The Voyage of the Beagle
Charles Darwin

Part 2 out of 11

During the two succeeding days, I reached the furthest
point which I was anxious to examine. The country wore
the same aspect, till at last the fine green turf became more
wearisome than a dusty turnpike road. We everywhere saw
great numbers of partridges (Nothura major). These birds
do not go in coveys, nor do they conceal themselves like
the English kind. It appears a very silly bird. A man on
horseback by riding round and round in a circle, or rather
in a spire, so as to approach closer each time, may knock
on the head as many as he pleases. The more common
method is to catch them with a running noose, or little lazo,
made of the stem of an ostrich's feather, fastened to the
end of a long stick. A boy on a quiet old horse will frequently
thus catch thirty or forty in a day. In Arctic North
America [1] the Indians catch the Varying Hare by walking
spirally round and round it, when on its form: the middle
of the day is reckoned the best time, when the sun is high,
and the shadow of the hunter not very long.

On our return to Maldonado, we followed rather a different
line of road. Near Pan de Azucar, a landmark well
known to all those who have sailed up the Plata, I stayed
a day at the house of a most hospitable old Spaniard. Early
in the morning we ascended the Sierra de las Animas. By
the aid of the rising sun the scenery was almost picturesque.
To the westward the view extended over an immense level
plain as far as the Mount, at Monte Video, and to the eastward,
over the mammillated country of Maldonado. On
the summit of the mountain there were several small heaps
of stones, which evidently had lain there for many years.
My companion assured me that they were the work of the
Indians in the old time. The heaps were similar, but on
a much smaller scale, to those so commonly found on the
mountains of Wales. The desire to signalize any event, on
the highest point of the neighbouring land, seems an universal
passion with mankind. At the present day, not a
single Indian, either civilized or wild, exists in this part
of the province; nor am I aware that the former inhabitants
have left behind them any more permanent records than
these insignificant piles on the summit of the Sierra de las

The general, and almost entire absence of trees in Banda
Oriental is remarkable. Some of the rocky hills are partly
covered by thickets, and on the banks of the larger streams,
especially to the north of Las Minas, willow-trees are not
uncommon. Near the Arroyo Tapes I heard of a wood of
palms; and one of these trees, of considerable size, I saw
near the Pan de Azucar, in lat. 35 degs. These, and the trees
planted by the Spaniards, offer the only exceptions to the
general scarcity of wood. Among the introduced kinds may
be enumerated poplars, olives, peach, and other fruit trees:
the peaches succeed so well, that they afford the main supply
of firewood to the city of Buenos Ayres. Extremely level
countries, such as the Pampas, seldom appear favourable to
the growth of trees. This may possibly be attributed either
to the force of the winds, or the kind of drainage. In the
nature of the land, however, around Maldonado, no such
reason is apparent; the rocky mountains afford protected
situations; enjoying various kinds of soil; streamlets of
water are common at the bottoms of nearly every valley;
and the clayey nature of the earth seems adapted to retain
moisture. It has been inferred with much probability, that
the presence of woodland is generally determined [2] by the
annual amount of moisture; yet in this province abundant
and heavy rain falls during the winter; and the summer,
though dry, is not so in any excessive degree. [3] We see nearly
the whole of Australia covered by lofty trees, yet that country
possesses a far more arid climate. Hence we must look
to some other and unknown cause.

Confining our view to South America, we should certainly
be tempted to believe that trees flourished only under a very
humid climate; for the limit of the forest-land follows, in a
most remarkable manner, that of the damp winds. In the
southern part of the continent, where the western gales,
charged with moisture from the Pacific, prevail, every island
on the broken west coast, from lat. 38 degs. to the extreme
point of Tierra del Fuego, is densely covered by impenetrable
forests. On the eastern side of the Cordillera, over the same
extent of latitude, where a blue sky and a fine climate prove
that the atmosphere has been deprived of its moisture by
passing over the mountains, the arid plains of Patagonia
support a most scanty vegetation. In the more northern
parts of the continent, within the limits of the constant
south-eastern trade-wind, the eastern side is ornamented by
magnificent forests; whilst the western coast, from lat.
4 degs. S. to lat. 32 degs. S., may be described as a
desert; on this western coast, northward of lat. 4 degs.
S., where the trade-wind loses its regularity, and heavy
torrents of rain fall periodically, the shores of the
Pacific, so utterly desert in Peru, assume near Cape
Blanco the character of luxuriance so celebrated at
Guyaquil and Panama. Hence in the southern and northern
parts of the continent, the forest and desert lands occupy
reversed positions with respect to the Cordillera, and these
positions are apparently determined by the direction of the
prevalent winds. In the middle of the continent there is a
broad intermediate band, including central Chile and the
provinces of La Plata, where the rain-bringing winds have
not to pass over lofty mountains, and where the land is neither
a desert nor covered by forests. But even the rule, if
confined to South America, of trees flourishing only in a
climate rendered humid by rain-bearing winds, has a strongly
marked exception in the case of the Falkland Islands. These
islands, situated in the same latitude with Tierra del Fuego
and only between two and three hundred miles distant from
it, having a nearly similar climate, with a geological
formation almost identical, with favourable situations and the
same kind of peaty soil, yet can boast of few plants deserving
even the title of bushes; whilst in Tierra del Fuego it is
impossible to find an acre of land not covered by the densest
forest. In this case, both the direction of the heavy gales
of wind and of the currents of the sea are favourable to
the transport of seeds from Tierra del Fuego, as is shown
by the canoes and trunks of trees drifted from that country,
and frequently thrown on the shores of the Western Falkland.
Hence perhaps it is, that there are many plants in
common to the two countries but with respect to the trees
of Tierra del Fuego, even attempts made to transplant them
have failed.

During our stay at Maldonado I collected several quadrupeds,
eighty kinds of birds, and many reptiles, including
nine species of snakes. Of the indigenous mammalia, the
only one now left of any size, which is common, is the Cervus
campestris. This deer is exceedingly abundant, often in
small herds, throughout the countries bordering the Plata
and in Northern Patagonia. If a person crawling close along
the ground, slowly advances towards a herd, the deer frequently,
out of curiosity, approach to reconnoitre him. I
have by this means, killed from one spot, three out of the
same herd. Although so tame and inquisitive, yet when
approached on horseback, they are exceedingly wary. In this
country nobody goes on foot, and the deer knows man as its
enemy only when he is mounted and armed with the bolas.
At Bahia Blanca, a recent establishment in Northern Patagonia,
I was surprised to find how little the deer cared for
the noise of a gun: one day I fired ten times from within
eighty yards at one animal; and it was much more startled
at the ball cutting up the ground than at the report of
the rifle. My powder being exhausted, I was obliged to
get up (to my shame as a sportsman be it spoken, though
well able to kill birds on the wing) and halloo till the deer
ran away.

The most curious fact with respect to this animal, is the
overpoweringly strong and offensive odour which proceeds
from the buck. It is quite indescribable: several times
whilst skinning the specimen which is now mounted at the
Zoological Museum, I was almost overcome by nausea. I
tied up the skin in a silk pocket-handkerchief, and so carried
it home: this handkerchief, after being well washed, I
continually used, and it was of course as repeatedly washed;
yet every time, for a space of one year and seven months, when
first unfolded, I distinctly perceived the odour. This appears
an astonishing instance of the permanence of some
matter, which nevertheless in its nature must be most subtile
and volatile. Frequently, when passing at the distance of
half a mile to leeward of a herd, I have perceived the whole
air tainted with the effluvium. I believe the smell from the
buck is most powerful at the period when its horns are perfect,
or free from the hairy skin. When in this state the
meat is, of course, quite uneatable; but the Gauchos assert,
that if buried for some time in fresh earth, the taint is
removed. I have somewhere read that the islanders in the
north of Scotland treat the rank carcasses of the fish-eating
birds in the same manner.

The order Rodentia is here very numerous in species:
of mice alone I obtained no less than eight kinds. [4] The
largest gnawing animal in the world, the Hydrochaerus capybara
(the water-hog), is here also common. One which I
shot at Monte Video weighed ninety-eight pounds: its
length from the end of the snout to the stump-like tail, was
three feet two inches; and its girth three feet eight. These
great Rodents occasionally frequent the islands in the mouth
of the Plata, where the water is quite salt, but are far more
abundant on the borders of fresh-water lakes and rivers.
Near Maldonado three or four generally live together. In
the daytime they either lie among the aquatic plants, or
openly feed on the turf plain. [5] When viewed at a distance,
from their manner of walking and colour they resemble pigs:
but when seated on their haunches, and attentively watching
any object with one eye, they reassume the appearance
of their congeners, cavies and rabbits. Both the front and
side view of their head has quite a ludicrous aspect, from
the great depth of their jaw. These animals, at Maldonado,
were very tame; by cautiously walking, I approached within
three yards of four old ones. This tameness may probably
be accounted for, by the Jaguar having been banished for
some years, and by the Gaucho not thinking it worth his
while to hunt them. As I approached nearer and nearer
they frequently made their peculiar noise, which is a low
abrupt grunt, not having much actual sound, but rather arising
from the sudden expulsion of air: the only noise I know
at all like it, is the first hoarse bark of a large dog. Having
watched the four from almost within arm's length (and they
me) for several minutes, they rushed into the water at full
gallop with the greatest impetuosity, and emitted at the
same time their bark. After diving a short distance they
came again to the surface, but only just showed the upper
part of their heads. When the female is swimming in the
water, and has young ones, they are said to sit on her back.
These animals are easily killed in numbers; but their skins
are of trifling value, and the meat is very indifferent. On
the islands in the Rio Parana they are exceedingly abundant,
and afford the ordinary prey to the Jaguar.

The Tucutuco (Ctenomys Brasiliensis) is a curious small
animal, which may be briefly described as a Gnawer, with
the habits of a mole. It is extremely numerous in some
parts of the country, but it is difficult to be procured, and
never, I believe, comes out of the ground. It throws up at
the mouth of its burrows hillocks of earth like those of the
mole, but smaller. Considerable tracts of country are so
completely undermined by these animals, that horses in passing
over, sink above their fetlocks. The tucutucos appear,
to a certain degree, to be gregarious: the man who procured
the specimens for me had caught six together, and he
said this was a common occurrence. They are nocturnal in
their habits; and their principal food is the roots of plants,
which are the object of their extensive and superficial burrows.
This animal is universally known by a very peculiar
noise which it makes when beneath the ground. A person,
the first time he hears it, is much surprised; for it is not
easy to tell whence it comes, nor is it possible to guess what
kind of creature utters it. The noise consists in a short, but
not rough, nasal grunt, which is monotonously repeated
about four times in quick succession: [6] the name Tucutuco is
given in imitation of the sound. Where this animal is
abundant, it may be heard at all times of the day, and sometimes
directly beneath one's feet. When kept in a room, the
tucutucos move both slowly and clumsily, which appears
owing to the outward action of their hind legs; and they are
quite incapable, from the socket of the thigh-bone not having
a certain ligament, of jumping even the smallest vertical
height. They are very stupid in making any attempt to
escape; when angry or frightened they utter the tucutuco.
Of those I kept alive several, even the first day, became
quite tame, not attempting to bite or to run away; others
were a little wilder.

The man who caught them asserted that very many are
invariably found blind. A specimen which I preserved in
spirits was in this state; Mr. Reid considers it to be the
effect of inflammation in the nictitating membrane. When the
animal was alive I placed my finger within half an inch of
its head, and not the slightest notice was taken: it made its
way, however, about the room nearly as well as the others.
Considering the strictly subterranean habits of the tucutuco,
the blindness, though so common, cannot be a very serious
evil; yet it appears strange that any animal should possess
an organ frequently subject to be injured. Lamarck would
have been delighted with this fact, had he known it, when
speculating [7] (probably with more truth than usual with him)
on the gradually _acquired_ blindness of the Asphalax, a
Gnawer living under ground, and of the Proteus, a reptile
living in dark caverns filled with water; in both of which
animals the eye is in an almost rudimentary state, and is
covered by a tendinous membrane and skin. In the common
mole the eye is extraordinarily small but perfect, though
many anatomists doubt whether it is connected with the true
optic nerve; its vision must certainly be imperfect, though
probably useful to the animal when it leaves its burrow. In
the tucutuco, which I believe never comes to the surface of
the ground, the eye is rather larger, but often rendered blind
and useless, though without apparently causing any inconvenience
to the animal; no doubt Lamarck would have said
that the tucutuco is now passing into the state of the
Asphalax and Proteus.

Birds of many kinds are extremely abundant on the undulating,
grassy plains around Maldonado. There are several
species of a family allied in structure and manners to our
Starling: one of these (Molothrus niger) is remarkable from
its habits. Several may often be seen standing together on
the back of a cow or horse; and while perched on a hedge,
pluming themselves in the sun, they sometimes attempt to
sing, or rather to hiss; the noise being very peculiar,
resembling that of bubbles of air passing rapidly from a small
orifice under water, so as to produce an acute sound. According
to Azara, this bird, like the cuckoo, deposits its eggs
in other birds' nests. I was several times told by the country
people that there certainly is some bird having this
habit; and my assistant in collecting, who is a very accurate
person, found a nest of the sparrow of this country (Zonotrichia
matutina), with one egg in it larger than the others,
and of a different colour and shape. In North America
there is another species of Molothrus (M. pecoris), which
has a similar cuckoo-like habit, and which is most closely
allied in every respect to the species from the Plata, even in
such trifling peculiarities as standing on the backs of cattle;
it differs only in being a little smaller, and in its plumage
and eggs being of a slightly different shade of colour. This
close agreement in structure and habits, in representative
species coming from opposite quarters of a great continent,
always strikes one as interesting, though of common

Mr. Swainson has well remarked, [8] that with the exception
of the Molothrus pecoris, to which must be added the
M. niger, the cuckoos are the only birds which can be called
truly parasitical; namely, such as "fasten themselves, as it
were, on another living animal, whose animal heat brings
their young into life, whose food they live upon, and whose
death would cause theirs during the period of infancy." It
is remarkable that some of the species, but not all, both of
the Cuckoo and Molothrus, should agree in this one strange
habit of their parasitical propagation, whilst opposed to each
other in almost every other habit: the molothrus, like our
starling, is eminently sociable, and lives on the open plains
without art or disguise: the cuckoo, as every one knows,
is a singularly shy bird; it frequents the most retired thickets,
and feeds on fruit and caterpillars. In structure also
these two genera are widely removed from each other.
Many theories, even phrenological theories, have been advanced
to explain the origin of the cuckoo laying its eggs in
other birds' nests. M. Prevost alone, I think, has thrown
light by his observations [9] on this puzzle: he finds that the
female cuckoo, which, according to most observers, lays at
least from four to six eggs, must pair with the male each time
after laying only one or two eggs. Now, if the cuckoo was
obliged to sit on her own eggs, she would either have to sit
on all together, and therefore leave those first laid so long,
that they probably would become addled; or she would have
to hatch separately each egg, or two eggs, as soon as laid:
but as the cuckoo stays a shorter time in this country than
any other migratory bird, she certainly would not have time
enough for the successive hatchings. Hence we can perceive
in the fact of the cuckoo pairing several times, and laying
her eggs at intervals, the cause of her depositing her eggs
in other birds' nests, and leaving them to the care of
foster-parents. I am strongly inclined to believe that this
view is correct, from having been independently led (as we
shall hereafter see) to an analogous conclusion with regard
to the South American ostrich, the females of which are
parasitical, if I may so express it, on each other; each
female laying several eggs in the nests of several other
females, and the male ostrich undertaking all the cares
of incubation, like the strange foster-parents with the

I will mention only two other birds, which are very common,
and render themselves prominent from their habits.
The Saurophagus sulphuratus is typical of the great American
tribe of tyrant-flycatchers. In its structure it closely
approaches the true shrikes, but in its habits may be compared
to many birds. I have frequently observed it, hunting
a field, hovering over one spot like a hawk, and then proceeding
on to another. When seen thus suspended in the air,
it might very readily at a short distance be mistaken for one
of the Rapacious order; its stoop, however, is very inferior
in force and rapidity to that of a hawk. At other times
the Saurophagus haunts the neighbourhood of water, and
there, like a kingfisher, remaining stationary, it catches any
small fish which may come near the margin. These birds are
not unfrequently kept either in cages or in courtyards, with
their wings cut. They soon become tame, and are very
amusing from their cunning odd manners, which were
described to me as being similar to those of the common
magpie. Their flight is undulatory, for the weight of the
head and bill appears too great for the body. In the
evening the Saurophagus takes its stand on a bush, often
by the roadside, and continually repeats without a change
a shrill and rather agreeable cry, which somewhat resembles
articulate words: the Spaniards say it is like the words
"Bien te veo" (I see you well), and accordingly have given
it this name.

A mocking-bird (Mimus orpheus), called by the inhabitants
Calandria, is remarkable, from possessing a song far
superior to that of any other bird in the country: indeed, it
is nearly the only bird in South America which I have
observed to take its stand for the purpose of singing. The
song may be compared to that of the Sedge warbler, but
is more powerful; some harsh notes and some very high
ones, being mingled with a pleasant warbling. It is heard
only during the spring. At other times its cry is harsh and
far from harmonious. Near Maldonado these birds were
tame and bold; they constantly attended the country houses
in numbers, to pick the meat which was hung up on the posts
or walls: if any other small bird joined the feast, the
Calandria soon chased it away. On the wide uninhabited plains
of Patagonia another closely allied species, O. Patagonica
of d'Orbigny, which frequents the valleys clothed with
spiny bushes, is a wilder bird, and has a slightly different
tone of voice. It appears to me a curious circumstance, as
showing the fine shades of difference in habits, that judging
from this latter respect alone, when I first saw this second
species, I thought it was different from the Maldonado kind.
Having afterwards procured a specimen, and comparing the
two without particular care, they appeared so very similar,
that I changed my opinion; but now Mr. Gould says that they
are certainly distinct; a conclusion in conformity with the
trifling difference of habit, of which, of course, he was not

The number, tameness, and disgusting habits of the
carrion-feeding hawks of South America make them
pre-eminently striking to any one accustomed only to the birds
of Northern Europe. In this list may be included four species
of the Caracara or Polyborus, the Turkey buzzard, the Gallinazo,
and the Condor. The Caracaras are, from their
structure, placed among the eagles: we shall soon see how
ill they become so high a rank. In their habits they well
supply the place of our carrion-crows, magpies, and ravens;
a tribe of birds widely distributed over the rest of the world,
but entirely absent in South America. To begin with the
Polyborus Brasiliensis: this is a common bird, and has a wide
geographical range; it is most numerous on the grassy savannahs
of La Plata (where it goes by the name of Carrancha),
and is far from unfrequent throughout the sterile plains of
Patagonia. In the desert between the rivers Negro and Colorado,
numbers constantly attend the line of road to devour
the carcasses of the exhausted animals which chance to
perish from fatigue and thirst. Although thus common in
these dry and open countries, and likewise on the arid shores
of the Pacific, it is nevertheless found inhabiting the damp
impervious forests of West Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.
The Carranchas, together with the Chimango, constantly
attend in numbers the estancias and slaughtering-houses. If
an animal dies on the plain the Gallinazo commences the
feast, and then the two species of Polyborus pick the bones
clean. These birds, although thus commonly feeding together,
are far from being friends. When the Carrancha is
quietly seated on the branch of a tree or on the ground, the
Chimango often continues for a long time flying backwards
and forwards, up and down, in a semicircle, trying each time
at the bottom of the curve to strike its larger relative. The
Carrancha takes little notice, except by bobbing its head.
Although the Carranchas frequently assemble in numbers,
they are not gregarious; for in desert places they may be
seen solitary, or more commonly by pairs.

The Carranchas are said to be very crafty, and to steal
great numbers of eggs. They attempt, also, together with
the Chimango, to pick off the scabs from the sore backs of
horses and mules. The poor animal, on the one hand, with
its ears down and its back arched; and, on the other, the
hovering bird, eyeing at the distance of a yard the disgusting
morsel, form a picture, which has been described by Captain
Head with his own peculiar spirit and accuracy. These
false eagles most rarely kill any living bird or animal; and
their vulture-like, necrophagous habits are very evident to
any one who has fallen asleep on the desolate plains of
Patagonia, for when he wakes, he will see, on each surrounding
hillock, one of these birds patiently watching him with an
evil eye: it is a feature in the landscape of these countries,
which will be recognised by every one who has wandered
over them. If a party of men go out hunting with dogs
and horses, they will be accompanied, during the day, by
several of these attendants. After feeding, the uncovered
craw protrudes; at such times, and indeed generally, the
Carrancha is an inactive, tame, and cowardly bird. Its
flight is heavy and slow, like that of an English rook. It
seldom soars; but I have twice seen one at a great height
gliding through the air with much ease. It runs (in
contradistinction to hopping), but not quite so quickly as some
of its congeners. At times the Carrancha is noisy, but is
not generally so: its cry is loud, very harsh and peculiar, and
may be likened to the sound of the Spanish guttural g, followed
by a rough double r r; when uttering this cry it
elevates its head higher and higher, till at last, with its
beak wide open, the crown almost touches the lower part of
the back. This fact, which has been doubted, is quite true;
I have seen them several times with their heads backwards
in a completely inverted position. To these observations I
may add, on the high authority of Azara, that the Carrancha
feeds on worms, shells, slugs, grasshoppers, and frogs; that
it destroys young lambs by tearing the umbilical cord; and
that it pursues the Gallinazo, till that bird is compelled to
vomit up the carrion it may have recently gorged. Lastly,
Azara states that several Carranchas, five or six together,
will unite in chase of large birds, even such as herons. All
these facts show that it is a bird of very versatile habits and
considerable ingenuity.

The Polyborus Chimango is considerably smaller than the
last species. It is truly omnivorous, and will eat even bread;
and I was assured that it materially injures the potato crops
in Chiloe, by stocking up the roots when first planted. Of
all the carrion-feeders it is generally the last which leaves
the skeleton of a dead animal, and may often be seen within
the ribs of a cow or horse, like a bird in a cage. Another
species is the Polyborus Novae Zelandiae, which is exceedingly
common in the Falkland Islands. These birds in many
respects resemble in their habits the Carranchas. They live
on the flesh of dead animals and on marine productions; and
on the Ramirez rocks their whole sustenance must depend
on the sea. They are extraordinarily tame and fearless, and
haunt the neighborhood of houses for offal. If a hunting
party kills an animal, a number soon collect and patiently
await, standing on the ground on all sides. After eating,
their uncovered craws are largely protruded, giving them a
disgusting appearance. They readily attack wounded birds:
a cormorant in this state having taken to the shore, was
immediately seized on by several, and its death hastened
by their blows. The Beagle was at the Falklands only
during the summer, but the officers of the Adventure, who
were there in the winter, mention many extraordinary instances
of the boldness and rapacity of these birds. They
actually pounced on a dog that was lying fast asleep close
by one of the party; and the sportsmen had difficulty in
preventing the wounded geese from being seized before their
eyes. It is said that several together (in this respect
resembling the Carranchas) wait at the mouth of a rabbit-hole,
and together seize on the animal when it comes out. They
were constantly flying on board the vessel when in the harbour;
and it was necessary to keep a good look out to prevent
the leather being torn from the rigging, and the meat or
game from the stern. These birds are very mischievous and
inquisitive; they will pick up almost anything from the
ground; a large black glazed hat was carried nearly a mile,
as was a pair of the heavy balls used in catching cattle. Mr.
Usborne experienced during the survey a more severe loss,
in their stealing a small Kater's compass in a red morocco
leather case, which was never recovered. These birds are,
moreover, quarrelsome and very passionate; tearing up the
grass with their bills from rage. They are not truly gregarious;
they do not soar, and their flight is heavy and clumsy;
on the ground they run extremely fast, very much like
pheasants. They are noisy, uttering several harsh cries, one
of which is like that of the English rook, hence the sealers
always call them rooks. It is a curious circumstance that,
when crying out, they throw their heads upwards and backwards,
after the same manner as the Carrancha. They build
in the rocky cliffs of the sea-coast, but only on the small
adjoining islets, and not on the two main islands: this is a
singular precaution in so tame and fearless a bird. The sealers
say that the flesh of these birds, when cooked, is quite
white, and very good eating; but bold must the man be who
attempts such a meal.

We have now only to mention the turkey-buzzard (Vultur
aura), and the Gallinazo. The former is found wherever
the country is moderately damp, from Cape Horn to North
America. Differently from the Polyborus Brasiliensis and
Chimango, it has found its way to the Falkland Islands. The
turkey-buzzard is a solitary bird, or at most goes in pairs. It
may at once be recognised from a long distance, by its lofty,
soaring, and most elegant flight. It is well known to be a
true carrion-feeder. On the west coast of Patagonia, among
the thickly-wooded islets and broken land, it lives exclusively
on what the sea throws up, and on the carcasses of dead
seals. Wherever these animals are congregated on the rocks,
there the vultures may be seen. The Gallinazo (Cathartes
atratus) has a different range from the last species, as it
never occurs southward of lat. 41 degs. Azara states that
there exists a tradition that these birds, at the time of the
conquest, were not found near Monte Video, but that they
subsequently followed the inhabitants from more northern
districts. At the present day they are numerous in the valley
of the Colorado, which is three hundred miles due south of Monte
Video. It seems probable that this additional migration has
happened since the time of Azara. The Gallinazo generally
prefers a humid climate, or rather the neighbourhood of
fresh water; hence it is extremely abundant in Brazil and
La Plata, while it is never found on the desert and arid
plains of Northern Patagonia, excepting near some stream.
These birds frequent the whole Pampas to the foot of the
Cordillera, but I never saw or heard of one in Chile; in Peru
they are preserved as scavengers. These vultures certainly
may be called gregarious, for they seem to have pleasure in
society, and are not solely brought together by the attraction
of a common prey. On a fine day a flock may often be
observed at a great height, each bird wheeling round and
round without closing its wings, in the most graceful
evolutions. This is clearly performed for the mere pleasure of
the exercise, or perhaps is connected with their matrimonial

I have now mentioned all the carrion-feeders, excepting
the condor, an account of which will be more appropriately
introduced when we visit a country more congenial to its
habits than the plains of La Plata.

In a broad band of sand-hillocks which separate the
Laguna del Potrero from the shores of the Plata, at the
distance of a few miles from Maldonado, I found a group of
those vitrified, siliceous tubes, which are formed by lightning
entering loose sand. These tubes resemble in every particular
those from Drigg in Cumberland, described in the
Geological Transactions. [10] The sand-hillocks of Maldonado
not being protected by vegetation, are constantly changing
their position. From this cause the tubes projected above
the surface, and numerous fragments lying near, showed
that they had formerly been buried to a greater depth. Four
sets entered the sand perpendicularly: by working with
my hands I traced one of them two feet deep; and some
fragments which evidently had belonged to the same tube,
when added to the other part, measured five feet three
inches. The diameter of the whole tube was nearly equal,
and therefore we must suppose that originally it extended to
a much greater depth. These dimensions are however small,
compared to those of the tubes from Drigg, one of which
was traced to a depth of not less than thirty feet.

The internal surface is completely vitrified, glossy, and
smooth. A small fragment examined under the microscope
appeared, from the number of minute entangled air or perhaps
steam bubbles, like an assay fused before the blowpipe.
The sand is entirely, or in greater part, siliceous; but some
points are of a black colour, and from their glossy surface
possess a metallic lustre. The thickness of the wall of the
tube varies from a thirtieth to a twentieth of an inch, and
occasionally even equals a tenth. On the outside the grains
of sand are rounded, and have a slightly glazed appearance:
I could not distinguish any signs of crystallization. In a
similar manner to that described in the Geological Transactions,
the tubes are generally compressed, and have deep
longitudinal furrows, so as closely to resemble a shrivelled
vegetable stalk, or the bark of the elm or cork tree. Their
circumference is about two inches, but in some fragments,
which are cylindrical and without any furrows, it is as much
as four inches. The compression from the surrounding loose
sand, acting while the tube was still softened from the
effects of the intense heat, has evidently caused the creases
or furrows. Judging from the uncompressed fragments, the
measure or bore of the lightning (if such a term may be used)
must have been about one inch and a quarter. At Paris, M.
Hachette and M. Beudant [11] succeeded in making tubes, in
most respects similar to these fulgurites, by passing very
strong shocks of galvanism through finely-powdered glass:
when salt was added, so as to increase its fusibility, the tubes
were larger in every dimension, They failed both with
powdered felspar and quartz. One tube, formed with
pounded glass, was very nearly an inch long, namely .982,
and had an internal diameter of .019 of an inch. When we
hear that the strongest battery in Paris was used, and that
its power on a substance of such easy fusibility as glass was
to form tubes so diminutive, we must feel greatly astonished
at the force of a shock of lightning, which, striking the sand
in several places, has formed cylinders, in one instance of at
least thirty feet long, and having an internal bore, where not
compressed, of full an inch and a half; and this in a material
so extraordinarily refractory as quartz!

The tubes, as I have already remarked, enter the sand
nearly in a vertical direction. One, however, which was less
regular than the others, deviated from a right line, at the
most considerable bend, to the amount of thirty-three degrees.
From this same tube, two small branches, about a
foot apart, were sent off; one pointed downwards, and the
other upwards. This latter case is remarkable, as the electric
fluid must have turned back at the acute angle of 26 degs.,
to the line of its main course. Besides the four tubes which
I found vertical, and traced beneath the surface, there were
several other groups of fragments, the original sites of which
without doubt were near. All occurred in a level area of
shifting sand, sixty yards by twenty, situated among some
high sand-hillocks, and at the distance of about half a mile
from a chain of hills four or five hundred feet in height. The
most remarkable circumstance, as it appears to me, in this
case as well as in that of Drigg, and in one described by
M. Ribbentrop in Germany, is the number of tubes found
within such limited spaces. At Drigg, within an area of
fifteen yards, three were observed, and the same number
occurred in Germany. In the case which I have described,
certainly more than four existed within the space of the
sixty by twenty yards. As it does not appear probable that
the tubes are produced by successive distinct shocks, we must
believe that the lightning, shortly before entering the ground,
divides itself into separate branches.

The neighbourhood of the Rio Plata seems peculiarly subject
to electric phenomena. In the year 1793, [12] one of the
most destructive thunderstorms perhaps on record happened
at Buenos Ayres: thirty-seven places within the city were
struck by lightning, and nineteen people killed. From facts
stated in several books of travels, I am inclined to suspect
that thunderstorms are very common near the mouths of
great rivers. Is it not possible that the mixture of large
bodies of fresh and salt water may disturb the electrical
equilibrium? Even during our occasional visits to this part
of South America, we heard of a ship, two churches, and a
house having been struck. Both the church and the house
I saw shortly afterwards: the house belonged to Mr. Hood,
the consul-general at Monte Video. Some of the effects were
curious: the paper, for nearly a foot on each side of the line
where the bell-wires had run, was blackened. The metal had
been fused, and although the room was about fifteen feet
high, the globules, dropping on the chairs and furniture, had
drilled in them a chain of minute holes. A part of the wall
was shattered, as if by gunpowder, and the fragments had
been blown off with force sufficient to dent the wall on the
opposite side of the room. The frame of a looking-glass was
blackened, and the gilding must have been volatilized, for a
smelling-bottle, which stood on the chimney-piece, was coated
with bright metallic particles, which adhered as firmly as
if they had been enamelled.

[1] Hearne's Journey, p. 383.

[2] Maclaren, art. "America," Encyclop. Brittann.

[3] Azara says, "Je crois que la quantite annuelle des pluies
est, dans toutes ces contrees, plus considerable qu'en Espagne."
-- Vol. i. p. 36.

[4] In South America I collected altogether twenty-seven
species of mice, and thirteen more are known from the works
of Azara and other authors. Those collected by myself have
been named and described by Mr. Waterhouse at the meetings
of the Zoological Society. I must be allowed to take this
opportunity of returning my cordial thanks to Mr. Waterhouse,
and to the other gentleman attached to that Society, for their
kind and most liberal assistance on all occasions.

[5] In the stomach and duodenum of a capybara which I opened
I found a very large quantity of a thin yellowish fluid,
in which scarcely a fibre could be distinguished. Mr. Owen
informs me that a part of the oesophagus is so constructed
that nothing much larger than a crowquill can be passed down.
Certainly the broad teeth and strong jaws of this animal are
well fitted to grind into pulp the aquatic plants on which it

[6] At the R. Negro, in Northern Patagonia, there is an animal
of the same habits, and probably a closely allied species, but
which I never saw. Its noise is different from that of the
Maldonado kind; it is repeated only twice instead of three or
four times, and is more distinct and sonorous; when heard from
a distance it so closely resembles the sound made in cutting
down a small tree with an axe, that I have sometimes remained
in doubt concerning it.

[7] Philosoph. Zoolog., tom. i. p. 242.

[8] Magazine of Zoology and Botany, vol. i. p. 217.

[9] Read before the Academy of Sciences in Paris. L'Institut,
1834, p. 418.

[10] Geolog. Transact. vol. ii. p. 528. In the Philosoph.
Transact. (1790, p. 294) Dr. Priestly has described some
imperfect siliceous tubes and a melted pebble of quartz,
found in digging into the ground, under a tree, where a man
had been killed by lightning.

[11] Annals de Chimie et de Physique, tom. xxxvii. p. 319.

[12] Azara's Voyage, vol. i. p. 36.



Rio Negro -- Estancias attacked by the Indians -- Salt-Lakes --
Flamingoes -- R. Negro to R. Colorado -- Sacred Tree --
Patagonian Hare -- Indian Families -- General Rosas --
Proceed to Bahia Blanca -- Sand Dunes -- Negro Lieutenant --
Bahia Blanca -- Saline Incrustations -- Punta Alta -- Zorillo.

JULY 24th, 1833. -- The Beagle sailed from Maldonado,
and on August the 3rd she arrived off the mouth of the
Rio Negro. This is the principal river on the whole line
of coast between the Strait of Magellan and the Plata. It
enters the sea about three hundred miles south of the estuary
of the Plata. About fifty years ago, under the old Spanish
government, a small colony was established here; and it is
still the most southern position (lat. 41 degs.) on this
eastern coast of America inhabited by civilized man.

The country near the mouth of the river is wretched in
the extreme: on the south side a long line of perpendicular
cliffs commences, which exposes a section of the geological
nature of the country. The strata are of sandstone, and
one layer was remarkable from being composed of a firmly-
cemented conglomerate of pumice pebbles, which must have
travelled more than four hundred miles, from the Andes.
The surface is everywhere covered up by a thick bed of
gravel, which extends far and wide over the open plain.
Water is extremely scarce, and, where found, is almost
invariably brackish. The vegetation is scanty; and although
there are bushes of many kinds, all are armed with formidable
thorns, which seem to warn the stranger not to enter on
these inhospitable regions.

The settlement is situated eighteen miles up the river.
The road follows the foot of the sloping cliff, which forms
the northern boundary of the great valley, in which the Rio
Negro flows. On the way we passed the ruins of some fine
"estancias," which a few years since had been destroyed by
the Indians. They withstood several attacks. A man present
at one gave me a very lively description of what took place.
The inhabitants had sufficient notice to drive all the cattle
and horses into the "corral" [1] which surrounded the house,
and likewise to mount some small cannon. The Indians were
Araucanians from the south of Chile; several hundreds in
number, and highly disciplined. They first appeared in two
bodies on a neighbouring hill; having there dismounted, and
taken off their fur mantles, they advanced naked to the
charge. The only weapon of an Indian is a very long bamboo
or chuzo, ornamented with ostrich feathers, and pointed
by a sharp spearhead. My informer seemed to remember
with the greatest horror the quivering of these chuzos as they
approached near. When close, the cacique Pincheira hailed
the besieged to give up their arms, or he would cut all their
throats. As this would probably have been the result of
their entrance under any circumstances, the answer was
given by a volley of musketry. The Indians, with great
steadiness, came to the very fence of the corral: but to their
surprise they found the posts fastened together by iron nails
instead of leather thongs, and, of course, in vain attempted
to cut them with their knives. This saved the lives of the
Christians: many of the wounded Indians were carried away
by their companions, and at last, one of the under caciques
being wounded, the bugle sounded a retreat. They retired to
their horses, and seemed to hold a council of war. This was
an awful pause for the Spaniards, as all their ammunition,
with the exception of a few cartridges, was expended. In
an instant the Indians mounted their horses, and galloped
out of sight. Another attack was still more quickly repulsed.
A cool Frenchman managed the gun; he stopped till the
Indians approached close, and then raked their line with
grape-shot: he thus laid thirty-nine of them on the ground;
and, of course, such a blow immediately routed the whole

The town is indifferently called El Carmen or Patagones.
It is built on the face of a cliff which fronts the river, and
many of the houses are excavated even in the sandstone.
The river is about two or three hundred yards wide, and is
deep and rapid. The many islands, with their willow-trees,
and the flat headlands, seen one behind the other on the
northern boundary of the broad green valley, form, by the
aid of a bright sun, a view almost picturesque. The number
of inhabitants does not exceed a few hundreds. These Spanish
colonies do not, like our British ones, carry within themselves
the elements of growth. Many Indians of pure blood
reside here: the tribe of the Cacique Lucanee constantly have
their Toldos [2] on the outskirts of the town. The local
government partly supplies them with provisions, by giving them
all the old worn-out horses, and they earn a little by making
horse-rugs and other articles of riding-gear. These Indians
are considered civilized; but what their character may have
gained by a lesser degree of ferocity, is almost counterbalanced
by their entire immorality. Some of the younger men
are, however, improving; they are willing to labour, and a
short time since a party went on a sealing-voyage, and behaved
very well. They were now enjoying the fruits of their
labour, by being dressed in very gay, clean clothes, and by
being very idle. The taste they showed in their dress was
admirable; if you could have turned one of these young
Indians into a statue of bronze, his drapery would have been
perfectly graceful.

One day I rode to a large salt-lake, or Salina, which is
distant fifteen miles from the town. During the winter it
consists of a shallow lake of brine, which in summer is
converted into a field of snow-white salt. The layer near the
margin is from four to five inches thick, but towards the
centre its thickness increases. This lake was two and a half
miles long, and one broad. Others occur in the neighbourhood
many times larger, and with a floor of salt, two and
three feet in thickness, even when under water during the
winter. One of these brilliantly white and level expanses
in the midst of the brown and desolate plain, offers an
extraordinary spectacle. A large quantity of salt is annually
drawn from the salina: and great piles, some hundred
tons in weight, were lying ready for exportation. The season
for working the salinas forms the harvest of Patagones; for
on it the prosperity of the place depends. Nearly the whole
population encamps on the bank of the river, and the people
are employed in drawing out the salt in bullock-waggons,
This salt is crystallized in great cubes, and is remarkably
pure: Mr. Trenham Reeks has kindly analyzed some for me,
and he finds in it only 0.26 of gypsum and 0.22 of earthy
matter. It is a singular fact, that it does not serve so well
for preserving meat as sea-salt from the Cape de Verd
islands; and a merchant at Buenos Ayres told me that he
considered it as fifty per cent. less valuable. Hence the
Cape de Verd salt is constantly imported, and is mixed with
that from these salinas. The purity of the Patagonian salt,
or absence from it of those other saline bodies found in all
sea-water, is the only assignable cause for this inferiority:
a conclusion which no one, I think, would have suspected,
but which is supported by the fact lately ascertained, [3]
that those salts answer best for preserving cheese which
contain most of the deliquescent chlorides.

The border of this lake is formed of mud: and in this
numerous large crystals of gypsum, some of which are three
inches long, lie embedded; whilst on the surface others of
sulphate of soda lie scattered about. The Gauchos call the
former the "Padre del sal," and the latter the "Madre;"
they state that these progenitive salts always occur on the
borders of the salinas, when the water begins to evaporate.
The mud is black, and has a fetid odour. I could not at first
imagine the cause of this, but I afterwards perceived that the
froth which the wind drifted on shore was coloured green,
as if by confervae; I attempted to carry home some of this
green matter, but from an accident failed. Parts of the lake
seen from a short distance appeared of a reddish colour, and
this perhaps was owing to some infusorial animalcula. The
mud in many places was thrown up by numbers of some kind
of worm, or annelidous animal. How surprising it is that
any creatures should be able to exist in brine, and that they
should be crawling among crystals of sulphate of soda and
lime! And what becomes of these worms when, during the
long summer, the surface is hardened into a solid layer of
salt? Flamingoes in considerable numbers inhabit this lake,
and breed here, throughout Patagonia, in Northern Chile,
and at the Galapagos Islands, I met with these birds wherever
there were lakes of brine. I saw them here wading
about in search of food -- probably for the worms which burrow
in the mud; and these latter probably feed on infusoria or
confervae. Thus we have a little living world within itself
adapted to these inland lakes of brine. A minute crustaceous
animal (Cancer salinus) is said [4] to live in countless numbers
in the brine-pans at Lymington: but only in those in which
the fluid has attained, from evaporation, considerable
strength -- namely, about a quarter of a pound of salt to a
pint of water. Well may we affirm that every part of the
world is habitable! Whether lakes of brine, or those
subterranean ones hidden beneath volcanic mountains -- warm
mineral springs -- the wide expanse and depths of the ocean
-- the upper regions of the atmosphere, and even the surface
of perpetual snow -- all support organic beings.

To the northward of the Rio Negro, between it and the
inhabited country near Buenos Ayres, the Spaniards have
only one small settlement, recently established at Bahia
Blanca. The distance in a straight line to Buenos Ayres is
very nearly five hundred British miles. The wandering
tribes of horse Indians, which have always occupied the
greater part of this country, having of late much harassed
the outlying estancias, the government at Buenos Ayres
equipped some time since an army under the command of
General Rosas for the purpose of exterminating them. The
troops were now encamped on the banks of the Colorado;
a river lying about eighty miles northward of the Rio Negro
When General Rosas left Buenos Ayres he struck in a direct
line across the unexplored plains: and as the country was
thus pretty well cleared of Indians, he left behind him, at
wide intervals, a small party of soldiers with a troop of
horses (a posta), so as to be enabled to keep up a communication
with the capital. As the Beagle intended to call at
Bahia Blanca, I determined to proceed there by land; and
ultimately I extended my plan to travel the whole way by
the postas to Buenos Ayres.

August 11th. -- Mr. Harris, an Englishman residing at
Patagones, a guide, and five Gauchos who were proceeding
to the army on business, were my companions on the journey.
The Colorado, as I have already said, is nearly eighty
miles distant: and as we travelled slowly, we were two days
and a half on the road. The whole line of country deserves
scarcely a better name than that of a desert. Water is found
only in two small wells; it is called fresh; but even at this
time of the year, during the rainy season, it was quite brackish.
In the summer this must be a distressing passage; for
now it was sufficiently desolate. The valley of the Rio
Negro, broad as it is, has merely been excavated out of the
sandstone plain; for immediately above the bank on which
the town stands, a level country commences, which is interrupted
only by a few trifling valleys and depressions. Everywhere
the landscape wears the same sterile aspect; a dry
gravelly soil supports tufts of brown withered grass, and
low scattered bushes, armed with thorns.

Shortly after passing the first spring we came in sight of
a famous tree, which the Indians reverence as the altar of
Walleechu. It is situated on a high part of the plain; and
hence is a landmark visible at a great distance. As soon as a
tribe of Indians come in sight of it, they offer their adorations
by loud shouts. The tree itself is low, much branched,
and thorny: just above the root it has a diameter of about
three feet. It stands by itself without any neighbour, and
was indeed the first tree we saw; afterwards we met with a
few others of the same kind, but they were far from common.
Being winter the tree had no leaves, but in their place
numberless threads, by which the various offerings, such as
cigars, bread, meat, pieces of cloth, etc., had been suspended.
Poor Indians, not having anything better, only pull a thread
out of their ponchos, and fasten it to the tree. Richer
Indians are accustomed to pour spirits and mate into a certain
hole, and likewise to smoke upwards, thinking thus to
afford all possible gratification to Walleechu. To complete
the scene, the tree was surrounded by the bleached bones
of horses which had been slaughtered as sacrifices. All
Indians of every age and sex make their offerings; they then
think that their horses will not tire, and that they themselves
shall be prosperous. The Gaucho who told me this, said that
in the time of peace he had witnessed this scene, and that
he and others used to wait till the Indians had passed by, for
the sake of stealing from Walleechu the offerings.

The Gauchos think that the Indians consider the tree as
the god itself, but it seems for more probable that they
regard it as the altar. The only cause which I can imagine
for this choice, is its being a landmark in a dangerous passage.
The Sierra de la Ventana is visible at an immense
distance; and a Gaucho told me that he was once riding with
an Indian a few miles to the north of the Rio Colorado
when the Indian commenced making the same loud noise
which is usual at the first sight of the distant tree, putting
his hand to his head, and then pointing in the direction of the
Sierra. Upon being asked the reason of this, the Indian said
in broken Spanish, "First see the Sierra." About two
leagues beyond this curious tree we halted for the night: at
this instant an unfortunate cow was spied by the lynx-eyed
Gauchos, who set off in full chase, and in a few minutes
dragged her in with their lazos, and slaughtered her. We
here had the four necessaries of life "en el campo," -- pasture
for the horses, water (only a muddy puddle), meat and
firewood. The Gauchos were in high spirits at finding all
these luxuries; and we soon set to work at the poor cow. This
was the first night which I passed under the open sky, with
the gear of the recado for my bed. There is high enjoyment
in the independence of the Gaucho life -- to be able at any
moment to pull up your horse, and say, "Here we will pass
the night." The death-like stillness of the plain, the dogs
keeping watch, the gipsy-group of Gauchos making their
beds round the fire, have left in my mind a strongly-marked
picture of this first night, which will never be forgotten.

The next day the country continued similar to that above
described. It is inhabited by few birds or animals of any
kind. Occasionally a deer, or a Guanaco (wild Llama) may
be seen; but the Agouti (Cavia Patagonica) is the commonest
quadruped. This animal here represents our hares. It
differs, however, from that genus in many essential respects;
for instance, it has only three toes behind. It is also nearly
twice the size, weighing from twenty to twenty-five pounds.
The Agouti is a true friend of the desert; it is a common
feature of the landscape to see two or three hopping quickly
one after the other in a straight line across these wild plains.
They are found as far north as the Sierra Tapalguen (lat.
37 degs. 30'), where the plain rather suddenly becomes greener
and more humid; and their southern limit is between Port
Desire and St. Julian, where there is no change in the nature
of the country. It is a singular fact, that although the
Agouti is not now found as far south as Port St. Julian, yet
that Captain Wood, in his voyage in 1670, talks of them as
being numerous there. What cause can have altered, in a
wide, uninhabited, and rarely-visited country, the range of
an animal like this? It appears also, from the number shot
by Captain Wood in one day at Port Desire, that they must
have been considerably more abundant there formerly than
at present. Where the Bizcacha lives and makes its burrows,
the Agouti uses them; but where, as at Bahia Blanca, the
Bizcacha is not found, the Agouti burrows for itself. The
same thing occurs with the little owl of the Pampas (Athene
cunicularia), which has so often been described as standing
like a sentinel at the mouth of the burrows; for in Banda
Oriental, owing to the absence of the Bizcacha, it is obliged
to hollow out its own habitation.

The next morning, as we approached the Rio Colorado,
the appearance of the country changed; we soon came on a
plain covered with turf, which, from its flowers, tall clover,
and little owls, resembled the Pampas. We passed also a
muddy swamp of considerable extent, which in summer dries,
and becomes incrusted with various salts; and hence is called
a salitral. It was covered by low succulent plants, of the
same kind with those growing on the sea-shore. The Colorado,
at the pass where we crossed it, is only about sixty
yards wide; generally it must be nearly double that width.
Its course is very tortuous, being marked by willow-trees
and beds of reeds: in a direct line the distance to the mouth
of the river is said to be nine leagues, but by water
twenty-five. We were delayed crossing in the canoe by some
immense troops of mares, which were swimming the river in
order to follow a division of troops into the interior. A
more ludicrous spectacle I never beheld than the hundreds
and hundreds of heads, all directed one way, with pointed
ears and distended snorting nostrils, appearing just above
the water like a great shoal of some amphibious animal.
Mare's flesh is the only food which the soldiers have when
on an expedition. This gives them a great facility of movement;
for the distance to which horses can be driven over
these plains is quite surprising: I have been assured that an
unloaded horse can travel a hundred miles a day for many
days successively.

The encampment of General Rosas was close to the river.
It consisted of a square formed by waggons, artillery, straw
huts, etc. The soldiers were nearly all cavalry; and I should
think such a villainous, banditti-like army was never before
collected together. The greater number of men were of a
mixed breed, between Negro, Indian, and Spaniard. I know
not the reason, but men of such origin seldom have a good
expression of countenance. I called on the Secretary to show
my passport. He began to cross-question me in the most
dignified and mysterious manner. By good luck I had a
letter of recommendation from the government of Buenos
Ayres [5] to the commandant of Patagones. This was taken
to General Rosas, who sent me a very obliging message; and
the Secretary returned all smiles and graciousness. We took
up our residence in the _rancho_, or hovel, of a curious old
Spaniard, who had served with Napoleon in the expedition
against Russia.

We stayed two days at the Colorado; I had little to do,
for the surrounding country was a swamp, which in summer
(December), when the snow melts on the Cordillera, is over-
flowed by the river. My chief amusement was watching the
Indian families as they came to buy little articles at the
rancho where we stayed. It was supposed that General
Rosas had about six hundred Indian allies. The men were
a tall, fine race, yet it was afterwards easy to see in the
Fuegian savage the same countenance rendered hideous by
cold, want of food, and less civilization. Some authors,
in defining the primary races of mankind, have separated
these Indians into two classes; but this is certainly
incorrect. Among the young women or chinas, some deserve to
be called even beautiful. Their hair was coarse, but bright
and black; and they wore it in two plaits hanging down
to the waist. They had a high colour, and eyes that
glistened with brilliancy; their legs, feet, and arms were
small and elegantly formed; their ankles, and sometimes
their wrists, were ornamented by broad bracelets of blue
beads. Nothing could be more interesting than some of the
family groups. A mother with one or two daughters would
often come to our rancho, mounted on the same horse. They
ride like men, but with their knees tucked up much higher.
This habit, perhaps, arises from their being accustomed,
when travelling, to ride the loaded horses. The duty of the
women is to load and unload the horses; to make the tents
for the night; in short to be, like the wives of all savages,
useful slaves. The men fight, hunt, take care of the horses,
and make the riding gear. One of their chief indoor occupations
is to knock two stones together till they become round,
in order to make the bolas. With this important weapon the
Indian catches his game, and also his horse, which roams
free over the plain. In fighting, his first attempt is to throw
down the horse of his adversary with the bolas, and when
entangled by the fall to kill him with the chuzo. If the balls
only catch the neck or body of an animal, they are often
carried away and lost. As the making the stones round is
the labour of two days, the manufacture of the balls is a
very common employment. Several of the men and women
had their faces painted red, but I never saw the horizontal
bands which are so common among the Fuegians. Their
chief pride consists in having everything made of silver; I
have seen a cacique with his spurs, stirrups, handle of his
knife, and bridle made of this metal: the head-stall and reins
being of wire, were not thicker than whipcord; and to see a
fiery steed wheeling about under the command of so light
a chain, gave to the horsemanship a remarkable character of

General Rosas intimated a wish to see me; a circumstance
which I was afterwards very glad of. He is a man of an
extraordinary character, and has a most predominant influence
in the country, which it seems he will use to its prosperity
and advancement. [6] He is said to be the owner of
seventy-four square leagues of land, and to have about three
hundred thousand head of cattle. His estates are admirably
managed, and are far more productive of corn than those of
others. He first gained his celebrity by his laws for his own
estancias, and by disciplining several hundred men, so as to
resist with success the attacks of the Indians. There are
many stories current about the rigid manner in which his
laws were enforced. One of these was, that no man, on
penalty of being put into the stocks, should carry his knife
on a Sunday: this being the principal day for gambling and
drinking, many quarrels arose, which from the general manner
of fighting with the knife often proved fatal. One
Sunday the Governor came in great form to pay the estancia
a visit, and General Rosas, in his hurry, walked out to receive
him with his knife, as usual, stuck in his belt. The steward
touched his arm, and reminded him of the law; upon which
turning to the Governor, he said he was extremely sorry, but
that he must go into the stocks, and that till let out, he
possessed no power even in his own house. After a little time
the steward was persuaded to open the stocks, and to let
him out, but no sooner was this done, than he turned to the
steward and said, "You now have broken the laws, so you
must take my place in the stocks." Such actions as these
delighted the Gauchos, who all possess high notions of their
own equality and dignity.

General Rosas is also a perfect horseman -- an accomplishment
of no small consequence In a country where an assembled
army elected its general by the following trial: A troop
of unbroken horses being driven into a corral, were let out
through a gateway, above which was a cross-bar: it was
agreed whoever should drop from the bar on one of these
wild animals, as it rushed out, and should be able, without
saddle or bridle, not only to ride it, but also to bring it back
to the door of the corral, should be their general. The person
who succeeded was accordingly elected; and doubtless
made a fit general for such an army. This extraordinary
feat has also been performed by Rosas.

By these means, and by conforming to the dress and habits
of the Gauchos, he has obtained an unbounded popularity in
the country, and in consequence a despotic power. I was
assured by an English merchant, that a man who had murdered
another, when arrested and questioned concerning his
motive, answered, "He spoke disrespectfully of General
Rosas, so I killed him." At the end of a week the murderer
was at liberty. This doubtless was the act of the general's
party, and not of the general himself.

In conversation he is enthusiastic, sensible, and very
grave. His gravity is carried to a high pitch: I heard one
of his mad buffoons (for he keeps two, like the barons of
old) relate the following anecdote. "I wanted very much to
hear a certain piece of music, so I went to the general two
or three times to ask him; he said to me, 'Go about your
business, for I am engaged.' I went a second time; he said,
'If you come again I will punish you.' A third time I
asked, and he laughed. I rushed out of the tent, but it was
too late -- he ordered two soldiers to catch and stake me. I
begged by all the saints in heaven he would let me off; but it
would not do, -- when the general laughs he spares neither
mad man nor sound." The poor flighty gentleman looked quite
dolorous, at the very recollection of the staking. This is a
very severe punishment; four posts are driven into the
ground, and the man is extended by his arms and legs
horizontally, and there left to stretch for several hours.
The idea is evidently taken from the usual method of drying
hides. My interview passed away, without a smile, and I
obtained a passport and order for the government post-horses,
and this he gave me in the most obliging and ready

In the morning we started for Bahia Blanca, which we
reached in two days. Leaving the regular encampment, we
passed by the toldos of the Indians. These are round like
ovens, and covered with hides; by the mouth of each, a tapering
chuzo was stuck in the ground. The toldos were divided
into separate groups, which belong to the different caciques'
tribes, and the groups were again divided into smaller ones,
according to the relationship of the owners. For several
miles we travelled along the valley of the Colorado. The
alluvial plains on the side appeared fertile, and it is supposed
that they are well adapted to the growth of corn. Turning
northward from the river, we soon entered on a country, differing
from the plains south of the river. The land still continued
dry and sterile: but it supported many different kinds
of plants, and the grass, though brown and withered, was
more abundant, as the thorny bushes were less so. These
latter in a short space entirely disappeared, and the plains
were left without a thicket to cover their nakedness. This
change in the vegetation marks the commencement of the
grand calcareo argillaceous deposit, which forms the wide
extent of the Pampas, and covers the granitic rocks of Banda
Oriental. From the Strait of Magellan to the Colorado, a
distance of about eight hundred miles, the face of the country
is everywhere composed of shingle: the pebbles are
chiefly of porphyry, and probably owe their origin to the
rocks of the Cordillera. North of the Colorado this bed
thins out, and the pebbles become exceedingly small, and
here the characteristic vegetation of Patagonia ceases.

Having ridden about twenty-five miles, we came to a
broad belt of sand-dunes, which stretches, as far as the eye
can reach, to the east and west. The sand-hillocks resting
on the clay, allow small pools of water to collect, and thus
afford in this dry country an invaluable supply of fresh
water. The great advantage arising from depressions and
elevations of the soil, is not often brought home to the mind.
The two miserable springs in the long passage between the
Rio Negro and Colorado were caused by trifling inequalities
in the plain, without them not a drop of water would have
been found. The belt of sand-dunes is about eight miles
wide; at some former period, it probably formed the margin
of a grand estuary, where the Colorado now flows. In this
district, where absolute proofs of the recent elevation of
the land occur, such speculations can hardly be neglected by
any one, although merely considering the physical geography
of the country. Having crossed the sandy tract, we arrived
in the evening at one of the post-houses; and, as the fresh
horses were grazing at a distance we determined to pass
the night there.

The house was situated at the base of a ridge between
one and two hundred feet high -- a most remarkable feature
in this country. This posta was commanded by a negro
lieutenant, born in Africa: to his credit be it said, there
was not a ranche between the Colorado and Buenos Ayres in
nearly such neat order as his. He had a little room for
strangers, and a small corral for the horses, all made of
sticks and reeds; he had also dug a ditch round his house
as a defence in case of being attacked. This would, however,
have been of little avail, if the Indians had come; but
his chief comfort seemed to rest in the thought of selling
his life dearly. A short time before, a body of Indians had
travelled past in the night; if they had been aware of the
posta, our black friend and his four soldiers would assuredly
have been slaughtered. I did not anywhere meet a more
civil and obliging man than this negro; it was therefore
the more painful to see that he would not sit down and eat
with us.

In the morning we sent for the horses very early, and
started for another exhilarating gallop. We passed the
Cabeza del Buey, an old name given to the head of a large
marsh, which extends from Bahia Blanca. Here we changed
horses, and passed through some leagues of swamps and
saline marshes. Changing horses for the last time, we again
began wading through the mud. My animal fell and I was
well soused in black mire -- a very disagreeable accident
when one does not possess a change of clothes. Some miles
from the fort we met a man, who told us that a great gun
had been fired, which is a signal that Indians are near. We
immediately left the road, and followed the edge of a marsh,
which when chased offers the best mode of escape. We
were glad to arrive within the walls, when we found all the
alarm was about nothing, for the Indians turned out to be
friendly ones, who wished to join General Rosas.

Bahia Blanca scarcely deserves the name of a village. A
few houses and the barracks for the troops are enclosed by
a deep ditch and fortified wall. The settlement is only of
recent standing (since 1828); and its growth has been one of
trouble. The government of Buenos Ayres unjustly occupied
it by force, instead of following the wise example of the
Spanish Viceroys, who purchased the land near the older
settlement of the Rio Negro, from the Indians. Hence the
need of the fortifications; hence the few houses and little
cultivated land without the limits of the walls; even the
cattle are not safe from the attacks of the Indians beyond
the boundaries of the plain, on which the fortress stands.

The part of the harbour where the Beagle intended to
anchor being distant twenty-five miles, I obtained from the
Commandant a guide and horses, to take me to see whether
she had arrived. Leaving the plain of green turf, which
extended along the course of a little brook, we soon entered
on a wide level waste consisting either of sand, saline
marshes, or bare mud. Some parts were clothed by low
thickets, and others with those succulent plants, which
luxuriate only where salt abounds. Bad as the country was,
ostriches, deer, agoutis, and armadilloes, were abundant. My
guide told me, that two months before he had a most narrow
escape of his life: he was out hunting with two other men,
at no great distance from this part of the country, when they
were suddenly met by a party of Indians, who giving chase,
soon overtook and killed his two friends. His own horse's
legs were also caught by the bolas, but he jumped off, and
with his knife cut them free: while doing this he was obliged
to dodge round his horse, and received two severe wounds
from their chuzos. Springing on the saddle, he managed, by
a most wonderful exertion, just to keep ahead of the long
spears of his pursuers, who followed him to within sight of
the fort. From that time there was an order that no one
should stray far from the settlement. I did not know of this
when I started, and was surprised to observe how earnestly
my guide watched a deer, which appeared to have been
frightened from a distant quarter.

We found the Beagle had not arrived, and consequently
set out on our return, but the horses soon tiring, we were
obliged to bivouac on the plain. In the morning we had
caught an armadillo, which although a most excellent dish
when roasted in its shell, did not make a very substantial
breakfast and dinner for two hungry men. The ground at
the place where we stopped for the night, was incrusted with
a layer of sulphate of soda, and hence, of course, was without
water. Yet many of the smaller rodents managed to
exist even here, and the tucutuco was making its odd little
grunt beneath my head, during half the night. Our horses
were very poor ones, and in the morning they were soon
exhausted from not having had anything to drink, so that
we were obliged to walk. About noon the dogs killed a kid,
which we roasted. I ate some of it, but it made me intolerably
thirsty. This was the more distressing as the road,
from some recent rain, was full of little puddles of clear
water, yet not a drop was drinkable. I had scarcely been
twenty hours without water, and only part of the time under
a hot sun, yet the thirst rendered me very weak. How people
survive two or three days under such circumstances, I cannot
imagine: at the same time, I must confess that my guide did
not suffer at all, and was astonished that one day's
deprivation should be so troublesome to me.

I have several times alluded to the surface of the ground
being incrusted with salt. This phenomenon is quite
different from that of the salinas, and more extraordinary.
In many parts of South America, wherever the climate is
moderately dry, these incrustations occur; but I have nowhere
seen them so abundant as near Bahia Blanca. The salt here,
and in other parts of Patagonia, consists chiefly of sulphate
of soda with some common salt. As long as the ground
remains moist in the salitrales (as the Spaniards improperly
call them, mistaking this substance for saltpeter), nothing is
to be seen but an extensive plain composed of a black, muddy
soil, supporting scattered tufts of succulent plants. On returning
through one of these tracts, after a week's hot weather,
one is surprised to see square miles of the plain white, as if
from a slight fall of snow, here and there heaped up by the
wind into little drifts. This latter appearance is chiefly
caused by the salts being drawn up, during the slow evaporation
of the moisture, round blades of dead grass, stumps of
wood, and pieces of broken earth, instead of being crystallized
at the bottoms of the puddles of water. The salitrales
occur either on level tracts elevated only a few feet above
the level of the sea, or on alluvial land bordering rivers.
M. Parchappe [7] found that the saline incrustation on the plain,
at the distance of some miles from the sea, consisted chiefly
of sulphate of soda, with only seven per cent. of common
salt; whilst nearer to the coast, the common salt increased
to 37 parts in a hundred. This circumstance would tempt
one to believe that the sulphate of soda is generated in the
soil, from the muriate, left on the surface during the slow
and recent elevation of this dry country. The whole phenomenon
is well worthy the attention of naturalists. Have
the succulent, salt-loving plants, which are well known to
contain much soda, the power of decomposing the muriate?
Does the black fetid mud, abounding with organic matter,
yield the sulphur and ultimately the sulphuric acid?

Two days afterwards I again rode to the harbour: when
not far from our destination, my companion, the same man
as before, spied three people hunting on horseback. He
immediately dismounted, and watching them intently, said,
"They don't ride like Christians, and nobody can leave the
fort." The three hunters joined company, and likewise
dismounted from their horses. At last one mounted again
and rode over the hill out of sight. My companion said,
"We must now get on our horses: load your pistol;" and he
looked to his own sword. I asked, "Are they Indians?" --
"Quien sabe? (who knows?) if there are no more than three,
it does not signify." It then struck me, that the one man
had gone over the hill to fetch the rest of his tribe. I
suggested this; but all the answer I could extort was, "Quien
sabe?" His head and eye never for a minute ceased scanning
slowly the distant horizon. I thought his uncommon
coolness too good a joke, and asked him why he did not
return home. I was startled when he answered, "We are
returning, but in a line so as to pass near a swamp, into
which we can gallop the horses as far as they can go, and
then trust to our own legs; so that there is no danger." I did
not feel quite so confident of this, and wanted to increase
our pace. He said, "No, not until they do." When any
little inequality concealed us, we galloped; but when in sight,
continued walking. At last we reached a valley, and turning
to the left, galloped quickly to the foot of a hill; he gave me
his horse to hold, made the dogs lie down, and then crawled
on his hands and knees to reconnoitre. He remained in this
position for some time, and at last, bursting out in laughter,
exclaimed, "Mugeres!" (women!). He knew them to be
the wife and sister-in-law of the major's son, hunting for
ostrich's eggs. I have described this man's conduct, because
he acted under the full impression that they were Indians.
As soon, however, as the absurd mistake was found out, he
gave me a hundred reasons why they could not have been
Indians; but all these were forgotten at the time. We then
rode on in peace and quietness to a low point called Punta
Alta, whence we could see nearly the whole of the great harbour
of Bahia Blanca.

The wide expanse of water is choked up by numerous
great mud-banks, which the inhabitants call Cangrejales, or
_crabberies_, from the number of small crabs. The mud is so
soft that it is impossible to walk over them, even for the
shortest distance. Many of the banks have their surfaces
covered with long rushes, the tops of which alone are visible
at high water. On one occasion, when in a boat, we were
so entangled by these shallows that we could hardly find
our way. Nothing was visible but the flat beds of mud; the
day was not very clear, and there was much refraction, or
as the sailors expressed it, "things loomed high." The only
object within our view which was not level was the horizon;
rushes looked like bushes unsupported in the air, and water
like mud-banks, and mud-banks like water.

We passed the night in Punta Alta, and I employed myself
in searching for fossil bones; this point being a perfect
catacomb for monsters of extinct races. The evening was
perfectly calm and clear; the extreme monotony of the view
gave it an interest even in the midst of mud-banks and gulls
sand-hillocks and solitary vultures. In riding back in the
morning we came across a very fresh track of a Puma, but
did not succeed in finding it. We saw also a couple of
Zorillos, or skunks, -- odious animals, which are far from
uncommon. In general appearance, the Zorillo resembles a
polecat, but it is rather larger, and much thicker in proportion.
Conscious of its power, it roams by day about the open
plain, and fears neither dog nor man. If a dog is urged to
the attack, its courage is instantly checked by a few drops
of the fetid oil, which brings on violent sickness and running
at the nose. Whatever is once polluted by it, is for
ever useless. Azara says the smell can be perceived at a
league distant; more than once, when entering the harbour
of Monte Video, the wind being off shore, we have perceived
the odour on board the Beagle. Certain it is, that
every animal most willingly makes room for the Zorillo.

[1] The corral is an enclosure made of tall and strong
stakes. Every estancia, or farming estate, has one attached
to it.

[2] The hovels of the Indians are thus called.

[3] Report of the Agricult. Chem. Assoc. in the Agricult.
Gazette, 1845, p. 93.

[4] Linnaean Trans., vol. xi. p. 205. It is remarkable how
all the circumstances connected with the salt-lakes in Siberia
and Patagonia are similar. Siberia, like Patagonia, appears
to have been recently elevated above the waters of the sea.
In both countries the salt-lakes occupy shallow depressions
in the plains; in both the mud on the borders is black and
fetid; beneath the crust of common salt, sulphate of soda or
of magnesium occurs, imperfectly crystallized; and in both,
the muddy sand is mixed with lentils of gypsum. The Siberian
salt-lakes are inhabited by small crustaceous animals; and
flamingoes (Edin. New Philos. Jour., Jan 1830) likewise
frequent them. As these circumstances, apparently so trifling,
occur in two distant continents, we may feel sure that they
are the necessary results of a common cause -- See Pallas's
Travels, 1793 to 1794, pp. 129 - 134.

[5] I am bound to express in the strongest terms, my obligation
to the government of Buenos Ayres for the obliging manner in
which passports to all parts of the country were given me, as
naturalist of the Beagle.

[6] This prophecy has turned out entirely and miserably wrong.

[7] Voyage dans l'Amerique Merid. par M. A. d'Orbigny. Part.
Hist. tom. i. p. 664.



Bahia Blanca -- Geology -- Numerous gigantic Quadrupeds --
Recent Extinction -- Longevity of species -- Large Animals
do not require a luxuriant vegetation -- Southern Africa --
Siberian Fossils -- Two Species of Ostrich -- Habits of
Oven-bird -- Armadilloes -- Venomous Snake, Toad, Lizard --
Hybernation of Animal -- Habits of Sea-Pen -- Indian Wars and
Massacres -- Arrow-head, antiquarian Relic.

The Beagle arrived here on the 24th of August, and a
week afterwards sailed for the Plata. With Captain
Fitz Roy's consent I was left behind, to travel by land
to Buenos Ayres. I will here add some observations, which
were made during this visit and on a previous occasion, when
the Beagle was employed in surveying the harbour.

The plain, at the distance of a few miles from the coast,
belongs to the great Pampean formation, which consists in
part of a reddish clay, and in part of a highly calcareous
marly rock. Nearer the coast there are some plains formed
from the wreck of the upper plain, and from mud, gravel,
and sand thrown up by the sea during the slow elevation of
the land, of which elevation we have evidence in upraised
beds of recent shells, and in rounded pebbles of pumice
scattered over the country. At Punta Alta we have a section of
one of these later-formed little plains, which is highly
interesting from the number and extraordinary character of the
remains of gigantic land-animals embedded in it. These have
been fully described by Professor Owen, in the Zoology of the
voyage of the Beagle, and are deposited in the College of
Surgeons. I will here give only a brief outline of their nature.

First, parts of three heads and other bones of the Megatherium,
the huge dimensions of which are expressed by its
name. Secondly, the Megalonyx, a great allied animal.
Thirdly, the Scelidotherium, also an allied animal, of which
I obtained a nearly perfect skeleton. It must have been as
large as a rhinoceros: in the structure of its head it comes
according to Mr. Owen, nearest to the Cape Anteater, but
in some other respects it approaches to the armadilloes.
Fourthly, the Mylodon Darwinii, a closely related genus of
little inferior size. Fifthly, another gigantic edental quadruped.
Sixthly, a large animal, with an osseous coat in compartments,
very like that of an armadillo. Seventhly, an
extinct kind of horse, to which I shall have again to refer.
Eighthly, a tooth of a Pachydermatous animal, probably the
same with the Macrauchenia, a huge beast with a long neck
like a camel, which I shall also refer to again. Lastly, the
Toxodon, perhaps one of the strangest animals ever discovered:
in size it equalled an elephant or megatherium, but
the structure of its teeth, as Mr. Owen states, proves
indisputably that it was intimately related to the Gnawers, the
order which, at the present day, includes most of the smallest
quadrupeds: in many details it is allied to the Pachydermata:
judging from the position of its eyes, ears, and nostrils,
it was probably aquatic, like the Dugong and Manatee,
to which it is also allied. How wonderfully are the different
Orders, at the present time so well separated, blended together
in different points of the structure of the Toxodon!

The remains of these nine great quadrupeds, and many
detached bones, were found embedded on the beach, within
the space of about 200 yards square. It is a remarkable
circumstance that so many different species should be found
together; and it proves how numerous in kind the ancient
inhabitants of this country must have been. At the distance
of about thirty miles from Punta Alta, in a cliff of red earth,
I found several fragments of bones, some of large size.
Among them were the teeth of a gnawer, equalling in size
and closely resembling those of the Capybara, whose habits
have been described; and therefore, probably, an aquatic
animal. There was also part of the head of a Ctenomys; the
species being different from the Tucutuco, but with a close
general resemblance. The red earth, like that of the Pampas,
in which these remains were embedded, contains, according
to Professor Ehrenberg, eight fresh-water and one salt-water
infusorial animalcule; therefore, probably, it was an estuary

The remains at Punta Alta were embedded in stratified
gravel and reddish mud, just such as the sea might now wash
up on a shallow bank. They were associated with twenty-
three species of shells, of which thirteen are recent and four
others very closely related to recent forms. [1] From the bones
of the Scelidotherium, including even the knee-cap, being
intombed in their proper relative positions, and from the
osseous armour of the great armadillo-like animal being so
well preserved, together with the bones of one of its legs, we
may feel assured that these remains were fresh and united by
their ligaments, when deposited in the gravel together with
the shells. [2] Hence we have good evidence that the above
enumerated gigantic quadrupeds, more different from those
of the present day than the oldest of the tertiary quadrupeds
of Europe, lived whilst the sea was peopled with most
of its present inhabitants; and we have confirmed that remarkable
law so often insisted on by Mr. Lyell, namely, that
the "longevity of the species in the mammalia is upon the
whole inferior to that of the testacea." [3]

The great size of the bones of the Megatheroid animals,
including the Megatherium, Megalonyx, Scelidotherium, and
Mylodon, is truly wonderful. The habits of life of these
animals were a complete puzzle to naturalists, until Professor
Owen [4] solved the problem with remarkable ingenuity. The
teeth indicate, by their simple structure, that these Megatheroid
animals lived on vegetable food, and probably on the
leaves and small twigs of trees; their ponderous forms and
great strong curved claws seem so little adapted for locomotion,
that some eminent naturalists have actually believed,
that, like the sloths, to which they are intimately related,
they subsisted by climbing back downwards on trees, and
feeding on the leaves. It was a bold, not to say preposterous,
idea to conceive even antediluvian trees, with branches
strong enough to bear animals as large as elephants. Professor
Owen, with far more probability, believes that, instead
of climbing on the trees, they pulled the branches down to
them, and tore up the smaller ones by the roots, and so fed on
the leaves. The colossal breadth and weight of their hinder
quarters, which can hardly be imagined without having been
seen, become on this view, of obvious service, instead of
being an incumbrance: their apparent clumsiness disappears.
With their great tails and their huge heels firmly fixed like
a tripod on the ground, they could freely exert the full force
of their most powerful arms and great claws. Strongly
rooted, indeed, must that tree have been, which could have
resisted such force! The Mylodon, moreover, was furnished
with a long extensile tongue like that of the giraffe, which,
by one of those beautiful provisions of nature, thus reaches
with the aid of its long neck its leafy food. I may remark,
that in Abyssinia the elephant, according to Bruce, when it
cannot reach with its proboscis the branches, deeply scores
with its tusks the trunk of the tree, up and down and all
round, till it is sufficiently weakened to be broken down.

The beds including the above fossil remains, stand only
from fifteen to twenty feet above the level of high-water;
and hence the elevation of the land has been small (without
there has been an intercalated period of subsidence, of which
we have no evidence) since the great quadrupeds wandered
over the surrounding plains; and the external features of
the country must then have been very nearly the same as
now. What, it may naturally be asked, was the character
of the vegetation at that period; was the country as wretchedly
sterile as it now is? As so many of the co-embedded
shells are the same with those now living in the bay, I was
at first inclined to think that the former vegetation was
probably similar to the existing one; but this would have
been an erroneous inference for some of these same shells
live on the luxuriant coast of Brazil; and generally, the
character of the inhabitants of the sea are useless as guides
to judge of those on the land. Nevertheless, from the following
considerations, I do not believe that the simple fact
of many gigantic quadrupeds having lived on the plains
round Bahia Blanca, is any sure guide that they formerly
were clothed with a luxuriant vegetation: I have no doubt
that the sterile country a little southward, near the Rio
Negro, with its scattered thorny trees, would support many
and large quadrupeds.

That large animals require a luxuriant vegetation, has
been a general assumption which has passed from one work
to another; but I do not hesitate to say that it is completely
false, and that it has vitiated the reasoning of geologists
on some points of great interest in the ancient history of
the world. The prejudice has probably been derived from
India, and the Indian islands, where troops of elephants,
noble forests, and impenetrable jungles, are associated together
in every one's mind. If, however, we refer to any
work of travels through the southern parts of Africa, we
shall find allusions in almost every page either to the desert
character of the country, or to the numbers of large animals
inhabiting it. The same thing is rendered evident
by the many engravings which have been published of various
parts of the interior. When the Beagle was at Cape
Town, I made an excursion of some days' length into the
country, which at least was sufficient to render that which
I had read more fully intelligible.

Dr. Andrew Smith, who, at the head of his adventurous
party, has lately succeeded in passing the Tropic of Capricorn,
informs me that, taking into consideration the whole
of the southern part of Africa, there can be no doubt of its
being a sterile country. On the southern and south-eastern
coasts there are some fine forests, but with these exceptions,
the traveller may pass for days together through open plains,
covered by a poor and scanty vegetation. It is difficult to
convey any accurate idea of degrees of comparative fertility;
but it may be safely said that the amount of vegetation
supported at any one time [5] by Great Britain, exceeds,
perhaps even tenfold, the quantity on an equal area, in the
interior parts of Southern Africa. The fact that bullock-
waggons can travel in any direction, excepting near the
coast, without more than occasionally half an hour's delay
in cutting down bushes, gives, perhaps, a more definite notion
of the scantiness of the vegetation. Now, if we look to the
animals inhabiting these wide plains, we shall find their
numbers extraordinarily great, and their bulk immense. We
must enumerate the elephant, three species of rhinoceros,
and probably, according to Dr. Smith, two others, the hippopotamus,
the giraffe, the bos caffer -- as large as a full-grown
bull, and the elan -- but little less, two zebras, and the
quaccha, two gnus, and several antelopes even larger than these
latter animals. It may be supposed that although the species
are numerous, the individuals of each kind are few.
By the kindness of Dr. Smith, I am enabled to show that
the case is very different. He informs me, that in lat. 24 degs.,
in one day's march with the bullock-waggons, he saw, without
wandering to any great distance on either side, between
one hundred and one hundred and fifty rhinoceroses, which
belonged to three species: the same day he saw several herds
of giraffes, amounting together to nearly a hundred; and
that although no elephant was observed, yet they are found
in this district. At the distance of a little more than one
hour's march from their place of encampment on the previous
night, his party actually killed at one spot eight
hippopotamuses, and saw many more. In this same river there
were likewise crocodiles. Of course it was a case quite
extraordinary, to see so many great animals crowded together,
but it evidently proves that they must exist in great numbers.
Dr. Smith describes the country passed through that
day, as "being thinly covered with grass, and bushes about
four feet high, and still more thinly with mimosa-trees."
The waggons were not prevented travelling in a nearly
straight line.

Besides these large animals, every one the least acquainted
with the natural history of the Cape, has read of
the herds of antelopes, which can be compared only with the
flocks of migratory birds. The numbers indeed of the lion,
panther, and hyaena, and the multitude of birds of prey,
plainly speak of the abundance of the smaller quadrupeds:
one evening seven lions were counted at the same time prowling
round Dr. Smith's encampment. As this able naturalist
remarked to me, the carnage each day in Southern Africa
must indeed be terrific! I confess it is truly surprising how
such a number of animals can find support in a country
producing so little food. The larger quadrupeds no doubt
roam over wide tracts in search of it; and their food chiefly
consists of underwood, which probably contains much nutriment
in a small bulk. Dr. Smith also informs me that the
vegetation has a rapid growth; no sooner is a part consumed,
than its place is supplied by a fresh stock. There can be
no doubt, however, that our ideas respecting the apparent
amount of food necessary for the support of large quadrupeds
are much exaggerated: it should have been remembered
that the camel, an animal of no mean bulk, has always been
considered as the emblem of the desert.

The belief that where large quadrupeds exist, the vegetation
must necessarily be luxuriant, is the more remarkable,
because the converse is far from true. Mr. Burchell observed
to me that when entering Brazil, nothing struck him more
forcibly than the splendour of the South American vegetation
contrasted with that of South Africa, together with
the absence of all large quadrupeds. In his Travels, [6] he has
suggested that the comparison of the respective weights (if
there were sufficient data) of an equal number of the largest
herbivorous quadrupeds of each country would be extremely
curious. If we take on the one side, the elephant, [7] hippopotamus,
giraffe, bos caffer, elan, certainly three, and probably
five species of rhinoceros; and on the American side,
two tapirs, the guanaco, three deer, the vicuna, peccari,
capybara (after which we must choose from the monkeys to
complete the number), and then place these two groups
alongside each other, it is not easy to conceive ranks more
disproportionate in size. After the above facts, we are compelled
to conclude, against anterior probability, [8] that among
the mammalia there exists no close relation between the
bulk of the species, and the _quantity_ of the vegetation, in
the countries which they inhabit.

With regard to the number of large quadrupeds, there
certainly exists no quarter of the globe which will bear
comparison with Southern Africa. After the different statements
which have been given, the extremely desert character
of that region will not be disputed. In the European division
of the world, we must look back to the tertiary epochs,
to find a condition of things among the mammalia, resembling
that now existing at the Cape of Good Hope. Those
tertiary epochs, which we are apt to consider as abounding
to an astonishing degree with large animals, because we
find the remains of many ages accumulated at certain spots,
could hardly boast of more large quadrupeds than Southern
Africa does at present. If we speculate on the condition
of the vegetation during these epochs we are at least bound
so far to consider existing analogies, as not to urge as
absolutely necessary a luxuriant vegetation, when we see
a state of things so totally different at the Cape of Good

We know [9] that the extreme regions of North America,
many degrees beyond the limit where the ground at the depth
of a few feet remains perpetually congealed, are covered by
forests of large and tall trees. In a like manner, in Siberia,
we have woods of birch, fir, aspen, and larch, growing in a
latitude [10] (64 degs.) where the mean temperature of the
air falls below the freezing point, and where the earth is so
completely frozen, that the carcass of an animal embedded in it
is perfectly preserved. With these facts we must grant, as
far as _quantity alone_ of vegetation is concerned, that the
great quadrupeds of the later tertiary epochs might, in most
parts of Northern Europe and Asia, have lived on the spots
where their remains are now found. I do not here speak of
the kind of vegetation necessary for their support; because,
as there is evidence of physical changes, and as the animals
have become extinct, so may we suppose that the species of
plants have likewise been changed.

These remarks, I may be permitted to add, directly bear
on the case of the Siberian animals preserved in ice. The
firm conviction of the necessity of a vegetation possessing
a character of tropical luxuriance, to support such large
animals, and the impossibility of reconciling this with the
proximity of perpetual congelation, was one chief cause of
the several theories of sudden revolutions of climate, and of
overwhelming catastrophes, which were invented to account
for their entombment. I am far from supposing that the
climate has not changed since the period when those animals
lived, which now lie buried in the ice. At present I
only wish to show, that as far as _quantity_ of food _alone_ is
concerned, the ancient rhinoceroses might have roamed over
the _steppes_ of central Siberia (the northern parts probably
being under water) even in their present condition, as well
as the living rhinoceroses and elephants over the _Karros_
of Southern Africa.

I will now give an account of the habits of some of the
more interesting birds which are common on the wild plains
of Northern Patagonia: and first for the largest, or South
American ostrich. The ordinary habits of the ostrich are
familiar to every one. They live on vegetable matter, such
as roots and grass; but at Bahia Blanca I have repeatedly
seen three or four come down at low water to the extensive
mud-banks which are then dry, for the sake, as the Gauchos
say, of feeding on small fish. Although the ostrich in its
habits is so shy, wary, and solitary, and although so fleet
in its pace, it is caught without much difficulty by the Indian
or Gaucho armed with the bolas. When several horsemen
appear in a semicircle, it becomes confounded, and does
not know which way to escape. They generally prefer running
against the wind; yet at the first start they expand
their wings, and like a vessel make all sail. On one fine
hot day I saw several ostriches enter a bed of tall rushes,
where they squatted concealed, till quite closely approached.
It is not generally known that ostriches readily take to the
water. Mr. King informs me that at the Bay of San Blas,
and at Port Valdes in Patagonia, he saw these birds swimming
several times from island to island. They ran into
the water both when driven down to a point, and likewise
of their own accord when not frightened: the distance
crossed was about two hundred yards. When swimming,
very little of their bodies appear above water; their necks
are extended a little forward, and their progress is slow.
On two occasions I saw some ostriches swimming across the
Santa Cruz river, where its course was about four hundred
yards wide, and the stream rapid. Captain Sturt, [11] when
descending the Murrumbidgee, in Australia, saw two emus
in the act of swimming.

The inhabitants of the country readily distinguish, even
at a distance, the cock bird from the hen. The former is
larger and darker-coloured, [12] and has a bigger head. The
ostrich, I believe the cock, emits a singular, deep-toned,
hissing note: when first I heard it, standing in the midst of
some sand-hillocks, I thought it was made by some wild
beast, for it is a sound that one cannot tell whence it comes,
or from how far distant. When we were at Bahia Blanca
in the months of September and October, the eggs, in
extraordinary numbers, were found all over the country. They
lie either scattered and single, in which case they are never
hatched, and are called by the Spaniards huachos; or they
are collected together into a shallow excavation, which forms
the nest. Out of the four nests which I saw, three contained
twenty-two eggs each, and the fourth twenty-seven.
In one day's hunting on horseback sixty-four eggs were
found; forty-four of these were in two nests, and the remaining
twenty, scattered huachos. The Gauchos unanimously
affirm, and there is no reason to doubt their statement,
that the male bird alone hatches the eggs, and for
some time afterwards accompanies the young. The cock
when on the nest lies very close; I have myself almost
ridden over one. It is asserted that at such times they
are occasionally fierce, and even dangerous, and that they
have been known to attack a man on horseback, trying to
kick and leap on him. My informer pointed out to me an old
man, whom he had seen much terrified by one chasing him. I
observe in Burchell's travels in South Africa, that he remarks,
"Having killed a male ostrich, and the feathers being
dirty, it was said by the Hottentots to be a nest bird." I
understand that the male emu in the Zoological Gardens
takes charge of the nest: this habit, therefore, is common
to the family.

The Gauchos unanimously affirm that several females
lay in one nest. I have been positively told that four or
five hen birds have been watched to go in the middle of the
day, one after the other, to the same nest. I may add, also,
that it is believed in Africa, that two or more females lay
in one nest. [13] Although this habit at first appears very
strange, I think the cause may be explained in a simple
manner. The number of eggs in the nest varies from twenty
to forty, and even to fifty; and according to Azara, some
times to seventy or eighty. Now, although it is most probable,
from the number of eggs found in one district being
so extraordinarily great in proportion to the parent birds,
and likewise from the state of the ovarium of the hen, that
she may in the course of the season lay a large number, yet
the time required must be very long. Azara states, [14] that a
female in a state of domestication laid seventeen eggs, each
at the interval of three days one from another. If the hen
was obliged to hatch her own eggs, before the last was laid
the first probably would be addled; but if each laid a few
eggs at successive periods, in different nests, and several
hens, as is stated to be the case, combined together, then
the eggs in one collection would be nearly of the same age.
If the number of eggs in one of these nests is, as I believe,
not greater on an average than the number laid by one
female in the season, then there must be as many nests as
females, and each cock bird will have its fair share of the
labour of incubation; and that during a period when the
females probably could not sit, from not having finished
laying. [15] I have before mentioned the great numbers of
huachos, or deserted eggs; so that in one day's hunting
twenty were found in this state. It appears odd that so
many should be wasted. Does it not arise from the difficulty
of several females associating together, and finding a male
ready to undertake the office of incubation? It is evident
that there must at first be some degree of association between
at least two females; otherwise the eggs would remain
scattered over the wide plain, at distances far too great to
allow of the male collecting them into one nest: some authors
have believed that the scattered eggs were deposited
for the young birds to feed on. This can hardly be the case
in America, because the huachos, although often found
addled and putrid, are generally whole.

When at the Rio Negro in Northern Patagonia, I repeatedly
heard the Gauchos talking of a very rare bird which
they called Avestruz Petise. They described it as being less
than the common ostrich (which is there abundant), but
with a very close general resemblance. They said its colour
was dark and mottled, and that its legs were shorter, and
feathered lower down than those of the common ostrich.
It is more easily caught by the bolas than the other species.
The few inhabitants who had seen both kinds, affirmed they
could distinguish them apart from a long distance. The
eggs of the small species appeared, however, more generally
known; and it was remarked, with surprise, that they were
very little less than those of the Rhea, but of a slightly
different form, and with a tinge of pale blue. This species occurs
most rarely on the plains bordering the Rio Negro; but about
a degree and a half further south they are tolerably abundant.
When at Port Desire, in Patagonia (lat. 48 degs.), Mr.
Martens shot an ostrich; and I looked at it, forgetting at
the moment, in the most unaccountable manner, the whole
subject of the Petises, and thought it was a not full-grown
bird of the common sort. It was cooked and eaten before
my memory returned. Fortunately the head, neck, legs,
wings, many of the larger feathers, and a large part of the
skin, had been preserved; and from these a very nearly perfect
specimen has been put together, and is now exhibited
in the museum of the Zoological Society. Mr. Gould, in
describing this new species, has done me the honour of
calling it after my name.


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