The Voyage of the Beagle HTML version

Keeling Island: -- Coral Formations
Keeling Island -- Singular appearance -- Scanty Flora -- Transport of Seeds -- Birds and
Insects -- Ebbing and flowing Springs -- Fields of dead Coral -- Stones transported in the
roots of Trees -- Great Crab -- Stinging Corals -- Coral eating Fish -- Coral Formations --
Lagoon Islands, or Atolls -- Depth at which reef-building Corals can live -- Vast Areas
interspersed with low Coral Islands -- Subsidence of their foundations -- Barrier Reefs --
Fringing Reefs -- Conversion of Fringing Reefs into Barrier Reefs, and into Atolls --
Evidence of changes in Level -- Breaches in Barrier Reefs -- Maldiva Atolls, their
peculiar structure -- Dead and submerged Reefs -- Areas of subsidence and elevation --
Distribution of Volcanoes -- Subsidence slow, and vast in amount
APRIL 1st. -- We arrived in view of the Keeling or Cocos Islands, situated in the Indian
Ocean, and about six hundred miles distant from the coast of Sumatra. This is one of the
lagoon-islands (or atolls) of coral formation, similar to those in the Low Archipelago
which we passed near. When the ship was in the channel at the entrance, Mr. Liesk, an
English resident, came off in his boat. The history of the inhabitants of this place, in as
few words as possible, is as follows. About nine years ago, Mr. Hare, a worthless
character, brought from the East Indian archipelago a number of Malay slaves, which
now including children, amount to more than a hundred. Shortly afterwards, Captain
Ross, who had before visited these islands in his merchant-ship, arrived from England,
bringing with him his family and goods for settlement along with him came Mr. Liesk,
who had been a mate in his vessel. The Malay slaves soon ran away from the islet on
which Mr. Hare was settled, and joined Captain Ross's party. Mr. Hare upon this was
ultimately obliged to leave the place.
The Malays are now nominally in a state of freedom, and certainly are so, as far as
regards their personal treatment; but in most other points they are considered as slaves.
From their discontented state, from the repeated removals from islet to islet, and perhaps
also from a little mismanagement, things are not very prosperous. The island has no
domestic quadruped, excepting the pig, and the main vegetable production is the cocoa-
nut. The whole prosperity of the place depends on this tree: the only exports being oil
from the nut, and the nuts themselves, which are taken to Singapore and Mauritius, where
they are chiefly used, when grated, in making curries. On the cocoa-nut, also, the pigs,
which are loaded with fat, almost entirely subsist, as do the ducks and poultry. Even a
huge land-crab is furnished by nature with the means to open and feed on this most useful
The ring-formed reef of the lagoon-island is surmounted in the greater part of its length
by linear islets. On the northern or leeward side, there is an opening through which
vessels can pass to the anchorage within. On entering, the scene was very curious and
rather pretty; its beauty, however, entirely depended on the brilliancy of the surrounding
colours. The shallow, clear, and still water of the lagoon, resting in its greater part on
white sand, is, when illumined by a vertical sun, of the most vivid green. This brilliant
expanse, several miles in width, is on all sides divided, either by a line of snow-white