We got underweigh at four o’clock & reached Guanaco Island by midday, as the weather was cold & wet, I determined to walk to the ship. It turned out to be a very long one, from the number of inlets & creeks: The geology well repaid me for my trouble, & I found likewise a small pool of quite fresh water.
We got underweigh at four o’clock & reached Guanaco Island by midday, as the weather was cold & wet, I determined to walk to the ship. It turned out to be a very long one, from the number of inlets & creeks: The geology well repaid me for my trouble, & I found likewise a small pool of quite fresh water.
By the middle of the day the Yawl could not get any higher, from the shoalness of the water & the number of mud-banks. One of the party happening to taste the water found it only brackish. Mr Chaffers, directly after dinner started in the dingy, & after proceeding two or three miles found himself in a small fresh water river. Small as it is, it appears to me probable, that it flows from the Cordilleras, the water is muddy as if flooded, & this is the time of year for the snow freshes of the Colorado, Sauce &c. — Mr Chaffers saw in a little valley a lame horse, with his back marked by the saddle; so that the Indians must have left him there or were then in the neighbourhead. The views here were very fine & rude; the red porphyry rock rises from the water in perpendicular cliffs, or forms spires & pinnacles in its very course. Excepting in this respect the country is the same. At night we were all well pleased at our discovery of the little river; which, however, was no discovery as a Sealer had said some years ago that he had been up it.
The Yawl, under the command of Mr Chaffers with three days provisions, was sent to survey the head of the creek. In the morning we searched for some watering places mentioned in an old Chart of the Spaniards. We found one creek, at the head of which there was a small rill of brackish water. Here the tide compelled us to stay some hours. I, in the interval, walked several miles into the interior.
The plain, as is universally the case, is formed of sandy chalk, & gravel; from the softness of these materials it is worn & cut up by very many vallies. There is not a tree, &, excepting the Guanaco, who stands on some hill top a watchful sentinel over his herd, scarcely an animal or a bird. All is stillness & desolation. One reflects how many centuries it has thus been & how many more it will thus remain. Yet in this scene without one bright object, there is a high pleasure, which I can neither explain or comprehend. In the evening, we sailed a few miles further & then pitched the tents for the night.
While the Liebre was absent, Mr. Stokes, in the Paz, surveyed many miles of the river, as well as the bar. No vessel drawing more than eleven feet water can enter without much danger: if at a favourable time any person should be induced to risk crossing the bar with a ship of greater draught, he should bear in mind that it is much more difficult to get to sea than it is to enter, because wind which is fair for approaching, raises the water; and the reverse. Although ships drawing fourteen feet have passed the bar, at unusually favourable times, others of only ten feet draught have been detained forty days in the river.
The Beagle is anchored opposite to a fort erected by the old Spaniards. It was formerly attempted to make a settlement here; but it quite failed from the want of water in the summer, & the Indians in the winter. The buildings were begun in very good style, & remain a proof of the strong hand of old Spain. Some of the enclosures & some cherry trees may yet be seen. The fate of all the Spanish establishments on the coast of Patagonia, with the exception of the R. Negro, has been miserable. Port Famine, as it is well known, expresses the sufferings of the settlers. At St Josephs, every man, excepting two, was massacred by the Indians on a Sunday when in church. The two were prisoners some years with the Indians; one of them, now in extreme old age, I conversed with at R. Negro.
I walked this day to some fine cliffs, five miles to the South: here the usual geological story, of the same great oyster bed being upheaved in modern days was very evident. In the evening weather very cold, & a Tierra del Fuego gale of wind.
After dining in the Gun-room, the officers & almost every man in the ship went on shore. The Captain distributed prizes to the best runners, leapers, wrestlers. These Olympic games were very amusing; it was quite delightful to see with what school-boy eagerness the seamen enjoyed them: old men with long beards & young men without any were playing like so many children. Certainly a much better way of passing Christmas day than the usual one, of every seaman getting as drunk as he possibly can.
His (Corporal Williams – see previous post) body was found, about three miles down the river, at sun-set the next evening (Christmas day). The governor (though a Roman catholic) allowed the burial to take place in the consecrated ground of the church, and the curate himself was present.
Here we spent our Christmas; THE ships company went on shore. The Captain put prizes up for wrestling, jumping in sacks, running,etc.
Took a long walk on the North side: after ascending some rocks there is a great level plain, which extends in every direction but is divided by vallies. I thought I had seen some desert looking country near B. Bianca; but the land in this neighbourhood so far exceeds it in sterility, that this alone deserves the name of a desert. The plain is composed of gravel with very little vegetation & not a drop of water. In the vallies there is some little, but it is very brackish. It is remarkable that on the surface of this plain there are shells of the same sort which now exist & the muscles even with their usual blue colour. It is therefore certain, that within no great number of centuries all this country has been beneath the sea. Wretched looking as the country is, it supports very many Guanacoes. By great good luck I shot one; it weighed without its entrails &c 170 pounds: so that we shall have fresh meat for all hands on Christmas day.
At daylight on the 24th, Corporal Williams was missed, supposed to have fallen overboard in the night, while asleep. He slept on deck sometimes, when tormented by musquitoes; and as the Liebre's weather-cloth rail was but a few inches above the deck, he might possibly have rolled overboard into the stream, which would immediately have carried him away.
This Port Desire is much the same as other parts of Patagonia, viz. sandy hills with very bad brackish water, and that obliged to dig for; but some of the valleys are very pleasant: in season there are plenty of wild cherries. They were nearly ripe at this time; I ate some which were rather tart, but tasted pleasant. Birds are not so numerous nor so splendid here as in many other parts of South America, but of course they are less well known. About this part no deer were seen, but immense quantities of guanacos, also lions, foxes, ostriches and aperea or guinea pig. The cliffs are full of fossil shells.
Arrived at Port Desire. Our passage has been a very long one of seventeen days; the winds generally being light & foul, with the exception of a fresh gale or two.
The Adventure delayed us: she is found not to sail well on a wind; & at this place her sails will be altered. The harbour of Port Desire, is a creek which runs up the country in the form of a river: the entrance is very narrow; but with a fine breeze, the Beagle entered in good style.
… the Liebre entered the river again, and anchored near Carmen.
Coast of Patagonia, Port Desire. Arrived at Port Desire December 23rd; went upriver to water the same day. The river is about three quarters of a mile wide. On the North side stands the remains of a small Spanish settlement that formerly was there: several houses with small citadel large enough, I should think for a hundred people. The buildings are all of stone, but the inhabitants were found missing (some years since), and have never since been heard of. It is supposed they were massacred by the Indians; the Indians appear to have a mortal hatred of the Spaniards.
Mr. Wickham arrived at Argentina on the 16th, and left it on the following day. In sailing out of Blanco Bay, along the south shore, while it was dark, the Liebre grounded frequently; but her crew got overboard, and hauled her over the banks as often as she was stopped by them, and at midnight she was at sea.
Off the banks in Anegada Bay there was too much sea (during a S.W. gale) for the Liebre to keep on her course any longer, having run as long as was prudent, and already shipped several seas. When hove-to, under a balance-reefed foresail, with the tiller unshipped, she was dry and easy, and lay about five points from the wind.
With a fair wind stood out of the river & by the evening were in clear water; never I trust again to enter the muddy water of the Plata. The Adventure kept ahead of us, which rejoiced us all, as there were strong fears about her sailing, it is a great amusement having a companion to gaze at. The following changes have taken place amongst the officers. Mr Wickham commands the Adventure; he has with him Mrs Johnstone & Forsyth & Mr Usborne as under-surveyor. Mr Kent from the Pylades has joined us as surgeon. Mr Martens is on board the Beagle filling the place which Mr Earle is obliged to vacate from ill health.
Running up the River Negro (on the 7th December), Lieut. Wickham found the 'freshes' strongly against him. The banks of the river afforded a pleasing contrast, by their verdure, to the arid desert around Anegada Bay. Most part of these banks was cultivated, and great quantities of fine corn was seen growing. Here and there were country houses (quintas) surrounded by gardens, in which apple, fig, walnut, cherry, quince, and peach trees, vines, and vegetables of most kinds were abundantly plentiful.
Although the banks of the river are so fit for cultivation, it is only in consequence of floods, which take place twice a-year—once during the rainy season of the interior, and once at the time when the snow melts on the Cordillera. These floods swell the river several feet above its banks, bringing a deposit of mud and decayed vegetable matter, which enriches the soil and keeps it moist even during the long droughts of that climate.
The plough used there is wooden, and generally worked by oxen, but it does not cut deeply. Manure is never used, the soil being so fattened by alluvial deposits.
The town of Nuestra Señora del Carmen, is about six leagues up the river, on its northern bank, upon a slightly-rising ground about forty feet above the water. It is irregularly built: the houses are small, one only having two stories; and glass windows are seldom seen: each house has a large oven. A square enclosure of some extent, formed by walls of unbaked bricks (adobes), is called the fort, and within it are the church, the governor's house, lodgings for the officers, and public stores. This fort commands the neighbourhood, as well as the houses (or cottages) surrounding it; and of the hundred buildings which compose the town of Carmen, exclusive of about thirty huts on the south bank of the river, the fort is the oldest. It was built about 1763. Some houses, forty years old, are as fresh in outward appearance, as if built only a few years ago. In a population of 1,400, there are about 500 negroes. Altogether there may be in the town about two thousand inhabitants, but many of the poorer families and negroes live in caves, which were dug out of cliffs on the river's bank by the first Spanish settlers. It is said that they served the Spaniards as a secure refuge from the Indians, who could only approach them by one path, easily secured. These caves, dug out of earthy clay, are not despicable dwellings, while there is a fire in them to expel damp.
About a league from the entrance of the river are the ruins of a large house, which was the "Estancia del Rey." In former days 100,000 head of cattle were attached to that establishment, now there is not even a calf.
Some of the first settlers were living at Carmen in 1833, staunch royalists, every one looking back with regret to former times. One of them belonged to the crew of the Spanish launch that first entered the river. He said, that the Indians were then living in detached tribes along both banks of the river, and were very friendly to the Spaniards. This same old man afterwards made one of the exploring party, under Villarino, in 1786, when the natives were not only inoffensive, but gave them assistance. How different from the present day! when if a Christian is seen by the natives, he is immediately hunted, and his safety depends upon the fleetness of his horse. It has sometimes happened, that persons riding along near this river, have been surprized by a marauding party of Indians, and obliged, as their only resource, to leap off the banks (barrancas), whether high or low, and swim across to the other side. The Indians have never followed; hence this, though requiring resolution, is a sure mode of escape.
Prior to the conclusion of the war between Brazil and Buenos Ayres (1828), the settlers at Carmen lived tranquilly—undisturbed by Indian aggression (retaliation?) but since that time, they have been kept in continual alarm. Prisoners are often brought to Carmen to be ransomed, whom the Indians have taken from other places. They are generally women or children; and as the Indians often find out who their prisoners are, the ransoms asked are proportionably exorbitant. Men are usually put to death, if they do not die of their wounds. There is a tribe of friendly Indians living near Carmen, at the outskirts of the town, who do much hard work for the inhabitants for very trifling remuneration; but they are shamefully abused, cheated in every way by shopkeepers and liquor-venders, and harshly treated by other persons, who seem to consider them inferior beings—unworthy of any kind or humàne consideration. Should one of these poor creatures fall by the knife of a passionate white man, no notice is taken of it by the authorities; the murderer boasts of his deed, and the poor relations suffer patiently the loss and the insult, which they dare not avenge. Having quitted the free tribes, seduced by promises never fulfilled, they would not be received among them again; and their own numbers, originally small, are reduced daily by disease and abominable drugs, which the publicans sell them in what is said to be spirituous liquor (agua ardiente). Mr. Wickham saw a poor Indian woman, between forty and fifty years of age, almost killed by a blow on the head from an ox's skull (with the horns), given by a wretch, who had drawn his knife upon her husband for preventing his kissing a pretty girl, their daughter, who was walking with her. This scoundrel was seen by Mr. Wickham, a few days afterwards, betting at the race-course with the principal people of the place.
Thanks to the influence of Harris and Roberts, and their connections (both being married to daughters of Spanish settlers), our officers and men were exceedingly well treated. Every door was open to them; and the fruit in every garden was freely, as well as sincerely offered. Letters had been forwarded to the commandant or governor, from Buenos Ayres, desiring that we might have every facility and freedom in our operations; but the disposition towards us was such, that those letters were not required.
From the remains of former buildings, and accounts of the old men, Lieutenant Wickham thought that the Spanish settlers must have been far more industrious and ingenious than their creole descendants, who are idle, indolent, and ignorant. The height of their ambition is to make a show at the Sunday races, where they deceive, drink, wrangle, gamble, and quarrel. These Sabbath occupations are always attended by the female part of the population, who take that opportunity of displaying their finery; and though seated upon handkerchiefs on the sandy ground, without any defence from sun, wind, dust, or rain, every damsel displays silk stockings and a gaudy dress upon these occasions. The men do not go near them, notwithstanding their attire: they can beat a poor woman almost to death, upon occasion; but they cannot defer a bet, or risk losing a dollar, for the sake of female society.
The climate is so healthy, that illness of any kind is scarcely known; and the inhabitants, in general, live to a good old age. There is a stirring trade carried on in small vessels, between Buenos Ayres and this place. Salt, of excellent quality, hides, peltry, seal or sea-elephant oil, and skins, are the principal exports, in return for which are received manufactures, sugar, spirits, tobacco, &c.
The Indians, who live at the outskirts of the town in 'toldos,' which are neither wind nor water-tight, load vessels with salt; but the price of their labour is usually spent in some kind of spirituous liquor, which is made and drugged expressly for them—the publicans often saying, "that it is a sin to give an Indian good spirits." When drunk, the howling of these poor wretches is quite frightful. Some of them are almost skeletons—the result, probably, of drinking.
Some leagues up the river coal is obtained, I was informed, but I did not see a specimen myself. Probably Mr. Darwin had an opportunity of examining its quality.
The Beagle got underweigh at 4 o’clock in the morning & ran up the river to take in fresh water. We are now becalmed within sight of the Mount. The Adventure is at anchor close to us. May kind fortune for once favor us with fine weather & prosperous breezes.
On the 6th, Lieutenant Wickham remarked, while at anchor between San Blas and the River Negro, off Point Rasa, that the stream of tide began to set northward at half flood, and continued to run in that direction until half ebb, by the shore. "It is not at all uncommon on this coast," he says, "to see wrecks of vessels above high-water mark, and spars strewed along the beach where the sea does not touch them." These wrecks took place during south-east gales, when the sea was raised above its usual level in fine weather: and were the vessels spoken of in the previous chapter, as having been entrusted to ignorant or careless prize-masters, who ran for San Blas or the River Negro, not then knowing that so fine a port as Blanco Bay existed. Strong tides, shoals, a low coast, and bad weather would have perplexed professed seamen; but those difficulties were insurmountable to such unpractised craftsmen as those who were in charge of them, and most of the prizes were lost. One large ship of four or five hundred tons was taken, by a wiser master, to Port Melo, and there her cargo was discharged into small craft, which landed it safely in the River Negro. Many of these ill-fated vessels were never afterwards heard of; but from the numerous wrecks seen along the coast between the Colorado and the Negro, it may be inferred that they and their unfortunate crews perished in the surf occasioned by south-east gales, or were capsized by sudden pamperoes.
At the Colorado, men who keep the lowest little shops used to dine with General Rosas. — A son of a Major at B. Bianca gains a livelihood by making paper cigars; he wished to come as Vaqueano with me to B. Ayres; but his father was afraid. — Many in the army can neither read or write; yet all meet on perfect terms of equality. — In Entre Rios the Sala contains 6 members. — One of these was a sort of shopman in a store, & evidently by no means degraded by such an employment. — This is all what might be expected in a new country; nevertheless the abscence of Gentlemen par excellence strikes one as a novelty.
My time at M. Video was spent in getting ready for our long cruize in Tierra del Fuego. — It was a pleasant employment preparing to leave for ever the uninteresting plains of the R. de La Plata.
The Beagle & Adventure are both ready for sea, with a fine stock of provisions & excellent crews. — The other day, there was an instance of the unaccountable manner in which seamen sometimes run away from a ship. Two men, petty officers in good favour & with 2 or 3 years pay owing them, ran away & the design must have been made sometime previously. — These men were allowed repeatedly to go on shore & held the first stations on board. — There is a degree of infatuation & childish want of steadiness in seamen, which to a landsman is quite incomprehensible & hardly to be credited. —
I called one day on Mr Hood, the Consul General, in order to see his house which had been a short time previously struck by lightning. — The effects were curious: the bell wires were melted & the red hot globules dropping on the furniture drilled small holes in a line beneath them — when falling on glass vessels, they melted & adhered to them. — Yet the room was at least 15 feet high & the wire close to the ceiling. — In one of the walls the electric fluid exploded like gunpowder, & shot fragments of bricks with such force as to dent the wall on the opposite side. Where the bell wire ran, the paper was blackened by the oxide of the metal for nearly a foot on each side; in a like manner the frame of a looking glass was blackened; the gilding must have been volatilized, for a smelling bottle which stood near was firmly coated with some of it. The windows were all broken & everything hanging up fell down by the Jar. It happened very early in the morning. When I was at B: Ayres a short time previous to this, the church was much shattered & a vessel lost her main-mast.
I ought not to conclude my few remarks on the Inhabitants of the Provinces of the R. de La Plata, without adding that a most perfect & spirited outline of their manners & customs will be found in "Heads rough notes".1 — I do not think that his picture is at all more exaggerated, than every good one must be-that is by taking strong examples & neglecting those of less interest. I cannot however agree with him "in the ten thousand beauties of the Pampas". But I grant that the rapid galloping & the feeding on "beef & water" is exhilarating to the highest pitch.
1 Head, Sir Francis Bond, Rough notes taken during some rapid journeys across the Pampas and among the Andes. London: John Murray, 1826.
On the 3d of December the Beagle anchored off San Blas (as formerly mentioned). Both schooners went out to her, and in returning at night into San Blas Bay, working to windward with a strong flood tide, they passed close to an unknown rock which would have made an end of their cruise had they touched it. The least water they had, however, was eight feet;* but both vessels were close to it, while the tide was running four or five knots. This rock is in the middle of the entrance to San Blas Bay. At midnight they reached their anchorage, without a dry article in either vessel.
· The Paz drew five feet and a half, the Liebre four feet.
During these few days I resided on shore; the cause of the ships delay being the charts not being completed. — During the last six months I have had a some opportunity of seeing a little of the character of the inhabitants of these provinces. — The Gauchos or country men are very superior to those who reside in the towns. — The gaucho is invariably most obliging, polite & hospitable. I have not met one instance of rudeness or inhospitality. He is modest both respecting himself & country, at the same time being a spirited bold fellow. — On the other hand there is much blood shed, & many robberies committed. — The constant presence of the knife is the chief cause of the former: it is lamentable to hear how many lives are lost in trifling quarrels; in fighting each party tries to mark the face of his adversary by slashing his nose or eye; deep & horrid looking scars often attest that one has been successful. — Robberies are a natural consequence of universal gambling, much drinking & extreme indolence. — At Mercedes I asked two men why they did not work:-one said that the days were too long; the other that he was too poor. The number of horses & profusion of food is the destruction of all industry. — Moreover there are so many feast days; then again nothing can succeed without it is begun when the moon is on the increase; —and from these two causes half the month must be lost. — Police & justice are quite inefficient, if a man commits a murder & should be taken, perhaps he may be imprisoned or even shot; but if he is rich & has friends he may rely on it nothing will happen. — It is curious that the most respectable people in the country will invariably assist a murderer to escape. — They seem to think that the individual sins against the government & not against the state. — A traveller has no other protection than his own arms; & the constant habit of carrying them chiefly prevents a more common occurrence of robberies. — The character of the higher & more educated classes who reside in the towns, is stained by many other crimes. — partaking in a lesser degree in the good parts of the Gaucho character; he is a profligate sensualist who laughs at all religion; he is open to the grossest corruption; his want of principle is entire. — An opportunity occurring not to cheat his friend would be an act of weakness; to tell the truth where a lie might be more serviceable, would be the simplicity of a child. — The term honor is not understood; neither it, nor any generous feeling, the remains of chivalry, have survived the long passage of the Atlantic. — If I had read these opinions a year ago, I should have accused myself of much illiberality: now I do not. — Every one, who has good opportunities of judging, thinks the same. In the Sala of B. Ayres I do not believe there are six men to whose honesty or principles you could trust. Every public officer is to be bribed; the head of the post office sells forged government francs: — the Governor and prime minister openly plunder the state. — Justice, where gold is in the case, is hardly expected. — I know a man (he had good cause) who went to the chief Justice & said "here are 200 dollars (sixpences) if you will arrest such a person illegally; my lawyer recommended me to take this step". The Chief Justice smiled acquisition [changed in margin to: acquiescence] & thanked him; before night the man was in prison. — With this utter want of principle in the leading men; with the country full of ill-paid, turbulent officers; they yet hope that a Democratic form of government will last. In my opinion before many years, they will be trembling under the iron hand of some Dictator. — I wish the country well enough to hope the period is not far distant. On first seeing the common society of the people, two or three things strike one as remarkable: the excellent taste of all the women in dress: the general good manners in all grades of life: —but chiefly the remarkable equality of all ranks.
… in the middle of the next day we arrived at M: Video. The distance, paid by the Post, being about 70 leagues from Mercedes to the Capital.
The month of November was passed at Monte Video: laying down chart-work, computing observations, and writing; procuring and stowing provisions; painting the vessels outside and blacking their rigging; and occasionally giving the crews leave to go ashore. Mr. Darwin returned at the end of the month.
In the morning had a long gallop: arrived at San Jose, from which point the road is the same by which I started. San Jose, Canelones, St Lucia are all rather nice little rectangular towns, & all just alike. Slept one post beyond San Jose...
Began my return in a direct line to M. Video; went by an Estancia where there was a part, very perfect, of the head of a Megatherium. I purchased it for a few shillings. We had long gallop through a more rocky & hilly country than the coast road, to the R. Perdido, where we slept. One of the Post-houses was kept by a man, apparently of pure Indian blood; he was half intoxicated. My peon declares that he in my presence said I was a Gallego; an expression synonimous with saying he is worth murdering. His companions laughed oddly: & I believe what my Peon said was true; when I remonstrated with him on the absurdity, he only said, "you do not [know] the people of this country". The motive must have been to sound my Peon, who perhaps luckily for me was a trustworthy man. Your entire safety in this country depends upon your companion.
At night there were torrents of rain; as the Rancho made but little pretensions to keep out water or wind, we were soon wet through.
We heard of some giants bones, which as usual turned out to be those of the Megatherium. With much trouble extracted a few broken fragments. In the evening a domidor or horse-breaker came to the house & I saw the operation of mounting a perfectly wild horse. They were too fat to fight much: and there was little to see in the operation; the horse is thrown down & the bridle is tied to the under jaw: tying the hind legs together he is allowed to rise & is then saddled.
Went with my host to the Sierra del Pedro flaco about 20 miles up the R. Negro: the greater part of the ride was through long grass up to the horses belly. There are few Estancias & leagues of camp without a head of cattle. The country left to nature as it now is would easily produce 5 or 6 times the number of cattle. Yet the annual exportation of hides from M. Video is 300 thousand; & the home consumption is something considerable. The view of the R. Negro from the Sierra is decidedly the most picturesque one I have seen in this country. The river is rapid & tortuous; it is about twice as large as the Severn (when banks full) at Shrewsbury; the cliffs are precipitous and rocky; & there is a belt of wood following the course of the river; beyond which an horizon of grass plain fills up the view. The Peons horse was quite tired; so we rode to a Rancho; the master was not at home, but as a matter of course entered the house, made a fire to cook some beef, & were quite at home in a strangers house. We rode on but did not reach home till early in the night.
Started at sun rise, & rode slowly during the whole day. The geological nature of the country is here different from the rest of the province, & closely resembles that of the Pampas. From this cause we here have immense beds of the thistle, as well as the cardoon: the whole country indeed may be called one great bed. The two sorts grow separate, each plant in company with its own kind. The cardoon is as high as a horses back, but the Pampas thistle often higher than the crown of the head of the rider. To leave the road for a yard is out of the question, & the road itself is partly, & in some cases entirely, closed. Pasture of course there is none; if cattle or horses once enter the bed they are for the time, completely lost. For this reason, it is very hazardous to attempt to drive cattle at this season of the year, for when jaded enough to face the prickles, they rush amongst the thistles & are seen no more. From the same cause there are but few Estancias, & these near damp vallies where the thistle will not grow. As night came on before we could arrive at the house of an Englishman for whom I had a letter of introduction we slept at a Rancho.
I had many excursions in the camp. Here I collected many birds etc. AS there is no wood WE WERE OBLIGED TO burn dried thistles. THESE THISTLES grow high, even to the height of a man on horse back.
In the morning went out riding to Punta Gorda; on the road tried to find a Jaguar; saw very fresh tracks & the trees against which they are said to sharpen their claws: the bark was cut up & grooved by scratches a yard long: we did not succeed in disturbing one. The low, thick woods on the coast of the Uruguay afford an excellent harbour for such animals. At Punta Gorda, the R. Uruguay presented a noble body of water; its appearance is superior to that of the Parana from the clearness of the water & rapidity of the stream: on the opposite coast there are several branches, which enter from the Parana, when the sun shines, the two colours of the water may be seen quite distinct. The house & lime-kiln were for this country unusually old, being built 108 years since. I was told a curious circumstance respecting the Limekiln. At the instant of the revolution it was full of fresh burnt lime; from the state of [the] country it was left 18 years untouched: on the surface young trees were growing, whilst in the middle the lime was quick. When they dug down to the place where the half-burnt wood is left, in a few minutes it kindled & burst out into flames. This caused uncommon superstitious fears amongst the workmen; but the owner tells me this is always the case in a lime-kiln opened after a few months interval.
At this Estancia many mares, mares are never ridden in this country, are killed weekly for their skins, which are worth 5 paper dollars each or about 1/2 a crown. I heard of some feats in the lassoing line. One individual will stand 12 yards from the gate of the Corral, & will bet that he will catch every horse by the legs as it rushes by him. Another will enter on foot a Corral, catch a mare, fasten its front legs, drive it out, throw it down, kill, skin & stake the hide, (a tedious job) & this whole operation he will perform on 22 mares in one day; or he will skin 50 in the same time. This is prodigious; for it is generally considered good days work, solely to skin & stake 15 or 16 animals.
In the evening started on the road to Mercèdes or Capella Neuva on the R. Negro. We passed through much Acacia wood, like that near Coronda & which invariably grows in the low bottoms near streams & rivers. At night we asked permission to sleep at an Estancia at which we happened to arrive. It was a very large estate, being ten leagues square, & the owner at Buenos Ayres is one of the greatest landowners in the country. His nephew had charge of it & with him there was a Captain of the army, who the other day ran away from Buenos Ayres. Considering their station their conversation was rather amusing. They expressed, as was usual, unbounded astonishment at the globe being round, & could scarcely credit that a hole would if deep enough come out on the other side. They had however heard of a country where there were six months light & six of darkness, & they said the inhabitants were very tall & thin. They were curious about the price & condition of horses & cattle; upon finding out we did not in England catch our animals with the Lazo, they added "Ah then, you use nothing but the bolas": The idea of an enclosed country was quite novel to them. The Captain at last said, he had one question to ask me, & he should be very much obliged if I would answer him with all truth. I trembled to think how deeply scientific it would be, it was "… whether the ladies of Buenos Ayres were not the handsomest in the world". I replied, "Charmingly so". He added, I have one other question "Do ladies in any other part of the world wear such large combs". I solemnly assured him they did not. They were absolutely delighted. The Captain exclaimed, "Look there, a man, who has seen half the world, says it is the case; we always thought so, but now we know it". My excellent judgment in beauty procured me a most hospitable reception; the Captain forced me to take his bed, & he would sleep on his Recado.
Rode with my host to his Estancia at the Arroyo de St Juan. In the evening we took a circuit round the estate; it contained two square leagues & a half and was situated in what is called a rincon; that is one side is fronted by the Plata, & the two others are guarded by impassable brooks. There is an excellent port for little vessels, & an abundance of small wood, which is valuable as supplying fuel to Buenos Ayres. I was curious to know the value of so complete an Estancia; at present there are 3000 cattle & it would well support three or four times the number, there are 800 mares, 150 broken horses, 600 sheep; plenty of water & limestone; a rough house, excellent corrals, & a peach orchard. For all this he has been offered 2000£ only wants 500£ additional, and probably would sell it for less. The chief trouble with an Estancia is driving all the cattle twice a week to a central spot, in order to make them tame & to count them. This latter would be thought a difficult operation, when there are ten or fifteen thousand head together; it is managed on the principle that the cattle invariably divide themselves into little troops from forty to an hundred. Each troop is recognised by a few peculiarly marked animals, & its number is known: thus one being lost out of ten thousand is perceived from the absence from one of the tropillas. During a stormy night the cattle all mingle together; but the next morning all the Tropillas separate as before.
We crossed the Rozario which was deep & rapid, & passing the village of Colla, arrived at mid-day at Colonia del Sacramiento. The distance is twenty leagues, through a fine grass country, but which is poorly stocked with cattle or inhabitants. I was invited to sleep at Colonia & to accompany on the following day a gentleman to his Estancia, where there were some rocks of recent Limestone. The town is built on a stony promontory something in the same manner as M: Video: it is strongly fortified, but both fortifications & town suffered much from the Brazilian war. It is very ancient, & from the irregularity of the streets & the surrounding groves of old Orange trees & peaches had a pretty appearance. The church is a curious ruin; it was used as a powder magazine & was struck by lightning in one of the ten thousand storms of the Rio Plata. Two thirds of the building was blown away to the very foundation, & the rest stands a shattered & curious monument of the united powers of lightning and gunpowder. In the evening I wandered about the half demolished walls of the town. It was the chief seat of the Brazilian war; a war most injurious to this country, not so much in its immediate effects, as in being the origin of a multitude of Generals, & all other grades of officers. More generals are numbered but not paid in the united provinces of La Plata than in Great Britain. These gentlemen have learned to like power & do not object to a little skirmishing. Hence arises a constant temptation to fresh revolutions, which in proportion as they are easily effected, so are they easily overturned. But I noticed here & in other places a very general interest in the ensuing election for the President; & this appears a good sign for the stability of this little country. The inhabitants do not require much education in their representatives; I heard some men discussing the merits of those for Colonia; "that although they were not men of business, they could all sign their names". With this every reasonable man was satisfied.
Not being quite well, stayed the whole day at this house. In the evening the Post-man or letter carrier arrived; he was a day after his time, owing to the R. Rozario being flooded; it could not however be of much consequence, for although he passes through some of the principal towns in B. Oriental, his luggage consisted of two letters. The view from the house was pleasing, an undulating green surface with distant glimpses of the Plata. I find I look at this province with very different eyes from what I did upon first arrival. I recollect I then thought it singularly level; but now after galloping over the Pampas, my only surprise is what could have induced me ever to have called it level; the country is a series of undulations; in themselves perhaps not absolutely great, but as compared to the plains of St Fe, real mountains. From these inequalities there is an abundance of small rivulets, & the turf is green & luxuriant.
In the morning we rose early in the hopes of being able to ride a good distance; it was a vain attempt, for all the rivers were flooded; we passed R. Canelones, St Lucia, San Jose in boats, & thus lost much time: at night we slept at the Post house of Cufrè. In the course of the day, I was amused by seeing the dexterity with which some Peons crossed over the rivers. As soon as the horse is out of its depth, the man slips backwards & seizing the tail is towed across; on the other side, he pulls himself on again. A naked man on a naked horse is a very fine spectacle; I had no idea how well the two animals suited each other: as the Peons were galloping about they reminded me of the Elgin marbles.
Had a long gallop to the East end of the Barrancas de St Gregorio: was disappointed in the Geology, but had a pleasant gallop along the coast of the Plata. It was necessary to cross the St Lucia near its mouth; we passed in a boat, the horses were obliged to swim at least 600 yards; I was surprised to see with what ease they performed it. We did not return till so late, that I slept at a Rancho,& returned home (7th) early in the morning.
After a long passage, arrived at M: Video; I went on board the Beagle: Was astonished to hear we were not to sail till the beginning of December: the cause of this great delay was the necessity of finishing all charts, the materials for which had been collected by the Schooners.
Arrived at Monte Video the 4th went on board Beagle.
With sufficient trouble got on board the Packet; found it crowded with men, women & children, glad to escape from so miserable a town.
... went on board packet (con Don Carlos) for Monte Video where our ship then lay to an anchor.
These disturbances caused me much inconvenience; my servant was outside, I was obliged to bribe a man to smuggle him in through the belligerents. His clothes, my riding gear, collections from St Fe, were outside with no possibility of obtaining them. I was, however, lucky in having them all sent to me at M: Video. The residence in the town was disagreeable, it was difficult to transact any business, the shops being closed; & there were constant apprehensions of the town being ransacked. The real danger lay with the lawless soldiery within; they robbed many people in the day time, & at night the very sentinels stopped people to demand money from them.
Arrived early in the morning at Rolors encampment, the general, officers, & soldiers all appeared, & I believe really were, great villains. — The General told me, that the city was in a state of close blockade; that he could only give me a passport to the General in chief (of the rebels) at Quilmes. — I had therefore to take a great sweep round the city; & it was with very much difficulty that I procured horses. — When I arrived at the encampment, they were civil, but told me I could not be allowed to enter. This was General Rosases party; & his brother was there. — I soon began to talk about the Generals civility to me at the R. Colorado. — Magic could not have altered circumstances quicker than this conversation did. At last they offered me the choice to enter the city on foot without my Peon horses &c &c & without a passport: I was too glad to accept it, & an officer was sent to give directions not to stop me at the bridge. The road, about a league in length, was quite deserted; I met one party of soldiers; but I satisfied them with an old passport. — I was exceedingly glad when I found myself safe on the stones of B. Ayres.
This revolution is nothing more or less than a downright rebellion. — A party of men who are attached to General Rosas, were disgusted with the Governor; they left the city to the number of 70, & with the cry of Rosas, the whole country took arms. — The city is now was then closely blockaded: no provisions, cattle, or horses are allowed to enter; excepting this, there is only a little skirmishing, a few men daily killed. — The outside party well know that by stopping the supply of meat they will certainly be victorious.
General Rosas could not have known of this rising; but I think it is quite consonant with his schemes. — A year ago he was elected Governor; he refused it, without the Sala would also give him extraordinary powers. — This they refused, & now Rosas means to show them that no other Governor can keep his place. — The warfare on both sides was avowedly protracted till it was possible to hear from Rosas. — A note arrived, a few days after my leaving B. Ayres, which stated that the General disapproved of peace being broken, but that he thought the outside party had justice on their side. — Instantly, on the reception of this, the Governor & ministers resigned, & they with the military to the amount of some hundreds flew from the city. — The rebels entered, elected a new Governor, & were paid for their services to the number of 5500 men. — It is clear to me that Rosas ultimately must be absolute Dictator, (they object to the term king) of this country.
On the 21st moored off Monte Video, to take in our final supplies previous to quitting the River Plata for the last time. Here, to my surprise, I found people talking about the English having taken possession of the island of Gorriti, and built houses upon it. This, I knew, must in some way have arisen out of the temporary encampment of the Adventure's crew; and enquiring further, I found that columns of the Monte Video newspapers had been filled with discussions on the subject.
The local authorities at Maldonado having been told (incorrectly) that the English had hoisted British colours upon the island—had repaired several old buildings—and had erected a house with glass windows, for the commanding officer's residence—became alarmed; and as stories seldom lose by repetition, the good people of Monte Video were soon in commotion. However, the affair was easily explained; but not without many a laugh at the absurdity of my little observatory (made of ninety small pieces of wood, so as to be stowed in a boat), having 'loomed' so large. Had our colours ever been displayed on shore, there might have been some foundation for their alarm; but it so happened that the only flag that was on the island, at any time while our party was there, was an old Monte Video (Banda Oriental) ensign, which belonged to the schooner when I bought her from Mr. Low.
This incident, trifling as it is, may be worth notice, as showing how necessary it is to be more circumspect and explanatory in every dealing with a small State, than in similar transactions with the Authorities of old established governments.
I was very anxious to reach B. Ayres, so that I determined to leave the vessel at Las Conchas & ride into town a distance about 20 miles. After changing my vessel three times in order to pass the bar, I obtained a canoe, & we paddled quickly along to the Punta de St Fernando. The channel is narrow & several miles long. On each side the islands were covered with peaches & Oranges. These have been planted by nature, & flourish so well, that the market of B. Ayres, in the fruit season is supplied by them. On one of the islands I saw a bevy of fine gallinaceous birds of a black colour & the nearly the size of a Turkey.
Upon leaving the canoe, I found to my utter astonishment I was a sort of prisoner. About a week before, a violent revolution had broken out; all the ports were under an embargo. I could not return to my vessel, & as for going by land to the city it was out of the question. After a long conversation with the Commandante I obtained permission to go the next day to General Rolor, who commanded a division of the rebels on this side of the Capital.
Sailed quietly on with gentle winds, & anchored in the middle of the night near the mouth of the Parana, called Las Palmas.
Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
By the 19th she [the Adventure] was almost ready, so we weighed in company, ran up the river to water.
Some leagues above Rozario we came to cliffs, which are absolutely perpendicular, these form the West bank to below St Nicholas; & the whole coast more resembles that of a sea than a fresh-water river. It is a great draw back to the scenery of the Parana, that from the soft nature of the banks, all the water is very muddy. The Uruguay is much clearer, & I am told where the two waters flow in one channel, they may clearly be distinguished by their black & red colours. In the evening, the wind not being quite fair, the master was much too indolent to think of proceeding. Moored 5 leagues above St Nicholas.
On the 16th of the same month, a revolution broke out, which of course put a stop to all intercourse between the Citizens and Country People, the former denominated Unitarians, the latter Federals. The latter were more numerous, and could muster an army of five thousand strong; altogether they were a motley group, most part of them having nothing but what they could muster themselves. As there were only two or three skirmishes, the loss of men was trivial. The principal sufferers in those revolutions are the farmers, who one day are estimated to be worth perhaps fifty thousand dollars and upwards, and the next left pennyless. They only receive a bill for their cattle, one which can never be cashed, and they are obliged to put up with the rude insults of the soldiers. To this I was an eyewitness myself. These petty feuds are a good pretext for to rob and plunder (and of course our own countrymen are the first sufferers). The peóns or labourers wish for those times, as they can then take a bullock, etc. without being apprehended.
We got under weigh; passed Punta Gorda, where there is colony of tame Indians from the province of Missiones. We sailed rapidly down the current; before sunset from a silly fear of bad weather brought to in a narrow arm or "Riacho". I took the boat & rowed some distance up the creek; it was very narrow, winding & deep; on each side there was a wall 30 or 40 feet high formed by the trees entwined with creepers, this gave to the canal a singularly gloomy appearance. I here saw a very extraordinary bird, the scissor-beak. The lower mandible is as flat & elastic as an ivory paper-cutter, it is an inch & a half longer than the upper. With its mouth wide open, & the lower mandible immersed some depth in the water, it flies rapidly up & down the stream. Thus ploughing the surface, it occasionally seizes a small fish.
The evenings are quite tropical; the thermometer 79° -- an abundance of fire flies, & the mosquitoes very troublesome. I exposed my hand for five minutes, it was black with them: I do not think there could have been less than 50, all busy with sucking. At night, I slept on deck, the greater coolness allowing the head & face to be covered up with comfort.
A constant gale & rain from the SE, remained at our moorings, the greater part of the time I passed in bed, as the cabin was too low to sit up in. There was also good sport in fishing, the river abounds in large & extraordinary looking fish, which are excellent food.
Embarked on board the Balandra; a one masted vessel of a hundred tuns; we made sail down the current. The weather continuing bad, we only went a few leagues & fastened the vessel to the trees on one of the islands. The Parana is full of islands; they are all of one character, composed of muddy sand, at present about four feet above the level of the water; in the floods they are covered. An abundance of willows & two or three other sorts of trees grow on them, & the whole is rendered a complete jungle by the variety & profusion of creeping plants. These thickets afford a safe harbour for many capinchas & tigers. The fear of these latter animals quite destroyed all pleasure in scrambling in the islands. On this day I had not proceeded a hundred yards, before finding the most indubitable & recent sign of the tiger. I was obliged to retreat; on every islands there are tracks; as in a former excursion the "rastro" of the Indians had been the constant subject of observation, so in this was the "rastro" del tigre".
The jaguar is a much more dangerous animal than is generally supposed: they have killed several wood-cutters; occassionally they enter vessels. There is a man now in the Bajada, who coming up from below at night time was seized by a tiger, but he escaped with the loss of the use of one arm. When the floods drive the tigers out of the islands; they are most dangerous, a few years since a very large one entered a church at St Fe. Two padres entering one after the other were killed, a third coming to see what was the cause of their delay, escaped with difficulty. The beast was killed by unroofing one corner of the room & firing at it. The tigers annually kill a considerable number of young oxen & horses. These islands undergo a constant round of decay & renovation. In the memory of the master several large ones had disappeared, others again had been formed & protected by vegetation.
By the indolence of the master & from bad weather I was delayed five days. The time passed pleasantly & was enabled to see the geology of the surrounding district. And this possessed no common interest. The Bajada itself, a quiet town; about as large as St Fe or St Nicholas; it contained in 1825, 6,000 inhabitants. The whole province only contains 30,000. Yet here there are representatives, ministers, standing army, governors &c &c. Few, as they are, none have suffered more from desperate & bloody revolutions. In some future day however this will be one of the finest provinces. As its name expresses, it is surrounded on every side by the magnificent rivers, the Parana & Uruguay, the land is most fertile. Here there is no fear of the Indians; an immense advantage over their neighbours; to the North of St Fe, there is not a single Estancia on the West of the Parana; & we have seen that the road is not safe between the Capital & Coronda.
My usual walk during these days was to the cliffs on the Parana to admire the view of the river & pick up fossil shells. Amongst the fallen masses of rock, vegetation was very luxuriant; there were many beautiful flowers, around which humming birds were hovering. I could almost fancy that I was transported to that earthly paradise, Brazil.
On the 6th of October we returned to Maldonado; to prepare for a long excursion southward, and to hasten the equipment of.
Crossed the Parana to St Fe Bajada, or as it is now called Parana, the capital of Entre Rios. The passage took up four hours; winding about the different branches. which are all deep & rapid; we crossed the main arm & arrived at the Port. The town is more than a mile from the river; it was placed there formerly so as not to be exposed so much to the attacks of the Paraguay Indians. I had a letter of introduction to an old Catalonian, who treated me with the most uncommon hospitality. My original intention had been to cross the province of Entre Rios & return by the Banda Oriental to B. Ayres. Not being quite well and thinking that the Beagle would sail long before she eventually did, I gave up this plan, & determined to return immediately to B. Ayres. I was unable to hire a boat so took a passage in a Balandra.
Unwell in bed. St Fe is nice, straggling town, with many gardens. It is kept clean & in good order. The governor of the province, Lopez, is a tyrant; which perhaps is the best form of government for the inhabitants. He was a common soldier at the great revolution & has now been 17 years in power. His chief occupation is killing Indians, a short time since he slaughtered 48 of them. The children are sold for between 3 & 4 pound sterling.
Unwell & feverish, from having exerted myself too much in the sun. — The change in latitude between St Fe & Buenos Ayres is about 3 degrees; the change in climate is much greater. — everything shows it. — the dress & complexion of the inhabitants, the increased size of the Ombus, many new cacti, the greater beauty of the birds & flowers; all proves the greater influence of the sun. We passed Corunda, from the luxuriance of its gardens it is the prettiest village I have seen. — From this place to St Fe, the road is not very safe; it runs through one large wood of low prickly trees, apparently all Mimosa. — As there are no habitations to the West of this part of the Parana, the Indians sometime come down & kill passengers. — On the road there were some houses now deserted from having been plundered; there was also a spectacle, which my guide looked at with great satisfaction, viz the skeleton with the dried skin hanging to the bones, of an Indian hanging suspended to a tree. The wood had a pretty appearance opening into glades like a lawn.
We changed our horses at a Posta where there are twenty soldiers: & by sun set arrived at St Fe. There was much delay on the road, on account of having to cross an arm of the Parana, St Fe being situated in a large island. — I was much exhausted & was very glad to procure an room unfurnished room. —
Started by moonlight & arrived at the R. Carcavàna by sun rise. This river is also called the Saladillo, & it deserves the name for the water is brackish. I staid here the greater part of the day, searching for bones in the cliff. Old Falkner mentions having seen great bones in this river.
I found a curious & large cutting tooth. Hearing also heard of some "giants" bones on the Parana, I hired a canoe; there were two groups of bones sticking out of a cliff which came perpendicular into the water. The bones were very large, I believe belonging to the Mastodon. They were so completely decayed & soft, that I was unable to extract even a small bone. In the evening rode on another stage on the road, crossing the Monge, another brackish stream.
Crossed the Arrozo del Medio & entered the Province of St Fe. I had been forewarned that nearly all the good people in this province are most dexterous thieves; they soon proved it, by stealing my pistol. The road generally ran near the Parana, & we had some fine glimpses of it. We crossed several streams; the water of the Pabon in a good body formed a cascade 20 feet high. This must be a most unusual phenomenon in this country. At the Saladillo I saw the curious occurrence of a rapidly running brook with water too salt to drink. Entered Rozario, a large & striking looking town, built on a dead level plain which forms a cliff about 60 feet high over the Parana. The river here is very broard with many islands which are low & wooded, as is also the coast of the opposite shore. The view would resemble that of a great lake, if it were not for the linear shaped islands, which alone, give the idea of running water. The cliffs are the most picturesque part, sometimes absolutely perpendicular & of a red colour, at other times in large broken masses covered with Cacti & Mimosa trees. The real grandeur however of an immense river like this, is derived from reflecting how important a means of communication & commerce it forms between one nation & another — to what a distance it travels — from how vast a territory it drains the great body of fresh water which flows before your feet. At Rozario, I had a letter of introduction to a most hospitable Spaniard, who was kind enough to lend me a Pistol. Having obtained this most indispensable article; I galloped on as far as the Colegio de St Carlos. A town known by the size of its church & it is said, the hospitality & virtue of the friars. For many leagues to the North & South of St Nicholas & Rozario the country is really level; it deserves nearly all which travellers have written about these plains. Yet I have never seen a spot where by slowly turning round, objects could not be seen at a greater distance in some points than in others; and this manifestly proves an inequality in the plain. As at sea, the horizon is of course very limited; this entirely destroys a degree of grandeur which one would be apt to imagine a vast level plain would possess. On the sea, your eye being 6 feet above the water, the horizon is distant 2 4/5 miles.
Arrived in the evening at the town of St Nicholas; it is situated on one of the branches of the Parana. I here first saw this noble river. There were some large vessels anchored at the foot of the cliff on which the town is built.
We passed it; the town is small & pretty looking, but all the Spanish towns are built on exactly the same model. There is a fine wooden bridge over the R. Luxan, a most unusual luxury in this country. We passed Areco, another small town: The country appears level, but it is not so in fact; for in various places the horizon is extensive. The Estancias are wide apart; for there is little good pasture, the plains being covered by thistles & an acrid clover. The former was two thirds grown, reaching up to the horses back at this period; it grows in clumps & is of a brilliant green, resembling in miniature a fine forest. In many parts where the ground was dry, the thistles had not even sprung from the surface, but all was bare & dusty like a turnpike road. In summer, travelling is sufficiently dangerous for the thistles furnish an excellent retreat & home for numerous robbers, where they can live, rob & cut throats with perfect impunity. There is little interest in passing over this country, few animals except the Biscatche, & fewer birds inhabit these great thistle beds.
In the evening crossed the Arrecife, on a raft made of empty barrels lashed together. We slept at the Post house on the further side. I paid this day for 31 leagues, & with a burning sun, was but little fatigued. When the days are longer, & riding a little faster, 50 leagues, as mentioned by Head, might be managed with no very great difficulty. But then it must especially be remembered that a man, who pays for 50 leagues by the post, by no means rides 150 English miles, the distance is so universally exaggerated. My 31 leagues was only 76 English miles in a straight line; allowing 4 miles for curvatures in the road will give 80 miles; Heads days journey reduced by the same proportion gives 129 miles; a much more credible distance than 150 geographical ones.
Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
... the Beagle sailed on the 23d, and after a close examination of Cape San Antonio and the great mud-bank, called Tuyu, which lies within it, we went to the neighbourhood of Cape Corrientes, and there looked about and sounded in every direction, but could find no shoal. We then returned to the river, and sounded Sanborombon Bay, laying its shores down on the chart as accurately as we could, considering that the water was every where so shoal, that even a boat could not get within half a mile of the land, except at particular times, for which we could not wait. The distance at which the Beagle was obliged to keep, varied from four miles to three (seldom less), and then she was sailing in about a foot more water than she drew.*
* The Beagle's draught of water was eleven feet and a half forward, and thirteen feet aft, when in ordinary loaded trim
These few days of rest were very pleasant; I had plenty of business to transact; & was employed in obtaining letters of introduction, passport &c for St Fe. — My servant having arrived from M. Video, I despatched him to an English Estancia to shoot & skin birds.
I resided a Mr. G's, who kept a large estancia, or farm, where by the kindness of him and his family I passed a month very comfortably. This estancia is situated on the bank of Río de la Plata. Here is the celebrated pampas, or plain that reaches to the Cordillera, where so many million head of cattle are fed both for consumption and FOR their hides and tallow for exportation. Here is a very fine prospect: the pampas as far as the eye can discern, shews its numerous estancias with its patches of cultivated ground, many thousand head of cattle, and the largest river in the world, on who's banks which are very muddy, I may say, ARE the most splendid birds in the world. In the small rivulets are found unbelievable numbers of ducks of different species and most beautiful plumage, also A wild turkey about the size of the domesticated, the ostrich, the mulita species of the armadillo, deers, lions, tigers, foxes, aperea or guinea pig, bizcacha, etc. The latter are in prodigious quantities, and do much injury to the dykes or ditches round abouts cultivated ground, where they are constantly burrowing, which is the occasion of a continual warfare between those animals and the labourers. These animals are of a greyish colour with very large whiskers and A tuft at the end of the tail, and somewhat resemble the rabbit, as they live in warrens, and feed upon herbs, and when young are very good eating.
A man-of-war requires strength, solidity, capacity; great buoyancy for supporting her heavy metal, durability, and tenacity; besides easiness as a sea-boat, and superiority of sailing. Vessels may easily be built to excel in any of these qualifications; but to excel in all is the climax, only to be obtained by genius, aided by extraordinary study and experience.
After running a few miles with the Snake, and finding that she steered towards Buenos Ayres, we altered our course to resume our easterly route, and early next morning were anchored alongside the Adventure.
As it was evident that another month must elapse before the schooner would be ready for her work, notwithstanding the zealous exertions of Lieut. Wickham and his crew, I decided to finish myself the survey, which I had intended he should begin with, namely, of the south shore of the Plata and a reported bank off Cape Corrientes—and defer the second visit to Tierra del Fuego until December or January.
In two more Postas reached the city; was much delayed on the road from the rain of yesterday the day before. Buenos Ayres looked quite pretty; with its Agave hedges, its groves of Olives, peaches & Willows, all just throwing out their fresh green leaves. I rode to the house of Mr Lumb, an English merchant, who gave me a most hospitable reception; & I soon enjoyed all the comforts of an English house.
On the 18th we weighed, hearing that H.M.S. Snake had brought stores and letters for us, and was at Maldonado, but had hardly lost sight of the town, when the Snake hove in sight. Knowing her to be one of the new build, I altered course, to sail a few miles with her, and see how much she would beat us; but, to my surprize, she gained on us but little while running free with a fresh breeze, just carrying top-mast studding-sails; and I was afterwards told by her officers, that though she sailed uncommonly well on a wind, and worked to windward wonderfully, she did nothing remarkable with a flowing sheet. I did not like her upper works; they 'tumbled home' too much (like some old French corvettes); narrowing her upper deck, giving less spread to the rigging, and offering a bad form to the stroke of a heavy sea, whether when plunging her bow into it, or receiving it abeam. However good such a form may be for large ships, which carry two or three tier of guns, I cannot think it advantageous for flush-decked vessels or small frigates, and am quite certain that it is bad for boats. I here allude particularly to that 'tumbling home' of the upper works, which some persons approved of a few years ago. This is not the place, however, for a discussion upon naval architecture (even if I were qualified to deal with the subject, which assuredly I am not); but I cannot pass over an opportunity of adding my mite of praise to the genius and moral courage of Sir William Symonds and Captain Hayes, who, undeterred by opposition, and difficulties of every description, have succeeded in infusing (if the metaphor may be allowed) so large a portion of Arab blood into the somewhat heavy, though stalwart coursers of our native breed. Amidst the natural contention of eager candidates for an honourable position, to which they have been accustomed to aspire, and for which some are doubtless admirably qualified, it is not surprising that due credit has not always been given to that originality and justifiable daring, of which the merits are attested by the Vanguard and Inconstant. Neither has it always been recollected, however men may have differed in their opinions of this or that individual, as a naval architect, that the two best ships built of late years were constructed by naval officers, self-educated chiefly during the practice of their profession. I am quite aware, that some of those eminent architects who have constructed good ships since 1810 — Sir Robert Seppings, Professor Inman, Mr. Roberts, and Mr. Fincham, were very much restricted as to dimensions allowed with respect to guns to be carried; and that, therefore, no one can pretend to say what degree of excellence the ships might have attained, had their architects been unshackled; but taking things as they are—not as they might have been—to Symonds and Hayes (if not chiefly to the former) belongs the merit of having improved our navy materially. We are so apt to forget, during the heat of controversy, that even an approach to perfection is unattainable, and the utmost any one can hope for is to have fewer faults than his rivals—that we should not hastily condemn, in any case, only because we can detect deficiencies or errors.
Many persons have remarked, that notwithstanding all the competition, all the trials of sailing, and all the reported improvements, which have taken place since the peace, our fastest ships have not excelled some of those built by France, England, or other countries, during the war. My own knowledge of those ships is only derived from the descriptions of persons who sailed in or chased them: but the conclusion I am led to draw from their accounts is that, with few exceptions,* those ships were very slightly built, often of unseasoned timber, and that their rapid rate of sailing only lasted so long as their frames would yield to the fluid, and were not water-sodden. Recently launched, light, and elastic, confined by few beams, knees, or riders, held together by trunnions more than by metal, and intended only to sail swiftly—for a short existence—those greyhound vessels were as different in their construction from the solid, heavy, durable ships of this day, as a light, active youth is from a well-set man trained to labour.
* The Malta (Guillaume Tell), Norge, and a few others, were splendid exceptions, but even in the construction of those ships far less iron and copper were used than is now customary in vessels of their class. By substituting so much metal in place of wood, for knees, braces, and bolts, solidity, strength, and capacity are acquired in modern ships at the expense, in most instances, of elasticity, and swift sailing.
To the 16th, 17th& 18th Posta. Country of one uniform appearance: rich green plain, abundance of cattle horses & sheep; here & there the solitary Estancia, with its Ombu tree. — In the evening torrents of rain, arrived after dark at the Posta; was told that if I travelled by the Post I might sleep there; if not I must pass on, for there were so many robbers about, he could trust nobody. — Upon reading my passport, & finding that I was a Naturalista, his respect & civility were as strong as his suspicions had been before. — What a Naturalista is, neither he or his countrymen had any idea; but I am not sure that my title loses any of its value from this cause.
To the 11th& 12th Posta, a long ride, through a country similar to the last stage: We passed a small tribe of Indians going from Tapalguen to the Guardia del Monte for commerce. The women rode the horses with goods, these are of hides & articles woven by hand of wool, such as cloths or yergas & garters. The patterns are very pretty & brilliantly coloured. The workmanship is so good that an English merchant in Buenos Ayres declared that the ones, which I had, were of English manufacture. He was not convinced to the contrary, untill he observed that the tassels were tied up with split sinew.
To the 9th Posta, followed the course of the R. Tapalguen, very fertile country. Tapalguen itself or the town of Tapalguen is a curious place. It is a perfectly flat plain, studded as far as the eye reaches with the Toldos or oven like huts of Indians. The greater part of the families of the men with Rosas live here. There are immense herds of horses & some sheep. We met & passed many young Indian women, riding by two's & three's on the same horse. These & many of the young men were strikingly handsome; their fine ruddy colour is the very picture of health. Besides the Toldos there are three Ranchos, one with a Commandante, & two others Pulperia's or shops.
We here bought some biscuit. I had now been several days without tasting anything except meat & drinking mattee. I found this new regimen agreed very well with me, but I at the same time felt hard exercise was necessary to make it do so. I have no doubt that the Gauchos living so much on meat is the cause that they, like other carnivorous animals, can go a long time without food & can withstand much exposure. I was told that some troops from Tandeel were in pursuit of some Indians, & that for three days they neither tasted water or food. What other troops would not have killed their horses?
To the 10th Posta; plain, partly swamp & partly good to the East of the R. Tapalguen.