Their fracture is exceedingly irregular, and splintery; yet small fragments are often very tough. They contain much ferruginous matter, either in the form of minute grains with a metallic lustre, or of brown hair-like threads: the rock in this latter case assuming a pseudo-brecciated structure. These rocks sometimes contain mica and veins of agate. Their rusty brown or yellowish colour is partly due to the oxides of iron, but chiefly to innumerable, microscopically minute, black specks, which, when a fragment is heated, are easily fused, and evidently are either hornblende or augite. These rocks, therefore, although at first appearing like baked clay or some altered sedimentary deposit, contain all the essential ingredients of trachyte; from which they differ only in not being harsh, and in not containing crystals of glassy feldspar. As is so often the case with trachytic formation, no stratification is here apparent. A person would not readily believe that these rocks could have flowed as lava; yet at St. Helena there are well-characterised streams (as will be described in an ensuing chapter) of nearly similar composition. Amidst the hillocks composed of these rocks, I found in three places, smooth conical hills of phonolite, abounding with fine crystals of glassy feldspar, and with needles of hornblende. These cones of phonolite, I believe, bear the same relation to the surrounding feldspathic strata which some masses of coarsely crystallised augitic rock, in another part of the island, bear to the surrounding basalt, namely, that both have been injected. The rocks of a feldspathic nature being anterior in origin to the basaltic strata, which cap them, as well as to the basaltic streams of the coast-plains, accords with the usual order of succession of these two grand divisions of the volcanic series.

The strata of most of these hills in the upper part, where alone the planes of division are distinguishable, are inclined at a small angle from the interior of the island towards the sea-coast. The inclination is not the same in each hill; in that marked A it is less than in B, D, or E; in C the strata are scarcely deflected from a horizontal plane, and in F (as far as I could judge without ascending it) they are slightly inclined in a reverse direction, that is, inwards and towards the centre of the island. Notwithstanding these differences of inclination, their correspondence in external form, and in the composition both of their upper and lower parts,- -their relative position in one curved line, with their steepest sides turned inwards,--all seem to show that they originally formed parts of one platform; which platform, as before remarked, probably extended round a considerable portion of the circumference of the island. The upper strata certainly flowed as lava, and probably beneath the sea, as perhaps did the lower feldspathic masses: how then come these strata to hold their present position, and whence were they erupted?

In the centre of the island there are lofty mountains, but they are separated from the steep inland flanks of these hills by a wide space of lower country: the interior mountains, moreover, seem to have been the source of those great streams of basaltic lava which, contracting as they pass between the bases of the hills in question, expand into the coast- plains. (I saw very little of the inland parts of the island. Near the village of St. Domingo, there are magnificent cliffs of rather coarsely crystallised basaltic lava. Following the little stream in this valley, about a mile above the village, the base of the great cliff was formed of a compact fine-grained basalt, conformably covered by a bed of pebbles. Near Fuentes, I met with pap-formed hills of the compact feldspathic series of rocks.) Round the shores of St. Helena there is a rudely formed ring of basaltic rocks, and at Mauritius there are remnants of another such a ring round part, if not round the whole, of the island; here again the same question immediately occurs, how came these masses to hold their present position, and whence were they erupted? The same answer, whatever it may be, probably applies in these three cases; and in a future chapter we shall recur to this subject.

Volcanic Islands Page 17

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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