27th, 28th & 29th December 1832

Tierra del Fuego
To our great loss, the weather during these three days has been very bad, with much rain & violent squalls from the SW. — Yesterday the Captain went to reconnoitre the bays formed by the many islands at the back of Hermits. — I accompanied him, but the weather is so bleak & raw as to render boating rather disagreeable. — We ascended some of the hills, which as usual showed us the nakedness of the land.

In most of the coves there were wigwams; some of them had been recently inhabited. The wigwam, or Fuegian house, is in shape like a cock of hay, about 4 feet high & circular; it can only be the work of an hour, being merely formed of a few branches & imperfectly thatched with grass, rushes &c. As shell fish, the chief source of subsistence, are soon exhausted in any one place there is a constant necessity for migrating; & hence it comes that these dwellings are so very miserable. It is however evident that the same spot at intervals, is frequented for a succession of years. — the wigwam is generally built on a hillock of shells & bones, a large mass weighing many tuns. — Wild celery, Scurvy grass, & other plants invariably grow on this heap of manure, so that by the brighter green of the vegetation the site of a wigwam is pointed out even at a great distance.

The sea is here tenanted by many curious birds, amongst which the Steamer is remarkable; this [is] a large sort of goose, which is quite unable to fly but uses its wings to flapper along the water; from thus beating the water it takes its name. Here also are many Penguins, which in their habits are like fish, so much of their time do they spend under water, & when on the surface they show little of their bodies excepting the head, — their wings of these are merely covered with short feathers. So that there are three sorts of birds which use their wings for more purposes than flying; the Steamer as paddles, the penguin as fins, & the Ostrich spreads its plumes like sails to the breeze.

No comments: