Home
Antarctica Discounts
Home I Antarctic I Cape Horn I Arctic I Our Products I Contact
cu

VICTORY ADVENTURE'S SOUTHERN OCEANS EXPEDITIONS



Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882). 
The Voyage of the Beagle.

Chapter XI
Tierra Del Fuego


 Contents


Strait of Magellan-
Port Famine-
Zoology-
Great Sea-
weed-
Leave Tierra del Fuego-
Climate-
Fruit-trees and Productions of the Southern Coasts-
Height of Snow-line on the Cordillera-
Descent of Glaciers to the Sea-
Icebergs formed-
Transportal of Boulders-
Climate and Productions of the Antarctic Islands-
Preservation of Frozen Carcasses-
Recapitulation    


IN the end of May, 1834, we entered for a second time the eastern
mouth of the Strait of Magellan. The country on both sides of this
part of the Strait consists of nearly level plains, like those of
Patagonia. Cape Negro, a little within the second Narrows,
may be considered as the point where the land begins to
assume the marked features of Tierra del Fuego. On the east
coast, south of the Strait, broken park-like scenery in a
like manner connects these two countries, which are opposed
to each other in almost every feature. It is truly
surprising to find in a space of twenty miles such a change
in the landscape. If we take a rather greater distance, as
between Port Famine and Gregory Bay, that is about sixty
miles, the difference is still more wonderful. At the former
place, we have rounded mountains concealed by impervious
forests, which are drenched with the rain, brought by an
endless succession of gales; while at Cape Gregory, there is
a clear and bright blue sky over the dry and sterile plains.
The atmospheric currents, 1 although rapid turbulent, and
unconfined by any apparent limits, yet seem to follow, like
a river in its bed, a regularly determined course.   1

 During our previous visit (in January), we had an
interview at Cape Gregory with the famous so-called gigantic
Patagonians, who gave us a cordial reception. Their height
appears greater than it really is, from their large guanaco
mantles, their long flowing hair, and general figure: on an
average, their height is about six feet, with some men
taller and only a few shorter; and the women are also tall;
altogether they are certainly the tallest race which we
anywhere saw. In features they strikingly resemble the more
northern Indians whom I saw with Rosas, but they have a
wilder and more formidable appearance: their faces were much
painted with red and black, and one man was ringed and
dotted with white like a Fuegian. Captain Fitz Roy offered
to take any three of them on board, and all seemed
determined to be of the three. It was long before we could
clear the boat; at last we got on board with our three
giants, who dined with the Captain, and behaved quite like
gentlemen, helping themselves with knives, forks, and
spoons: nothing was so much relished as sugar. This tribe
has had so much communication with sealers and whalers that
most of the men can speak a little English and Spanish; and
they are half civilized, and proportionally
demoralized.   2   

The next morning a large party went on
shore, to barter for skins and ostrich-feathers; fire-arms
being refused, tobacco was in greatest request, far more so
than axes or tools. The whole population of the toldos, men,
women, and children, were arranged on a bank. It was an
amusing scene, and it was impossible not to like the
so-called giants, they were so thoroughly good-humoured and
unsuspecting: they asked us to come again. They seem to like
to have Europeans to live with them; and old Maria, an
important woman in the tribe, once begged Mr. Low to leave
any one of his sailors with them. They spend the greater
part of the year here; but in summer they hunt along the
foot of the Cordillera: sometimes they travel as far as the
Rio Negro, 750 miles to the north. They are well stocked
with horses, each man having, according to Mr. Low, six or
seven, and all the women, and even children, their one own
horse. In the time of Sarmiento (1580), these Indians had
bows and arrows, now long since disused; they then also
possessed some horses. This is a very curious fact, showing
the extraordinarily rapid multiplication of horses in South
America. The horse was first landed at Buenos Ayres in 1537,
and the colony being then for a time deserted, the horse ran
wild; 2 in 1580, only forty-three years afterwards, we hear
of them at the Strait of Magellan! Mr. Low informs me, that
a neighbouring tribe of foot-Indians is now changing into
horse-Indians: the tribe at Gregory Bay giving them their
worn-out horses, and sending in winter a few of their best
skilled men to hunt for them.   3   

June 1st.-We anchored in the fine bay of Port Famine. It was now the
beginning of winter, and I never saw a more cheerless prospect; the
dusky woods, piebald with snow, could be only seen indistinctly,
through a drizzling hazy atmosphere. We were, however, lucky
in getting two fine days. On one of these, Mount Sarmiento,
a distant mountain 6800 feet high, presented a very noble
spectacle. I was frequently surprised in the scenery of
Tierra del Fuego, at the little apparent elevation of
mountains really lofty. I suspect it is owing to a cause
which would not at first be imagined, namely, that the whole
mass, from the summit to the water's edge, is generally in
full view. I remember having seen a mountain, first from the
Beagle Channel, where the whole sweep from the summit to the
base was full in view, and then from Ponsonby Sound across
several successive ridges; and it was curious to observe in
the latter case, as each fresh ridge afforded fresh means of
judging of the distance, how the mountain rose in
height.   4   

Before reaching Port Famine, two men were
seen running along the shore and hailing the ship. A boat
was sent for them. They turned out to be two sailors who had
run away from a sealing-vessel, and had joined the
Patagonians. These Indians had treated them with their usual
disinterested hospitality. They had parted company through
accident, and were then proceeding to Port Famine in hopes
of finding some ship. I dare say they were worthless
vagabonds, but I never saw more miserable-looking ones. They
had been living for some days on mussel-shells and berries,
and their tattered clothes had been burnt by sleeping so
near their fires. They had been exposed night and day,
without any shelter, to the late incessant gales, with rain,
sleet, and snow, and yet they were in good health.   5

  During our stay at Port Famine, the Fuegians twice came
and plagued us. As there were many instruments, clothes, and
men on shore, it was thought necessary to frighten them
away. The first time a few great guns were fired, when they
were far distant. It was most ludicrous to watch through a
glass the Indians, as often as the shot struck the water,
take up stones, and, as a bold defiance, throw them towards
the ship, though about a mile and a half distant! A boat was
sent with orders to fire a few musket-shots wide of them.
The Fuegians hid themselves behind the trees, and for every
discharge of the muskets they fired their arrows; all,
however, fell short of the boat, and the officer as he
pointed at them laughed. This made the Fuegians frantic with
passion, and they shook their mantles in vain rage. At last,
seeing the balls cut and strike the trees, they ran away,
and we were left in peace and quietness. During the former
voyage the Fuegians were here very troublesome, and to
frighten them a rocket was fired at night over their
wigwams; it answered effectually, and one of the officers
told me that the clamour first raised, and the barking of
the dogs, was quite ludicrous in contrast with the profound
silence which in a minute or two afterwards prevailed. The
next morning not a single Fuegian was in the
neighbourhood.   6   

When the Beagle was here in the month of February, I started one
morning at four o'clock to ascend Mount Tarn, which is 2600 feet high,
and is the most elevated point in this immediate district. We went in
a boat to the foot of the mountain (but unluckily not to the best
part), and then began our ascent. The forest commences at
the line of high-water mark, and during the first two hours
I gave over all hopes of reaching the summit. So thick was
the wood, that it was necessary to have constant recourse to
the compass; for every landmark, though in a mountainous
country, was completely shut out. In the deep ravines, the
death-like scene of desolation exceeded all description;
outside it was blowing a gale, but in these hollows, not
even a breath of wind stirred the leaves of the tallest
trees. So gloomy, cold, and wet was every part, that not
even the fungi, mosses, or ferns could flourish. In the
valleys it was scarcely possible to crawl along, they were
so completely barricaded by great mouldering trunks, which
had fallen down in every direction. When passing over these
natural bridges, one's course was often arrested by sinking
knee deep into the rotten wood; at other times, when
attempting to lean against a firm tree, one was startled by
finding a mass of decayed matter ready to fall at the
slightest touch. We at last found ourselves among the
stunted trees, and then soon reached the bare ridge, which
conducted us to the summit. Here was a view characteristic
of Tierra del Fuego; irregular chains of hills, mottled with
patches of snow, deep yellowish-green valleys, and arms of
the sea intersecting the land in many directions. The strong
wind was piercingly cold, and the atmosphere rather hazy, so
that we did not stay long on the top of the mountain. Our
descent was not quite so laborious as our ascent; for the
weight of the body forced a passage, and all the slips and
falls were in the right direction.   7    

 I have already mentioned the sombre and dull character of the
evergreen forests, 3 in which two or three species of trees grow, to
the exclusion of all others. Above the forest land, there
are many dwarf alpine plants, which all spring from the mass
of peat, and help to Wompose it: these plants are very
remarkable from their close alliance with the species
growing on the mountains of Europe, though so many thousand
miles distant. The central part of Tierra del Fuego, where
the clay-slate formation occurs, is most favourable to the
growth of trees; on the outer coast the poorer granitic
soil, and a situation more exposed to the violent winds, do
not allow of their attaining any great size. Near Port
Famine I have seen more large trees than anywhere else: I
measured a Winter's Bark which was four feet six inches in
girth, and several of the beech were as much as thirteen
feet. Captain King also mentions a beech which was seven
feet in diameter, seventeen feet above the roots.   8

  There is one vegetable production deserving notice from
its importance as an article of food to the Fuegians. It is
a globular, bright yellow fungus, ( Indian Bread) which grows
in vast numbers on the beech-trees. When young it is elastic and
turgid, with a smooth surface; but when mature it shrinks,
becomes tougher, and has its entire surface deeply pitted or
honey-combed, as represented in the accompanying wood-cut.
This fungus belongs to a new and curious genus; 4 I found a
second species on another species of beech in Chile; and Dr.
Hooker informs me, that just lately a third species has been
discovered on a third species of beech in Van Dieman's Land.
How singular is this relationship between parasitical fungi
and the trees on which they grow, in distant parts of the
world! In Tierra del Fuego the fungus in its tough and
mature state is collected in large quantities by the women
and children, and is eaten uncooked. It has a mucilaginous,
slightly sweet taste, with a faint smell like that of a
mushroom. With the exception of a few berries, chiefly of a
dwarf arbutus, the natives eat no vegetable food besides
this fungus. In New Zealand, before the introduction of the
potato, the roots of the fern were largely consumed; at the
present time, I believe, Tierra del Fuego is the only
country in the world where a cryptogamic plant affords a
staple article of food.   9     

Indian Bread Fungas


The zoology of Tierra del Fuego, as might have been expected from
the nature of its climate and vegetation, is very poor. Of mammalia,
besides whales and seals, there is one bat, a kind of mouse
(Reithrodon chinchilloides), two true mice, a ctenomys
allied to or identical with the tucutuco, two foxes (Canis
Magellanicus and C. Azaræ), a sea-otter, the guanaco, and a
deer. Most of these animals inhabit only the drier eastern
parts of the country; and the deer has never been seen south
of the Strait of Magellan. Observing the general
correspondence of the cliffs of soft sandstone, mud, and
shingle, on the opposite sides of the Strait, and on some
intervening islands, one is strongly tempted to believe that
the land was once joined, and thus allowed animals so
delicate and helpless as the tucutuco and Reithrodon to pass
over. The correspondence of the cliffs is far from proving
any junction; because such cliffs generally are formed by
the intersection of sloping deposits, which, before the
elevation of the land, had been accumulated near the then
existing shores. It is, however, a remarkable coincidence,
that in the two large islands cut off by the Beagle Channel
from the rest of Tierra del Fuego, one has cliffs composed
of matter that may be called stratified alluvium, which
front similar ones on the opposite side of the
channel,-while the other is exclusively bordered by old
crystalline rocks: in the former, called Navarin Island,
both foxes and guanacos occur; but in the latter, Hoste
Island, although similar in every respect, and only
separated by a channel a little more than half a mile wide,
I have the word of Jemmy Button for saying that neither of
these animals are found.   10   

The gloomy woods are inhabited by few birds: occasionally the plaintive
note of a white-tufted tyrant-flycatcher (Myiobius albiceps) may be
heard, concealed near the summit of the most lofty trees;
and more rarely the loud strange cry of a black wood-pecker,
with a fine scarlet crest on its head. A little,
dusky-coloured wren (Scytalopus Magellanicus) hops in a
skulking manner among the entangled mass of the fallen and
decaying trunks. But the creeper (Oxyurus tupinieri) is the
commonest bird in the country. Throughout the beech forests,
high up and low down, in the most gloomy, wet, and
impenetrable ravines, it may be met with. This little bird
no doubt appears more numerous than it really is, from its
habit of following with seeming curiosity any person who
enters these silent woods: continually uttering a harsh
twitter, it flutters from tree to tree, within a few feet of
the intruder's face. It is far from wishing for the modest
concealment of the true creeper (Certhia familiaris); nor
does it, like that bird, run up the trunks of trees, but
industriously, after the manner of a willow-wren, hops
about, and searches for insects on every twig and branch. In
the more open parts, three or four species of finches, a
thrush, a starling (or Icterus), two Opetiorhynchi, and
several hawks and owls occur.   11   


The absence of any species whatever in the whole class of Reptiles,
is a marked feature in the zoology of this country, as well as in that
of the Falkland Islands. I do not ground this statement
merely on my own observation, but I heard it from the
Spanish inhabitants of the latter place, and from Jemmy
Button with regard to Tierra del Fuego. On the banks of the
Santa Cruz, in 50° south, I saw a frog; and it is not
improbable that these animals, as well as lizards, may be
found as far south as the Strait of Magellan, where the
country retains the character of Patagonia; but within the
damp and cold limit of Tierra del Fuego not one occurs. That
the climate would not have suited some of the orders, such
as lizards, might have been foreseen; but with respect to
frogs, this was not so obvious.   12   

Beetles occur in very small numbers: it was long before I could
believe that a country as large as Scotland, covered with vegetable
productions and with a variety of stations, could be so
unproductive. The few which I found were alpine species
(Harpalidæ and Heteromidæ) living under stones. The
vegetable-feeding Chrysomelidæ, so eminently characteristic
of the Tropics, are here almost entirely absent; 5 I saw
very few flies, butterflies, or bees, and no crickets or
Orthoptera. In the pools of water I found but a few aquatic
beetles, and not any fresh-water shells: Succinea at first
appears an exception; but here it must be called a
terrestrial shell, for it lives on the damp herbage far from
the water. Land-shells could be procured only in the same
alpine situations with the beetles. I have already
contrasted the climate as well as the general appearance of
Tierra del Fuego with that of Patagonia; and the difference
is strongly exemplified in the entomology. I do not believe
they have one species in common; certainly the general
character of the insects is widely different.   13   

If we turn from the land to the sea, we shall find the latter
as abundantly stocked with living creatures as the former is
poorly so. In all parts of the world a rocky and partially
protected shore perhaps supports, in a given space, a
greater number of individual animals than any other station.
There is one marine production which, from its importance,
is worthy of a particular history. It is the kelp, or
Macrocystis pyrifera. This plant grows on every rock from
low-water mark to a great depth, both on the outer coast and
within the channels. 6 I believe, during the voyages of the
Adventure and Beagle, not one rock near the surface was
discovered which was not buoyed by this floating weed. The
good service it thus affords to vessels navigating near this
stormy land is evident; and it certainly has saved many a
one from being wrecked. I know few things more surprising
than to see this plant growing and flourishing amidst those
great breakers of the western ocean, which no mass of rock,
let it be ever so hard, can long resist. The stem is round,
slimy, and smooth, and seldom has a diameter of so much as
an inch. A few taken together are sufficiently strong to
support the weight of the large loose stones, to which in
the inland channels they grow attached; and yet some of
these stones were so heavy that when drawn to the surface,
they could scarcely be lifted into a boat by one person.
Captain Cook, in his second voyage, says, that this plant at
Kerguelen Land rises from a greater depth than twenty-four
fathoms; "and as it does not grow in a perpendicular
direction, but makes a very acute angle with the bottom, and
much of it afterwards spreads many fathoms on the surface of
the sea, I am well warranted to say that some of it grows to
the length of sixty fathoms and upwards." I do not suppose
the stem of any other plant attains so great a length as
three hundred and sixty feet, as stated by Captain Cook.
Captain Fitz Roy, moreover, found it growing 7 up from the
greater depth of forty-five fathoms. The beds of this
sea-weed, even when of not great breadth, make excellent
natural floating breakwaters. It is quite curious to see, in
an exposed harbour, how soon the waves from the open sea, as
they travel through the straggling stems, sink in height,
and pass into smooth water.   14   

The number of living creatures of all Orders, whose existence
intimately depends on the kelp, is wonderful. A great volume might be
written, describing the inhabitants of one of these beds of seaweed.
Almost all the leaves, excepting those that float on the
surface, are so thickly incrusted with corallines as to be
of a white colour. We find exquisitely delicate structures,
some inhabited by simple hydra-like polypi, others by more
organized kinds, and beautiful compound Ascidiæ. On the
leaves, also, various patelliform shells, Trochi, uncovered
molluscs, and some bivalves are attached. Innumerable
crustacea frequent every part of the plant. On shaking the
great entangled roots, a pile of small fish, shells,
cuttle-fish, crabs of all orders, sea-eggs, star-fish,
beautiful Holuthuriæ, Planariæ, and crawling nereidous
animals of a multitude of forms, all fall out together.
Often as I recurred to a branch of the kelp, I never failed
to discover animals of new and curious structures. In
Chiloe, where the kelp does not thrive very well, the
numerous shells, corallines, and crustacea are absent; but
there yet remain a few of the Flustraceæ, and some compound
Ascidiæ; the latter, however, are of different species from
those in Tierra del Fuego: we see here the fucus possessing
a wider range than the animals which use it as an abode. I
can only compare these great aquatic forests of the southern
hemisphere with the terrestrial ones in the intertropical
regions. Yet if in any country a forest was destroyed, I do
not believe nearly so many species of animals would perish
as would here, from the destruction of the kelp. Amidst the
leaves of this plant numerous species of fish live, which
nowhere else could find food or shelter; with their
destruction the many cormorants and other fishing birds, and
otters, seals, and porpoises, would son perish also; and
lastly, the Fuegian savage, the miserable lord of this
miserable land, would redouble his cannibal feast, decrease
in numbers, and perhaps cease to exist.   15   

June 8th.-We weighed anchor early in the morning and left Port
Famine. Captain Fitz Roy determined to leave the Strait of
Magellan by the Magdalen Channel, which had not long been
discovered. Our course lay due south, down that gloomy
passage which I have before alluded to as appearing to lead
to another and worse world. The wind was fair, but the
atmosphere was very thick; so that we missed much curious
scenery. The dark ragged clouds were rapidly driven over the
mountains, from their summits nearly down to their bases.
The glimpses which we caught through the dusky mass were
highly interesting; jagged points, cones of snow, blue
glaciers, strong outlines, marked on a lurid sky, were seen
at different distances and heights. In the midst of such
scenery we anchored at Cape Turn, close to Mount Sarmiento,
which was then hidden in the clouds. At the base of the
lofty and almost perpendicular sides of our little cove
there was one deserted wigwam, and it alone reminded us that
man sometimes wandered into these desolate regions. But it
would be difficult to imagine a scene where he seemed to
have fewer claims or less authority. The inanimate works of
nature-rock, ice, snow, wind, and water all warring with
each other, yet combined against man-here reigned in
absolute sovereignty.   16   

June 9th.-In the morning, we were delighted by seeing the veil of mist
gradually rise from Sarmiento, and display it to our view. This
mountain, which is one of the highest in Tierra del Fuego, has an
altitude of 6800 feet. Its base, for about an eighth of its
total height, is clothed by dusky woods, and above this a
field of snow extends to the summit. These vast piles of
snow, which never melt, and seem destined to last as long as
the worlds holds together, present a noble and even sublime
spectacle. The outline of the mountain was admirably clear
and defined. Owing to the abundance of light reflected from
the white and glittering surface, no shadows were cast on
any part; and those lines which intersected the sky could
alone be distinguished: hence the mass stood out in the
boldest relief. Several glaciers descended in a winding
course from the upper great expanse of snow to the
sea-coast: they may be likened to great frozen Niagaras; and
perhaps these cataracts of blue ice are full as beautiful as
the moving ones of water. By night we reached the western
part of the channel; but the water was so deep that no
anchorage could be found. We were in consequence obliged to
stand off and on in this narrow arm of the sea, during a
pitch-dark night of fourteen hours long.   17   

June 10th.-In the morning we made the best of our way into the
open Pacific. The western coast generally consists of low,
rounded, quite barren hills of granite and greenstone. Sir
J. Narborough called one part South Desolation, Because it
is "so desolate a land to behold:" and well indeed might he
say so. Outside the main islands, there are numberless
scattered rock son which the long swell of the open ocean
incessantly rages. We passed out between the East and West
Furies; and a little farther northward there are so many
breakers that the sea is called the Milky Way. One sight of
such a coast is enough to make a landsman dream for a week
about shipwrecks, peril, and death; and with this sight we
bade farewell for ever to Tierra del Fuego.   18     

The following discussion on the climate of the southern parts of
the continent with relation to its productions, on the
snow-line, on the extraordinarily low descent of the
glaciers, and on the zone of perpetual congelation in the
antarctic islands, may be passed over by any one not
interested in these curious subjects, or the final
recapitulation alone may be read. I shall, however, here
give only an abstract, and must refer for details to the
Thirteenth Chapter and the Appendix of the former edition of
this work.   19   

On the Climate and Productions of Tierra del Fuego and of the South-west
Coast.-The following table gives the mean temperature of Tierra del Fuego,
the Falkland Islands, and, for comparison, that of Dublin:-

          Latitude Summer Temp. Winter Temp. Mean of Summer and Winter
Tierra del Fuego 53° 38' S. 50° 33°.08 41°.54
Falkland Islands 51 38 S. 51 - -
Dublin 53 21 N. 59.54 39.2 49.37

Hence we see that the central part of Tierra del Fuego is colder in
winter, and no less than 9.5° less hot in summer, than
Dublin. According to von Buch, the mean temperature of July
(not the hottest month in the year) at Saltenfiord in
Norway, is as high as 57°.8°, and this place is actually 13°
nearer the pole than Port Famine! 8 Inhospitable as this
climate appears to our feelings, evergreen trees flourish
luxuriantly under it. Humming-birds may be seen sucking the
flowers, and parrots feeding on the seeds of the Winter's
Bark, in lat. 55° S. I have already remarked to what a
degree the sea swarms with living creatures; and the shells
(such as the Patellæ, Fissurellæ, Chitons, and Barnacles),
according to Mr. G. B. Sowerby, are of a much larger size
and of a more vigorous growth, than the analogous species in
the northern hemisphere. A large Voluta is abundant in
southern Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands. At Bahia
Blanca, in lat. 39° S., the most abundant shells were three
species of Oliva (one of large size), one or two Volutas,
and a Terebra. Now, these are amongst the best characterized
tropical forms. It is doubtful whether even one small
species of Oliva exists on the southern shores of Europe,
and there are no species of the two other genera. If a
geologist were to find in lat. 39° on the coast of Portugal
a bed containing numerous shells belonging to three species
of Oliva, to a Voluta and Terebra, he would probably assert
that the climate at the period of their existence must have
been tropical; but judging from South America, such as
inference might be erroneous.   20   

The equable, humid, and windy climate of Tierra del Fuego extends,
with only a small increase of heat, for many degrees along the west
coast of the continent. The forests for 600 miles northward
of Cape Horn, have a very similar aspect. As a proof of the
equable climate, even for 300 or 400 miles still further
northward, I may mention that in Chiloe (corresponding in
latitude with the northern part of Spain) the peach seldom
produces fruit, whilst strawberries and apples thrive to
perfection. Even the crops of barley and wheat 9 are often
brought into the houses to be dried and ripened. At Valdivia
(in the same latitude of 40°, with Madrid) grapes and figs
ripen, but are not common; olives seldom ripen even
partially, and oranges not at all. These fruits, in
corresponding latitude in Europe, are well known to succeed
to perfection; and even in this continent, at the Rio Negro,
under nearly the same parallel with Valdivia, sweet potatoes
(convolvulus) are cultivated; and grapes, figs, olives,
oranges, water and musk melons, produce abundant fruit.
Although the humid and equable climate of Chiloe, and of the
coast northward and southward of it, is so unfavourable to
our fruits, yet the native forest, from lat. 45° to 38°,
almost rival in luxuriance those of the glowing
intertropical regions. Stately trees of many kinds, with
smooth and highly coloured barks, are loaded by parasitical
monocotyledonous plants; large and elegant ferns are
numerous, and arborescent grasses entwine the trees into one
entangled mass to the height of thirty or forty feet above
the ground. Palm-trees grow in lat. 37°; an arborescent
grass, very like a bamboo, in 40°; and another closely
allied kind, of great length, but not erect, flourishes even
as far south as 45° S.   21   

An equable climate, evidently due to the large area of sea compared with the
land, seems to extend over the greater part of the southern
hemisphere; and, as a consequence, the vegetation partakes
of a semi-tropical character. Tree-ferns thrive luxuriantly
in Van Diemen's Land (lat. 45°), and I measured one trunk no
less than six feet in circumference. An arborescent fern was
found by Forster in New Zealand in 46°, where orchideous
plants are parasitical on the trees. In the Auckland
Islands, ferns, according to Dr. Dieffenbach 10 have trunks
so thick and high that they may be almost called tree-ferns;
and in these islands, and even as far south as lat. 55° in
the Macquarrie Islands, parrots abound.   22   

On the Height of the Snow-line, and on the Descent of the Glaciers
in South America.-For the detailed authorities for the
following table, I must refer to the former edition:-

      Latitude Height in feet at Snow-line Observer
Equatorial region; mean result 15,748 Humboldt.
Bolivia, lat. 16° to 18° S. 17,000 Pentland.
Central Chile, lat. 33° S 14,500 to 15,000 Gillies, and the Author.
Chiloe, lat. 41° to 43° S. 6,000 Officers of the Beagle, and the Author.
Tierra del Fuego, 54° 3,500 to 4,000 King.

As the height of the plane of perpetual snow
seems chiefly to be determined by the extreme heat of the
summer, rather than by the mean temperature of the year, we
ought not to be surprised at its descent in the Strait of
Magellan, where the summer is so cool, to only 3500 or 4000
feet above the level of the sea; although in Norway, we must
travel to between lat. 67° and 70° N., that is, about 14°
nearer the pole, to meet with perpetual snow at this low
level. The difference in height, namely, about 9000 feet,
between the snowline on the Cordillera behind Chiloe (with
its highest points ranging from only 5600 to 7500 feet) and
in Central Chile 11 ( a distance of only 9° of latitude), is
truly wonderful. The land from the southward of Chiloe to
near Concepcion (lat. 37°) is hidden by one dense forest
dripping with moisture. The sky is cloudy, and we have seen
how badly the fruits of southern Europe succeed. In central
Chile, on the other hand, a little northward of Concepcion,
the sky is generally clear, rain does not fall for the seven
summer months, and southern European fruits succeed
admirably; and even the sugarcane has been cultivated. 12 No
doubt the plane of perpetual snow undergoes the above
remarkable flexure of 9000 feet, unparalleled in other parts
of the world, not far from the latitude of Concepcion, where
the land ceases to be covered with forest-trees; for trees
in South America indicate a rainy climate, and rain a
clouded sky and little heat in summer.   23   

The descent of glaciers to the sea must, I conceive, mainly depend
(subject, of course, to a proper supply of snow in the upper
region) on the lowness of the line of perpetual snow on
steep mountains near the coast. As the snow-line is so low
in Tierra del Fuego, we might have expected that many of the
glaciers would have reached the sea. Nevertheless, I was
astonished when I first saw a range, only from 3000 to 4000
feet in height, in the latitude of Cumberland, with every
valley filled with streams of ice descending to the
sea-coast. Almost every arm of the sea, which penetrates to
the interior higher chain, not only in Tierra del Fuego, but
on the coast for 650 miles northwards, is terminated by
"tremendous and astonishing glaciers," as described by one
of the officers on the survey. Great masses of ice
frequently fall from these icy cliffs, and the crash
reverberates like the broadside of a man-of-war through the
lonely channels. These falls, as noticed in the last
chapter, produce great waves which break on the adjoining
coasts. It is known that earthquakes frequently cause masses
of earth to fall from sea-cliffs: how terrific, then, would
be the effect of a severe shock (and such occur here 13) on
a body like a glacier, already in motion, and traversed by
fissures! I can readily believe that the water would be
fairly beaten back out of the deepest channel, and then,
returning with an overwhelming force, would whirl about huge
masses of rock like so much chaff. In Eyre's Sound, in the
latitude of Paris, there are immense glaciers, and yet the
loftiest neighbouring mountain is only 6200 feet high. In
this Sound, about fifty icebergs were seen at one time
floating outwards, and one of them must have been at least
168 feet in total height. Some of the icebergs were loaded
with blocks of no inconsiderable size, of granite and other
rocks, different from the clay-slate of the surrounding
mountains. The glacier furthest from the pole, surveyed
during the voyages of the Adventure and Beagle, is in lat.
46° 50', in the Gulf of Penas. It is 15 miles long, and in
one part 7 broad and descends to the sea-coast. But even a
few miles northward of this glacier, in the Laguna de San
Rafael, some Spanish missionaries 14 encountered "many
icebergs, some great, some small, and others middle-sized,"
in a narrow arm of the sea, on the 22nd of the month
corresponding with our June, and in a latitude corresponding
with that of the Lake of Geneva!   24     

In Europe, the most southern glacier which comes down to the sea
is met with, according to Von Buch, on the coast of Norway, in lat.
67°. Now, this is more than 20° of latitude, or 1230 miles,
nearer the pole than the Laguna de San Rafael. The position
of the glaciers at this place and in the Gulf of Penas may
be put even in a more striking point of view, for they
descend to the sea-coast within 7.5° of latitude, or 450
miles, of a harbour, where three species of Oliva, a Voluta,
and a Terebra, are the commonest shells, within less than 9°
from where palms grow, within 4.5° of a region where the
jaguar and puma range over the plains, less than 2.5° from
arborescent grasses, and (looking to the westward in the
same hemisphere) less than 2° from orchideous parasites, and
within a single degree of tree-ferns!   25   

These facts are of high geological interest with respect to the climate
of the southern hemisphere at the period when boulders were
transported. I will not here detail how simply the theory of
icebergs being charged with fragments of rock, explain the
origin and position of the gigantic boulders of eastern
Tierra del Fuego, on the high plain of Santa Cruz, and on
the island of Chiloe. In Tierra del Fuego, the greater
number of boulders lie on the lines of old sea-channels, now
converted into dry valleys by the elevation of the land.
They are associated with a great unstratified formation of
mud and sand, containing rounded and angular fragments of
all sizes, which has originated 15 in the repeated ploughing
up of the sea bottom by the stranding of icebergs, and by
the matter transported on them. Few geologists now doubt
that those erratic boulders which lie near lofty mountains
have been pushed forward by the glaciers themselves, and
that those distant from mountains, and embedded in
subaqueous deposits, have been conveyed thither either on
icebergs or frozen in coast-ice. The connection between the
transportal of boulders and the presence of ice in some
form, is strikingly shown by their geographical distribution
over the earth. In South America they are not found further
than 48° of latitude, measured from the southern pole; in
North America it appears that the limit of their transportal
extends to 53.5° from the northern pole; but in Europe to
not more than 40° of latitude, measured from the same point.
On the other hand, in the intertropical parts of America,
Asia, and Africa, they have never been observed; nor at the
Cape of Good Hope, nor in Australia. 16   26   

On the Climate and Productions of the Antarctic
Islands.-Considering the rankness of the vegetation in
Tierra del Fuego, and on the coast northward of it, the
condition of the islands south and south-west of America is
truly surprising. Sandwich Land, in the latitude of the
north part of Scotland, was found by Cook, during the
hottest month of the year, "covered many fathoms thick with
everlasting snow;" and there seems to be scarcely any
vegetation. Georgia, an island 96 miles long and 10 broad,
in the latitude of Yorkshire, "in the very height of summer,
is in a manner wholly covered with frozen snow." It can
boast only of moss, some tufts of grass, and wild burnet; it
has only one land-bird (Anthus correndera), yet Iceland,
which is 10° nearer the pole, has, according to Mackenzie,
fifteen land-birds. The South Shetland Islands, in the same
latitude as the southern half of Norway, possess only some
lichens, moss, and a little grass; and Lieut. Kendall 17
found the bay, in which he was at anchor, beginning to
freeze at a period corresponding with our 8th of September.
The soil here consists of ice and volcanic ashes
interstratified; and at a little depth beneath the surface
it must remain perpetually congealed, for Lieut. Kendall
found the body of a foreign sailor which had long been
buried, with the flesh and all the features perfectly
preserved. It is a singular fact, that on the two great
continents in the northern hemisphere (but not in the broken
land of Europe between them), we have the zone of
perpetually frozen undersoil in a low latitude-namely, in
56° in North America at the depth of three feet, 18 and in
62° in Siberia at the depth of twelve to fifteen feet-as the
result of a directly opposite condition of things to those
of the southern hemisphere. On the northern continents, the
winter is rendered excessively cold by the radiation from a
large area of land into a clear sky, nor is it moderated by
the warmth-bringing currents of the sea; the short summer,
on the other hand, is hot. In the Southern Ocean the winter
is not so excessively cold, but the summer is far less hot,
for the clouded sky seldom allows the sun to warm the ocean,
itself a bad absorbent of heat; and hence the mean
temperature of the year, which regulates the zone of
perpetually congealed under-soil, is low. It is evident that
a rank vegetation, which does not so much require heat as it
does protection from intense cold, would approach much
nearer to this zone of perpetual congelation under the
equable climate of the southern hemisphere, than under the
extreme climate of the northern continents.   27   

The case of the sailor's body perfectly preserved in the icy
soil of the South Shetland Islands (lat. 62° to 63° S.), in
a rather lower latitude than that (lat. 64° N.) under which
Pallas found the frozen rhinoceros in Siberia, is very
interesting. Although it is a fallacy, as I have endeavoured
to show in a former chapter, to suppose that the larger
quadrupeds require a luxuriant vegetation for their support,
nevertheless it is important to find in the South Shetland
Islands, a frozen under-soil within 360 miles of the
forest-clad islands near Cape Horn, where, as far as the
bulk of vegetation is concerned, any number of great
quadrupeds might be supported. The perfect preservation of
the carcasses of the Siberian elephants and rhinoceroses is
certainly one of the most wonderful facts in geology; but
independently of the imagined difficulty of supplying them
with food from the adjoining countries, the whole case is
not, I think, so perplexing as it has generally been
considered. The plains of Siberia, like those of the Pampas,
appear to have been formed under the sea, into which rivers
brought down the bodies of many animals; of the greater
number of these, only the skeletons have been preserved, but
of others the perfect carcass. Now, it is known that in the
shallow sea on the Arctic coast of America the bottom
freezes, 19 and does not thaw in spring so soon as the
surface of the land; moreover at greater depths, where the
bottom of the sea does not freeze, the mud a few feet
beneath the top layer might remain even in summer below 32°,
as in the case on the land with the soil at the depth of a
few feet. At still greater depths, the temperature of the
mud and water would probably not be low enough to preserve
the flesh; and hence, carcasses drifted beyond the shallow
parts near an Arctic coast, would have only their skeletons
preserved: now in the extreme northern parts of Siberia
bones are infinitely numerous, so that even islets are said
to be almost composed of them; 20 and those islets lie no
less than ten degrees of latitude north of the place where
Pallas found the frozen rhinoceros. On the other hand, a
carcass washed by a flood into a shallow part of the Arctic
Sea, would be preserved for an indefinite period, if it were
soon afterwards covered with mud sufficiently thick to
prevent the heat of the summer-water penetrating to it; and
if, when the sea-bottom was upraised into land, the covering
was sufficiently thick to prevent the heat of the summer air
and sun thawing and corrupting it.   28

  Recapitulation.-

I will recapitulate the principal facts with regard to the climate,
ice-action, and organic productions of the southern hemisphere,
transposing the places in imagination to Europe, with which we are
so much better acquainted. Then, near Lisbon, the commonest
sea-shells, namely, three species of Oliva, a Voluta, and a
Terebra, would have a tropical character. In the southern
provinces of France, magnificent forests, intwined by
arborescent grasses and with the trees loaded with
parasitical plants, would hide the face of the land. The
puma and the jaguar would haunt the Pyrenees. In the
latitude of Mont Blanc, but on an island as far westward as
Central North America, tree-ferns and parasitical Orchideæ
would thrive amidst the thick woods. Even as far north as
central Denmark, humming-birds would be seen fluttering
about delicate flowers, and parrots feeding amidst the
evergreen woods; and in the sea there, we should have a
Voluta, and all the shells of large size and vigorous
growth. Nevertheless, on some islands only 360 miles
northward of our new Cape Horn in Denmark, a carcass buried
in the soil (or if washed into a shallow sea, and covered up
with mud) would be preserved perpetually frozen. If some
bold navigator attempted to penetrate northward of these
islands, he would run a thousand dangers amidst gigantic
icebergs, on some of which he would see great blocks of rock
borne far away from their original site. Another island of
large size in the latitude of southern Scotland, but twice
as far to the west, would be "almost wholly covered with
everlasting snow," and would have each bay terminated by
ice-cliffs, whence great masses would be yearly detached:
this island would boast only of a little moss, grass, and
burnet, and a titlark would be its only land inhabitant.
From our new Cape Horn in Denmark, a chain of mountains,
scarcely half the height of the Alps, would run in a
straight line due southward; and on its western flank every
deep creek of the sea, or fiord, would end in "bold and
astonishing glaciers." These lonely channels would
frequently reverberate with the falls of ice, and so often
would great waves rush along their coasts; numerous
icebergs, some as tall as cathedrals, and occasionally
loaded with "no inconsiderable blocks of rock," would be
stranded on the outlying islets; at intervals violent
earthquakes would shoot prodigious masses of ice into the
waters below. Lastly, some missionaries attempting to
penetrate a long arm of the sea, would behold the not lofty
surrounding mountains, sending down their many grand icy
streams to the sea-coast, and their progress in the boats
would be checked by the innumerable floating icebergs, some
small and some great; and this would have occurred on our
twenty-second of June, and where the Lake of Geneva is now
spread out! 21   29  

NOTES

Note 1. The south-westerly breezes are generally very dry. January 29th,
being at anchor under Cape Gregory: a very hard gale from W. by S., clear
sky with few cumuli; temperature 57°, dew-point 36°,-difference 21°.
On January 15th, at Port St. Julian: in the morning, light
winds with much rain, followed by a very heavy squall with
rain,-settled into heavy gale with large cumuli,-cleared up,
blowing very strong from S.S.W. Temperature 60°, dew-point
42°,-difference 18°. [back] Note 2. Rengger, Natur. der
Saugethiere von Paraguay. S. 334. [back] Note 3. Captain
Fitz Roy informs me that in April (our October), the leaves
of those trees which grow near the base of the mountains
change colour, but not those on the more elevated parts. I
remember having read some observations, showing that in
England the leaves fall earlier in a warm and fine autumn
than in a late and cold one. The change in the colour being
here retarded in the more elevated, and therefore colder
situations, must be owing to the same general law of
vegetation. The trees of Tierra del Fuego during no part of
the year entirely shed t heir leaves. [back] Note 4.
Described from my specimens and notes by the Rev. J. M.
Berkeley, in the Linnean Transactions (vol. xix. p. 37),
under the name of Cyttaria Darwinii the Chilian species is
the C. Berteroii. This genus is allied to Bulgaria. [back]
Note 5. I believe I must except one alpine Haltica, and a
single specimen of a Melasoma. Mr. Waterhouse informs me,
that of the Harpalidæ there are eight or nine species-the
forms of the greater number being very peculiar; of
Heteromera, four or five species; of Rhyncophora, six or
seven; and of the following families one species in each:
Staphylinidæ, Elateridæ, Cebrionidæ, Melolonthidæ. The
species in the other orders are even fewer. In all the
orders, the scarcity of the individuals is even more
remarkable than that of the species. Most of the Coleoptera
have been carefully described by Mr. Waterhouse in the
Annals of Nat. Hist. [back] Note 6. Its geographical range
is remarkably wide; it is found from the extreme southern
islets near Cape Horn, as far north on the eastern coast
(according to information given me by Mr. Stokes) as lat.
43°,-but on the western coast, as Dr. Hooker tells me, it
extends to the R. San Francisco in California, and perhaps
even to Kamtschatka. We thus have an immense range in
latitude; and as Cook, who must have been well acquainted
with the species, found it at Kerguelen Land, no less than
140° in longitude. [back] Note 7. Voyages of the Adventure
and Beagle, vol. i. p. 363.-It appears that sea-weed grows
extremely quick.-Mr. Stephenson found (Wilson's Voyage round
Scotland, vol. ii. p. 228) that a rock uncovered only at
spring-tides, which had been chiselled smooth in November,
on the following May, that is, within six months afterwards,
was thickly covered with Fucus digitatus two feet, and F.
esculentus six feet, in length. [back] Note 8. With respect
to Tierra del Fuego, the results are deduced from the
observations by Capt. King (Geographical Journal, 1830), and
those taken on board the Beagle. For the Falkland Islands, I
am indebted to Capt. Sulivan for the mean of the mean
temperature (deduced from careful observation three times:
midnight, 8 A.M., noon, and 8 P.M.) of the three hottest
months, viz., December, January, and February. The
temperature of Dublin is taken from Barton. [back] Note 9.
Agüeros, Descrip. Hist. de la Prov. de Chiloé, 1791, p.
94. [back] Note 10. See the German Translation of this
Journal; and for the other facts, Mr. Brown's Appendix to
Flinders's Voyage. [back] Note 11. On the Cordillera of
central Chile, I believe the snow-line varies exceedingly in
height in different summers. I was assured that during one
very dry and long summer, all the snow disappeared from
Aconcagua, although it attains the prodigious height of
23,000 feet. It is probable that much of the snow at these
great heights is evaporated rather than thawed. [back] Note
12. Miers's Chile, vol. i p. 415. It is said that the
sugar-cane grew at Ingenio, lat. 32° to 33°, but not in
sufficient quantity to make the manufacture profitable. In
the valley of Quillota, south of Ingenio, I saw some large
date palm-trees. [back] Note 13. Bulkeley's and Cummin's
Faithful Narrative of the Loss of the Wager. The earthquake
happened August 25, 1741. [back] Note 14. Agüeros, Desc.
Hist. de Chiloe, p. 227. [back] Note 15. Geological
Transactions, vol. vi. p. 415. [back] Note 16. I have given
details (the first, I believe, published) on this subject in
the first edition, and in the Appendix to it. I have there
shown that the apparent exceptions to the absence of erratic
boulders in certain hot countries, are due to erroneous
observations; several statements there given I have since
found confirmed by various authors. [back] Note 17.
Geographical Journal, 1830, pp. 65, 66. [back] Note 18.
Richardson's Append. to Back's Exped., and Humboldt's Fragm.
Asiat., tom. ii. p. 386. [back] Note 19. Messrs. Dease and
Simpson, in Geograph. Journ., vol. viii. pp. 218 and
220. [back] Note 20. Cuvier (Ossemens Fossiles, tom. i. p.
151), from Billing's Voyage. [back] Note 21. In the former
edition and Appendix, I have given some facts on the
transportal of erratic boulders and icebergs in the
Antarctic Ocean. This subject has lately been treated
excellently by Mr. Hayes, in the Boston Journal (vol. iv. p.
426). The author does not appear aware of a case published
by me (Geographical Journal, vol. ix. p. 528) of a gigantic
boulder embedded in an iceberg in the Antarctic Ocean,
almost certainly one hundred miles distant from any land,
and perhaps much more distant. In the Appendix I have
discussed at length the probability (at that time hardly
thought of) of icebergs, when stranded, grooving and
polishing rocks, like glaciers. This is now a very commonly
received opinion; and I cannot still avoid the suspicion
that it is applicable even to such cases as that of the
Jura. Dr. Richardson has assured me that the icebergs off
North America push before them pebbles and sand, and leave
the submarine rocky flats quite bare; it is hardly possible
to doubt that such ledges must be polished and scored in the
direction of the set of the prevailing currents. Since
writing that Appendix, I have seen in North Wales (London
Phil. Mag., vol. xxi. p. 180) the adjoining action of
glaciers and floating icebergs.



For your FREE monthly newsletter, The Patagonian Newsletter Monthly,
with information (By Email only) on Patagonia,
Tierra Del Fuego, Antarctica, Cape Horn and South Georgia,
send mailto:sailing@victory-cruises.com and write "subscribe"

Reader's Comment: Wonderful newsletter! Thanks so much.


cd