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North Cape of New Zealand -- Superstitions -- Cook's great Lizard-- Traditions-- Currents -- Thermometer -- Sydney -- Dr. Darwin -- Drought--Aqueduct -- Position--Disadvantages--Ill-acquired wealth of Convicts, or Emancipists--Hobart Town--Advantages of Van Diemen's Land--King George Sound -- Natives--Dance -- Keeling Islands -- Tides -- Soundings -- Coral formations -- Malays--Fish-- Weather--Mauritius--Cape of Good Hope--St. Helena--Ascension --Bahia -- Pernambuco -- Cape Verde Islands--Azores --Arrive in England.
ON the last day of this year (1835) we passed the north cape of New Zealand, and steered for Port Jackson. It has been said that the New Zealanders entertain vague ideas about the spirits of their dead hovering near this north cape. I had no opportunity of inquiring into this superstition, but as other authorities besides Cook mention it, no doubt there is some such belief among those who have not acquired different notions from foreigners To my mind it is interesting in two points of view; one, as showing their belief in a future state of existence; and the other, as indicating the quarter whence New Zealand was first peopled; for it appears to be an impression common to many savage nations, that their souls should go to the land of their ancestors. This is particularly remarkable among the South American aborigines. It is not easy to imagine any motive for the New Zealanders supposing that spirits hover about the North Cape, in preference to any other promontory of New Zealand, unless in connexion with the idea that from the point nearest to the country whence those people formerly migrated, the souls of the deceased would, after a time perhaps, depart to their permanent abode.
In taking leave of this interesting country I will refer to Cook once more, for a curious notice, given in his third voyage, respecting great lizards in New Zealand, which have not, so far as I am aware, been lately described, or even met with. 'Taweiharooa' gave an account of snakes and lizards of an enormous size: "he describes the latter as being eight feet in length,
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and as big round as a man's body. He said that they sometimes seize and devour men; that they burrow in the ground; and that they are killed by making fires at the mouths of the holes. We could not be mistaken as to the animal; for, with his own hand, he drew a very good representation of a lizard on a piece of paper; as also of a snake, in order to show what he meant."--(Cook's third Voyage, chap. VII.) Perhaps this huge kind of lizard has become extinct; but it is possible that it yet exists on the southern (or middle) island. In its burrowing we are reminded of the great lizard, or iguana, of the Galapagos Islands; but the assertion that it sometimes seizes men seems to refer to an alligator, or crocodile. Cook heard of it shortly after leaving Queen Charlotte Sound, from a native of the southern large island. 1 If such a reptile ever existed upon the northern island it must have been exterminated by the earliest aboriginal settlers, as they have now no tradition of any animals except dogs, pigs, rats, mice, and small, lizards. Pigs and dogs, say the natives, were brought from the north, in canoes.
On New Year's day, while in sight of the islets called Three Kings, we passed through several tide 'races,' one of which was rather 'heavy,' and would have been impassable for a boat. These races moved towards the north while we could trace their progress. The temperature of the water fell six degrees after passing through the principal one. Next day, at noon, we found that during the past twenty-four hours we had been set as many miles southward (S. S. E.), and hence I am inclined to infer that we were influenced by regular tide-streams, rather than by currents setting always in one direction. To the succeeding day at noon (3d) we were set only seven miles, by the water, and that due east. Afterwards, in our passage to Port Jackson, we had alternately northerly and south-easterly currents of about ten miles a day, and it was easy to tell which current we were in, by the temperature of the sea: --while the stream set from the north, the water thermometer showed about 72 deg.; but when the current
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1836. PORT JACKSON--SYDNEY.
was running from the southward, the temperature of the ocean, a foot below, as well as at, the surface, 2 was only 67 deg. I ought to have remarked elsewhere, if I have not already done so, that the thermometer may be used at sea to detect and trace currents; but little, if any, confidence can be placed in its indications as a guide to the approach of land. Icebergs may indeed affect it, but they will affect the temperature of the air probably sooner than that of the ocean.
Near midnight, on the 11th, we saw the red, revolving light of Sydney Light-house, and next day entered Port Jackson, and anchored in Sydney Cove. Much as I had heard of the progress and importance of this place, my astonishment was indeed great, when I saw a well-built city covering the country near the port. Not many days previously I had been reading the account of Governor Phillip's voyage to Botany Bay in 1787-8, and little did I think that, in forty-eight years from the first discovery of Port Jackson, a city, upon a large scale, could have arisen out of a wilderness so near our antipodes. In the account just mentioned it is stated that "from a piece of clay imported from Sydney Cove, Mr. Wedgwood caused a medallion to be modelled, representing Hope, encouraging Art and Labour, under the influence of Peace, to pursue the means of giving security and happiness to the infant settlement. The following lines, in allusion to this medallion, were written by Dr. Darwin."
"Where Sydney Cove her lucid bosom swells,
Courts her young navies and the storm repels,
High on a rock, amid the troubled air,
Hope stood sublime, and wav'd her golden hair;
Calm'd with her rosy smile the tossing deep,
And with sweet accents charm'd the winds to sleep;
To each wild plain, she stretch'd her snowy hand,
High-waving wood, and sea-encircled strand.
'Hear me,' she cried, 'ye rising realms! record
Time's opening scenes, and Truth's unerring word. --
There shall broad streets their stately walls extend,
The circus widen, and the crescent bend;
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There ray'd from cities o'er the cultur'd land,
Shall bright canals, and solid roads expand. --
There the proud arch, Colossus-like, bestride
Yon glittering streams, and bound the chasing tide;
Embellish'd villas crown the landscape scene,
Farms wave with gold, and orchards blush between. --
There shall tall spires, and dome-capt towers ascend,
And piers and quays their massy structures blend;
While with each breeze approaching vessels glide,
And northern treasures dance on every tide!'
Here ceased the nymph--tumultuous echoes roar,
And Joy's loud voice was heard from shore to shore--
Her graceful steps descending press'd the plain;
And Peace, and Art, and Labour, join'd her train."
When I was at Sydney in 1836, all that was foretold in this allegory had come to pass, with one exception only, that of canals. It was always a country comparatively dry; and unfortunately the more wood is cleared away, the drier both climate and soil become, therefore it is unlikely that canals should ever be made there. This want of fresh water is the only drawback to the future prosperity of this mushroom city; which is now dependent upon a supply brought through iron pipes from a distance of several leagues. Mr. Busby, father of the resident at New Zealand, was the projector and executor of this aqueduct, but, --like many other really valuable things, --his useful work as ably planned as it was perseveringly carried on against uncommon difficulties, is but little appreciated, even by those who daily drink the pure water which it supplies.
It is difficult to believe that Sydney will continue to flourish in proportion to its rise. It has sprung into existence too suddenly. Convicts have forced its growth, even as a hotbed forces plants, and premature decay may be expected from such early maturity. Other rising colonies have advantages in point of situation and climate, which the country about Sydney does not possess; and if our government establishment should be withdrawn, from that day the decline of the city would commence, because its natural advantages are not sufficient to enable it to compete with other places in those regions,
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excepting while fostered by the presence of regularly paid government officers, troops, and a large convict establishment.
There must be great difficulty in bringing up a family well in that country, in consequence of the demoralizing influence of convict servants, to which almost all children must be more or less exposed. Besides, literature is at a low ebb: most people are anxious about active farming, or commercial pursuits, which leave little leisure for reflection, or for reading more than those fritterers of the mind--daily newspapers and ephemeral trash. It was quite remarkable to see how few booksellers' shops there were in Sydney, and what a low class of books -- with some exceptions -- was to be found in them. These few exceptions were the works usually called 'standard,' which some persons who buy books, for show as furniture, rather than for real use, think it necessary to purchase. Another evil in the social system of Sydney and its vicinity, is the rancorous feeling which exists between the descendants of free settlers and the children of convicts. Fatal, indeed, would it be to the former, if the arm of power were removed; for their high principles and good feelings would be no match for the wiles and atrocities of such abandoned outcasts as are there congregrated, and almost rejoice in their iniquity. Money is gained by such people by any and every means, save those of honest industry. By selling spirits, frequently drugged-- by theft--by receiving and selling stolen goods--by the wages of iniquity--and by exorbitant usury--fortunes have been amassed there in a few years which would make an honest man's hair stand on end. But do such men enjoy their wealth? Does it benefit them or their children? No. Their life is a miserable scene of anxiety, care, fear, and generally penuriousness; they die without a friend and without hope.
The Beagle sailed from Sydney on the 30th, and anchored off Hobart Town (or Hobarton) on the 5th of February. The change of scene was as striking as a view of Gibraltar or Madeira after leaving the Downs. Comparatively speaking, near Sydney all was light-coloured and level; while in Van Diemen's Land we almost thought ourselves in another Tierra
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HOBART TOWN--KING GEORGE SOUND. Jan.
del Fuego. But this was only a first impression, on a blustering wet day. Fields of ripe corn, dotted, as it were, about the hilly woodlands, told us that the climate must generally be favourable; and the number of red brick cottages, thickly scattered about, though apparently at random, proved an extent of population incompatible with an unproductive place.
During a few days' stay in Sullivan Cove, the chief anchorage, we had opportunities of going to some distance into the country, and seeing things which led me to think that there is a more solid foundation for future prosperity in Van Diemen's Land than can be found near Sydney. Natural advantages are greater; and likely to increase as the country is cleared and inhabited--because rain is now almost too plentiful, though corn ripens well and is of excellent quality. As a convict colony, it of course partakes of the evils I have mentioned; but it does so in a far less degree, partly because the convicts sent there were of a less profligate and more reclaimable class than those landed at Sydney, and partly because an excellent local government restrained the licentious, and encouraged the moral to a far greater extent than was, or perhaps could be effected among the more numerous and dispersed population of Sydney and its environs.
On the 17th, we sailed out of the picturesque Derwent, an arm of the sea extending inland many miles beyond Hobart Town, and thence worked our way southward round the Land of Van Diemen. We then steered westward, or as much so as the contrary winds would admit, until we made the land off King George Sound on the 6th of March; and a few hours afterwards moored in the principal anchorage, called Princess Royal Harbour; a wide but shallow place, with a very narrow entrance. The country round King George Sound has a dull, uniform aspect; there are no mountains or rivers; 3 few trees are visible; white, sandy patches; scrubby bushes; bare masses of granite; and a slightly undulating outline meet and disappoint the eye of a stranger.
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1836. SETTLEMENT--LOCAL ATTRACTION.
A few straggling houses, ill-placed in an exposed, cheerless situation, were seen by us as we entered the harbour; and had inclination been our guide, instead of duty, I certainly should have felt much disposed to 'put the helm up,' and make all fail away from such an uninviting place.
Next day, however, we found that appearances were worse than the reality; for behind a hill, which separates the harbour from the sound, a thick wood was discovered, where there were many trees of considerable size; and in the midst of this wood I found Sir Richard Spencer's house, much resembling a small but comfortable farm-house in England. This sort of isolated residence has a charm for some minds; but the loss of society, the numerous privations, and the vastly retrograde step necessarily taken in civilized existence by emigrating to perfectly new countries, are I think stronger objections to the plan than usually occur to persons who have not seen its consequences in actual operation.
At this time there were about thirty houses, or cottages, in the neighbourhood of the sound and harbour; some had small gardens; but, generally speaking, there was no appearance of agriculture, excepting immediately around Sir Richard's house, where a few fields had been cleared and cultivated in the midst of the wood.
There is an extraordinary degree of local magnetic attraction about this place. We could not ascertain the amount of variation with any degree of accuracy until our compasses were placed upon a sandy beach of considerable extent, near the sea. Wherever there was stone (a kind of granite) near the instruments, they were so much affected as to vary many degrees from the truth, and quite irregularly: those on board were not influenced, at least not more than a degree. We were also perplexed by the irregular and peculiar tides; but as they are mentioned elsewhere, I will refrain from farther remark on them here.
We had a good opportunity of seeing several of the aborigines; for not only were there unusual numbers of neighbouring natives then about the settlement, but a strange tribe,
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ABORIGINES--COROBBERY DANCE. March.
called 'Cocotu,' had lately arrived from a distance, and as the residents wished to conciliate them, a 'corobbery' was proposed, and Mr. Darwin ensured the compliance of all the savages by providing an immense mess of boiled rice, with sugar, for their entertainment.
About two hours after dark the affair began. Nearly all the settlers, and their visitors, had assembled on a level place just outside the village, while the native men belonging to both tribes were painting, or rather daubing and spotting their soot-coloured bodies with a white pigment, as they clustered round blazing fires. When all was ready --the fires burning brightly--the gloom at a little distance intense, by contrast, and the spectators collected together ----a heavy tramp shook the ground, and a hundred prancing demon-like figures emerged from the darkness, brandishing their weapons, stamping together in exact accordance, and making hoarse guttural sounds at each exertion. It was a fiendish sight, almost too disagreeable to be interesting. What pains savage man takes--in all parts of the world where he is found--to degrade his nature; that beautiful combination which is capable of so much intelligence and noble exertion when civilized and educated. While watching the vagaries of these performers, I could not but think of our imprudence in putting ourselves so completely into their power: about thirty unarmed men being intermixed with a hundred armed natives. The dancers were all men; a short kangaroo-skin cloak was thrown about their hips, and white feathers were stuck round their heads: many were not painted, but those who were had similar figures on their breasts; some a cross, others something like a heart. Many had spears, and all had the 'throwing-stick'; and a kind of hatchet, 4 in a girdle round the waist. Much of the dancing was monotonous enough, after the first appearance, reminding me of persons working in a treadmill; but their imitation of snakes, and
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kangaroos, in a kind of hunting dance, was exceedingly good and interesting. The whole exhibition lasted more than an hour, during most of which time upwards of a hundred savages were exerting themselves in jumping and stamping as if their lives depended on their energetic movements. There was a boy who appeared to be idiotic, or afflicted with a kind of fit; but the man who was holding him seemed to be quite unconcerned about his convulsive efforts, saying, "by and bye he would be a doctor" (as I was told by a resident who understood the language), which reminded me of what Falkner says of the Patagonians. 5 After the corobbery the natives collected round the house where the feast was preparing; and it will not be easy to forget the screams of delight that burst from old and young as they looked in at the door and saw the tub in which their rice was smoking. Before the food was distributed they were told to sit down, which they immediately did, in a circle round the house. They separated, of their own accord, into families, each little party lighting a small fire before them. Their behaviour, and patience, were very remarkable and pleasing. One family had a native dog, which in size, colour, and shape, was like a fox, excepting that the nose was not quite so sharp, nor the tail so bushy.
Most of the aborigines had rather good countenances, and well-formed heads, as compared with those about Sydney, or in Van Diemen's land. The lathy thinness of their persons, which seemed totally destitute of fat, and almost without flesh, is very remarkable. I have since seen some drawings of South African aborigines, executed under the critical eye of Doctor Andrew Smith, by the correct hand of Mr. Charles Bell, which are so like the natives who live near King George Sound In colour, as well as countenance, and extraordinary shape, that they might be taken for full-length portraits of the latter instead of Africans.
Many of these natives have features smaller and less marked than are usual among savages; but their foreheads are higher and more full: they are not tall, few exceeding five feet eight
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inches in height: and the women are wretched objects. Some of the men had pieces of bone stuck through the cartilage of the nose, which, I heard, was to prevent their being killed by another tribe, who were seeking to revenge the death of one of their own party. I was told also, that when any death occurs in one tribe, the first individual of another that is encountered is sacrificed by the bereaved party, if strong enough; but I suspect my informant confused revenge for manslaughter with the strange story--that for every death in one tribe, however caused, a life must be taken from another. Should it be true, however, the scarcity of aboriginal population would have an explanation in addition to those which various writers have given. These natives bury their dead in a short grave; the body being laid on its side, with the knees drawn up to the chin.
During our stay at this place we caught plenty of fish, of twenty different kinds, with a seine; yet with such an abundant supply close at hand, the settlers were living principally on salt provisions.
Before quitting King George Sound I must add my slight testimony to the skill and accuracy with which Flinders laid down and described those parts of New Holland and Van Diemen's Land that I have seen. His accounts also of wind, weather, climate, currents, and tides, are excellent; and there are other points of information in his large work, useful to many, but especially to seamen, which would be well worth separating from the technicalities among which they are almost lost in the present cumbersome volumes.
March 13th. We sailed, and advanced towards Cape Leuwin, but it was the 18th before our little ship was sufficiently far westward of that promontory to steer for my next object, the Keeling Islands.
From the 27th to the 30th we had a severe gale of wind, when near the situation of those remote isles, and on the 31st were in much doubt whether they lay eastward or to the west of us. There was most reason to induce me to steer eastward---indeed I was about to give orders to that effect just as the sun was setting, (no land being seen from the mast-
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1836. KEELING ISLANDS--TIDE-GUAGE.
head, though the horizon was clear)--when a number of gannets flew past the ship towards the west. We steered directly after them, and early next morning (after making but little way during a fine night) saw the Keelings right ahead, about sixteen miles distant.
A long but broken line of cocoa-palm trees, and a heavy surf breaking upon a low white beach, nowhere rising many feet above the foaming water, was all we could discern till within five miles of the larger Keeling, (there are two distinct groups) and then we made out a number of low islets, nowhere more than thirty feet above the sea, covered with palm-trees, and encircling a large shallow lagoon.
We picked our way into Port Refuge (the only harbour), passing cautiously between patches of coral rock, clearly visible to an eye at the mast-head, and anchored in a safe, though not the best berth. An Englishman (Mr. Leisk) came on board, and, guided by him, we moved into a small but secure cove close to Direction Island.
Many reasons had induced me to select this group of coral islets for such an examination as our time and means would admit of; and, as the tides were to be an object of especial attention in a spot so favourably situated for observing them, a tide-guage was immediately placed. Its construction was then new, and, being found to answer, I will describe it briefly. Two poles were fixed upright, one on shore (above high water mark, and sheltered from wind), the other in the sea beyond the surf at low water. A block was fastened to the top of each pole, and a piece of well-stretched log-line 'rove' through them. 6 One end of the line was attached to a board that floated on the water; the other suspended a leaden weight, which traversed up and down the pole, on shore, as the float fell or rose with the tide. Simple as this contrivance was, and useful as we should have found it in many places where the surf or swell made it difficult to measure tides at night, without using a boat, I never thought of it till after we left King George Sound.
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Until the 12th every one was actively occupied; our boats were sent in all directions, though there was so much wind almost each day as materially to impede surveying. Soundings on the seaward sides of the islands could seldom be obtained; but two moderate days were eagerly taken advantage of to go round the whole group in a boat, and get the few deep soundings which are given in the plan. 7 The two principal islands (considering the whole southern group as one island,) lie north and south of each other, fifteen miles apart; and as soundings were obtained two miles north of the large island, it may be inferred, I think, that the sea is not so deep between the two as it is in other directions. Only a mile from the southern extreme of the South Keeling, I could get no bottom with more than a thousand fathoms of line.
The southern cluster of islets encircle a shallow lagoon, of an oval form, about nine miles long, and six wide. The islets are mere skeletons--little better than coral reefs, on which broken coral and dust have been driven by sea and wind till enough has been accumulated to afford place and nourishment for thousands of cocoa-palms. The outer edges of the islands are considerably higher than the inner, but nowhere exceed about thirty feet above the mean level of the sea. The lagoon is shallow, almost filled with branching corals and coral sand. The small northern island is about a mile in diameter; a strip of low coral land, almost surrounding a small lagoon, and thickly covered with cocoa-nut trees.
These lonely islands (also called Cocos,) were discovered in 1608-9 by Captain William Keeling, who was in the East India Company's service, and held a commission from King James I. 8 Little or no notice was taken of them from that
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1836. FIRST SETTLEMENT.
time till 1823, when one Alexander Hare, a British subject, established himself and a small party of Malays, upon the
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Southern Keeling Island, which he thought a favourable place for commerce, and for maintaining a seraglio of Malay women, whom he confined to one island, --almost to one house.
In 1826, or within a year of that time, Mr. J. C. Ross, some time master of a merchant ship, took up his abode on the south-eastern islet of the group; and in a very short time Hare's Malay slaves, aggrieved by his harsh treatment of them, especially by his taking away the women, and shutting them up on an island which the Malay men might not approach, deserted in a body, and claimed protection from Mr. Ross. Hare then left the Keelings, and about a year afterwards was arrested in his lawless career by death, while establishing another harem at Batavia.
From that time Mr. Ross and the Malays lived peaceably, collecting cocoa-nut oil, turtle, tortoise-shell, and bicho do mar; and occasionally sailing to the Mauritius, Singapore, or Batavia, to dispose of them, and buy necessaries with their produce. Another Englishman, Mr. C. Leisk, who had served as mate of Mr. Ross's ship, lived with him, and they both had wives (English) and children, the whole party residing together in a large house of Malay build--just such a structure as one sees represented upon old japanned work. At the time of our visit Mr. Ross was absent on one of their trading excursions, and his deputy, Leisk, was left in charge of everything.
By some strange misconception, not intentional act of injustice, Mr. Ross had refused to give Hare's slaves their freedom, for fear that the executors of that man should demand their value from him; but he paid them each two rupees a week, in goods (at his own valuation), provided that they worked for him, both men and women, as he thought proper. Mr. Leisk told me this, and said that "many of the Malays were very discontented, and wanted to leave the island." "No wonder," thought I, "for they are still slaves, and only less ill used than they were by the man who purchased them."
These Malays were allowed to rear poultry, which they sometimes sold to shipping. They were also allowed to have the produce of a certain number of cocoa-nut trees, and might catch fish and turtle for their own use; but the sale of
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1836. CURIOUS CRAB--TURTLE-FISHING.
turtle to shipping, when they touched there, and the immense crops of cocoa-nuts which are produced annually on all the islets of the group were monopolized by Mr. Ross for his sole advantage. One daily task imposed upon the Malay women was to "husk" a hundred nuts, collected for them by the men, who extract a gallon of oil from every ten.
Another kind of oil, said to be very good, is derived from the fat tail of a large land-crab, which feeds on cocoa-nuts. About a pint and a half may be obtained from one crab. The manner in which these creatures--nearly the size of a large cray-fish---tap the nuts in order to get at their contents is curious. Numbers of windfall nuts, in a comparatively soft state, are always to be found lying about under the trees: a crab seizes one of these, and pegs away at the eyes (each nut has three eyes) with one of its claws, that is long and sharp, purposely, it would seem, until it opens a hole, through which the crab extracts the juice, and some of the solid part.
The manner of ascending tall palm-trees is similar to that described at Otaheite, and requires strength as well as agility: both which are also shown by these Malays in their chases after turtle among the shallows and coral 'thickets' of the lagoon, where they abound. A party of men go in a light boat and look for a fine turtle in some shallow place. Directly one is seen, they give chase in the boat, endeavouring to keep it in a shallow, and tolerably clear place, till it begins to be tired by its exertions to escape; then, watching a favourable moment, a man jumps out of the boat and seizes the turtle. Away it darts, with the man on its back grasping its neck, until he can get an opportunity, by touching ground with his feet, to turn it over, and secure his prize. Only the more active men can succeed well in this sort of fishing.
Other unusual things were seen by us at this place, one or two of which I will mention. There are fish that live by feeding upon small branches of the coral, which grows in such profusion in the lagoon. One species of these fish is about two feet and a half long, of a beautiful green colour about the head and tail, with a hump on its head, and a bony kind of mouth,
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FISHING DOG--CORALS. April.
almost like that of a turtle, within which are two rows of sawlike teeth. --Mr. Stokes saw a dog, (bred on the island), catch three such fish in the course of a few hours by chasing them in shallow water, springing after them, almost as a kangaroo springs on land. Sometimes one would take shelter under a rock, when the dog would drive it out with his paw, and seize it with his mouth as it bolted.
Among the great variety of corals forming the walls around the immediately visible basement, and the under-water forests of the Keeling islands, there is more difference than between a lily of the valley and a gnarled oak. Some are fragile and delicate, of various colours, and just like vegetables to the eye, others are of a solid description, like petrified tropical plants; but all these grow within the outer reef, and chiefly in the lagoons. 9
The wall, or outer reef, about which so much has been said and thought, by able men, without their having arrived at any definite conclusion, is solid and rock-like, with a smooth surface; and where the surf is most violent, there the coral is fullest of animated matter. I was anxious to ascertain if possible, to what depth the living coral extended, but my efforts were almost in vain, on account of a surf always violent, and because the outer wall is so solid that I could not detach pieces from it lower down than five fathoms. Small anchors, hooks, grappling irons, and chains were all tried--and one after another broken by the swell almost as soon as we 'hove a strain' upon them with a 'purchase' in our largest boats. Judging however, from impressions made upon a large lead, the end of which was widened, and covered with tallow hardened with lime, and from such small fragments as we could raise, I concluded that the coral was not alive at a depth exceeding seven fathoms below low water. But this subject has been, or will be, fully discussed by Mr. Darwin, therefore I need say no more.
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1836. ANIMALS--FRESH WATER.
As if in speaking of these singular, though so small islands, --where crabs eat cocoa-nuts, fish eat coral, dogs catch fish, men ride on turtle, and shells are dangerous man-traps, 10 -- any thing more were necessary to ensure the voyager's being treated like the old woman's son who talked to her about flying-fish, --it must yet be said that the greater part of the sea-fowl roost on branches, and that many rats make their nests at the top of high palm-trees.
Except sea-fowl and the domestic creatures 11 which have accompanied man to the Keelings, there is no bird or animal; but a kind of land-rail, which is numerous. Besides the palm there are upon the largest islets other trees, particularly a kind of teak, and some less valuable wood, from which a vessel was built.
Fresh water is not scarce on the larger islets of the group, but it is only to be got by digging wells in the coral foundation, covered as it is by vegetation. In these wells, about six feet deep, the water rises and falls as the tide of the ocean flows and ebbs; which I believe to be the case at most other coral islands where there is fresh water. It appears that the fresh water of heavy rains is held in the loose soil, (a mixture of coral, sand, and decayed vegetable substances, ) and does not mix with the salt water which surrounds it, except at the edges of the land. The flowing tide pushes on every side, the mixed soil being very porous, and causes the fresh water to rise: when the tide falls the fresh water sinks also. A sponge full of fresh water placed gently in a basin of salt water, will not part with its contents for a length of time if left untouched. The water in the middle of the sponge will be found untainted by salt for many days; perhaps much longer, if tried.
A word about the inhabitants, and I leave the Keelings. No material difference was detected by me between the Malays on these islands, and the natives of Otaheite or New Zealand. I do not mean to assert that there were not numbers of men
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APPEARANCE OF NATIVES--RELIGION. April.
at each of those islands to whom I could not trace resemblances (setting individual features aside,) at the Keelings; I merely say that there was not one individual among the two hundred Malays I saw there whom I could have distinguished from a Polynesian Islander, had I seen him in the Pacific.
Two boys attracted my notice particularly, because their colour was of a brighter red 12 than that of any South American or Polynesian whom I had seen, and upon enquiry I found that these two boys were sons of Alexander Hare and a Malay woman.
Excepting the two English families I have mentioned, all on the Keelings in 1836, were Mahometans. One of their number officiated as priest; but exclusive of an extreme dislike to pigs, they showed little outward attention to his injunctions. As no Christian minister had ever visited the place, and there was no immediate prospect of one coming there, I was asked to baptize the children of Mrs. Leisk. So unusual a demand occasioned some scruples on my part, but at last I complied, and performed the appointed service in Mr. Ross's house; where six children of various ages were christened in succession. This and other facts I have mentioned respecting these sequestered islands shew the necessity that exists for some inspecting influence being exercised at every place where British subjects are settled. A visit from a man of war, even once only in a year, is sufficient (merely in prospect) to keep bad characters in tolerable check, and would make known at head quarters the more urgent wants of the settlers.
In observing the sun's meridian altitude at this place, the sextants were used, which I have adverted to before (p. 396), and the latitude deduced from their results only differed two or three seconds from that obtained by stars, without using the additional glass: I forgot to say, in speaking of the Galapagos, how useful those instruments were there; enabling us to measure the sun's meridian altitude in an artificial horizon when nearly eighty degrees high. I would not say this in favour of
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my own invention, if I did not feel certain that seamen will find it useful, and that somebody ought to tell them of it, for their own sake. (These sextants were made by Worthington.)
I was informed by the residents that between October and April, they are occasionally visited by severe gales of wind, at times almost hurricanes, so strong as to root up trees, strip the leaves off others, and unroof or blow down houses. These storms begin between south-east and south, and when they abate draw towards the west (by the south) there ending. For those who take interest in the course of storms I subjoin extracts from Mr. Ross's Journal given to me by Leisk. 13 Earthquakes have been felt several times, I was told by Mr. Leisk, but I could get only one extract from the Journal which mentioned a shock. 14
On the 12th we sailed, carrying a good sea-stock of cocoa-nuts, pigs, poultry, pumpkins, and turtle. Maize and sugarcane might have been had, if wanted. We first went round the northern Keeling: --on this island, about a mile across and but a few feet above the ocean, two English vessels have been lost since 1825, and probably other ships met a similar fate
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CURRENT--RETURN TO ENGLAND. April-Nov.
there in earlier years, when its existence was hardly known. We found the current setting towards the north-west, as I had been led to expect; but, from what I could observe, during our stay, as well as from oral information, I am led to believe that the current only sets strongly during about the last half of the flood tide, and the first half of the ebb; and that during the other six hours there is little or no current; as is the case off Cape Horn, and in many other places. 15
Our passage to the Mauritius was slow, but in smooth water. Tropic birds, a few terns, and gannets were seen, at intervals, when passing the neighbourhood of the Chagos Islands, and at our approach to the island Rodriguez. We anchored in Port Louis, at the Mauritius, on the 29th of April: sailed thence on the 9th of May: passed near Madagascar--thence along the African shore--and anchored in Simon's Bay, at the Cape of Good Hope, on the 31st. From that well-known place we went to St. Helena, Ascension, Bahia, Pernambuco, the Cape Verde Islands, and the Azores; and anchored at Falmouth, on the 2d of October, after an absence of four years and nine months from England.
From Falmouth we went to Plymouth; and thence, calling at Portsmouth, to the Thames. On the 28th our anchor was let go at Greenwich; and, after the chronometer rates were ascertained, the Beagle dropped down to Woolwich, where she was paid off on the 17th of November.
Greenwich was the last station at which observations were made; and, singularly enough, Mr. Usborne and his companions came on board as we anchored there. Independent of the gratification of meeting them again, after so wide a separation, it may be supposed how my mind was relieved by his safe return from a very successful expedition, in which he had surveyed the whole coast of Peru, from Atacama to Guayaquil, without loss or accident. Although his own life was seriously risked on two or three occasions, by shots fired under misapprehension; I must not omit to mention that hostilities
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1836. MR. USBORNE'S RETURN-REFLECTIONS.
were suspended for a whole day, at Arica, between the land-forces and an attacking squadron, in order that Mr. Usborne might carry on his operations. Throughout the survey of the Peruvian coast, the cordial assistance of Mr. Wilson, Charge d'affaires at Lima, was found to be of paramount consequence.
I would now speak of the steady support and unvarying help which I received from the officers of the Beagle: but where all did so much, and all contributed so materially to the gatherings of the voyage, it is unnecessary to particularise, farther than by saying that Mr. Stokes's services' hold the first place in my own estimation.
In this long voyage, rather exceeding that of Vancouver, fatal disease was unknown, except in the lamented case of the purser, and in that mentioned at Rio de Janeiro; neither of which had the least reference to the particular service on which the Beagle was employed: and it is perhaps remarkable, that while the Beagle was in commission, between February 1829 and November 1836, no serious illness, brought on or contracted while on service, happened on board; neither did any accident of consequence occur in the ship; nor did any man ever fall overboard during all that time.
The freedom from illness must be attributed, under Providence, to active employment, good clothing, and wholesome food, 16 in healthy, though sometimes disagreeable climates, and our immunity from accident 17 during exposure to a variety of risks, especially in boats, I attribute, referring to visible causes, to the care, attention, and vigilance of the excellent officers whose able assistance was not valued by me more than their sincere friendship.