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Antiquity of the Indian Race.


APRIL 27, 1835.

I set out on a journey to Coquimbo, and thence through Guasco to
Copiapo, where Captain Fitz Roy kindly offered to pick me up in the
"Beagle." The distance in a straight line along the shore northward
is only 420 miles; but my mode of travelling made it a very long
journey. I bought four horses and two mules, the latter carrying
the luggage on alternate days. The six animals together only cost
the value of twenty-five pounds sterling, and at Copiapo I sold
them again for twenty-three. We travelled in the same independent
manner as before, cooking our own meals, and sleeping in the open
air. As we rode towards the Vino del Mar, I took a farewell view of
Valparaiso, and admired its picturesque appearance. For geological
purposes I made a detour from the high road to the foot of the Bell
of Quillota. We passed through an alluvial district rich in gold,
to the neighbourhood of Limache, where we slept. Washing for gold
supports the inhabitants of numerous hovels, scattered along the
sides of each little rivulet; but, like all those whose gains are
uncertain, they are unthrifty in their habits, and consequently

APRIL 28, 1835.

In the afternoon we arrived at a cottage at the foot of the Bell
mountain. The inhabitants were freeholders, which is not very usual
in Chile. They supported themselves on the produce of a garden and
a little field, but were very poor. Capital is here so deficient
that the people are obliged to sell their green corn while standing
in the field, in order to buy necessaries for the ensuing year.
Wheat in consequence was dearer in the very district of its
production than at Valparaiso, where the contractors live. The next
day we joined the main road to Coquimbo. At night there was a very
light shower of rain: this was the first drop that had fallen since
the heavy rain of September 11th and 12th, which detained me a
prisoner at the Baths of Cauquenes. The interval was seven and a
half months; but the rain this year in Chile was rather later than
usual. The distant Andes were now covered by a thick mass of snow,
and were a glorious sight.

MAY 2, 1835.

The road continued to follow the coast at no great distance from
the sea. The few trees and bushes which are common in central Chile
decreased rapidly in numbers, and were replaced by a tall plant,
something like a yucca in appearance. The surface of the country,
on a small scale, was singularly broken and irregular; abrupt
little peaks of rock rising out of small plains or basins. The
indented coast and the bottom of the neighbouring sea, studded with
breakers, would, if converted into dry land, present similar forms;
and such a conversion without doubt has taken place in the part
over which we rode.

MAY 3, 1835.

Quilimari to Conchalee. The country became more and more barren. In
the valleys there was scarcely sufficient water for any irrigation;
and the intermediate land was quite bare, not supporting even
goats. In the spring, after the winter showers, a thin pasture
rapidly springs up, and cattle are then driven down from the
Cordillera to graze for a short time. It is curious to observe how
the seeds of the grass and other plants seem to accommodate
themselves, as if by an acquired habit, to the quantity of rain
which falls upon different parts of this coast. One shower far
northward at Copiapo produces as great an effect on the vegetation,
as two at Guasco, and three or four in this district. At Valparaiso
a winter so dry as greatly to injure the pasture, would at Guasco
produce the most unusual abundance. Proceeding northward, the
quantity of rain does not appear to decrease in strict proportion
to the latitude. At Conchalee, which is only 67 miles north of
Valparaiso, rain is not expected till the end of May; whereas at
Valparaiso some generally falls early in April: the annual quantity
is likewise small in proportion to the lateness of the season at
which it commences.

MAY 4, 1835.

Finding the coast-road devoid of interest of any kind, we turned
inland towards the mining district and valley of Illapel. This
valley, like every other in Chile, is level, broad, and very
fertile: it is bordered on each side, either by cliffs of
stratified shingle, or by bare rocky mountains. Above the straight
line of the uppermost irrigating ditch, all is brown as on a
high-road; while all below is of as bright a green as verdigris,
from the beds of alfarfa, a kind of clover. We proceeded to Los
Hornos, another mining district, where the principal hill was
drilled with holes, like a great ants'-nest. The Chilian miners are
a peculiar race of men in their habits. Living for weeks together
in the most desolate spots, when they descend to the villages on
feast-days there is no excess of extravagance into which they do
not run. They sometimes gain a considerable sum, and then, like
sailors with prize-money, they try how soon they can contrive to
squander it. They drink excessively, buy quantities of clothes, and
in a few days return penniless to their miserable abodes, there to
work harder than beasts of burden. This thoughtlessness, as with
sailors, is evidently the result of a similar manner of life. Their
daily food is found them, and they acquire no habits of
carefulness; moreover, temptation and the means of yielding to it
are placed in their power at the same time. On the other hand, in
Cornwall, and some other parts of England, where the system of
selling part of the vein is followed, the miners, from being
obliged to act and think for themselves, are a singularly
intelligent and well-conducted set of men.

The dress of the Chilian miner is peculiar and rather picturesque.
He wears a very long shirt of some dark-coloured baize, with a
leathern apron; the whole being fastened round his waist by a
bright-coloured sash. His trousers are very broad, and his small
cap of scarlet cloth is made to fit the head closely. We met a
party of these miners in full costume, carrying the body of one of
their companions to be buried. They marched at a very quick trot,
four men supporting the corpse. One set having run as hard as they
could for about two hundred yards, were relieved by four others,
who had previously dashed on ahead on horseback. Thus they
proceeded, encouraging each other by wild cries: altogether the
scene formed a most strange funeral.

We continued travelling northward in a zigzag line; sometimes
stopping a day to geologise. The country was so thinly inhabited,
and the track so obscure, that we often had difficulty in finding
our way. On the 12th I stayed at some mines. The ore in this case
was not considered particularly good, but from being abundant it
was supposed the mine would sell for about thirty or forty thousand
dollars (that is, 6000 or 8000 pounds sterling); yet it had been
bought by one of the English Associations for an ounce of gold
(three pounds eight shillings). The ore is yellow pyrites, which,
as I have already remarked, before the arrival of the English was
not supposed to contain a particle of copper. On a scale of profits
nearly as great as in the above instance, piles of cinders,
abounding with minute globules of metallic copper, were purchased;
yet with these advantages, the mining associations, as is well
known, contrived to lose immense sums of money. The folly of the
greater number of the commissioners and shareholders amounted to
infatuation; - a thousand pounds per annum given in some cases to
entertain the Chilian authorities; libraries of well-bound
geological books; miners brought out for particular metals, as tin,
which are not found in Chile; contracts to supply the miners with
milk, in parts where there are no cows; machinery, where it could
not possibly be used; and a hundred similar arrangements, bore
witness to our absurdity, and to this day afford amusement to the
natives. Yet there can be no doubt, that the same capital well
employed in these mines would have yielded an immense return: a
confidential man of business, a practical miner and assayer, would
have been all that was required.

Captain Head has described the wonderful load which the "Apires,"
truly beasts of burden, carry up from the deepest mines. I confess
I thought the account exaggerated: so that I was glad to take an
opportunity of weighing one of the loads, which I picked out by
hazard. It required considerable exertion on my part, when standing
directly over it, to lift it from the ground. The load was
considered under weight when found to be 197 pounds. The apire had
carried this up eighty perpendicular yards, - part of the way by a
steep passage, but the greater part up notched poles, placed in a
zigzag line up the shaft. According to the general regulation, the
apire is not allowed to halt for breath, except the mine is six
hundred feet deep. The average load is considered as rather more
than 200 pounds, and I have been assured that one of 300 pounds
(twenty-two stone and a half) by way of a trial has been brought up
from the deepest mine! At this time the apires were bringing up the
usual load twelve times in the day; that is 2400 pounds from eighty
yards deep; and they were employed in the intervals in breaking and
picking ore.

These men, excepting from accidents, are healthy, and appear
cheerful. Their bodies are not very muscular. They rarely eat meat
once a week, and never oftener, and then only the hard dry charqui.
Although with a knowledge that the labour was voluntary, it was
nevertheless quite revolting to see the state in which they reached
the mouth of the mine; their bodies bent forward, leaning with
their arms on the steps, their legs bowed, their muscles quivering,
the perspiration streaming from their faces over their breasts,
their nostrils distended, the corners of their mouth forcibly drawn
back, and the expulsion of their breath most laborious. Each time
they draw their breath they utter an articulate cry of "ay-ay,"
which ends in a sound rising from deep in the chest, but shrill
like the note of a fife. After staggering to the pile of ore, they
emptied the "carpacho;" in two or three seconds recovering their
breath, they wiped the sweat from their brows, and apparently quite
fresh descended the mine again at a quick pace. This appears to me
a wonderful instance of the amount of labour which habit, for it
can be nothing else, will enable a man to endure.

In the evening, talking with the mayor-domo of these mines about
the number of foreigners now scattered over the whole country, he
told me that, though quite a young man, he remembers when he was a
boy at school at Coquimbo, a holiday being given to see the captain
of an English ship, who was brought to the city to speak to the
governor. He believes that nothing would have induced any boy in
the school, himself included, to have gone close to the Englishman;
so deeply had they been impressed with an idea of the heresy,
contamination, and evil to be derived from contact with such a
person. To this day they relate the atrocious actions of the
bucaniers; and especially of one man, who took away the figure of
the Virgin Mary, and returned the year after for that of St.
Joseph, saying it was a pity the lady should not have a husband. I
heard also of an old lady who, at a dinner at Coquimbo, remarked
how wonderfully strange it was that she should have lived to dine
in the same room with an Englishman; for she remembered as a girl,
that twice, at the mere cry of "Los Ingleses," every soul, carrying
what valuables they could, had taken to the mountains.

MAY 14, 1835.

We reached Coquimbo, where we stayed a few days. The town is
remarkable for nothing but its extreme quietness. It is said to
contain from 6000 to 8000 inhabitants. On the morning of the 17th
it rained lightly, the first time this year, for about five hours.
The farmers, who plant corn near the sea-coast where the atmosphere
is more humid, taking advantage of this shower, would break up the
ground; after a second they would put the seed in; and if a third
shower should fall, they would reap a good harvest in the spring.
It was interesting to watch the effect of this trifling amount of
moisture. Twelve hours afterwards the ground appeared as dry as
ever; yet after an interval of ten days all the hills were faintly
tinged with green patches; the grass being sparingly scattered in
hair-like fibres a full inch in length. Before this shower every
part of the surface was bare as on a high-road.


In the evening, Captain Fitz Roy and myself were dining with Mr.
Edwards, an English resident well known for his hospitality by all
who have visited Coquimbo, when a sharp earthquake happened. I
heard the forecoming rumble, but from the screams of the ladies,
the running of the servants, and the rush of several of the
gentlemen to the doorway, I could not distinguish the motion. Some
of the women afterwards were crying with terror, and one gentleman
said he should not be able to sleep all night, or if he did, it
would only be to dream of falling houses. The father of this person
had lately lost all his property at Talcahuano, and he himself had
only just escaped a falling roof at Valparaiso in 1822. He
mentioned a curious coincidence which then happened: he was playing
at cards, when a German, one of the party, got up, and said he
would never sit in a room in these countries with the door shut,
as, owing to his having done so, he had nearly lost his life at
Copiapo. Accordingly he opened the door; and no sooner had he done
this, than he cried out, "Here it comes again!" and the famous
shock commenced. The whole party escaped. The danger in an
earthquake is not from the time lost in opening the door, but from
the chance of its becoming jammed by the movement of the walls.

It is impossible to be much surprised at the fear which natives and
old residents, though some of them known to be men of great command
of mind, so generally experience during earthquakes. I think,
however, this excess of panic may be partly attributed to a want of
habit in governing their fear, as it is not a feeling they are
ashamed of. Indeed, the natives do not like to see a person
indifferent. I heard of two Englishmen who, sleeping in the open
air during a smart shock, knowing that there was no danger, did not
rise. The natives cried out indignantly, "Look at those heretics,
they do not even get out of their beds!"

I spent some days in examining the step-formed terraces of shingle,
first noticed by Captain B. Hall, and believed by Mr. Lyell to have
been formed by the sea during the gradual rising of the land. This
certainly is the true explanation, for I found numerous shells of
existing species on these terraces. Five narrow, gently sloping,
fringe-like terraces rise one behind the other, and where best
developed are formed of shingle: they front the bay, and sweep up
both sides of the valley. At Guasco, north of Coquimbo, the
phenomenon is displayed on a much grander scale, so as to strike
with surprise even some of the inhabitants. The terraces are there
much broader, and may be called plains, in some parts there are six
of them, but generally only five; they run up the valley for
thirty-seven miles from the coast. These step-formed terraces or
fringes closely resemble those in the valley of S. Cruz, and,
except in being on a smaller scale, those great ones along the
whole coast-line of Patagonia. They have undoubtedly been formed by
the denuding power of the sea, during long periods of rest in the
gradual elevation of the continent.

Shells of many existing species not only lie on the surface of the
terraces at Coquimbo (to a height of 250 feet), but are embedded in
a friable calcareous rock, which in some places is as much as
between twenty and thirty feet in thickness, but is of little
extent. These modern beds rest on an ancient tertiary formation
containing shells, apparently all extinct. Although I examined so
many hundred miles of coast on the Pacific, as well as Atlantic
side of the continent, I found no regular strata containing
sea-shells of recent species, excepting at this place, and at a few
points northward on the road to Guasco. This fact appears to me
highly remarkable; for the explanation generally given by
geologists, of the absence in any district of stratified
fossiliferous deposits of a given period, namely, that the surface
then existed as dry land, is not here applicable; for we know from
the shells strewed on the surface and embedded in loose sand or
mould, that the land for thousands of miles along both coasts has
lately been submerged. The explanation, no doubt, must be sought in
the fact, that the whole southern part of the continent has been
for a long time slowly rising; and therefore that all matter
deposited along shore in shallow water must have been soon brought
up and slowly exposed to the wearing action of the sea-beach; and
it is only in comparatively shallow water that the greater number
of marine organic beings can flourish, and in such water it is
obviously impossible that strata of any great thickness can
accumulate. To show the vast power of the wearing action of
sea-beaches, we need only appeal to the great cliffs along the
present coast of Patagonia, and to the escarpments or ancient
sea-cliffs at different levels, one above another, on that same
line of coast.

The old underlying tertiary formation at Coquimbo appears to be of
about the same age with several deposits on the coast of Chile (of
which that of Navedad is the principal one), and with the great
formation of Patagonia. Both at Navedad and in Patagonia there is
evidence, that since the shells (a list of which has been seen by
Professor E. Forbes) there intombed were living, there has been a
subsidence of several hundred feet, as well as an ensuing
elevation. It may naturally be asked how it comes that although no
extensive fossiliferous deposits of the recent period, nor of any
period intermediate between it and the ancient tertiary epoch, have
been preserved on either side of the continent, yet that at this
ancient tertiary epoch, sedimentary matter containing fossil
remains should have been deposited and preserved at different
points in north and south lines, over a space of 1100 miles on the
shores of the Pacific, and of at least 1350 miles on the shores of
the Atlantic, and in an east and west line of 700 miles across the
widest part of the continent? I believe the explanation is not
difficult, and that it is perhaps applicable to nearly analogous
facts observed in other quarters of the world. Considering the
enormous power of denudation which the sea possesses, as shown by
numberless facts, it is not probable that a sedimentary deposit,
when being upraised, could pass through the ordeal of the beach, so
as to be preserved in sufficient masses to last to a distant
period, without it were originally of wide extent and of
considerable thickness: now it is impossible on a moderately
shallow bottom, which alone is favourable to most living creatures,
that a thick and widely extended covering of sediment could be
spread out, without the bottom sank down to receive the successive
layers. This seems to have actually taken place at about the same
period in southern Patagonia and Chile, though these places are a
thousand miles apart. Hence, if prolonged movements of
approximately contemporaneous subsidence are generally widely
extensive, as I am strongly inclined to believe from my examination
of the Coral Reefs of the great oceans - or if, confining our view
to South America, the subsiding movements have been coextensive
with those of elevation, by which, within the same period of
existing shells, the shores of Peru, Chile, Tierra del Fuego,
Patagonia, and La Plata have been upraised - then we can see that at
the same time, at far distant points, circumstances would have been
favourable to the formation of fossiliferous deposits, of wide
extent and of considerable thickness; and such deposits,
consequently, would have a good chance of resisting the wear and
tear of successive beach-lines, and of lasting to a future epoch.

MAY 21, 1835.

I set out in company with Don Jose Edwards to the silver-mine of
Arqueros, and thence up the valley of Coquimbo. Passing through a
mountainous country, we reached by nightfall the mines belonging to
Mr. Edwards. I enjoyed my night's rest here from a reason which
will not be fully appreciated in England, namely, the absence of
fleas! The rooms in Coquimbo swarm with them; but they will not
live here at the height of only three or four thousand feet: it can
scarcely be the trifling diminution of temperature, but some other
cause which destroys these troublesome insects at this place. The
mines are now in a bad state, though they formerly yielded about
2000 pounds in weight of silver a year. It has been said that "a
person with a copper-mine will gain; with silver he may gain; but
with gold he is sure to lose." This is not true: all the large
Chilian fortunes have been made by mines of the more precious
metals. A short time since an English physician returned to England
from Copiapo, taking with him the profits of one share in a
silver-mine, which amounted to about 24,000 pounds sterling. No
doubt a copper-mine with care is a sure game, whereas the other is
gambling, or rather taking a ticket in a lottery. The owners lose
great quantities of rich ores; for no precautions can prevent
robberies. I heard of a gentleman laying a bet with another, that
one of his men should rob him before his face. The ore when brought
out of the mine is broken into pieces, and the useless stone thrown
on one side. A couple of the miners who were thus employed,
pitched, as if by accident, two fragments away at the same moment,
and then cried out for a joke "Let us see which rolls furthest."
The owner, who was standing by, bet a cigar with his friend on the
race. The miner by this means watched the very point amongst the
rubbish where the stone lay. In the evening he picked it up and
carried it to his master, showing him a rich mass of silver-ore,
and saying, "This was the stone on which you won a cigar by its
rolling so far."

MAY 23, 1835.

We descended into the fertile valley of Coquimbo, and followed it
till we reached an Hacienda belonging to a relation of Don Jose,
where we stayed the next day. I then rode one day's journey
farther, to see what were declared to be some petrified shells and
beans, which latter turned out to be small quartz pebbles. We
passed through several small villages; and the valley was
beautifully cultivated, and the whole scenery very grand. We were
here near the main Cordillera, and the surrounding hills were
lofty. In all parts of Northern Chile fruit trees produce much more
abundantly at a considerable height near the Andes than in the
lower country. The figs and grapes of this district are famous for
their excellence, and are cultivated to a great extent. This valley
is, perhaps, the most productive one north of Quillota. I believe
it contains, including Coquimbo, 25,000 inhabitants. The next day I
returned to the Hacienda, and thence, together with Don Jose, to

JUNE 2, 1835.

We set out for the valley of Guasco, following the coast-road,
which was considered rather less desert than the other. Our first
day's ride was to a solitary house, called Yerba Buena, where there
was pasture for our horses. The shower mentioned as having fallen a
fortnight ago, only reached about half-way to Guasco; we had,
therefore, in the first part of our journey a most faint tinge of
green, which soon faded quite away. Even where brightest, it was
scarcely sufficient to remind one of the fresh turf and budding
flowers of the spring of other countries. While travelling through
these deserts one feels like a prisoner shut up in a gloomy court,
who longs to see something green and to smell a moist atmosphere.

JUNE 3, 1835.

Yerba Buena to Carizal. During the first part of the day we crossed
a mountainous rocky desert, and afterwards a long deep sandy plain,
strewed with broken sea-shells. There was very little water, and
that little saline: the whole country, from the coast to the
Cordillera, is an uninhabited desert. I saw traces only of one
living animal in abundance, namely, the shells of a Bulimus, which
were collected together in extraordinary numbers on the driest
spots. In the spring one humble little plant sends out a few
leaves, and on these the snails feed. As they are seen only very
early in the morning, when the ground is slightly damp with dew,

Online LibraryCharles DarwinThe Voyage of the Beagle → online text (page 34 of 51)