Showing Wenman, Abingdon, Bindloes, Tower, Narborough, Albemarle, James, Indefatigable, Barrington, Chatham, Charles and Hood's Islands.)

This archipelago is situated under the equator, at a distance of between five and six hundred miles from the west coast of South America. It consists of five principal islands, and of several small ones, which together are equal in area, but not in extent of land, to Sicily, conjointly with the Ionian Islands. (I exclude from this measurement, the small volcanic islands of Culpepper and Wenman, lying seventy miles northward of the group. Craters were visible on all the islands of the group, except on Towers Island, which is one of the lowest; this island is, however, formed of volcanic rocks.) They are all volcanic: on two, craters have been seen in eruption, and on several of the other islands, streams of lava have a recent appearance. The larger islands are chiefly composed of solid rock, and they rise with a tame outline to a height of between one and four thousand feet. They are sometimes, but not generally, surmounted by one principal orifice. The craters vary in size from mere spiracles to huge caldrons several miles in circumference; they are extraordinarily numerous, so that I should think, if enumerated, they would be found to exceed two thousand; they are formed either of scoriae and lava, or of a brown-coloured tuff; and these latter craters are in several respects remarkable. The whole group was surveyed by the officers of the "Beagle." I visited myself four of the principal islands, and received specimens from all the others. Under the head of the different islands I will describe only that which appears to me deserving of attention.


Towards the eastern end of this island there occur two craters composed of two kinds of tuff; one kind being friable, like slightly consolidated ashes; and the other compact, and of a different nature from anything which I have met with described. This latter substance, where it is best characterised, is of a yellowish-brown colour, translucent, and with a lustre somewhat resembling resin; it is brittle, with an angular, rough, and very irregular fracture, sometimes, however, being slightly granular, and even obscurely crystalline: it can readily be scratched with a knife, yet some points are hard enough just to mark common glass; it fuses with ease into a blackish-green glass. The mass contains numerous broken crystals of olivine and augite, and small particles of black and brown scoriae; it is often traversed by thin seams of calcareous matter. It generally affects a nodular or concretionary structure. In a hand specimen, this substance would certainly be mistaken for a pale and peculiar variety of pitchstone; but when seen in mass its stratification, and the numerous layers of fragments of basalt, both angular and rounded, at once render its subaqueous origin evident. An examination of a series of specimens shows that this resin-like substance results from a chemical change on small particles of pale and dark-coloured scoriaceous rocks; and this change could be distinctly traced in different stages round the edges of even the same particle. The position near the coast of all the craters composed of this kind of tuff or peperino, and their breached condition, renders it probable that they were all formed when standing immersed in the sea; considering this circumstance, together with the remarkable absence of large beds of ashes in the whole archipelago, I think it highly probable that much the greater part of the tuff has originated from the trituration of fragments of the grey, basaltic lavas in the mouths of craters standing in the sea. It may be asked whether the heated water within these craters has produced this singular change in the small scoriaceous particles and given to them their translucent, resin-like fracture. Or has the associated lime played any part in this change? I ask these questions from having found at St.

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book