Although the author does not give the year of his Galápagos visit, the following evidence suggests it was 1835:
“May 12. Having had our fill of this wretched land, we weighed anchor and stood out from the arid, treeless shows of Payta, bound for Cocos Island, in 10° N. lat., for water, stopping at the Galapagos Islands, en route to secure a store of terrapin. The second day from port we took two whales. No peculiar incident lent an interest to the capture, but they increased our oil to one hundred and forty barrels. In a few days we dropped anchor in the harbor of Porter Islands, a favored resort of Commodore Porter, commanding the frigate Essex during the last war with Great Britain.”
Volcanic Desolation.—To Black Beach for Terrapins.—We reject Green Turtle.—Strange New Life.—Town ho!—First terrapin.—A live Knapsack.—Grandfather as an Angler.—Supper in Camp.—Terrapin and Iguana.—Jim Seller's Philosophy, and probationary State for Captains.—Watch by the Camp-fires.—Breakfast, and proper Stowage of Grub.—A Cruise up into the Island.—The Voice of the Terrapin is heard in the Land.—Brown and the Sculptor.
The appearance of these volcanic islands is the extreme opposite of my prior conceptions of tropical scenery, but they fully realize the desolation of an earth born of fire. The jagged peaks shoot into the air almost devoid of vegetation. In places the sky outline is broken by gigantic cylindrical, or flat-stemmed cacti, whose rigid forms and blunt terminations are only suggestive of dead, branchless trees. Along the shores at intervals are stunted growths of brownish foliage, and at the projecting points black, shapeless masses of lava. My dreams of the verdure and bloom of the tropics seem as though they are never to be satisfied. But, as Posey remarks it was not scenery we came in, and we will find the best fruits of this paradise running on four feet, and packed away in shells. The old hands long since whetted our appetites by toothsome talk of the land-terrapin of these islands, and we cheerfully lent a hand in preparations for an early start to Black Beach, a few miles from the anchorage, to seek the delicate game.
Two old boats were selected, stored, and swung alongside. Long before day-dawn, the call of “all hands turn out for shore duty,” started the crew into active life. A hurried breakfast disposed of, the two mates, with ten men, were soon bending to the long, sweeping oars of the whale-boat. A pulling song and chorus marked time to the stroke, and awakened echoes in the lava-cliffs of the near shore, and seemingly responsive cries in the sea-birds and seals. As day revealed the jutting rocks, we kept nearer inshore, and on the points and beaches saw numbers of seals and large turtles, the former so fearless that they took no alarm at the passing boats. Philosophic-looking pelicans, perhaps brooding over piscatorial theories, crowned the rocks, and great gatherings of gannet and boobies flew screaming over our heads. A narrow beach of dark olive-colored sand marked our landing-place, where we ran the boats ashore, unloaded them, and drew them up out of harm's way, erecting a shelter out of an old top-gallant sail. We left two men to prepare camp, while the rest started for the back country to hunt terrapin, the order being to prepare the first one captured for our dinner. We became very fastidious on terrapin-ground, and were above green turtle—considering them somewhat coarse food, suitable, no doubt, for aldermen and others of the shark family. So we left the flat-shelled fellows sprawling on the beaches behind us, with the hope that at some time they might be made into soup for hunters less epicurean than we.
After getting on our stout shoes, the first worn since we left the shores of America, we clambered over a rocky way which skirted the beach, and struck into a pathway tramped upon first, perchance, by Sir Francis Drake. A short distance inland we spread abroad among the scant bushes to hunt our slow-going game. Every thing about was so strange that each step revealed new objects of interest. The purely volcanic nature of the rocks and soil; the enormous spiny cactus; the broad-palmed prickly pear; the aromatic foliage; the great iguanas nodding good-morning to me, or running noisily through the dried grass to a neighboring hole; the multitudes of curious, bright-colored lizards skipping over the burned rocks, and the tameness of the pretty doves which confidently alighted on my shoulders—all gave a charming variety to my first walk on this prolific field of new life, and my disappointment at the rugged coast passed away. I had proceeded perhaps a mile, when the cry of “Town ho!” was heard a short distance off. This announced game afoot, and I hurried in the direction of the cry. As I was ambitious to vindicate myself as a hunter, having spun many a yarn about fox and coon hunts in the woods and over the hills of Pennsylvania, I kept a bright lookout under every cover, ignorant of the character of the game, much as a rabbit-hunter might, and often stumbled over the stones in my eagerness, the cry of “Town ho!” coming again and again. Presently, to my surprise, I saw our happy darkey, 'Zekiel—the same whose ferocity alarmed the Peruvian guard—sitting on the rear of an enormous terrapin about the size of a wheelbarrow, and much the shape of my mother's forty-gallon apple-butter kettle.
'Zekiel was shouting “Town ho!” for the necessary help to tote this great meat-chest to the shore. Good heavens! thought I; is this the animal I was “peeking” to find under the stones, much as Handy Andy did when ordered to look up the unlikely places for the lost cows? Here was a “baste” that would weigh three hundred pounds at least. In the vicinity were numbers of others of more manageable size, and we selected two of perhaps fifty pounds' weight. We tied the fore and hind legs of each, so as to leave convenient loops through which to slip our arms, intending thus to carry our capture home, knapsack-fashion, on our backs. The great cavity in the bottom shell fitted nicely to our shoulders, and, aiding each other in adjusting the load, we made for the beach. All went pleasantly until my terrapin got it into his stupid brain that he was being “sold,” and, tired of his position, he drew his legs within his shell with tremendous power. I found he had caught me most foully. How he pulled! I imagined my shoulder-blades must crush under the strain, and I cried out with the pain. A life-long stoop was straightened out, but I could not get the brute from my aching back. Sinbad, with his “Old Man of the Sea,” had a comparitively good time; for no old man's knees could squeeze as that fifty-pound terrapin did. And I happen to know as much about the strength of an old man's knees as Sinbad did.* I was almost fainting as the men at the camp cut the cords and released me from by bondage.
* My grandfather was ninety-three when I left home, but still was able to take his end of the cross-cut saw in dividing a three-foot log in the old mill, as well as to canter the friskiest gray three miles to First-day meeting. He was a lover of the gentle art from his youth upward, and retained the inclination, having a wonderful ability for tempting the speckled trout from the musical waters of our wooded hills. But early stiffness in the joints and the twinges of rheumatism forbade his wading our cold brooks. The wiry feather-weight old sportsman therefore converted his mischievous grandson into a pack-horse, to carry him dry-shod from side to side of the shallow streams. The old gentleman's sense of touch was delicate as in youth; the hand struck surely on the faintest rise at fly, or a niblle at caddis. And when he hooked fish, how tenderly, yet certainly, did the old angler lead the resisting beauty from the deep tangle of the alder-roots to bed of moss prepared for its creel! But the suns of ninety-three summers had somewhat hurt his eyes, and at times he failed to mark the position of the hook so cautiously dropped from a fern-covered bank. In boyish glee the by-standing urchin would shout, “Why, grandfather, thy hook is a foot from the water!” The touchy angler would drop his tip-a-wee, tempt a rise, and land the trout. But the boy had the laugh at the master, and he must pay for his whistle of course. And when we next crossed the rippling shallow, the old bony knees played hard on the wind-organ between them. As good a horseman as the old man was, his grip was too much for the barefooted biped roaming over rolling rocks; but with a teasing tweak of the ear, and a “Dodrabbit thee, thee laughs at my fishing, does thee?” he put on his best squeeze. The next moment the irate angler and young nuisance together were gathering their sprawling limbs from beneath the laughing waters, which carried the joke to the tickled trout in the pool below. Ah! lackaday! Such days and such grandfathers are not now with us!
The true way to carry a terrapin is to form a hand-barrow with deal [sic, seal] clubs, or, for the largest, of the steering oars. Such a contrivance, manned by two or ten men, will bring down the capture with comparative ease. I have not a certain idea of the weight these creatures attain, but think I am within the mark in placing them at four or five hundred pounds. A somewhat hasty dinner of fried terrapin scarcely interrupted the coming and going of the carriers, and an hour before sunset a boat loaded to the water's edge with our spoils was dispatched to the ship. We who remained ahsore prepared beds of dried grass under the tent, while the cook make a savory mess of terrapin-meat, with the sweet, golden fat, the rich, melting liver, potatoes, and onions. As the savory odors swept athwart my nose, I almost lost heart and appetite in the roasting of an iguana nearly three feet long, and as thick around as a man's leg. As I turned and basted the horrible beast, it was with less and less stomach for the feast.
Part of the crew had started on a hunt for a sea-lion (male seal), as we wanted the thick hide for moccasins, our leather shoes having been cut to pieces in this single day's tramping over the scoria. Others found amusement in killing the great conger-eels in the shallow pools left by the receding tide. These spotted, snake-like fish are bold and vicious, not hesitating to dart at you, and fasten to the naked leg or foot. It requires nerve to stand the charge of the ugly creatures without flinching.
Luxurious dogs that we were, to our roast iguana and terrapin stew we added the conger-eels, and craw-fish as large as our lobsters, and equally good. At the going down of the sun, a ravenous crew, seated on the convenient backs of terrapin, gathered about a feast to be treated by fork and spoon, not by stupid pen. Man's capacity for good living is fortunately limited; but for this night's work each man's appetite seemed endless as my neighbor, Terry Worrah's, parsnip, which penetrated so deep into the earth that a strong smell of tea came up though the hold it bored.
After the feast came the soothing pipe; but the more thoughtful remarked the continued absence of the two seal-hunters; and as the sudden darkness of the tropics settled upon us, strange tales of adventure in these islands were told by the older men—stories of lost seaman, never found, who probably had fallen into volcanic pits and traps. Jim Sellers, learned in the lore of deep water, averred that these were enchanted lands, differing in all respects from other islands. Of the hundreds of islands which shoot out of the deep blue water, he said there is not one that was not born in volcanic fires. All that we tread upon has been a bottom of the sea, and there has been a fight through the ages of fire against water. The wild imagination of a Western tourist suggested the picture of Niagara pouring into Vesuvius—a grand tournament of the elements, surely, yet baby's play compared to the scenes in which these islands had their birth. Jim held further that Fiddler's Green could not be enjoyed by good sailors were “hazing captains” allowed to anchor their souls in its happy port without a thorough overhauling of life's log; and he showed that the islands we were in must be the probationary cruising-ground of the misdoers. In these rainless deserts, in the forms of terrapin, they do penance for the rancorous sea-life, and their only liberation and clean bill of health comes through the sea-pie, and the satisfied hunger of the sailor whom they once hazed and bedeviled. Old Jim avers that he well knows the wicked, winking eyes of an old terrapin lying staring by the hour into the glimmering embers of the cook's fire. But he had lost the run of old Captain Springer for years, and did not know he was dead till he met him here at Porter Islands. He pounced upon the terrapin at once, intending, as he said, to have the only good dinner that he ever got out of the “stingy cuss.” Old Jim may be right; on a fair vote, a majority of mankind would agree with him in his doctrine of transmigration, and our boat's crew would count on the winning side. It will be rather a pleasant relish to fat pork and plain boiled rice to have fivescore of captains looking on for the next six months through hungry terrapin eyes. Jim bestowed a blessing and a kick on Springer's senseless shell, knocked out the ashes of his pipe on his obdurate brow, and rolled over in the inviting grass to dream of home or Fiddler's Green. We followed suit, first taking the shoes from our blistered feet, after our habit of sleeping barefooted on board ship, and turning into the luxury of a clean bed without cockroaches. Who among men has kept a journal of his dreams? Surely in my sea-life the hours in dream-land were the most enjoyable, and quite as good in a business way as fussy waking-time. Yawning, and terribly asleep, I answered, “Ay, ay,” to the midnight summons of “Watch on deck.” This setting a nightwatch on a fast anchored isle, arose from the fixed habit of sea-life; for in the sailor's existence he must count sure on two things—the watch on deck and death at the end of it.
The glint of the moonlight from the rippling water troubled my dry, heavy eyes, and with the constitutional growl of the forecastle I blessed the eyes of my disturber, and took a seat on the back of a terrapin, and found it cooler than the surrounding lava. Now came waking dreams in the novelty and silence of a land-watch. The brawling brook and old saw-mill, the kreetching cider-mill, and ranges of barrels with convenient straws. And then the dear old—Ah me! Silly thoughts these for a rough being keeping lone watch on an ash-heap of nature's laboratory. Next my mind turned to mischief. The spirit of solitude invited me, and then came the desire and the resolve to see more of the interior than was usually penetrated in the terrapin hunt; and I returned to bed at the relief of my watch, determined to play lost the next day.
In due course came the dawn, and with it an ample breakfast on the warmed-over remnants of supper. Eight hours' sound sleep had exhausted all we ate last night, and had cleaned out our lockers for the stowage of more unknonwn quantities. Old Lisha, the boat-steerer, advised a “proper chinking between the solid menavellines with the mushy lobscouse, to prevent shift of cargo in the rolling country we were to hunt over.” He claimed there was much judgment necessary to stow “grub,” so as to carry it well in a rough sea, “as Jack discovered in,” he added, “his voyage from Groton Hill to Stonington on a kicking horse. The heels and taffrail of the infernal craft were in the air overhead all the time, and the brute pitched bow under at every jump. It was awful goin', and the more Jack dug the craft amidships with his heels the more it wouldn't sail on an even keel. So Jack hauled up at a road-side inn, and ordered two bushels of oats, saying, ‘Look here, hostler; mind you stow that grub well aft, as he sails too much by the head to steer well.’ ”
Our seal-hunters had returned in the night with the hide of a sea-lion. This we cut into moccasins, and laced on our feet to a neat fit, the fine hair inward, forming a perfect shield against the cutting edges of the rocks.
Charley Lings wished with me to push for the interior and find the enchanted castle that might be there, and our desires were forwarded, when word came that we should remain on shore another night. We secured a boat, hatchet, and fire materials, and then set out from camp, striking from the path directly for a notch we observed in the range before us. We had no means of carrying a supply of water, and we trusted to our luck. After walking several miles, we reached a district where, in all likelihood, human foot had never trod. The face of the country was gloomy in the extreme, broken into abrupt walls of flinty lava, the valleys being floored with scoria. There was no vegetation or evidences of life other than the little lizards. Following a narrow defile which the rolling pumice made tiresome walking, we next met many walls, or dikes, of vesicular lava thrown across the gorge. We had to climb these under the intense heat of the sun, and attained a summit overlooking a plain several miles in extent. Our altitude was considerable, and we could discern a number of the surrounding islands, and the ship lying quietly in her nook. Inland stretched a plain of greater beauty than we had expected to find, or had hitherto met. The grass was green, and the trees and bushes comparitively luxuriant.
Finding an easy descent, we hastened onward to seek the refreshing shade of the trees, and with a faint hope that we might obtain water. Great numbers of terrapin were about, some of them of immense size—very much larger than any seen on the shore plains. Here we first heard the deep bellowing of the male terrapin—not unlike that of an angry bull. But wherefore this cry was a mystery to us, as the creatures seemed deaf to any sounds which we could make to alarm them. Possibly the male felt that it was good to bellow, as some flowers grow and some men work, unseen, for the love of God; and, I might add, as an old sculptor chipped marble in dark places. This reminds me of a story, which I told to my companion as we trotted on. In a cathedral of Italy, so old that the finger of Time was tracing growing lines on its marbles, a tourist's ear caught the tiny clink of a sculptor's hammer behind a frieze in the lofty interior. Searching for the sound, he mounted upward until he stood before the wondrously graceful stone wrought by genius seemingly superhuman. In the increasing gloom of the back galleries, his ear alone became his guide as the louder clink of the hammer invited him on. At length, by the feeble glimmer of a lamp suspended from the sculptured stone, he discovered an old, bearded man, patiently drawing and perfecting curves of beauty in yielding marble. The worker was partly hidden behind the frieze, where human eye might never see or be instructed by his labor. The tourist drew near the solitary artist, all the reverence of his nature stirred by the scene. Uncovering his head to the courteous salutation of the old man, he inquired, “Wherefore?” “For the love of God,” responded the old worshiper. So, it may be, the poor misshapen terrapin sang his untuneful, unheard song from the mysterious love which dwells in his cold heart; the love of God may be even there. Who knows? Who dare say nay?
Springs of Water from the living Rocks.—A new Dish, and simple Cookery.—A Supper, and permission to Kings to sup.—We return to Camp.—Up Anchor for Cocos Island.— . . .
With the established inconsistency of moralists, we took the head off the largest terrapin we could find—one great enough to furnish a feast for a hundred men—as we stood in sore need of refreshment. We were exceedingly thirsty, moreover, and had tried to satisfy our craving with the warm, insipid juice obtained from the trunks of the giant cactuses, but in our capture, in our terrapin, we found the living spring of this wilderness. An ample supply of pure, limpid water was discovered in the pearly sack placed at the base of the animal's neck. There were some three gallons of water here, and, wonders of wonders! it was cool. The temperature of the animal is but 62°, but that of the country may reach 110° in the sun. Thus we carried our water in the bottle of classic ages, only that this was Nature's own water-bottle. Such is one of God's providences for man in dry places.
Heartily refreshed by the drink, we built a fire under the branches of a tree of fragrant foliage out of wood whose smoke was incense, and we toasted great slices of the terrapin liver, which is sweeter than the almond. This dainty, served on our excellent ship-bread, made a feast fit for a prince. Our cookery was entirely novel; and as it may happen that the reader one day will be enabled to obtain two pieces of lava and a pound slice from the tenderloin of a four-hundred-pound terrapin, I will let him into the secret. Place two such pieces of lava, with spoon-like cavities to catch the gravy, before the blazing fire, until they become frying hot. Then place the meat upon the stone with the largest cavity; lay a piece of sweet fat on top, sprinkling a little salt over it, and cover all with the second lump of lava. In a short time you will have a dish that none but good whalemen or honest landsmen deserve to eat. Having thus dined, and lighted out pipes, we threw ourselves at length on the bosom of our kingdom, and were willing that crowned kings of earth should draw up to dull mahogany, and eat the best of the coarse fare their possessions afforded; better, we thought condescendingly, that they should eat salmon and venison than starve. Another tenderloin from between hot stones supplied us with a night-cap; and after another solacing pipe, and dreamy talk of homes in England and America, we fell into a peaceful slumber, under the enchantment of a moonlight glimmer on the broad floor of an extinct volcano.
The morning broke on us, refreshed and transported with the wild romance of our surroundings. We discussed the possibilities of existence in the heart of this island, and almost persuaded ourselves that such a chance of life would be preferable to much that we had seen in the back alleys and slums of crowded cities. We were at a loss to account for the verdure, and comparative fertility of this elevated plateau, but concluded that its elevation was sufficient to cause heavy dews—perhaps to condense the clouds to rain—while the coast beneath was parched by nine months of uninterrupted drought. Making another inroad on our store of flesh, and slinging our water-bottle over the shoulder, we retraced our steps to the camp, which we reached about noon. We were made more of as lost and found than we really deserved. But we took the petting kindly, and promised to be careful thereafter. With one hundred and fifteen terrapin of all sizes secured, we then returned to the ship, whose decks were crowded by our sleeping captives, and the cook's galley steamed with a new and savory odor. But no artful mess of the “doctor” seemed to equal our home-made dish on the mountain top.
On the following day all hands had liberty on shore—fishing, hunting seals, to be used in future caps, gathering beautiful small shells for a sweetheart's work-basket, and swimming, forming the staple amusements of the day. With improvised shears, we pierced and captured numbers of large skates, or “stingarus,” and on a small island to weather of the anchorage we found numbers of large, clumsy land-crabs. The sailors claim that these creatures have power in their claws to strip the husk from the cocoa-nut; but why they should amuse themeselves thus is more than I can understand, as they surely can not crack the shell.
On the next morning, to the song,
“The windlass ply, the cable haul;
With a stamp and a go and a Yo-heave oh!
Our sails to the wind let fall.
Joys of the shore we must forego,
To brave the storms, and to seek the foe,
And win the spoils of victory,”
we brought the anchor to the bows, and stood to the north for Cocos Island, to take in water.
[Several pages describing Cocos Island are omitted here. While there, Davis compares the island to Galápagos.—JW.]
In striking contrast with the absence of food in this most luxurious tropical growth is the profusion of sustenance afforded in the seeming desolation of the volcanic Galapagos. As represented in a former chapter, they are entirely igneous in their formation, vitreous scoria, pumice, and cindery ashes covering hills and plains; and these unpromising materials are so loosely arranged that the rains sink at once, and are entirely lost, but one known spring of water existing in the entire group. The cactuses, and a few thorny, gnarled, woody-leaved shrubs are the principal growths, and the small fruit of the prickly pear is the only vegetable edible by man. Yet on this most unpromising field nature has abundantly provided for the possible presence of the latter. In these low solitudes are found great numbers of small lizards, and the monster of the tribe, the great iguana. These great lizards were dainty feasts for the buccaneers of old, as they lay here in wait for the treasure-laden galleons of Spain, in passage from Lima to Panama, and when they returned from their hellish raids, laden with the plunder of desecrated churches and ravished homes. Here the English pirates found a congenial home. But the most remarkable provision for the peculiar needs of the sea-faring visitor is our old friend, the terrapin. At the end of several months' fast on the decks or in the hold of a ship, these creatures are found good for the table, with only a diminished store of fat and flesh.
As we traversed these seemingly recent formations, I was continually impressed with the thought that we were reading a first chapter in the book of Creation, wherein a soil was yet to be formed, and an order of life above the reptile to be introduced. And I was led to wonder at the strange order of nature that, in the arid desolation of the Galapagos, man may live in luxury, while the hog may almost starve among the fine vegeation of Cocos Island. This contrast extends even to the waters of the two localities. In the harbor of Cocos Island, as the seaman leans over the gunwale of his boat and gazes down into the intricate recesses of branching corals and waving plants, he sees vast numbers of highly-colored and brilliant parrot-fishes grazing upon the coral polyps which grow on the stony soil. In vain may he angle for a meal, for their ivory-toothed mouths are so small that they can not take in a large hook, and their jaws are so powerful that they will snap a small one. Our method of capturing the few we took was to anneal a small steel hook and render it tough, so that it might bend but not break short under the action of these strangely-formed fish.
At the Galapagos, the shallow basins of the shore swarm with great craw-fish, to be taken by the hand; and conger-eels, to be killed with a club. Half buried in the shallows are ray-fish, to be harpooned with a stick cut in a neighboring copse; black water-iguanas bask on the stones; enormous turtles slumber on the beaches, and their vast stores of eggs may be dug from the warm sands. Seals and sea-lions tamely lie on the rocky islets; the sombre pelican sits brooding on the ledges, so absorbed that the mischievous seaman may place a castious hand under its contented tail, and tip it heels over head into the water below. Little land-birds alight upon your person absolutely unconscious of fear, and in the lagoons are beautiful fan-like mussels eighteen inches in length, and innumerable conch-shells.
The deeper waters abound in infinite numbers of fish, diversified in colors, forms, and qualities. Some of the larger of these are so easily taken, than you are well equipped for sport with a boat-hook and a square inch of red flannel. In four fathoms swarm schools of the excellent groupers, twenty or more pounds in weight. But beckon to them with a baited hook, and a half-score of scarlet beauties will answer the polite invitation by rising from the depths. Select your partner, drop your bait into the waiting mouth. He will close on it as a patriot will on a nomination, and he will hang on as a lover of his country and his kind will to place and power.
Were it possible to combine the life of these two groups of islands, what a garden of delights would we posess! But I suppose the elements of perfect bliss are generally separated by a space equal to the ten degrees which separate the Galapagos and Cocos. Before leaving the island, I employed a couple of hours in carving the name of the Chelsea among the hundreds already recorded on the rocks, and I also engraved the name of a young Pennsylvanian in whom I felt unusual interest.
. . .
Race with the Hector.—Alternate Success.—Our final Triumph.—Bone-shark.—Anchored at Charles Island.—No Water, no Woman, and took to Fishing.—Elmira, Captain Marchant, and Preparations for a Fandango.—Governor Villamill comes on Board, and Captain gives all Hands a Drink by Proxy.—Details on Defense, and how the Yankees did it.—Hunt a Bull.—Hunted in Turn.—Bull killed, and a Row.—The Ship to be taken.—The Row settled.—Story of the Lava Cave.
Nov. 12. Got under way, in company with the Hector, on a race, as agreed upon. Both captains prided themselves on the sailing qualities of their ships, and determined to test them. At sundown we were ahead about five miles, having a stiff breeze, under top-gallant sails, and running sharp on a wind. We were more than surprised at daylight the next morning to find the Hector full eight miles ahead of us on the weather-bow. She was under top-sails. We had furled top-gallant sails during the night. We immediately set maintop-gallant sail, but in twenty minutes it blew out of the bolt-ropes, and we then stood along under top-sails after our saucy antagonist. We trimmed our yards, and only the best men went to the helm. As we were a little down by the head, we brought from the forehatch ten casks of water, and rolled them aft. After this the ship steered better, and we gradually overhauled the chase, and at sunset were up with her, about a quarter mile to leeward. The wind having moderated, we set fore and main top-gallant sails and flying-jib, and in the morning watch got out the royals. At daylight, “Hurra for the Chelsea” from the watch brought all hands on deck, and we found the Hector ten miles on the lee quarter. We continued dropping her, until the setting sun showed her from the mast-head nearly top-sails down. We then shortened sail, and she came up with us during the night. The next day we ran side by side, and interchanged boats' crews through the whole day. At evening we parted with our pleasant company, and sighted the carcass of a whale stripped of its blubber.
Nov. 16. A large bone-shark was seen alongside the ship. He was near the surface, and we judged his size to be about thirty feet in length, although we could not make out his form accurately. We wished to lower a boat and attempt capture with the harpoon, but the captain said that as the shark was a gilled fish, and would not rise to the surface to allow a chance for the lance, and was far too powerful to be restrained in its running, it would be useless. This fish is believed by sailors to have a mouth furnished with bone, like the right whale, though much shorter; hence the name of bone-shark; and if seamen's accounts be true, the creature is unknown to naturalists.
Nov. 23. Seeing no whales in the vicinity of Cocos, we squared away before a light breeze, and ran for Charles Island, Galapagos. At 2 p.m. to-day we came to anchor in nine fathoms' water in an open roadstead, affording good holding-ground. This is the nearest safe anchorage to the landing-place of the small colony of Peruvianos [sic, Ecuadorians—JW], seven miles distant. The colony is established about three miles inland, near the only fresh water found on the entire group. In front of our anchorage is a beach of sand, and the low ground back of it is pretty well clothed with low bushes, while on the hills the cactus is seen, and a few trees. Throwing our lines over the side, we took enough fish for supper, and, by-the-bye, fishing about these islands affords constant surprises. Each fish one catches is odder in shape, and different in size and color from its predecessor. The varieties are so great that they seem inexhaustible.
Nov. 24. The object of our visit is not apparent to us, but we are not curious. We take the good the gods provide without question, and, with the carelsss improvidence of the sailor, “eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow” we may die. If it suits the captain and the owners that the good ship should ride at anchor in Charles Island, well and good, provided we have liberty on shore to strech our sea-legs, and time to bury them under the warm sand of the beaches, to draw the treacherous scurvy taint from the bones and tissues—assuming that sailors have tissues. Thus far we have had liberty on shore, opposite the ship, every other day, while the watch on duty has been transporting to the ship a few barrels of sweet-potatoes and pumpkins from the distant settlement. We have had our longest vacation on a small island where there is not even drink to intoxicate the brain, or a woman to stir the heart:
“Some eyes they are so holy,
They seem but given, they seem but given,
As splendid beacons solely,
To lead to heaven, to lead to heaven.
“While others—men believe them—
With tempting ray, with tempting ray,
Would lead us, heaven forgive them!
The other way, the other way.”
We are here safe from the sirens, holy or otherwise, heavenward-bound or otherward; and we roam at large under conditions which made the Garden of Eden intolerable to the first gentleman of his time. We philosophically take to fishing, and industriously add to previously known varieties, without waiting to classify, but roasting and eating our varied catch.
A little Yankeee fishing-smack with its “live well” would make a fortune in supplying the coast markets with fish from these islands. In the evening the Elmira, of Edkinton, Captain Marchant, twenty-four months out, fourteen hundred barrels of oil, dropped anchor close beside us. We pulled on board, and gave them a store of fresh fish of varying sizes, forms, and colors, and for the same they had valiant stomachs. The evening we spend on board the stranger, with song and yarn, music and dancing, until ten p.m., when, at peace with all men, we bunked and slept.
Nov. 27. The Yankee and the Spaniard having exhausted each other's resources in trade, the courtesies of the vikings were then extended to the ruler of the land which held our anchor. We “snugged up” the ship, screened the unsightly try-works with shrubbery from shore, and dressed her with all the red, white, and blue which we had and could borrow. Every thing was made gay and festive to welcome Governor Villamill and lady, with a party of grandees, who had accepted our invitation. At 2 p.m. the dignitaries of the shore, and the captain, officers, and most of the crew of the Elmira, came on board. The señor was accompanied by Señora Villamill, a pretty, pleasant-looking woman, strikingly in contrast with her husband. They and their party came in two whale-boats manned with crews of ragged convicts—this being a penal settlement. These latter beauties were not permitted to come on board, lest they might appropriate the spare anchor or the good name of some of the crew. Jollity was the order of the day. Captain B—— warmed up for the occasion, and determined to give his crew a regular blow-out for once at least. He ordered the steward to bring up his comfortable case-bottle of Santa Cruz, and, pouring out a stiff horn, sent it forward with an order for music to the “Doctor,” who sat atop a cask tuning his violin. The benign old darkey imbibed; the drop was alone needed to bring the fiddle to tune, and in lively measure he struck up our favorite jig, the “Chelsea's Crew,” a composition of his own. The captain considered all hands as treated, by proxy, in that single glass of rum, and we thanked him for his thoughtfulness. He allowed the Spanish dons to fire their blood, and Captain M—— to soak himself with the remainder of the square bottle. Fortunately we were inured to temperance, and heartily took to dancing. Señor and don, Pedro and Emanuelo, danced fandango and cachucha, and Jack took kindly to the reel, breakdown, and hornpipe. A chowder interrupted the “light fantastic,” etc., and our crowded deck was soon turned into a banquet-hall. After the dinner dancing was resumed until midnight, when we sought comfort in old rye—straw.
Nov. 29 (Sunday). Starboard watch on shore. A mischievous freak of part of our watch nearly led to serious results, and the adventure is worth a place in the journal. I am aware that such details may prove wearisome to the President and his secretaries when they seek history in my journal, and I suspect that others might prefer a disquisition on the igneous play which enabled these islands to hold their heads above water. But I put to you, gentle reader: How are you to realize the adventurous life of the boys who have completely mastered the proud situation of the American whaleman, if I suppress our mischief and fun? How could you understand the race, which has proved an overmatch for one of the most matchless races the world has known, the boys who met John Bull on his favorite tramping-ground, the sea, and in “fir-built frigates” and hulking whale-ship backed him square down? How could you realize how the hollow-chested Yankees drove from the seven hundred and fifty million square miles of Pacific hunting-ground, the bluff, hearty Britons, if I did not give the points which show the character, good and bad, of the fellows who did it? I do not think it could be done.
The part on shore were intent on the pursuit of seals, but we soon marked the tracks of cattle in the sand, and so far away from the settlement that we held the animals legitmate objects of the chase; so we started on the trail. After a short search we found a young bull, hidden in a thicket of mangroves. He was so wild that he seemed a foeman worthy of our clubs. After some threatening demonstrations, he started on the run for the interior. As ill luck, my length of leg, or training on the hills of Pennsylvania would have it, I outran my shipmates, and soon the bull and I had the fun to ourselves. Suddenly he turned, and stood for a moment measuring his foe. He then lowered his horns and made for me. I at once appreciated the change of the situation, and the difference between a frightened bull's tail receding and a mad bull's horns advancing. The game was now changed, and I ordered a retreat, but found that he was too fast for me. I was at bay, and a well-directed blow of the iron-clad seal-club brought him to his knees. He soon recovered, and with an ugly bellow came at me twice, and twice more I baffled him. It now occurred to me that yelling for help was in order, and this soon brought my companions to the scene of action. They overmastered my antagonist, and he lay panting on his back, with his horns tucked well under the neck and stuck deeply in the soil, a prisoner. A council of war was held. The majority were reasonable, and voted to report him to the Spaniards, to whom he would be valuable. But a few of the men secretly resolved to have fresh-beef supplies, and they followed the released bull to the beach, where they killed him, foolishly, in sight of the Elmira. Some Spaniards on board that ship reported at once to Captain B——, who, much angered, pulled ashore and brought beef and butchers on board.
Although late in the day, the captain proceeded at once to town to settle the unfortunate affair with Governor Villamill. The señor was exceeding wroth at the misadventure, and Spanish-like magnified the offense to an attack on his dignity, etc., etc., demanding the immediate surrender of the offenders. This, of course, Captain B—— peremptorily refused. The señor replied, “I will send thirty-five soldiers, and take them from the ship.” The captain informed him that several times that force would be necessary for the job. The governor then threatened to hold Captain B—— until he surrendered the men, and to this the captain replied:
“Señor, let us cease bantering. My men did very wrong in killing the bull, and I am sorry for it. I will pay you seventy-five dollars in cash, or one hundred in black-fish oil, we keeping the beef. As for detaining me, I have provided for that. My boat has returned on board, and if I am not on the landing to meet its return, the second mate will be here to look into the cause. We can count on the Elmira, and, my dear governor, there will be a sure row, if sixty Yankees get a loose foot in this town of yours.”
On such representations the worthy man accepted the seventy-five dollars and pocketed the affront. Thus happily ended this tempest in a tea-pot. I may remark that Mr. F—— got the ship in a very pretty state of defense, on the captain's prudent hint. Captain Marchant offered aid if it came to blows. I have an idea that the town was in peril last night; but the captain's return made all smooth again.
Posey and myself, with a very intelligent young fellow named Carson, belonging to the Elvira, proceeded back from the beach to examine the lava bubbles, which are occasionally found in these islands. Their name indicates their formation. They sometimes are so thin as to form treacherous footing to the incautious traveler. Whenever we met the rounded outline indicating a bubble, we tested its safety with a heavy stone, even though it was not directly in our path. Sometimes the roof would fall in with clinking sounds, revealing a deep, dark cavern. Having thus broken into one cell of considerable size, which proved easy of entrance, we crawled in for shelter from the intense heat of the sun's rays. Our conversation, naturally directed by the strange surrounding, led Carson into the narrative of an adventure in a lava tunnel and cave which made a deep impression on my imagination. I will strive to tell his story, preserving rather the spirit of the language. The exhibition, as he described it, is seen in a small way, in the crystallizations of sulphur and cooling metals, and in the dark tubes of certain optical instruments.
“In a sharp, deep valley of Albemarle we had broken in the roof of such a bubble; but the cavern was much deeper than this, and as we looked in we saw that we had opened the way into a tunnel about fifteen feet in width, and extending either way as far as we could see from our position. By the light which entered from above we made out the floor as about twenty feet beneath us, and that the walls were curiously marked with columnar forms. Brown, my companion, who had dabbled in the sciences, proposed that we should take an under-ground view of volcanic action and appearances.
“So, on the following day, provided with a couple of lamps, a coil of knotted line, and a couple of waist-lines and iron poles for staves, we proceeded on our exploration. We descended with the knotted rope around our bodies, and stuck our feet in the rough side, lighted in our way by a single lamp. We carefully watched for any side openings which might confuse us or lead us astray in returning, but we saw none, and felt safe. It soon became evident that the tunnel had not been formed by a rent of the mass after cooling, but rather by the molten lava's having drained away, after a crust had formed upon it. This may account for the singular and beautiful formations by which we found ourselves surrounded. After proceeding some distance through a passage with a pretty uniform width of from fifteen to twenty feet, and about an equal height, we paused to examine the formation of the cavern. The dim light of our lamps illuminated the pilastered walls, and a roof raftered and groined with straight and curved beams of crystalline structure, many feet in length. Some of these were of a reddish appearance, and others had a vitreous lustre, resembling immense crystals, in places broken into the semblance of foliage, which reflected an olive-green light. The gloomy splendor of this solemn architecture was relieved by the gold or amber reflections of crystals of sulphur, which, like marigold or sunflower, gleamed in the arches of the passage.
“The broad bases of the pilasters were enriched with counterfeits of fern, palms, and growths intricate and delicate as the pencilings of the frost-spirit's pictures. But these metallic pictures, under the limning of the fire-fiend, had been inlaid with the brilliant facets of igneous minerals green and brown in tint. Tempted onward by the increasing beauty of the scene, our lamp revealed new objects of interest in the increasing lustre of the arched ceiling and the carved and pained walls. Our lamp was multiplied by the sparkle from the faces of unknown minerals. In places the passage was divided by central columns of basalt crystals, which terminated in curves, and were in form and tracery varied beyond man's power. The rude Goth for his cathedral, the Moslem for his mosque, the Celestial for his pagoda, might have drawn inspiration from this solemn portal to Nature's vast workshop.
“As we advanced farther into the recesses of the mountain, the character of the cave changed. The angular crystalline forms which indicated the sudden withdrawal of the molten matter, or the deposit of elements sublimed by intense heat, yielded to smooth and rounded structures, like the worn rocks of the river-side, giving the impression that the walls had served as a sluice to fiery torrents pouring from the volcano. A few steps farther showed us the singular curtain-like foldings of a substance resembling lamp-black. Absolutely without lustre, and absorbent of every ray of light, it was present, as it were, only to the touch. With certain misgivings under this curtain of gloom, we entered a cavern, the form or extent of which could be known only by touch of hand, for no possible brilliancy of light would command an answering reflection from the absorbent surface. Broken as was the surface to the touch, to the eye it was without form. The floor was invisible, and we were only guided in our steps by our staves. It was like stepping into primal chaos, before light and form had birth. A profound chasm seemed to yawn at our feet, yet the rocky floor rang to the blow of the staff; and with cautious tread we preceeded. The flame of the lamp met no responsive glow, save from the two intruders, who stood awe-stricken in this strange emptiness: it stood, in the still blackness unflickering, like a solid. Feeling the broken walls, the hand was met by an oily softness; the eye was useless, and even the touch failed to guide us. Solid walls were not to the eye; rocky barriers seemed simply impenetrable darkness to the hand.
“From repeated contact with the sooty walls, we became covered also with this strange light-absorbing powder, until we were enveloped in an invisible mantle, and also passed from each other's sight. Eye alone answered to eye in their reflections of the light. Too deeply impresssed for conversation, we stood still with outstretched hands. Brown asked at length, ‘May it not be even so in the Valley of the Shadow of Death?’ And we looked for strength in each other's eys, and linked our arms that we might have the companionship of touch. We were now thoroughly frightened, and turned to retrace our steps; but which way? We stood in a sea of nothingness—locked in the foundations of the mountain. The walls were lost to the sight, and were nothing to the touch. We stooped to the deep dust of the floor, and held the flame to read our foot-prints; but this soil of carbon absorbed the light, as the sand of the desert does the rain-drops. We reached forward, and the hand failed to meet the wall; we reached downward, and there, too, was but empty space. The light failed to show the defining edge between the solid rock and the void. We swung the lamp over the brink on which we lay; it revealed nothing. We dropped a heavy stone into the chasm, and listened for the rebound. No sound was returned as it sank into the profound. We cast another stone to test the width, but this, too, was lost to the senses. Silenly they passed away, as the mist-wreath on the hill-side. And then we knew we had been preserved from death. A careless step, and we had found a grave in the depths of the world's foundations. We realized that we were lying in trembling safety on the threshold of the extinct volcano, and lifting our useless eyes from the impenetrable blackness, the awful whisper ‘Lost!’ passed between us. We were afraid to move, but the wasting oil of our lamp warned us that time must not be lost. Presently our ears caught the beat of the surf on the rocks as the tide came in, and, following this direction, we finally reached the entrance, almost fainting from joy when we stood beyond this chamber of gloom. Once more we stood under the wondrous tracery and reflections of the outer gates of the inter-world of mysteries.
“ ‘There is a dungeon, in whose dim, drear light—
What do I gaze upon? Nothing. Look again!
Two forms are dimly shadowed on my sight,
Two insulated shadows of the brain.’ ”
Such is the weak version of Carson's story, and he added: “Since this adventure in dreams, I have hung suspended from, or slid helplessly down, that awful brink into that silent black space; and when I have awakened in terror, I have realized again the nightmare which oppressed me during the moments I lay peering into the volcano.”
Post-office of the Galapagos.—Señora Villamill's Monkey.—Farewell to the Galapagos.— . . .
A curious feature of the Galapagos is the novel post-office, established there by Commodore Porter,† during the last war with England, while the Essex harbored in the island which bears the name of her worthy captain. He placed a large terrapin shell on a conspicuous point of Black-lava Rock. As round and white as a huge skull, it is a prominent landmark to vessels coasting among the islands. The enormous shell forms the roof of the letter-box, and it is the custom of ships to send a boat ashore and overhaul the mail for any letters that may have been left there for them, and to deposit any letters they may have directed to ships long out which may touch at the islands.
† Of course Captain Porter did not establish the Galápagos Post Office barrel, but merely took advantage of it to determine what British ships had been in the area. Also, the island which bore his name [i.e., Porter's Island] is the present Isla Santa Cruz, not Santa María where the Post Office barrel was—and still is—located.
The evening before we sailed, Señora Villamill presented the captain with a monkey, and the governor sent on board a splendid red-hackled Spanish game-cock—whether as tokens of the estimation in which they held the good man or not, I can not say. The monkey was christened “Ichabod;” the game-cock, “Commodore Porter.” The Elmira got under way at the same time as us. Captain Marchant is one of Nature's noblemen, and consequently has a good crew, capable of putting captain and ship through a tight place when needs be. May every success attend them!
Dec. 2. We have lost sight of the islands. Whether they are to be again visited is hidden from us, but very pleasant memories remain of them. May every poor sea-worn mariner, once in his life at least, enjoy, as I have done, a visit to these desolate but blessed islands.
. . .