The Voyage of the Beagle HTML version

St. Jago -- Cape De Verd Islands
Porto Praya -- Ribeira Grande -- Atmospheric Dust with Infusoria -- Habits of a Sea-slug
and Cuttle-fish -- St. Paul's Rocks, non-volcanic -- Singular Incrustations -- Insects the
first Colonists of Islands -- Fernando Noronha -- Bahia -- Burnished Rocks -- Habits of a
Diodon -- Pelagic Confervae and Infusoria -- Causes of discoloured Sea.
AFTER having been twice driven back by heavy southwestern gales, Her Majesty's ship
Beagle, a ten-gun brig, under the command of Captain Fitz Roy, R. N., sailed from
Devonport on the 27th of December, 1831. The object of the expedition was to complete
the survey of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, commenced under Captain King in 1826 to
1830, -- to survey the shores of Chile, Peru, and of some islands in the Pacific -- and to
carry a chain of chronometrical measurements round the World. On the 6th of January we
reached Teneriffe, but were prevented landing, by fears of our bringing the cholera: the
next morning we saw the sun rise behind the rugged outline of the Grand Canary island,
and suddenly illuminate the Peak of Teneriffe, whilst the lower parts were veiled in
fleecy clouds. This was the first of many delightful days never to be forgotten. On the
16th of January, 1832, we anchored at Porto Praya, in St. Jago, the chief island of the
Cape de Verd archipelago.
The neighbourhood of Porto Praya, viewed from the sea, wears a desolate aspect. The
volcanic fires of a past age, and the scorching heat of a tropical sun, have in most places
rendered the soil unfit for vegetation. The country rises in successive steps of table-land,
interspersed with some truncate conical hills, and the horizon is bounded by an irregular
chain of more lofty mountains. The scene, as beheld through the hazy atmosphere of this
climate, is one of great interest; if, indeed, a person, fresh from sea, and who has just
walked, for the first time, in a grove of cocoa-nut trees, can be a judge of anything but his
own happiness. The island would generally be considered as very uninteresting, but to
anyone accustomed only to an English landscape, the novel aspect of an utterly sterile
land possesses a grandeur which more vegetation might spoil. A single green leaf can
scarcely be discovered over wide tracts of the lava plains; yet flocks of goats, together
with a few cows, contrive to exist. It rains very seldom, but during a short portion of the
year heavy torrents fall, and immediately afterwards a light vegetation springs out of
every crevice. This soon withers; and upon such naturally formed hay the animals live. It
had not now rained for an entire year. When the island was discovered, the immediate
neighbourhood of Porto Praya was clothed with trees, [1] the reckless destruction of
which has caused here, as at St. Helena, and at some of the Canary islands, almost entire
sterility. The broad, flat-bottomed valleys, many of which serve during a few days only in
the season as water-courses, are clothed with thickets of leafless bushes. Few living
creatures inhabit these valleys. The commonest bird is a kingfisher (Dacelo Iagoensis),
which tamely sits on the branches of the castor- oil plant, and thence darts on
grasshoppers and lizards. It is brightly coloured, but not so beautiful as the European
species: in its flight, manners, and place of habitation, which is generally in the driest
valley, there is also a wide difference.