Antonio de Córdoba José Vargas Ponce.

A voyage of discovery to the Strait of Magellan: with an account of the ... online

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It had, no doubt, been forced off the land by the late violent


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to the Strait of Magellan. 5^

V^inds; and, to avoid its fate, had only the chance of going
along with us, or of making the islands or coast of Africa.

The medium of four series of distances of the sun and moon,
observed on the 6th and 8th days of May, whose extremes were
within eight minutes, being all that the weather had permitted
us to make in this quarter of the moon, placed the frigate 19'
to the E. of the position indicated by the time*piece; and three
series of distances of the moon from Regulus and Antares, ob-
served in the night of the 10th, gave twenty-six minutes in the
tame direction.

This evening we saw a bird resembling a pigeon, of an ash-
colour, having two forked feathers advancing much beyond the
rest of the tail.

In proportion as we advanced in the northern hemisphere,, we
found the winds to draw round very slowly from NE. to E. ;
and, on the I2th, in N. lat. 20°, and W. long. 33^ we had them
for the first time from the SE. quarter, which enabled us to
amend our direction, steering NNE. 5^ N.

On the 14th of May, in lat. 23% and long. 32°, the winds
came from S. to SW.; which gave us the more pleasure, as
such winds, in this time of the year, could hardly be expected.
We then stood NE. by N. in order to pass to the W. and N, of
the Azores ; by that means making sure of our way, and not
caring to sail to the S. and E. of those islands, although it was
a more direct course, lest we should fall into the calms which
in summer are generally found in that quarter.

As we were ignorant of the political state of Europe since our
departure from Spain, we made preparations for our defence,
in the event of any hostile rencounter, exercising the men daily
to the use of the great guns. We were, in particular, anxious
to learn whether or not the truce lately concluded with Algiers
had been broken ; but the English vessel we spoke with in the
Line, could give no information on that head.

On the loth, and following days, we saw floating past us
several quantitfes of sea- weed, of a kind which, according to M.
Frezier, abounds on the coast of North America, different from
that which grows in the Canaries and east coasts of the Atlan-
tic ; from which appearance we inferred that the west winds
had prevailed in this quarter.

On the evening of the 16th we gave chase to a vessel a-head ;
and at 1I|p.m. got near enough to speak with her. It cost
some trouble to carry on the conversation ; and all that we could
learn, the captain speaking nothing but English, was, that he
came from the coast of Africa, out thirty days, and bound for
Liverpool, We soon outsailed her, and returned to our former


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60 CordonxCt Voyage of Ducwery

course, from which we a little deviated, in order to meet with^

The wind now coming away from the SW. quarter, forwarded
us so much, that, on the llth, at noon, we were come to N.
lat. i7® J, and W. long. 30^, when they began to blow from
the northward ; and, in the night of the i9th, after we had been
becalmed almost the whole of the day, they sprang up from the
E. and so continued till the 23d, We then stoodto the north-
ward, and came into lat. S4|^, and long. 29° 40'. After some
hours of calm, we had the wind from the SE. quarter ; which,
on the 24th, changed to the SW. when we aj^ain stood for the
N. This day we compared thirteen series of distances of the
sun and moon observed in this quarter of the moon,^ the medium
of which s^ave our longitude 36' more the eastward of the time-
piece, witn which difference we corrected the account kept by
It. It appeared from these results, that No. 71 of Arnold had
very accurately pointed out the course we made good> and the
daily errors of our reckoning. •

In taking these observations of the distances between the sun
and the moon, wi made use of the circular instrument, or circle
of repetition, of the Chevalier Borda, which proved to be ex-
cellent in its kind, and whose properties are so well pointed
Out by M. Jacinto Magellan (Mkgallanes), in one of the Me^'
moires he has pubHshed on the use of astronomical instruments,
(Paris, 4to. 1715 ;) who, in the same work, mentions his
reasons for believing that he had employed similar instruments
a considerable time before he had heard any thing of the expe-
riments of that astronomer.

At 9 P.M. being then in N. lat. 37^ 21^ we ran to the E. in
order to keep clear of the Vigia, which, although it is laid
down by M. Verdun de la Crenne, in his chart of these seas, in
latitude 38^ 13', he says also, that perhaps it ought to be placed
in 37^ SO' ; in which latitude he has laid it down a second time.
Had we trusted to our reckoning, we would not have taken this
course, which would afterwards nave prevented us from passing
to the westward of the Azores with the winds which generally
blow from W. to NW.; but, accoirding to our observations for
determining the longitude, in which we placed greater confi-
dence than in our reckoning, we were still four degrees to the
W. of those islands.

The pilot of the ship Buen Consejo, on his return from Lima^
bad some conversation at Fayal, in the island of Flores, one of
the Azores, with a Portuguese pilot of that island, who gave
bim the following information: viz. •* The Vigia lies WbW.
from the island Fiores ^6\ leagues. An English vessel from

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(0 thd Strait qf Magellan. 61

Madeira was lost upon it ; and the crew in the long-boat stee^
ENE. the above distance, which brought them to Fayal. This
pilot himself proceeded, in consequence of this information, to
examine the Vigia, and accordingly met with it, running back
the way the boat had come. It has two reefs of rocks, ope
about 180 yards long on the WNW. part, and another of 100
yards to the south, with a cluster of rocks, covered at high
water, and a small sandy beach of forty yards long^ to the
WNW. of these rocks." This information, which, notwith^
standing it is so circumstantial « seems to want authority, is
copied from a note of one of the journals of our second captain.
As vessels coming from the south commonly pass in the
neighbourhood of this spot (la Vigia), whose situation is so un*
determined, they are obliged to be much on their guard, from
W. lat. 37|® to 38y, lying-by for one or more nights together ^
—a great hinderance to navigation, which demands that a point
so interesting to all maritime nations should no longer remain in

On the 25th we had easy variable witids from the N£. quar-
ter, changing on the £6th to SW., which carried us into lat.
40**, and W. long. 28^ ; from whence we steered eastwardly;
and on the 29th, in the morning, came in sight of the island
Cuervo, one of the Azores. At noon, according to the latitude
of this island, laid down in the chart of Verdun, we were in W.
long. 24^29'; according to the time-piece. No. II, by which
we kept our account, in 24^ £6'; but, by the reckoning, in
19^ 18', and, consequently, 5* iT to the E. of our place of
markation in the chart, — a space which, in this parallel of lati-
tude, is equail to seventy-nine leagues.

The time-piece differed, in three days, 52' to the W. of the
reckoning. Three bases measured by the log in the morning,
in order to calculate our distance from the island, produced re-
sults so distant from what they certainly ought to have been,
that we were convinced of the existence of a strong current,
whose direction and force explained the differences in our ac-

The night was calm, and next morning the wind set in from
S. to S£. with cloudy weather; which, continuing for five days
together, forced us, much against our inclination, to run to the
northward as far as latitude 43|^; — a circumstance the more
painlul to us, that, arriving now in a cold moist climate, the
scurvy began to make its appearance among the ship^s company,
particularly in the commander, who, notwithstandmg his great
spirit, was so ill as to be confined to his bed.

We were also by these winds driven into the parallel of the

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62 Cordova's Voxjage of Discovery

other Vigia, in latitude 42^ SO' ;— a danger we had before had
no thought of incurring.

As the heavens were in general overcast, with but few inter-
vals of clear weather, our time-piece was of great use in observ-
ing meridian altitudes of the sun, when we had calculated the
hour of his southing \ and by this means we had great confi-
dence in our calculations of the latitude, which, without such
helps, must have been very uncertain. The assistance to be
derived from those machines ought highly to increaue their
value in, the opinion of all navigators.

On the 2d of June the wind began to draw towards the W.
which enabled us to improve our direction, and thereby to di-
minish dur latitude. The following day we discovered a
vessel, and at 2f p.m. were within speech of her. She proved
to be the Na. Sra. de la Antigua, from Brazil to Oporto, had
been ninety-seven days on her passage, and had not seen the
Azores. We set the captain right as to his position, in which
he was very much mistaken.

The night of the 4th was spent in calms, but in the morning
the wind sprung up from the eastward. We now began to
discover a number of vessels standing to the northward. The
meeting with them in this latitude, at such a distance from the
land, proved to us that the winds had blown from the N.E.
quarter* for some time, as we afterwards were told had been the
case ; on which account we were glad that we had passed to
the W. and N. of the Azores.

In these two last days we took eight series of lunar distances
from the sun, the mean of which placed the frigate 6' 21'' to the
eastward of the position given by the time-piece ; and, appljnng
this small correction to our account, we steered so as to fail ia
fifteen or twenty leagues to the west of Cape St. Vincent, pay-
ing no attention to our reckoning, which, in these few days
past, had contracted an error of \\^ to the E.; which, had we
trusted to it, might have produced very disagreeable conse-

We continued our voyage until the Qth, without any remark-
able occt'iTence, only seeing sundry vessels from time to time;
and, at 5 p.m., at last came within sight of the land. In half an
hour more we could discera it to be Cape St. Vincent ; and at
10 P.M. by moon-light, we observed it to the N.

Our reckoning on to this period placed us in longitude 54'

W. from Cadiz, whereas that of the Cape is 2° 45'; so that the

error in the reckoning, after a run of eleven days from the

island Cuervo, had been J^ 49', or twenty-nine leagues, more to

tfee eastward than the true position of the vessel; According

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to the Strait of Magellan. . 63

to the timepiece, the error of the reckoning was 1^ 5? J' to the
E. ; therefore, the true position was bf, or two leagues and a ,
half, to the E. of the time-piece.

Although, when night came on the 10th, we had not got
sight of Cadiz, nor could learn the exact point on which it lay
from the crew of a fishing-boat, which supplied us with a little
fresh bread and fish, we began to sound for the channel leading
to the bay, and at 10 p.m. we discovered the light-house of San
Sebastian; at 11 J p.m. we came to anchor NW. by W. from
that light- house, in twenty fathoms sand, &c. Next morn*
ing (the llth June) we moved into the Bay of Cadiz, and came
to anchor, after a voyage of eight months and two days, with-
out having lost a single individual of our company during the
whole expedition. The commander, and two of the crew, were
the only persons seriously ill, and other sixteen slightly affected
with scurfy ; all of whom were in a short time perfectly re-
stored tp their ordinary state of health.

We have already taken notice of the death of two seamen, one
on our way out, and the othei in the strait; but we do not count
on them, as their complaints were contracted on land, before we
sailed, and were in no manner occasioned by the voyage.

Those only who return to their native country, after an ab-
sence, and such an absence as ours was, of eight months, can
conceive the pleasure we felt, at o'lcc more meeting with our
friends and countrymen at home ; the commander and officers
rejoicing that they had so successfully accomplished their un-
dertaking,* and the seamen, who quickly forget their dangers
and toils, with the satisfactory reBection, that they had strength
and courage to resist and overcome all difficulties : — ^the expedi-
tion to the Strait of Magellan manifesting to all what the vigour
and steadiness of the Spanish seaman are able to perform.

* From which some benefit to the world might arise.

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[ 64 ]

PART 11.


Description of the Strait of Magallanes. — Division of the dmntrp
into high and low,— Temperature : Qualities of the Soil. — Prom
ductions of the Strait: Herbs, Plants^ flowers^ Shrubs, and
Trees.^ Description of the Quadrupeds^ Birds, Fishes^ and

The opinioD of the greatest part of naturalists is not impro*
bable, that this Strait has been formed by the earthquakes and
effects of the volcanos of this part of the globe. M. Buffbn, ia
his '* Epoques de la Nature j^^ thinks that the high mountainous
part of the country is very ancient, and that the plains are
comparatively modern; assigning as a reason for this opinion,
that the sea, agitated by the winds, constant and violent from
the west, gradually consuming the west coast of the conti-
nent of South America, has gained on the land, on that side, as
far as its power was able to prevail ; from which he infers, tliat
the land now seen on that west side must be very ancient ; and
also that, on the contrary, the se% loses ground, or falls off, on
the eastern coast, leaving uncovered and visible such low lands
as are now seen near Cape de las Virgines: so that the low
Und extending north from Point de Micra to the ridge of hills
reaching behind Cape de las Virgines to Cape Possession, is all
very modern ; and that, in former times, the sea extended over
that low land up to the abov« fi^e, which was then a high
steep shore.

We will, however, now leave these conjectures, and begin
to treat of such objects as have been observed ; and the first
thing to be noticed is, that the country in the vicinity of the
Strait of Magellan must be considered under two different points
of view, separating the low or plain«part from the mountainous;
since there is a total difference, not only in their natural quali.
ties and productions, but also in their inhabitants.

The plains, or low country, occupy all that part of the
continent on the north side of the strait from Cape de las Vir*
gines westward to Cape Negro, but it is not easy to ascertain its
extent towards north and east ; only we may be certain it
reaches a great way in that direction, and that it joins with the

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' to the Sirait of Magellan. * 65

vast plains (pampas) of the prorince of Buenos Ayres and the
Patagonian coast, from which it seems to have no sensible dif-

On the south side of the «trait, the Tierra del Fuego extends
westward from Cape Espiritu Santo, as far as Cape San Valent
tin,and to the south-east, according to the account of the Nodales,
as far as Cape de Pinas, where the p;round begins to rise up>
and to become mountainous: so that that portion of Tierra
del Fuego lying between the channel of St. Sebastian on the
south, and the Strait of Magellan and the channel of S. Maria
de la Cobeza on the north and west, may be considered as one
great field of low land, different in every respect from thosc^
islands properly called the Tierra del Fuego**

From the above-mentioned Cape Negro on the main land, on
to that of Victoria, at the west extremity of the strait, the con-
tinent presents only a group of barren mountains, with some
plain ground at their bottom, which are the begitininff of the
famous Cordilleras (chain) of the Andes, which divide Soutb
America into eastern and western, running through it, north
and south, for the distance of 1,700 leagues.

This Cordillera begins at the most southerly point of th©
north coast of the Strait of Magellan, which is the Moro de San
Agueda, otherwise called Cape Forward, which may be consi-
dered to be the southern extremity of that vast continent, whose
northern limits are still so uncertain.

Along the coast of Fuego also, from Cape San Valentin to
Cape Pilares, are seen pinnacles of prodigious height, whose
appearance is, if possible, still more horrid than that of tha
mountains of the continent ; and showing, at first view, that
that part of tbe country is nothing but a group of islands, — a
manifest proof of the revolutions which our globe has under-^

The track of country which we distinguish by the appellation
plains, or low lands, is not so even as not to have sundry- ine-
qualities formed by little hills, which occur so frequently, that
no considerable portion of the surface is Iriee from heights and
hollows. In both these, the nature of the soil is of the same
quality, being a compound of darkish-coloured sandy earth; at
least, it is so on the surface, and we had no opportunities of
digging into it. Nevertheless, from what we saw, in such places
as the ground is cut into along the shore, there seems to be oa

** This tract of Soath America was not so caUed, the Land of Fire, from anj
extraordinary heat experieoced in its neighbourhood, but from the Jires lighted'
Hp along the coasts, when the first navigator* were seen in those seas. •

Voyages and Travels, No, 5, rol. IL ^^ k

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G6 Cordova's Voyage of Discovery

oth^r diflFerenoe than only the addition of some small stones*
It appears alsp, that this soil contains a quantity of very acrid
^alts, which oppose the vegetation of plants and trees ; ther^
being on it but very few of the former^ ajid not the suoailest
vestige of the latter.

As we had no occasion of visiting any part of the Tierra del
JTuegOy w(B can only say what appeared to our view at a distance ;
lirhicb is, that it seemed to be in all respects similar to the cout
- tioent, with this difference only, that it is piore broken an4
uneyen; so that, in that point, it has nfpre resemblance to the
Falkland Islands, and th^t, oq that account, it is but probably
that the productions of both should be much alike.

So different from this plain country is the aspect and appearr
wee of the mountainous tr^ck to the westward, that it seemr
impossibly that natqre, which, in her ohange^, generally preserves
a ciertain gr^ation, should hqre make so sudden an alteration.

It is but natural tQ suppose, that the lofty mountains which
occupy this tract arp all of the same qualities ; but it is difficult
to ascertain the nature of the soil of which their side^, and the
narrow levels at their feet, are composed ; for these parts arq
either entirely clothed with uncommonly thick forest?, whose
dead trunks and branches, with pther decayed vegetables an4
shrubs, have formed a surf£^:e m^ch raised abov^ the true
ground, pr tbejr are covered with ^ kind of plant resembling
esparto, (a species of rush, greatly resembling bents^ very com-
mon in Spain,) but much more brittle, from a palm to half a
yard in height ; and its colour, when grown up^ is like that of
esparto when dried, or dead.

The mountains are covered, in general, with trees, for two^
thirds g£ their height, and the ren^ainder is nothing bqt a mass
of naked, barren, and n^igged pinnacles, of a reddish colour;
although there- are some parts of a different nature,— that is, of
Qommpn granite^ called by naturalists soxtim, which they con-
sider to be the heart, or primitive rpck, of all mountains. The
upper parts of these ridges are coomionly prcrspread with snow
^nd ice ; which, on account of the e^^tr^in^ humidity of the
other parts, is dissolved soon after it falls. We observed no*-
thing particular on the summits of such mountains as we e^a-
inin^d» and they appeared in all respect^ to correspond to the
dpsqription given by Don A. de Uiloa of the Cordilleras, of
wbi^h %h^^ are a part.

Between Cape Redondo or San Isidro, and Cape Forward,
there is a hill very steep, and cut down perpendicularly over the
sea, with a deptn of water upwards of fifty feet close to the
fdbt of it, clothed with fair green trees all over the summit^
which seem to be entirely comppsed of shells and other petri-

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io the Strait of Magellan. 67

fied substances ; on which account M. de Bougainville called it
Cape Remarkable.

The sole difference between these mountains and those of the
Tierra del Fuego^ is, that they are not so well covered with
wood ; nor are the trees there so large or vigorous, being also in
general much more loaded with spow.

Our utter unacquaintance with minerals may perhaps have
been the cause of our meeting with no traces of them in these
parts ; yet the natives (Indians) often brought to us piepes of a
stone with which they light their fires, which they said were
found in the mountams ; which stones must, no doubt, con-
tain some kind of metal, as we imagined, from the specks
of a substance more hard and brilliant than the rest of
the stone. When it is struck with the steel, it gives fire,
and ^smells like sulphur ; firom which circumstance it is pro-
bable, that minerals of different kinds might be found in the
bowels of these mountains,* and that these vestiges indicate
the existence of volcanos, in former times, in this part of the

Although little rain fell during the fifteen days of our resi-
dence in the plain part of the strait, yet the dryness whieh we
noticed, seemed to be occasioned more by the sandy, and con-'
sequently uncompact, nature of the soil, than by the want of
rain or dew, which, when they fell, penetrated through it so
«peedily, that, soon after a shower, it could not be perceived to
have rained at all ; to which must be added, that the prevailing
winds in that quarter are in themselves dry and violent, as might
be perceived from ^he plants, which are all laid' over in the di-
rection of these winds: on which account, the soil does not
appear proper for the cultivation of any European grain, as has
been, after many trials, found to be the case in our settlements
in the Falkland Islands, of which the soil is of the same kind.

In all this plain tract of country, we found no river or brook
deserving notice, only some trifling channel, almost without
water: but, on the other hand, there are several ponds, or
small lakes of fresh water, which serve to supply the inhabit-
ants. Of its qualities we can say nothing, as we never used
any on-board, on account of the difficulty of procuring it in
any useful quantity.

It is not easy to ascertain the temperature of the climate of
this part of the strait, from the short stay we made in it; for, as

• "Note of the Original. — Pedro Sarmiento pretends that this stone is the ore
of silver or of gold de Veta, as it entirely resembles the cwriquixo de porco del Peru :
Tbese are his proper terras.


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68 CordmcHi Vcyagt of Ditcaotry

t^e still was then about eighteen hours above the horizon; it
would be improper, from observations at that time, to infer
>vhat it might be at others. However, even in this season, an
excellent English thermometer with mercury, graduated ac-
cording to the scale of Reaumur, exposed constantly to the air
in its case, never rose above nine degrees, and sometimes only
^o five degrees ; from which w6 may conclude, how cold it must
be in other times of the year, especially considering that the
winds from tlie W. and WSW. passing over mountains co^
yered with eternal snows, and thereby loaded with cold frozen
particles, must greatly enhance the severity of the cold. The
neavens are generally clear, and the atmosphere bright ; at
least, they were so on the two occasions of our passing that
way: but this must be understood particularly of the Cape de
las Virgines and its neighbourhood ; for, even so soon to the
westward as at the first pass of Esperanza, the proximity of the
mountains begins to be sensibly felt, the atmosphere there being
ibut rarely free from vapours.

The temperature of the mountainous track is different in dif-
ferent parts. From Cape Negro to Cape Forward it is the most
mild, and the appearance of the country the most agreeable.

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