Copyright
Charles Darwin.

The Voyage of the Beagle online

. (page 28 of 51)
Online LibraryCharles DarwinThe Voyage of the Beagle → online text (page 28 of 51)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


shortly after the tents belonging to the boats were pitched for the
night.

The land in this neighbourhood has been extensively cleared, and
there were many quiet and most picturesque nooks in the forest.
Chacao was formerly the principal port in the island; but many
vessels having been lost, owing to the dangerous currents and rocks
in the straits, the Spanish government burnt the church, and thus
arbitrarily compelled the greater number of inhabitants to migrate
to S. Carlos. We had not long bivouacked, before the barefooted son
of the governor came down to reconnoitre us. Seeing the English
flag hoisted at the yawl's masthead, he asked with the utmost
indifference, whether it was always to fly at Chacao. In several
places the inhabitants were much astonished at the appearance of
men-of-war's boats, and hoped and believed it was the forerunner of
a Spanish fleet, coming to recover the island from the patriot
government of Chile. All the men in power, however, had been
informed of our intended visit, and were exceedingly civil. While
we were eating our supper, the governor paid us a visit. He had
been a lieutenant-colonel in the Spanish service, but now was
miserably poor. He gave us two sheep, and accepted in return two
cotton handkerchiefs, some brass trinkets, and a little tobacco.

NOVEMBER 25, 1834.

Torrents of rain: we managed, however, to run down the coast as far
as Huapi-lenou. The whole of this eastern side of Chiloe has one
aspect; it is a plain, broken by valleys and divided into little
islands, and the whole thickly covered with one impervious
blackish-green forest. On the margins there are some cleared
spaces, surrounding the high-roofed cottages.

NOVEMBER 26, 1834.

The day rose splendidly clear. The volcano of Orsono was spouting
out volumes of smoke. This most beautiful mountain, formed like a
perfect cone, and white with snow, stands out in front of the
Cordillera. Another great volcano, with a saddle-shaped summit,
also emitted from its immense crater little jets of steam.
Subsequently we saw the lofty-peaked Corcovado - well deserving the
name of "el famoso Corcovado." Thus we beheld, from one point of
view, three great active volcanoes, each about seven thousand feet
high. In addition to this, far to the south there were other lofty
cones covered with snow, which, although not known to be active,
must be in their origin volcanic. The line of the Andes is not, in
this neighbourhood, nearly so elevated as in Chile; neither does it
appear to form so perfect a barrier between the regions of the
earth. This great range, although running in a straight north and
south line, owing to an optical deception always appeared more or
less curved; for the lines drawn from each peak to the beholder's
eye necessarily converged like the radii of a semicircle, and as it
was not possible (owing to the clearness of the atmosphere and the
absence of all intermediate objects) to judge how far distant the
farthest peaks were off, they appeared to stand in a flattish
semicircle.

Landing at midday, we saw a family of pure Indian extraction. The
father was singularly like York Minster; and some of the younger
boys, with their ruddy complexions, might have been mistaken for
Pampas Indians. Everything I have seen convinces me of the close
connexion of the different American tribes, who nevertheless speak
distinct languages. This party could muster but little Spanish, and
talked to each other in their own tongue. It is a pleasant thing to
see the aborigines advanced to the same degree of civilisation,
however low that may be, which their white conquerors have
attained. More to the south we saw many pure Indians: indeed, all
the inhabitants of some of the islets retain their Indian surnames.
In the census of 1832 there were in Chiloe and its dependencies
forty-two thousand souls: the greater number of these appear to be
of mixed blood. Eleven thousand retain their Indian surnames, but
it is probable that not nearly all of these are of a pure breed.
Their manner of life is the same with that of the other poor
inhabitants, and they are all Christians; but it is said that they
yet retain some strange superstitious ceremonies, and that they
pretend to hold communication with the devil in certain caves.
Formerly, every one convicted of this offence was sent to the
Inquisition at Lima. Many of the inhabitants who are not included
in the eleven thousand with Indian surnames, cannot be
distinguished by their appearance from Indians. Gomez, the governor
of Lemuy, is descended from noblemen of Spain on both sides; but by
constant intermarriages with the natives the present man is an
Indian. On the other hand, the governor of Quinchao boasts much of
his purely kept Spanish blood.

We reached at night a beautiful little cove, north of the island of
Caucahue. The people here complained of want of land. This is
partly owing to their own negligence in not clearing the woods, and
partly to restrictions by the government, which makes it necessary,
before buying ever so small a piece, to pay two shillings to the
surveyor for measuring each quadra (150 yards square), together
with whatever price he fixes for the value of the land. After his
valuation the land must be put up three times to auction, and if no
one bids more, the purchaser can have it at that rate. All these
exactions must be a serious check to clearing the ground, where the
inhabitants are so extremely poor. In most countries, forests are
removed without much difficulty by the aid of fire; but in Chiloe,
from the damp nature of the climate, and the sort of trees, it is
necessary first to cut them down. This is a heavy drawback to the
prosperity of Chiloe. In the time of the Spaniards the Indians
could not hold land; and a family, after having cleared a piece of
ground, might be driven away, and the property seized by the
government. The Chilian authorities are now performing an act of
justice by making retribution to these poor Indians, giving to each
man, according to his grade of life, a certain portion of land. The
value of uncleared ground is very little. The government gave Mr.
Douglas (the present surveyor, who informed me of these
circumstances) eight and a half square miles of forest near S.
Carlos, in lieu of a debt; and this he sold for 350 dollars, or
about 70 pounds sterling.

The two succeeding days were fine, and at night we reached the
island of Quinchao. This neighbourhood is the most cultivated part
of the Archipelago; for a broad strip of land on the coast of the
main island, as well as on many of the smaller adjoining ones, is
almost completely cleared. Some of the farmhouses seemed very
comfortable. I was curious to ascertain how rich any of these
people might be, but Mr. Douglas says that no one can be considered
as possessing a regular income. One of the richest landowners might
possibly accumulate, in a long industrious life, as much as 1000
pounds sterling; but should this happen, it would all be stowed
away in some secret corner, for it is the custom of almost every
family to have a jar or treasure-chest buried in the ground.

NOVEMBER 30, 1834.

Early on Sunday morning we reached Castro, the ancient capital of
Chiloe, but now a most forlorn and deserted place. The usual
quadrangular arrangement of Spanish towns could be traced, but the
streets and plaza were coated with fine green turf, on which sheep
were browsing. The church, which stands in the middle, is entirely
built of plank, and has a picturesque and venerable appearance. The
poverty of the place may be conceived from the fact, that although
containing some hundreds of inhabitants, one of our party was
unable anywhere to purchase either a pound of sugar or an ordinary
knife. No individual possessed either a watch or a clock; and an
old man who was supposed to have a good idea of time, was employed
to strike the church bell by guess. The arrival of our boats was a
rare event in this quiet retired corner of the world; and nearly
all the inhabitants came down to the beach to see us pitch our
tents. They were very civil, and offered us a house; and one man
even sent us a cask of cider as a present. In the afternoon we paid
our respects to the governor - a quiet old man, who, in his
appearance and manner of life, was scarcely superior to an English
cottager. At night heavy rain set in, which was hardly sufficient
to drive away from our tents the large circle of lookers on. An
Indian family, who had come to trade in a canoe from Caylen,
bivouacked near us. They had no shelter during the rain. In the
morning I asked a young Indian, who was wet to the skin, how he had
passed the night. He seemed perfectly content, and answered, "Muy
bien, senor."

DECEMBER 1, 1834.

We steered for the island of Lemuy. I was anxious to examine a
reported coal-mine which turned out to be lignite of little value,
in the sandstone (probably of an ancient tertiary epoch) of which
these islands are composed. When we reached Lemuy we had much
difficulty in finding any place to pitch our tents, for it was
spring-tide, and the land was wooded down to the water's edge. In a
short time we were surrounded by a large group of the nearly pure
Indian inhabitants. They were much surprised at our arrival, and
said one to the other, "This is the reason we have seen so many
parrots lately; the cheucau (an odd red-breasted little bird, which
inhabits the thick forest, and utters very peculiar noises) has not
cried 'beware' for nothing." They were soon anxious for barter.
Money was scarcely worth anything, but their eagerness for tobacco
was something quite extraordinary. After tobacco, indigo came next
in value; then capsicum, old clothes, and gunpowder. The latter
article was required for a very innocent purpose: each parish has a
public musket, and the gunpowder was wanted for making a noise on
their saint or feast days.

The people here live chiefly on shell-fish and potatoes. At certain
seasons they catch also, in "corrales," or hedges under water, many
fish which are left on the mud-banks as the tide falls. They
occasionally possess fowls, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, and cattle;
the order in which they are here mentioned, expressing their
respective numbers. I never saw anything more obliging and humble
than the manners of these people. They generally began with stating
that they were poor natives of the place, and not Spaniards and
that they were in sad want of tobacco and other comforts. At
Caylen, the most southern island, the sailors bought with a stick
of tobacco, of the value of three-halfpence, two fowls, one of
which, the Indian stated, had skin between its toes, and turned out
to be a fine duck; and with some cotton handkerchiefs, worth three
shillings, three sheep and a large bunch of onions were procured.
The yawl at this place was anchored some way from the shore, and we
had fears for her safety from robbers during the night. Our pilot,
Mr. Douglas, accordingly told the constable of the district that we
always placed sentinels with loaded arms, and not understanding
Spanish, if we saw any person in the dark, we should assuredly
shoot him. The constable, with much humility, agreed to the perfect
propriety of this arrangement, and promised us that no one should
stir out of his house during that night.

During the four succeeding days we continued sailing southward. The
general features of the country remained the same, but it was much
less thickly inhabited. On the large island of Tanqui there was
scarcely one cleared spot, the trees on every side extending their
branches over the sea-beach. I one day noticed, growing on the
sandstone cliffs, some very fine plants of the panke (Gunnera
scabra), which somewhat resembles the rhubarb on a gigantic scale.
The inhabitants eat the stalks, which are subacid, and tan leather
with the roots, and prepare a black dye from them. The leaf is
nearly circular, but deeply indented on its margin. I measured one
which was nearly eight feet in diameter, and therefore no less than
twenty-four in circumference! The stalk is rather more than a yard
high, and each plant sends out four or five of these enormous
leaves, presenting together a very noble appearance.

DECEMBER 6, 1834.

We reached Caylen, called "el fin del Cristiandad." In the morning
we stopped for a few minutes at a house on the northern end of
Laylec, which was the extreme point of South American Christendom,
and a miserable hovel it was. The latitude is 43 degrees 10', which
is two degrees farther south than the Rio Negro on the Atlantic
coast. These extreme Christians were very poor, and, under the plea
of their situation, begged for some tobacco. As a proof of the
poverty of these Indians, I may mention that shortly before this we
had met a man, who had travelled three days and a half on foot, and
had as many to return, for the sake of recovering the value of a
small axe and a few fish. How very difficult it must be to buy the
smallest article, when such trouble is taken to recover so small a
debt.

In the evening we reached the island of San Pedro, where we found
the "Beagle" at anchor. In doubling the point, two of the officers
landed to take a round of angles with the theodolite. A fox (Canis
fulvipes), of a kind said to be peculiar to the island, and very
rare in it, and which is a new species, was sitting on the rocks.
He was so intently absorbed in watching the work of the officers,
that I was able, by quietly walking up behind, to knock him on the
head with my geological hammer. This fox, more curious or more
scientific, but less wise, than the generality of his brethren, is
now mounted in the museum of the Zoological Society.

We stayed three days in this harbour, on one of which Captain Fitz
Roy, with a party, attempted to ascend to the summit of San Pedro.
The woods here had rather a different appearance from those on the
northern part of the island. The rock, also, being micaceous slate,
there was no beach, but the steep sides dipped directly beneath the
water. The general aspect in consequence was more like that of
Tierra del Fuego than of Chiloe. In vain we tried to gain the
summit: the forest was so impenetrable, that no one who has not
beheld it can imagine so entangled a mass of dying and dead trunks.
I am sure that often, for more than ten minutes together, our feet
never touched the ground, and we were frequently ten or fifteen
feet above it, so that the seamen as a joke called out the
soundings. At other times we crept one after another, on our hands
and knees, under the rotten trunks. In the lower part of the
mountain, noble trees of the Winter's Bark, and a laurel like the
sassafras with fragrant leaves, and others, the names of which I do
not know, were matted together by a trailing bamboo or cane. Here
we were more like fishes struggling in a net than any other animal.
On the higher parts, brushwood takes the place of larger trees,
with here and there a red cedar or an alerce pine. I was also
pleased to see, at an elevation of a little less than 1000 feet,
our old friend the southern beech. They were, however, poor stunted
trees, and I should think that this must be nearly their northern
limit. We ultimately gave up the attempt in despair.

DECEMBER 10, 1834.

(PLATE 67. INSIDE CHONOS ARCHIPELAGO.)

The yawl and whale-boat, with Mr. Sulivan, proceeded on their
survey, but I remained on board the "Beagle," which the next day
left San Pedro for the southward. On the 13th we ran into an
opening in the southern part of Guayatecas, or the Chonos
Archipelago; and it was fortunate we did so, for on the following
day a storm, worthy of Tierra del Fuego, raged with great fury.
White massive clouds were piled up against a dark blue sky, and
across them black ragged sheets of vapour were rapidly driven. The
successive mountain ranges appeared like dim shadows, and the
setting sun cast on the woodland a yellow gleam, much like that
produced by the flame of spirits of wine. The water was white with
the flying spray, and the wind lulled and roared again through the
rigging: it was an ominous, sublime scene. During a few minutes
there was a bright rainbow, and it was curious to observe the
effect of the spray, which, being carried along the surface of the
water, changed the ordinary semicircle into a circle - a band of
prismatic colours being continued, from both feet of the common
arch across the bay, close to the vessel's side: thus forming a
distorted, but very nearly entire ring.

We stayed here three days. The weather continued bad: but this did
not much signify, for the surface of the land in all these islands
is all but impassable. The coast is so very rugged that to attempt
to walk in that direction requires continued scrambling up and down
over the sharp rocks of mica-slate; and as for the woods, our
faces, hands, and shin-bones all bore witness to the maltreatment
we received, in merely attempting to penetrate their forbidden
recesses.

DECEMBER 18, 1834.

We stood out to sea. On the 20th we bade farewell to the south, and
with a fair wind turned the ship's head northward. From Cape Tres
Montes we sailed pleasantly along the lofty weather-beaten coast,
which is remarkable for the bold outline of its hills, and the
thick covering of forest even on the almost precipitous flanks. The
next day a harbour was discovered, which on this dangerous coast
might be of great service to a distressed vessel. It can easily be
recognised by a hill 1600 feet high, which is even more perfectly
conical than the famous sugar-loaf at Rio de Janeiro. The next day,
after anchoring, I succeeded in reaching the summit of this hill.
It was a laborious undertaking, for the sides were so steep that in
some parts it was necessary to use the trees as ladders. There were
also several extensive brakes of the Fuchsia, covered with its
beautiful drooping flowers, but very difficult to crawl through. In
these wild countries it gives much delight to gain the summit of
any mountain. There is an indefinite expectation of seeing
something very strange, which, however often it may be balked,
never failed with me to recur on each successive attempt. Every one
must know the feeling of triumph and pride which a grand view from
a height communicates to the mind. In these little frequented
countries there is also joined to it some vanity, that you perhaps
are the first man who ever stood on this pinnacle or admired this
view.

A strong desire is always felt to ascertain whether any human being
has previously visited an unfrequented spot. A bit of wood with a
nail in it is picked up and studied as if it were covered with
hieroglyphics. Possessed with this feeling, I was much interested
by finding, on a wild part of the coast, a bed made of grass
beneath a ledge of rock. Close by it there had been a fire, and the
man had used an axe. The fire, bed, and situation showed the
dexterity of an Indian; but he could scarcely have been an Indian,
for the race is in this part extinct, owing to the Catholic desire
of making at one blow Christians and Slaves. I had at the time some
misgivings that the solitary man who had made his bed on this wild
spot, must have been some poor shipwrecked sailor, who, in trying
to travel up the coast, had here laid himself down for his dreary
night.

DECEMBER 28, 1834.

The weather continued very bad, but it at last permitted us to
proceed with the survey. The time hung heavy on our hands, as it
always did when we were delayed from day to day by successive gales
of wind. In the evening another harbour was discovered, where we
anchored. Directly afterwards a man was seen waving his shirt, and
a boat was sent which brought back two seamen. A party of six had
run away from an American whaling vessel, and had landed a little
to the southward in a boat, which was shortly afterwards knocked to
pieces by the surf. They had now been wandering up and down the
coast for fifteen months, without knowing which way to go, or where
they were. What a singular piece of good fortune it was that this
harbour was now discovered! Had it not been for this one chance,
they might have wandered till they had grown old men, and at last
have perished on this wild coast. Their sufferings had been very
great, and one of their party had lost his life by falling from the
cliffs. They were sometimes obliged to separate in search of food,
and this explained the bed of the solitary man. Considering what
they had undergone, I think they had kept a very good reckoning of
time, for they had lost only four days.

DECEMBER 30, 1834.

We anchored in a snug little cove at the foot of some high hills,
near the northern extremity of Tres Montes. After breakfast the
next morning a party ascended one of these mountains, which was
2400 feet high. The scenery was remarkable. The chief part of the
range was composed of grand, solid, abrupt masses of granite, which
appeared as if they had been coeval with the beginning of the
world. The granite was capped with mica-slate, and this in the
lapse of ages had been worn into strange finger-shaped points.
These two formations, thus differing in their outlines, agree in
being almost destitute of vegetation. This barrenness had to our
eyes a strange appearance, from having been so long accustomed to
the sight of an almost universal forest of dark-green trees. I took
much delight in examining the structure of these mountains. The
complicated and lofty ranges bore a noble aspect of
durability - equally profitless, however, to man and to all other
animals. Granite to the geologist is classic ground: from its
widespread limits, and its beautiful and compact texture, few rocks
have been more anciently recognised. Granite has given rise,
perhaps, to more discussion concerning its origin than any other
formation. We generally see it constituting the fundamental rock,
and, however formed, we know it is the deepest layer in the crust
of this globe to which man has penetrated. The limit of man's
knowledge in any subject possesses a high interest, which is
perhaps increased by its close neighbourhood to the realms of
imagination.

JANUARY 1, 1835.

The new year is ushered in with the ceremonies proper to it in
these regions. She lays out no false hopes: a heavy north-western
gale, with steady rain, bespeaks the rising year. Thank God, we are
not destined here to see the end of it, but hope then to be in the
Pacific Ocean, where a blue sky tells one there is a heaven, - a
something beyond the clouds above our heads.

The north-west winds prevailing for the next four days, we only
managed to cross a great bay, and then anchored in another secure
harbour. I accompanied the Captain in a boat to the head of a deep
creek. On the way the number of seals which we saw was quite
astonishing: every bit of flat rock and parts of the beach were
covered with them. They appeared to be of a loving disposition, and
lay huddled together, fast asleep, like so many pigs; but even pigs
would have been ashamed of their dirt, and of the foul smell which
came from them. Each herd was watched by the patient but
inauspicious eyes of the turkey-buzzard. This disgusting bird, with
its bald scarlet head, formed to wallow in putridity, is very
common on the west coast, and their attendance on the seals shows
on what they rely for their food. We found the water (probably only
that of the surface) nearly fresh: this was caused by the number of
torrents which, in the form of cascades, came tumbling over the
bold granite mountains into the sea. The fresh water attracts the
fish, and these bring many terns, gulls, and two kinds of
cormorant. We saw also a pair of the beautiful black-necked swans,
and several small sea-otters, the fur of which is held in such high
estimation. In returning, we were again amused by the impetuous
manner in which the heap of seals, old and young, tumbled into the
water as the boat passed. They did not remain long under water, but
rising, followed us with outstretched necks, expressing great
wonder and curiosity.

JANUARY 7, 1835.

Having run up the coast, we anchored near the northern end of the
Chonos Archipelago, in Low's Harbour, where we remained a week. The
islands were here, as in Chiloe, composed of a stratified, soft,
littoral deposit; and the vegetation in consequence was beautifully
luxuriant. The woods came down to the sea-beach, just in the manner
of an evergreen shrubbery over a gravel walk. We also enjoyed from
the anchorage a splendid view of four great snowy cones of the
Cordillera, including "el famoso Corcovado;" the range itself had



Online LibraryCharles DarwinThe Voyage of the Beagle → online text (page 28 of 51)