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The Island of Sombrero

The Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1323, p. 17-18.

July 8, 1865


[The island of Sombrero is] one of the Leeward Islands, in the Caribbean Sea, containing the richest natural deposit of phosphate of lime at present known. The island was first visited by an English gentleman about the year 1814, and again by him in 1825, on which latter occasion a report was made to the British Government, but did not meet with that consideration which subsequent events prove it to have deserved. In 1856 the Americans took possession of the island, and in the course of a very short time exported to the extent of 100,000 tons of this valuable fertiliser, to resuscitate the exhausted lands of the Southern States. Subsequently their proceedings attracted the attention of a British surveying expedition, at that time engaged in the West Indies, as may be learned from a communication to the Royal Agricultural Society

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of England, by Sir Roderick Murchison, who, in describing the geological structure of the island, says:--"I have often regretted that I have never had it in my power to communicate anything of importance to the British farmer; I am now, however, enabled to make an announcement which will, I have no doubt, be as acceptable to agriculturalists as it is likely to become very valuable to the merchant and shipowner." It appears that the Americans have already quarried away a considerable part of the island, and sold the substance in New York. This transaction led to an official correspondence between the British and American Governments, and eventually the right of the British Crown to the possession of this valuable deposit was acknowledged by the United States Government. Sir Roderick Murchison considers our holding the Island of Sombrero to be of great national importance, in providing our agriculturists, from a British possession, with a plentiful supply of a good substitute for the guano of Peru.

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