The Voyage of the Beagle HTML version

Chiloe And Chonos Islands
Chiloe -- General Aspect -- Boat Excursion -- Native Indians -- Castro -- Tame Fox --
Ascend San Pedro -- Chonos Archipelago -- Peninsula of Tres Montes -- Granitic Range -
- Boat-wrecked Sailors -- Low's Harbour -- Wild Potato -- Formation of Peat --
Myopotamus, Otter and Mice -- Cheucau and Barking-bird -- Opetiorhynchus -- Singular
Character of Ornithology -- Petrels.
NOVEMBER 10th. -- The Beagle sailed from Valparaiso to the south, for the purpose of
surveying the southern part of Chile, the island of Chiloe, and the broken land called the
Chonos Archipelago, as far south as the Peninsula of Tres Montes. On the 21st we
anchored in the bay of S. Carlos, the capital of Chiloe.
This island is about ninety miles long, with a breadth of rather less than thirty. The land is
hilly, but not mountainous, and is covered by one great forest, except where a few green
patches have been cleared round the thatched cottages. From a distance the view
somewhat resembles that of Tierra del Fuego; but the woods, when seen nearer, are
incomparably more beautiful. Many kinds of fine evergreen trees, and plants with a
tropical character, here take the place of the gloomy beech of the southern shores. In
winter the climate is detestable, and in summer it is only a little better. I should think
there are few parts of the world, within the temperate regions, where so much rain falls.
The winds are very boisterous, and the sky almost always clouded: to have a week of fine
weather is something wonderful. It is even difficult to get a single glimpse of the
Cordillera: during our first visit, once only the volcano of Osorno stood out in bold relief,
and that was before sunrise; it was curious to watch, as the sun rose, the outline gradually
fading away in the glare of the eastern sky.
The inhabitants, from their complexion and low stature; appear to have three-fourths of
Indian blood in their veins. They are an humble, quiet, industrious set of men. Although
the fertile soil, resulting from the decomposition of the volcanic rocks, supports a rank
vegetation, yet the climate is not favourable to any production which requires much
sunshine to ripen it. There is very little pasture for the larger quadrupeds; and in
consequence, the staple articles of food are pigs, potatoes, and fish. The people all dress
in strong woollen garments, which each family makes for itself, and dyes with indigo of a
dark blue colour. The arts, however, are in the rudest state; -- as may be seen in their
strange fashion of ploughing, their method of spinning, grinding corn, and in the
construction of their boats. The forests are so impenetrable, that the land is nowhere
cultivated except near the coast and on the adjoining islets. Even where paths exist, they
are scarcely passable from the soft and swampy state of the soil. The inhabitants, like
those of Tierra del Fuego, move about chiefly on the beach or in boats. Although with
plenty to eat, the people are very poor: there is no demand for labour, and consequently
the lower orders cannot scrape together money sufficient to purchase even the smallest
luxuries. There is also a great deficiency of a circulating medium. I have seen a man
bringing on his back a bag of charcoal, with which to buy some trifle, and another