Symzonia; Voyage of Discovery, by Adam Seaborn (pseud. John Cleves Symmes?), , at sacred-texts.com
The Author arrives at the Falkland Islands—Describes West Point Island, and States harbour—Visits the city of the Gentoo Penguins on the Grand Jason—Gives some account of the polity and habits of those civilized amphibia—Sails for South Georgia.
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
[paragraph continues] 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 1 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 fin. 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 mats, 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. Front 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 whaled
[paragraph continues] 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.
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 lime 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 lest 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.
[paragraph continues] 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 visitors 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 effect 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 he 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.