We have already observed that between the two continents of America, northern and southern, lie a multitude of Islands, many of them large and most of them fertile, and denominated the West Indies in contradistinction to the islands of Asia, beyond the Cape of Good Hope, which are called the East Indies.

Those which are worthy of cultivation now belong to five European powers, Great Britain, Spain, France, Holland and Denmark.

The climate in all the West Indies is nearly the same allowing for those accidental differences which the several situations and qualities of the lands themselves produce. As they lie within the tropics and the sun goes quite over their heads passing beyond them to the north and never returning farther from any of them than about thirty-six degrees to the south, they are continually subjected to the extreme of a heat which would be intolerable if the trade –wind rising gradually as the sun gathers strength, did not blow in upon them from the sea, and refresh the air in such a manner as to enable them to attend to their concerns, even under the meridien sun. On the other hand, as the night advances, a breeze begins to be perceived, which blows smartly from the land, as it were from the centre, towards the sea, to all points of the compass at once.

The islands of the West Indies lie in the form of a bow, or semi-circle, stretching almost from the coast of Florida north to the river Oroonoko in the main continent of South America. Some call them the Caribbees, from the first inhabitants; though this is a term that most geographers confine to the Leeward Islands. Sailors distinguish them into Windward and Leeward Islands, with regard to the usual courses of ships from Old Spain or the Canaries to Cathagena or New Spain and Portobello.

Text: The Modern and Authentic System of Universal Geography containing and accurate and Entertaining Description of Europe, Asia, Africa and America etc( 1807) by George Alexander Cooke

Map: The West Indies from A New & Complete System of Universal Geography (1817) by Christopher Kelly, published by Thomas Kelly, London.

Jane Austen References

The Letters

Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 24th October 1798