these islands is Roman Catholic. Funchal has now a representative at the court of France. A dummy engine drags the tourist in 40 minutes to the summit of the mountains quite overhanging the city, and he returns by so-called toboggan through the steep, slipping, narrow, crooked alleys and lawns in less than one-quarter of the time it requires to make the ascent. It was near dusk, slight rain was falling, and the smoothly paved track was indeed treacherous.

Clear the way! John Gilpin's historic ride in London town was not in the same class with the Funchal contrivance. Each wicker sled contains two persons held back by expert sprinters guided by ropes in the hands of barefooted natives, who were at times literally sailing through air. Nobody killed! R.S. Johnston and W. H. Findley, with a guide, led the procession, while Mrs. F. and myself held second place. Tickets will be cheap at 50 cents each to hear Mrs. Findley lecture on her "Experience at Madeira" . . .

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
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W. S. Lindsay

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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