These habitations are built of the straw of wild oats, interwoven through wattles or long sticks, and thatched with the same, and, whether from design or accident, are extremely picturesque. The roofs project so as to form an agreeable shade all round; the doorways are covered in by a sort of projecting porch, in the style of the French cottages along the valley of 32 the Seine; small out-houses, erected upon posts, are scattered about each inclosure; and an air of repose and freedom from worldly care pervades the whole place, though the construction of the houses and mode of living are evidently of the most primitive kind.
Seen through the green shrubberies that abound in every direction, the bright yellow of the cottages, and the smoke curling up in the still air, have a very cheerful effect; and the prattling voices of the children, mingled with the lively bleating of the kids, and the various pleasant sounds of domestic life, might well lead one to think that the seclusion of these islanders from the busy world is not without its charms.
Small patches of ground, fenced with rude stone walls and brushwood, are attached to each of these primitive abodes; and rustic gateways, overrun with wild and luxuriant vines, open in front. Very little attention, however, appears to be bestowed upon the cultivation of the soil; but it looks rich and productive, and might be made to yield abundant crops by a trifling expenditure of labor. The Chilians have never been distinguished for industry; nor is there any evidence here that they depart from their usual philosophy in taking the world easy.
Even the American seemed to have caught the prevailing lethargy, and to be content with as little as possible. Vegetables of various kinds grow abundantly wherever the seeds are thrown, among which I noticed excellent radishes, turnips, beets, cabbages, and onions.
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Potatoes of a very good quality, though not large, are grown in small quantities; and, regarding the natural productiveness of the earth, there seemed to be no reason why they should not be cultivated in sufficient quantities to supply the demands of vessels touching for supplies, and thereby made a profitable source of revenue to the settlers. The grass and wild oats grow in wonderful luxuriance in all the open spaces, and require little attention; and such is the genial character of the climate, that the cattle, of which there seems to be no lack, find ample food to keep them in good condition both in winter and summer.
Fig-trees, 33 bearing excellent figs, and vines of various sorts, flourish luxuriantly on the hill-sides.
Of fruits there is quite an abundance in the early part of autumn. The peaches were just out of season when we arrived, but we obtained a few which had been peeled and dried in the sun, and we found them large and of excellent flavor. Many of the valleys abound in natural orchards, which have sprung from the seeds planted there by the early voyagers, especially by Lord Anson, who appeared to have taken more interest in the cultivation and settlement of the island than any previous navigator.
The disasters experienced by the vessels of this distinguished adventurer in doubling Cape Horn caused him to make Juan Fernandez a rendezvous for the recruiting of his disabled seamen, and for many months he devoted his attention to the production of such vegetables and fruits as he found useful in promoting their recovery; and having likewise in view the misfortunes and necessities of those who might come after him, he caused to be scattered over the island large quantities of seeds, so that, by their increase, abundance and variety of refreshments might be had by all future voyagers.
He also left ashore many different sorts of domestic animals, in order that they might propagate and become general throughout the island, for the benefit of shipwrecked mariners, vessels in distress for provisions, and colonists who might hereafter form a settlement there.
The philanthropy and moral greatness of these benevolent acts, from which the author could expect to derive little or no advantage during life, can not be too highly commended. If posthumous gratitude can be regarded as a reward, Lord Anson has a just claim to it.
How many lives have been saved; how many weather-worn mariners, bowed down with disease, have been renewed in health and strength; how many unhappy castaways have found food abundantly where all they could expect was a lingering death, and have been sustained in their exile, and restored at last to their friends and kindred, through the unselfish benevolence 34 of this brave and kind-hearted navigator, no written record exists to tell; but there are records graven upon the hearts of men that are read by an omniscient eye—a history of good deeds and their reward, more eloquent than human hand hath written.
Besides peaches, quinces, and other fruits common in temperate climates, there is a species of palm called Chuta , which produces a fruit of a very rich flavor. Among the different varieties of trees are corkwood, sandal, myrtle, and pimento. The soil in some of the valleys on the north side is wonderfully rich, owing to deposits of burnt earth and decayed vegetable matter washed down from the mountains.
There is but little level ground on the island; and although the area of tillable soil is small, yet by the culture of vineyards on the hill-sides, the grazing of sheep and goats on the mountain steeps, and the proper cultivation of the arable valleys, a population of several thousand might subsist comfortably. Pearce, the American, who had thoroughly explored every part of the island, told me he had no doubt three or four thousand people could subsist here without any supply of provisions from other countries.
A ready traffic could be established with vessels passing that way, by means of which potatoes, fruits, and other refreshments could be bartered for groceries and clothing. Herds of wild cattle now roam over these beautiful valleys; fine horses may be seen prancing about in gangs, with all the freedom of the mustang; goats in numerous flocks abound among the cliffs; pigeons and other game are abundant; and wild dogs are continually prowling around the settlement. The few inhabitants at present on the island subsist chiefly upon fish, vegetables, and goat-flesh, of which they have an ample supply.
Boat-loads of the finest cod, rockfish, cullet, lobsters, and lamprey eels can be caught in a few hours all around the shores of Cumberland Bay, and doubtless as plentifully in the other bays. Nothing more is necessary than merely the trouble of hauling 35 them out of the water. We fished only for a short time, and nearly filled our boat with the fattest fish I ever saw. Had I not tested myself a fact told me by some of the passengers of the Brooklyn regarding the abundance of the smaller sorts of fish, I could never have believed it—that they will nibble at one's hand if it be put in the water alongside the boat, and a slight ripple made to attract their attention.
This is a remarkable truth, which can be attested by any person who has visited these shores and made the experiment. There is no place among the cliffs where goats may not be seen at all times during the day. They live and propagate in the caves, and find sufficient browsing throughout the year in the clefts of the rocks. Lord Anson mentions that some of his hunting parties killed goats which had their ears slit, and they thought it more than probable that these were the very same goats marked by Alexander Selkirk thirty years before; so that it is not unlikely there still exist some of the direct descendants of the herds domesticated by the original Crusoe.
The residents of Cumberland Bay have about their huts a considerable number of these animals, tamed, for their milk. When they wish for a supply of goat-flesh or skins for they often kill them merely for their skins , they go in a body to Goat Island, where they surround the goats and drive them over a cliff into the sea.
As soon as they have driven over a sufficient number they take to their boat again, and catch them in the water. Some of them they bring home alive, and keep them till they require fresh meat. Nor are these people destitute of the rarer luxuries of life. By furnishing whale-ships that touch for supplies of water and vegetables with such productions as they can gather up, they obtain in exchange coffee, ship-bread, flour, and clothing; and lately they have been doing a good business in rowing the passengers ashore from the California vessels, and selling them goatskins and various sorts of curiosities.
They also charge a small duty for keeping the spring of water clear and 36 the boat-landing free from obstructions, and sometimes obtain a trifle in the way of port charges, in virtue of some pretended authority from the government of Chili. The shores of Juan Fernandez abound in many different kinds of marine animals, among which the chief are seals and walruses. Formerly sealing vessels made it an object to touch for the purpose of capturing them, but of late years they have become rather scarce, and at present few, if any, vessels visit the island for that purpose.
Open at all times to the pleasant breezes from the ocean, without malaria or any thing to produce disease, beautifully diversified in scenery, and susceptible of being made a convenient stopping-place for vessels bound to the great northwestern continent, it would be difficult to find a more desirable place for a colony of intelligent and industrious people, who would cultivate the land, build good houses, and turn to advantage all the gifts of Providence which have been bestowed upon the island.
The only material drawback is the want of a large and commodious harbor, in which vessels could be hauled up 37 for repairs. This island could never answer any other purpose than that of a casual stopping-place for vessels in want of refreshments, and for this it seems peculiarly adapted.
The principal harbors are Port English, on the south side, visited by Lord Anson in ; Port Juan, on the west; and Cumberland Bay, on the north side. The latter is the best, and is most generally visited, in consequence of being on the fertile side of the island, where water also is most easily obtained. None of them afford a very secure anchorage, the bottom being deep and rocky; and vessels close to the shore are exposed to sudden and violent flaws from the mountains, and the danger of being driven on the rocks by gales from the ocean.
In Cumberland Bay, however, there are places where vessels can ride in safety, by choosing a position suitable to the prevailing winds of the season. The chart and soundings made by Lord Anson will be found useful to navigators who design stopping at Juan Fernandez. Our next expedition was to Robinson Crusoe's Cave. How it obtained that name I am unable to say.
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The people ashore spoke of it confidently as the place where a seafaring man had lived for many years alone; and I believe most mariners who have visited the island have fixed upon that spot as the actual abode of Alexander Selkirk. There are two ways of getting to the cave from the regular boat-landing; one over a high chain of cliffs, intervening between Crusoe's Valley, or the valley of the cave, and the Chilian huts near the landing; the other by water.
The route by land is somewhat difficult; it requires half a day to perform it, and there is danger of being dashed to pieces by the loose earth giving 38 way. In many parts of the island the surface of the cliffs is composed entirely of masses of burnt clay, which upon the slightest touch are apt to roll down, carrying every thing with them.
Numerous cases are related by the early voyagers of accidents to seamen and others, in climbing over these treacherous heights. The distance by water is only two miles, and by passing along under the brow of the cliffs a very vivid idea may be had of their strange and romantic formation. We had our guns with us, which we did not fail to use whenever there was an opportunity; but the game, consisting principally of wild goats, kept so far out of reach on the dizzy heights, that they passed through the ordeal in perfect safety.
Some of us wanted to go by land and shoot them from above, thinking the bullets would carry farther when fired downward than they seemed to carry when fired from below. The rest of the party had so little confidence in our skill that they dissuaded us from the attempt, on the pretense that the ship might heave in sight while we were absent. A pleasant row of half an hour brought us to the little cove in Crusoe's Valley.
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The only landing-place is upon an abrupt bank of rocks, and the surf breaking in at this part of the shore rather heavily, we had to run the boat up in regular beach-comber style. Riding in on the back of a heavy sea, we sprang out as soon as the boat struck, and held our ground, when, by watching our chance for another good sea, we ran her clear out of the water, and made her fast to a big rock for fear she might be carried away.
About two hundred yards from where we landed we found the cave.
It lies in a volcanic mass of rock, forming the bluff or termination of a rugged ridge, and looks as if it might be the doorway into the ruins of some grand old castle. The height of the entrance is about fifteen feet, and the distance back into the extremity twenty-five or thirty. It varies in width from ten or twelve to eighteen feet. Within the mouth the surface is of reddish rock, with 39 holes or pockets dug into the sides, which it is probable were used for cupboards by the original occupant.
There were likewise large spike-nails driven into the rock, upon which we thought it likely clothing, guns, and household utensils might have been hung even at as remote a date as the time of Selkirk, for they were very rusty, and bore evidence of having been driven into the rock a long time ago.
A sort of stone oven, with a sunken place for fire underneath, was partly visible in the back part of the cave, so that by digging away the earth we uncovered it, and made out the purpose for which it was built. There was a darkish line, about a foot wide, reaching up to the roof of the cave, which, by removing the surface a little, we discovered to be produced originally by smoke, cemented in some sort by a drip that still moistened the wall, and this we found came through a hole in the top, which we concluded was the original chimney, now covered over with deposits of earth and leaves from the mountain above.
In rooting about the fireplace, so as to get away the loose rubbish that lay over it, one of our 40 party brought to light an earthen vessel, broken a little on one side, but otherwise perfect. It was about eight inches in diameter at the rim, and an inch or two smaller at the bottom, and had some rough marks upon the outside, which we were unable to decipher, on account of the clay which covered it.
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Afterward we took it out and washed it in a spring near by, when we contrived to decipher one letter and a part of another, with a portion of the date. The rest unfortunately was on the piece which had been broken off, and which we were unable to find, although we searched a long time; for, as may be supposed, we felt curious to know if it was the handiwork of Alexander Selkirk. For my own part, I had but little doubt that this was really one of the earthen pots made by his own hands, and the reason I thought so was that the parts of the letters and date which we deciphered corresponded with his name and the date of his residence, and likewise because it was evident that it must have been imbedded in the ground out of which we dug it long beyond the memory of any living man.
I was so convinced of this, and so interested in the discovery, that I made a rough drawing of it on the spot, of which I have since been very glad, inasmuch as it was accidentally dropped out of the boat afterward and lost in the sea. We searched in vain for other relics of the kind, but all we could find were a few rusty pieces of iron and 41 some old nails.ruqyhawi.ml
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The sides of the cave, as also the top, had marks scattered over them of different kinds, doubtless made there in some idle moment by human hands; but we were unable to make out that any of them had a meaning beyond the unconscious expression of those vague and wandering thoughts which must have passed occasionally through the mind of the solitary mariner who dwelt in this lonely place.
They may have been symbolical of the troubled and fluctuating character of his religious feelings before he became a confirmed believer in the wisdom and mercy of Divine Providence, which unhappy state of mind he often refers to in the course of his narrative. This cave is now occupied only by wild goats and bats, and had not been visited, perhaps, by any human being, until recently, more than once or twice in half a century, and then probably only by some deserter from a whale-ship, who preferred solitude and the risk of starvation to the cruelty of a brutish captain.
In front of the cave, sloping down to the sea-side, is a plain covered with long rank grass, wild oats, radishes, weeds of various kinds, and a few small peach-trees.