A Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas, in His Majesty's Ship, the Endeavour/Description of Terra del Fuego

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The description of the country and natives of Terra del Fuego[edit]

We had not been long arrived before some Indians appeared on the beach at the head of the bay; the captain, Mr. Banks, and Dr. Solander, went on shore, and soon after returned on board with three of them, whom we cloathed in jackets, gave them some bread and beef, part of which they ate, and carried the remainder with them ashore: We gave them also some rum and brandy; but, after tasting it, they refused to drink any more, intimating, by signs, that it burnt their throats. This circumstance may serve to corroborate the opinion of those, who think that water is the most natural, and best drink for mankind, as well as for other animals.

One of the Indians made several long orations to the rest; but they were utterly unintelligible to every one of us. Another of them seeing the leathern cover of a globe lie in the cabin, found means to steal it, and secrete it under his garment, which was made of a skin of some animal, and carried it ashore, undiscovered, where he had no sooner arrived, than he shewed his prize to the very person it belonged to, and seemed to exult upon the occasion, placing it upon his head, and was highly delighted with it.

The natives make a very uncouth and savage appearance, [see pl. I.] having broad flat faces, small black eyes, low foreheads, and noses much like those of negroes, with wide nostrils, high cheeks, large mouths, and small teeth. Their hair, which is black and streight, hangs over their foreheads and ears, which most of them had smeared with brown and red paint; but, like the rest of the original inhabitants of America, they have no beard. None of them seemed above five feet ten inches high; but their bodies are thick and robust, though their limbs are small. They wear a bunch of yarn made of guanicas[1] wool upon their heads, which, as well as their hair, hangs down over their foreheads. They also wear the skins of guanicas and of seals, wrapped round their shoulders, sometimes leaving the right arm uncovered. Both men and women wear necklaces, [see pl. XXVI. fig. 14] and other ornaments made of a small pearly perriwincle, very ingeniously plaited in rows with a kind of grass. We saw also an ornament made of shells, which was ten yards long. The shells that composed it were of several sizes; the largest, about the size of a damascene stone, were placed at one end, from whence they gradually lessened to the other end of the string, where the shells were not bigger than a pepper corn. The larger ornaments are worn about their waists. Many of both sexes were painted with white, red, and brown, colours, in different parts of their bodies; and had also various dotted lines pricked on their faces. The women wear a flap of skin tied round their loins; and have also a small string round each ancle: they carry their children on their backs, and are generally employed in domestic drudgery.

These poor Indians live in a village [see pl. II.] on the south side of the bay, behind a hill; the number of their huts is about thirteen, and they contain near fifty people, who seem to be all the inhabitants of this dreary part of the island, where it is very cold, even in the midst of summer.

Their huts are made of the branches of trees, covered with guanica and seal skins; and, at best, are but wretched habitations for human beings to dwell in.

Their food is the flesh of seals and shell-fish, particularly muscles, of which we have seen some very large.

They use bows and arrows with great dexterity. The former are made of a species of wood somewhat like our beech; and the latter of a light yellow wood feathered at one end, and acuated at the other with pieces of clear white chrystal, chipped very ingeniously to a point. [See pl. XXVI. fig. 26.]

There are dogs upon this island two feet high, with sharp ears.

Having seen several rings and buttons upon the natives, we concluded that they must have had some communication with the Indians in the Streights of Magellan; but they appeared to be unacquainted with Europeans.

The Bay of Good Success is about three miles in extent, from east to west; two miles in breadth; is defended from east winds by Staten-land, Near the shore it is very foul, and full of rocks; abounding with great quantities of sea weed. The soundings are regular from fourteen, to four fathoms; and, at the bottom of the bay, there is a fine sandy beach.

PLATE II. View of a Village in the Bay of Good Success, in the Island of Terra del Fuego

During our stay on this island, the naturalists collected a great many plants, and other curiosities, most of which are non-descript: but an unfortunate accident happened in one of their excursions; Mr. Banks, Dr. Solander, Mr. Buchan, with several attendants, two of whom were negroes, went far up into the country, and at length ascended the hills, which they found covered with snow, and the air upon them so intensely cold, that they staid but a short time. On their return, they missed their way, and wandered about for a considerable time, not knowing whither they went, but at length they found their former track. While the naturalists were searching for plants upon the hill, two negroes and a tailor, who were left to guard the liquor and provision, having made too free with the brandy-bottle, were rendered incapable of keeping pace with the rest of the company, who made all possible speed, hoping to have reached the ship before the day closed in upon them, dreading the consequence of being exposed in a strange land, and an inhospitable clime; but time, that waits for no man, brought on the night, which put an end to their hopes, and excited the most alarming apprehensions: Being out of breath, fatigued, and dispirited, and almost benumbed with cold, particularly Dr. Solander, insomuch that he was unable to walk, and was carried near two hours on their shoulders; and it was thought he would not have survived the perils of the ensuing night. In this hapless situation, they held a consultation on what was best to be attempted for their preservation, till the light of the morning should return; and determined, if possible, to kindle a fire, which they happily effected, gathering together some wood, and, by the help of their fowling pieces, and tome paper, setting it on fire. The cold was so intense, that they found it would not be safe to lie down, lest they should fall asleep, and be frozen to death; where-fore they walked round it all night. The three men who were left behind, being tired, sat down in the woods, and fell asleep, but one of them providentially soon awoke, started up, and, being apprehensive of the imminent danger they were in, attempted to rouse his companions, but they were too far sunk into the sleep of death to be recovered. In this forlorn situation the man could not expect to sur-vive them long, and therefore he fled for his life, hallooing as he went along, in hopes that some of the company would hear him, which, after wandering some time in a pathless wilderness, they happily did, and answered him as loud as their enfeebled voices would admit: Overjoyed at the event, he resumed fresh courage, and, making toward the part from which the sound proceeded, at length came up with them. Touched with sympathy for his companions, he told the company of the condition in which he left them; and they were disposed to have yielded them assistance, but, it being almost dark, there was not any probability of finding them, and the attempt would have been attended with the risque of their own lives, they therefore declined it. However, the next morning, after break of day, they dispatched the man in quest of his companions, whom he at length found frozen to death; but the dog that had been with them all the night had survived them: he found him sitting close by his master’s corpse, and seemed reluctant to leave it; but at length the dog forsook it, and went back to the company; they all set out immediately towards the ship, which they reached about 11 o’clock in the fore-noon, to our great joy, as we had despaired of their return.

Having furnished ourselves with wood and water, and let down our guns and lumber below deck, to be better prepared for the high gales which we expected in going round Cape Horn; on the 21st of January, 1769, we weighed anchor, and left the Bay of Good Success, and proceeded on our voyage through the Straits of Le Maire, which are formed by Cape Antonio on Staten-land, and Cape Vincent on Terra del Fuego to the north; and on the south by Cape Bartholomew on Staten-land, and a high promontory on Terra del Fuego, passing between them, and are about nine leagues long, and seven broad.

The land on both sides, particularly Staten-land, affords a most dismal prospect, being made up chiefly of barren rocks and tremendous precipices, covered with snow, and uninhabited, forming one of those natural views which human nature can scarce behold without shuddering. — How amazingly diversified are the works of the Deity within the narrow limits of this globe we inhabit, which, compared with the vast aggregate of systems that compose the universe, appears but a dark speck in the creation! A curiosity, perhaps, equal to Solomon’s, though accompanied with lets wisdom than was possessed by the Royal Philosopher, induced some of us to quit our native land, to investigate the heavenly bodies minutely in distant regions, as well as to trace the signatures of the Supreme Power and Intelligence throughout several species of animals, and different genera of plants in the vegetable system, "from the cedar that is in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop that springeth. out of the wall:" and the more we investigate, the more we ought to admire the power, wisdom, and goodness, of the Great Superintendant of the universe; which attributes are amply displayed throughout all his works; the smallest object, seen, through the microscope, declares its origin to be divine, as well as those larger ones which the unassisted eye is capable of contemplating; but to proceed.

On the 25th, we saw Cape Horn, at about five leagues distance, which, contrary to our expectations, we doubled with as little danger as the North Foreland on the Kentish coast; the heavens were fair, the wind temperate, the weather pleasant, and, being within one mile of the shore, we had a more distinct view of this coast, than perhaps any former voyagers have bad on this ocean.

The point of the Cape is very low; and at the S.E. extremity there are several islands, called, by the French, Isles d’Hermitage; and near it are several ragged rocks. The Cape is in latitude 55° 48’ S. and longitude 67° 40’ W. We sounded in fifty-five fathom, and found round stones, and broken shells.

On the 30th, we reached to latitude 60° 2’ S. and longitude 73&edg; 5’W. variation 24° 54’ E. This was our highest southern latitude; and from thence we altered our course, steering W.N.W. with but little variation, having pleasant weather, and short nights, until the 16th of February, when we had hard gales from W. by S. S. by W. and S. and we continued our course N. W. till the 10th; between that time and the 20th, we had very copious dews, like small showers of rain.

On the 21st, we saw a great number of tropic and egg birds, and shot two of the former, which had a very beauteous plumage, being a fine white, mingled with a most lively red: their tails were composed of two long red feathers, and their beaks were of a deep red. We found ourselves at this time in latitude 25° 21’ S. and longitude 120° 20’ W. having fair weather, with a dry, serene, and salubrious air.

Continuing our course N. westerly, between the Dolphin’s first and second track, on the 4th of April, about three o’clock in the afternoon we discovered land; and after two hours sailing we approached near to it. It is a flat island, ex-tending a great length from E. to W. describing the form of a crescent; and has a sand-bank joined to it, on which the surf ran very high. In the middle of the island, there is a large salt lagoon, or lake; and at the east end of it are many palm trees. We saw clouds of smoke ascend from different parts, pro-ceeding, as we apprehended, from sires kindled by the natives, and designed as signals to us. Night came on before we could discover the west end of the island; and not knowing but there might be more islands, we lay-to all night, and the next morning we saw another in latitude 18° 23’, which, on account of a great salt lagoon in the middle of it, we called Lagoon-Isle: Before noon we made another low island, which we called Thumb-cap Island. It stretched a long way, and is made up of several parcels of land joined together by reefs; it has also a lagoon inclosed with a reef, upon which we discovered many canoes; some having ten people in them, and others a lesser number. As we sailed along, the natives followed us, some on the reef, others in canoes, and seemed desirous to have an intercourse with us; but though we beckoned to them, they would not come off. They appeared to be very stout men; their complexion almost black, with short hair, and quite naked, having long lances, or poles, in their hands. Some of them waded up to the neck in water to look at us, but they did not discover any hostile intentions. Their canoes had out-riggers, with mat-sails: and when we put away from the land one of them followed us.

Upon these islands we saw a variety of verdant trees, amongst which were some palms; and upon the coast, rocks of coral appeared above water. We discovered some of their huts, and several sires burning around them. The land formed a large semicircular bay, and the reef before it the same figure; and the water was as smooth as a mill-pond, and abounded with flying-fish; but, to our surprise we could not reach the bottom of it with 130 fathom of line, at one mile distance from the shore.

This day we also discovered another low island, which we called Chain Island: It is of an oval figure, consisting of a ridge of coral and sand, with a few clumps of small trees, and had a lagoon in the middle of it. These islands were dedicated to the Royal Society.

In the morning of the 10th, we saw Osnabrug Island, bearing N. W. by W. half W. about six leagues distant, and, leaving it to the northward, at noon we discovered George’s Island from the main-top mast head, and stood toward it.

The 12th, the sea being mostly calm in the forenoon, we could get very little nearer land; but many of the Indians came off to us in canoes (one of which was double, and had much carved work upon it) bringing with them cocoa nuts, and apples, to truck for nails, buttons, and beads. These canoes were but just wide enough for one person to sit in the breadth: to prevent them from oversetting, they place out riggers, upon the top of which is fixed a bamboo fishing rod. The people in the canoes were of a pale, tawny, complexion, and had long black hair. They seemed to be very good-natured, and not of a covetous disposition, giving us a couple of cocoa nuts, or a basket of apples, for a button, or a nail.

While we lay before these islands, we had squalls of wind, some calms, and heavy showers of rain. Toward night we opened the N.W. point, and discovered the island named by the Dolphin’s people, York Island, and called by the natives, as we afterwards learned, Eimayo. A breeze springing up, we lay off and on all that night; and, on the 13th, we made the island of Otaheite, called by the Dolphin’s people George’s Island, which is opposite to York Island. We entered Port Royal harbour, called by the natives Owarrowarrow, and anchored in nine fathom water, within half a mile of the shore. The land appeared as uneven as a piece of crumpled paper, being divided irregularly into hills and valleys; but a beautiful verdure covered both, even to the tops of the highest peaks. A great number of the natives came off to us in canoes, and brought with them bananas, cocoas, bread-fruit, apples, and some pigs; but they were errant thieves; and, while I was busied in the forenoon in trucking with them for some of their cloth, (an account of which will be given hereafter,) one of them pilfered an earthen vessel out of my cabin. It was was very diverting to see the different emotions which the natives expressed at the manoeuvres of our ship. They were very social, and several of them came on board; some of them remembered such of our people as had been there in the Dolphin, and seemed highly pleased at our arrival. The captain and Mr. Banks went on shore; but they returned greatly disappointed, as they could not find the principal inhabitants, and perceived that many of their houses had been taken down since the Dolphin left them.

  1. An animal something like a sheep, but of the size of a mule, and has a thick fleece.