POLAR EXPEDITIONS

Landing is easy, and there is a good spring and plenty of wood; on the rocks are found quantities of mussels, limpets, and whelks, whilst inland grows celery, and a kind of herb resembling the dandelion. Another fruitful source of wealth in this bay is fish, and whilst the vessels were at anchor, drag-nets, trammels, and lines captured enough mullet, gudgeon, and roaches to feed the whole crew.

"As I was about to re-embark," says D'Urville, "a little barrel was brought to me which had been found hung on a tree on the beach, near a post on which was writtenPost Office. Having ascertained that this barrel contained papers, I took it on board and examined them. They consisted of notes of captains who had passed through the Straits of Magellan, stating the time of their visits, the incidents of their passage, with advice to those who should come after them, and letters for Europe or the United States. It seemed that an American captain, Cunningham by name, had been the originator of this open-air post-office. He had merely, in April, 1833, hung a bottle on a tree, and his fellow-countryman, Waterhouse, had supplemented it by the post with its inscription. Lastly, Captain Carrick of the schooner Mary Ann, from Liverpool, passed through the strait in March 1837, on his way to San Blas, California, going through it again a second time on his way back on the 29th November, 1837, that is to say, sixteen days before our own visit, and he it was who had substituted the barrel for the bottle, adding an invitation to all who should succeed him to use it as the receptacle of letters for different destinations. I mean to improve this ingenious and useful contrivance by forming an actual post-office on the highest point of the peninsula with an inscription in letters of a size so gigantic as to compel the attention of navigators who would not otherwise have touched at Port Famine. Curiosity will then probably lead them to send a canoe to examine the box, which will be fastened to the post. It seems likely that we shall ourselves reap the first fruits of this arrangement, and our families will be agreeably surprised to receive news from us from this wild and lonely district, just before our plunge into the ice of the Polar regions."

At low tide the mouth of the Sedger river, which flows into Famine Bay, is encumbered with sand-banks; some 1000 feet further on the plain is transformed into a vast marsh, from which rise the trunks of immense trees, and huge bones, bleached by the action of time, which have been brought down by the heavy rainfall, swelling the course of the stream.

Skirting this marsh is a fine forest, the entrance to which is protected by prickly shrubs. The commonest trees are the beech, with trunks between eighty and ninety feet high, and three or four in diameter; Winteria aromatica, a kind of bark which has long since replaced the cinnamon, and a species of Barbary. The largest beeches seen by D'Urville measured fifteen feet in diameter, and were about 150 feet high.

Unfortunately, no mammiferous animals or reptiles, or fresh or salt water shell-fish are found on these coasts; and one or two different kinds of birds with a few lichens and mosses were all the naturalist was able to obtain.

Several officers went up the Sedger in a yawl till they were stopped by the shallowness of the water. They were then seven and a half miles from the mouth, and they noted the width of the river where it flows into the sea to be between ninety and a hundred feet.

"It would be difficult," says M. de Montravel, "to imagine a more picturesque scene than was spread out before us at every turn. Everywhere was that indescribable wildness which cannot be imitated, a confused mass of trees, broken branches, trunks covered with moss, which seemed literally to grow before our eyes."

To resume, the stay at Port Famine was most successful; wood and water were easily obtained, repairs, &c., were made, horary, physical, meteorological, tidal, and hydrographical observations were taken, and, lastly, numerous objects of natural history were collected, the more interesting as the museums of France hitherto contained nothing whatever from these unknown regions beyond "a few plants collected by Commerson and preserved in the Herbarium of M. de Jussieu."

On the 28th December, 1837, anchor was weighed without a single Patagonian having been seen, although the officers and crew had been so eager to make acquaintance with the natives.

The difficulties attending navigation compelled the two corvettes to cast anchor a little further on, off Port Galant, the shores of which, bordered by fine trees, are cut by torrents resembling a little distance off magnificent cascades from fifty to sixty feet high. This compulsory halt was not wasted, for a large number of new plants were collected, and the port with the neighbouring bays were surveyed. The commander, however, finding the season already so far advanced, gave up his idea of going out at the westerly end of the strait, and went back the way he came, hoping thus to get an interview with the Patagonians before going to the Polar regions.

St. Nicholas Bay, called by Bougainville the Baie des Français, where the explorers passed New Year's Day, 1838, is a much pleasanter looking spot than Port Galant. The usual hydrographical surveys were there brought to a satisfactory issue by the officers under the direction of Dumoulin. A boat was despatched to Cape Remarkable, where Bougainville said he had seen fossil shells, which, however, turned out to be nothing but little pebbles imbedded in a calcareous gangue.