January 1832 Archives

St Jago

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At about 11 oclock we neared the Western coast of St Jago & by about three we anchored in the bay of Porto Praya.St Jago viewed from the sea is even much more desolate than the land about Santa Cruz.The Volcanic fire of past ages & the scorching heat of a tropical sun have in most places rendered the soil sterile & unfit for vegetation.- The country rises in successive steps of table land, interspersed by some truncate conical hills, & the horizon is bounded by an irregular chain of more lofty & bolder hills.The scene when viewed through the peculiar atmosphere of the tropics was one of great interest: if indeed a person fresh from sea & walking for the first time in a grove of Cocoa-nut trees, can be a judge of anything but his own happiness.- At three oclock I went with a party to announce our arrival to the "Governador".- After having found out the house, which certainly is not suited to the grandeur of his title we were ushered into a room where the great man most courteously received us.After having made out our story in a very ludicrous mixture of Portuguese, English & French, we retreated under a shower of bows.We then called on the American Consul who likewise acts for the English.The Portugeese might with great advantage have instilled a little of his well-bred politesse into this quarter.I was surprised at the houses: the rooms are large & airy, but with uncommonly little furniture, & that little in vile taste.


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We then strolled about the town, & feasted upon oranges: which I believe are now selling a hundred per shilling. I likewise tasted a Banana: but did not like it, being maukish & sweet with little flavor.The town is a miserable place, consisting of a square & some broard streets, if indeed they deserve so respectable a name.In the middle of these "Ruas" are lying together goats, pigs & black & brown children: some of whom boast of a shirt, but quite as many not: these latter look less like human being than I could have fancied any degradation could have produced.- There are a good many black soldiers, it would be difficult I should think to pick out a less efficient body of men.Many of them only possess for arms a wooden staff.Before returning to our boat, we walked across the town & came to a deep valley.- Here I first saw the glory of tropical vegetation. Tamarinds, Bananas & Palms were flourishing at my feet.I expected a good deal, for I had read Humboldts descriptions & I was afraid of disappointments: how utterly vain such fear is, none can tell but those who have seen experienced what I to day have.It is not only the gracefulness of their forms or the novel richness of their colours, it is the numberless & confusing associations that rush together on the mind that& produces the effect.- I returned to the shore, treading on Volcanic rocks, hearing the notes of unknown birds, & seeing new insects fluttering about still newer flowers.It has been for me a glorious day, like giving to a blind man eyes, --he is overwhelmed with what he sees & cannot justly comprehend it.Such are my feelings, & such may they remain.

Immediately after breakfast I went with the Captain to Quail Island.This is a miserable desolate spot, less than a mile in circumference. It is intended to fix here the observatory & tents; & will of course be a sort of head quarters to us.Uninviting as its first appearance was, I do not think the impression this day has made will ever leave me.The first examining of Volcanic rocks must to a Geologist be a memorable epoch, & little less so to the naturalist is the first burst of admiration at seeing Corals growing on their native rock.- Often whilst at Edinburgh, have I gazed at the little pools of water left by the tide: & from the minute corals of our own shore pictured to myself those of larger growth: little did I think how exquisite their beauty is & still less did I expect my hopes of seeing them would ever be realized.And in what a manner has it come to pass, never in the wildest castles in the air did I imagine so good a plan; it was beyond the bounds of the little reason that such day-dreams require.After having selected a series of geolog. specimens & collected numerous animals from the seaI sat myself down to a luncheon of ripe tamarinds & biscuit; the day was hot, but not much more so than the summers of England & the sun tried to make cheerful the dark rocks of St Jago.- The atmosphere was a curious mixture of haziness & clearnessdistant objects were blended together: but every angle & streak of colour was brightly visible at the short distance on the nearer rocks.

Let those who have seen the Andes be discontented with the scenery of St Jago. I think its unusually sterile character gives it a grandeur which more vegetation might have spoiled.I suppose the view is truly African, especially to our left, where some round sandy hills were only broken by a few stunted Palms. -- I returned to the ship heavily laden with my rich harvest, & have all evening been busily employed in examining its produce.

Crossing the Tropic

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We crossed the Tropic this morning, if our route did not extend further, Neptune would here celebrate the aweful ceremonies of the Equator. The weather is beautiful, & very little hotter than the middle of our summer: we have all put on our light clothes; what a contrast one fortnight has brought about as compared to the miserable wet weather of Plymouth.

There was a glorious sunset this evening & is now followed by an equally fine moonlight night.  I do not think I ever before saw the sun set in a clear horizon. I certainly never remarked the marvellous rapidity with which the disk after having touched the ocean dips behind it.

I proved today the utility of a contrivance which will afford me many hours of amusement & work. it is a bag four feet deep, made of bunting, & attached to semicircular bow this by lines is kept upright, & dragged behind the vessel. this evening it brought up a mass of small animals, & tomorrow I look forward to a greater harvest. 

Delightful weather - parting from a friend

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We were beating about during the night with a light baffling wind & in the morning a most glorious view broke upon us. The sun was rising behind the grand Canary & defined with the clearest outline its rugged form. Teneriffe, grey as yet from the morning mist, lay to the West: some clouds having floated past, the snowy peak was soon in all its grandeur.

As the sun rose it illumined this massive pyramid, parts of which either stood relieved against the blue sky or were veiled by the white fleecy clouds: all rendered the scene most beautiful & varied.

Such moments can & do repay the tedious suffering of sickness. We stood on a tack in direction of Santa Cruz; but were soon becalmed before reaching it. The day has been one of great interest to me: every body in the ship was in activity, some shooting, others fishing, all amused.- No one could withstand such delightful weather. Nothing reminded one that there were are such extremes as hot or cold. During the day we frequently saw the Cone, but the rest of the mountain even to the waters edge was hidden. It is then that its extreme height most strikes one. Some old paintings, where you see Jupiter & other gods quietly conversing on a rock amongst the clouds do not give a very exaggerated idea of the Peak of Teneriffe.

A fine breeze is now blowing us from its coast: one has read so many accounts of this island, that it is like parting from a friend; a different feeling from what I shall experience when viewing the Andes.


First sight of Tenerife

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We came in sight of Teneriffe at day break, bearing SW about 12 miles away. We are now a few miles tacking with a light wind to Santa Cruz which at this distance looks a small town, built of white houses & lying very flat.

Point Naga, which we are doubling, is a rugged uninhabited mass of lofty rock with a most remarkably bold & varied outline. In drawing it you could not make a line straight.

Every thing has a beautiful appearance: the colours are so rich & soft, the peak - or sugar loaf  - has just shown itself above the clouds. It towers in the sky twice as high as I should have dreamed of looking for it. A dense bank of clouds entirely separates the snowy top from its rugged base. It is now about 11 oclock, and I must have another gaze at this long wished for object of my ambition.-

Oh misery, misery -- we were just preparing to drop our anchor within 1/2 a mile of Santa Cruz when a boat came alongside bringing with it our death-warrant. The consul declared we must perform a rigorous quarantine of twelve days. Those who have never experienced it can scarcely conceive what a gloom it cast on every one: Matters were soon decided by the Captain ordering all sail to be set & make a course for the Cape Verd Islands.

We have left perhaps one of the most interesting places in the world, just at the moment when we were near enough for every object to create, without satisfying, our utmost curiosity.

The abrupt vallies which divided in parallel rows the brown & desolate hills were spotted with patches of a light green vegetation & gave the scenery to me a very novel appearance.I suppose however that Volcanic islands under the same zone have much the same character. On deck to day the view was compared as very like to other places, especially to Trinidad in West Indies.

Santa Cruz is generally accused of being ugly & uninteresting, it struck me as much the contrary. The gaudy coloured houses of white yellow & red; the oriental-looking Churches & the low dark batteries, with the bright Spanish flag waving over them were all most picturesque. The small trading vessels with their raking masts & the magnificent back ground of Volcanic rock would together have made a most beautiful picture. But it is past & tomorrow morning we shall probably only see the grey outline of the surrounding hills. We are however as yet only a few miles from the town.

It is now about 10 oclock & we have been becalmed for several hours. The night does its best to smooth our sorrow -- the air is still & deliciously warm -- the only sounds are the waves rippling on the stern & the sails idly flapping round the masts.

Already can I understand Humboldts enthusiasm about the tropical nights, the sky is so clear & lofty, & stars innumerable shine so bright, that like little moons they cast their glitter on the waves.

Ocean Swell

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Passed this morning within a few miles of the Piton rock: the most Southern of the Salvages: it is a wild abrupt rock & uninhabited.

At noon we were 100 miles from Teneriffe.  The day has been beautiful & I am so much better that I am able to enjoy it; the air is very mild & warm: something like a spring day in England, but here the sky is much brighter & atmosphere far more clear.

There was a very long gradual swell on the sea, like what is seen on the Pacific: The ocean lost its flat appearance & looked more like an undulating plain./


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Missed Madeira

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We heaved to during the night & at day break saw Porto Santo, in few hours we passed Madeira, leaving it on our West.  The anchorage there is bad & the landing difficult, it was not thought worth while to beat dead to Windward in order to reach it. Accordingly we steered for Teneriffe.  I was so seasick that I could not get up even to see Madeira, when within 12 miles.

This evening I feel a little better but am much exhausted.

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