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corn-field, and a few most beautiful parrots; crows like our
jackdaws were not uncommon, and another bird something like the
magpie. In the dusk of the evening I took a stroll along a chain of
ponds, which in this dry country represented the course of a river,
and had the good fortune to see several of the famous
Ornithorhynchus paradoxus. They were diving and playing about the
surface of the water, but showed so little of their bodies that
they might easily have been mistaken for water-rats. Mr. Browne
shot one: certainly it is a most extraordinary animal; a stuffed
specimen does not at all give a good idea of the appearance of the
head and beak when fresh; the latter becoming hard and contracted.
(19/5. I was interested by finding here the hollow conical pitfall
of the lion-ant, or some other insect: first a fly fell down the
treacherous slope and immediately disappeared; then came a large
but unwary ant; its struggles to escape being very violent, those
curious little jets of sand, described by Kirby and Spence
"Entomology" volume 1 page 425, as being flirted by the insect's
tail, were promptly directed against the expected victim. But the
ant enjoyed a better fate than the fly and escaped the fatal jaws
which lay concealed at the base of the conical hollow. This
Australian pitfall was only about half the size of that made by the
European lion-ant.)

JANUARY 20, 1836.

A long day's ride to Bathurst. Before joining the high road we
followed a mere path through the forest; and the country, with the
exception of a few squatters' huts, was very solitary. We
experienced this day the sirocco-like wind of Australia, which
comes from the parched deserts of the interior. Clouds of dust were
travelling in every direction; and the wind felt as if it had
passed over a fire. I afterwards heard that the thermometer out of
doors had stood at 119 degrees, and in a closed room at 96 degrees.
In the afternoon we came in view of the downs of Bathurst. These
undulating but nearly smooth plains are very remarkable in this
country, from being absolutely destitute of trees. They support
only a thin brown pasture. We rode some miles over this country,
and then reached the township of Bathurst, seated in the middle of
what may be called either a very broad valley, or narrow plain. I
was told at Sydney not to form too bad an opinion of Australia by
judging of the country from the roadside, nor too good a one from
Bathurst; in this latter respect I did not feel myself in the least
danger of being prejudiced. The season, it must be owned, had been
one of great drought, and the country did not wear a favourable
aspect; although I understand it was incomparably worse two or
three months before. The secret of the rapidly growing prosperity
of Bathurst is that the brown pasture which appears to the
stranger's eye so wretched is excellent for sheep-grazing. The town
stands at the height of 2200 feet above the sea, on the banks of
the Macquarie: this is one of the rivers flowing into the vast and
scarcely known interior. The line of watershed which divides the
inland streams from those on the coast, has a height of about 3000
feet, and runs in a north and south direction at the distance of
from eighty to a hundred miles from the seaside. The Macquarie
figures in the map as a respectable river, and it is the largest of
those draining this part of the watershed; yet to my surprise I
found it a mere chain of ponds, separated from each other by spaces
almost dry. Generally a small stream is running; and sometimes
there are high and impetuous floods. Scanty as the supply of the
water is throughout this district, it becomes still scantier
further inland.

JANUARY 22, 1836.

I commenced my return and followed a new road called Lockyer's Line
along which the country is rather more hilly and picturesque. This
was a long day's ride; and the house where I wished to sleep was
some way off the road, and not easily found. I met on this
occasion, and indeed on all others, a very general and ready
civility among the lower orders, which, when one considers what
they are, and what they have been, would scarcely have been
expected. The farm where I passed the night was owned by two young
men who had only lately come out, and were beginning a settler's
life. The total want of almost every comfort was not very
attractive; but future and certain prosperity was before their
eyes, and that not far distant.

The next day we passed through large tracts of country in flames,
volumes of smoke sweeping across the road. Before noon we joined
our former road and ascended Mount Victoria. I slept at the
Weatherboard, and before dark took another walk to the
amphitheatre. On the road to Sydney I spent a very pleasant evening
with Captain King at Dunheved; and thus ended my little excursion
in the colony of New South Wales.

Before arriving here the three things which interested me most
were - the state of society amongst the higher classes, the
condition of the convicts, and the degree of attraction sufficient
to induce persons to emigrate. Of course, after so very short a
visit, one's opinion is worth scarcely anything; but it is as
difficult not to form some opinion, as it is to form a correct
judgment. On the whole, from what I heard, more than from what I
saw, I was disappointed in the state of society. The whole
community is rancorously divided into parties on almost every
subject. Among those who, from their station in life, ought to be
the best, many live in such open profligacy that respectable people
cannot associate with them. There is much jealousy between the
children of the rich emancipist and the free settlers, the former
being pleased to consider honest men as interlopers. The whole
population, poor and rich, are bent on acquiring wealth: amongst
the higher orders, wool and sheep-grazing form the constant subject
of conversation. There are many serious drawbacks to the comforts
of a family, the chief of which, perhaps, is being surrounded by
convict servants. How thoroughly odious to every feeling, to be
waited on by a man who the day before, perhaps, was flogged, from
your representation, for some trifling misdemeanour. The female
servants are of course much worse: hence children learn the vilest
expressions, and it is fortunate if not equally vile ideas.

On the other hand, the capital of a person, without any trouble on
his part, produces him treble interest to what it will in England;
and with care he is sure to grow rich. The luxuries of life are in
abundance, and very little dearer than in England, and most
articles of food are cheaper. The climate is splendid, and
perfectly healthy; but to my mind its charms are lost by the
uninviting aspect of the country. Settlers possess a great
advantage in finding their sons of service when very young. At the
age of from sixteen to twenty they frequently take charge of
distant farming stations. This, however, must happen at the expense
of their boys associating entirely with convict servants. I am not
aware that the tone of society has assumed any peculiar character;
but with such habits, and without intellectual pursuits, it can
hardly fail to deteriorate. My opinion is such that nothing but
rather sharp necessity should compel me to emigrate.

The rapid prosperity and future prospects of this colony are to me,
not understanding these subjects, very puzzling. The two main
exports are wool and whale-oil, and to both of these productions
there is a limit. The country is totally unfit for canals,
therefore there is a not very distant point beyond which the
land-carriage of wool will not repay the expense of shearing and
tending sheep. Pasture everywhere is so thin that settlers have
already pushed far into the interior; moreover, the country farther
inland becomes extremely poor. Agriculture, on account of the
droughts, can never succeed on an extended scale: therefore, so far
as I can see, Australia must ultimately depend upon being the
centre of commerce for the southern hemisphere and perhaps on her
future manufactories. Possessing coal, she always has the moving
power at hand. From the habitable country extending along the
coast, and from her English extraction, she is sure to be a
maritime nation. I formerly imagined that Australia would rise to
be as grand and powerful a country as North America, but now it
appears to me that such future grandeur is rather problematical.

With respect to the state of the convicts, I had still fewer
opportunities of judging than on other points. The first question
is, whether their condition is at all one of punishment: no one
will maintain that it is a very severe one. This, however, I
suppose, is of little consequence as long as it continues to be an
object of dread to criminals at home. The corporeal wants of the
convicts are tolerably well supplied: their prospect of future
liberty and comfort is not distant, and, after good conduct,
certain. A "ticket of leave," which, as long as a man keeps clear
of suspicion as well as of crime, makes him free within a certain
district, is given upon good conduct, after years proportional to
the length of the sentence; yet with all this, and overlooking the
previous imprisonment and wretched passage out, I believe the years
of assignment are passed away with discontent and unhappiness. As
an intelligent man remarked to me, the convicts know no pleasure
beyond sensuality, and in this they are not gratified. The enormous
bribe which Government possesses in offering free pardons, together
with the deep horror of the secluded penal settlements, destroys
confidence between the convicts, and so prevents crime. As to a
sense of shame, such a feeling does not appear to be known, and of
this I witnessed some very singular proofs. Though it is a curious
fact, I was universally told that the character of the convict
population is one of arrant cowardice; not unfrequently some become
desperate, and quite indifferent as to life, yet a plan requiring
cool or continued courage is seldom put into execution. The worst
feature in the whole case is that although there exists what may be
called a legal reform, and comparatively little is committed which
the law can touch, yet that any moral reform should take place
appears to be quite out of the question. I was assured by
well-informed people that a man who should try to improve, could
not while living with other assigned servants; - his life would be
one of intolerable misery and persecution. Nor must the
contamination of the convict-ships and prisons, both here and in
England, be forgotten. On the whole, as a place of punishment, the
object is scarcely gained; as a real system of reform it has
failed, as perhaps would every other plan; but as a means of making
men outwardly honest, - of converting vagabonds, most useless in one
hemisphere, into active citizens of another, and thus giving birth
to a new and splendid country - a grand centre of civilisation - it
has succeeded to a degree perhaps unparalleled in history.

JANUARY 30, 1836.

(PLATE 90. HOBART TOWN AND MOUNT WELLINGTON.)

The "Beagle" sailed for Hobart Town in Van Diemen's Land. On the
5th of February, after a six days' passage, of which the first part
was fine, and the latter very cold and squally, we entered the
mouth of Storm Bay; the weather justified this awful name. The bay
should rather be called an estuary, for it receives at its head the
waters of the Derwent. Near the mouth there are some extensive
basaltic platforms; but higher up the land becomes mountainous, and
is covered by a light wood. The lower parts of the hills which
skirt the bay are cleared; and the bright yellow fields of corn,
and dark green ones of potatoes, appear very luxuriant. Late in the
evening we anchored in the snug cove on the shores of which stands
the capital of Tasmania. The first aspect of the place was very
inferior to that of Sydney; the latter might be called a city, this
is only a town. It stands at the base of Mount Wellington, a
mountain 3100 feet high, but of little picturesque beauty; from
this source, however, it receives a good supply of water. Round the
cove there are some fine warehouses and on one side a small fort.
Coming from the Spanish settlements, where such magnificent care
has generally been paid to the fortifications, the means of defence
in these colonies appeared very contemptible. Comparing the town
with Sydney, I was chiefly struck with the comparative fewness of
the large houses, either built or building. Hobart Town, from the
census of 1835, contained 13,826 inhabitants, and the whole of
Tasmania 36,505.

All the aborigines have been removed to an island in Bass's
Straits, so that Van Diemen's Land enjoys the great advantage of
being free from a native population. This most cruel step seems to
have been quite unavoidable, as the only means of stopping a
fearful succession of robberies, burnings, and murders, committed
by the blacks; and which sooner or later would have ended in their
utter destruction. I fear there is no doubt that this train of evil
and its consequences originated in the infamous conduct of some of
our countrymen. Thirty years is a short period in which to have
banished the last aboriginal from his native island, - and that
island nearly as large as Ireland. The correspondence on this
subject which took place between the government at home and that of
Van Diemen's Land, is very interesting. Although numbers of natives
were shot and taken prisoners in the skirmishing, which was going
on at intervals for several years, nothing seems fully to have
impressed them with the idea of our overwhelming power, until the
whole island, in 1830, was put under martial law, and by
proclamation the whole population commanded to assist in one great
attempt to secure the entire race. The plan adopted was nearly
similar to that of the great hunting-matches in India: a line was
formed reaching across the island, with the intention of driving
the natives into a cul-de-sac on Tasman's peninsula. The attempt
failed; the natives, having tied up their dogs, stole during one
night through the lines. This is far from surprising, when their
practised senses and usual manner of crawling after wild animals is
considered. I have been assured that they can conceal themselves on
almost bare ground, in a manner which until witnessed is scarcely
credible; their dusky bodies being easily mistaken for the
blackened stumps which are scattered all over the country. I was
told of a trial between a party of Englishmen and a native, who was
to stand in full view on the side of a bare hill; if the Englishmen
closed their eyes for less than a minute, he would squat down, and
then they were never able to distinguish him from the surrounding
stumps. But to return to the hunting-match; the natives
understanding this kind of warfare, were terribly alarmed, for they
at once perceived the power and numbers of the whites. Shortly
afterwards a party of thirteen belonging to two tribes came in;
and, conscious of their unprotected condition, delivered themselves
up in despair. Subsequently by the intrepid exertions of Mr.
Robinson, an active and benevolent man, who fearlessly visited by
himself the most hostile of the natives, the whole were induced to
act in a similar manner. They were then removed to an island, where
food and clothes were provided them. Count Strzelecki states that
"at the epoch of their deportation in 1835, the number of natives
amounted to 210. In 1842, that is after the interval of seven
years, they mustered only fifty-four individuals; and, while each
family of the interior of New South Wales, uncontaminated by
contact with the whites, swarms with children, those of Flinders'
Island had during eight years an accession of only fourteen in
number!" (19/6. "Physical Description of New South Wales and Van
Diemen's Land" page 354.)

The "Beagle" stayed here ten days, and in this time I made several
pleasant little excursions, chiefly with the object of examining
the geological structure of the immediate neighbourhood. The main
points of interest consist, first in some highly fossiliferous
strata belonging to the Devonian or Carboniferous period; secondly,
in proofs of a late small rise of the land; and lastly, in a
solitary and superficial patch of yellowish limestone or travertin,
which contains numerous impressions of leaves of trees, together
with land-shells, not now existing. It is not improbable that this
one small quarry includes the only remaining record of the
vegetation of Van Diemen's Land during one former epoch.

The climate here is damper than in New South Wales, and hence the
land is more fertile. Agriculture flourishes; the cultivated fields
look well, and the gardens abound with thriving vegetables and
fruit-trees. Some of the farmhouses, situated in retired spots, had
a very attractive appearance. The general aspect of the vegetation
is similar to that of Australia; perhaps it is a little more green
and cheerful; and the pasture between the trees rather more
abundant. One day I took a long walk on the side of the bay
opposite to the town: I crossed in a steamboat, two of which are
constantly plying backwards and forwards. The machinery of one of
these vessels was entirely manufactured in this colony, which, from
its very foundation, then numbered only three and thirty years!
Another day I ascended Mount Wellington; I took with me a guide,
for I failed in a first attempt, from the thickness of the wood.
Our guide, however, was a stupid fellow, and conducted us to the
southern and damp side of the mountain, where the vegetation was
very luxuriant; and where the labour of the ascent, from the number
of rotten trunks, was almost as great as on a mountain in Tierra
del Fuego or in Chiloe. It cost us five and a half hours of hard
climbing before we reached the summit. In many parts the Eucalypti
grew to a great size and composed a noble forest. In some of the
dampest ravines tree-ferns flourished in an extraordinary manner; I
saw one which must have been at least twenty feet high to the base
of the fronds, and was in girth exactly six feet. The fronds,
forming the most elegant parasols, produced a gloomy shade, like
that of the first hour of night. The summit of the mountain is
broad and flat and is composed of huge angular masses of naked
greenstone. Its elevation is 3100 feet above the level of the sea.
The day was splendidly clear, and we enjoyed a most extensive view;
to the north, the country appeared a mass of wooded mountains, of
about the same height with that on which we were standing, and with
an equally tame outline: to the south the broken land and water,
forming many intricate bays, was mapped with clearness before us.
After staying some hours on the summit we found a better way to
descend, but did not reach the "Beagle" till eight o'clock, after a
severe day's work.

FEBRUARY 7, 1836.

The "Beagle" sailed from Tasmania, and, on the 6th of the ensuing
month, reached King George's Sound, situated close to the
south-west corner of Australia. We stayed there eight days; and we
did not during our voyage pass a more dull and uninteresting time.
The country, viewed from an eminence, appears a woody plain, with
here and there rounded and partly bare hills of granite protruding.
One day I went out with a party, in hopes of seeing a
kangaroo-hunt, and walked over a good many miles of country.
Everywhere we found the soil sandy, and very poor; it supported
either a coarse vegetation of thin, low brushwood and wiry grass,
or a forest of stunted trees. The scenery resembled that of the
high sandstone platform of the Blue Mountains; the Casuarina (a
tree somewhat resembling a Scotch fir) is, however, here in greater
number, and the Eucalyptus in rather less. In the open parts there
were many grass-trees, - a plant which, in appearance, has some
affinity with the palm; but, instead of being surmounted by a crown
of noble fronds, it can boast merely of a tuft of very coarse
grass-like leaves. The general bright green colour of the brushwood
and other plants, viewed from a distance, seemed to promise
fertility. A single walk, however, was enough to dispel such an
illusion; and he who thinks with me will never wish to walk again
in so uninviting a country.

One day I accompanied Captain Fitz Roy to Bald Head, the place
mentioned by so many navigators, where some imagined that they saw
corals, and others that they saw petrified trees, standing in the
position in which they had grown. According to our view, the beds
have been formed by the wind having heaped up fine sand, composed
of minute rounded particles of shells and corals, during which
process branches and roots of trees, together with many
land-shells, became enclosed. The whole then became consolidated by
the percolation of calcareous matter; and the cylindrical cavities
left by the decaying of the wood were thus also filled up with a
hard pseudo-stalactitical stone. The weather is now wearing away
the softer parts, and in consequence the hard casts of the roots
and branches of the trees project above the surface, and, in a
singularly deceptive manner, resemble the stumps of a dead thicket.

A large tribe of natives, called the White Cockatoo men happened to
pay the settlement a visit while we were there. These men, as well
as those of the tribe belonging to King George's Sound, being
tempted by the offer of some tubs of rice and sugar, were persuaded
to hold a "corrobery," or great dancing-party. As soon as it grew
dark, small fires were lighted, and the men commenced their toilet,
which consisted in painting themselves white in spots and lines. As
soon as all was ready, large fires were kept blazing, round which
the women and children were collected as spectators; the Cockatoo
and King George's men formed two distinct parties, and generally
danced in answer to each other. The dancing consisted in their
running either sideways or in Indian file into an open space, and
stamping the ground with great force as they marched together.
Their heavy footsteps were accompanied by a kind of grunt, by
beating their clubs and spears together, and by various other
gesticulations, such as extending their arms and wriggling their
bodies. It was a most rude, barbarous scene, and, to our ideas,
without any sort of meaning; but we observed that the black women
and children watched it with the greatest pleasure. Perhaps these
dances originally represented actions, such as wars and victories;
there was one called the Emu dance, in which each man extended his
arm in a bent manner, like the neck of that bird. In another dance
one man imitated the movements of a kangaroo grazing in the woods,
whilst a second crawled up and pretended to spear him. When both
tribes mingled in the dance, the ground trembled with the heaviness
of their steps, and the air resounded with their wild cries. Every
one appeared in high spirits, and the group of nearly naked
figures, viewed by the light of the blazing fires, all moving in
hideous harmony, formed a perfect display of a festival amongst the
lowest barbarians. In Tierra del Fuego we have beheld many curious
scenes in savage life, but never, I think, one where the natives
were in such high spirits, and so perfectly at their ease. After
the dancing was over the whole party formed a great circle on the
ground, and the boiled rice and sugar was distributed, to the
delight of all.

After several tedious delays from clouded weather, on the 14th of
March we gladly stood out of King George's Sound on our course to
Keeling Island. Farewell, Australia! you are a rising child, and
doubtless some day will reign a great princess in the South; but
you are too great and ambitious for affection, yet not great enough
for respect. I leave your shores without sorrow or regret.


(PLATE 91. AUSTRALIAN GROUP OF WEAPONS AND THROWING STICKS.)



CHAPTER XX.

(PLATE 92. INSIDE AN ATOLL, KEELING ISLAND.)

KEELING ISLAND: - CORAL FORMATIONS.

Keeling Island.
Singular appearance.
Scanty Flora.
Transport of seeds.
Birds and insects.
Ebbing and flowing springs.
Fields of dead coral.
Stones transported in the roots of trees.
Great crab.
Stinging corals.
Coral-eating fish.
Coral formations.
Lagoon islands or atolls.
Depth at which reef-building corals can live.
Vast areas interspersed with low coral islands.
Subsidence of their foundations.
Barrier reefs.
Fringing reefs.
Conversion of fringing-reefs into barrier-reefs, and into atolls.
Evidence of changes in level.
Breaches in barrier-reefs.



Online LibraryCharles DarwinThe Voyage of the Beagle → online text (page 44 of 51)