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delighted at our dancing and singing, and were particularly
interested at seeing us wash in a neighbouring brook; they did not
pay much attention to anything else, not even to our boats. Of all
the things which York saw, during his absence from his country,
nothing seems more to have astonished him than an ostrich, near
Maldonado: breathless with astonishment he came running to Mr.
Bynoe, with whom he was out walking - "Oh, Mr. Bynoe, oh, bird all
same horse!" Much as our white skins surprised the natives, by Mr.
Low's account a negro-cook to a sealing vessel did so more
effectually, and the poor fellow was so mobbed and shouted at that
he would never go on shore again. Everything went on so quietly,
that some of the officers and myself took long walks in the
surrounding hills and woods. Suddenly, however, on the 27th, every
woman and child disappeared. We were all uneasy at this, as neither
York nor Jemmy could make out the cause. It was thought by some
that they had been frightened by our cleaning and firing off our
muskets on the previous evening: by others, that it was owing to
offence taken by an old savage, who, when told to keep farther off,
had coolly spit in the sentry's face, and had then, by gestures
acted over a sleeping Fuegian, plainly showed, as it was said, that
he should like to cut up and eat our man. Captain Fitz Roy, to
avoid the chance of an encounter, which would have been fatal to so
many of the Fuegians, thought it advisable for us to sleep at a
cove a few miles distant. Matthews, with his usual quiet fortitude
(remarkable in a man apparently possessing little energy of
character), determined to stay with the Fuegians, who evinced no
alarm for themselves; and so we left them to pass their first awful

On our return in the morning (28th) we were delighted to find all
quiet, and the men employed in their canoes spearing fish. Captain
Fitz Roy determined to send the yawl and one whale-boat back to the
ship; and to proceed with the two other boats, one under his own
command (in which he most kindly allowed me to accompany him), and
one under Mr. Hammond, to survey the western parts of the Beagle
Channel, and afterwards to return and visit the settlement. The day
to our astonishment was overpoweringly hot, so that our skins were
scorched; with this beautiful weather, the view in the middle of
the Beagle Channel was very remarkable. Looking towards either
hand, no object intercepted the vanishing points of this long canal
between the mountains. The circumstance of its being an arm of the
sea was rendered very evident by several huge whales spouting in
different directions. (10/2. One day, off the East coast of Tierra
del Fuego, we saw a grand sight in several spermaceti whales
jumping upright quite out of the water, with the exception of their
tail-fins. As they fell down sideways, they splashed the water high
up, and the sound reverberated like a distant broadside.) On one
occasion I saw two of these monsters, probably male and female,
slowly swimming one after the other, within less than a stone's
throw of the shore, over which the beech-tree extended its

We sailed on till it was dark, and then pitched our tents in a
quiet creek. The greatest luxury was to find for our beds a beach
of pebbles, for they were dry and yielded to the body. Peaty soil
is damp; rock is uneven and hard; sand gets into one's meat, when
cooked and eaten boat-fashion; but when lying in our blanket-bags,
on a good bed of smooth pebbles, we passed most comfortable nights.

It was my watch till one o'clock. There is something very solemn in
these scenes. At no time does the consciousness in what a remote
corner of the world you are then standing come so strongly before
the mind. Everything tends to this effect; the stillness of the
night is interrupted only by the heavy breathing of the seamen
beneath the tents, and sometimes by the cry of a night-bird. The
occasional barking of a dog, heard in the distance, reminds one
that it is the land of the savage.

JANUARY 29, 1833.

Early in the morning we arrived at the point where the Beagle
Channel divides into two arms; and we entered the northern one. The
scenery here becomes even grander than before. The lofty mountains
on the north side compose the granitic axis, or backbone of the
country, and boldly rise to a height of between three and four
thousand feet, with one peak above six thousand feet. They are
covered by a wide mantle of perpetual snow, and numerous cascades
pour their waters, through the woods, into the narrow channel
below. In many parts, magnificent glaciers extend from the mountain
side to the water's edge. It is scarcely possible to imagine
anything more beautiful than the beryl-like blue of these glaciers,
and especially as contrasted with the dead white of the upper
expanse of snow. The fragments which had fallen from the glacier
into the water were floating away, and the channel with its
icebergs presented, for the space of a mile, a miniature likeness
of the Polar Sea. The boats being hauled on shore at our
dinner-hour, we were admiring from the distance of half a mile a
perpendicular cliff of ice, and were wishing that some more
fragments would fall. At last, down came a mass with a roaring
noise, and immediately we saw the smooth outline of a wave
travelling towards us. The men ran down as quickly as they could to
the boats; for the chance of their being dashed to pieces was
evident. One of the seamen just caught hold of the bows, as the
curling breaker reached it: he was knocked over and over, but not
hurt, and the boats, though thrice lifted on high and let fall
again, received no damage. This was most fortunate for us, for we
were a hundred miles distant from the ship, and we should have been
left without provisions or firearms. I had previously observed that
some large fragments of rock on the beach had been lately
displaced; but until seeing this wave I did not understand the
cause. One side of the creek was formed by a spur of mica-slate;
the head by a cliff of ice about forty feet high; and the other
side by a promontory fifty feet high, built up of huge rounded
fragments of granite and mica-slate, out of which old trees were
growing. This promontory was evidently a moraine, heaped up at a
period when the glacier had greater dimensions.

When we reached the western mouth of this northern branch of the
Beagle Channel, we sailed amongst many unknown desolate islands,
and the weather was wretchedly bad. We met with no natives. The
coast was almost everywhere so steep that we had several times to
pull many miles before we could find space enough to pitch our two
tents: one night we slept on large round boulders, with putrefying
sea-weed between them; and when the tide rose, we had to get up and
move our blanket-bags. The farthest point westward which we reached
was Stewart Island, a distance of about one hundred and fifty miles
from our ship. We returned into the Beagle Channel by the southern
arm, and thence proceeded, with no adventure, back to Ponsonby

FEBRUARY 6, 1833.

We arrived at Woollya. Matthews gave so bad an account of the
conduct of the Fuegians, that Captain Fitz Roy determined to take
him back to the "Beagle"; and ultimately he was left at New
Zealand, where his brother was a missionary. From the time of our
leaving, a regular system of plunder commenced; fresh parties of
the natives kept arriving: York and Jemmy lost many things, and
Matthews almost everything which had not been concealed
underground. Every article seemed to have been torn up and divided
by the natives. Matthews described the watch he was obliged always
to keep as most harassing; night and day he was surrounded by the
natives, who tried to tire him out by making an incessant noise
close to his head. One day an old man, whom Matthews asked to leave
his wigwam, immediately returned with a large stone in his hand:
another day a whole party came armed with stones and stakes, and
some of the younger men and Jemmy's brother were crying: Matthews
met them with presents. Another party showed by signs that they
wished to strip him naked and pluck all the hairs out of his face
and body. I think we arrived just in time to save his life. Jemmy's
relatives had been so vain and foolish, that they had showed to
strangers their plunder, and their manner of obtaining it. It was
quite melancholy leaving the three Fuegians with their savage
countrymen; but it was a great comfort that they had no personal
fears. York, being a powerful resolute man, was pretty sure to get
on well, together with his wife Fuegia. Poor Jemmy looked rather
disconsolate, and would then, I have little doubt, have been glad
to have returned with us. His own brother had stolen many things
from him; and as he remarked, "What fashion call that:" he abused
his countrymen, "all bad men, no sabe (know) nothing" and, though I
never heard him swear before, "damned fools." Our three Fuegians,
though they had been only three years with civilised men, would, I
am sure, have been glad to have retained their new habits; but this
was obviously impossible. I fear it is more than doubtful whether
their visit will have been of any use to them.

In the evening, with Matthews on board, we made sail back to the
ship, not by the Beagle Channel, but by the southern coast. The
boats were heavily laden and the sea rough, and we had a dangerous
passage. By the evening of the 7th we were on board the "Beagle"
after an absence of twenty days, during which time we had gone
three hundred miles in the open boats. On the 11th Captain Fitz Roy
paid a visit by himself to the Fuegians and found them going on
well; and that they had lost very few more things.

On the last day of February in the succeeding year (1834) the
"Beagle" anchored in a beautiful little cove at the eastern
entrance of the Beagle Channel. Captain Fitz Roy determined on the
bold, and as it proved successful, attempt to beat against the
westerly winds by the same route which we had followed in the boats
to the settlement at Woollya. We did not see many natives until we
were near Ponsonby Sound, where we were followed by ten or twelve
canoes. The natives did not at all understand the reason of our
tacking, and, instead of meeting us at each tack, vainly strove to
follow us in our zigzag course. I was amused at finding what a
difference the circumstance of being quite superior in force made,
in the interest of beholding these savages. While in the boats I
got to hate the very sound of their voices, so much trouble did
they give us. The first and last word was "yammerschooner." When,
entering some quiet little cove, we have looked round and thought
to pass a quiet night, the odious word "yammerschooner" has shrilly
sounded from some gloomy nook, and then the little signal-smoke has
curled up to spread the news far and wide. On leaving some place we
have said to each other, "Thank heaven, we have at last fairly left
these wretches!" when one more faint halloo from an all-powerful
voice, heard at a prodigious distance, would reach our ears, and
clearly could we distinguish - "yammerschooner." But now, the more
Fuegians the merrier; and very merry work it was. Both parties
laughing, wondering, gaping at each other; we pitying them, for
giving us good fish and crabs for rags, etc.; they grasping at the
chance of finding people so foolish as to exchange such splendid
ornaments for a good supper. It was most amusing to see the
undisguised smile of satisfaction with which one young woman with
her face painted black, tied several bits of scarlet cloth round
her head with rushes. Her husband, who enjoyed the very universal
privilege in this country of possessing two wives, evidently became
jealous of all the attention paid to his young wife; and, after a
consultation with his naked beauties, was paddled away by them.

Some of the Fuegians plainly showed that they had a fair notion of
barter. I gave one man a large nail (a most valuable present)
without making any signs for a return; but he immediately picked
out two fish, and handed them up on the point of his spear. If any
present was designed for one canoe, and it fell near another, it
was invariably given to the right owner. The Fuegian boy, whom Mr.
Low had on board, showed, by going into the most violent passion,
that he quite understood the reproach of being called a liar, which
in truth he was. We were this time, as on all former occasions,
much surprised at the little notice, or rather none whatever, which
was taken of many things, the use of which must have been evident
to the natives. Simple circumstances - such as the beauty of scarlet
cloth or blue beads, the absence of women, our care in washing
ourselves, - excited their admiration far more than any grand or
complicated object, such as our ship. Bougainville has well
remarked concerning these people, that they treat the "chefs
d'oeuvre de l'industrie humaine, comme ils traitent les loix de la
nature et ses phenomenes."

On the 5th of March we anchored in a cove at Woollya, but we saw
not a soul there. We were alarmed at this, for the natives in
Ponsonby Sound showed by gestures that there had been fighting; and
we afterwards heard that the dreaded Oens men had made a descent.
Soon a canoe, with a little flag flying, was seen approaching, with
one of the men in it washing the paint off his face. This man was
poor Jemmy, - now a thin, haggard savage, with long disordered hair,
and naked, except a bit of blanket round his waist. We did not
recognize him till he was close to us, for he was ashamed of
himself, and turned his back to the ship. We had left him plump,
fat, clean, and well-dressed; - I never saw so complete and grievous
a change. As soon however as he was clothed, and the first flurry
was over, things wore a good appearance. He dined with Captain Fitz
Roy, and ate his dinner as tidily as formerly. He told us that he
had "too much" (meaning enough) to eat, that he was not cold, that
his relations were very good people, and that he did not wish to go
back to England: in the evening we found out the cause of this
great change in Jemmy's feelings, in the arrival of his young and
nice-looking wife. With his usual good feeling, he brought two
beautiful otter-skins for two of his best friends, and some
spear-heads and arrows made with his own hands for the Captain. He
said he had built a canoe for himself, and he boasted that he could
talk a little of his own language! But it is a most singular fact,
that he appears to have taught all his tribe some English: an old
man spontaneously announced "Jemmy Button's wife." Jemmy had lost
all his property. He told us that York Minster had built a large
canoe, and with his wife Fuegia, had several months since gone to
his own country, and had taken farewell by an act of consummate
villainy; he persuaded Jemmy and his mother to come with him, and
then on the way deserted them by night, stealing every article of
their property. (10/3. Captain Sulivan, who, since his voyage in
the "Beagle," has been employed on the survey of the Falkland
Islands, heard from a sealer in (1842?), that when in the western
part of the Strait of Magellan, he was astonished by a native woman
coming on board, who could talk some English. Without doubt this
was Fuegia Basket. She lived (I fear the term probably bears a
double interpretation) some days on board.)

Jemmy went to sleep on shore, and in the morning returned, and
remained on board till the ship got under weigh, which frightened
his wife, who continued crying violently till he got into his
canoe. He returned loaded with valuable property. Every soul on
board was heartily sorry to shake hands with him for the last time.
I do not now doubt that he will be as happy as, perhaps happier
than, if he had never left his own country. Every one must
sincerely hope that Captain Fitz Roy's noble hope may be fulfilled,
of being rewarded for the many generous sacrifices which he made
for these Fuegians, by some shipwrecked sailor being protected by
the descendants of Jemmy Button and his tribe! When Jemmy reached
the shore, he lighted a signal fire, and the smoke curled up,
bidding us a last and long farewell, as the ship stood on her
course into the open sea.

The perfect equality among the individuals composing the Fuegian
tribes must for a long time retard their civilisation. As we see
those animals, whose instinct compels them to live in society and
obey a chief, are most capable of improvement, so is it with the
races of mankind. Whether we look at it as a cause or a
consequence, the more civilised always have the most artificial
governments. For instance, the inhabitants of Otaheite, who, when
first discovered, were governed by hereditary kings, had arrived at
a far higher grade than another branch of the same people, the New
Zealanders, - who, although benefited by being compelled to turn
their attention to agriculture, were republicans in the most
absolute sense. In Tierra del Fuego, until some chief shall arise
with power sufficient to secure any acquired advantage, such as the
domesticated animals, it seems scarcely possible that the political
state of the country can be improved. At present, even a piece of
cloth given to one is torn into shreds and distributed; and no one
individual becomes richer than another. On the other hand, it is
difficult to understand how a chief can arise till there is
property of some sort by which he might manifest his superiority
and increase his power.

I believe, in this extreme part of South America, man exists in a
lower state of improvement than in any other part of the world. The
South Sea Islanders, of the two races inhabiting the Pacific, are
comparatively civilised. The Esquimaux, in his subterranean hut,
enjoys some of the comforts of life, and in his canoe, when fully
equipped, manifests much skill. Some of the tribes of Southern
Africa, prowling about in search of roots, and living concealed on
the wild and arid plains, are sufficiently wretched. The
Australian, in the simplicity of the arts of life, comes nearest
the Fuegian: he can, however, boast of his boomerang, his spear and
throwing-stick, his method of climbing trees, of tracking animals,
and of hunting. Although the Australian may be superior in
acquirements, it by no means follows that he is likewise superior
in mental capacity: indeed, from what I saw of the Fuegians when on
board and from what I have read of the Australians, I should think
the case was exactly the reverse.




Strait of Magellan.
Port Famine.
Ascent of Mount Tarn.
Edible fungus.
Great Seaweed.
Leave Tierra del Fuego.
Fruit-trees and productions of the southern coasts.
Height of snow-line on the Cordillera.
Descent of glaciers to the sea.
Icebergs formed.
Transportal of boulders.
Climate and productions of the Antarctic Islands.
Preservation of frozen carcasses.


In the end of May 1834 we entered for a second time the eastern
mouth of the Strait of Magellan. The country on both sides of this
part of the Strait consists of nearly level plains, like those of
Patagonia. Cape Negro, a little within the second Narrows, may be
considered as the point where the land begins to assume the marked
features of Tierra del Fuego. On the east coast, south of the
Strait, broken park-like scenery in a like manner connects these
two countries, which are opposed to each other in almost every
feature. It is truly surprising to find in a space of twenty miles
such a change in the landscape. If we take a rather greater
distance, as between Port Famine and Gregory Bay, that is about
sixty miles, the difference is still more wonderful. At the former
place we have rounded mountains concealed by impervious forests,
which are drenched with the rain brought by an endless succession
of gales; while at Cape Gregory there is a clear and bright blue
sky over the dry and sterile plains. The atmospheric currents,
although rapid, turbulent, and unconfined by any apparent limits,
yet seem to follow, like a river in its bed, a regularly determined
course. (11/1. The south-westerly breezes are generally very dry.
January 29th, being at anchor under Cape Gregory: a very hard gale
from west by south, clear sky with few cumuli; temperature 57
degrees, dew-point 36 degrees, - difference 21 degrees. On January
15th, at Port St. Julian: in the morning light winds with much
rain, followed by a very heavy squall with rain, - settled into
heavy gale with large cumuli, - cleared up, blowing very strong from
south-south-west. Temperature 60 degrees, dew-point 42
degrees, - difference 18 degrees.)

During our previous visit (in January), we had an interview at Cape
Gregory with the famous so-called gigantic Patagonians, who gave us
a cordial reception. Their height appears greater than it really
is, from their large guanaco mantles, their long flowing hair, and
general figure: on an average their height is about six feet, with
some men taller and only a few shorter; and the women are also
tall; altogether they are certainly the tallest race which we
anywhere saw. In features they strikingly resemble the more
northern Indians whom I saw with Rosas, but they have a wilder and
more formidable appearance: their faces were much painted with red
and black, and one man was ringed and dotted with white like a
Fuegian. Captain Fitz Roy offered to take any three of them on
board, and all seemed determined to be of the three. It was long
before we could clear the boat; at last we got on board with our
three giants, who dined with the Captain, and behaved quite like
gentlemen, helping themselves with knives, forks, and spoons:
nothing was so much relished as sugar. This tribe has had so much
communication with sealers and whalers, that most of the men can
speak a little English and Spanish; and they are half civilised,
and proportionally demoralised.

The next morning a large party went on shore, to barter for skins
and ostrich-feathers; fire-arms being refused, tobacco was in
greatest request, far more so than axes or tools. The whole
population of the toldos, men, women, and children, were arranged
on a bank. It was an amusing scene, and it was impossible not to
like the so-called giants, they were so thoroughly good-humoured
and unsuspecting: they asked us to come again. They seem to like to
have Europeans to live with them; and old Maria, an important woman
in the tribe, once begged Mr. Low to leave any one of his sailors
with them. They spend the greater part of the year here; but in
summer they hunt along the foot of the Cordillera: sometimes they
travel as far as the Rio Negro, 750 miles to the north. They are
well stocked with horses, each man having, according to Mr. Low,
six or seven, and all the women, and even children, their one own
horse. In the time of Sarmiento (1580) these Indians had bows and
arrows, now long since disused; they then also possessed some
horses. This is a very curious fact, showing the extraordinarily
rapid multiplication of horses in South America. The horse was
first landed at Buenos Ayres in 1537, and the colony being then for
a time deserted, the horse ran wild (11/2. Rengger "Natur. der
Saugethiere von Paraguay" S. 334.); in 1580, only forty-three years
afterwards, we hear of them at the Strait of Magellan! Mr. Low
informs me, that a neighbouring tribe of foot-Indians is now
changing into horse-Indians: the tribe at Gregory Bay giving them
their worn-out horses, and sending in winter a few of their best
skilled men to hunt for them.

JUNE 1, 1834.


We anchored in the fine bay of Port Famine. It was now the
beginning of winter, and I never saw a more cheerless prospect; the
dusky woods, piebald with snow, could be only seen indistinctly
through a drizzling hazy atmosphere. We were, however, lucky in
getting two fine days. On one of these, Mount Sarmiento, a distant
mountain 6800 feet high, presented a very noble spectacle. I was
frequently surprised, in the scenery of Tierra del Fuego, at the
little apparent elevation of mountains really lofty. I suspect it
is owing to a cause which would not at first be imagined, namely,
that the whole mass, from the summit to the water's edge, is
generally in full view. I remember having seen a mountain, first
from the Beagle Channel, where the whole sweep from the summit to

Online LibraryCharles DarwinThe Voyage of the Beagle → online text (page 23 of 51)