Bibliography Texts

Account of a Voyage to Madeira, Brazil,
Juan Fernandez, and the Gallapagos Islands …

John Scouler

The Galápagos section (pp. 210-14) appears below.

19th December.—This morning we left Juan Fernandez, and directed our course to the Gallapagos. The island of Juan Fernandez, for beauty of scenery and richness of verdure, exceeds any place we visited during our voyage. Independent of its natural beauty, the deserted houses and ruined gardens give variety to the landscape, and add an interest to the scenery which the unsettled desert cannot possess. Previous to going on board the ship, our countryman, whose exhausted wardrobe we had in some degree replenished, gave us the acceptable present of a goat which he had feeding near the house, and would gladly have added more to our fresh stock, had it been in his power.

7th January.—Our passage to the Gallapagos was the most pleasant part of our voyage. We enjoyed the serene weather and cloudless sky of the tropical regions. During this weather the Noddy (Sterna stolida) for the first time alighted on our vessel, a bird which we only saw in the tropical climates: This bird is remarkable for the stupidity with which it allows itself to be taken; it would perch on the rigging, and, regardless of our presence, quietly allow itself to be laid hold of.

9th.—We saw Chatham Island, one of the Gallapagos. The appearance of this island at a distance indicates but little fertility. The land consisted of low conical hills rising gradually from the ocean, and bounded by a flat sandy beach, against which the sea beat with some violence. On the hills many dark patches of land appeared entirely deprived of vegetable covering.

10th.—Today the boat was sent to land on James's island, to ascertain what was to be found in the way of fresh provisions. The land is in some places very abundant in trees and shrubs, while other situations presented a bare and exposed surface, consisting of masses of lava. Such at least was the appearance from the ship. In the afternoon the boat returned, bringing two very large turtles (T. viridis,) Iguanas, and plenty of fish. Those who had been in the boat assured us that the shore abounded in turtles, and that tortoises were to be got in the woods. They had not however seen any fresh water.

11th.—Next day we went ashore in the long-boat, and found considerable difficulty in landing, on account of the heavy surf which beat against the beach. The place where we now were consisted of a low sandy bank which separated a small salt water lake from the sea. Here we found traces of previous visitors, but the most unequivocal and most affecting was the tomb of an American officer. This unassuming grave was only accidentally discovered, as it is concealed from notice by a thick bush-wood, cotton trees, and Tournefortiae.§ At the head of the grave was a board painted black, and bearing the following inscription, so honourable to the deceased. “Sacred to the memory of John Cowan, lieutenant of the U. S. frigate Essex, who died here September 1813. His memory is lamented by his friends and country, and honoured by his brother officers.”*

§ Scouler's description suggests that Cowan's grave was behind the salt-water lagoons at James Bay. The source of his September date is unknown: An obituary notice in an 1815 Supplement to Volume VII of the Niles Weekly Register places the date at August 10, and Porter himself gives no date.

   Compare Scouler's report of the inscription with those of Porter and Melville.

* This unfortunate gentleman was killed in a duel with one of his fellow-officers. In another part of the island we saw the remains of a small hut, or rather cave, which had been occupied by a Spaniard, who spent two years on this wretched place, where he had been left by his companions.

On penetrating into the country, we found very few plants, at least few in comparison to what we might expect in such a climate. The abundance and interesting nature of the animals well compensated for the scarcity of plants; but the heat was so intense, and the moisture of the country so great, that we were unable to preserve many birds and fishes which we thought new or curious. The rocks were covered by pelicans and other web-footed birds watching the fish, and, near the coast, various species of heron were very common. The pelican belonged to the common species, (P. onocrotalus,) but most of them were young individuals.

In this excursion we trode, for the first time, on volcanic ground, and made our way, with difficulty, through the loose lava, which readily gave way under us, and reminded us of the slag and melted matter in the vicinity of a smelting furnace. Near this place we saw a large column of volcanic matter, situated amidst a stream of lava; its surface was rough and uneven, and in many places deeply excavated—it reached to the height of sixty or seventy feet. During my excursion, I had not the good fortune to see any vestiges of a crater; but Mr Douglas, who had taken a different route, informed me he had seen one, a circumstance which we had expected, as we saw one of the conical hills of Albemarle island burning every night we were in the vicinity of this group of islands. In the woods, where the grass is abundant, we found the tortoises grazing, and many of them of large size, weighing probably 200 pounds.

The tortoise, (T. Indica,) we found to be much more agreeable food than the green turtle, as it is quite free from the fishy flavour which the other possesses. We found much difficulty in taking them to the shore, on account of the excessive heat, and the roughness of the ground.

The birds were so tame, as to be easily knocked from the branches on which they were perched, and frequently alighted on the sticks we happened to have in our hand. In returning to the beach, we killed plenty of Iguanas, an animal of the lizard tribe, and esteemed a most delicate kind of food in tropical countries. Although our Iguanas differed very much from the West Indian species, both in size and appearance, being larger and of a yellowish colour, we found them much more palatable food than turtle.

The following is an account of the most frequent animals we saw during our short visit to James's island. The only mammiferous animal is a species of seal, with very short ears and short brown hair. We killed one individual, but it soon became so putrid, that we were unable to make a description, a circumstance which prevented us from examining, in a detailed manner, many other animals. In addition to the birds already alluded to, we saw a beautiful bird of the genus Sula, nearly allied to the soland goose; its colours are very fine, and, what is most remarkable, the feet and legs are of a beautiful azure colour. On the elevated rocks, we frequently saw a small though handsome species of eagle, of a golden yellow colour. A small species of pigeon was very common in the woods, distinguished by the beauty of its plumage, and the bright metallic hue of the feathers of its neck.

The reptiles, which are very numerous and interesting, are different kinds of turtles and lizards. The tortoise frequents the shady places in the interior of the island, where grass is plentiful, which they consume in large quantities. As the tortoise is destitute of all offensive weapons, he draws his head and limbs within his shell on the approach of danger, making at the same time a hissing noise. These animals are capable of enduring very long fasts, and in cold weather they remain quite torpid. I kept one of these tortoises for eight months, and, during that time, it did not consume above an ounce of food.

The green turtle is very plentiful, and attains a great size, often weighing 300 pounds; and, in the course of two days, we caught about thirty of these animals. We had two methods of taking the turtle; we either surprised them while they came on shore, or caught them while asleep on the water. In this case we approached them in the boat, making as little noise as possible, while a man stood ready to fix a tomahawk into the shell, and to hold him till he could be lifted into the boat. This last method was attended by an inconvenience, that the turtle was often so injured, as to die in a few days.

The woods abound in a species of Iguana, which I think is new, but, unfortunately, the specimen I attempted to preserve became so putrid, that I was obliged to throw it away. It is almost twenty-nine inches long; the back and sides are of a brown colour, and the belly is yellow; the whole skin was covered by small scaly tubercles, and had a ridge of very large pointed ones extending along the back, from the occiput to the extremity of the tail. There was a dilatation under the throat, but no large tubercles in that situation. The tongue was fleshy, inextensible, and slightly bifurcated at the point. The Iguana lives entirely upon leaves and fruits, and burrows deeply into the ground. * It is a timid inoffensive creature, and always runs from the pursuer, unless when wounded, when it turns upon its enemy. We killed great numbers of them, and used them as food. There is a smaller aquatic species, belonging to the genus Monitor, with a flat perpendicular tail, but it is much rarer than the other.

* The sandy ground near the coast is quite ploughed up by these animals, so as to render walking in the vicinity of their abodes very troublesome.

Although snakes are said to abound on the Gallapagos, yet in all our excursions we never saw a single species.

Shells and molluscous animals were not very plentiful. Crabs of different species were very numerous, and some of them very beautiful. The land-crab was common near the shore, and appeared to be more gregarious than the other species; they were seen running about in small families of twenty or thirty individuals, and when pursued covered themselves in the sand.

On the 19th we left these islands and proceeded to the north-west coast.

All the islands of this group have a similar appearance. In some places the coast rises into perpendicular rugged cliffs, attaining the height of 200 feet, and in other situations it assumes the form of a low sandy beach, separating some saltwater lakes from the sea. The mountains are generally of a conical shape, very gradual ascent, and moderate elevation. The country, in most places, is pretty well furnished with trees, except where the lava has run down, and in these situations very few vegetables grow.