Page images



years before, commenced the retreat upon Arzew before the force of Abd-el-Kader, which resulted in the calamitous defeat of El Makta. We found a new bridge of wood building here. The soil in the immediate neighbourhood is extremely fertile, and especially favourable to the production of tobacco, wine, and silk. The year after the foundation of the village an attempt was made to bring it into cultivation by a society called the Agricultural Union of Algeria. More than 3,000 hectares of ground were conceded to this body, whose distinctive principle was that the labourer should be admitted to a partnership in the profits of the undertaking. The enterprise proved a sad failure. Money was never forthcoming in sufficient quantity to prevent sacrifice by inopportune sales. Every labourer was attacked by fever. The financial crisis which in Africa followed the revolution of 1848 put a final stop to the subscriptions of the capital of the Association, which never reached the half of the sum originally contemplated-£40,000. Then came three years of cholera, which in the last quarter of the year 1850 killed thirtyseven out of one hundred and twenty labourers employed on the lands of the Association. The undertaking finally subsided into an ordinary joint-stock company, conducted by a paid agent; after nearly half of the original concession had been given up to redeem a forfeiture which had been incurred of the whole, by failure to fulfil all the conditions that had



been annexed to the grant. At the present time, however, the locality is become tolerably healthy, and cotton and tobacco are grown to some extent.

From the bridge of the Sig the ground rises again, and the road crosses the elevated land between the valleys of the Sig and the Habra. After traversing the latter, the high hills are reached, and the ascent becomes continuous until within about a mile of Maskara, the road winding in terraces up the mountain. The highest point is, according to my estimate, 2,032 feet above the sea-level, and Maskara itself, which lies on the southern slope, 2,041 feet. But the weather was obviously deteriorating during the whole of the journey, and therefore there is every probability that the barometer fell from this cause to some extent. For the last three or four miles we had hail, and the air was extremely cold, and I congratulated myself that I was sheltered by a carriage instead of being exposed on horseback in the plain of Eghrès, where I should have been had I fulfilled my original design of coming from Tlemçen across the country. It so happened that the head of the Bureau Arabe at Maskara, to whom I had brought letters, was detained by the weather in this very locality, and did not get home for two days. The plain of Eghrès seems very much to resemble the Metidja, as one looks down upon it from Maskara. The new town itself is built something like Oran, on two sides of a ravine through which a brook



runs, and this on its way down is utilized for irrigating the gardens which fill the hollow. The fortifications are constructed with apparently more than usual care. The universal loopholed wall is here and there bastioned, and one or two cannon placed so as to sweep all approaches. The fortification too is carried across the brook in both places where the line of the wall cuts it. On the most elevated portion of the space within the walls are spacious barracks, and in a part of the remainder streets are laid out on an imposing scale, waiting only for the builder to realize the plan of the architect. At present the effect is an extremely melancholy one. There is one little inn and a few shops, but the rest of the area is nearly void. Just outside the walls, as you enter from the north, is a bazaar, frequented in about equal proportions by Arabs and Jews. Maskara is famous as a staple for the bournouses and haiks manufactured by the Arab women, having in this respect no rival but Tunis. All the shops in the bazaar are filled with specimens of this kind of work, and the shopkeeper himself will sometimes take one off his own shoulders, if he thinks it likely to attract a customer.

To the north-east of

the walls are the ruins of the old town, for the most part turned into huts by a tribe of sedentary Arabs, whose straw gourbis are mixed up with the scarcely less miserable hovels constructed out of the débris of the masonry. There are, however, a few houses



still surviving the destruction of Maskara. They are universally of one story high, with flat roofs. The fate before the poor Arab squatters is a very melancholy one. Their presence is obviously quite incompatible with the development of the town on the plan contemplated by the French. I remarked this to some officers, whose curiosity was excited by the appearance of a stranger. They told me that they would no doubt be removed, and named Milianah as a place where there was room for them. But I fancy, from the look and the shrug with which the diminution of their numbers was spoken of, that they are even now perishing away from the effects of imported vices, and that it will only be a remnant, if any, that must be removed to make room for cafés and estaminets.

The country around Maskara is exccedingly favourable to the cultivation of the vine. The wine produced is not unlike the Steinwein which one gets at Würzburg; and if equal pains were taken in the selection of the plant and the manufacture of the wine, I have little doubt the results would be very important both here and at Médéah. At each of these places are found the important conditions for the perfection of the grape, heat in summer and a considerable amount of cold in winter. But unhappily at neither of them is the wine-grower a man of capital, who can afford to wait several years for the return of his outlay. All kinds of grapes and in all degrees of ripeness are



thrown together into the press, and the wine is never kept for more than two or three years before it is consumed. Some of the cultivators, however, are thriving. I went into the house of one who had been there almost ever since the occupation of Maskara by General Lamoricière, that is, for fifteen or sixteen years, and he professed himself quite satisfied with the country, but not with the way in which business was done. The annoying delay in putting a colonist in possession of the lot of land conceded to him, was constantly complained of wherever I went: but the worst case I heard of was that of the eldest son of this farmer, a remarkably fine young man, and to all appearance steady and industrious in the highest. degree. He had, he said, been waiting fifteen months for the fulfilment of a promise which had been made to him of a "concession." In his case the worst consequences of delay were averted; for he lived with his father and helped him in the tillage of his own land; but it is easy to imagine the utter ruin in purse, constitution, and character, which must befal an ordinary peasant left in one of the towns of the littoral for many months before he obtains a location. An effective machinery for settling emigrants at once upon their grants, and good roads to enable them to transmit their produce to the coast, are the first desiderata of Algeria, if it is to become really a colony and not continue simply a dependency.

« PreviousContinue »