It consists of quite white calcareous matter, partly composed of organic debris, and partly of a substance which may be aptly compared in appearance with mortar. Fragments of rock and pebbles are scattered throughout this bed, often forming, especially in the lower part, a conglomerate. Many of the fragments of rock are whitewashed with a thin coating of calcareous matter. At Quail Island, the calcareous deposit is replaced in its lowest part by a soft, brown, earthy tuff, full of Turritellae; this is covered by a bed of pebbles, passing into sandstone, and mixed with fragments of echini, claws of crabs, and shells; the oyster-shells still adhering to the rock on which they grew. Numerous white balls appearing like pisolitic concretions, from the size of a walnut to that of an apple, are embedded in this deposit; they usually have a small pebble in their centres. Although so like concretions, a close examination convinced me that they were Nulliporae, retaining their proper forms, but with their surfaces slightly abraded: these bodies (plants as they are now generally considered to be) exhibit under a microscope of ordinary power, no traces of organisation in their internal structure. Mr. George R. Sowerby has been so good as to examine the shells which I collected: there are fourteen species in a sufficiently perfect condition for their characters to be made out with some degree of certainty, and four which can be referred only to their genera. Of the fourteen shells, of which a list is given in the Appendix, eleven are recent species; one, though undescribed, is perhaps identical with a species which I found living in the harbour of Porto Praya; the two remaining species are unknown, and have been described by Mr. Sowerby. Until the shells of this Archipelago and of the neighbouring coasts are better known, it would be rash to assert that even these two latter shells are extinct. The number of species which certainly belong to existing kinds, although few in number, are sufficient to show that the deposit belongs to a late tertiary period. From its mineralogical character, from the number and size of the embedded fragments, and from the abundance of Patellae, and other littoral shells, it is evident that the whole was accumulated in a shallow sea, near an ancient coast-line.

EFFECTS PRODUCED BY THE FLOWING OF THE SUPERINCUMBENT BASALTIC LAVA OVER THE CALCAREOUS DEPOSIT.

These effects are very curious. The calcareous matter is altered to the depth of about a foot beneath the line of junction; and a most perfect gradation can be traced, from loosely aggregated, small, particles of shells, corallines, and Nulliporae, into a rock, in which not a trace of mechanical origin can be discovered, even with a microscope. Where the metamorphic change has been greatest, two varieties occur. The first is a hard, compact, white, fine-grained rock, striped with a few parallel lines of black volcanic particles, and resembling a sandstone, but which, upon close examination, is seen to be crystallised throughout, with the cleavages so perfect that they can be readily measured by the reflecting goniometer. In specimens, where the change has been less complete, when moistened and examined under a strong lens, the most interesting gradation can be traced, some of the rounded particles retaining their proper forms, and others insensibly melting into the granulo-crystalline paste. The weathered surface of this stone, as is so frequently the case with ordinary limestones, assumes a brick-red colour.

The second metamorphosed variety is likewise a hard rock, but without any crystalline structure. It consists of a white, opaque, compact, calcareous stone, thickly mottled with rounded, though regular, spots of a soft, earthy, ochraceous substance. This earthy matter is of a pale yellowish- brown colour, and appears to be a mixture of carbonate of lime with iron; it effervesces with acids, is infusible, but blackens under the blowpipe, and becomes magnetic. The rounded form of the minute patches of earthy substance, and the steps in the progress of their perfect formation, which can be followed in a suit of specimens, clearly show that they are due either to some power of aggregation in the earthy particles amongst themselves, or more probably to a strong attraction between the atoms of the carbonate of line, and consequently to the segregation of the earthy extraneous matter.

Volcanic Islands Page 09

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book