In the year 1420 Zarco began the plantation of Madeira, and being much impeded in his progress by the immense quantity of thick and tall trees, with which it was then everywhere encumbered, he set the wood on fire to facilitate the clearing of the surface for cultivation. The wood is reported to have continued burning for seven years, and so great was the devastation as to occasion great inconvenience to the colony for many years afterwards, from the want of timber. Don Henry appears to have been a prince of most uncommonly enlarged and liberal views; not only capable of devising the means of making maritime discoveries, which had never been thought of before his time, but of estimating their value when made, and of applying them to purposes the most useful and important for his country. Reflecting upon the reported fertility of the soil, and the excellence of the climate of Madeira, and comparing both with the judicious foresight of a philosopher, politician, and naturalist, in reference to the most valuable productions of similar climates and soils, he wisely conceived, and successfully executed the idea of introducing the cultivation of sugar and wines into this new colony; For these purposes, Portugal would readily supply him with vines; and with people conversant in their management: But he had to procure sugar canes, and persons experienced in their cultivation, and in the process of manufacturing sugar from their juice, from the island of Sicily, into which that article of culture had been introduced by the Arabs.
So great was the success of this new subject of industry in Madeira, that the fifth part of the produce of one district only, little more than nine miles in circumference, which proportion the prince reserved as the patrimony of his military order, amounted, in some years, to 60,000 arobas of twenty-five pounds each; giving the entire acknowledged produce of one district only, of the island at 7,500,000 pounds, or 2350 tons. This, at the modern price of eightpence a-pound, amounts to the enormous sum of L. 250,000 value of merchantable produce, from a district which could not contain above 5760 English acres; or above the value of L. 43 of average yearly value from every acre of that district. This astonishingly valuable produce was in the infancy of the sugar trade, when that bland and wholesome condiment was still an article of luxury, and not as now almost an indispensable necessary, even in the lowest cottages of modern Europe. The sugars of Madeira were long famous; but after the establishment of the sugar plantations in Brazil, and the destructive ravages of a worm which infested the sugar canes of Madeira, that article, of cultivation had to be abandoned, and the principal attention of the islanders was transferred to the grape, which still continues to supply Europe, America, and the East Indies with the justly celebrated Madeira wine.