POLAR EXPEDITIONS

"The island," says Weddell, speaking of South Georgia, "is about ninety-six miles long, and its mean breadth about ten. It is so indented with bays, that in several places, where they are on opposite sides, they are so deep as to make the distance from one side to the other very small. The tops of the mountains are lofty, and perpetually covered with snow; but in the valleys, during the summer season, vegetation is rather abundant. Almost the only natural production of the soil is a strong-bladed grass, the length of which is in general about two feet; it grows in tufts on mounds three or four feet from the ground. No land quadrupeds are found here; birds and amphibious animals are the only inhabitants."

Here congregate numerous flocks of penguins, which stalk about on the beach, head in air. To quote an early navigator, Sir John Nasborough, they look like children in white aprons. Numerous albatrosses are also met with here, some of them measuring seventeen feet from tip to tip of their wings. When these birds are stripped of their plumage their weight is reduced one-half.

Here congregate flocks of penguins
"Here congregate flocks of penguins."

Weddell also visited New Shetland, and ascertained that Bridgeman Island, in that group, is an active volcano. He could not land, as all the harbours were blocked up with ice, and he was obliged to make for Tierra del Fuego.

During a stay of two months here, Weddell collected some valuable information on the advantages of this coast to navigators, and obtained some accurate data as to the character of the inhabitants. In the interior of Tierra del Fuego rose a few mountains, always covered with snow, the loftiest of which were not more than 3000 feet high. Weddell was unable to identify the volcano noticed by other travellers, including Basil Hall in 1822, but he picked up a good deal of lava which had probably come from it. There was, moreover, no doubt of its existence, for the explorer under notice had seen on his previous voyage signs of a volcanic eruption in the extreme redness of the sky above Tierra del Fuego.

Hitherto there had been a good deal of divergence in the opinion of explorers as to the temperature of Tierra del Fuego. Weddell attributes this to the different seasons of their visits, and the variability of the winds. When he was there and the wind was in the south the thermometer was never more than two or three degrees above zero, whereas when the wind came from the north it was as hot as July in England. According to Weddell dogs and otters are the only quadrupeds of the country.

The relations with the natives were cordial throughout the explorer's stay amongst them. At first they gathered about the ship without venturing to climb on to it, and the scenes enacted on the passage of the first European vessel through the states were repeated in spite of the long period which had since elapsed. Of the bread, madeira, and beef offered to them, the natives would taste nothing but the meat; and of the many objects shown to them, they liked pieces of iron and looking-glasses best, amusing themselves with making grimaces in the latter of such absurdity as to keep the crew in fits of laughter. Their general appearance, too, was very provocative of mirth. Their jet black complexions, blue feathers, and faces streaked with parallel red and white lines, like tick, made up a whole of the greatest absurdity, and many were the hearty laughs the English enjoyed at their expense. Presently disgusted at receiving nothing more than the iron hoops of casks from people possessed of such wealth, they proceeded to annex all they could lay hands on. These thefts were soon detected and put a stop to, but they gave rise to many an amusing scene, and proved the wonderful imitative powers of the natives.

"A sailor had given a Fuegan," says Weddell, "a tin-pot full of coffee, which he drank, and was using all his art to steal the pot. The sailor, however, recollecting after awhile that the pot had not been returned, applied for it, but whatever words he made use of were always repeated in imitation by the Fuegan. At length he became enraged at hearing his requests reiterated, and, placing himself in a threatening attitude, in an angry tone, he said, 'You copper-coloured rascal, where is my tin-pot?' The Fuegan, assuming the same attitude, with his eyes fixed on the sailor, called out, 'You copper-coloured rascal, where is my tin-pot?' The imitation was so perfect that every one laughed, except the sailor, who proceeded to search him, and under his arm he found the article missing."

The sterile mountainous districts in this rigorous climate of Tierra del Fuego furnish no animal fit for food, and without proper clothing or nourishment the people are reduced to a state of complete barbarism. Hunting yields them hardly any game, fishing is almost equally unproductive of results; they are obliged to depend upon the storms which now and then fling some huge cetacean on their shores, and upon such salvage they fall tooth and nail, not even taking the trouble to cook the flesh.