صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

open out one after the other, all bare, bleak, and rugged, their tops hidden in murky clouds, their sides covered with snow down to an altitude of 500 feet above the water. Though only as many degrees south of the Line as the mountains of Wales are north, these mountains are never clear of snow at an altitude of 3,000 feet above the sea. Glaciers, too, whose former existence in our latitudes is only proved by half-erased scratches on Snowdonian rocks or by grooves on Glenroy crags, are here still extant. Some twenty miles from the entrance to the Strait is a glen turning seawards from one of these Peaks of Desolation. We see two patches of a certain blue colour standing out from the snow, not 1,000 feet above the water, telling of some unnamed Rosenlaui existing beyond the ken of Alpine tourists; some sixty miles further to the east is a well known glacier of larger size, which, however, we pass in the dark.

It is now the 18th of October, a day answering to some day in the latter half of April in the corresponding latitude of England; but we have unpleasant illustrations of the difference of climate in the two places in the constant squalls of sleet and snow which come sweeping over and past us. Magalhaens must surely have had different weather from this when, 350 years ago, he sailed out of the Strait at this western end, and, finding himself on a calm expanse of water, christened it the Pacific Ocean!

How different this Strait of his from that other Strait, similar to this in extent and tortuousness, through which we sailed five months ago—the Inland Sea of Japan ! There all was bright colour and gentle outline, warm tints and varied shades : here all is dark in hue and bold in form; a series of savage mountains rising precipitously from the black reefs and cold waters of the strait, their heads wrapped in leaden cloud-folds, their steep slopes and sheer



slate-cliffs at one time visible in all their wildness, at another hidden by a thick gray veil of snowsquall. There was a scene which it would require a Claude to paint, and an Italian landscape to outvie; here is something suited to Turner in his latest style, and which might find its parallel view in some Norwegian Fiord or some Hebridean Sound in winter.

Some thirty miles from the entrance of the strait we pass the Bay of Mercy, which rather belied its name two years ago, when the Santiago,' a former steamer of this line, ran on an unknown rock therein, sank in a few minutes, and left her passengers and crew to spend eight dreary days and nights on the Island of Desolation before they were taken off by an American vessel which happened, providentially, to be passing at the time. By a rather strange coincidence the very rock on which she struck had been discovered, a very short time previously, by the • Nassau,' then engaged in surveying the Strait, and the

Santiago' was to have taken on board, at Punta Arenas, the Chilian settlement further eastwards in the Strait, copies of the new chart wherein the rock was marked. W hope she will prove the last as well as the first of her lin. to be wrecked in the Strait, but the navigation is sufficiently difficult to make the passage a rather dangerous one.

The distance from Cape Pillar to Punta Arenas, 180 miles, is too great to be accomplished between sunrise and sunset; anchorage between these two points is almost impossible, owing to the great depth of water in this part of the Strait (often 100 fathoms within half-a-mile of the shore); there are no lighthouses or other beacons to warn vessels off dangerous points ; strong currents run to and fro with the wind and tides; the Strait is so narrow for a distance of sixty miles or more, that a long screw-steamer cannot turn round in that part if occasion requires; and

[ocr errors]

the weather throughout the Strait is constantly thick and squally.

We pass through the Long Reach and the Crooked Reach, the narrowest parts of the Strait (varying in width from three-quarters of a mile to two miles), during the night, the compass and the dim loom of the land on either side being the only guide to the ship. The darkness effectually prevents our seeing what is, from all accounts, decidedly the finest part of the Strait, as far as regards scenery. By daybreak of the next morning we have passed out of the narrow part, and are making across a wider stretch of water towards Punta Arenas. Behind us are the snow-covered mountains which stand on either side of this Inland Sea of Patagonia, ending towards the sea in some distant and high points, which are probably some of the extinct volcanoes of Tierra del Fuego. In front of us, the coast on the side of the continent has changed from steep and craggy cliffs to gentle slopes, thickly covered with woods of beech and elm: on the Fuegian side the coast is more distant, and composed of stretches of sandy plains and low undulating hills. We have passed through the southern extremities of the Andes, and are on the verge of the most southerly expanses of the Pampas.

We cast anchor at Punta Arenas, or Sandy Point, as it is frequently called, just before breakfast-time, and after breakfast go ashore to see this most southerly civilised settlement in the world. Not, however, that its civilisation is of a very high order. The settlement consists of about seventy houses or cottages, all, from the Governor's house to the poorest store, built of wood. It would perhaps hardly have come into existence but for the desire of the Chilian Government to have, at a convenient distance, some spot to which they could send their convicts of the worst class.

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

There is some tolerably good-looking land in the settlement, and this is partially tilled, but a large part of the supplies of the place are brought from Chili or the States of La Plata. Five miles inland there are mines of lignite, which are worked to a small extent; and quite recently gold lias been discovered in a stream which runs into the sea just outside the settlement. Some good nuggets are said to have been picked up in this distant Pactolus ; if it should really prove a rich one, possibly the Argentines, who maintain that the Chilians had no right to make a settlement on the eastern side of the Andes, may have more to say on the subject.

At present the chief export from Punta Arenas consists of skins. Every summer bodies of Patagonian Indians find their way to the settlement, bringing with them rugs of guanaco, fox, and puma skins. These they barter with the settlers for such goods as shirts, stockings, blankets, guns, spirits, &c.

But the summer has hardly yet begun, so that we miss seeing any specimens of the reputed giants. Nor are we more fortunate with the Fuegians; the only trace of them which we can distinguish are one or two wreaths of smoke curling up from the southern coast of the Strait, marking where the half-naked savages are warming themselves in the cold morning, or cooking their scanty meal of fish and limpets. Apropos of this fish-diet of the Fuegians we


I The statements that this treacherous and debased race often eat something stronger than even animal food, seems confirmed by a tragedy which occurred within a hundred miles of Punta Arenas in March 1871. The brigantine 'Propontis,' bound for Valparaiso from Bremen, in passing through the Strait, came to anchor near the Fuegian coast, ninety miles to the south of Punta Arenas. The captain, with three of his crew, went ashore, on assurances from some natives, who came off in canoes, that fresh water was to be had close at hand; none of the four returned; and two days afterwards the captain's body was found, minus


may mention that we have on board our steamer a specimen of a Fuegian fish-hound, to whom attaches a slight history. He was the last of a litter of fish-hounds, found by an expedition sent from Punta Arenas to explore the Fuegian coast. The provisions of the expedition were fast running out when this welcome ‘find' was made, and our canine friend was the only one of the litter who escaped going to the pot, his brethren sufficing to sustain the explorers during the rest of their journey back to Punta Arenas. He looks like a rough-bred sheep-dog, lanky and long eared ; and the statement that the Fuegians use dogs of this kind to dive and catch fish for them seems supported by the fact of his feet being very broadly webbed.

We leave Punta Arenas after a delay there of twenty hours, and in another three hours are passing through the Second Narrows, where the Strait contracts to a breadth of only three miles. Another eight hours bring us to the First Narrows, where scarcely more than two miles of water separate Patagonia from Fuegia. The land on either side is low and sandy ; no trees are visible, but at a short distance from the shore there seems to be abundance of grass and other low and close vegetation. These slightly undulating plains are in fact the southern limits of the vast Pampas which stretch away northwards from here to the southern limit of the Tropics—a distance of 1,800 miles; and through that vast distance their appearance probably varies little from what it is here.

Three hours again from the First Narrows, and we pass Cape Virgins, the eastern limit of the Strait, 250 miles in direct distance from Cape Pillar, but fully 350, if measured

the legs, within a couple of miles of the spot where he had landed. See The Valparaiso and West Coast Mail of April 3, or The Times of May 17, 1871.

« السابقةمتابعة »