Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels, Volume 14 by Robert Kerr

Part 11 out of 11

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

After three hours calm we got a breeze at S.E. by E., and having made a
short trip to south, stood in for the land; the most advanced point of
which, that we had in sight, bore east, distant ten leagues. This is a
lofty promontory, lying E.S.E, nineteen leagues from Gilbert isle, and
situated in latitude 55 deg. 26' S, longitude 70 deg. 25' W. Viewed from the
situation we now were in, it terminated in two high towers; and, within
them, a hill shaped like a sugar-loaf. This wild rock, therefore, obtained
the name of York Minster. Two leagues to the westward of this head appeared
a large inlet, the west point of which we fetched in with by nine o'clock,
when we tacked in forty-one fathoms water, half a league from the shore; to
the westward of this inlet was another, with several islands lying in the

During the night between the 19th and 20th we had little wind easterly,
which in the morning veered to N.E. and N.N.E., but it was too faint to be
of use; and at ten we had a calm, when we observed the ship to drive from
off the shore out to sea. We had made the same observation the day before.
This must have been occasioned by a current; and the melting of the snow
increasing, the inland waters will cause a stream to run out of most of
these inlets. At noon we observed in latitude 55 deg. 39' 30" S., York Minster
then bearing N. 15 deg. E., distant five leagues; and Round-hill, just peeping
above the horizon, which we judged to belong to the isles of St Ildefonso,
E. 25 deg. S., ten or eleven leagues distant. At ten o'clock, a breeze
springing up at E. by S., I took this opportunity to stand in for the land,
being desirous of going into one of the many ports which seemed open to
receive us, in order to take a view of the country, and to recruit our
stock of wood and water.

In standing in for an opening, which appeared on the east side of York
Minster, we had forty, thirty-seven, fifty, and sixty fathoms water, a
bottom of small stones and shells. When we had the last soundings, we were
nearly in the middle between the two points that form the entrance to the
inlet, which we observed to branch into two arms, both of them lying in
nearly north, and disjoined by an high rocky point. We stood for the
eastern branch as being clear of islets; and after passing a black rocky
one, lying without the point just mentioned, we sounded, and found no
bottom with a line of an hundred and seventy fathoms. This was altogether
unexpected, and a circumstance that would not have been regarded if the
breeze had continued; but at this time it fell calm, so that it was not
possible to extricate ourselves from this disagreeable situation. Two boats
were hoisted out, and sent a-head to tow; but they would have availed
little, had not a breeze sprung up about eight o'clock at S.W., which put
it in my power either to stand out to sea, or up the inlet. Prudence seemed
to point out the former, but the desire of finding a good port, and of
learning something of the country, getting the better of every other
consideration, I resolved to stand in; and, as night was approaching, our
safety depended on getting to an anchor. With this view we continued to
sound, but always had an unfathomable depth.

Hauling up under the east side of the land which divided the two arms, and
seeing a small cove ahead, I sent a boat to sound; and we kept as near the
shore as the flurries from the land would permit, in order to be able to
get into this place, if there should be anchorage. The boat soon returned,
and informed us that there was thirty and twenty-five fathoms water, a full
cable's length from the shore; here we anchored in thirty fathoms, the
bottom sand and broken shells; and carried out a kedge and hawser to steady
the ship for the night.

[1] Mr. G.F. describes this whale as being about twelve yards long,
having an oblong blunt head, on which there were two longitudinal
furrows, and as many upright ridges. It had small eyes, two semi-lunar
apertures, from whence it occasionally spouted the water, and it was
mottled all over with white spots. It had two large fins behind the
head, but none on the back. In his opinion this extraordinary creature
was entirely unknown before.--E.

[2] It is not to be supposed that I could know at this time, that the
Adventure had made the passage before me.


_Transactions in Christmas Sound, with an Account of the Country and its

The morning of the 21st was calm and pleasant. After breakfast I set out
with two boats to look for a more secure station. We no sooner got round,
or above the point, under which the ship lay, than we found a cove in which
was anchorage in thirty, twenty, and fifteen fathoms, the bottom stones and
sand. At the head of the cove was a stony beach, a valley covered with
wood, and a stream of fresh water, so that there was every thing we could
expect to find in such a place, or rather more; for we shot three geese out
of four that we saw, and caught some young ones, which we afterwards let

After discovering and sounding this cove, I sent Lieutenant Clerke, who
commanded the other boat, on board, with orders to remove the ship into
this place, while I proceeded farther up the inlet. I presently saw that
the land we were under, which disjoined the two arms, as mentioned before,
was an island, at the north end of which the two channels united. After
this I hastened on board, and found every thing in readiness to weigh,
which was accordingly done, and all the boats sent ahead to tow the ship
round the point. But at that moment a light breeze came in from the sea too
scant to fill our sails, so that we were obliged to drop the anchor again,
for fear of falling upon the point, and to carry out a kedge to windward.
That being done, we hove up the anchor, warped up to, and weighed the
kedge, and proceeding round the point under our stay-sails; there anchored
with the best bower in twenty fathoms; and moored with the other bower,
which lay to the north, in thirteen fathoms. In this position we were shut
in from the sea by the point above-mentioned, which was in one with the
extremity of the inlet to the east. Some islets, off the next point above
us, covered us from the N.W., from which quarter the wind had the greatest
fetch, and our distance from the shore was about one-third of a mile.

Thus situated we went to work, to clear a place to fill water, to cut wood,
and to set up a tent for the reception of a guard, which was thought
necessary, as we had already discovered that, barren as this country is, it
was not without people, though we had not yet seen any. Mr Wales also got
his observatory and instruments on shore; but it was with the greatest
difficulty he could find a place of sufficient stability, and clear of the
mountains, which every where surrounded us, to set them up in; and at last
he was obliged to content himself with the top of a rock not more than nine
feet over.

Next day I sent Lieutenants Clerke and Pickersgill, accompanied by some of
the other officers, to examine and draw a sketch of the channel on the
other side of the island; and I went myself in another boat, accompanied by
the botanists, to survey the northern parts of the sound. In my way I
landed on the point of a low isle covered with herbage, part of which had
been lately burnt: We likewise saw a hut, signs sufficient that people were
in the neighbourhood. After I had taken the necessary bearings, we
proceeded round the east end of Burnt Island, and over to what we judged to
be the main of Terra del Fuego, where we found a very fine harbour
encompassed by steep rocks of vast height, down which ran many limpid
streams of water; and at the foot of the rocks some tufts of trees, fit for
little else but fuel.[1]

This harbour, which I shall distinguish by the name of the Devil's Bason,
is divided, as it were, into two, an inner. and an outer one; and the
communication between them is by a narrow channel five fathoms deep. In the
outer bason I found thirteen and seventeen fathoms water, and in the inner
seventeen and twenty-three. This last is as secure a place as can be, but
nothing can be more gloomy. The vast height of the savage rocks which
encompass it, deprived great part of it, even on this day, of the meridian
sun. The outer harbour is not quite free from this inconvenience, but far
more so than the other; it is also rather more commodious, and equally
safe. It lies in the direction of north, a mile and a half distant from
the east end of Burnt Island. I likewise found a good anchoring-place a
little to the west of this harbour, before a stream of water, that comes
out of a lake or large reservoir, which is continually supplied by a
cascade falling into it.

Leaving this place, we proceeded along the shore to the westward, and found
other harbours which I had not time to look into. In all of them is fresh
water, and wood for fuel; but, except these little tufts of bushes, the
whole country is a barren rock, doomed by nature to everlasting sterility.
The low islands, and even some of the higher, which lie scattered up and
down the sound, are indeed mostly covered with shrubs and herbage, the soil
a black rotten turf, evidently composed, by length of time, of decayed

I had an opportunity to verify what we had observed at sea, that the sea-
coast is composed of a number of large and small islands, and that the
numerous inlets are formed by the junction of several channels; at least so
it is here. On one of these low islands we found several huts, which had
lately been inhabited; and near them was a good deal of celery, with which
we loaded our boat, and returned on board at seven o'clock in the evening.
In this expedition we met with little game; one duck, three or four shags,
and about that number of rails or sea-pies, being all we got. The other
boat returned on board some hours before, having found two harbours on the
west side of the other channel; the one large, and the other small, but
both of them safe and commodious; though, by the sketch Mr Pickersgill had
taken of them, the access to both appeared rather intricate.[2]

I was now told of a melancholy accident which had befallen one of our
marines. He had not been seen since eleven or twelve o'clock the preceding
night. It was supposed that he had fallen overboard, out of the head, where
he had been last seen, and was drowned.

Having fine pleasant weather on the 23d, I sent Lieutenant Pickersgill in
the cutter to explore the east side of the sound, and went myself in the
pinnace to the west side, with an intent to go round the island, under
which we were at anchor (and which I shall distinguish by the name of Shag
Island), in order to view the passage leading to the harbours Mr
Pickersgill had discovered the day before, on which I made the following
observations. In coming from sea, leave all the rocks and islands, lying
off and within York Minster, on your larboard side; and the black rock,
which lies off the south end of Shag Island, on your starboard; and when
abreast of the south end of that island, haul over for the west shore,
taking care to avoid the beds of weeds you will see before you, as they
always grow on rocks; some of which I have found twelve fathoms under
water; but it is always best to keep clear of them. The entrance to the
large harbour, or Port Clerke, is just to the north of some low rocks lying
off a point on Shag Island. This harbour lies in W. by S., a mile and a
half, and hath in it from twelve to twenty-four fathoms depth, wood and
fresh water. About a mile without, or to the southward of Port Clerke, is,
or seemed to be, another which I did not examine. It is formed by a large
island which covers it from the south and east winds. Without this island,
that is, between it and York Minster, the sea seemed strewed with islets,
rocks, and breakers. In proceeding round the south end of Shag Island, we
observed the shags to breed in vast numbers in the cliffs of the rock. Some
of the old ones we shot, but could not come at the young ones, which are by
far the best eating. On the east side of the island we saw some geese; and
having with difficulty landed, we killed three, which, at this time, was a
valuable acquisition.

About seven, in the evening, we got on board, where Mr Pickersgill had
arrived but just before. He informed me that the land opposite to our
station was an island, which he had been round; that on another, more to
the north, be found many _terns_ eggs; and that without the great
island, between it and the east-head, lay a cove in which were many geese;
one only of which he got, beside some young goslings.

This information of Mr Pickersgill's induced me to make up two shooting
parties next day; Mr Pickersgill and his associates going in the cutter,
and myself and the botanists in the pinnace. Mr Pickersgill went by the
N.E. side of the large island above-mentioned, which obtained the name of
Goose Island; and I went by the S.W. side. As soon as we got under the
island we found plenty of shags in the cliffs, but, without staying to
spend our time and shot upon these, we proceeded on, and presently found
sport enough, for in the south side of the island were abundance of geese.
It happened to be the moulting season; and most of them were on shore for
that purpose, and could not fly. There being a great surf, we found great
difficulty in landing, and very bad climbing over the rocks when we were
landed; so that hundreds of the geese escaped us, some into the sea, and
others up into the island. We, however, by one means or other, got sixty-
two, with which we returned on board all heartily tired; but the
acquisition we had made overbalanced every other consideration, and we sat
down with a good appetite to supper on part of what the preceding day had
produced. Mr Pickersgill and his associates had got on board some time
before us with fourteen geese; so that I was able to make distribution to
the whole crew, which was the more acceptable on account of the approaching
festival. For had not Providence thus singularly provided for us, our
Christmas cheer must have been salt beef and pork.

I now learnt that a number of the natives, in nine canoes, had been
alongside the ship, and some on board. Little address was required to
persuade them to either; for they seemed to be well enough acquainted with
Europeans, and had, amongst them, some of their knives.

The next morning, the 25th, they made us another visit. I found them to be
of the same nation I had formerly seen in Success Bay, and the same which
M. de Bougainville distinguishes by the name of Pecheras; a word which
these had, on every occasion, in their mouths. They are a little, ugly,
half-starved, beardless race. I saw not a tall person amongst them. They
are almost naked; their clothing was a seal-skin; some had two or three
sewed together, so as to make a cloak which reached to the knees; but the
most of them had only one skin, hardly large enough to cover their
shoulders, and all their lower parts were quite naked. The women, I was
told, cover their nakedness with the flap of a seal-skin, but in other
respects are clothed like the men. They, as well as the children, remained
in the canoes. I saw two young children at the breast entirely naked; thus
they are inured from their infancy to cold and hardships. They had with
them bows and arrows, and darts, or rather harpoons, made of bone, and
fitted to a staff. I suppose they were intended to kill seals and fish;
they may also kill whales with them, as the Esquimaux do. I know not if
they resemble them in their love of train-oil; but they and every thing
they had smelt most intolerably of it. I ordered them some biscuit, but did
not observe them so fond of it as I had been told. They were much better
pleased when I gave them some medals, knives, &c.[3]

The women and children, as before observed, remained in their canoes. These
were made of bark; and in each was a fire, over which the poor creatures
huddled themselves. I cannot suppose that they carry a fire in their canoes
for this purpose only, but rather that it may be always ready to remove
ashore wherever they land; for let their method of obtaining fire be what
it may, they cannot be always sure of finding dry fuel that will kindle
from a spark. They likewise carry in their canoes large seal hides, which I
judged were to shelter them when at sea, and to serve as covering to their
huts on shore, and occasionally to be used for sails.

They all retired before dinner, and did not wait to partake of our
Christmas cheer. Indeed I believe no one invited them, and for good
reasons; for their dirty persons, and the stench they carried about them,
were enough to spoil the appetite of any European; and that would have been
a real disappointment, as we had not experienced such fare for some time.
Roast and boiled geese, goose-pye, &c. was a treat little known to us; and
we had yet some Madeira wine left, which was the only article of our
provision that was mended by keeping. So that our friends in England did
not, perhaps, celebrate Christmas more cheerfully than we did.

On the 26th, little wind next to a calm, and fair weather, except in the
morning, when we had some showers of rain. In the evening, when it was
cold, the natives made us another visit; and it being distressing to see
them stand trembling and naked on the deck, I could not do less than give
them some baize and old canvas to cover themselves.

Having already completed our water, on the 27th I ordered the wood, tent,
and observatory to be got on board; and, as this was work for the day, a
party of us went in two boats to shoot geese, the weather being fine and
pleasant. We proceeded round by the south side of Goose Island, and picked
up in all thirty-one. On the east side of the island, to the north of the
east point, is good anchorage, in seventeen fathoms water, where it is
entirely land-locked. This is a good place for ships to lie in that are
bound to the west. On the north side of this isle I observed three fine
coves, in which were both wood and water; but it being near night, I had no
time to sound them, though I doubt not there is anchorage. The way to come
at them is by the west end of the island.

When I returned on board I found every thing got off the shore, and the
launch in; so that we now only waited for a wind to put to sea. The
festival, which we celebrated at this place, occasioned my giving it the
name of Christmas Sound. The entrance, which is three leagues wide, is
situated in the latitude of 55 deg. 27' S., longitude 70 deg. 16' W.; and in the
direction of N. 37 deg. W. from St Ildefonso Isles, distant ten leagues. These
isles are the best landmark for finding the sound. York Minster, which is
the only remarkable land about it, will hardly be known by a stranger, from
any description that can be given of it, because it alters its appearance
according to the different situations it is viewed from. Besides the black
rock, which lies off the end of Shag Island, there is another about midway
between this and the east shore. A copious description of this sound is
unnecessary, as few would be benefited by it. Anchorage, tufts of wood, and
fresh-water, will be found in all the coves and harbours. I would advise no
one to anchor very near the shore for the sake of having a moderate depth
of water, because there I generally found a rocky bottom.

The refreshments to be got here are precarious, as they consist chiefly of
wild fowl, and may probably never be found in such plenty as to supply the
crew of a ship; and fish, so far as we can judge, are scarce. Indeed the
plenty of wild-fowl made us pay less attention to fishing. Here are,
however, plenty of muscles, not very large, but well tasted; and very good
celery is to be met with on several of the low islets, and where the
natives have their habitations. The wild-fowl are geese, ducks, sea-pies,
shags, and that kind of gull so often mentioned in this journal under the
name of Port Egmont hen. Here is a kind of duck, called by our people race-
horses, on account of the great swiftness with which they run on the water;
for they cannot fly, the wings being too short to support the body in the
air. This bird is at the Falkland Islands, as appears by Pernety's Journal.
The geese too are there, and seem to be very well described under the name
of bustards. They are much smaller than our English tame geese, but eat as
well as any I ever tasted. They have short black bills and yellow feet. The
gander is all white; the female is spotted black and white, or grey, with a
large white spot on each wing. Besides the bird above-mentioned, here are
several other aquatic, and some land ones; but of the latter not many.

From the knowledge which the inhabitants seem to have of Europeans, we may
suppose that they do not live here continually, but retire to the north
during the winter. I have often wondered that these people do not clothe
themselves better, since Nature has certainly provided materials. They
might line their seal-skin cloaks with the skins and feathers of aquatic
birds; they might make their cloaks larger, and employ the same skins for
other parts of clothing, for I cannot suppose they are scarce with them.
They were ready enough to part with those they had to our people, which
they hardly would have done, had they not known where to have got more. In
short, of all the nations I have seen, the Pecheras are the most wretched.
They are doomed to live in one of the most inhospitable climates in the
world, without having sagacity enough to provide themselves with such
conveniences as may render life in some measure more comfortable.

Barren as this country is, it abounds with a variety of unknown plants, and
gave sufficient employment to Mr Forster and his party. The tree, which
produceth the winter's bark; is found here in the woods, as is the holy-
leaved barberry; and some other sorts, which I know not, but I believe are
common in the straits of Magalhaens. We found plenty of a berry, which we
called the cranberry, because they are nearly of the same colour, size, and
shape. It grows on a bushy plant, has a bitterish taste, rather insipid;
but may he eaten either raw or in tarts, and is used as food by the

[1] "We found many little clefts, which cannot properly be called
vallies, where a few shrubs of different species sprang up in a thin
layer of swampy soil, being defended against the violence of storms,
and exposed to the genial influence of reverberated sun-beams. The
rock, of which the whole island consisted, is a coarse granite,
composed of feld-spath, quartz, and black mica or glimmer. This rock
is in most places entirely naked, without the smallest vegetable
particle; but wherever the rains, or melted snows, have washed
together some little rubbish, and other particles in decay, it is
covered with a coating of minute plants, in growth like mosses, which,
forming a kind of turf, about an inch or more in thickness, very
easily slip away under the foot, having no firm hold on the rock. In
sheltered places a few other plants thrive among these mossy species,
and these at last form a sufficient quantity of soil for the nutriment
of shrubs. Here we found the species which affords what has been
called Winter's Bark; but in this unfriendly situation it was only a
shrub about ten feet high, crooked and shapeless. Barren as these
rocks appeared, yet almost every plant which we gathered on them was
new to us, and some species were remarkable for the beauty of their
flowers, or their smell."--G.F.

[2] Mr G.F. has given a pretty minute description of the country
around this sound, and its annual and vegetable productions; but for a
reason afterwards stated by Captain Cook, there seems little
inducement to copy from it. Those who think otherwise, but who,
perhaps, are very few in number, will have recourse to that
gentleman's narrative.--E.

[3] The reader who is not satisfied with the picture now given of
these wretched and disgusting beings, may turn to the abstract of
Bougainville's Voyage, quoted in the preceding volume of this
collection, which surely ought to suffice.--E.

[4] In the cavities and crevices of the huge piles of rocks, forming
Terra del Fuego and Staten-land, so very like each other, where a
little moisture is preserved by its situation, and where from the
continued friction of the loose pieces of rocks, washed and hurried
down the steep sides of the rocky masses, a few minute particles form
a kind of sand; there in the stagnant water gradually spring up a few
algaceous plants from seeds carried thither on the feet, plumage, and
bills of birds; these plants form at the end of each season a few
atoms of mould which yearly increases; the birds, the sea, or the wind
carries from a neighbouring isle, the seeds of some of the mossy
plants to this little mould, and they vegetate in it daring the proper
season. Though these plants be not absolute mosses, they are however
nearly related to them in their habit. We reckon among them the IXIA
_pumila_; a new plant which we called DONATIA; a small MELANTHIUM; a
minute OXALIS and CALENDULA; another little dioicous plant, called by
us PHYLLACHNE, together with the MNIARUM, (see Forster, Nova Genera
Plantarum). These plants, or the greater part of them, have a peculiar
growth, particularly adapted to these regions, and fit for forming
soil and mould on barren rocks. In proportion as they grow up, they
spread into various stems and branches, which lie as close together as
possible; they spread new seeds, and at last a large spot is covered;
the lowermost fibres, roots, stalks, and leaves, gradually decay and
push forth on the top new verdant leaves: The decaying lower parts
form a kind of peat, or turf, which gradually changes into mould and
soil. The close texture of these plants hinders the moisture below
from evaporating, and thus furnishes nutriment to the vegetation
above, and clothes at last whole hills and isles with a constant
verdure. Among these pumilous plants, some of a greater stature begin
to thrive, without in the least prejudicing the growth of these
creators of mould and soil. Among these plants we reckon a small
ARBUTUS, a diminutive myrtle, a little dandelion, a small creeping
CRASSULA, the common PINGUICULA _alpina_, a yellow variety of the
VIOLA _palustris_, the STATICE _armeria_, or sea pink, a kind of
burnet, the RANUNCULUS _lapponicus_, the HOLCUS _odoratus_, the common
celery, with the ARABIS _heterophylla_. Soon after we observed, in
places that are still covered with the above-mentioned mossy plant, a
new rush (JUNCUS _triglumis_,) a fine AMELLUS, a most beautiful
scarlet CHELONE, and lastly, even shrubby plants, viz. a scarlet-
flowered shrubby plant of a new genus, which we called EMBOTHRIUM
_coccineum_; two new kinds of berberis, (BERBERIS _ilicifolia et
mitior_;) an arbutus with cuspidated leaves (ARBUTUS _mucronata_;) and
lastly, the tree bearing the winter's bark (DRYMIS _winteri_,) which,
however, in these rocky barren parts of Terra del Fuego never exceeds
the size of a tolerable shrub; whereas in Success Bay, on a gentle
sloping ground, in a rich and deep soil, it grows to the size of the
largest timber. The falling leaves, the rotting mossy plants, and
various other circumstances, increase the mould and form a deeper
soil, more and more capable of bearing larger plants. Thus they all
enlarge the vegetable system, and rescue new animated parts of the
creation from their inactive chaotic state."--F.


Book of the day: