Bibliography Texts

Voyage of H. M. S. Blonde to the Sandwich Islands, in the years 1824-1825

CAPTAIN THE RIGHT HON. LORD BYRON, COMMANDER


Galápagos Section only. Footnotes are (*) in the original; (§) in this online page.


March 17 [1825].—We sailed from Callao and steered for the Gallapagos, where we intended to water and lay in a stock of terrapin or land-turtle for our voyage across the Pacific.

Friday, March 25.—Early in the morning we made Charles's Island, the southernmost of the Gallapagos; and though we had first intended to have cut wood there, yet fearing that we should not, in that case, reach the little harbour in Albemarle Island before night, we passed it without landing, and shortly afterwards left the Isles of Hood and Chatham to leeward. Charles's Island is about three miles in length and a thousand feet in height; the rocks seem to be covered with the prickly pear (Cactus ficus Indicus), and, as in all the others of the group, the mangrove adorns the water's edge. Close to it lies Gardiner's Island, and a singular rock through the middle of which there is a natural arch, both of which we passed early; but, owing to the currents, we did not reach Bank's Cove in Albemarle Island until the morning of the 26th. This is the largest and loftiest of the Gallapagos group; several extinct craters show that fire has, at no remote period, been as active here as it now is in Narborough and some of the others. Its length from north to south is about 75 miles, and the southern end appears to be well wooded. The heat was very great as we approached the land, the thermometer standing at 84°; and as we shot into the cove we disturbed such a number of aquatic birds and other animals, that we were nearly deafened with their wild and piercing cries. The place is like a new creation: the birds and beasts do not get out of our way; the pelicans and sea-lions look in our faces as if we had no right to intrude on their solitude; the small birds are so tame that they hop upon our feet; and all this amidst volcanoes which are burning around us on either hand. Altogether it is as wild and desolate a scene as imagination can picture.

27th March.—Our first care this morning was to search for the water with which we were to complete the ship, but to our great mortification we found the springs, which are usually abundant, nearly dried up, and were therefore obliged to put the ship's company on an allowance. A boat was despatched to Narborough Island to procure land-turtle, and others were employed in fishing with great success. Our Sandwich Island chiefs landed on our anchoring, and having found two huts left by some former visitors, they remained in them to enjoy the pleasures of fishing and bathing according to the customs of their own country, while we staid in the harbour.

Our party to Narborough Island landed among an innumberable host of sea-guanas*, the ugliest living creatures we ever beheld.

* Amblyrhyncus Cristatus—described by Bell § from a specimen brought to Europe by Mr. Bullock §§ among his Mexican curiosities. Mr. B. did not state the spot were it was found: probably on the Pacific shore.

§ Thomas Bell: “On a new Genus of Iguanidæ.” In The Zoological Journal, vol. II, pp. 204-208. London: W. Phillips, et al 1826.

§§ William Bullock.

They are like the alligator, but with a more hideous head, and of a dirty sooty black colour, and sat on the black lava rocks like so many imps of darkness.§ As far as the eye could reach we saw nothing but rough fields of lava, that seemed to have hardened while the force of the wind had been rippling its liquid surface. In some places we could fancy the fiery sea had been only gently agitated; in others, it seemed as if it had been swept into huge waves. Here and there it was rent into deep crevices coated with iron rust, and filled up with salt water. Far inland too, the pools are salt; and not a vegetable, but the cactus here and there, is seen to root in the rock. Seaward, however, the eye is relieved by a few patches of mangrove, which have begun to fringe the desolate place with green.

§ This is the first known occurrence of the “imps of darkness” phrase to describe the marine iguana, and probably the source of Darwin's September 17th, 1835 Diary entry.

About half way down the steep south-east side of the Island, a volcano burns day and night; and near the beach a crater was pouring forth streams of lava, which on reaching the sea caused it to bubble in an extraordinary manner. We returned to the ship in the afternoon, having taken forty-six large green turtle, but failed of getting any terrapin. We also killed some seals, pelicans, and penguins, and saw sea-lions sporting about the rocks.

March 29.—We were employed in cutting wood, and procured a sufficiency for three weeks; but, as usual in hot climates, brought on board with it scorpions and centipedes. The high Island of Albemarle is tolerably green, but in one part there is a bleak field of lava, which appears to have flowed out of the flank of the grassy mountain, pretty low down. Our botanist found several rare and interesting plants, some of which are probably quite new; but with the exception of the common balsam-tree and a species of acacia, most of the vegetation is dwarfish. The land birds are few here, but the brown sea-guana* and a red-breasted lizard are to be seen in great numbers.

* Brown sea-guana, an amblyrhyncus, which at first the editor supposed might be the female of the black one, but on comparison the two animals appear so different as to induce the belief that they are distinct species. The measurement of a brown one, brought home by one of the lieutenants, is as follows: Length from the nose to the tail, one foot seven inches; length of the tail, one foot eight inches; height at the shoulder, nine inches; girth under the fore feet, one foot one inch; belly, one foot four inches; length of longest toe, two and a half inches, which is quite different from the black one, described by Bell: there is besides a great difference in the crest, which in the black consists of sharp flat scales, issuing like those of the alligator, and continuing quite to the end of the tail. In the brown one the crest is of thick round spines, of not near the height of those on the black one, and only extending to the back of the blade bones. The scales on the head and face of the brown are thick, pentangular, embossed; those of the black run into sharp spikes: the colour is a red ochrey brown, except the head, which is yellow.

We saw only one green snake, quite harmless, and found but few insects; however, our stay here was too short to procure any thing like a perfect catalogue of the natural productions of the Islands.

March 30.—We left Bank's Cove, and about noon came to a curious steep insulated [sic?, isolated?] rock called Redondo, round which we caught a great quantity of fish, and saw innumerable sharks. In the night we made Abington Island, and sent boats in the morning to hunt for terrapin, but owing to the strong west-north-west current they could not land.

April 2d.—We passed the westernmost of the Gallapagos, Wenman, and Culpepper's Islands, and then shaped a direct course for the Sandwich Isles. The thermometer has been for some days at 87° and 88° in the shade.

(end of Galápagos section)