Visits the city of the Gentoo Penguins on the Grand Jason

I soon had cause to congratulate myself on my ingenuity. My fin paddles
worked to admiration. When the wind failed, I could, by setting the
engine in motion, propel my vessel at the rate of 12 knots per hour;
and with a favourable wind, and under a press both of canvass and
steam, found it easy to drive her at the rate of 16 knots.
With such advantages, there was no necessity of going the roundabout
passage to gain the trade wind. I therefore stood straight for Cape
St. Roque. Whether I did or did not see a flying fish, catch a dolphin,
or observe a black whirling cloud called a water-spout, is of very
little importance to the world. On the sixteenth day after leaving
port, we saw the land of Cape St. Roque, in South America, and on
the twenty-fourth, anchored in the harbour of Rio de Janeiro, having
experienced the usual changes of wind and weather, and discovered
that air and water are much the same elements, and are governed by
much the same laws, at sea as on shore.
I entered this harbour under sail, with the paddle ports closed, that
no suspicion might be excited; my object in calling at this place
being only to provide myself with live stock and fruits. I took on
board two fine horses, four mules, two cows, with calves, a parcel
of pigs, sheep, and goats, with a quantity of fruit and vegetables;
and, on the 26th of August, sailed again.
On the 4th of September, we entered the harbour of West Point, Falkland
Islands. Here I had determined to pass a month for the benefit of my
health, which a short passage by water had not completely restored,
from the debility occasioned by the vexations and anxieties of
business in those retrograde times, and the pernicious habits of
living, common among civilized men, upon food rendered palateable by
a skilful admixture of poisons. These Islands being incontestibly in
the healthiest region of the globe, I believed that, by a short stay
amongst them, I should regain the firm health so necessary to a man
who undertakes great things; and at the same time, by employing my
people in sealing, learn them how to manage the boats, to land through
a surf, and to execute all the difficult and dangerous operations,
incident to the occupation of explorers of unknown shores. At the
same time, I should be pursuing the ostensible object of my voyage;
a matter very necessary to be kept in view, for my people were engaged
on shares of what should be obtained by their industry.
The first day was devoted partly to preparations for a sealing
excursion to the Jason Islands, and partly to recreation. West Point
Island abounds with hogs and goats, the hunting of which is both
pleasant for exercise, and profitable by supplying excellent food. Here
are no tangled forests to embarrass the sportsman, nor bushes or briars
to annoy his clothes or his flesh. Neither are there gnats, moschetos,
sand-flies, snakes, scorpions, or other reptiles, to render every step
dangerous or painful. Near the shore, which is fringed with granite
rocks, a border of tussoc extends around the island, like a belt,
of from one-eighth to a quarter of a mile in width. The tussoc flag
grows from the top of a bog formed apparently by the roots of the
plants which had flourished and decayed on the spot for many successive
years. The bogs are, usually, three to five feet in height, and one to
three feet in diameter. The substance of them resembles cork, though
it is less compact. They stand irregularly one to two feet asunder,
so as to afford convenient room for a passage between them, in every
direction, over a foundation of much the same substance as the bogs
themselves, which is usually quite dry. The dry white tussoc grass of
preceding years hangs round the top of the bog like a broad frill;
while the fresh green growth, which waves over the top like a tuft
of lofty feathers, gives the whole, when viewed from a distance,
the aspect of an extensive field of indian corn. The root of the
fresh tussoc is pleasant to the palate, being much like the meat of a
chestnut, and it affords an abundance of excellent feed to the hogs,
that enjoy an elysium here. Within this border of tussoc, and from it
to the steep ascent of the mountains, a region of grass intervenes,
which has the appearance of a rich upland meadow. It grows about knee
high, and extends as far as the rise of the land is moderate. Beyond
it, short mountain grass and a few heath plants are found contending
with fragments of granite, and with the polar blasts to which the
lofty summit of the mountain is exposed. It was delightful, after a
confinement on ship-board, to ramble over this sequestered and pleasant
scene; to chase the wild hogs from their tussoc covert to the rising
grounds, where they were sure victims of the spear or the bullet;
and to invade from above the retreats of the gigantic albatross,
in the cliffs of perpendicular rocks, a thousand feet above the sea.
On the second day we landed a sealing party of thirty men, under the
command of Mr. Boneto, chief mate, on the Jason Islands, which are
similar in their formation to those I have described. Intending to
join this party myself with the launch, and being apprehensive that
if I left the Explorer in West Point harbour, with but a few men on
board, some Patriot pirate might look into that much frequented place,
and, tempted by the value of my vessel and her defenceless situation,
deem it patriotic to take her away to aid the cause of liberty, and
leave me to explore my way home in my boats, I proceeded with her to
the deep and intricate inlet of the sea, called States harbour. This
spacious, convenient, and secure harbour, second to none on the face of
the globe, is one of the indications that Providence formed this group
of Islands for the abode of an enlightened and maritime people. From a
spacious and deep bay, in which the whole navy of Britain might moor
in safety, a cove jets into the land on the left; and on one side of
the cove there is an opening through the land like a dock-gate, with
perpendicular sides of solid rock, against which a ship of the line
might lie with safety, as against a pier. Passing through this opening,
a harbour is found, extending at right angles with the passage nearly
two miles in length, and about one-eighth of a mile in width. At one
end of this interior basin, a large stream of fresh water empties into
it; at the mouth of which fine fish in great quantities are easily
taken in the spring, and on its banks, as also on those of numerous
smaller streams, celery of an excellent kind grows spontaneously. The
shores of this basin rise with a very gentle ascent. They are not
exposed to the winds of the open ocean, and are not much encumbered
with tussoc. There is no high land near. Thousands of acres, well
watered and covered with grass fit for hay, exhibit the prospect of
a succession of well-cultivated meadows. There are plenty of hogs on
the island which forms this harbour. Geese, as good as our wild geese,
are very abundant. We caught them with ease, and in great plenty.
What a delightful situation these islands offer, for a virtuous,
enlightened, and industrious community! Nearly four hundred islands,
one of which is some hundred of miles in extent, situated in the most
temperate climate of the globe, where the air is always salubrious,
heat never oppressive, cold never severe, the ground never frozen,
and the heaviest snow of no more than two or three days duration
on the ground; with a soil capable of affording, by cultivation,
all the useful products of the temperate zone; a location convenient
for the prosecution of the whale, seal, and other fisheries; with
innumerable harbours for the accommodation of shipping; with every
thing calculated to make them the most desirable residence for man,
these islands remain uninhabited, and lonely deserts.
The fine health which those who stop here for a season invariably
enjoy, the appetite they acquire, the activity with which they exert
themselves, these are the evidences of an invigorating and salubrious
climate. Here are no debilitating heats to enervate, nor frosts to
benumb the faculties, and make it half the business of life to keep
the body comfortable. A people born and educated in such a country
might be expected to partake its characteristics; to have minds solid
and profound, like the granite frame of their mountains, and clear
as the ocean which surrounds them; vigorous, yet temperate like the
climate; sufficient in all things, and without extremes.
Having seen my vessel safely moored, I left her in charge of
Mr. Albicore, the second mate, with strict orders not to permit either
fire or candle to be used on board in my absence. I caused a cook
house to be erected on shore, and left five men with Mr. Albicore,
to fill up the water-casks, catch and cure fish, make the necessary
repairs to the rigging, and put the vessel in perfect order against my
return. With the remainder of the officers and men, in the launch and
one whale boat, I made a harbour at West Point Island early the first
day, and at the close of the second joined the party under Mr. Boneto,
on the Grand Jason. I found that Boneto had made good use of his time,
having cleared this island and all the neighbouring keys and shores
to which he could prudently go with open whale boats, of the few seal
which could be found. There was but here and there a seal to be seen,
excepting on some points of land, which on account of the surf were
nearly inaccessible. The frequent visits of sealers from the United
States had either destroyed or frightened most of them away. This
gave me no uneasiness, for I expected it when I planned my voyage. I
concurred in the opinion published by Capt. Symmes, that seals, whales,
and mackerel, come from the internal world through the openings at
the poles; and was aware of the fact, that the nearer we approach
those openings, the more abundant do we find seals and whales, I
felt perfectly satisfied that I had only to find an opening in the
“icy hoop,” through which I could dash with my vessel, to discover a
region where seals could be taken as fast as they could be stripped
and cured. I therefore employed myself chiefly in procuring comforts
for my people, and in studying the habits and propensities of those
amphibious animals which might be supposed to have communication with
the internal world, whither I was ambitious to find my way.

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A colony of Gentoo Penguins, on the borders of the south-east cove
of Grand Jason, first attracted my attention. Their city stands on
a beautiful level spot, a short distance from the water. Every pair
of Penguins has a separate establishment built of earth, stones, and
sticks, of about two feet elevation, and eighteen inches diameter;
on the top of which is their nest. There are some thousands of these
stands arranged in regular order, with an open square in the centre,
regular streets between the ranges of nests, and a broad avenue leading
from the square towards the places of landing and diving. This avenue,
a short distance from the settlement, divides into two broad paths;
one leading to the diving place, which is a perpendicular rock in
deep water, and the other to the landing place, which is a sloping
rock of easy access from the sea.
It being the egg season, which soon passes away, I determined to
make it hold out, if practicable, until the time of our departure,
that we might have a stock of fresh eggs to take with us. Remembering
that our barn-yard fowls continue to deposit eggs as long as but one
is daily left in the nest, I adopted that plan with the Penguins,
and stationed Jack Whiffle, boatswains-mate, with three assistants,
to remove the eggs daily, and stack them; keeping an account of
the several stacks, that we might take our supply from those last
gathered. This was no trifling job. The nests were so numerous that it
was a hard morning’s work for four men to visit them all, and take an
egg from each in defiance of the lawful proprietor, who always defended
his property to the best of his ability, and never forsook the stand,
through fear, but maintained possession until pushed off. The plan
answered my expectations: the Penguins continued to supply eggs in
place of those that were removed, until our departure, when we took
with us barrels of them packed in salt.
These Gentoo Penguins are amphibious birds, nearly two feet high when
standing erect Their bodies are somewhat larger than those of geese,
and well proportioned throughout; their necks being just long enough
to look well. In place of wings they have fins for swimming, and their
feet are equally well adapted to the land and water. Their covering
is very short feathers, closely and firmly set in a thick skin. Their
backs, fins, feet, and legs, are black; the rest of their bodies pure
white; they walk bolt upright, with a firm step like a grenadier,
and have the appearance, when formed in squadrons, of soldiers, in
a uniform of black coats, white underdress, and black gaiters. From
the attentive observations of Jack Whiffle, I obtained the following
particulars of their habits and polity:
At the time of full sea, one half of the Penguins assemble in the
centre-square, where they parade in regular order. They then march
off, two abreast, and in close order, preceded by a leader, to the
diving-place. They dive into the sea in succession, as they arrive,
and swim off to feed on kelp, rock-weed, small fish, and other marine
productions. During their absence, the other half remain stationary
upon their stands, keeping watch; occasional short visits by some few
of them to their nearest neighbours, being the only deviation from
strict duty in this particular, that is allowed. If any one strays
far from his station, or shows a disposition to go out to feed, he
is pecked and driven back by the others. At the turn of the tide,
those that are out collect about the landing-place; some sporting in
the water, leaping and diving with great dexterity; others lounging
upon the shore, apparently admiring themselves and each other, like
our fashionable belles and dandies in Broadway. When the leader lands,
they form in regular order, march to the square, in the same manner as
they left it, divide into squadrons, and file off to their respective
stations to relieve guard. As soon as those returned from feeding
mount the stands, the others leap off and repair to the square. When
collected, they form, and march off to the diving place in the manner
before described, to take their tide of feeding and recreation. Thus
they occupy the day; each having the benefit of a full tide, and each
doing his share of domestic duties.
At night all are assembled in the city, and each stand is crowned
with two of these exemplary birds.
The contemplation of these orderly, discreet, and beautiful
amphibia, afforded me much pleasure, and gave rise to many delightful
anticipations. It appeared certain to me that they, in common with
seals, whales, and mackerel, were visiters from the internal world
through the southern opening, which they were admirably formed to pass
and repass; for they moved with great facility, in the water, and could
exist under it as well as fish. On land they walked with as much ease
as men, and in the same erect posture. It occurred to me that a world,
in which the brute creation were so neatly formed, so polished in their
manners, so social in their habits, and so quiet and well behaved,
must, if men existed in it, be the abode of a race perfect in their
kind. I had no apprehension of the air being unhealthy in the internal
world as suggested by Capt. Symmes, because the climate in which these
visiters are found in the greatest numbers is the healthiest of the
external world, which indicates that they are accustomed to good air,
or they would not affect this salubrious region.
Again, I had observed all these amphibia to be of a remarkably
gentle and harmless disposition. The sea-lion, sea-elephant, and
common seal, together with the king-penguin, the Gentoo, macaroni,
and jackass-penguin, all of different habits, yet obviously of the
same origin, accommodated themselves on the same island, fed in the
same sea, and on the same food, without interfering with and without
ever being observed to offer violence to each other; from which I
inferred that the inhabitants of the internal world, influenced by the
same causes, must be of a remarkably pacific, and gentle disposition.
October had arrived, and I grew impatient of further delay. The sun
was already pouring its rays of light and heat a constant stream
upon the south pole. The season for active research in that region
was come, and would soon be past. I directed Mr. Boneto to collect
the skins which had been taken, at a convenient place on Grand Jason,
and returned to the Explorer. I found every thing at States harbour
as it should be. Mr. Albicore was an excellent officer. He took care
to understand my orders, and to obey them implicitly. The launch was
immediately hoisted in, and at dawn of day the following morning we
sailed from that port, took in Boneto’s party, with near two thousand
seal skins, and bore up for South Georgia.