It is composed of rocks, unlike any which I have met with, and which I cannot characterise by any name, and must therefore describe.

The simplest, and one of the most abundant kinds, is a very compact, heavy, greenish-black rock, having an angular, irregular fracture, with some points just hard enough to scratch glass, and infusible. This variety passes into others of paler green tints, less hard, but with a more crystalline fracture, and translucent on their edges; and these are fusible into a green enamel. Several other varieties are chiefly characterised by containing innumerable threads of dark-green serpentine, and by having calcareous matter in their interstices. These rocks have an obscure, concretionary structure, and are full of variously coloured angular pseudo fragments. These angular pseudo fragments consist of the first-described dark green rock, of a brown softer kind, of serpentine, and of a yellowish harsh stone, which, perhaps, is related to serpentine rock. There are other vesicular, calcareo-ferruginous, soft stones. There is no distinct stratification, but parts are imperfectly laminated; and the whole abounds with innumerable veins, and vein-like masses, both small and large. Of these vein-like masses, some calcareous ones, which contain minute fragments of shells, are clearly of subsequent origin to the others.


Extensive portions of these rocks are coated by a layer of a glossy polished substance, with a pearly lustre and of a greyish white colour; it follows all the inequalities of the surface, to which it is firmly attached. When examined with a lens, it is found to consist of numerous exceedingly thin layers, their aggregate thickness being about the tenth of an inch. It is considerably harder than calcareous spar, but can be scratched with a knife; under the blowpipe it scales off, decrepitates, slightly blackens, emits a fetid odour, and becomes strongly alkaline: it does not effervesce in acids. (In my "Journal" I have described this substance; I then believed that it was an impure phosphate of lime.) I presume this substance has been deposited by water draining from the birds' dung, with which the rocks are covered. At Ascension, near a cavity in the rocks which was filled with a laminated mass of infiltrated birds' dung, I found some irregularly formed, stalactitical masses of apparently the same nature. These masses, when broken, had an earthy texture; but on their outsides, and especially at their extremities, they were formed of a pearly substance, generally in little globules, like the enamel of teeth, but more translucent, and so hard as just to scratch plate-glass. This substance slightly blackens under the blowpipe, emits a bad smell, then becomes quite white, swelling a little, and fuses into a dull white enamel; it does not become alkaline; nor does it effervesce in acids. The whole mass had a collapsed appearance, as if in the formation of the hard glossy crust the whole had shrunk much. At the Abrolhos Islands on the coast of Brazil, where also there is much birds' dung, I found a great quantity of a brown, arborescent substance adhering to some trap-rock. In its arborescent form, this substance singularly resembles some of the branched species of Nullipora. Under the blowpipe, it behaves like the specimens from Ascension; but it is less hard and glossy, and the surface has not the shrunk appearance.


Basaltic lavas. Numerous craters truncated on the same side. Singular structure of volcanic bombs. Aeriform explosions. Ejected granitic fragments. Trachytic rocks. Singular veins. Jasper, its manner of formation. Concretions in pumiceous tuff. Calcareous deposits and frondescent incrustations on the coast. Remarkable laminated beds, alternating with, and passing into, obsidian. Origin of obsidian. Lamination of volcanic rocks.


This island is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, in latitude 8 degrees S., longitude 14 degrees W. It has the form of an irregular triangle (see Map 2), each side being about six miles in length.

Volcanic Islands Page 23

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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