John MacGillivray.

Narrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, Commanded By the Late Captain Owen Stanley, R.N., F.R.S. Etc. During the Years 1846-1850. Including Discoveries and Surveys in New Guinea, the Louisiade online

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Online LibraryJohn MacGillivrayNarrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, Commanded By the Late Captain Owen Stanley, R.N., F.R.S. Etc. During the Years 1846-1850. Including Discoveries and Surveys in New Guinea, the Louisiade → online text (page 2 of 26)
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final departure from Plymouth, which place we had called at to complete
her fittings, swing the ship a second time to ascertain the amount of
local attraction, and receive some specie for the Cape of Good Hope and
the Mauritius. Being favoured by strong northerly winds, we reached
Madeira on December 18th, after a quick, but most uncomfortable passage;
during the greater part of which the main and lower decks were partially
flooded, owing to the inefficiency of the scuppers, and the leaky state
of nearly every port and scuttle in the ship.


December 20th.

The scenery of Madeira has been so often described by voyagers, who, from
Cook downwards, have made it the first stage in their circumnavigation of
the globe, as to render superfluous more than a few passing allusions.
When near enough to distinguish the minor features of the island, the
terraced slopes of the mountainsides converted into vineyards and gardens
studded with the huts of the peasantry, presented a pleasing aspect to
visitors, whom a week's sailing had brought from the snow-clad shores of
England. Here and there a whitewashed chapel or picturesque villa lent a
charm to the scenery by contrasting strongly with the patches of green
upon the slopes, the deep blue of the ocean, and the delicate white of
the ever-changing clouds of mist which rolled incessantly along, while
the rugged summit of the island, and the deep ravines radiating towards
the coast-range of precipitous cliffs, gave an air of wildness to the


The town of Funchal, said to contain about 25,000 inhabitants, is
situated upon the slope of an amphitheatre of hills, behind the only
anchorage of the island. The finest view is obtained from the balcony of
a church dedicated to Nossa Senhora de Monte, situated at a considerable
elevation above the town. Here one looks down upon the numerous quintas
and cottages of the suburbs embosomed in gardens and vineyards, the
orange groves and clumps of chestnut trees, the snow-white houses of
Funchal with its churches and public buildings, the citadel frowning over
the town, the calm waters of the bay with the vessels at anchor gently
heaving to and fro on the long westerly swell, the Ilheo rock and
batteries, the bold headlands, and the dim outline of the distant
Desertas. Some of the streets are pleasantly shaded by rows of
plane-trees (Platanus occidentalis). Several deep ravines passing through
the town are carefully walled in, to prevent damage being done by the
torrents which occasionally sweep down the mountain, carrying everything
before them. From the steepness of the narrow roads and streets, wheeled
vehicles can scarcely be used, and sledges drawn by small bullocks supply
their place, while the wine, the chief article of export, is conveyed
into the town in goat-skins carried on the shoulder.


December 23rd.

Few strangers remain long in Madeira without paying a visit to the
Curral, and a large party of us left the ship for that purpose this
morning. At first the road led through a series of narrow lanes
frequently separated from the fields and vineyards on either side by
hedges of roses, honeysuckle, jasmine and fuchsias; now and then passing
under successions of trellis-work covered by the vines when in full
vigour, and then forming long shady vistas. For several miles we wound
our way along the hillsides, down deep ravines, and up steep rocky
slopes. In spite of the ruggedness of the path, our horses progressed
with wonderful alacrity, although occasionally impeded by the additional
weight of the attendant burroqueros holding on by the tail, and laughing
at our efforts to dislodge them. On reaching the shoulder of one of the
hills, we found the ravines and valleys below us filled with dense mist.
Here, at an elevation of 2500 feet, a species of spruce-like pine
appeared to thrive well. The path, which at times is not more than three
feet wide, now winds along the sides of the mountain with many sharp
turnings; heading numerous ravines, the frightful nature of which was
partially concealed by the obscurity of the mist.

We halted at the Pass of the Curral, to which Captain Stanley's
barometrical observations* assign an elevation of 2700 feet above the
sea. Shortly afterwards the mist gradually dissolved, unveiling the
magnificent scenery below and around. The Curral gives one the idea of a
vast crater** of irregular form, surrounded by a rugged wall (upwards of
a thousand feet in height) of grey weather-beaten rock cut down into wild
precipices, intersected by ravines and slopes of debris mixed up with
masses of crumbling rock, and towering upwards into fantastic peaks. A
winding path leads to the bottom - a small fertile valley watered by a
streamlet which leaves it by a deep gorge on the left, and forms a
picturesque waterfall on its way to the sea. The scattered rustic huts
and snow-white chapel of the Curral complete the picture of this peaceful
and secluded spot, buried in the very heart of the mountains.

(*Footnote. The height of the Pico dos Bodes, determined in the usual way
by the mountain barometer, was found by Lieutenant Dayman to be 3677
feet; his observations on the magnetic dip and intensity (for which see
the Appendix) are interesting, as showing a great amount of local
attraction at the summit.)

(**Footnote. There is reason to suppose the Curral to have been the
principal, although not the only centre of that submarine volcanic
action, during the continuance of which Madeira first emerged from the
sea, an event, which the evidence afforded by the limestone fossils of
St. Vincente (on the north side of the island) associates with the
tertiary epoch. See Paper by Dr. J. Macaulay in Edinburgh New
Philosophical Journal for October 1840.)

Although it is now the middle of winter, today's excursion afforded many
subjects of interest to a naturalist. Some beautiful ferns, of which even
the commonest one (Adiantum capillus-veneris) would have been much prized
by an English botanist as a very rare British species, occurred on the
dripping rocks by the roadside, and many wild plants were in flower on
the lower grounds. Even butterflies of three kinds, two of which (Colias
edusa and Cynthia cardui) are also found in Britain, occurred, although
in small numbers, and at the Pass of the Curral coleoptera of the genera
Pimelea and Scarites, were met with under stones along with minute
landshells, Bulimus lubricus, Clausilia deltostoma, and a Pupa.


After a stay of eight days, we left Madeira for Rio de Janeiro, and on
January 2nd picked up the south-east trade wind, and passed through the
Cape de Verde Islands to the southward between Mayo and St. Jago. Two
days afterwards, in latitude 9 degrees 30 minutes North, and longitude 22
degrees 40 minutes West, a slight momentary shock, supposed to be the
effect of an earthquake, was felt throughout the ship.


On the 11th an attempt was made to strike deep-sea soundings, but failed
from the drawing of a splice used to connect two portions of the
spun-yarn employed. On the following day the attempt was repeated by
Captain Stanley, unsuccessfully, however, no bottom having been obtained
at a depth of 2400 fathoms. Still a record of the experiment may be
considered interesting. At three P.M., when nearly becalmed in latitude 1
degree North, and longitude 22 degrees 30 minutes West (a few hours
previous to meeting the south-east trade) the second cutter was lowered
with 2600 fathoms of line (six yarn spun-yarn) in her, coiled in casks,
and a weight consisting of twelve 32 pounds shot - in all, 384 pounds,
secured in a net bag of spun yarn. The jolly-boat was in attendance to
tow the cutter as fast to whirlwind as she drifted, so as to keep the
line during the time it was running out as nearly up and down as
possible. The following table shows when each 100 fathoms passed over the
stern, the whole 2400 fathoms of line having taken 38 minutes and 40
seconds to run out:


100 : 1 0.
200 : 2 5.
300 : 2 30.
400 : 3 35.
500 : 5 0.
600 : 6 15.
700 : 7 35.
800 : 9 0.
900 : 10 35.
1000 : 12 40.
1100 : 13 30.
1200 : 15 10.
1300 : 17 5.
1400 : 19 0.
1500 : 20 50.
1600 : 22 30.
1700 : 24 25.
1800 : 26 30.
1900 : 29 10.
2000 : 31 0.
2100 : 32 55.
2200 : 35 0.
2300 : 36 55.
2400 : 38 40.


The forenoon of January 13th was employed in the performance of the usual
ceremonies on crossing the line, a custom now happily falling into
desuetude - I allude to it merely for the purpose of mentioning its
unfortunate consequences in the present instance; for, although the whole
proceeding was conducted with the greatest good humour, we had soon
afterwards to lament the occurrence of a fatal case of pleurisy, besides
another scarcely less severe, believed by the medical officers to have
been induced by forcible and continued submersion in what is technically
called the pond, one part of the performance which novices are obliged to
submit to during these marine Saturnalia.

The most interesting occurrence in natural history during the passage, in
addition to the usual accompaniments of flying fish, dolphins, physaliae
and velellae, was our finding, in the neighbourhood of the equator,
considerable numbers of a rare British bird, Thalassidroma leachii, a
species of storm-petrel, not before known to extend its range to the
tropics; it was distributed between the tropic of Cancer and latitude 5
degrees South.

As we approached the South American coast, the rates of several of our
seventeen chronometers (fifteen Government and two private ones) were
found to have strangely altered, thus reducing the value of our meridian
distance between Madeira and Rio; this effect was ascribed to the firing
of shotted guns when exercising at general quarters, a practice which in
consequence was not afterwards repeated.


January 23rd.

I shall not soon forget my first view of the shores of the new world. The
morning was beautifully fine, and with a light breeze scarcely sufficient
to cause a ripple on the water, we were slipping past the high and
remarkable promontory of Cape Frio, which at first appeared like an
island. A long beach of glittering sand stretched away to the westward,
and was lost in the distance; behind this a strip of undulating country,
clad here and there in the richest green, was backed by a range of
distant wooded hills, on which many clumps of palms could be
distinguished. Few harbours in the world present a more imposing entrance
than that of Rio de Janeiro. Several islands lie off the opening, and on
either side the coast range terminates in broken hills and ridges of
granite, one of which, Pao d'Acucar, the Sugarloaf of the English, rises
at once from near the water's edge to the height of 900 feet, as an
apparently inaccessible peak, and forms the well-known landmark for the

Passing the narrows (where the width is a mile and a quarter) strongly
guarded by fortifications, of which Fort Santa Cruz, an extensive work,
with several tiers of guns occupying a rocky point, is the principal, the
harbour widens out with beautiful sandy bays on either side, and rocky
headlands covered with luxuriant vegetation. Here the view of the city of
Rio de Janeiro is magnificent. The glare of the red-tiled buildings,
whitewashed or painted yellow, is relieved by the varied beauty of the
suburbs and gardens, and the numerous wooded eminences crowned by
churches and other conspicuous public edifices. Beyond the city the
harbour again widens out to form an immense basin, studded with green
islands, extending backwards some seventeen or eighteen miles further
towards the foot of the Organ Mountains, remarkable for their pinnacled
summits, the highest of which attains an elevation of 7800 feet above the

The harbour presented a busy scene from our anchorage. The water was
alive with small craft of every description, from the large
felucca-rigged boat down to the fishing canoe simply constructed of a
hollowed-out log, and steamers crowded with passengers plied between the
city and the opposite shore. The seabreeze died away, and was succeeded
by a sultry calm; after a short interval, the grateful land wind, laden
with sweet odours, advanced as a dark line slowly stealing along the
surface of the water, and the deep boom of the evening gun echoing from
hill to hill may be said appropriately to have closed the scene.


Landing at the Largo do Paco, or palace square, my first favourable
impressions of the city of Rio de Janeiro were somewhat lessened by the
stench arising from offal on the beach, and the vicinity of the market,
under the conjoined influence of a perfect calm and a temperature of 90
degrees in the shade. The palace, now used by the emperor only on court
days, has two sides of the large irregular square in which it is
situated, occupied by shops and other private buildings. Close by is the
market, which the stranger, especially if a naturalist, will do well to
visit. The variety of fruits and vegetables is great, that of fish
scarcely less so. On the muddy shore in the background, the fishing
canoes are drawn up on their arrival to discharge their cargoes, chiefly
at this time consisting of a kind of sprat and an anchovy with a broad
lateral silvery band. Baskets of land crabs covered with black slimy mud,
of handsome Lupeae, and the large well-flavoured prawns, called
Cameroons, are scattered about, and even small sharks (Zygaenae, etc.)
and cuttlefish are exposed for sale.

The streets, which, with few exceptions, are very narrow, are paved with
large rough stones - they have usually a gutter in the centre, and
occasionally a narrow pavement on each side. For building purposes,
unhewn granite is chiefly used, the walls being afterwards smoothed over
with a layer of plaster, whitewashed, and margined with yellow or blue.
The two principal streets are the Rua Direita, the widest in the city,
and the principal scene of commercial transactions, and the narrow Rua do
Ouvidor, filled with shops, many of which equal in the richness and
variety of their goods the most splendid establishments of European
capitals. Of these the most tempting, and the most dangerous to enter
with a well-filled purse, is the famous feather-flower manufactory of
Mme. Finot, where the gorgeous plumage of humming birds and others of the
feathered tribe is fabricated into wreaths and bouquets of all kinds.
Although the absence of sewerage is everywhere apparent, the town is well
supplied with water from numerous large fountains, filled by pipes from
an aqueduct five or six miles in length, communicating with the Corcovado
mountain. One is struck with the comparative absence of wheeled vehicles
in the streets of Rio. Now and then a clumsy caleche is driven past by a
negro postillion, in blue livery and jackboots, riding a second horse
yoked outside the shafts, and omnibuses drawn by four or six mules, are
not infrequently met with, and seem to be much patronised.

Many of the walks in the neighbourhood of the city are exceedingly
beautiful; one of the pleasantest leads along the line of the aqueduct.
Here the botanist fresh from Europe, will find subjects of interest at
every step, and the entomologist may revel to his heart's content among
gaudily coloured Heliconiae, Hesperiae, and Erycinae, or watch the larger
butterflies of the restricted genus Papilio, slowly winging their lazy
flight among the trees just beyond the reach of his insect net. A common
butterfly here (Peridromia amphinome) has the singular habit of
frequenting the trunks and limbs of the trees where it rests with
expanded wings, and generally manages adroitly to shift its position, and
escape when swept at with the net. Some large dark Cicadae are common
among the branches, and the air often resounds with their harsh grating
cries, especially towards evening. On the trunks of various trees along
the path, especially a thorny-stemmed Bombax, the pretty Bulimus
papyraceus is common, with an occasional B. auris-leporis, but I never
during my walks was so fortunate as to find any of the more magnificent
of the Brazilian landshells - for example, B. ovalis, a noble species,
four or five inches in length, of which I have bought live specimens in
the market.

Some of the lanes, in which, on one occasion I lost my way, about dusk,
would have reminded me of those of the south of England on a fine
autumnal eve, were it not for the scattered palms and papaw trees in the
hedgerows, and the hedges themselves occasionally consisting of the
coffee plant, concealing clumps of banana and sugar-cane. The Cicadae
were singing their evening hymn from the branches overhead, and in due
time the fireflies came out in all their glory.


I had looked forward with eager anticipation to the result of the first
dredging of the Voyage. None of the ship's boats could be spared, so I
hired one pulled by four negro slaves, who, although strong active
fellows, had great objections to straining their backs at the oar, when
the dredge was down. No sieve having been supplied, we were obliged to
sift the contents of the dredge through our hands - a tedious and
superficial mode of examination. Still some fine specimens of a curious
flat sea-urchin (Encope marginata) and a few shells, encouraged us to
persevere. Two days after, Mr. Huxley and myself set to work in Botafogo
Bay, provided with a wire-gauze meat cover, and a curious machine for
cleaning rice; these answered capitally as substitutes for sieves, and
enabled us by a thorough examination of the contents of the dredge, to
detect about forty-five species of mollusca and radiata, some of which
were new to science. Among these acquisitions I may mention a new species
of Amphioxus, a genus of small fishes exhibiting more anomalies than any
other known to ichthyologists, and the lowest organisation found in the
class; it somewhat resembles the sand-eels of Britain in habits, like
them moving with extraordinary rapidity through the sand. By dint of
bribery and ridicule, we had at length managed to get our boatmen to work
tolerably well; and when we were alike well roasted by the sun and
repeatedly drenched, besides being tired out and hungry, they had become
quite submissive, and exchanged their grumbling for merriment. A more
lovely spot can scarcely be found, than the secluded bay of Botafogo with
its pretty village, and the noble Corcovado mountain immediately behind,
and we paid it other visits.


One of the principal characteristics of Rio is slavery. Slaves here
perform the work of beasts of burden; and in the business parts of the
city the attention of a stranger is sure to be arrested by gangs of them
heavily laden, proceeding at a jog-trot, timing their steps to a
monotonous song and the noise of a tin rattle filled with stones, carried
by their leader. What their domestic condition and treatment may be, I
know not, but, among the slaves one sees out of doors, the frequency of
iron collars round the neck, and even masks of tin, concealing the lower
part of the face, and secured behind with a padlock, would seem to
indicate extreme brutality in those capable of resorting to such means of
punishment. Yet these, I was told, were rare exceptions, the Brazilians
not being worse task-masters than the people of other slave-holding
countries - and such may be the case.


Whatever he may think of the true state of religious feeling, it soon
becomes obvious to a stranger that great care is taken to celebrate the
numerous festivals of the Church with all possible pomp and splendour.
One day I happened to encounter a procession in honour of St. Januarius,
the patron saint of Rio. The number of ecclesiastics taking a part
amounted to several hundreds, and a body of military brought up the rear.
The streets and windows were crowded with people in their holiday
costume, bands of music were playing, bells were ringing, flowers were
scattered about and showered down from the houses. The profusion of
tinsel and embroidery was very great, and the balconies and windows in
the line of procession were hung with rich brocade in all the colours of
the rainbow.


A short stay, such as ours, afforded very limited opportunities of
judging of the national character; and my impressions on this point were,
probably, often erroneous. The Brazilians and English did not then
reciprocate very cordially, on account of the existing state of
international relations. Of late years great advances appear to have been
made upon the mother-country, judging from the increasing liberality of
their institutions, the establishment of commercial relations abroad, the
freedom of discussion and influence of the press, the attention paid to
public education (especially of the middle classes) the support granted
to literature and science, and the declining influence of the priesthood
in secular matters. The national character, however, can scarcely be
considered as fully formed; the Brazilians have been too recently
emancipated from the thraldom of a modified despotism to have made, as
yet, any very great progress in developing the elements of national
prosperity and greatness which the vast empire of Brazil so abundantly
possesses, and the foul blot of slavery, with its debasing influence,
still remains untouched.


On February 2nd we sailed from Rio for the Cape of Good Hope. The morning
being calm, we were towed out by the boats of the squadron until a light
air, the precursor of the seabreeze, set in. While hove-to outside the
entrance, a haul of the dredge brought up the rare Terebratula rosea, and
a small shell of a new genus, allied to Rissoa. The remainder of the day
and part of the succeeding one were spent in a fruitless search for a
shoal said to exist in the neighbourhood, to which Captain Stanley's
attention had been drawn by Captain Broughton, of H.M.S. Curacao.

At one P.M. of each day, when the weather was favourable, the ship was
hove-to for the purpose of obtaining observations on the temperature of
the water at considerable depths, under the superintendence of Lieutenant
Dayman. As these were continued during our outward voyage as far as Van
Diemen's Land, and the number of observations amounted to 69, the results
will more clearly be understood if exhibited in a tabular form, for which
the reader is referred to the Appendix. "Two of the Sixe's thermometers
were attached, one at the bottom of the line of 370 fathoms, the other
150 fathoms higher up. The depth recorded is that given by Massey's
patent sounding machine. As the same quantity of line was always used,
the difference of depth of each day should be trifling, varying only in
proportion to the ship's drift; yet on several occasions the depth
recorded by the machine gives as much as 100 fathoms short of the
quantity of line let out."*

(*Footnote. Lieutenant Dayman, R.N.)


While engaged in sounding, a process which usually occupied
three-quarters of an hour, a boat was always at my service when birds
were about the ship, and the state of the sea admitted of going after
them - by this means many species of petrels were obtained for the
collection. On one of these occasions, owing to a mistake in lowering the
stern boat before the ship had quite lost her way through the water, one
of the falls could not be unhooked in time; consequently the boat was
dragged over on her broadside, and finally capsized with eight people in
her. Some reached one of the life-buoys, which was instantly let go, the
others managed to roll the boat over and right her, full of water. All
were eventually picked up by the leeward quarter-boat; the weather one,
from the shortness of the davits, would not clear the ship's side, but
turned over on her bilge, dipping in the water, and was rendered
ineffective when most wanted. This defect in the davits was afterwards
remedied by the substitution of other and longer ones, which had formerly
belonged to H.M. steam vessel Thunderbolt, wrecked at Algoa Bay a short
time previously.


Among many interesting birds* procured in the above-mentioned manner, I
may allude to Puffinus cinereus, a European species of shearwater, which
was found to be generally distributed across the South Atlantic between
the meridians of 28 degrees West and 1 1/2 degrees East; on two

Online LibraryJohn MacGillivrayNarrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, Commanded By the Late Captain Owen Stanley, R.N., F.R.S. Etc. During the Years 1846-1850. Including Discoveries and Surveys in New Guinea, the Louisiade → online text (page 2 of 26)