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the base was full in view, and then from Ponsonby Sound across
several successive ridges; and it was curious to observe in the
latter case, as each fresh ridge afforded fresh means of judging of
the distance, how the mountain rose in height.

Before reaching Port Famine, two men were seen running along the
shore and hailing the ship. A boat was sent for them. They turned
out to be two sailors who had run away from a sealing-vessel, and
had joined the Patagonians. These Indians had treated them with
their usual disinterested hospitality. They had parted company
through accident, and were then proceeding to Port Famine in hopes
of finding some ship. I daresay they were worthless vagabonds, but
I never saw more miserable-looking ones. They had been living for
some days on mussel-shells and berries, and their tattered clothes
had been burnt by sleeping so near their fires. They had been
exposed night and day, without any shelter, to the late incessant
gales, with rain, sleet, and snow, and yet they were in good



During our stay at Port Famine, the Fuegians twice came and plagued
us. As there were many instruments, clothes, and men on shore, it
was thought necessary to frighten them away. The first time a few
great guns were fired, when they were far distant. It was most
ludicrous to watch through a glass the Indians, as often as the
shot struck the water, take up stones, and, as a bold defiance,
throw them towards the ship, though about a mile and a half
distant! A boat was then sent with orders to fire a few
musket-shots wide of them. The Fuegians hid themselves behind the
trees, and for every discharge of the muskets they fired their
arrows; all, however, fell short of the boat, and the officer as he
pointed at them laughed. This made the Fuegians frantic with
passion, and they shook their mantles in vain rage. At last, seeing
the balls cut and strike the trees, they ran away, and we were left
in peace and quietness. During the former voyage the Fuegians were
here very troublesome, and to frighten them a rocket was fired at
night over their wigwams; it answered effectually, and one of the
officers told me that the clamour first raised, and the barking of
the dogs, was quite ludicrous in contrast with the profound silence
which in a minute or two afterwards prevailed. The next morning not
a single Fuegian was in the neighbourhood.

When the "Beagle" was here in the month of February, I started one
morning at four o'clock to ascend Mount Tarn, which is 2600 feet
high, and is the most elevated point in this immediate district. We
went in a boat to the foot of the mountain (but unluckily not to
the best part), and then began our ascent. The forest commences at
the line of high-water mark, and during the first two hours I gave
over all hopes of reaching the summit. So thick was the wood, that
it was necessary to have constant recourse to the compass; for
every landmark, though in a mountainous country, was completely
shut out. In the deep ravines the death-like scene of desolation
exceeded all description; outside it was blowing a gale, but in
these hollows not even a breath of wind stirred the leaves of the
tallest trees. So gloomy, cold, and wet was every part, that not
even the fungi, mosses, or ferns could flourish. In the valleys it
was scarcely possible to crawl along, they were so completely
barricaded by great mouldering trunks, which had fallen down in
every direction. When passing over these natural bridges, one's
course was often arrested by sinking knee deep into the rotten
wood; at other times, when attempting to lean against a firm tree,
one was startled by finding a mass of decayed matter ready to fall
at the slightest touch. We at last found ourselves among the
stunted trees, and then soon reached the bare ridge, which
conducted us to the summit. Here was a view characteristic of
Tierra del Fuego; irregular chains of hills, mottled with patches
of snow, deep yellowish-green valleys, and arms of the sea
intersecting the land in many directions. The strong wind was
piercingly cold, and the atmosphere rather hazy, so that we did not
stay long on the top of the mountain. Our descent was not quite so
laborious as our ascent, for the weight of the body forced a
passage, and all the slips and falls were in the right direction.

I have already mentioned the sombre and dull character of the
evergreen forests, in which two or three species of trees grow, to
the exclusion of all others. (11/3. Captain Fitz Roy informs me
that in April (our October) the leaves of those trees which grow
near the base of the mountains change colour, but not those on the
more elevated parts. I remember having read some observations,
showing that in England the leaves fall earlier in a warm and fine
autumn than in a late and cold one. The change in the colour being
here retarded in the more elevated, and therefore colder
situations, must be owing to the same general law of vegetation.
The trees of Tierra del Fuego during no part of the year entirely
shed their leaves.) Above the forest land there are many dwarf
alpine plants, which all spring from the mass of peat, and help to
compose it: these plants are very remarkable from their close
alliance with the species growing on the mountains of Europe,
though so many thousand miles distant. The central part of Tierra
del Fuego, where the clay-slate formation occurs, is most
favourable to the growth of trees; on the outer coast the poorer
granitic soil, and a situation more exposed to the violent winds,
do not allow of their attaining any great size. Near Port Famine I
have seen more large trees than anywhere else: I measured a
Winter's Bark which was four feet six inches in girth, and several
of the beech were as much as thirteen feet. Captain King also
mentions a beech which was seven feet in diameter seventeen feet
above the roots.


There is one vegetable production deserving notice from its
importance as an article of food to the Fuegians. It is a globular,
bright-yellow fungus, which grows in vast numbers on the
beech-trees. When young it is elastic and turgid, with a smooth
surface; but when mature, it shrinks, becomes tougher, and has its
entire surface deeply pitted or honeycombed, as represented in
Plate 55. This fungus belongs to a new and curious genus (11/4.
Described from my specimens and notes by the Reverend J.M. Berkeley
in the "Linnean Transactions" volume 19 page 37, under the name of
Cyttaria Darwinii: the Chilean species is the C. Berteroii. This
genus is allied to Bulgaria.); I found a second species on another
species of beech in Chile: and Dr. Hooker informs me that just
lately a third species has been discovered on a third species of
beech in Van Dieman's Land. How singular is this relationship
between parasitical fungi and the trees on which they grow, in
distant parts of the world! In Tierra del Fuego the fungus in its
tough and mature state is collected in large quantities by the
women and children, and is eaten un-cooked. It has a mucilaginous,
slightly sweet taste, with a faint smell like that of a mushroom.
With the exception of a few berries, chiefly of a dwarf arbutus,
the natives eat no vegetable food besides this fungus. In New
Zealand, before the introduction of the potato, the roots of the
fern were largely consumed; at the present time, I believe, Tierra
del Fuego is the only country in the world where a cryptogamic
plant affords a staple article of food.

The zoology of Tierra del Fuego, as might have been expected from
the nature of its climate and vegetation, is very poor. Of
mammalia, besides whales and seals, there is one bat, a kind of
mouse (Reithrodon chinchilloides), two true mice, a ctenomys allied
to or identical with the tucutuco, two foxes (Canis Magellanicus
and C. Azarae), a sea-otter, the guanaco, and a deer. Most of these
animals inhabit only the drier eastern parts of the country; and
the deer has never been seen south of the Strait of Magellan.
Observing the general correspondence of the cliffs of soft
sandstone, mud, and shingle, on the opposite sides of the Strait,
and on some intervening islands, one is strongly tempted to believe
that the land was once joined, and thus allowed animals so delicate
and helpless as the tucutuco and Reithrodon to pass over. The
correspondence of the cliffs is far from proving any junction;
because such cliffs generally are formed by the intersection of
sloping deposits, which, before the elevation of the land, had been
accumulated near the then existing shores. It is, however, a
remarkable coincidence, that in the two large islands cut off by
the Beagle Channel from the rest of Tierra del Fuego, one has
cliffs composed of matter that may be called stratified alluvium,
which front similar ones on the opposite side of the
channel, - while the other is exclusively bordered by old
crystalline rocks; in the former, called Navarin Island, both foxes
and guanacos occur; but in the latter, Hoste Island, although
similar in every respect, and only separated by a channel a little
more than half a mile wide, I have the word of Jemmy Button for
saying that neither of these animals is found.

The gloomy woods are inhabited by few birds: occasionally the
plaintive note of a white-tufted tyrant-flycatcher (Myiobius
albiceps) may be heard, concealed near the summit of the most lofty
trees; and more rarely the loud strange cry of a black woodpecker,
with a fine scarlet crest on its head. A little, dusky-coloured
wren (Scytalopus Magellanicus) hops in a skulking manner among the
entangled mass of the fallen and decaying trunks. But the creeper
(Oxyurus tupinieri) is the commonest bird in the country.
Throughout the beech forests, high up and low down, in the most
gloomy, wet, and impenetrable ravines, it may be met with. This
little bird no doubt appears more numerous than it really is, from
its habit of following with seeming curiosity any person who enters
these silent woods: continually uttering a harsh twitter, it
flutters from tree to tree, within a few feet of the intruder's
face. It is far from wishing for the modest concealment of the true
creeper (Certhia familiaris); nor does it, like that bird, run up
the trunks of trees, but industriously, after the manner of a
willow-wren, hops about, and searches for insects on every twig and
branch. In the more open parts, three or four species of finches, a
thrush, a starling (or Icterus), two Opetiorhynchi, and several
hawks and owls occur.

The absence of any species whatever in the whole class of Reptiles
is a marked feature in the zoology of this country, as well as in
that of the Falkland Islands. I do not ground this statement merely
on my own observation, but I heard it from the Spanish inhabitants
of the latter place, and from Jemmy Button with regard to Tierra
del Fuego. On the banks of the Santa Cruz, in 50 degrees south, I
saw a frog; and it is not improbable that these animals, as well as
lizards, may be found as far south as the Strait of Magellan, where
the country retains the character of Patagonia; but within the damp
and cold limit of Tierra del Fuego not one occurs. That the climate
would not have suited some of the orders, such as lizards, might
have been foreseen; but with respect to frogs, this was not so

Beetles occur in very small numbers: it was long before I could
believe that a country as large as Scotland, covered with vegetable
productions and with a variety of stations, could be so
unproductive. The few which I found were alpine species (Harpalidae
and Heteromidae) living under stones. The vegetable-feeding
Chrysomelidae, so eminently characteristic of the Tropics, are here
almost entirely absent (11/5. I believe I must except one alpine
Haltica, and a single specimen of a Melasoma. Mr. Waterhouse
informs me, that of the Harpalidae there are eight or nine
species - the forms of the greater number being very peculiar; of
Heteromera, four or five species; of Rhyncophora, six or seven; and
of the following families one species in each: Staphylinidae,
Elateridae, Cebrionidae, Melolonthidae. The species in the other
orders are even fewer. In all the orders, the scarcity of the
individuals is even more remarkable than that of the species. Most
of the Coleoptera have been carefully described by Mr. Waterhouse
in the "Annals of Natural History."); I saw very few flies,
butterflies, or bees, and no crickets or Orthoptera. In the pools
of water I found but few aquatic beetles, and not any fresh-water
shells: Succinea at first appears an exception; but here it must be
called a terrestrial shell, for it lives on the damp herbage far
from water. Land-shells could be procured only in the same alpine
situations with the beetles. I have already contrasted the climate
as well as the general appearance of Tierra del Fuego with that of
Patagonia; and the difference is strongly exemplified in the
entomology. I do not believe they have one species in common;
certainly the general character of the insects is widely different.

If we turn from the land to the sea, we shall find the latter as
abundantly stocked with living creatures as the former is poorly
so. In all parts of the world a rocky and partially protected shore
perhaps supports, in a given space, a greater number of individual
animals than any other station. There is one marine production
which, from its importance, is worthy of a particular history. It
is the kelp, or Macrocystis pyrifera. This plant grows on every
rock from low-water mark to a great depth, both on the outer coast
and within the channels. (11/6. Its geographical range is
remarkably wide; it is found from the extreme southern islets near
Cape Horn, as far north on the eastern coast (according to
information given me by Mr. Stokes) as latitude 43 degrees, - but on
the western coast, as Dr. Hooker tells me, it extends to the R. San
Francisco in California, and perhaps even to Kamtschatka. We thus
have an immense range in latitude; and as Cook, who must have been
well acquainted with the species, found it at Kerguelen Land, no
less than 140 degrees in longitude.) I believe, during the voyages
of the "Adventure" and "Beagle," not one rock near the surface was
discovered which was not buoyed by this floating weed. The good
service it thus affords to vessels navigating near this stormy land
is evident; and it certainly has saved many a one from being
wrecked. I know few things more surprising than to see this plant
growing and flourishing amidst those great breakers of the western
ocean, which no mass of rock, let it be ever so hard, can long
resist. The stem is round, slimy, and smooth, and seldom has a
diameter of so much as an inch. A few taken together are
sufficiently strong to support the weight of the large loose
stones, to which in the inland channels they grow attached; and yet
some of these stones were so heavy that when drawn to the surface,
they could scarcely be lifted into a boat by one person. Captain
Cook, in his second voyage, says that this plant at Kerguelen Land
rises from a greater depth than twenty-four fathoms; "and as it
does not grow in a perpendicular direction, but makes a very acute
angle with the bottom, and much of it afterwards spreads many
fathoms on the surface of the sea, I am well warranted to say that
some of it grows to the length of sixty fathoms and upwards." I do
not suppose the stem of any other plant attains so great a length
as three hundred and sixty feet, as stated by Captain Cook. Captain
Fitz Roy, moreover, found it growing up from the greater depth of
forty-five fathoms. (11/7. "Voyages of the 'Adventure' and
'Beagle'" volume 1 page 363. It appears that seaweed grows
extremely quick. Mr. Stephenson found Wilson's "Voyage round
Scotland" volume 2 page 228, that a rock uncovered only at
spring-tides, which had been chiselled smooth in November, on the
following May, that is, within six months afterwards, was thickly
covered with Fucus digitatus two feet, and F. esculentus six feet,
in length.) The beds of this sea-weed, even when of not great
breadth, make excellent natural floating breakwaters. It is quite
curious to see, in an exposed harbour, how soon the waves from the
open sea, as they travel through the straggling stems, sink in
height, and pass into smooth water.

The number of living creatures of all Orders, whose existence
intimately depends on the kelp, is wonderful. A great volume might
be written, describing the inhabitants of one of these beds of
seaweed. Almost all the leaves, excepting those that float on the
surface, are so thickly incrusted with corallines as to be of a
white colour. We find exquisitely delicate structures, some
inhabited by simple hydra-like polypi, others by more organised
kinds, and beautiful compound Ascidiae. On the leaves, also,
various patelliform shells, Trochi, uncovered molluscs, and some
bivalves are attached. Innumerable crustacea frequent every part of
the plant. On shaking the great entangled roots, a pile of small
fish, shells, cuttlefish, crabs of all orders, sea-eggs, starfish,
beautiful Holothuriae, Planariae, and crawling nereidous animals of
a multitude of forms, all fall out together. Often as I recurred to
a branch of the kelp, I never failed to discover animals of new and
curious structures. In Chiloe, where the kelp does not thrive very
well, the numerous shells, corallines, and crustacea are absent;
but there yet remain a few of the Flustraceae, and some compound
Ascidiae; the latter, however, are of different species from those
in Tierra del Fuego; we see here the fucus possessing a wider range
than the animals which use it as an abode. I can only compare these
great aquatic forests of the southern hemisphere with the
terrestrial ones in the intertropical regions. Yet if in any
country a forest was destroyed, I do not believe nearly so many
species of animals would perish as would here, from the destruction
of the kelp. Amidst the leaves of this plant numerous species of
fish live, which nowhere else could find food or shelter; with
their destruction the many cormorants and other fishing birds, the
otters, seals, and porpoises, would soon perish also; and lastly,
the Fuegian savage, the miserable lord of this miserable land,
would redouble his cannibal feast, decrease in numbers, and perhaps
cease to exist.

JUNE 8, 1834.

We weighed anchor early in the morning and left Port Famine.
Captain Fitz Roy determined to leave the Strait of Magellan by the
Magdalen Channel, which had not long been discovered. Our course
lay due south, down that gloomy passage which I have before alluded
to as appearing to lead to another and worse world. The wind was
fair, but the atmosphere was very thick; so that we missed much
curious scenery. The dark ragged clouds were rapidly driven over
the mountains, from their summits nearly down to their bases. The
glimpses which we caught through the dusky mass were highly
interesting; jagged points, cones of snow, blue glaciers, strong
outlines, marked on a lurid sky, were seen at different distances
and heights. In the midst of such scenery we anchored at Cape Turn,
close to Mount Sarmiento, which was then hidden in the clouds. At
the base of the lofty and almost perpendicular sides of our little
cove there was one deserted wigwam, and it alone reminded us that
man sometimes wandered into these desolate regions. But it would be
difficult to imagine a scene where he seemed to have fewer claims
or less authority. The inanimate works of nature - rock, ice, snow,
wind, and water, all warring with each other, yet combined against
man - here reigned in absolute sovereignty.

JUNE 9, 1834.

In the morning we were delighted by seeing the veil of mist
gradually rise from Sarmiento, and display it to our view. This
mountain, which is one of the highest in Tierra del Fuego, has an
altitude of 6800 feet. Its base, for about an eighth of its total
height, is clothed by dusky woods, and above this a field of snow
extends to the summit. These vast piles of snow, which never melt,
and seem destined to last as long as the world holds together,
present a noble and even sublime spectacle. The outline of the
mountain was admirably clear and defined. Owing to the abundance of
light reflected from the white and glittering surface, no shadows
were cast on any part; and those lines which intersected the sky
could alone be distinguished: hence the mass stood out in the
boldest relief. Several glaciers descended in a winding course from
the upper great expanse of snow to the sea-coast: they may be
likened to great frozen Niagaras; and perhaps these cataracts of
blue ice are full as beautiful as the moving ones of water. By
night we reached the western part of the channel; but the water was
so deep that no anchorage could be found. We were in consequence
obliged to stand off and on in this narrow arm of the sea, during a
pitch-dark night of fourteen hours long.

JUNE 10, 1834.

In the morning we made the best of our way into the open Pacific.
The western coast generally consists of low, rounded, quite barren
hills of granite and greenstone. Sir J. Narborough called one part
South Desolation, because it is "so desolate a land to behold:" and
well indeed might he say so. Outside the main islands there are
numberless scattered rocks on which the long swell of the open
ocean incessantly rages. We passed out between the East and West
Furies; and a little farther northward there are so many breakers
that the sea is called the Milky Way. One sight of such a coast is
enough to make a landsman dream for a week about shipwrecks, peril,
and death; and with this sight we bade farewell for ever to Tierra
del Fuego.

The following discussion on the climate of the southern parts of
the continent with relation to its productions, on the snow-line,
on the extraordinarily low descent of the glaciers, and on the zone
of perpetual congelation in the antarctic islands, may be passed
over by any one not interested in these curious subjects, or the
final recapitulation alone may be read. I shall, however, here give
only an abstract, and must refer for details to the Thirteenth
Chapter and the Appendix of the former edition of this work.


The following table gives the mean temperature of Tierra del
Fuego, the Falkland Islands, and, for comparison, that of
Dublin: -

Latitude Summer Winter Mean of Summer
degrees ' Temp. Temp. and Winter
deg. F. deg. F. deg. F.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Tierra del Fuego 53 38 S. 50 33.08 41.54
Falkland Islands 51 38 S. 51 - -
Dublin 53 21 N. 59.54 39.2 49.37

Hence we see that the central part of Tierra del Fuego is colder in
winter, and no less than 9 1/2 degrees less hot in summer, than
Dublin. According to von Buch the mean temperature of July (not the
hottest month in the year) at Saltenfiord in Norway, is as high as
57.8 degrees, and this place is actually 13 degrees nearer the pole
than Port Famine! (11/8. With respect to Tierra del Fuego, the
results are deduced from the observations of Captain King
"Geographical Journal" 1830, and those taken on board the "Beagle."
For the Falkland Islands, I am indebted to Captain Sulivan for the
mean of the mean temperature (reduced from careful observation at
midnight, 8 A.M., noon, and 8 P.M.) of the three hottest months,
namely, December, January, and February. The temperature of Dublin
is taken from Barton.) Inhospitable as this climate appears to our
feelings, evergreen trees flourish luxuriantly under it.
Humming-birds may be seen sucking the flowers, and parrots feeding
on the seeds of the Winter's Bark, in latitude 55 degrees south. I
have already remarked to what a degree the sea swarms with living
creatures; and the shells (such as the Patellae, Fissurellae,
Chitons, and Barnacles), according to Mr. G.B. Sowerby, are of a
much larger size, and of a more vigorous growth, than the analogous
species in the northern hemisphere. A large Voluta is abundant in
southern Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands. At Bahia
Blanca, in latitude 39 degrees south, the most abundant shells were
three species of Oliva (one of large size), one or two Volutas, and
a Terebra. Now these are amongst the best characterised tropical

Online LibraryCharles DarwinThe Voyage of the Beagle → online text (page 24 of 51)