CHAPTER XXI. MAURITIUS TO ENGLAND
One of my excursions took me towards the S. W. extremity of the island. The day was clear and hot, and I saw the island, not smiling with beauty, but staring with naked hideousness. The lava streams are covered with hummocks, and are rugged to a degree which, geologically speaking, is not of easy explanation. The intervening spaces are concealed with layers of pumice, ashes and volcanic tuff. Whilst passing this end of the island at sea, I could not imagine what the white patches were with which the whole plain was mottled; I now found that they were seafowl, sleeping in such full confidence, that even in midday a man could walk up and seize hold of them. These birds were the only living creatures I saw during the whole day. On the beach a great surf, although the breeze was light, came tumbling over the broken lava rocks.
The geology of this island is in many respects interesting. In several places I noticed volcanic bombs, that is, masses of lava which have been shot through the air whilst fluid, and have consequently assumed a spherical or pear-shape. Not only their external form, but, in several cases, their internal structure shows in a very curious manner that they have revolved in their aerial course. The internal structure of one of these bombs, when broken, is represented very accurately in the woodcut. The central part is coarsely cellular, the cells decreasing in size towards the exterior; where there is a shell-like case about the third of an inch in thickness, of compact stone, which again is overlaid by the outside crust of finely cellular lava. I think there can be little doubt, first that the external crust cooled rapidly in the state in which we now see it; secondly, that the still fluid lava within, was packed by the centrifugal force, generated by
the revolving of the bomb, against the external cooled crust, and so produced the solid shell of stone; and lastly, that the centrifugal force, by relieving the pressure in the more central parts of the bomb, allowed the heated vapours to expand their cells, thus forming the coarse cellular mass of the centre.
A hill, formed of the older series of volcanic rocks, and which has been incorrectly considered as the crater of a volcano, is remarkable from its broad, slightly hollowed, and circular summit having been filled up with many successive layers of ashes and fine scoriae. These saucer-shaped layers crop out on the margin, forming perfect rings of many different colours, giving to the summit a most fantastic appearance; one of these rings is white and broad, and resembles a course round which horses have been exercised; hence the hill has been called the Devil's Riding School. I brought away specimens of one of the tufaceous layers of a pinkish colour and it is a most extraordinary fact, that Professor Ehrenberg  finds it almost wholly composed of matter which has been organized: he detects in it some siliceous-shielded fresh-water infusoria, and no less than twenty-five different kinds of the siliceous tissue of plants, chiefly of grasses. From the absence of all carbonaceous matter, Professor Ehrenberg believes that these organic bodies have passed through the volcanic fire, and have been erupted in the state in which we now see them. The appearance of the layers induced me to believe that they had been deposited under water, though from the extreme dryness of the climate I was forced to imagine, that torrents of rain had probably fallen during some great eruption, and that thus a temporary lake had been formed into which the ashes fell. But it may now be suspected that the lake was not a temporary one. Anyhow, we may feel sure, that at some former epoch the climate and productions of Ascension were very different from what they now are. Where on the face of the earth can we find a spot, on which close investigation will not discover signs of that endless cycle of change, to which this earth has been, is, and will be subjected?
On leaving Ascension, we sailed for Bahia, on the coast of Brazil, in order to complete the chronometrical measurement of the world. We arrived there on August 1st, and stayed four days, during which I took several long walks. I was glad to find my enjoyment in tropical scenery had not decreased from the want of novelty, even in the slightest degree. The elements of the scenery are so simple, that they are worth mentioning, as a proof on what trifling circumstances exquisite natural beauty depends.