These are broad, very flat, and generally bounded by low cliff-formed sides. Portions of the basaltic plain are sometimes nearly or quite isolated by them; of which fact, the space on which the town of Praya stands offers an instance. The great valley west of the town has its bottom filled up to a depth of more than twenty feet by well-rounded pebbles, which in some parts are firmly cemented together by white calcareous matter. There can be no doubt, from the form of these valleys, that they were scooped out by the waves of the sea, during that equable elevation of the land, of which the horizontal calcareous deposit, with its existing species of marine remains, gives evidence. Considering how well shells have been preserved in this stratum, it is singular that I could not find even a single small fragment of shell in the conglomerate at the bottom of the valleys. The bed of pebbles in the valley west of the town is intersected by a second valley joining it as a tributary, but even this valley appears much too wide and flat-bottomed to have been formed by the small quantity of water, which falls only during one short wet season; for at other times of the year these valleys are absolutely dry.


On the shores of Quail Island, I found fragments of brick, bolts of iron, pebbles, and large fragments of basalt, united by a scanty base of impure calcareous matter into a firm conglomerate. To show how exceedingly firm this recent conglomerate is, I may mention, that I endeavoured with a heavy geological hammer to knock out a thick bolt of iron, which was embedded a little above low-water mark, but was quite unable to succeed.


FERNANDO NORONHA. Precipitous hill of phonolite.

TERCEIRA. Trachytic rocks: their singular decomposition by steam of high temperature.

TAHITI. Passage from wacke into trap; singular volcanic rock with the vesicles half-filled with mesotype.

MAURITIUS. Proofs of its recent elevation. Structure of its more ancient mountains; similarity with St. Jago.

ST. PAUL'S ROCKS. Not of volcanic origin. Their singular mineralogical composition.


During our short visit at this and the four following islands, I observed very little worthy of description. Fernando Noronha is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, in latitude 3 degrees 50 minutes S., and 230 miles distant from the coast of South America. It consists of several islets, together nine miles in length by three in breadth. The whole seems to be of volcanic origin; although there is no appearance of any crater, or of any one central eminence. The most remarkable feature is a hill 1,000 feet high, of which the upper 400 feet consist of a precipitous, singularly shaped pinnacle, formed of columnar phonolite, containing numerous crystals of glassy feldspar, and a few needles of hornblende. From the highest accessible point of this hill, I could distinguish in different parts of the group several other conical hills, apparently of the same nature. At St. Helena there are similar, great, conical, protuberant masses of phonolite, nearly one thousand feet in height, which have been formed by the injection of fluid feldspathic lava into yielding strata. If this hill has had, as is probable, a similar origin, denudation has been here effected on an enormous scale. Near the base of this hill, I observed beds of white tuff, intersected by numerous dikes, some of amygdaloidal basalt and others of trachyte; and beds of slaty phonolite with the planes of cleavage directed N.W. and S.E. Parts of this rock, where the crystals were scanty, closely resembled common clay-slate, altered by the contact of a trap-dike. The lamination of rocks, which undoubtedly have once been fluid, appears to me a subject well deserving attention. On the beach there were numerous fragments of compact basalt, of which rock a distant facade of columns seemed to be formed.


The central parts of this island consist of irregularly rounded mountains of no great elevation, composed of trachyte, which closely resembles in general character the trachyte of Ascension, presently to be described. This formation is in many parts overlaid, in the usual order of superposition, by streams of basaltic lava, which near the coast compose nearly the whole surface.

Volcanic Islands Page 18

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book