THE TWO AMERICAS
The western coast of America—Juan de Fuca and De Fonte—The three voyages of Behring and Tschirikow—Exploration of the straits of De Fuca—Survey of the Archipelago of New Georgia and of part of the American coast—Exploration of the interior of America—Samuel Hearn—Discovery of the Coppermine river—Mackenzie, and the river named after him—Fraser river—South America—Survey of the Amazon by Condamine—Journey of Humboldt and Bonpland—Teneriffe—The Guachero cavern—The "Llaños"—The Electric eels—The Amazon, Negro, and Orinoco rivers—The earth-eaters—Results of the journey—Humboldt's second journey—The "Volcanitos," or little volcanoes—The cascade at Tequendama—The bridge of Icononzo—Crossing the Brindisi on men's backs—Pinto and Pinchincha—Ascent of Chimborazo—The Andes—Lima—The transit of Mercury—Exploration of Mexico—Puebla and Cofre de Perote—Return to Europe.
We have more than once had occasion to speak of expeditions for the survey of the coasts of America. We have told of the attempts of Fernando Cortes and of the voyages and explorations of Drake, Cook, La Perouse, and Marchand. It will be well now to go back for a time, and with Fleurieu sum up the series of voyages along the western coast of America, to the close of the eighteenth century.
In 1537, Cortes with Francisco de Ulloa, discovered the huge peninsula of California, and sailed over the greater part of the long and narrow strait now known as the Vermilion Sea.
He was succeeded by Vasquez Coronado and Francisco Alarcon, who—the former by sea, and the latter by land—devoted themselves to seeking the channel which was erroneously supposed to connect the Atlantic and Pacific. They did not, however, penetrate beyond 36° N. lat.
Two years later, in 1542, the Portuguese Rodrique de Cabrillo, reached 44° N. lat., where the intense cold, sickness, want of provisions, and the bad state of his vessel, compelled him to turn back. He made no actual discovery, but he ascertained that, from Port Natividad to the furthest point reached by him, the coast-line was unbroken. The channel of communication seemed to recede before all explorers.
The little success met with appears to have discouraged the Spaniards, for at this time they retired from the ranks of the explorers. It was an Englishman, Drake, who, after having sailed along the western coast as far as the Straits of Magellan, and devastated the Spanish possessions, reached the forty-eighth degree, explored the whole coast, and, returning the same way, gave to the vast districts included within ten degrees the name of New Albion.
Next came, in 1592, the greatly fabulous voyage of Juan de Fuca, who claimed to have found the long-sought Strait of Anian, when he had but found the channel dividing Vancouver's Island from the mainland.
In 1602 Viscaino laid the foundations of Port Monterey in California, and forty years later took place that much contested voyage of Admiral De Fuente, or De Fonte according as one reckons him a Spaniard or a Portuguese, which has been the text of so many learned discussions and ingenious suppositions. To him we owe the discovery of the Archipelago of St. Lazarus above Vancouver's Island; but all that he says about the lakes and large towns he claims to have visited must be relegated to the realms of romance, as well as his assertion that he discovered a communication between the two oceans.
(Fac-simile of early engraving.)
In the eighteenth century the assertions of travellers were no longer blindly accepted. They were examined and sifted, those parts only being believed which accorded with the well authenticated accounts of others. Buache, Delisle, and above all Fleurieu, inaugurated the prolific literature of historical criticism, and we have every reason to be grateful to them.
The Russians, as we know, had greatly extended the field of their knowledge, and there was every reason to suppose that their hunters and Cossacks would soon reach America, if, as was then believed, the two continents were connected in the north. But from such unprofessional travellers no trustworthy scientific details could be expected.
A few years before his death the Emperor Peter I. drew up, with his own hands, a plan of an expedition, with instructions to its members, which he had long had in view, for ascertaining whether Asia and America are united, or separated by a strait.
The arsenal and forts of Kamtchatka being unable to supply the necessary men, stores, &c., captains, sailors, equipment, and provisions, had to be imported from Europe.
Vitus Behring, a Dane, and Alexis Tschirikow, a Russian, who had both given many a proof of skill and knowledge, were appointed to the command of the expedition, which consisted of two vessels built at Kamtchatka. They were not ready to put to sea until July 20th, 1720. Steering north-east along the coast of Asia, of which he never for a moment lost sight, Behring discovered, on the 15th August, in 67° 18' N. lat. a cape beyond which the coast stretched away westwards.