31st August 2010

From “The Voyage of the Beagle”:
We may safely conclude, that within the Indo-human period there has been an elevation, as before alluded to, of more than eighty-five feet; for some little elevation must have been lost by the coast having subsided since the old maps were engraved. At Valparaiso, although in the 220 years before our visit, the elevation cannot have exceeded nineteen feet, yet subsequently to 1817, there has been a rise, partly insensible and partly by a start during the shock of 1822, of ten or eleven feet. The antiquity of the Indo-human race here, judging by the eighty-five feet rise of the land since the relics were embedded, is the more remarkable, as on the coast of Patagonia, when the land stood about the same number of feet lower, the Macrauchenia was a living beast; but as the Patagonian coast is some way distant from the Cordillera, the rising there may have been slower than here.

26th August 2010

From “The Voyage of the Beagle”:
I was much interested by finding on the terrace, at the height of eighty-five feet, embedded amidst the shells and much sea-drifted rubbish, some bits of cotton thread, plaited rush, and the head of a stalk of Indian corn: I compared these relics with similar ones taken out of the Huacas, or old Peruvian tombs, and found them identical in appearance. On the mainland in front of San Lorenzo, near Bellavista, there is an extensive and level plain about a hundred feet high, of which the lower part is formed of alternating layers of sand and impure clay, together with some gravel, and the surface, to the depth of from three to six feet, of a reddish loam, containing a few scattered sea-shells and numerous small fragments of coarse red earthenware, more abundant at certain spots than at others. At first I was inclined to believe that this superficial bed, from its wide extent and smoothness, must have been deposited beneath the sea; but I afterwards found in one spot, that it lay on an artificial floor of round stones. It seems, therefore, most probable that at a period when the land stood at a lower level there was a plain very similar to that now surrounding Callao, which being protected by a shingle beach, is raised but very little above the level of the sea. On this plain, with its underlying red-clay beds, I imagine that the Indians manufactured their earthen vessels; and that, during some violent earthquake, the sea broke over the beach, and converted the plain into a temporary lake, as happened round Callao in 1713 and 1746. The water would then have deposited mud, containing fragments of pottery from the kilns, more abundant at some spots than at others, and shells from the sea. This bed, with fossil earthenware, stands at about the same height with the shells on the lower terrace of San Lorenzo, in which the cotton-thread and other relics were embedded.

24th August 2010

With Darwin and Fitroy's continued silence -- until they leave Callao on the 7th September -- I am continuing to post relevant entries from Darwin's "The Voyage of the Beagle" published years later. Today's entry is particularly interesting as it gives an insight to Darwin's strictly logical approach to his work.

From “The Voyage of the Beagle”:
On the island of San Lorenzo, there are very satisfactory proofs of elevation within the recent period; this of course is not opposed to the belief, of a small sinking of the ground having subsequently taken place. The side of this island fronting the Bay of Callao, is worn into three obscure terraces, the lower one of which is covered by a bed a mile in length, almost wholly composed of shells of eighteen species, now living in the adjoining sea. The height of this bed is eighty-five feet. Many of the shells are deeply corroded, and have a much older and more decayed appearance than those at the height of 500 or 600 feet on the coast of Chile. These shells are associated with much common salt, a little sulphate of lime (both probably left by the evaporation of the spray, as the land slowly rose), together with sulphate of soda and muriate of lime. They rest on fragments of the underlying sandstone, and are covered by a few inches thick of detritus. The shells, higher up on this terrace could be traced scaling off in flakes, and falling into an impalpable powder; and on an upper terrace, at the height of 170 feet, and likewise at some considerably higher points, I found a layer of saline powder of exactly similar appearance, and lying in the same relative position. I have no doubt that this upper layer originally existed as a bed of shells, like that on the eighty-five-feet ledge; but it does not now contain even a trace of organic structure. The powder has been analyzed for me by Mr. T. Reeks; it consists of sulphates and muriates both of lime and soda, with very little carbonate of lime. It is known that common salt and carbonate of lime left in a mass for some time together, partly decompose each other; though this does not happen with small quantities in solution. As the half-decomposed shells in the lower parts are associated with much common salt, together with some of the saline substances composing the upper saline layer, and as these shells are corroded and decayed in a remarkable manner, I strongly suspect that this double decomposition has here taken place. The resultant salts, however, ought to be carbonate of soda and muriate of lime, the latter is present, but not the carbonate of soda. Hence I am led to imagine that by some unexplained means, the carbonate of soda becomes changed into the sulphate. It is obvious that the saline layer could not have been preserved in any country in which abundant rain occasionally fell: on the other hand, this very circumstance, which at first sight appears so highly favourable to the long preservation of exposed shells, has probably been the indirect means, through the common salt not having been washed away, of their decomposition and early decay.

23rd August 2010

From “The Voyage of the Beagle”:
One day I went out with some merchants to hunt in the immediate vicinity of the city. Our sport was very poor; but I had an opportunity of seeing the ruins of one of the ancient Indian villages, with its mound like a natural hill in the centre. The remains of houses, enclosures, irrigating streams, and burial mounds, scattered over this plain, cannot fail to give one a high idea of the condition and number of the ancient population. When their earthenware, woollen clothes, utensils of elegant forms cut out of the hardest rocks, tools of copper, ornaments of precious stones, palaces, and hydraulic works, are considered, it is impossible not to respect the considerable advance made by them in the arts of civilization. The burial mounds, called Huacas, are really stupendous; although in some places they appear to be natural hills incased and modelled.

There is also another and very different class of ruins, which possesses some interest, namely, those of old Callao, overwhelmed by the great earthquake of 1746, and its accompanying wave. The destruction must have been more complete even than at Talcahuano. Quantities of shingle almost conceal the foundations of the walls, and vast masses of brickwork appear to have been whirled about like pebbles by the retiring waves. It has been stated that the land subsided during this memorable shock: I could not discover any proof of this; yet it seems far from improbable, for the form of the coast must certainly have undergone some change since the foundation of the old town; as no people in their senses would willingly have chosen for their building place, the narrow spit of shingle on which the ruins now stand. Since our voyage, M. Tschudi has come to the conclusion, by the comparison of old and modern maps, that the coast both north and south of Lima has certainly subsided.

22nd August 2010

From “The Voyage of the Beagle”:
Callao is a filthy, ill-built, small seaport. The inhabitants, both here and at Lima, present every imaginable shade of mixture, between European, Negro, and Indian blood. They appear a depraved, drunken set of people. The atmosphere is loaded with foul smells, and that peculiar one, which may be perceived in almost every town within the tropics, was here very strong. The fortress, which withstood Lord Cochrane's long siege, has an imposing appearance. But the President, during our stay, sold the brass guns, and proceeded to dismantle parts of it. The reason assigned was, that he had not an officer to whom he could trust so important a charge. He himself had good reason for thinking so, as he had obtained the presidentship by rebelling while in charge of this same fortress. After we left South America, he paid the penalty in the usual manner, by being conquered, taken prisoner, and shot.

Lima stands on a plain in a valley, formed during the gradual retreat of the sea. It is seven miles from Callao, and is elevated 500 feet above it; but from the slope being very gradual, the road appears absolutely level; so that when at Lima it is difficult to believe one has ascended even one hundred feet: Humboldt has remarked on this singularly deceptive case. Steep barren hills rise like islands from the plain, which is divided, by straight mud-walls, into large green fields. In these scarcely a tree grows excepting a few willows, and an occasional clump of bananas and of oranges.

The city of Lima is now in a wretched state of decay: the streets are nearly unpaved; and heaps of filth are piled up in all directions, where the black gallinazos, tame as poultry, pick up bits of carrion. The houses have generally an upper story, built on account of the earthquakes, of plastered woodwork but some of the old ones, which are now used by several families, are immensely large, and would rival in suites of apartments the most magnificent in any place. Lima, the City of the Kings, must formerly have been a splendid town. The extraordinary number of churches gives it, even at the present day, a peculiar and striking character, especially when viewed from a short distance.

21st August 2010

From “The Voyage of the Beagle”:
No state in South America, since the declaration of independence, has suffered more from anarchy than Peru. At the time of our visit, there were four chiefs in arms contending for supremacy in the government: if one succeeded in becoming for a time very powerful, the others coalesced against him; but no sooner were they victorious, than they were again hostile to each other. The other day, at the Anniversary of the Independence, high mass was performed, the President partaking of the sacrament: during the 'Te Deum laudamus', instead of each regiment displaying the Peruvian flag, a black one with death's head was unfurled. Imagine a government under which such a scene could be ordered, on such an occasion, to be typical of their determination of fighting to death! This state of affairs happened at a time very unfortunately for me, as I was precluded from taking any excursions much beyond the limits of the town. The barren island of St. Lorenzo, which forms the harbour, was nearly the only place where one could walk securely. The upper part, which is upwards of 1000 feet in height, during this season of the year (winter), comes within the lower limit of the clouds; and in consequence, an abundant cryptogamic vegetation, and a few flowers cover the summit. On the hills near Lima, at a height but little greater, the ground is carpeted with moss, and beds of beautiful yellow lilies, called Amancaes. This indicates a very much greater degree of humidity, than at a corresponding height at Iquique. Proceeding northward of Lima, the climate becomes damper, till on the banks of the Guayaquil, nearly under the equator, we find the most luxuriant forests. The change, however, from the sterile coast of Peru to that fertile land is described as taking place rather abruptly in the latitude of Cape Blanco, two degrees south of Guayaquil.

20th August 2010

From “The Voyage of the Beagle”:
I cannot say I liked the very little I saw of Peru: in summer, however, it is said that the climate is much pleasanter. In all seasons, both inhabitants and foreigners suffer from severe attacks of ague. This disease is common on the whole coast of Peru, but is unknown in the interior. The attacks of illness which arise from miasma never fail to appear most mysterious. So difficult is it to judge from the aspect of a country, whether or not it is healthy, that if a person had been told to choose within the tropics a situation appearing favourable for health, very probably he would have named this coast. The plain round the outskirts of Callao is sparingly covered with a coarse grass, and in some parts there are a few stagnant, though very small, pools of water. The miasma, in all probability, arises from these: for the town of Arica was similarly circumstanced, and its healthiness was much improved by the drainage of some little pools. Miasma is not always produced by a luxuriant vegetation with an ardent climate; for many parts of Brazil, even where there are marshes and a rank vegetation, are much more healthy than this sterile coast of Peru. The densest forests in a temperate climate, as in Chiloe, do not seem in the slightest degree to affect the healthy condition of the atmosphere.

The island of St. Jago, at the Cape de Verds, offers another strongly marked instance of a country, which any one would have expected to find most healthy, being very much the contrary.

19th August 2010

From “The Voyage of the Beagle”:
In the Cordillera further southward, people lose their lives from snow-storms; here, it sometimes happens from another cause. My guide, when a boy of fourteen years old, was passing the Cordillera with a party in the month of May; and while in the central parts, a furious gale of wind arose, so that the men could hardly cling on their mules, and stones were flying along the ground. The day was cloudless, and not a speck of snow fell, but the temperature was low. It is probable that the thermometer could not have stood very many degrees below the freezing-point, but the effect on their bodies, ill protected by clothing, must have been in proportion to the rapidity of the current of cold air. The gale lasted for more than a day; the men began to lose their strength, and the mules would not move onwards.

My guide's brother tried to return, but he perished, and his body was found two years afterwards, Lying by the side of his mule near the road, with the bridle still in his hand. Two other men in the party lost their fingers and toes; and out of two hundred mules and thirty cows, only fourteen mules escaped alive. Many years ago the whole of a large party are supposed to have perished from a similar cause, but their bodies to this day have never been discovered. The union of a cloudless sky, low temperature, and a furious gale of wind, must be, I should think, in all parts of the world an unusual occurrence.

18th August 2010

From “The Voyage of the Beagle”:
When at Lima, I conversed on these subjects [above] with Mr. Gill, a civil engineer, who had seen much of the interior country. He told me that a conjecture of a change of climate had sometimes crossed his mind; but that he thought that the greater portion of land, now incapable of cultivation, but covered with Indian ruins, had been reduced to this state by the water-conduits, which the Indians formerly constructed on so wonderful a scale, having been injured by neglect and by subterranean movements. I may here mention, that the Peruvians actually carried their irrigating streams in tunnels through hills of solid rock. Mr. Gill told me, he had been employed professionally to examine one: he found the passage low, narrow, crooked, and not of uniform breadth, but of very considerable length. Is it not most wonderful that men should have attempted such operations, without the use of iron or gunpowder? Mr. Gill also mentioned to me a most interesting, and, as far as I am aware, quite unparalleled case, of a subterranean disturbance having changed the drainage of a country. Travelling from Casma to Huaraz (not very far distant from Lima), he found a plain covered with ruins and marks of ancient cultivation but now quite barren. Near it was the dry course of a considerable river, whence the water for irrigation had formerly been conducted. There was nothing in the appearance of the water-course to indicate that the river had not flowed there a few years previously; in some parts, beds of sand and gravel were spread out; in others, the solid rock had been worn into a broad channel, which in one spot was about 40 yards in breadth and 8 feet deep. It is self-evident that a person following up the course of a stream, will always ascend at a greater or less inclination: Mr. Gill, therefore, was much astonished, when walking up the bed of this ancient river, to find himself suddenly going down hill. He imagined that the downward slope had a fall of about 40 or 50 feet perpendicular. We here have unequivocal evidence that a ridge had been uplifted right across the old bed of a stream. From the moment the river-course was thus arched, the water must necessarily have been thrown back, and a new channel formed. From that moment, also, the neighbouring plain must have lost its fertilizing stream, and become a desert.

Another hiatus

Again Darwin and Fitzroy do not make another entry in Diary and Journal until they leave Lima for the Galapagos in September. Reading their works it seems that they could not see much of report in Peru at all, which in Darwin's case is rather remarkable. over the past years he has found even desert places of some interest!

To fill the space between now and September 6th -- when the Diary and Journal resume, some extracts from "The Voyage of the Beagle”:
I have convincing proofs that this part of the continent of South America has been elevated near the coast at least from 400 to 500, and in some parts from 1000 to 1300 feet, since the epoch of existing shells; and further inland the rise possibly may have been greater. As the peculiarly arid character of the climate is evidently a consequence of the height of the Cordillera, we may feel almost sure that before the later elevations, the atmosphere could not have been so completely drained of its moisture as it now is; and as the rise has been gradual, so would have been the change in climate. On this notion of a change of climate since the buildings were inhabited, the ruins must be of extreme antiquity, but I do not think their preservation under the Chilian climate any great difficulty. We must also admit on this notion (and this perhaps is a greater difficulty) that man has inhabited South America for an immensely long period, inasmuch as any change of climate effected by the elevation of the land must have been extremely gradual. At Valparaiso, within the last 220 years, the rise has been somewhat less than 19 feet: at Lima a sea-beach has certainly been upheaved from 80 to 90 feet, within the Indo-human period: but such small elevations could have had little power in deflecting the moisture-bringing atmospheric currents. Dr. Lund, however, found human skeletons in the caves of Brazil, the appearance of which induced him to believe that the Indian race has existed during a vast lapse of time in South America.

9th August to 5th September, 1835

H.M.S. Blonde arrived with Capt. FitzRoy on board; he subsequently during the Beagle stay resided in Lima. — The country has continued in the same state of mis-rule; even the road between Lima & Callao has been infested with gangs of mounted robbers. — In consequence I have staid quietly on board. My occupation has been writing up Geological notes about Chili. — if the time had not been robbed either from England or the Pacifick it would have been pleasant; the consciousness of this, gave a longing to proceed. — I paid Lima two short visits; one day I went out with some Merchants, who have a few dogs to hunt deer with. — Our sport was very poor; but I had an opportunity of seeing the remains of one of the very numerous old Indian villages, with its hill-like mound in the centre. — The ruins in this plain of houses, enclosures, irrigating streams & burial mounds, give one a high idea of the ancient population. — When the Earthern ware is considered; the woollen clothes, the utensils, of elegant forms cut out of the hardest rocks, the tools of Copper & ornaments of the precious metals, it is clear they were considerably advanced in civilization. — The burial mounds (called "Huacas") are really stupendous works; in some places, however, a natural hill appears only to be artificially encased & modelled. — Another & very different class of ruins possesses some interest, namely those of old Callao, which was destroyed by the great Earthquake of 1747. — The state of ruin is much more complete than that of Concepcion; quantities of shingle almost conceal the foundations of the walls. It is believed the Land at the time subsided: I found some curious geological facts, which are only explicable by a similar movement but at a very remote period, when the country stood at a less elevation by 100 ft & yet was inhabited by Indians. I do not think there is any place which the Beagle has visited, of which I have seen so little; so I will write no more.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
On the 9th of August, the Blonde anchored in Callao Bay, and I enjoyed the satisfaction of finding all well on board the Beagle. She had touched at CopiapĆ³ and Iquique, for Mr. Darwin, in her way to Callao, where she arrived on the 19th of July. Lieutenant Sulivan brought his little vessel safely to an anchor near the Beagle on the 30th, having accomplished his survey in a very satisfactory manner. So well did he speak of the Constitucion, as a handy craft and good sea boat, and so correctly did his own work in her appear to have been executed, that after some days' consideration I decided to buy her, and at once set on foot an examination of the coast of Peru, similar to that which Mr. Sulivan had completed of the coast of Chile. Don Francisco VascuƱan had authorized the sale of his vessel at Callao: she was purchased by me for £400, and immediately fitted out afresh.

I could not spare Lieutenant Sulivan to remain on the coast of Peru, while the Beagle would be crossing the Pacific, on her return to England by way of the Cape of Good Hope; but there was Mr. Usborne, able and willing to undertake the task, who, from his station, could be spared without prejudice to the duties yet remaining to be executed on board the Beagle, and a better man for the purpose I could not have desired. With him Mr. Forsyth volunteered to go, and Commodore Mason was prevailed upon to allow Mr. E. Davis, a master's assistant of the Blonde, to join the little expedition; who, with seven good seamen, and a boy, volunteers from the Beagle, completed Mr. Usborne's party.

A stranger might well smile at the idea of such a boat affair being started to survey, in eight or at most ten months, the whole coast of Peru, from Paposo, near Atacama, to the River Guayaquil; but the task was completed; the charts are now engraved; and very soon seamen will be able to test their accuracy.

Most people are aware that the coast of Peru is free from storms; that the wind blows moderately along the land or from it; and that there is little or no rain. Consequently, as the sea is seldom much disturbed (except by a south-west swell), and there are neither 'races' nor dangerous streams of tide, an open boat might undertake such a task, if safety alone were to be considered, provided that she did not try to land in a surf. The real impediments to surveying that coast are—the surf caused on those steep rocky shores by an occasional heavy swell, almost amounting to rollers, from the south-westward; the delays and doubts created by prevalent fogs; and the loss of positions, as well as time, consequent upon being drifted by currents during a calm. Mr. Usborne had also to prepare for, and provide against, as much as possible, difficulties of a very different nature—those arising out of the disturbed state of that country—the anarchical internal dissensions which are the bane of all South America, but especially of Peru. In this respect there were so many prospective dangers, as well as difficulties, that I should not have ventured to let him encounter them, had we not had such a man as Belford Hinton Wilson to rely upon for foresight, advice, influence, and as hearty unflinching assistance, as any one public servant could afford to another. Mr. Wilson's exertions were unceasing, until he procured every passport and document that could by any possibility be required for Mr. Usborne. He introduced him as well as myself, to the hydrographer (Don Eduardo Carrasco) who assisted us in many ways most materially; and after I left the coast he showed every possible attention and kindness to all the Constitucion's party; winding up by advancing a large sum of money out of his own purse, to forward the service in which they were engaged, and increase their comfort during a long passage to England round Cape Horn.

Captain Carrasco, formerly in the Spanish navy, and now Director of the Nautical School at Lima, gave me, and afterwards Mr. Usborne, every particle of information which he and I thought might be useful—both verbally and in writing—besides which he ransacked the archives for manuscripts, charts, and books, from which he allowed extracts to be taken or copies made, in the most truly liberal manner; and I long to see the results of our voyage, whatever they may be, laid before him and his friends, as an acknowledgment—however slight—of their free assistance and co-operation.

A short hiatus...

Darwin and Fitzroy do not make another entry in Diary and Journal until the latter's arrival in Lima on the 9th August, 1835... what could be better? A week to seek out your favourite entry from mid-December 1831 to the end of July 1835.

And still Galapagos to come!