The Voyage of the Beagle
Charles Darwin

Part 4 out of 11

named by the Spaniards scissor-tail, is very common near
Buenos Ayres: it commonly sits on a branch of the _ombu_
tree, near a house, and thence takes a short flight in pursuit
of insects, and returns to the same spot. When on the wing
it presents in its manner of flight and general appearance
a caricature-likeness of the common swallow. It has the
power of turning very shortly in the air, and in so doing
opens and shuts its tail, sometimes in a horizontal or lateral
and sometimes in a vertical direction, just like a pair of

October 16th. -- Some leagues below Rozario, the western
shore of the Parana is bounded by perpendicular cliffs,
which extend in a long line to below San Nicolas; hence it
more resembles a sea-coast than that of a fresh-water river.
It is a great drawback to the scenery of the Parana, that,
from the soft nature of its banks, the water is very muddy.
The Uruguay, flowing through a granitic country, is much
clearer; and where the two channels unite at the head of
the Plata, the waters may for a long distance be distinguished
by their black and red colours. In the evening, the
wind being not quite fair, as usual we immediately moored,
and the next day, as it blew rather freshly, though with a
favouring current, the master was much too indolent to think
of starting. At Bajada, he was described to me as "hombre
muy aflicto" -- a man always miserable to get on; but certainly
he bore all delays with admirable resignation. He
was an old Spaniard, and had been many years in this
country. He professed a great liking to the English, but
stoutly maintained that the battle of Trafalgar was merely
won by the Spanish captains having been all bought over;
and that the only really gallant action on either side was
performed by the Spanish admiral. It struck me as rather
characteristic, that this man should prefer his countrymen
being thought the worst of traitors, rather than unskilful or

18th and 19th. -- We continued slowly to sail down the
noble stream: the current helped us but little. We met,
during our descent, very few vessels. One of the best gifts
of nature, in so grand a channel of communication, seems
here wilfully thrown away -- a river in which ships might
navigate from a temperate country, as surprisingly abundant
in certain productions as destitute of others, to another
possessing a tropical climate, and a soil which, according to
the best of judges, M. Bonpland, is perhaps unequalled in
fertility in any part of the world. How different would
have been the aspect of this river if English colonists had
by good fortune first sailed up the Plata! What noble towns
would now have occupied its shores! Till the death of
Francia, the Dictator of Paraguay, these two countries must
remain distinct, as if placed on opposite sides of the globe.
And when the old bloody-minded tyrant is gone to his long
account, Paraguay will be torn by revolutions, violent in
proportion to the previous unnatural calm. That country
will have to learn, like every other South American state,
that a republic cannot succeed till it contains a certain body
of men imbued with the principles of justice and honour.

October 20th. -- Being arrived at the mouth of the Parana,
and as I was very anxious to reach Buenos Ayres, I went
on shore at Las Conchas, with the intention of riding there.
Upon landing, I found to my great surprise that I was to
a certain degree a prisoner. A violent revolution having
broken out, all the ports were laid under an embargo. I
could not return to my vessel, and as for going by land to
the city, it was out of the question. After a long conversation
with the commandant, I obtained permission to go the
next day to General Rolor, who commanded a division of
the rebels on this side the capital. In the morning I rode
to the encampment. The general, officers, and soldiers, all
appeared, and I believe really were, great villains. The
general, the very evening before he left the city, voluntarily
went to the Governor, and with his hand to his heart, pledged
his word of honour that he at least would remain faithful
to the last. The general told me that the city was in a state
of close blockade, and that all he could do was to give me
a passport to the commander-in-chief of the rebels at Quilmes.
We had therefore to take a great sweep round the
city, and it was with much difficulty that we procured horses.
My reception at the encampment was quite civil, but I was
told it was impossible that I could be allowed to enter the
city. I was very anxious about this, as I anticipated the
Beagle's departure from the Rio Plata earlier than it took
place. Having mentioned, however, General Rosas's obliging
kindness to me when at the Colorado, magic itself could
not have altered circumstances quicker than did this
conversation. I was instantly told that though they could not
give me a passport, if I chose to leave my guide and horses,
I might pass their sentinels. I was too glad to accept of
this, and an officer was sent with me to give directions that
I should not be stopped at the bridge. The road for the
space of a league was quite deserted. I met one party of
soldiers, who were satisfied by gravely looking at an old
passport: and at length I was not a little pleased to find
myself within the city.

This revolution was supported by scarcely any pretext of
grievances: but in a state which, in the course of nine months
(from February to October, 1820), underwent fifteen
changes in its government -- each governor, according to the
constitution, being elected for three years -- it would be very
unreasonable to ask for pretexts. In this case, a party of
men -- who, being attached to Rosas, were disgusted with
the governor Balcarce -- to the number of seventy left the
city, and with the cry of Rosas the whole country took arms.
The city was then blockaded, no provisions, cattle or horses,
were allowed to enter; besides this, there was only a little
skirmishing, and a few men daily killed. The outside party
well knew that by stopping the supply of meat they would
certainly be victorious. General Rosas could not have known
of this rising; but it appears to be quite consonant with the
plans of his party. A year ago he was elected governor, but
he refused it, unless the Sala would also confer on him
extraordinary powers. This was refused, and since then
his party have shown that no other governor can keep his
place. The warfare on both sides was avowedly protracted
till it was possible to hear from Rosas. A note arrived a
few days after I left Buenos Ayres, which stated that the
General disapproved of peace having been broken, but that
he thought the outside party had justice on their side. On
the bare reception of this, the Governor, ministers, and part
of the military, to the number of some hundreds, fled from
the city. The rebels entered, elected a new governor, and
were paid for their services to the number of 5500 men.
From these proceedings, it was clear that Rosas ultimately
would become the dictator: to the term king, the people in
this, as in other republics, have a particular dislike. Since
leaving South America, we have heard that Rosas has
been elected, with powers and for a time altogether opposed
to the constitutional principles of the republic.

[1] The bizcacha (Lagostomus trichodactylus) somewhat resembles
a large rabbit, but with bigger gnawing teeth and a long tail;
it has, however, only three toes behind, like the agouti. During
the last three or four years the skins of these animals have
been sent to England for the sake of the fur.

[2] Journal of Asiatic Soc., vol. v. p. 363.

[3] I need hardly state here that there is good evidence
against any horse living in America at the time of Columbus.

[4] Cuvier. Ossemens Fossils, tom. i. p. 158.

[5] This is the geographical division followed by Lichtenstein,
Swainson, Erichson, and Richardson. The section from Vera Cruz
to Acapulco, given by Humboldt in the Polit. Essay on Kingdom
of N. Spain will show how immense a barrier the Mexican
table-land forms. Dr. Richardson, in his admirable Report on
the Zoology of N. America read before the Brit. Assoc. 1836
(p. 157), talking of the identification of a Mexican animal
with the Synetheres prehensilis, says, "We do not know with
what propriety, but if correct, it is, if not a solitary
instance, at least very nearly so, of a rodent animal being
common to North and South America."

[6] See Dr. Richardson's Report, p. 157; also L'Institut,
1837, p. 253. Cuvier says the kinkajou is found in the larger
Antilles, but this is doubtful. M. Gervais states that the
Didelphis crancrivora is found there. It is certain that the
West Indies possess some mammifers peculiar to themselves. A
tooth of a mastadon has been brought from Bahama; Edin. New
Phil. Journ., 1826, p. 395.

[7] See the admirable Appendix by Dr. Buckland to Beechey's
Voyage; also the writings of Chamisso in Kotzebue's Voyage.

[8] In Captain Owen's Surveying Voyage (vol. ii. p. 274)
there is a curious account of the effects of a drought on the
elephants, at Benguela (west coast of Africa). "A number of
these animals had some time since entered the town, in a body,
to possess themselves of the wells, not being able to procure
any water in the country. The inhabitants mustered, when a
desperate conflict ensued, which terminated in the ultimate
discomfiture of the invaders, but not until they had killed
one man, and wounded several others." The town is said to
have a population of nearly three thousand! Dr. Malcolmson
informs me that, during a great drought in India, the wild
animals entered the tents of some troops at Ellore, and that
a hare drank out of a vessel held by the adjutant of the

[9] Travels, vol. i. p. 374.

[10] These droughts to a certain degree seem to be almost
periodical; I was told the dates of several others, and the
intervals were about fifteen years.



Excursion to Colonia del Sacramiento -- Value of an Estancia --
Cattle, how counted -- Singular Breed of Oxen -- Perforated
Pebbles -- Shepherd Dogs -- Horses broken-in, Gauchos
riding -- Character of Inhabitants -- Rio Plata -- Flocks of
Butterflies -- Aeronaut Spiders -- Phosphorescence of the
Sea -- Port Desire -- Guanaco -- Port St. Julian -- Geology
of Patagonia -- Fossil gigantic Animal -- Types of Organization
constant -- Change in the Zoology of America -- Causes of

HAVING been delayed for nearly a fortnight in the
city, I was glad to escape on board a packet bound
for Monte Video. A town in a state of blockade
must always be a disagreeable place of residence; in this case
moreover there were constant apprehensions from robbers
within. The sentinels were the worst of all; for, from
their office and from having arms in their hands, they robbed
with a degree of authority which other men could not

Our passage was a very long and tedious one. The Plata
looks like a noble estuary on the map; but is in truth a poor
affair. A wide expanse of muddy water has neither grandeur
nor beauty. At one time of the day, the two shores,
both of which are extremely low, could just be distinguished
from the deck. On arriving at Monte Video I found that
the Beagle would not sail for some time, so I prepared for a
short excursion in this part of Banda Oriental. Everything
which I have said about the country near Maldonado is applicable
to Monte Video; but the land, with the one exception
of the Green Mount 450 feet high, from which it takes
its name, is far more level. Very little of the undulating
grassy plain is enclosed; but near the town there are a few
hedge-banks, covered with agaves, cacti, and fennel.

November 14th. -- We left Monte Video in the afternoon.
I intended to proceed to Colonia del Sacramiento, situated
on the northern bank of the Plata and opposite to Buenos
Ayres, and thence, following up the Uruguay, to the village
of Mercedes on the Rio Negro (one of the many rivers of
this name in South America), and from this point to return
direct to Monte Video. We slept at the house of my guide
at Canelones. In the morning we rose early, in the hopes
of being able to ride a good distance; but it was a vain
attempt, for all the rivers were flooded. We passed in boats
the streams of Canelones, St. Lucia, and San Jose, and thus
lost much time. On a former excursion I crossed the Lucia
near its mouth, and I was surprised to observe how easily
our horses, although not used to swim, passed over a width
of at least six hundred yards. On mentioning this at Monte
Video, I was told that a vessel containing some mountebanks
and their horses, being wrecked in the Plata, one horse
swam seven miles to the shore. In the course of the day I
was amused by the dexterity with which a Gaucho forced
a restive horse to swim a river. He stripped off his clothes,
and jumping on its back, rode into the water till it was out
of its depth; then slipping off over the crupper, he caught
hold of the tail, and as often as the horse turned round
the man frightened it back by splashing water in its face.
As soon as the horse touched the bottom on the other side,
the man pulled himself on, and was firmly seated, bridle
in hand, before the horse gained the bank. A naked man
on a naked horse is a fine spectacle; I had no idea how well
the two animals suited each other. The tail of a horse is a
very useful appendage; I have passed a river in a boat with
four people in it, which was ferried across in the same way
as the Gaucho. If a man and horse have to cross a broad
river, the best plan is for the man to catch hold of the pommel
or mane, and help himself with the other arm.

We slept and stayed the following day at the post of
Cufre. In the evening the postman or letter-carrier arrived.
He was a day after his time, owing to the Rio Rozario being
flooded. It would not, however, be of much consequence;
for, although he had passed through some of the principal
towns in Banda Oriental, his luggage consisted of two letters!
The view from the house was pleasing; an undulating
green surface, with distant glimpses of the Plata. I find
that I look at this province with very different eyes from
what I did upon my first arrival. I recollect I then thought
it singularly level; but now, after galloping over the Pampas,
my only surprise is, what could have induced me ever
to call it level. The country is a series of undulations, in
themselves perhaps not absolutely great, but, as compared
to the plains of St. Fe, real mountains. From these
inequalities there is an abundance of small rivulets, and
the turf is green and luxuriant.

November 17th. -- We crossed the Rozario, which was
deep and rapid, and passing the village of Colla, arrived
at midday at Colonia del Sacramiento. The distance is
twenty leagues, through a country covered with fine grass,
but poorly stocked with cattle or inhabitants. I was invited
to sleep at Colonia, and to accompany on the following
day a gentleman to his estancia, where there were some
limestone rocks. The town is built on a stony promontory
something in the same manner as at Monte Video. It is
strongly fortified, but both fortifications and town suffered
much in the Brazilian war. It is very ancient; and the
irregularity of the streets, and the surrounding groves of
old orange and peach trees, gave it a pretty appearance.
The church is a curious ruin; it was used as a powder-
magazine, and was struck by lightning in one of the ten
thousand thunderstorms of the Rio Plata. Two-thirds of
the building were blown away to the very foundation; and
the rest stands a shattered and curious monument of the
united powers of lightning and gunpowder. In the evening
I wandered about the half-demolished walls of the town. It
was the chief seat of the Brazilian war; -- a war most injurious
to this country, not so much in its immediate effects,
as in being the origin of a multitude of generals and all
other grades of officers. More generals are numbered (but
not paid) in the United Provinces of La Plata than in the
United Kingdom of Great Britain. These gentlemen have
learned to like power, and do not object to a little
skirmishing. Hence there are many always on the watch to
create disturbance and to overturn a government which as yet
has never rested on any staple foundation. I noticed, however,
both here and in other places, a very general interest
in the ensuing election for the President; and this appears
a good sign for the prosperity of this little country. The
inhabitants do not require much education in their
representatives; I heard some men discussing the merits of those
for Colonia; and it was said that, "although they were not
men of business, they could all sign their names:" with this
they seemed to think every reasonable man ought to be

18th. -- Rode with my host to his estancia, at the Arroyo
de San Juan. In the evening we took a ride round the
estate: it contained two square leagues and a half, and was
situated in what is called a rincon; that is, one side was
fronted by the Plata, and the two others guarded by impassable
brooks. There was an excellent port for little vessels,
and an abundance of small wood, which is valuable
as supplying fuel to Buenos Ayres. I was curious to know
the value of so complete an estancia. Of cattle there were
3000, and it would well support three or four times that
number; of mares 800, together with 150 broken-in horses,
and 600 sheep. There was plenty of water and limestone,
a rough house, excellent corrals, and a peach orchard. For
all this he had been offered 2000 Pounds, and he only wanted
500 Pounds additional, and probably would sell it for less. The
chief trouble with an estancia is driving the cattle twice a
week to a central spot, in order to make them tame, and to count
them. This latter operation would be thought difficult,
where there are ten or fifteen thousand head together. It
is managed on the principle that the cattle invariably divide
themselves into little troops of from forty to one hundred.
Each troop is recognized by a few peculiarly marked
animals, and its number is known: so that, one being lost
out of ten thousand, it is perceived by its absence from one
of the tropillas. During a stormy night the cattle all mingle
together; but the next morning the tropillas separate as
before; so that each animal must know its fellow out of ten
thousand others.

On two occasions I met with in this province some oxen
of a very curious breed, called nata or niata. They appear
externally to hold nearly the same relation to other cattle,
which bull or pug dogs do to other dogs. Their forehead
is very short and broad, with the nasal end turned up, and
the upper lip much drawn back; their lower jaws project
beyond the upper, and have a corresponding upward curve;
hence their teeth are always exposed. Their nostrils are
seated high up and are very open; their eyes project outwards.
When walking they carry their heads low, on a short
neck; and their hinder legs are rather longer compared
with the front legs than is usual. Their bare teeth, their
short heads, and upturned nostrils give them the most ludicrous
self-confident air of defiance imaginable.

Since my return, I have procured a skeleton head,
through the kindness of my friend Captain Sulivan, R. N.,
which is now deposited in the College of Surgeons. [1] Don
F. Muniz, of Luxan, has kindly collected for me all the
information which he could respecting this breed. From his
account it seems that about eighty or ninety years ago, they
were rare and kept as curiosities at Buenos Ayres. The
breed is universally believed to have originated amongst
the Indians southward of the Plata; and that it was with
them the commonest kind. Even to this day, those reared
in the provinces near the Plata show their less civilized
origin, in being fiercer than common cattle, and in the cow
easily deserting her first calf, if visited too often or
molested. It is a singular fact that an almost similar structure
to the abnormal [2] one of the niata breed, characterizes, as I
am informed by Dr. Falconer, that great extinct ruminant
of India, the Sivatherium. The breed is very _true_; and a
niata bull and cow invariably produce niata calves. A niata
bull with a common cow, or the reverse cross, produces offspring
having an intermediate character, but with the niata
characters strongly displayed: according to Senor Muniz,
there is the clearest evidence, contrary to the common belief
of agriculturists in analogous cases, that the niata cow when
crossed with a common bull transmits her peculiarities more
strongly than the niata bull when crossed with a common
cow. When the pasture is tolerably long, the niata cattle
feed with the tongue and palate as well as common cattle;
but during the great droughts, when so many animals perish,
the niata breed is under a great disadvantage, and would
be exterminated if not attended to; for the common cattle,
like horses, are able just to keep alive, by browsing with
their lips on twigs of trees and reeds; this the niatas cannot
so well do, as their lips do not join, and hence they are found
to perish before the common cattle. This strikes me as a
good illustration of how little we are able to judge from the
ordinary habits of life, on what circumstances, occurring
only at long intervals, the rarity or extinction of a species
may be determined.

November 19th. -- Passing the valley of Las Vacas, we
slept at a house of a North American, who worked a lime-
kiln on the Arroyo de las Vivoras. In the morning we rode
to a protecting headland on the banks of the river, called
Punta Gorda. On the way we tried to find a jaguar. There
were plenty of fresh tracks, and we visited the trees, on
which they are said to sharpen their claws; but we did not
succeed in disturbing one. From this point the Rio Uruguay
presented to our view a noble volume of water. From
the clearness and rapidity of the stream, its appearance was
far superior to that of its neighbour the Parana. On the
opposite coast, several branches from the latter river entered
the Uruguay. As the sun was shining, the two colours of
the waters could be seen quite distinct.

In the evening we proceeded on our road towards Mercedes
on the Rio Negro. At night we asked permission to
sleep at an estancia at which we happened to arrive. It was
a very large estate, being ten leagues square, and the owner
is one of the greatest landowners in the country. His nephew
had charge of it, and with him there was a captain in
the army, who the other day ran away from Buenos Ayres.
Considering their station, their conversation was rather
amusing. They expressed, as was usual, unbounded astonishment
at the globe being round, and could scarcely credit
that a hole would, if deep enough, come out on the other
side. They had, however, heard of a country where there
were six months of light and six of darkness, and where
the inhabitants were very tall and thin! They were curious
about the price and condition of horses and cattle in England.
Upon finding out we did not catch our animals with
the lazo, they cried out, "Ah, then, you use nothing but
the bolas:" the idea of an enclosed country was quite new
to them. The captain at last said, he had one question to
ask me, which he should be very much obliged if I would
answer with all truth. I trembled to think how deeply scientific
it would be: it was, "Whether the ladies of Buenos
Ayres were not the handsomest in the world." I replied, like
a renegade, "Charmingly so." He added, "I have one other
question: Do ladies in any other part of the world wear
such large combs?" I solemnly assured him that they did
not. They were absolutely delighted. The captain exclaimed,
"Look there! a man who has seen half the world
says it is the case; we always thought so, but now we know
it." My excellent judgment in combs and beauty procured
me a most hospitable reception; the captain forced me to
take his bed, and he would sleep on his recado.

21st. -- Started at sunrise, and rode slowly during the
whole day. The geological nature of this part of the province
was different from the rest, and closely resembled that
of the Pampas. In consequence, there were immense beds
of the thistle, as well as of the cardoon: the whole country,
indeed, may be called one great bed of these plants. The
two sorts grow separate, each plant in company with its
own kind. The cardoon is as high as a horse's back, but the
Pampas thistle is often higher than the crown of the rider's
head. To leave the road for a yard is out of the question;
and the road itself is partly, and in some cases entirely
closed. Pasture, of course there is none; if cattle or horses
once enter the bed, they are for the time completely lost.
Hence it is very hazardous to attempt to drive cattle at
this season of the year; for when jaded enough to face the
thistles, they rush among them, and are seen no more. In
these districts there are very few estancias, and these few
are situated in the neighbourhood of damp valleys, where
fortunately neither of these overwhelming plants can exist.
As night came on before we arrived at our journey's end,
we slept at a miserable little hovel inhabited by the poorest
people. The extreme though rather formal courtesy of our
host and hostess, considering their grade of life, was quite

November 22nd. -- Arrived at an estancia on the Berquelo
belonging to a very hospitable Englishman, to whom I had
a letter of introduction from my friend Mr. Lumb. I stayed
here three days. One morning I rode with my host to the
Sierra del Pedro Flaco, about twenty miles up the Rio
Negro. Nearly the whole country was covered with good
though coarse grass, which was as high as a horse's belly;
yet there were square leagues without a single head of cattle.
The province of Banda Oriental, if well stocked, would support
an astonishing number of animals, at present the annual
export of hides from Monte Video amounts to three
hundred thousand; and the home consumption, from waste,
is very considerable. An "estanciero" told me that he often
had to send large herds of cattle a long journey to a salting
establishment, and that the tired beasts were frequently
obliged to be killed and skinned; but that he could never
persuade the Gauchos to eat of them, and every evening
a fresh beast was slaughtered for their suppers! The view
of the Rio Negro from the Sierra was more picturesque than
any other which I saw in this province. The river, broad,
deep, and rapid, wound at the foot of a rocky precipitous
cliff: a belt of wood followed its course, and the horizon
terminated in the distant undulations of the turf-plain.

When in this neighbourhood, I several times heard of
the Sierra de las Cuentas: a hill distant many miles to the
northward. The name signifies hill of beads. I was assured
that vast numbers of little round stones, of various colours,
each with a small cylindrical hole, are found there. Formerly
the Indians used to collect them, for the purpose of
making necklaces and bracelets -- a taste, I may observe,
which is common to all savage nations, as well as to the most
polished. I did not know what to understand from this
story, but upon mentioning it at the Cape of Good Hope
to Dr. Andrew Smith, he told me that he recollected finding
on the south-eastern coast of Africa, about one hundred
miles to the eastward of St. John's river, some quartz crystals
with their edges blunted from attrition, and mixed with
gravel on the sea-beach. Each crystal was about five lines
in diameter, and from an inch to an inch and a half in
length. Many of them had a small canal extending from
one extremity to the other, perfectly cylindrical, and of a
size that readily admitted a coarse thread or a piece of fine
catgut. Their colour was red or dull white. The natives
were acquainted with this structure in crystals. I have
mentioned these circumstances because, although no crystallized
body is at present known to assume this form, it may
lead some future traveller to investigate the real nature of
such stones.

While staying at this estancia, I was amused with what
I saw and heard of the shepherd-dogs of the country. [3] When
riding, it is a common thing to meet a large flock of sheep
guarded by one or two dogs, at the distance of some miles
from any house or man. I often wondered how so firm a
friendship had been established. The method of education
consists in separating the puppy, while very young, from
the bitch, and in accustoming it to its future companions.
An ewe is held three or four times a day for the little thing
to suck, and a nest of wool is made for it in the sheep-pen;
at no time is it allowed to associate with other dogs, or with
the children of the family. The puppy is, moreover, generally
castrated; so that, when grown up, it can scarcely
have any feelings in common with the rest of its kind. From
this education it has no wish to leave the flock, and just
as another dog will defend its master, man, so will these
the sheep. It is amusing to observe, when approaching a
flock, how the dog immediately advances barking, and the
sheep all close in his rear, as if round the oldest ram. These
dogs are also easily taught to bring home the flock, at a
certain hour in the evening. Their most troublesome fault,
when young, is their desire of playing with the sheep; for
in their sport they sometimes gallop their poor subjects most

The shepherd-dog comes to the house every day for some
meat, and as soon as it is given him, he skulks away as if
ashamed of himself. On these occasions the house-dogs are
very tyrannical, and the least of them will attack and pursue
the stranger. The minute, however, the latter has reached
the flock, he turns round and begins to bark, and then all
the house-dogs take very quickly to their heels. In a similar
manner a whole pack of the hungry wild dogs will scarcely
ever (and I was told by some never) venture to attack a
flock guarded by even one of these faithful shepherds. The
whole account appears to me a curious instance of the pliability
of the affections in the dog; and yet, whether wild or
however educated, he has a feeling of respect or fear for
those that are fulfilling their instinct of association. For
we can understand on no principle the wild dogs being
driven away by the single one with its flock, except that they
consider, from some confused notion, that the one thus
associated gains power, as if in company with its own kind.
F. Cuvier has observed that all animals that readily enter
into domestication, consider man as a member of their own
society, and thus fulfil their instinct of association. In
the above case the shepherd-dog ranks the sheep as its fellow-
brethren, and thus gains confidence; and the wild dogs,
though knowing that the individual sheep are not dogs, but
are good to eat, yet partly consent to this view when seeing
them in a flock with a shepherd-dog at their head.

One evening a "domidor" (a subduer of horses) came
for the purpose of breaking-in some colts. I will describe
the preparatory steps, for I believe they have not been
mentioned by other travellers. A troop of wild young horses
is driven into the corral, or large enclosure of stakes, and
the door is shut. We will suppose that one man alone has
to catch and mount a horse, which as yet had never felt
bridle or saddle. I conceive, except by a Gaucho, such a feat
would be utterly impracticable. The Gaucho picks out a
full-grown colt; and as the beast rushes round the circus
he throws his lazo so as to catch both the front legs. Instantly
the horse rolls over with a heavy shock, and whilst
struggling on the ground, the Gaucho, holding the lazo
tight, makes a circle, so as to catch one of the hind legs
just beneath the fetlock, and draws it close to the two front
legs: he then hitches the lazo, so that the three are bound
together. Then sitting on the horse's neck, he fixes a strong
bridle, without a bit, to the lower jaw: this he does by passing
a narrow thong through the eye-holes at the end of the
reins, and several times round both jaw and tongue. The
two front legs are now tied closely together with a strong
leathern thong, fastened by a slip-knot. The lazo, which
bound the three together, being then loosed, the horse rises
with difficulty. The Gaucho now holding fast the bridle
fixed to the lower jaw, leads the horse outside the corral. If
a second man is present (otherwise the trouble is much
greater) he holds the animal's head, whilst the first puts on
the horsecloths and saddle, and girths the whole together.
During this operation, the horse, from dread and astonishment
at thus being bound round the waist, throws himself
over and over again on the ground, and, till beaten, is
unwilling to rise. At last, when the saddling is finished, the
poor animal can hardly breathe from fear, and is white with
foam and sweat. The man now prepares to mount by pressing
heavily on the stirrup, so that the horse may not lose
its balance; and at the moment that he throws his leg over
the animal's back, he pulls the slip-knot binding the front
legs, and the beast is free. Some "domidors" pull the knot
while the animal is lying on the ground, and, standing over
the saddle, allow him to rise beneath them. The horse, wild
with dread, gives a few most violent bounds, and then starts
off at full gallop: when quite exhausted, the man, by patience,
brings him back to the corral, where, reeking hot and
scarcely alive, the poor beast is let free. Those animals
which will not gallop away, but obstinately throw themselves
on the ground, are by far the most troublesome. This process
is tremendously severe, but in two or three trials the horse
is tamed. It is not, however, for some weeks that the animal
is ridden with the iron bit and solid ring, for it must learn
to associate the will of its rider with the feel of the rein,
before the most powerful bridle can be of any service.

Animals are so abundant in these countries, that humanity
and self-interest are not closely united; therefore I
fear it is that the former is here scarcely known. One day,
riding in the Pampas with a very respectable "estanciero,"
my horse, being tired, lagged behind. The man often shouted
to me to spur him. When I remonstrated that it was a pity,
for the horse was quite exhausted, he cried out, "Why not?
-- never mind -- spur him -- it is my horse." I had then some
difficulty in making him comprehend that it was for the
horse's sake, and not on his account, that I did not choose
to use my spurs. He exclaimed, with a look of great surprise,
"Ah, Don Carlos, que cosa!" It was clear that such
an idea had never before entered his head.

The Gauchos are well known to be perfect riders The
idea of being thrown, let the horse do what it likes; never
enters their head. Their criterion of a good rider is, a man
who can manage an untamed colt, or who, if his horse falls,
alights on his own feet, or can perform other such exploits.
I have heard of a man betting that he would throw his horse
down twenty times, and that nineteen times he would not
fall himself. I recollect seeing a Gaucho riding a very
stubborn horse, which three times successively reared so
high as to fall backwards with great violence. The man
judged with uncommon coolness the proper moment for
slipping off, not an instant before or after the right time;
and as soon as the horse got up, the man jumped on his back,
and at last they started at a gallop. The Gaucho never appears
to exert any muscular force. I was one day watching
a good rider, as we were galloping along at a rapid pace,
and thought to myself, "Surely if the horse starts, you
appear so careless on your seat, you must fall." At this moment,
a male ostrich sprang from its nest right beneath the
horse's nose: the young colt bounded on one side like a stag;
but as for the man, all that could be said was, that he started
and took fright with his horse.

In Chile and Peru more pains are taken with the mouth
of the horse than in La Plata, and this is evidently a
consequence of the more intricate nature of the country. In
Chile a horse is not considered perfectly broken, till he can
be brought up standing, in the midst of his full speed, on
any particular spot, -- for instance, on a cloak thrown on
the ground: or, again, he will charge a wall, and rearing,
scrape the surface with his hoofs. I have seen an animal
bounding with spirit, yet merely reined by a fore-finger and
thumb, taken at full gallop across a courtyard, and then
made to wheel round the post of a veranda with great speed,
but at so equal a distance, that the rider, with outstretched
arm, all the while kept one finger rubbing the post. Then
making a demi-volte in the air, with the other arm outstretched
in a like manner, he wheeled round, with astonishing
force, in an opposite direction.

Such a horse is well broken; and although this at first
may appear useless, it is far otherwise. It is only carrying
that which is daily necessary into perfection. When a bullock
is checked and caught by the lazo, it will sometimes
gallop round and round in a circle, and the horse being
alarmed at the great strain, if not well broken, will not
readily turn like the pivot of a wheel. In consequence many
men have been killed; for if the lazo once takes a twist
round a man's body, it will instantly, from the power of the
two opposed animals, almost cut him in twain. On the
same principle the races are managed; the course is only
two or three hundred yards long, the wish being to have
horses that can make a rapid dash. The race-horses are
trained not only to stand with their hoofs touching a line,
but to draw all four feet together, so as at the first spring
to bring into play the full action of the hind-quarters. In
Chile I was told an anecdote, which I believe was true; and
it offers a good illustration of the use of a well-broken
animal. A respectable man riding one day met two others, one
of whom was mounted on a horse, which he knew to have
been stolen from himself. He challenged them; they answered
him by drawing their sabres and giving chase. The
man, on his good and fleet beast, kept just ahead: as he
passed a thick bush he wheeled round it, and brought up
his horse to a dead check. The pursuers were obliged to
shoot on one side and ahead. Then instantly dashing on,
right behind them, he buried his knife in the back of one,
wounded the other, recovered his horse from the dying
robber, and rode home. For these feats of horsemanship
two things are necessary: a most severe bit, like the Mameluke,
the power of which, though seldom used, the horse
knows full well; and large blunt spurs, that can be applied
either as a mere touch, or as an instrument of extreme pain.
I conceive that with English spurs, the slightest touch of
which pricks the skin, it would be impossible to break in a
horse after the South American fashion.

At an estancia near Las Vacas large numbers of mares
are weekly slaughtered for the sake of their hides, although
worth only five paper dollars, or about half a crown apiece.
It seems at first strange that it can answer to kill mares
for such a trifle; but as it is thought ridiculous in this
country ever to break in or ride a mare, they are of no value
except for breeding. The only thing for which I ever saw
mares used, was to tread out wheat from the ear, for which
purpose they were driven round a circular enclosure, where
the wheat-sheaves were strewed. The man employed for
slaughtering the mares happened to be celebrated for his
dexterity with the lazo. Standing at the distance of twelve
yards from the mouth of the corral, he has laid a wager
that he would catch by the legs every animal, without missing
one, as it rushed past him. There was another man
who said he would enter the corral on foot, catch a mare,
fasten her front legs together, drive her out, throw her down,
kill, skin, and stake the hide for drying (which latter is a
tedious job); and he engaged that he would perform this
whole operation on twenty-two animals in one day. Or he
would kill and take the skin off fifty in the same time. This
would have been a prodigious task, for it is considered a
good day's work to skin and stake the hides of fifteen or
sixteen animals.

November 26th. -- I set out on my return in a direct line
for Monte Video. Having heard of some giant's bones at
a neighbouring farm-house on the Sarandis, a small stream
entering the Rio Negro, I rode there accompanied by my
host, and purchased for the value of eighteen pence the head
of the Toxodon. [4] When found it was quite perfect; but
the boys knocked out some of the teeth with stones, and then
set up the head as a mark to throw at. By a most fortunate
chance I found a perfect tooth, which exactly fitted one of
the sockets in this skull, embedded by itself on the banks
of the Rio Tercero, at the distance of about 180 miles from
this place. I found remains of this extraordinary animal
at two other places, so that it must formerly have been common.
I found here, also, some large portions of the armour
of a gigantic armadillo-like animal, and part of the great
head of a Mylodon. The bones of this head are so fresh,
that they contain, according to the analysis by Mr. T. Reeks,
seven per cent of animal matter; and when placed in a
spirit-lamp, they burn with a small flame. The number
of the remains embedded in the grand estuary deposit which
forms the Pampas and covers the granitic rocks of Banda
Oriental, must be extraordinarily great. I believe a straight
line drawn in any direction through the Pampas would cut
through some skeleton or bones. Besides those which I
found during my short excursions, I heard of many others,
and the origin of such names as "the stream of the animal,"
"the hill of the giant," is obvious. At other times I heard
of the marvellous property of certain rivers, which had the
power of changing small bones into large; or, as some
maintained, the bones themselves grew. As far as I am aware,
not one of these animals perished, as was formerly supposed,
in the marshes or muddy river-beds of the present land, but
their bones have been exposed by the streams intersecting the
subaqueous deposit in which they were originally embedded.
We may conclude that the whole area of the Pampas is one
wide sepulchre of these extinct gigantic quadrupeds.

By the middle of the day, on the 28th, we arrived at
Monte Video, having been two days and a half on the road.
The country for the whole way was of a very uniform character,
some parts being rather more rocky and hilly than
near the Plata. Not far from Monte Video we passed
through the village of Las Pietras, so named from some
large rounded masses of syenite. Its appearance was rather
pretty. In this country a few fig-trees round a group of
houses, and a site elevated a hundred feet above the general
level, ought always to be called picturesque.

During the last six months I have had an opportunity of
seeing a little of the character of the inhabitants of these
provinces. The Gauchos, or countryrmen, are very superior
to those who reside in the towns. The Gaucho is invariably
most obliging, polite, and hospitable: I did not meet with
even one instance of rudeness or inhospitality. He is modest,
both respecting himself and country, but at the same
time a spirited, bold fellow. On the other hand, many robberies
are committed, and there is much bloodshed: the
habit of constantly wearing the knife is the chief cause
of the latter. It is lamentable to hear how many lives are
lost in trifling quarrels. In fighting, each party tries to
mark the face of his adversary by slashing his nose or eyes;
as is often attested by deep and horrid-looking scars. Robberies
are a natural consequence of universal gambling,
much drinking, and extreme indolence. At Mercedes I asked
two men why they did not work. One gravely said the days
were too long; the other that he was too poor. The number
of horses and the profusion of food are the destruction of
all industry. Moreover, there are so many feast-days; and
again, nothing can succeed without it be begun when the
moon is on the increase; so that half the month is lost from
these two causes.

Police and justice are quite inefficient. If a man who is
poor commits murder and is taken, he will be imprisoned,
and perhaps even shot; but if he is rich and has friends,
he may rely on it no very severe consequence will ensue.
It is curious that the most respectable inhabitants of the
country invariably assist a murderer to escape: they seem
to think that the individual sins against the government,
and not against the people. A traveller has no protection
besides his fire-arms; and the constant habit of carrying
them is the main check to more frequent robberies.
The character of the higher and more educated classes
who reside in the towns, partakes, but perhaps in a lesser
degree, of the good parts of the Gaucho, but is, I fear, stained
by many vices of which he is free. Sensuality, mockery of
all religion, and the grossest corruption, are far from
uncommon. Nearly every public officer can be bribed. The
head man in the post-office sold forged government franks.
The governor and prime minister openly combined to plunder
the state. Justice, where gold came into play, was
hardly expected by any one. I knew an Englishman, who
went to the Chief Justice (he told me, that not then
understanding the ways of the place, he trembled as he entered
the room), and said, "Sir, I have come to offer you two hundred
(paper) dollars (value about five pounds sterling) if
you will arrest before a certain time a man who has cheated
me. I know it is against the law, but my lawyer (naming
him) recommended me to take this step." The Chief Justice
smiled acquiescence, thanked him, and the man before
night was safe in prison. With this entire want of principle
in many of the leading men, with the country full of
ill-paid turbulent officers, the people yet hope that a
democratic form of government can succeed!

On first entering society in these countries, two or three
features strike one as particularly remarkable. The polite
and dignified manners pervading every rank of life, the
excellent taste displayed by the women in their dresses, and
the equality amongst all ranks. At the Rio Colorado some
men who kept the humblest shops used to dine with General
Rosas. A son of a major at Bahia Blanca gained his
livelihood by making paper cigars, and he wished to accompany
me, as guide or servant, to Buenos Ayres, but his
father objected on the score of the danger alone. Many
officers in the army can neither read nor write, yet all meet
in society as equals. In Entre Rios, the Sala consisted of
only six representatives. One of them kept a common shop,
and evidently was not degraded by the office. All this is
what would be expected in a new country; nevertheless the
absence of gentlemen by profession appears to an Englishman
something strange.

When speaking of these countries, the manner in which
they have been brought up by their unnatural parent, Spain,
should always be borne in mind. On the whole, perhaps,
more credit is due for what has been done, than blame for
that which may be deficient. It is impossible to doubt but
that the extreme liberalism of these countries must ultimately
lead to good results. The very general toleration of
foreign religions, the regard paid to the means of education,
the freedom of the press, the facilities offered to all
foreigners, and especially, as I am bound to add, to every one
professing the humblest pretensions to science, should be
recollected with gratitude by those who have visited Spanish
South America.

December 6th. -- The Beagle sailed from the Rio Plata,
never again to enter its muddy stream. Our course was
directed to Port Desire, on the coast of Patagonia. Before
proceeding any further, I will here put together a few
observations made at sea.

Several times when the ship has been some miles off the
mouth of the Plata, and at other times when off the shores
of Northern Patagonia, we have been surrounded by insects.
One evening, when we were about ten miles from the Bay
of San Blas, vast numbers of butterflies, in bands or flocks
of countless myriads, extended as far as the eye could range.
Even by the aid of a telescope it was not possible to see a
space free from butterflies. The seamen cried out "it was
snowing butterflies," and such in fact was the appearance.
More species than one were present, but the main part belonged
to a kind very similar to, but not identical with, the
common English Colias edusa. Some moths and hymenoptera
accompanied the butterflies; and a fine beetle (Calosoma)
flew on board. Other instances are known of this
beetle having been caught far out at sea; and this is the
more remarkable, as the greater number of the Carabidae
seldom or never take wing. The day had been fine and calm,
and the one previous to it equally so, with light and variable
airs. Hence we cannot suppose that the insects were blown
off the land, but we must conclude that they voluntarily took
flight. The great bands of the Colias seem at first to afford
an instance like those on record of the migrations of another
butterfly, Vanessa cardui; [5] but the presence of other insects
makes the case distinct, and even less intelligible. Before
sunset a strong breeze sprung up from the north, and this
must have caused tens of thousands of the butterflies and
other insects to have perished.

On another occasion, when seventeen miles off Cape Corrientes,
I had a net overboard to catch pelagic animals.
Upon drawing it up, to my surprise, I found a considerable
number of beetles in it, and although in the open sea, they
did not appear much injured by the salt water. I lost some
of the specimens, but those which I preserved belonged
to the genera Colymbetes, Hydroporus, Hydrobius (two species),
Notaphus, Cynucus, Adimonia, and Scarabaeus. At
first I thought that these insects had been blown from the
shore; but upon reflecting that out of the eight species four
were aquatic, and two others partly so in their habits, it
appeared to me most probable that they were floated into the
sea by a small stream which drains a lake near Cape Corrientes.
On any supposition it is an interesting circumstance
to find live insects swimming in the open ocean seventeen
miles from the nearest point of land. There are several
accounts of insects having been blown off the Patagonian
shore. Captain Cook observed it, as did more lately Captain
King of the Adventure. The cause probably is due to the
want of shelter, both of trees and hills, so that an insect on
the wing with an off-shore breeze, would be very apt to
be blown out to sea. The most remarkable instance I have
known of an insect being caught far from the land, was that
of a large grasshopper (Acrydium), which flew on board,
when the Beagle was to windward of the Cape de Verd
Islands, and when the nearest point of land, not directly
opposed to the trade-wind, was Cape Blanco on the coast of
Africa, 370 miles distant. [6]

On several occasions, when the Beagle has been within
the mouth of the Plata, the rigging has been coated with
the web of the Gossamer Spider. One day (November 1st,
1832) I paid particular attention to this subject. The weather
had been fine and clear, and in the morning the air was full
of patches of the flocculent web, as on an autumnal day in
England. The ship was sixty miles distant from the land, in
the direction of a steady though light breeze. Vast numbers
of a small spider, about one-tenth of an inch in length, and of
a dusky red colour, were attached to the webs. There must
have been, I should suppose, some thousands on the ship. The
little spider, when first coming in contact with the rigging,
was always seated on a single thread, and not on the flocculent
mass. This latter seems merely to be produced by the
entanglement of the single threads. The spiders were all of
one species, but of both sexes, together with young ones.
These latter were distinguished by their smaller size and
more dusky colour. I will not give the description of this
spider, but merely state that it does not appear to me to be
included in any of Latreille's genera. The little aeronaut as
soon as it arrived on board was very active, running about,
sometimes letting itself fall, and then reascending the same
thread; sometimes employing itself in making a small and
very irregular mesh in the corners between the ropes. It
could run with facility on the surface of the water. When
disturbed it lifted up its front legs, in the attitude of
attention. On its first arrival it appeared very thirsty, and
with exserted maxillae drank eagerly of drops of water, this
same circumstance has been observed by Strack: may it not be in
consequence of the little insect having passed through a dry
and rarefied atmosphere? Its stock of web seemed inexhaustible.
While watching some that were suspended by a
single thread, I several times observed that the slightest
breath of air bore them away out of sight, in a horizontal

On another occasion (25th) under similar circumstances,
I repeatedly observed the same kind of small spider,
either when placed or having crawled on some little eminence,
elevate its abdomen, send forth a thread, and then
sail away horizontally, but with a rapidity which was quite
unaccountable. I thought I could perceive that the spider,
before performing the above preparatory steps, connected
its legs together with the most delicate threads, but I am not
sure whether this observation was correct.

One day, at St. Fe, I had a better opportunity of observing
some similar facts. A spider which was about three-tenths
of an inch in length, and which in its general appearance
resembled a Citigrade (therefore quite different from the
gossamer), while standing on the summit of a post, darted
forth four or five threads from its spinners. These, glittering
in the sunshine, might be compared to diverging rays of
light; they were not, however, straight, but in undulations
like films of silk blown by the wind. They were more than a
yard in length, and diverged in an ascending direction from
the orifices. The spider then suddenly let go its hold of the
post, and was quickly borne out of sight. The day was hot
and apparently calm; yet under such circumstances, the
atmosphere can never be so tranquil as not to affect a vane so
delicate as the thread of a spider's web. If during a warm
day we look either at the shadow of any object cast on a
bank, or over a level plain at a distant landmark, the effect
of an ascending current of heated air is almost always evident:
such upward currents, it has been remarked, are also
shown by the ascent of soap-bubbles, which will not rise in
an in-doors room. Hence I think there is not much difficulty
in understanding the ascent of the fine lines projected from
a spider's spinners, and afterwards of the spider itself; the
divergence of the lines has been attempted to be explained, I
believe by Mr. Murray, by their similar electrical condition.
The circumstance of spiders of the same species, but of
different sexes and ages, being found on several occasions at
the distance of many leagues from the land, attached in vast
numbers to the lines, renders it probable that the habit of
sailing through the air is as characteristic of this tribe, as
that of diving is of the Argyroneta. We may then reject
Latreille's supposition, that the gossamer owes its origin
indifferently to the young of several genera of spiders:
although, as we have seen, the young of other spiders do
possess the power of performing aerial voyages. [7]

During our different passages south of the Plata, I often
towed astern a net made of bunting, and thus caught many
curious animals. Of Crustacea there were many strange
and undescribed genera. One, which in some respects is
allied to the Notopods (or those crabs which have their
posterior legs placed almost on their backs, for the purpose
of adhering to the under side of rocks), is very remarkable
from the structure of its hind pair of legs. The penultimate
joint, instead of terminating in a simple claw, ends in three
bristle-like appendages of dissimilar lengths -- the longest
equalling that of the entire leg. These claws are very thin,
and are serrated with the finest teeth, directed backwards:
their curved extremities are flattened, and on this part five
most minute cups are placed which seem to act in the same
manner as the suckers on the arms of the cuttle-fish. As
the animal lives in the open sea, and probably wants a place
of rest, I suppose this beautiful and most anomalous structure
is adapted to take hold of floating marine animals.

In deep water, far from the land, the number of living
creatures is extremely small: south of the latitude 35 degs.,
I never succeeded in catching anything besides some beroe,
and a few species of minute entomostracous crustacea.
In shoaler water, at the distance of a few miles from the
coast, very many kinds of crustacea and some other animals
are numerous, but only during the night. Between latitudes
56 and 57 degs. south of Cape Horn, the net was put
astern several times; it never, however, brought up anything
besides a few of two extremely minute species of Entomostraca.
Yet whales and seals, petrels and albatross, are exceedingly
abundant throughout this part of the ocean. It has always
been a mystery to me on what the albatross, which lives far
from the shore, can subsist; I presume that, like the condor,
it is able to fast long; and that one good feast on the carcass
of a putrid whale lasts for a long time. The central and
intertropical parts of the Atlantic swarm with Pteropoda,
Crustacea, and Radiata, and with their devourers the flying-
fish, and again with their devourers the bonitos and albicores;
I presume that the numerous lower pelagic animals
feed on the Infusoria, which are now known, from the
researches of Ehrenberg, to abound in the open ocean: but
on what, in the clear blue water, do these Infusoria subsist?

While sailing a little south of the Plata on one very dark
night, the sea presented a wonderful and most beautiful
spectacle. There was a fresh breeze, and every part of the
surface, which during the day is seen as foam, now glowed
with a pale light. The vessel drove before her bows two
billows of liquid phosphorus, and in her wake she was followed
by a milky train. As far as the eye reached, the crest
of every wave was bright, and the sky above the horizon,
from the reflected glare of these livid flames, was not so
utterly obscure as over the vault of the heavens.

As we proceed further southward the sea is seldom
phosphorescent; and off Cape Horn I do not recollect more than
once having seen it so, and then it was far from being
brilliant. This circumstance probably has a close connection
with the scarcity of organic beings in that part of the ocean.
After the elaborate paper, [8] by Ehrenberg, on the
phosphorescence of the sea, it is almost superfluous on my part
to make any observations on the subject. I may however
add, that the same torn and irregular particles of gelatinous
matter, described by Ehrenberg, seem in the southern as
well as in the northern hemisphere, to be the common cause
of this phenomenon. The particles were so minute as easily
to pass through fine gauze; yet many were distinctly visible
by the naked eye. The water when placed in a tumbler and
agitated, gave out sparks, but a small portion in a watch-
glass scarcely ever was luminous. Ehrenberg states that
these particles all retain a certain degree of irritability. My
observations, some of which were made directly after taking
up the water, gave a different result. I may also mention,
that having used the net during one night, I allowed it to
become partially dry, and having occasion twelve hours
afterwards to employ it again, I found the whole surface
sparkled as brightly as when first taken out of the water.
It does not appear probable in this case, that the particles
could have remained so long alive. On one occasion having
kept a jelly-fish of the genus Dianaea till it was dead, the
water in which it was placed became luminous. When the
waves scintillate with bright green sparks, I believe it is
generally owing to minute crustacea. But there can be no
doubt that very many other pelagic animals, when alive, are

On two occasions I have observed the sea luminous at
considerable depths beneath the surface. Near the mouth
of the Plata some circular and oval patches, from two to
four yards in diameter, and with defined outlines, shone with
a steady but pale light; while the surrounding water only
gave out a few sparks. The appearance resembled the reflection
of the moon, or some luminous body; for the edges were
sinuous from the undulations of the surface. The ship,
which drew thirteen feet of water, passed over, without
disturbing these patches. Therefore we must suppose that some
animals were congregated together at a greater depth than
the bottom of the vessel.

Near Fernando Noronha the sea gave out light in flashes.
The appearance was very similar to that which might be
expected from a large fish moving rapidly through a luminous
fluid. To this cause the sailors attributed it; at the
time, however, I entertained some doubts, on account of the
frequency and rapidity of the flashes. I have already
remarked that the phenomenon is very much more common
in warm than in cold countries; and I have sometimes imagined
that a disturbed electrical condition of the atmosphere
was most favourable to its production. Certainly I
think the sea is most luminous after a few days of more
calm weather than ordinary, during which time it has
swarmed with various animals. Observing that the water
charged with gelatinous particles is in an impure state, and
that the luminous appearance in all common cases is produced
by the agitation of the fluid in contact with the atmosphere,
I am inclined to consider that the phosphorescence is
the result of the decomposition of the organic particles, by
which process (one is tempted almost to call it a kind of
respiration) the ocean becomes purified.

December 23rd. -- We arrived at Port Desire, situated in
lat. 47 degs., on the coast of Patagonia. The creek runs for
about twenty miles inland, with an irregular width. The
Beagle anchored a few miles within the entrance, in front of
the ruins of an old Spanish settlement.

The same evening I went on shore. The first landing in
any new country is very interesting, and especially when, as in
this case, the whole aspect bears the stamp of a marked and
individual character. At the height of between two and
three hundred feet above some masses of porphyry a wide
plain extends, which is truly characteristic of Patagonia.
The surface is quite level, and is composed of well-rounded
shingle mixed with a whitish earth. Here and there scattered
tufts of brown wiry grass are supported, and still more
rarely, some low thorny bushes. The weather is dry and
pleasant, and the fine blue sky is but seldom obscured. When
standing in the middle of one of these desert plains and
looking towards the interior, the view is generally bounded
by the escarpment of another plain, rather higher, but equally
level and desolate; and in every other direction the horizon
is indistinct from the trembling mirage which seems to rise
from the heated surface.

In such a country the fate of the Spanish settlement was
soon decided; the dryness of the climate during the greater
part of the year, and the occasional hostile attacks of the
wandering Indians, compelled the colonists to desert their
half-finished buildings. The style, however, in which they
were commenced shows the strong and liberal hand of Spain
in the old time. The result of all the attempts to colonize this
side of America south of 41 degs., has been miserable. Port
Famine expresses by its name the lingering and extreme
sufferings of several hundred wretched people, of whom one
alone survived to relate their misfortunes. At St. Joseph's
Bay, on the coast of Patagonia, a small settlement was made;
but during one Sunday the Indians made an attack and massacred
the whole party, excepting two men, who remained
captives during many years. At the Rio Negro I conversed
with one of these men, now in extreme old age.

The zoology of Patagonia is as limited as its flora. [9] On
the arid plains a few black beetles (Heteromera) might be
seen slowly crawling about, and occasionally a lizard darted
from side to side. Of birds we have three carrion hawks
and in the valleys a few finches and insect-feeders. An ibis
(Theristicus melanops -- a species said to be found in central
Africa) is not uncommon on the most desert parts: in
their stomachs I found grasshoppers, cicadae, small lizards,
and even scorpions. [10] At one time of the year these birds
go in flocks, at another in pairs, their cry is very loud and
singular, like the neighing of the guanaco.

The guanaco, or wild llama, is the characteristic quadruped
of the plains of Patagonia; it is the South American
representative of the camel of the East. It is an elegant
animal in a state of nature, with a long slender neck and
fine legs. It is very common over the whole of the temperate
parts of the continent, as far south as the islands near Cape
Horn. It generally lives in small herds of from half a dozen
to thirty in each; but on the banks of the St. Cruz we saw
one herd which must have contained at least five hundred.

They are generally wild and extremely wary. Mr. Stokes
told me, that he one day saw through a glass a herd of these
animals which evidently had been frightened, and were running
away at full speed, although their distance was so great
that he could not distinguish them with his naked eye. The
sportsman frequently receives the first notice of their
presence, by hearing from a long distance their peculiar shrill
neighing note of alarm. If he then looks attentively, he will
probably see the herd standing in a line on the side of some
distant hill. On approaching nearer, a few more squeals are
given, and off they set at an apparently slow, but really quick
canter, along some narrow beaten track to a neighbouring
hill. If, however, by chance he abruptly meets a single animal,
or several together, they will generally stand motionless
and intently gaze at him; then perhaps move on a few yards,
turn round, and look again. What is the cause of this difference
in their shyness? Do they mistake a man in the distance
for their chief enemy the puma? Or does curiosity
overcome their timidity? That they are curious is certain;
for if a person lies on the ground, and plays strange antics,
such as throwing up his feet in the air, they will almost
always approach by degrees to reconnoitre him. It was an
artifice that was repeatedly practised by our sportsmen with
success, and it had moreover the advantage of allowing several
shots to be fired, which were all taken as parts of the
performance. On the mountains of Tierra del Fuego, I have
more than once seen a guanaco, on being approached, not
only neigh and squeal, but prance and leap about in the most
ridiculous manner, apparently in defiance as a challenge.
These animals are very easily domesticated, and I have seen
some thus kept in northern Patagonia near a house, though
not under any restraint. They are in this state very bold, and
readily attack a man by striking him from behind with both
knees. It is asserted that the motive for these attacks is
jealousy on account of their females. The wild guanacos,
however, have no idea of defence; even a single dog will
secure one of these large animals, till the huntsman can come
up. In many of their habits they are like sheep in a flock.
Thus when they see men approaching in several directions
on horseback, they soon become bewildered, and know not
which way to run. This greatly facilitates the Indian method
of hunting, for they are thus easily driven to a central point,
and are encompassed.

The guanacos readily take to the water: several times at
Port Valdes they were seen swimming from island to island.
Byron, in his voyage says he saw them drinking salt water.
Some of our officers likewise saw a herd apparently drinking
the briny fluid from a salina near Cape Blanco. I imagine
in several parts of the country, if they do not drink salt
water, they drink none at all. In the middle of the day they
frequently roll in the dust, in saucer-shaped hollows. The
males fight together; two one day passed quite close to me,
squealing and trying to bite each other; and several were
shot with their hides deeply scored. Herds sometimes appear
to set out on exploring parties: at Bahia Blanca, where,
within thirty miles of the coast, these animals are extremely
unfrequent, I one day saw the tracks of thirty or forty, which
had come in a direct line to a muddy salt-water creek. They
then must have perceived that they were approaching the
sea, for they had wheeled with the regularity of cavalry, and
had returned back in as straight a line as they had advanced.
The guanacos have one singular habit, which is to me quite
inexplicable; namely, that on successive days they drop their
dung in the same defined heap. I saw one of these heaps
which was eight feet in diameter, and was composed of a
large quantity. This habit, according to M. A. d'Orbigny, is
common to all the species of the genus; it is very useful to
the Peruvian Indians, who use the dung for fuel, and are
thus saved the trouble of collecting it.

The guanacos appear to have favourite spots for lying
down to die. On the banks of the St. Cruz, in certain
circumscribed spaces, which were generally bushy and all near
the river, the ground was actually white with bones. On one
such spot I counted between ten and twenty heads. I particularly
examined the bones; they did not appear, as some
scattered ones which I had seen, gnawed or broken, as if
dragged together by beasts of prey. The animals in most
cases must have crawled, before dying, beneath and amongst
the bushes. Mr. Bynoe informs me that during a former
voyage he observed the same circumstance on the banks of
the Rio Gallegos. I do not at all understand the reason of
this, but I may observe, that the wounded guanacos at the
St. Cruz invariably walked towards the river. At St. Jago
in the Cape de Verd Islands, I remember having seen in a
ravine a retired corner covered with bones of the goat; we
at the time exclaimed that it was the burial ground of all the
goats in the island. I mention these trifling circumstances,
because in certain cases they might explain the occurrence
of a number of uninjured bones in a cave, or buried under
alluvial accumulations; and likewise the cause why certain
animals are more commonly embedded than others in sedimentary

One day the yawl was sent under the command of Mr.
Chaffers with three days' provisions to survey the upper part
of the harbour. In the morning we searched for some
watering-places mentioned in an old Spanish chart. We found one
creek, at the head of which there was a trickling rill (the
first we had seen) of brackish water. Here the tide compelled
us to wait several hours; and in the interval I walked
some miles into the interior. The plain as usual consisted
of gravel, mingled with soil resembling chalk in appearance,
but very different from it in nature. From the softness of
these materials it was worn into many gulleys. There was
not a tree, and, excepting the guanaco, which stood on the
hill-top a watchful sentinel over its herd, scarcely an animal
or a bird. All was stillness and desolation. Yet in passing
over these scenes, without one bright object near, an
ill-defined but strong sense of pleasure is vividly excited.
One asked how many ages the plain had thus lasted, and how
many more it was doomed thus to continue.

"None can reply -- all seems eternal now.
The wilderness has a mysterious tongue,
Which teaches awful doubt." [11]

In the evening we sailed a few miles further up, and then
pitched the tents for the night. By the middle of the next
day the yawl was aground, and from the shoalness of the
water could not proceed any higher. The water being found
partly fresh, Mr. Chaffers took the dingey and went up two
or three miles further, where she also grounded, but in a
fresh-water river. The water was muddy, and though the
stream was most insignificant in size, it would be difficult to
account for its origin, except from the melting snow on the
Cordillera. At the spot where we bivouacked, we were surrounded
by bold cliffs and steep pinnacles of porphyry. I do
not think I ever saw a spot which appeared more secluded
from the rest of the world, than this rocky crevice in the
wide plain.

The second day after our return to the anchorage, a party
of officers and myself went to ransack an old Indian grave,
which I had found on the summit of a neighbouring hill.
Two immense stones, each probably weighing at least a
couple of tons, had been placed in front of a ledge of rock
about six feet high. At the bottom of the grave on the hard
rock there was a layer of earth about a foot deep, which
must have been brought up from the plain below. Above it a
pavement of flat stones was placed, on which others were
piled, so as to fill up the space between the ledge and the two
great blocks. To complete the grave, the Indians had contrived
to detach from the ledge a huge fragment, and to
throw it over the pile so as to rest on the two blocks. We
undermined the grave on both sides, but could not find any
relics, or even bones. The latter probably had decayed long
since (in which case the grave must have been of extreme
antiquity), for I found in another place some smaller heaps
beneath which a very few crumbling fragments could yet be
distinguished as having belonged to a man. Falconer states,
that where an Indian dies he is buried, but that subsequently
his bones are carefully taken up and carried, let the distance
be ever so great, to be deposited near the sea-coast. This
custom, I think, may be accounted for by recollecting, that
before the introduction of horses, these Indians must have
led nearly the same life as the Fuegians now do, and therefore
generally have resided in the neighbourhood of the sea.
The common prejudice of lying where one's ancestors have
lain, would make the now roaming Indians bring the less
perishable part of their dead to their ancient burial-ground
on the coast.

January 9th, 1834. -- Before it was dark the Beagle anchored
in the fine spacious harbour of Port St. Julian, situated
about one hundred and ten miles to the south of Port Desire.
We remained here eight days. The country is nearly similar
to that of Port Desire, but perhaps rather more sterile. One
day a party accompanied Captain Fitz Roy on a long walk
round the head of the harbour. We were eleven hours without
tasting any water, and some of the party were quite
exhausted. From the summit of a hill (since well named
Thirsty Hill) a fine lake was spied, and two of the party
proceeded with concerted signals to show whether it was fresh
water. What was our disappointment to find a snow-white
expanse of salt, crystallized in great cubes! We attributed
our extreme thirst to the dryness of the atmosphere; but
whatever the cause might be, we were exceedingly glad late
in the evening to get back to the boats. Although we could
nowhere find, during our whole visit, a single drop of fresh
water, yet some must exist; for by an odd chance I found on
the surface of the salt water, near the head of the bay, a
Colymbetes not quite dead, which must have lived in some
not far distant pool. Three other insects (a Cincindela, like
hybrida, a Cymindis, and a Harpalus, which all live on muddy
flats occasionally overflowed by the sea), and one other
found dead on the plain, complete the list of the beetles. A
good-sized fly (Tabanus) was extremely numerous, and tormented
us by its painful bite. The common horsefly, which
is so troublesome in the shady lanes of England, belongs to
this same genus. We here have the puzzle that so frequently
occurs in the case of musquitoes -- on the blood of what
animals do these insects commonly feed? The guanaco is
nearly the only warm-blooded quadruped, and it is found in
quite inconsiderable numbers compared with the multitude
of flies.

The geology of Patagonia is interesting. Differently from
Europe, where the tertiary formations appear to have accumulated
in bays, here along hundreds of miles of coast we
have one great deposit, including many tertiary shells, all
apparently extinct. The most common shell is a massive
gigantic oyster, sometimes even a foot in diameter. These
beds are covered by others of a peculiar soft white stone,
including much gypsum, and resembling chalk, but really of
a pumiceous nature. It is highly remarkable, from being
composed, to at least one-tenth of its bulk, of Infusoria.
Professor Ehrenberg has already ascertained in it thirty
oceanic forms. This bed extends for 500 miles along the coast,
and probably for a considerably greater distance. At Port
St. Julian its thickness is more than 800 feet! These white
beds are everywhere capped by a mass of gravel, forming
probably one of the largest beds of shingle in the world: it
certainly extends from near the Rio Colorado to between 600
and 700 nautical miles southward, at Santa Cruz (a river a
little south of St. Julian), it reaches to the foot of the
Cordillera; half way up the river, its thickness is more than
200 feet; it probably everywhere extends to this great chain,
whence the well-rounded pebbles of porphyry have been
derived: we may consider its average breadth as 200 miles,
and its average thickness as about 50 feet. If this great bed
of pebbles, without including the mud necessarily derived
from their attrition, was piled into a mound, it would form a
great mountain chain! When we consider that all these
pebbles, countless as the grains of sand in the desert, have
been derived from the slow falling of masses of rock on the
old coast-lines and banks of rivers, and that these fragments
have been dashed into smaller pieces, and that each of them
has since been slowly rolled, rounded, and far transported
the mind is stupefied in thinking over the long, absolutely
necessary, lapse of years. Yet all this gravel has been
transported, and probably rounded, subsequently to the
deposition of the white beds, and long subsequently to the
underlying beds with the tertiary shells.

Everything in this southern continent has been effected
on a grand scale: the land, from the Rio Plata to Tierra del
Fuego, a distance of 1200 miles, has been raised in mass (and
in Patagonia to a height of between 300 and 400 feet), within
the period of the now existing sea-shells. The old and
weathered shells left on the surface of the upraised plain still
partially retain their colours. The uprising movement has
been interrupted by at least eight long periods of rest, during
which the sea ate, deeply back into the land, forming at
successive levels the long lines of cliffs, or escarpments,
which separate the different plains as they rise like steps one
behind the other. The elevatory movement, and the eating-back
power of the sea during the periods of rest, have been
equable over long lines of coast; for I was astonished to
find that the step-like plains stand at nearly corresponding
heights at far distant points. The lowest plain is 90 feet
high; and the highest, which I ascended near the coast, is
950 feet; and of this, only relics are left in the form of flat
gravel-capped hills. The upper plain of Santa Cruz slopes
up to a height of 3000 feet at the foot of the Cordillera. I
have said that within the period of existing sea-shells,
Patagonia has been upraised 300 to 400 feet: I may add, that
within the period when icebergs transported boulders over
the upper plain of Santa Cruz, the elevation has been at least
1500 feet. Nor has Patagonia been affected only by upward
movements: the extinct tertiary shells from Port St. Julian
and Santa Cruz cannot have lived, according to Professor E.
Forbes, in a greater depth of water than from 40 to 250 feet;
but they are now covered with sea-deposited strata from 800
to 1000 feet in thickness: hence the bed of the sea, on which
these shells once lived, must have sunk downwards several
hundred feet, to allow of the accumulation of the superincumbent
strata. What a history of geological changes does the
simply-constructed coast of Patagonia reveal!

At Port St. Julian, [12] in some red mud capping the gravel
on the 90-feet plain, I found half the skeleton of the
Macrauchenia Patachonica, a remarkable quadruped, full as large
as a camel. It belongs to the same division of the Pachydermata
with the rhinoceros, tapir, and palaeotherium; but
in the structure of the bones of its long neck it shows a clear
relation to the camel, or rather to the guanaco and llama.
From recent sea-shells being found on two of the higher
step-formed plains, which must have been modelled and
upraised before the mud was deposited in which the Macrauchenia
was entombed, it is certain that this curious quadruped
lived long after the sea was inhabited by its present
shells. I was at first much surprised how a large quadruped
could so lately have subsisted, in lat. 49 degs. 15', on these
wretched gravel plains, with their stunted vegetation; but
the relationship of the Macrauchenia to the Guanaco, now
an inhabitant of the most sterile parts, partly explains this

The relationship, though distant, between the Macrauchenia
and the Guanaco, between the Toxodon and the
Capybara, -- the closer relationship between the many extinct
Edentata and the living sloths, ant-eaters, and armadillos,
now so eminently characteristic of South American zoology,
-- and the still closer relationship between the fossil and
living species of Ctenomys and Hydrochaerus, are most
interesting facts. This relationship is shown wonderfully -- as
wonderfully as between the fossil and extinct Marsupial
animals of Australia -- by the great collection lately brought
to Europe from the caves of Brazil by MM. Lund and Clausen.
In this collection there are extinct species of all the
thirty-two genera, excepting four, of the terrestrial quadrupeds
now inhabiting the provinces in which the caves occur;
and the extinct species are much more numerous than those
now living: there are fossil ant-eaters, armadillos, tapirs,
peccaries, guanacos, opossums, and numerous South American
gnawers and monkeys, and other animals. This wonderful
relationship in the same continent between the dead and
the living, will, I do not doubt, hereafter throw more light
on the appearance of organic beings on our earth, and their
disappearance from it, than any other class of facts.

It is impossible to reflect on the changed state of the
American continent without the deepest astonishment. Formerly
it must have swarmed with great monsters: now we
find mere pigmies, compared with the antecedent, allied
races. If Buffon had known of the gigantic sloth and
armadillo-like animals, and of the lost Pachydermata, he might
have said with a greater semblance of truth that the creative
force in America had lost its power, rather than that it had
never possessed great vigour. The greater number, if not all,
of these extinct quadrupeds lived at a late period, and were
the contemporaries of most of the existing sea-shells. Since
they lived, no very great change in the form of the land can
have taken place. What, then, has exterminated so many
species and whole genera? The mind at first is irresistibly
hurried into the belief of some great catastrophe; but thus
to destroy animals, both large and small, in Southern Patagonia,
in Brazil, on the Cordillera of Peru, in North America
up to Behring's Straits, we must shake the entire framework
of the globe. An examination, moreover, of the geology of
La Plata and Patagonia, leads to the belief that all the
features of the land result from slow and gradual changes. It
appears from the character of the fossils in Europe, Asia,
Australia, and in North and South America, that those conditions
which favour the life of the _larger_ quadrupeds were
lately co-extensive with the world: what those conditions
were, no one has yet even conjectured. It could hardly have
been a change of temperature, which at about the same time
destroyed the inhabitants of tropical, temperate, and arctic
latitudes on both sides of the globe. In North America we
positively know from Mr. Lyell, that the large quadrupeds
lived subsequently to that period, when boulders were
brought into latitudes at which icebergs now never arrive:
from conclusive but indirect reasons we may feel sure, that
in the southern hemisphere the Macrauchenia, also, lived
long subsequently to the ice-transporting boulder-period. Did
man, after his first inroad into South America, destroy, as
has been suggested, the unwieldy Megatherium and the
other Edentata? We must at least look to some other cause
for the destruction of the little tucutuco at Bahia Blanca, and
of the many fossil mice and other small quadrupeds in
Brazil. No one will imagine that a drought, even far severer
than those which cause such losses in the provinces of La
Plata, could destroy every individual of every species from
Southern Patagonia to Behring's Straits. What shall we say
of the extinction of the horse? Did those plains fail of
pasture, which have since been overrun by thousands and hundreds
of thousands of the descendants of the stock introduced
by the Spaniards? Have the subsequently introduced
species consumed the food of the great antecedent races?
Can we believe that the Capybara has taken the food of the
Toxodon, the Guanaco of the Macrauchenia, the existing
small Edentata of their numerous gigantic prototypes? Certainly,
no fact in the long history of the world is so startling
as the wide and repeated exterminations of its inhabitants.

Nevertheless, if we consider the subject under another
point of view, it will appear less perplexing. We do not
steadily bear in mind, how profoundly ignorant we are of the
conditions of existence of every animal; nor do we always
remember, that some check is constantly preventing the too
rapid increase of every organized being left in a state of
nature. The supply of food, on an average, remains constant, yet
the tendency in every animal to increase by propagation is
geometrical; and its surprising effects have nowhere been
more astonishingly shown, than in the case of the European
animals run wild during the last few centuries in America.
Every animal in a state of nature regularly breeds; yet in a
species long established, any _great_ increase in numbers is
obviously impossible, and must be checked by some means.
We are, nevertheless, seldom able with certainty to tell in
any given species, at what period of life, or at what period
of the year, or whether only at long intervals, the check
falls; or, again, what is the precise nature of the check.
Hence probably it is, that we feel so little surprise at one, of
two species closely allied in habits, being rare and the other
abundant in the same district; or, again, that one should be
abundant in one district, and another, filling the same place
in the economy of nature, should be abundant in a neighbouring
district, differing very little in its conditions. If asked
how this is, one immediately replies that it is determined by
some slight difference, in climate, food, or the number of
enemies: yet how rarely, if ever, we can point out the precise
cause and manner of action of the check! We are
therefore, driven to the conclusion, that causes generally
quite inappreciable by us, determine whether a given species
shall be abundant or scanty in numbers.

In the cases where we can trace the extinction of a
species through man, either wholly or in one limited district,
we know that it becomes rarer and rarer, and is then lost:
it would be difficult to point out any just distinction [13]
between a species destroyed by man or by the increase of its
natural enemies. The evidence of rarity preceding extinction,
is more striking in the successive tertiary strata, as remarked
by several able observers; it has often been found that a shell
very common in a tertiary stratum is now most rare, and has
even long been thought extinct. If then, as appears probable,
species first become rare and then extinct -- if the too rapid
increase of every species, even the most favoured, is steadily
checked, as we must admit, though how and when it is hard to
say -- and if we see, without the smallest surprise, though
unable to assign the precise reason, one species abundant
and another closely allied species rare in the same district --
why should we feel such great astonishment at the rarity being
carried one step further to extinction? An action going on,
on every side of us, and yet barely appreciable, might surely
be carried a little further, without exciting our observation.
Who would feel any great surprise at hearing that the Magalonyx
was formerly rare compared with the Megatherium, or that one of
the fossil monkeys was few in number compared with one of the
now living monkeys? and yet in this comparative rarity, we
should have the plainest evidence of less favourable conditions
for their existence. To admit that species generally become
rare before they become extinct -- to feel no surprise at the
comparative rarity of one species with another, and yet to
call in some extraordinary agent and to marvel greatly when
a species ceases to exist, appears to me much the same as
to admit that sickness in the individual is the prelude to
death -- to feel no surprise at sickness -- but when the
sick man dies to wonder, and to believe that he died through

[1] Mr. Waterhouse has drawn up a detailed description of this
head, which I hope he will publish in some Journal.

[2] A nearly similar abnormal, but I do not know whether
hereditary, structure has been observed in the carp, and
likewise in the crocodile of the Ganges: Histoire des Anomalies,
par M. Isid. Geoffroy St. Hilaire, tom. i. p. 244.

[3] M. A. d'Orbigny has given nearly a similar account of these
dogs, tom. i. p. 175.

[4] I must express my obligations to Mr. Keane, at whose house
I was staying on the Berquelo, and to Mr. Lumb at Buenos Ayres,
for without their assistance these valuable remains would never
have reached England.

[5] Lyell's Principles of Geology, vol. iii. p. 63.

[6] The flies which frequently accompany a ship for some days
on its passage from harbour to harbour, wandering from the
vessel, are soon lost, and all disappear.

[7] Mr. Blackwall, in his Researches in Zoology, has many
excellent observations on the habits of spiders.

[8] An abstract is given in No. IV. of the Magazine of Zoology
and Botany.

[9] I found here a species of cactus, described by Professor
Henslow, under the name of Opuntia Darwinii (Magazine of
Zoology and Botany, vol. i. p. 466), which was remarkable
for the irritability of the stamens, when I inserted either a
piece of stick or the end of my finger in the flower. The
segments of the perianth also closed on the pistil, but more
slowly than the stamens. Plants of this family, generally
considered as tropical, occur in North America (Lewis and
Clarke's Travels, p. 221), in the same high latitude as here,
namely, in both cases, in 47 degs.

[10] These insects were not uncommon beneath stones. I found
one cannibal scorpion quietly devouring another.

[11] Shelley, Lines on Mt. Blanc.

[12] I have lately heard that Capt. Sulivan, R.N., has found
numerous fossil bones, embedded in regular strata, on the banks
of the R. Gallegos, in lat. 51 degs. 4'. Some of the bones
are large; others are small, and appear to have belonged to
an armadillo. This is a most interesting and important

[13] See the excellent remarks on this subject by Mr. Lyell,
in his Principles of Geology.



Santa Cruz -- Expedition up the River -- Indians -- Immense
Streams of Basaltic Lava -- Fragments not transported by the
River -- Excavations of the Valley -- Condor, Habits of --
Cordillera -- Erratic Boulders of great size -- Indian Relics --
Return to the Ship -- Falkland Islands -- Wild Horses, Cattle,
Rabbits -- Wolf-like Fox -- Fire made of Bones -- Manner of
Hunting Wild Cattle -- Geology -- Streams of Stones -- Scenes
of Violence -- Penguins -- Geese -- Eggs of Doris -- Compound

APRIL 13, 1834. -- The Beagle anchored within the mouth of the
Santa Cruz. This river is situated about sixty miles south of
Port St. Julian. During the last voyage Captain Stokes proceeded
thirty miles up it, but then, from the want of provisions, was
obliged to return. Excepting what was discovered at that time,
scarcely anything was known about this large river. Captain Fitz
Roy now determined to follow its course as far as time would
allow. On the 18th three whale-boats started, carrying three
weeks' provisions; and the party consisted of twenty-five
souls -- a force which would have been sufficient to have
defied a host of Indians. With a strong flood-tide and a fine
day we made a good run, soon drank some of the fresh water,
and were at night nearly above the tidal influence.

The river here assumed a size and appearance which, even at
the highest point we ultimately reached, was scarcely
diminished. It was generally from three to four hundred yards
broad, and in the middle about seventeen feet deep. The
rapidity of the current, which in its whole course runs at
the rate of from four to six knots an hour, is perhaps its
most remarkable feature. The water is of a fine blue colour,
but with a slight milky tinge, and not so transparent as at
first sight would have been expected. It flows over a bed of
pebbles, like those which compose the beach and the surrounding
plains. It runs in a winding course through a
valley, which extends in a direct line westward. This valley
varies from five to ten miles in breadth; it is bounded by
step-formed terraces, which rise in most parts, one above the
other, to the height of five hundred feet, and have on the
opposite sides a remarkable correspondence.

April 19th. -- Against so strong a current it was, of
course, quite impossible to row or sail: consequently the
three boats were fastened together head and stern, two hands
left in each, and the rest came on shore to track. As the
general arrangements made by Captain Fitz Roy were very
good for facilitating the work of all, and as all had a share
in it, I will describe the system. The party including every
one, was divided into two spells, each of which hauled at the
tracking line alternately for an hour and a half. The officers
of each boat lived with, ate the same food, and slept
in the same tent with their crew, so that each boat was
quite independent of the others. After sunset the first level
spot where any bushes were growing, was chosen for our
night's lodging. Each of the crew took it in turns to be
cook. Immediately the boat was hauled up, the cook made
his fire; two others pitched the tent; the coxswain handed
the things out of the boat; the rest carried them up to the
tents and collected firewood. By this order, in half an hour
everything was ready for the night. A watch of two men
and an officer was always kept, whose duty it was to look
after the boats, keep up the fire, and guard against Indians.
Each in the party had his one hour every night.

During this day we tracked but a short distance, for there
were many islets, covered by thorny bushes, and the channels
between them were shallow.

April 20th. -- We passed the islands and set to work. Our
regular day's march, although it was hard enough, carried
us on an average only ten miles in a straight line, and perhaps
fifteen or twenty altogether. Beyond the place where
we slept last night, the country is completely _terra incognita_,
for it was there that Captain Stokes turned back. We saw
in the distance a great smoke, and found the skeleton of a
horse, so we knew that Indians were in the neighbourhood.
On the next morning (21st) tracks of a party of horse
and marks left by the trailing of the chuzos, or long spears,
were observed on the ground. It was generally thought
that the Indians had reconnoitred us during the night.
Shortly afterwards we came to a spot where, from the fresh
footsteps of men, children, and horses, it was evident that
the party had crossed the river.

April 22nd. -- The country remained the same, and was
extremely uninteresting. The complete similarity of the
productions throughout Patagonia is one of its most striking
characters. The level plains of arid shingle support
the same stunted and dwarf plants; and in the valleys the
same thorn-bearing bushes grow. Everywhere we see the
same birds and insects. Even the very banks of the river
and of the clear streamlets which entered it, were scarcely
enlivened by a brighter tint of green. The curse of sterility
is on the land, and the water flowing over a bed of pebbles
partakes of the same curse. Hence the number of water-fowls
is very scanty; for there is nothing to support life in
the stream of this barren river.

Patagonia, poor as she is in some respects, can however
boast of a greater stock of small rodents [1] than perhaps any
other country in the world. Several species of mice are
externally characterized by large thin ears and a very fine
fur. These little animals swarm amongst the thickets in the
valleys, where they cannot for months together taste a drop
of water excepting the dew. They all seem to be cannibals
for no sooner was a mouse caught in one of my traps that
it was devoured by others. A small and delicately shaped
fox, which is likewise very abundant, probably derives its
entire support from these small animals. The guanaco is
also in his proper district, herds of fifty or a hundred were
common; and, as I have stated, we saw one which must
have contained at least five hundred. The puma, with the
condor and other carrion-hawks in its train, follows and
preys upon these animals. The footsteps of the puma were
to be seen almost everywhere on the banks of the river;
and the remains of several guanacos, with their necks
dislocated and bones broken, showed how they had met their

April 24th. -- Like the navigators of old when approaching
an unknown land, we examined and watched for the most
trivial sign of a change. The drifted trunk of a tree, or a
boulder of primitive rock, was hailed with joy, as if we had
seen a forest growing on the flanks of the Cordillera. The
top, however, of a heavy bank of clouds, which remained
almost constantly in one position, was the most promising
sign, and eventually turned out a true harbinger. At first the
clouds were mistaken for the mountains themselves, instead
of the masses of vapour condensed by their icy summits.

April 26th. -- We this day met with a marked change in
the geological structure of the plains. From the first starting
I had carefully examined the gravel in the river, and
for the two last days had noticed the presence of a few small
pebbles of a very cellular basalt. These gradually increased
in number and in size, but none were as large as a man's
head. This morning, however, pebbles of the same rock,
but more compact, suddenly became abundant, and in the
course of half an hour we saw, at the distance of five of
six miles, the angular edge of a great basaltic platform.
When we arrived at its base we found the stream bubbling
among the fallen blocks. For the next twenty-eight miles
the river-course was encumbered with these basaltic masses.
Above that limit immense fragments of primitive rocks,
derived from its surrounding boulder-formation, were
equally numerous. None of the fragments of any considerable
size had been washed more than three or four miles
down the river below their parent-source: considering the
singular rapidity of the great body of water in the Santa
Cruz, and that no still reaches occur in any part, this example
is a most striking one, of the inefficiency of rivers in
transporting even moderately-sized fragments.

The basalt is only lava, which has flowed beneath the sea;
but the eruptions must have been on the grandest scale. At
the point where we first met this formation it was 120 feet
in thickness; following up the river course, the surface
imperceptibly rose and the mass became thicker, so that at
forty miles above the first station it was 320 feet thick.
What the thickness may be close to the Cordillera, I have
no means of knowing, but the platform there attains a height
of about three thousand feet above the level of the sea;
we must therefore look to the mountains of that great chain
for its source; and worthy of such a source are streams that
have flowed over the gently inclined bed of the sea to a
distance of one hundred miles. At the first glance of the
basaltic cliffs on the opposite sides of the valley, it was
evident that the strata once were united. What power, then,
has removed along a whole line of country, a solid mass of
very hard rock, which had an average thickness of nearly
three hundred feet, and a breadth varying from rather less
than two miles to four miles? The river, though it has so
little power in transporting even inconsiderable fragments,
yet in the lapse of ages might produce by its gradual erosion
an effect of which it is difficult to judge the amount. But
in this case, independently of the insignificance of such an
agency, good reasons can be assigned for believing that this
valley was formerly occupied by an arm of the sea. It is
needless in this work to detail the arguments leading to this
conclusion, derived from the form and the nature of the
step-formed terraces on both sides of the valley, from the
manner in which the bottom of the valley near the Andes
expands into a great estuary-like plain with sand-hillocks
on it, and from the occurrence of a few sea-shells lying in
the bed of the river. If I had space I could prove that
South America was formerly here cut off by a strait, joining
the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, like that of Magellan.
But it may yet be asked, how has the solid basalt been
moved? Geologists formerly would have brought into play
the violent action of some overwhelming debacle; but in this
case such a supposition would have been quite inadmissible,
because, the same step-like plains with existing sea-shells
lying on their surface, which front the long line of the
Patagonian coast, sweep up on each side of the valley of Santa
Cruz. No possible action of any flood could thus have
modelled the land, either within the valley or along the open
coast; and by the formation of such step-like plains or terraces
the valley itself had been hollowed out. Although we
know that there are tides, which run within the Narrows
of the Strait of Magellan at the rate of eight knots an hour,
yet we must confess that it makes the head almost giddy to
reflect on the number of years, century after century, which
the tides, unaided by a heavy surf, must have required to
have corroded so vast an area and thickness of solid basaltic
lava. Nevertheless, we must believe that the strata undermined
by the waters of this ancient strait, were broken up
into huge fragments, and these lying scattered on the beach
were reduced first to smaller blocks, then to pebbles and
lastly to the most impalpable mud, which the tides drifted
far into the Eastern or Western Ocean.

With the change in the geological structure of the plains
the character of the landscape likewise altered. While rambling
up some of the narrow and rocky defiles, I could almost
have fancied myself transported back again to the barren
valleys of the island of St. Jago. Among the basaltic cliffs
I found some plants which I had seen nowhere else, but
others I recognised as being wanderers from Tierra del
Fuego. These porous rocks serve as a reservoir for the
scanty rain-water; and consequently on the line where the
igneous and sedimentary formations unite, some small
springs (most rare occurrences in Patagonia) burst forth;
and they could be distinguished at a distance by the
circumscribed patches of bright green herbage.

April 27th. -- The bed of the river became rather narrower
and hence the stream more rapid. It here ran at the rate
of six knots an hour. From this cause, and from the many
great angular fragments, tracking the boats became both
dangerous and laborious.

This day I shot a condor. It measured from tip to tip
of the wings, eight and a half feet, and from beak to tail,
four feet. This bird is known to have a wide geographical
range, being found on the west coast of South America,
from the Strait of Magellan along the Cordillera as far as
eight degrees north of the equator. The steep cliff near the
mouth of the Rio Negro is its northern limit on the Patagonian
coast; and they have there wandered about four
hundred miles from the great central line of their habitations
in the Andes. Further south, among the bold precipices
at the head of Port Desire, the condor is not uncommon;
yet only a few stragglers occasionally visit the sea-coast.
A line of cliff near the mouth of the Santa Cruz is
frequented by these birds, and about eighty miles up the
river, where the sides of the valley are formed by steep
basaltic precipices, the condor reappears. From these facts
it seems that the condors require perpendicular cliffs. In
Chile, they haunt, during the greater part of the year, the
lower country near the shores of the Pacific, and at night
several roost together in one tree; but in the early part of
summer, they retire to the most inaccessible parts of the
inner Cordillera, there to breed in peace.

With respect to their propagation, I was told by the
country people in Chile, that the condor makes no sort of
nest, but in the months of November and December lays
two large white eggs on a shelf of bare rock. It is said that
the young condors cannot fly for an entire year; and long
after they are able, they continue to roost by night, and
hunt by day with their parents. The old birds generally live
in pairs; but among the inland basaltic cliffs of the Santa
Cruz, I found a spot, where scores must usually haunt. On
coming suddenly to the brow of the precipice, it was a grand
spectacle to see between twenty and thirty of these great
birds start heavily from their resting-place, and wheel away
in majestic circles. From the quantity of dung on the rocks
they must long have frequented this cliff for roosting and
breeding. Having gorged themselves with carrion on the
plains below, they retire to these favourite ledges to digest
their food. From these facts, the condor, like the gallinazo,
must to a certain degree be considered as a gregarious bird.
In this part of the country they live altogether on the guanacos
which have died a natural death, or as more commonly
happens, have been killed by the pumas. I believe, from
what I saw in Patagonia, that they do not on ordinary occasions
extend their daily excursions to any great distance
from their regular sleeping-places.

The condors may oftentimes be seen at a great height,
soaring over a certain spot in the most graceful circles.
On some occasions I am sure that they do this only for
pleasure, but on others, the Chileno countryman tells you
that they are watching a dying animal, or the puma devouring
its prey. If the condors glide down, and then suddenly
all rise together, the Chileno knows that it is the puma


Back to Full Books