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Rural Toil

Ancient traditional costumes of Madeira


Rural occupation in Madeira around 1820 - engraving reproduced and restored by © Norbert Pousseur
Madeira - ~1820 - Rural toil


engraving and text extracted from
History of Madeira - 1821 (from my library)
Madeira was then under British domination


The weather in Madeira is generally so fine, that the peasants are seldom seen in the cottages, when their occupations allow them to be in the open air. The young woman, as represented in the plate, is engaged in spinning from the distaff, which is usually employed in warm countries, as it is not confined, like the spinning-wheel, to a sedentary situation, but may be exercised either standing or walking. Thus it is frequently used by the shepherdess while she is tending her flock, and is not an uncommon object in the landscapes of the Italian painters. The old woman appears to be winding thread from the reel into balls. The banana-tree, rising behind her, grows here in great plenty ; and the turkey, a figure which seems to enliven the picture, is of some consequence, that fowl being supposed to attain an higher degree of perfection, as a table luxury, in this island than in any other part of the world ; while the flavour of its flesh is in proportion to the size it acquires.
The old woman must be considered as having attained a very advanced age, being represented with spectacles, as the natives generally retain the blessing of sight to the latest period of life ; which is the more extraordinary, as they are constantly exposed to the dazzling rays of a burning sun. They also generally reach the term of
seventy or eighty years, without any oppressive infirmities ; and there are occasional examples of a still greater degree of longevity.

Labour is the general lot ;
But ’tis the inmate of the cot :
To that the toiling peasant owes
Whate’er his passing life bestows,
By that he gains his daily bread ;
By that his growing offspring ’s fed ;
And while he turns the stubborn field,
Or does the crooked sickle yield ;
The busy daughter and the wife
Pursue, at home, the cares of life :
They spin the thread, and ply the reel,
Or prepare the expected meal.
Welcome labour, crown'd with smiles ;
Welcome care, that toil beguiles !
Where’er your lot, if such your state,
O ! envy not the rich or great !
If clouds deform the summer day,
Let patience guide you on your way ;
And, grateful for the blessings sent,
Seek peace through life, and die content.


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This engraving of Madeira people can be enlarged by zoom,
the original measuring 17x22 cm



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