The Voyage of the Beagle HTML version

Monte Video -- Excursion to R. Polanco -- Lazo and Bolas -- Partridges -- Absence of
Trees -- Deer -- Capybara, or River Hog -- Tucutuco -- Molothrus, cuckoo-like habits --
Tyrant- flycatcher -- Mocking-bird -- Carrion Hawks -- Tubes formed by Lightning --
House struck.
July 5th, 1832 -- In the morning we got under way, and stood out of the splendid harbour
of Rio de Janeiro. In our passage to the Plata, we saw nothing particular, excepting on
one day a great shoal of porpoises, many hundreds in number. The whole sea was in
places furrowed by them; and a most extraordinary spectacle was presented, as hundreds,
proceeding together by jumps, in which their whole bodies were exposed, thus cut the
water. When the ship was running nine knots an hour, these animals could cross and
recross the bows with the greatest of ease, and then dash away right ahead. As soon as we
entered the estuary of the Plata, the weather was very unsettled. One dark night we were
surrounded by numerous seals and penguins, which made such strange noises, that the
officer on watch reported he could hear the cattle bellowing on shore. On a second night
we witnessed a splendid scene of natural fireworks; the mast-head and yard-arm-ends
shone with St. Elmo's light; and the form of the vane could almost be traced, as if it had
been rubbed with phosphorus. The sea was so highly luminous, that the tracks of the
penguins were marked by a fiery wake, and the darkness of the sky was momentarily
illuminated by the most vivid lightning.
When within the mouth of the river, I was interested by observing how slowly the waters
of the sea and river mixed. The latter, muddy and discoloured, from its less specific
gravity, floated on the surface of the salt water. This was curiously exhibited in the wake
of the vessel, where a line of blue water was seen mingling in little eddies, with the
adjoining fluid.
July 26th. -- We anchored at Monte Video. The Beagle was employed in surveying the
extreme southern and eastern coasts of America, south of the Plata, during the two
succeeding years. To prevent useless repetitions, I will extract those parts of my journal
which refer to the same districts without always attending to the order in which we
visited them.
MALDONADO is situated on the northern bank of the Plata, and not very far from the
mouth of the estuary. It is a most quiet, forlorn, little town; built, as is universally the
case in these countries, with the streets running at right angles to each other, and having
in the middle a large plaza or square, which, from its size, renders the scantiness of the
population more evident. It possesses scarcely any trade; the exports being confined to a
few hides and living cattle. The inhabitants are chiefly landowners, together with a few
shopkeepers and the necessary tradesmen, such as blacksmiths and carpenters, who do
nearly all the business for a circuit of fifty miles round. The town is separated from the
river by a band of sand-hillocks, about a mile broad: it is surrounded, on all other sides,
by an open slightly-undulating country, covered by one uniform layer of fine green turf,