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old Spaniard, and had been many years in this country. He professed
a great liking to the English, but stoutly maintained that the
battle of Trafalgar was merely won by the Spanish captains having
been all bought over; and that the only really gallant action on
either side was performed by the Spanish admiral. It struck me as
rather characteristic, that this man should prefer his countrymen
being thought the worst of traitors, rather than unskilful or

OCTOBER 18 AND 19, 1833.

We continued slowly to sail down the noble stream: the current
helped us but little. We met, during our descent, very few vessels.
One of the best gifts of nature, in so grand a channel of
communication, seems here wilfully thrown away - a river in which
ships might navigate from a temperate country, as surprisingly
abundant in certain productions as destitute of others, to another
possessing a tropical climate, and a soil which, according to the
best of judges, M. Bonpland, is perhaps unequalled in fertility in
any part of the world. How different would have been the aspect of
this river if English colonists had by good fortune first sailed up
the Plata! What noble towns would now have occupied its shores!
Till the death of Francia, the Dictator of Paraguay, these two
countries must remain distinct, as if placed on opposite sides of
the globe. And when the old bloody-minded tyrant is gone to his
long account, Paraguay will be torn by revolutions, violent in
proportion to the previous unnatural calm. That country will have
to learn, like every other South American state, that a republic
cannot succeed till it contains a certain body of men imbued with
the principles of justice and honour.

OCTOBER 20, 1833.

Being arrived at the mouth of the Parana, and as I was very anxious
to reach Buenos Ayres, I went on shore at Las Conchas, with the
intention of riding there. Upon landing, I found to my great
surprise that I was to a certain degree a prisoner. A violent
revolution having broken out, all the ports were laid under an
embargo. I could not return to my vessel, and as for going by land
to the city, it was out of the question. After a long conversation
with the commandant, I obtained permission to go the next day to
General Rolor, who commanded a division of the rebels on this side
the capital. In the morning I rode to the encampment. The general,
officers, and soldiers, all appeared, and I believe really were,
great villains. The general, the very evening before he left the
city, voluntarily went to the Governor, and with his hand to his
heart, pledged his word of honour that he at least would remain
faithful to the last. The general told me that the city was in a
state of close blockade, and that all he could do was to give me a
passport to the commander-in-chief of the rebels at Quilmes. We had
therefore to take a great sweep round the city, and it was with
much difficulty that we procured horses. My reception at the
encampment was quite civil, but I was told it was impossible that I
could be allowed to enter the city. I was very anxious about this,
as I anticipated the "Beagle's" departure from the Rio Plata
earlier than it took place. Having mentioned, however, General
Rosas's obliging kindness to me when at the Colorado, magic itself
could not have altered circumstances quicker than did this
conversation. I was instantly told that though they could not give
me a passport, if I chose to leave my guide and horses, I might
pass their sentinels. I was too glad to accept of this, and an
officer was sent with me to give directions that I should not be
stopped at the bridge. The road for the space of a league was quite
deserted. I met one party of soldiers, who were satisfied by
gravely looking at an old passport: and at length I was not a
little pleased to find myself within the city.

This revolution was supported by scarcely any pretext of
grievances: but in a state which, in the course of nine months
(from February to October, 1820), underwent fifteen changes in its
government - each governor, according to the constitution, being
elected for three years - it would be very unreasonable to ask for
pretexts. In this case, a party of men - who, being attached to
Rosas, were disgusted with the governor Balcarce - to the number of
seventy left the city, and with the cry of Rosas the whole country
took arms. The city was then blockaded, no provisions, cattle or
horses, were allowed to enter; besides this, there was only a
little skirmishing, and a few men daily killed. The outside party
well knew that by stopping the supply of meat they would certainly
be victorious. General Rosas could not have known of this rising;
but it appears to be quite consonant with the plans of his party. A
year ago he was elected governor, but he refused it, unless the
Sala would also confer on him extraordinary powers. This was
refused, and since then his party have shown that no other governor
can keep his place. The warfare on both sides was avowedly
protracted till it was possible to hear from Rosas. A note arrived
a few days after I left Buenos Ayres, which stated that the General
disapproved of peace having been broken, but that he thought the
outside party had justice on their side. On the bare reception of
this the Governor, ministers, and part of the military, to the
number of some hundreds, fled from the city. The rebels entered,
elected a new governor, and were paid for their services to the
number of 5500 men. From these proceedings, it was clear that Rosas
ultimately would become the dictator: to the term king, the people
in this, as in other republics, have a particular dislike. Since
leaving South America, we have heard that Rosas has been elected,
with powers and for a time altogether opposed to the constitutional
principles of the republic.




Excursion to Colonia del Sacramiento.
Value of an Estancia.
Cattle, how counted.
Singular Breed of Oxen.
Perforated Pebbles.
Horses broken-in, Gauchos Riding.
Character of Inhabitants.
Rio Plata.
Flocks of Butterflies.
Aeronaut Spiders.
Phosphorescence of the Sea.
Port Desire.
Port St. Julian.
Geology of Patagonia.
Fossil gigantic Animal.
Types of Organisation constant.
Change in the Zoology of America.
Causes of Extinction.


Having been delayed for nearly a fortnight in the city, I was glad
to escape on board a packet bound for Monte Video. A town in a
state of blockade must always be a disagreeable place of residence;
in this case moreover there were constant apprehensions from
robbers within. The sentinels were the worst of all; for, from
their office and from having arms in their hands, they robbed with
a degree of authority which other men could not imitate.

Our passage was a very long and tedious one. The Plata looks like a
noble estuary on the map; but is in truth a poor affair. A wide
expanse of muddy water has neither grandeur nor beauty. At one time
of the day, the two shores, both of which are extremely low, could
just be distinguished from the deck. On arriving at Monte Video I
found that the "Beagle" would not sail for some time, so I prepared
for a short excursion in this part of Banda Oriental. Everything
which I have said about the country near Maldonado is applicable to
Monte Video; but the land, with the one exception of the Green
Mount, 450 feet high, from which it takes its name, is far more
level. Very little of the undulating grassy plain is enclosed; but
near the town there are a few hedge-banks, covered with agaves,
cacti, and fennel.

NOVEMBER 14, 1833.

We left Monte Video in the afternoon. I intended to proceed to
Colonia del Sacramiento, situated on the northern bank of the Plata
and opposite to Buenos Ayres, and thence, following up the Uruguay,
to the village of Mercedes on the Rio Negro (one of the many rivers
of this name in South America), and from this point to return
direct to Monte Video. We slept at the house of my guide at
Canelones. In the morning we rose early, in the hopes of being able
to ride a good distance; but it was a vain attempt, for all the
rivers were flooded. We passed in boats the streams of Canelones,
St. Lucia, and San Jos,, and thus lost much time. On a former
excursion I crossed the Lucia near its mouth, and I was surprised
to observe how easily our horses, although not used to swim, passed
over a width of at least six hundred yards. On mentioning this at
Monte Video, I was told that a vessel containing some mountebanks
and their horses, being wrecked in the Plata, one horse swam seven
miles to the shore. In the course of the day I was amused by the
dexterity with which a Gaucho forced a restive horse to swim a
river. He stripped off his clothes, and jumping on its back, rode
into the water till it was out of its depth; then slipping off over
the crupper, he caught hold of the tail, and as often as the horse
turned round the man frightened it back by splashing water in its
face. As soon as the horse touched the bottom on the other side,
the man pulled himself on, and was firmly seated, bridle in hand,
before the horse gained the bank. A naked man on a naked horse is a
fine spectacle; I had no idea how well the two animals suited each
other. The tail of a horse is a very useful appendage; I have
passed a river in a boat with four people in it, which was ferried
across in the same way as the Gaucho. If a man and horse have to
cross a broad river, the best plan is for the man to catch hold of
the pommel or mane, and help himself with the other arm.

We slept and stayed the following day at the post of Cufre. In the
evening the postman or letter-carrier arrived. He was a day after
his time, owing to the Rio Rozario being flooded. It would not,
however, be of much consequence; for, although he had passed
through some of the principal towns in Banda Oriental, his luggage
consisted of two letters! The view from the house was pleasing; an
undulating green surface, with distant glimpses of the Plata. I
find that I look at this province with very different eyes from
what I did upon my first arrival. I recollect I then thought it
singularly level; but now, after galloping over the Pampas, my only
surprise is, what could have induced me ever to have called it
level. The country is a series of undulations, in themselves
perhaps not absolutely great, but, as compared to the plains of St.
Fe, real mountains. From these inequalities there is an abundance
of small rivulets, and the turf is green and luxuriant.

NOVEMBER 17, 1833.

We crossed the Rozario, which was deep and rapid, and passing the
village of Colla, arrived at mid-day at Colonia del Sacramiento.
The distance is twenty leagues, through a country covered with fine
grass, but poorly stocked with cattle or inhabitants. I was invited
to sleep at Colonia, and to accompany on the following day a
gentleman to his estancia, where there were some limestone rocks.
The town is built on a stony promontory something in the same
manner as at Monte Video. It is strongly fortified, but both
fortifications and town suffered much in the Brazilian war. It is
very ancient; and the irregularity of the streets, and the
surrounding groves of old orange and peach trees, gave it a pretty
appearance. The church is a curious ruin; it was used as a
powder-magazine, and was struck by lightning in one of the ten
thousand thunderstorms of the Rio Plata. Two-thirds of the building
were blown away to the very foundation; and the rest stands a
shattered and curious monument of the united powers of lightning
and gunpowder. In the evening I wandered about the half-demolished
walls of the town. It was the chief seat of the Brazilian war - a
war most injurious to this country, not so much in its immediate
effects, as in being the origin of a multitude of generals and all
other grades of officers. More generals are numbered (but not paid)
in the United Provinces of La Plata than in the United Kingdom of
Great Britain. These gentlemen have learned to like power, and do
not object to a little skirmishing. Hence there are many always on
the watch to create disturbance and to overturn a government which
as yet has never rested on any stable foundation. I noticed,
however, both here and in other places, a very general interest in
the ensuing election for the President; and this appears a good
sign for the prosperity of this little country. The inhabitants do
not require much education in their representatives; I heard some
men discussing the merits of those for Colonia; and it was said
that, "although they were not men of business, they could all sign
their names:" with this they seemed to think every reasonable man
ought to be satisfied.

NOVEMBER 18, 1833.

Rode with my host to his estancia, at the Arroyo de San Juan. In
the evening we took a ride round the estate: it contained two
square leagues and a half, and was situated in what is called a
rincon; that is, one side was fronted by the Plata, and the two
others guarded by impassable brooks. There was an excellent port
for little vessels, and an abundance of small wood, which is
valuable as supplying fuel to Buenos Ayres. I was curious to know
the value of so complete an estancia. Of cattle there were 3000,
and it would well support three or four times that number; of mares
800, together with 150 broken-in horses, and 600 sheep. There was
plenty of water and limestone, a rough house, excellent corrals,
and a peach orchard. For all this he had been offered 2000 pounds
sterling, and he only wanted 500 pounds sterling additional, and
probably would sell it for less. The chief trouble with an estancia
is driving the cattle twice a week to a central spot, in order to
make them tame, and to count them. This latter operation would be
thought difficult, where there are ten or fifteen thousand head
together. It is managed on the principle that the cattle invariably
divide themselves into little troops of from forty to one hundred.
Each troop is recognised by a few peculiarly marked animals, and
its number is known: so that, one being lost out of ten thousand,
it is perceived by its absence from one of the tropillas. During a
stormy night the cattle all mingle together; but the next morning
the tropillas separate as before; so that each animal must know its
fellow out of ten thousand others.

On two occasions I met with in this province some oxen of a very
curious breed, called nata or niata. They appear externally to hold
nearly the same relation to other cattle, which bull or pug dogs do
to other dogs. Their forehead is very short and broad, with the
nasal end turned up, and the upper lip much drawn back; their lower
jaws project beyond the upper, and have a corresponding upward
curve; hence their teeth are always exposed. Their nostrils are
seated high up and are very open; their eyes project outwards. When
walking they carry their heads low, on a short neck; and their
hinder legs are rather longer compared with the front legs than is
usual. Their bare teeth, their short heads, and upturned nostrils
give them the most ludicrous self-confident air of defiance

Since my return, I have procured a skeleton head, through the
kindness of my friend Captain Sulivan, R.N., which is now deposited
in the College of Surgeons. (8/1. Mr. Waterhouse has drawn up a
detailed description of this head, which I hope he will publish in
some Journal.) Don F. Muniz, of Luxan, has kindly collected for me
all the information which he could respecting this breed. From his
account it seems that about eighty or ninety years ago, they were
rare and kept as curiosities at Buenos Ayres. The breed is
universally believed to have originated amongst the Indians
southward of the Plata; and that it was with them the commonest
kind. Even to this day, those reared in the provinces near the
Plata show their less civilised origin, in being fiercer than
common cattle, and in the cow easily deserting her first calf, if
visited too often or molested. It is a singular fact that an almost
similar structure to the abnormal one of the niata breed,
characterises, as I am informed by Dr. Falconer, that great extinct
ruminant of India, the Sivatherium. (8/2. A nearly similar
abnormal, but I do not know whether hereditary, structure has been
observed in the carp, and likewise in the crocodile of the Ganges:
"Histoire des Anomalies" par M. Isid. Geoffroy St. Hilaire tome 1
page 244.) The breed is very TRUE; and a niata bull and cow
invariably produce niata calves. A niata bull with a common cow, or
the reverse cross, produces offspring having an intermediate
character, but with the niata characters strongly displayed:
according to Señor Muniz, there is the clearest evidence, contrary
to the common belief of agriculturists in analogous cases, that the
niata cow when crossed with a common bull transmits her
peculiarities more strongly than the niata bull when crossed with a
common cow. When the pasture is tolerably long, the niata cattle
feed with the tongue and palate as well as common cattle; but
during the great droughts, when so many animals perish, the niata
breed is under a great disadvantage, and would be exterminated if
not attended to; for the common cattle, like horses, are able just
to keep alive, by browsing with their lips on twigs of trees and
reeds; this the niatas cannot so well do, as their lips do not
join, and hence they are found to perish before the common cattle.
This strikes me as a good illustration of how little we are able to
judge from the ordinary habits of life, on what circumstances,
occurring only at long intervals, the rarity or extinction of a
species may be determined.

NOVEMBER 19, 1833.

Passing the valley of Las Vacas, we slept at a house of a North
American, who worked a lime-kiln on the Arroyo de las Vivoras. In
the morning we rode to a projecting headland on the banks of the
river, called Punta Gorda. On the way we tried to find a jaguar.
There were plenty of fresh tracks, and we visited the trees on
which they are said to sharpen their claws; but we did not succeed
in disturbing one. From this point the Rio Uruguay presented to our
view a noble volume of water. From the clearness and rapidity of
the stream, its appearance was far superior to that of its
neighbour the Parana. On the opposite coast, several branches from
the latter river entered the Uruguay. As the sun was shining, the
two colours of the waters could be seen quite distinct.

In the evening we proceeded on our road towards Mercedes on the Rio
Negro. At night we asked permission to sleep at an estancia at
which we happened to arrive. It was a very large estate, being ten
leagues square, and the owner is one of the greatest landowners in
the country. His nephew had charge of it, and with him there was a
captain in the army, who the other day ran away from Buenos Ayres.
Considering their station, their conversation was rather amusing.
They expressed, as was usual, unbounded astonishment at the globe
being round, and could scarcely credit that a hole would, if deep
enough, come out on the other side. They had, however, heard of a
country where there were six months of light and six of darkness,
and where the inhabitants were very tall and thin! They were
curious about the price and condition of horses and cattle in
England. Upon finding out we did not catch our animals with the
lazo, they cried out, "Ah, then, you use nothing but the bolas:"
the idea of an enclosed country was quite new to them. The captain
at last said, he had one question to ask me, which he should be
very much obliged if I would answer with all truth. I trembled to
think how deeply scientific it would be: it was, "Whether the
ladies of Buenos Ayres were not the handsomest in the world." I
replied, like a renegade, "Charmingly so." He added, "I have one
other question: Do ladies in any other part of the world wear such
large combs?" I solemnly assured him that they did not. They were
absolutely delighted. The captain exclaimed, "Look there! a man who
has seen half the world says it is the case; we always thought so,
but now we know it." My excellent judgment in combs and beauty
procured me a most hospitable reception; the captain forced me to
take his bed, and he would sleep on his recado.

NOVEMBER 21, 1833.

Started at sunrise, and rode slowly during the whole day. The
geological nature of this part of the province was different from
the rest, and closely resembled that of the Pampas. In consequence,
there were immense beds of the thistle, as well as of the cardoon:
the whole country, indeed, may be called one great bed of these
plants. The two sorts grow separate, each plant in company with its
own kind. The cardoon is as high as a horse's back, but the Pampas
thistle is often higher than the crown of the rider's head. To
leave the road for a yard is out of the question; and the road
itself is partly, and in some cases entirely, closed. Pasture, of
course, there is none; if cattle or horses once enter the bed, they
are for the time completely lost. Hence it is very hazardous to
attempt to drive cattle at this season of the year; for when jaded
enough to face the thistles, they rush among them, and are seen no
more. In these districts there are very few estancias, and these
few are situated in the neighbourhood of damp valleys, where
fortunately neither of these overwhelming plants can exist. As
night came on before we arrived at our journey's end, we slept at a
miserable little hovel inhabited by the poorest people. The extreme
though rather formal courtesy of our host and hostess, considering
their grade of life, was quite delightful.

NOVEMBER 22, 1833.

Arrived at an estancia on the Berquelo belonging to a very
hospitable Englishman, to whom I had a letter of introduction from
my friend Mr. Lumb. I stayed here three days. One morning I rode
with my host to the Sierra del Pedro Flaco, about twenty miles up
the Rio Negro. Nearly the whole country was covered with good
though coarse grass, which was as high as a horse's belly; yet
there were square leagues without a single head of cattle. The
province of Banda Oriental, if well stocked, would support an
astonishing number of animals, at present the annual export of
hides from Monte Video amounts to three hundred thousand; and the
home consumption, from waste, is very considerable. An estanciero
told me that he often had to send large herds of cattle a long
journey to a salting establishment, and that the tired beasts were
frequently obliged to be killed and skinned; but that he could
never persuade the Gauchos to eat of them, and every evening a
fresh beast was slaughtered for their suppers! The view of the Rio
Negro from the Sierra was more picturesque than any other which I
saw in this province. The river, broad, deep, and rapid, wound at
the foot of a rocky precipitous cliff: a belt of wood followed its
course, and the horizon terminated in the distant undulations of
the turf-plain.

When in this neighbourhood, I several times heard of the Sierra de
las Cuentas: a hill distant many miles to the northward. The name
signifies hill of beads. I was assured that vast numbers of little
round stones, of various colours, each with a small cylindrical
hole, are found there. Formerly the Indians used to collect them,
for the purpose of making necklaces and bracelets - a taste, I may
observe, which is common to all savage nations, as well as to the
most polished. I did not know what to understand from this story,
but upon mentioning it at the Cape of Good Hope to Dr. Andrew
Smith, he told me that he recollected finding on the south-eastern
coast of Africa, about one hundred miles to the eastward of St.
John's river, some quartz crystals with their edges blunted from
attrition, and mixed with gravel on the sea-beach. Each crystal was
about five lines in diameter, and from an inch to an inch and a
half in length. Many of them had a small canal extending from one
extremity to the other, perfectly cylindrical, and of a size that
readily admitted a coarse thread or a piece of fine catgut. Their
colour was red or dull white. The natives were acquainted with this
structure in crystals. I have mentioned these circumstances
because, although no crystallised body is at present known to
assume this form, it may lead some future traveller to investigate
the real nature of such stones.

While staying at this estancia, I was amused with what I saw and
heard of the shepherd-dogs of the country. (8/3. M. A. d'Orbigny

Online LibraryCharles DarwinThe Voyage of the Beagle → online text (page 15 of 51)