Their inner and steeper escarpments are ranged in an irregular curve, which rudely follows the line of the shore, two or three miles inland from it. I ascended a few of these hills, and from others, which I was able to examine with a telescope, I obtained specimens, through the kindness of Mr. Kent, the assistant-surgeon of the "Beagle"; although by these means I am acquainted with only a part of the range, five or six miles in length, yet I scarcely hesitate, from their uniform structure, to affirm that they are parts of one great formation, stretching round much of the circumference of the island.
The upper and lower strata of these hills differ greatly in composition. The upper are basaltic, generally compact, but sometimes scoriaceous and amygdaloidal, with associated masses of wacke: where the basalt is compact, it is either fine-grained or very coarsely crystallised; in the latter case it passes into an augitic rock, containing much olivine; the olivine is either colourless, or of the usual yellow and dull reddish shades. On some of the hills, beds of calcareous matter, both in an earthy and in a crystalline form, including fragments of glossy scoriae, are associated with the basaltic strata. These strata differ from the streams of basaltic lava forming the coast-plains, only in being more compact, and in the crystals of augite, and in the grains of olivine being of much greater size;--characters which, together with the appearance of the associated calcareous beds, induce me to believe that they are of submarine formation.
Some considerable masses of wacke, which are associated with these basaltic strata, and which likewise occur in the basal series on the coast, especially at Quail Island, are curious. They consist of a pale yellowish- green argillaceous substance, of a crumbling texture when dry, but unctuous when moist: in its purest form, it is of a beautiful green tint, with translucent edges, and occasionally with obscure traces of an original cleavage. Under the blowpipe it fuses very readily into a dark grey, and sometimes even black bead, which is slightly magnetic. From these characters, I naturally thought that it was one of the pale species, decomposed, of the genus augite;--a conclusion supported by the unaltered rock being full of large separate crystals of black augite, and of balls and irregular streaks of dark grey augitic rock. As the basalt ordinarily consists of augite, and of olivine often tarnished and of a dull red colour, I was led to examine the stages of decomposition of this latter mineral, and I found, to my surprise, that I could trace a nearly perfect gradation from unaltered olivine to the green wacke. Part of the same grain under the blowpipe would in some instances behave like olivine, its colour being only slightly changed, and part would give a black magnetic bead. Hence I can have no doubt that the greenish wacke originally existed as olivine; but great chemical changes must have been effected during the act of decomposition thus to have altered a very hard, transparent, infusible mineral, into a soft, unctuous, easily melted, argillaceous substance. (D'Aubuisson "Traite de Geognosie" tome 2 page 569 mentions, on the authority of M. Marcel de Serres, masses of green earth near Montpellier, which are supposed to be due to the decomposition of olivine. I do not, however, find, that the action of this mineral under the blowpipe being entirely altered, as it becomes decomposed, has been noticed; and the knowledge of this fact is important, as at first it appears highly improbable that a hard, transparent, refractory mineral should be changed into a soft, easily fused clay, like this of St. Jago. I shall hereafter describe a green substance, forming threads within the cells of some vesicular basaltic rocks in Van Diemen's Land, which behave under the blowpipe like the green wacke of St. Jago; but its occurrence in cylindrical threads, shows it cannot have resulted from the decomposition of olivine, a mineral always existing in the form of grains or crystals.)
The basal strata of these hills, as well as some neighbouring, separate, bare, rounded hillocks, consist of compact, fine-grained, non-crystalline (or so slightly as scarcely to be perceptible), ferruginous, feldspathic rocks, and generally in a state of semi-decomposition.