The Voyage of the Beagle HTML version

Strait Of Magellan. -- Climate Of The Southern Coasts
Strait of Magellan -- Port Famine -- Ascent of Mount Tarn -- Forests -- Edible Fungus --
Zoology -- Great Sea-weed -- Leave Tierra del Fuego -- Climate -- Fruit-trees and
Productions of the Southern Coasts -- Height of Snow-line on the Cordillera -- Descent of
Glaciers to the Sea -- Icebergs formed -- Transportal of Boulders -- Climate and
Productions of the Antarctic Islands -- Preservation of Frozen Carcasses --
IN THE end of May, 1834, we entered for a second time the eastern mouth of the Strait
of Magellan. The country on both sides of this part of the Strait consists of nearly level
plains, like those of Patagonia. Cape Negro, a little within the second Narrows, may be
considered as the point where the land begins to assume the marked features of Tierra del
Fuego. On the east coast, south of the Strait, broken park-like scenery in a like manner
connects these two countries, which are opposed to each other in almost every feature. It
is truly surprising to find in a space of twenty miles such a change in the landscape. If we
take a rather greater distance, as between Port Famine and Gregory Bay, that is about
sixty miles, the difference is still more wonderful. At the former place, we have rounded
mountains concealed by impervious forests, which are drenched with the rain, brought by
an endless succession of gales; while at Cape Gregory, there is a clear and bright blue sky
over the dry and sterile plains. The atmospheric currents, [1] although rapid, turbulent,
and unconfined by any apparent limits, yet seem to follow, like a river in its bed, a
regularly determined course.
During our previous visit (in January), we had an interview at Cape Gregory with the
famous so-called gigantic Patagonians, who gave us a cordial reception. Their height
appears greater than it really is, from their large guanaco mantles, their long flowing hair,
and general figure: on an average, their height is about six feet, with some men taller and
only a few shorter; and the women are also tall; altogether they are certainly the tallest
race which we anywhere saw. In features they strikingly resemble the more northern
Indians whom I saw with Rosas, but they have a wilder and more formidable appearance:
their faces were much painted with red and black, and one man was ringed and dotted
with white like a Fuegian. Captain Fitz Roy offered to take any three of them on board,
and all seemed determined to be of the three. It was long before we could clear the boat;
at last we got on board with our three giants, who dined with the Captain, and behaved
quite like gentlemen, helping themselves with knives, forks, and spoons: nothing was so
much relished as sugar. This tribe has had so much communication with sealers and
whalers that most of the men can speak a little English and Spanish; and they are half
civilized, and proportionally demoralized.
The next morning a large party went on shore, to barter for skins and ostrich-feathers;
fire-arms being refused, tobacco was in greatest request, far more so than axes or tools.
The whole population of the toldos, men, women, and children, were arranged on a bank.
It was an amusing scene, and it was impossible not to like the so-called giants, they were
so thoroughly good-humoured and unsuspecting: they asked us to come again. They seem