BLACK BOTANY-BAY WOOD, called also African Black-wood, is perhaps the hardest, and also the moat wasteful of all the woods; the billets are very knotty and crooked, and covered with a thick rind of the colour and hardness of boxwood; the section of the heart-wood is very irregular, and mostly either indented from without, or hollow and unsound from within; many of the pieces hare the irregular scrawling growth that is observed in the wood of the vines. The largest stem of Black Botany-Bay wood I have ever seen, measured transversely eleven inches the longest and seven and a half the shortest way, but it would only produce a circular block of five inches, and this is fully two or three times the ordinary size.
The wood, when fresh cut, is of a bluish-black, with dark-grey streaks, but soon changes to an intense jet black; of the few sound pieces that are obtained, the largest may perhaps be five inches, but the majority less than two inches diameter. It is most admirably suited to excentric turning, as the wood is particularly hard, close, free from pores, but not destructive to the tools, from which, when they are in proper condition, it receives a brilliant polish. It is also considered to be particularly free from any matter that will cause rust, on which account it is greatly esteemed for the handles of surgeons' instruments.
The exact locality of this wood has long been a matter of great uncertainty. It has been considered to be a species of African ebony, but its character is quite different and peculiar; I have however recently heard from two independent sources, that it comes from the Mauritius, or Isle of France. Col. Lloyd says the wood is there called Cocobolo prieto; that it is not the growth of the Mauritius, but of Madagascar, to the interior of which island Europeans are not admitted; and that it is brought in the same vessels that bring over the bullocks, for the supply of food. The stone-masons of the country use splinters of it as a pencil for marking the lines upon their work; it makes a dark blue streak not readily washed off by rain.
I have only met with one specimen of this wood in the numerous collections I have searched, namely, in Mr. Fincham's: he assures me that his specimen grew in Botany Bay, and was brought direct from thence with several others, by Captain Woodroffe, R.N. As I have recently purchased a large quantity imported from the Mauritius, it is probable that this wood, in common with many others, may have several localities.
It would be very desirable for the amateur turner that the wood should be selected on the spot, and the better pieces alone sent, as a large proportion is scarcely worth the expense of shipment, but the fine pieces exceed all other woods for exoentric-turned works.