The whole island is of volcanic origin; its circumference, according to Beatson, is about twenty-eight miles. (Governor Beatson "Account of St. Helena.") The central and largest part consists of rocks of a feldspathic nature, generally decomposed to an extraordinary degree; and when in this state, presenting a singular assemblage of alternating, red, purple, brown, yellow, and white, soft, argillaceous beds. From the shortness of our visit, I did not examine these beds with care; some of them, especially those of the white, yellow, and brown shades, originally existed as streams of lava, but the greater number were probably ejected in the form of scoriae and ashes: other beds of a purple tint, porphyritic with crystal- shaped patches of a white, soft substance, which are now unctuous, and yield, like wax, a polished streak to the nail, seem once to have existed as solid claystone-porphyries: the red argillaceous beds generally have a brecciated structure, and no doubt have been formed by the decomposition of scoriae. Several extensive streams, however, belonging to this series, retain their stony character; these are either of a blackish-green colour, with minute acicular crystals of feldspar, or of a very pale tint, and almost composed of minute, often scaly, crystals of feldspar, abounding with microscopical black specks; they are generally compact and laminated; others, however, of similar composition, are cellular and somewhat decomposed. None of these rocks contain large crystals of feldspar, or have the harsh fracture peculiar to trachyte. These feldspathic lavas and tuffs are the uppermost or those last erupted; innumerable dikes, however, and great masses of molten rock, have subsequently been injected into them. They converge, as they rise, towards the central curved ridge, of which one point attains the elevation of 2,700 feet. This ridge is the highest land in the island; and it once formed the northern rim of a great crater, whence the lavas of this series flowed: from its ruined condition, from the southern half having been removed, and from the violent dislocation which the whole island has undergone, its structure is rendered very obscure.


The margin of the island is formed by a rude circle of great, black, stratified, ramparts of basalt, dipping seaward, and worn into cliffs, which are often nearly perpendicular, and vary in height from a few hundred feet to two thousand. This circle, or rather horse-shoe shaped ring, is open to the south, and is breached by several other wide spaces. Its rim or summit generally projects little above the level of the adjoining inland country; and the more recent feldspathic lavas, sloping down from the central heights, generally abut against and overlap its inner margin; on the north-western side of the island, however, they appear (judging from a distance) to have flowed over and concealed portions of it. In some parts, where the basaltic ring has been breached, and the black ramparts stand detached, the feldspathic lavas have passed between them, and now overhang the sea-coast in lofty cliffs. The basaltic rocks are of a black colour and thinly stratified; they are generally highly vesicular, but occasionally compact; some of them contain numerous crystals of glassy feldspar and octahedrons of titaniferous iron; others abound with crystals of augite and grains of olivine. The vesicles are frequently lined with minute crystals (of chabasie?) and even become amygdaloidal with them. The streams are separated from each other by cindery matter, or by a bright red, friable, saliferous tuff, which is marked by successive lines like those of aqueous deposition; and sometimes it has an obscure, concretionary structure. The rocks of this basaltic series occur nowhere except near the coast. In most volcanic districts the trachytic lavas are of anterior origin to the basaltic; but here we see, that a great pile of rock, closely related in composition to the trachytic family, has been erupted subsequently to the basaltic strata: the number, however, of dikes, abounding with large crystals of augite, with which the feldspathic lavas have been injected, shows perhaps some tendency to a return to the more usual order of superposition.

Volcanic Islands Page 43

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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