31st March 1835

Mendoza to Santiago (Day 14) – Hornillos
There are here a few miserable houses & there is a Tracpiche for Gold ores.

30th March 1835

Mendoza to Santiago (Day 13) – Hornillos
The solitary hovel which bears the imposing name of Villa Vicencio has been mentioned by every traveller. I staid half a day to examine the geology. In the evening rode a few leagues on to Hornillos, where I stopped the ensuing day.

29th March 1835

Mendoza to Santiago (Day 12) – Villa Vicencio
We had to cross this day a long & most sterile Traversia of 15 leagues. There is no water, & of course beyond the outskirts of Mendoza, not a single house. On this plain although elevated from 2 to 3,000 ft above the sea, the sun is excessively powerful; this together with the clouds of fine dust renders the travelling very irksome. We continued riding all day nearly parallel to, or rather gradually approaching to the chain of mountains; at last we entered one of the wide valleys or bays which open on the plains; this soon narrowed into a ravine, a little way up which is the house of Villa Vicencio. As we had ridden all day without any water, we were very thirsty, & looked out anxiously for the stream which flows down the valley. It was curious how gradually the water made its appearance; on the edge of the grand plain of shingle the course was quite dry, by degrees it became damper, till there were puddles of water; these soon were connected, & at Villa Vicencio there was a small running brook.

28th March 1835

Mendoza (Day 11)
We reached Mendoza early & staid the ensuing day there. The prosperity of Mendoza has much declined of late years; the inhabitants say "it is a good place to live in, but a poor one to grow rich in". To me it had a forlorn & stupid air; to those however coming from B. Ayres, after having crossed the monotonous Savannahs of grass, the gardens & Orchards around the town are very pleasing. Capt. Head talking about the inhabitants, says, "They eat their dinner, & it is so very hot they go to sleep & what could they do better?" I quite agree with Capt Head, the happy doom of the Mendozinos is to eat, sleep & be idle. Neither the boasted Alameda or the scenery is at all comparable with that of St Jago.

27th March 1835

Santiago to Mendoza (Day 10)
We rode on to Mendoza; the country was beautifully cultivated & resembled Chili. From the number of houses it was almost one straggling village; the whole is celebrated for its fruit, & certainly nothing could appear more flourishing than the orchards of Figs, peaches, vines & olives. We bought water melons nearly twice as large as a man’s head, most deliciously cool & well flavoured for a halfpenny a piece; & for a Medio (3d), half a wheel-barrow full of Peaches.

The cultivated & enclosed part of the province of Mendoza is very small: being chiefly what lies between Luxan & the capital. Beyond this we have a plain such as we have seen more or less sterile; where there is Water there is pasture for cattle. The cultivated land, as in Chili, owes its fertility to artificial irrigation; & it really is wonderful, when one reflects how abundantly productive an utterly barren Traversia can be made by this simple process. The inhabitants have the reckless lounging manners of the Pampas, as also the same dress, riding-gear &c &c. They appear however a dirty drunken race, of mixed Indian & Negro blood.

26th March 1835

Santiago to Mendoza (Day 9) - Luxan
After our tedious days ride, it was refreshing to see in the distance the rows of Poplars & willow trees & green gardens around the village of Luxan. Shortly before arriving at this place, we saw to the South a large ragged cloud of a dark reddish brown color. For some time we were convinced that it was heavy smoke from a large fire in the Pampas; it afterward turned out to be a Pest of Locusts. They were travelling due North with a light breeze & overtook us, I should think, at the rate of 10 — 15 miles an hour. The main body reached from 20 to perhaps 2,000 to 3,000 ft above the ground. The noise of their approach was that of a strong breeze passing through the rigging of a Ship. The sky seen through the advanced guard appeared like a Mezzotinto engraving, but the main body was impervious to sight; they were not however so thick but what they could escape from the waving backwards & forwards of a stick. When they alighted they were more numerous than the leaves in a field and changed the green into a reddish colour: the swarm having once alighted the individuals flew from side to side in any direction. This is not an uncommon pest in this country; already during the season several smaller swarms had come up from the sterile plains of the South & many trees had been entirely stripped of their leaves. Of course this swarm cannot even be compared [to] those of the Eastern world, yet it was sufficient to make the well known descriptions of their ravages more intelligible. I have omitted perhaps the most striking part of [the] scene, namely the vain attempts of the poor cottagers to turn the stream aside; many lighted fires, & with the smoke, shouts, & waving of branches, endeavoured to avert the attack.

We crossed the river of Luxan; this is a considerable body of water, its course however toward the sea coasts is but very imperfectly known: They either are dried up in the plains or form the R. Sauce & R. Colorado. We slept in the village, it is a small place, 5 leagues South of Mendoza, & is the S. limit of the fertile territory of that Province. At night I experienced an attack, & it deserves no less a name, of the Benchuca, the great black bug of the Pampas. It is most disgusting to feel soft wingless insects, about an inch long, crawling over one’s body; before sucking they are quite thin, but afterwards round & bloated with blood, & in this state they are easily squashed. They are also found in the Northern part of Chili & in Peru: one which I caught at Iquiqui was very empty; being placed on the table & though surrounded by people, if a finger was presented, its sucker was withdrawn, & the bold insect began to draw blood. It was curious to watch the change in the size of the insects body in less than ten minutes. There was no pain felt. This one meal kept the insect fat for four months. In a fortnight, however, it was ready, if allowed, to suck more blood.

25th March 1835

Santiago to Mendoza (Day 8) - Estacado
I was reminded of the Pampas of Buenos Ayres by seeing the disc of the rising sun intersected by an horizon level as that of the ocean. During the night a heavy dew had fallen, a thing we did not experience within the Cordilleras. The road proceeded for some distance due East across a low swamp, then meeting with the dry plain it turned up North to Mendoza. The distance is two very long days' journey. Our first day was called fourteen leagues to Estacado, & second seventeen to Luxan, near Mendoza. The whole is a level, sterile plain, with only two or three houses: we scarcely met a single person. The sun was exceedingly powerful & the ride devoid of all interest.

There is very little water in this Traversia; in the whole of the second day there was only one little pool. The small streams which flow from the mountains are dried up, or rather absorbed before they reach this distance, although we generally were only from 10–15 miles from the first range. The ground is in many parts encrusted by a saline efflorescence, hence we see the same salt-loving plants which are so common near B. Blanca. As I have already remarked respecting the Eastern valleys, there is in this Traversia also a great resemblance to the plains of Patagonia. There is one character of landscape from the Sts of Magellan to some distance North of B. Blanca; it would appear that this kind of country extends in a sweeping line to about S. Luis de la Punta, & that to the East of this is the basin of the damp & green plains of B. Ayres. The dry & sterile Traversia of Mendoza & Patagonia is a formation of pebbles, worn smooth & deposited by a former sea; whilst the Cienegas, or plains of grass, is a deposition of fine mud from a former æstuary of the Plata, which was then bounded by a coast the line of which is pointed out by the two sorts of country. The Zoology of these plains is also similar to those near the Atlantic; we have here the Ostrich, Guanaco, Agouti or Hare, Bizcatcha, same Foxes, Lions, the four species of Armadillo; the same sorts of Partridges, Carrion hawks, Butcher-birds &c &c.

24th March 1835

Santiago to Mendoza (Day 7) – Estancia del Chaquaio
Early in the morning climbed up one side of the valley: & had a most extensive view of the Pampas. This was a spectacle to which I had always looked forward to with interest, but I was disappointed; it was no ways superior to that from crest of the Sierra Ventana. At the first glance there was a strong resemblance to the ocean; but to the North many irregularities were distinguishable. The rivers were the most striking part of the scene, these facing the rising sun glittered like silver threads till lost in the immense distance. We descended until reaching a hovel, where an Officer & three soldiers were posted to examine passports. One of these men was a thorough bred Pampas Indian. He was kept much for the same purpose as a blood-hound, to track out any person who might pass by secretly either on foot or horseback. Some years ago, a passenger had endeavoured to escape detection by making a long circuit over a neighbouring mountain; the Indian happening to cross his track followed it for the whole day over dry & very stony parts, till at last he discovered his prey hidden in a gully. We heard that the silvery clouds which we had admired from the bright region above had poured down torrents of rain. The valley from this point gradually opened, & the hills became mere water-worn hillocks as compared to the giants behind; it soon expanded into a gently sloping plain of shingle, covered with low trees and bushes. This talus, although it looks of no breadth, must be nearly ten miles wide before it blends into the apparently dead level Pampas. We had already passed the only house in this neighbourhead, the Estancia of Chaquaio, & at sunset we pulled up in the first snug corner & there bivouacked.

23rd March 1835

Santiago to Mendoza (Day 6) – Los Arenales
The descent is much shorter & therefore steeper than that on the other side — that is, the Cordilleras rise more abruptly from the plains than from the Alpine country of Chili. At some depth beneath our feet there was extended a level & brilliantly white sea of clouds which shut out from our view the equally level Pampas. We soon entered the band of clouds & did not again emerge from them. At one o’clock finding pasture & bushes for firewood at a spot called Los Arenales, we stopped there for the night. This is nearly the uppermost limit of bushes. I should apprehend the elevation to be about 7,000 ft. I was surprised at the general difference of the vegetation in the valleys on this side & those of the other; & still more so with the close identity in the greater part of all the living productions with Patagonia. I recognised here many of the thorny bushes & plants which are common on those sterile plains, & with them we have the same birds & peculiar insects. It has always been a subject of regret to me that we were unavoidably compelled to give up the ascent of the S. Cruz river before reaching the mountains. I always had a latent hope of meeting with some great change in the features of the country; I now feel sure it would only have been pursuing the plains of Patagonia up an ascent.

22nd March 1835

[Looking down the Portillo Pass -- a train of mules distinctly visible -- plus a map of Darwin's route for these days. Click on either, or indeed any image in the weblog, for the full effect]

Mapping: Revista de la Asociación Geológica Argentina

Santiago to Mendoza (Day 5) – Portillo Pass
After eating our potato-less breakfast, we travelled across the intermediate tract to the foot of the Portillo range. In the very middle of summer cattle are brought up here to graze, but they had now all been removed, even the greater number of the guanaco had decamped, they knowing well that if overtaken by a snow storm they would be caught in a trap.

We had a fine view of a mass of Mountains called Tupungato, the whole clothed with unbroken snow; from one peak my Arriero said he had once seen smoke proceeding; I thought I could distinguish the form of a large crater. In the maps Tupungato flourishes as a single mountain; this Chileno method of giving one name to a tract of mountains is a fruitful source of error. In this region of snow there was a blue patch; no doubt a glacier. A phenomenon which is not thought to occur in these mountains. Again we had a heavy & long climb similar to that up the Puquenes range. On each hand were bold conical hills of red Granite. We had to pass over still broader pieces of perpetual snow; this by the action of the thaw had assumed the form of numberless pinnacles, which as they were close together & high rendered it difficult for the Cargo Mules to pass.

(Note in margin: Mem. Icebergs Arctic Regions.) A frozen horse was exposed, sticking to one of these points as to a pedestal, with its hind legs straight up in the air; the animal must have fallen into a hole head downmost & thus have died.

When nearly on the ridge we were enveloped in a cloud which was continually falling in the shape of minute frozen spiculæ. This was very unfortunate as it continued the whole day & quite intercepted the view. This pass of the Andes takes the name of the Portillo from a narrow cleft in the crest of this range, through which the road passes. From this point on a clear day the great plains are to be seen.

We descended to the first vegetation, & found good quarters under the shelter of some large fragments of rock. We have found some passengers, who made anxious enquiries about the state of the Roads. Shortly after it was dark, the clouds suddenly cleared away; the effect was quite magical, the great mountains, bright with the full-moon, seemed impending over us from all sides, as if we had been at the bottom of some deep crevice. I saw the same striking effect one morning very early. Now that the clouds were dispersed it froze severely: but as there was no wind we were very comfortable. The increased brilliancy of the moon & stars at this elevation is very striking & is clearly owing to the great transparency of the Air. All travellers have remarked on the difficulty of judging of heights & distances in mountainous districts & generally attribute it to the want of objects of comparison. It appears to me that it is full as much owing to the extreme transparency, confounding different distances; & partly likewise to the novel degree of fatigue from a little exertion opposing habit to the evidence of the senses. I am sure this transparency gives a peculiar aspect to the landscape; to a certain extent all the objects are brought in one plane as in a drawing. The cause of this state of the atmosphere is, I presume, owing to the equal dryness. The skin & some of the flesh of the Carcases of dead animals are preserved — articles of food, such as bread & sugar, become very hard — woodwork shrinks, as I found with my Geological hammer. All of which shows the extreme dryness. Another curious effect is the facility with which Electricity is excited. My flannel waistcoat appeared in the dark when rubbed as if washed with Phosphorus — every hair on a dogs back crackled, the sheets & leather gear of the saddle in handling all sent out sparks.

21st March 1835

Mapping: Revista de la Asociación Geológica Argentina

Santiago to Mendoza (Day 4) – Piuquenes Pass
We began our march early in the day; we followed the course of the river, which by this time was small, till we arrived at the foot of the ridge which separates the waters which flow into the Pacifick & Atlantic Oceans. Until now our road had been good & the ascent steady but very gradual; now commenced the steep zigzag track. The Cordilleras in this pass consist of two principal ridges, each of which must be about 12,000 ft high; the first called Puquenes forms the division of the waters & hence of the Republics of Chili & Mendoza; to the East of this we meet an undulating track with a gentle fall & then the second line of the Portillo; through this, some way to the South the intermediate waters have a passage.
We began the tedious ascent, & first experienced some little difficulty in the respiration. The mules would halt every fifty yards & then the poor willing animals would after a few seconds of their own accord start again. The short breathing from the rarified air is called by the Chilenos, Puna. They have most ridiculous ideas respecting its nature; some say "all the waters here have Puna" others that "where there is snow there is Puna" & which no doubt is true. It is considered a sort of disease, & I was shown the crosses of several graves where people had died "Punado". I cannot believe this, without perhaps a person suffering from organic disease of the Chest or Heart: or very likely any one dying from whatever cause would have unusual difficulty in breathing. The only sensation I experienced was a slight tightness over the head & chest; a feeling which may be known by leaving a warm room & running violently on a frosty day. There was a good deal of fancy even in this, for upon finding fossil shells on the highest ridge, in my delight I entirely forgot the Puna. Certainly the labor of walking is excessive, & in breathing deep & difficult; & it is nearly incomprehensible to me how Humboldt (& others subsequently) have reached 19,000 ft. No doubt a residence of some months in Quito, 10,000 ft high would prepare the constitution for such an exertion. Yet in Potosi, strangers, I am told, suffer for about a year.

When about halfway up, we met a large party of seventy loaded mules & passengers; it was a pretty sight to see the long string descending, & hear the wild cries of the Muleteers; they looked so diminutive; no bushes, nothing but the bleak mountains with which to compare them. Near the summit the wind, as is almost always the case, was violent & very cold; on each side of the ridge we had to pass over broad bands of Snow, which is perpetually there & now would soon be covered by a fresh layer. I there first observed the substance described by the Arctic navigators as Red Snow. Subsequently I found under the microscope it consists of groups of minute red balls, the diameter of which is 1/1000th of an inch, & having several envelopes. The snow was only tinged where crushed by the mules hoofs & where the thaw had been rapid.

When we reached the crest & looked backwards, a glorious view was presented. The atmosphere so resplendently clear, the sky an intense blue, the profound valleys, the wild broken forms, the heaps of ruins piled up during the lapse of ages, the bright colored rocks, contrasted with the quiet mountains of snow, together produced a scene I never could have imagined. Neither plant or bird, excepting a few condors wheeling around the higher pinnacles, distracted the attention from the inanimate mass. I felt glad I was by myself, it was like watching a thunderstorm, or hearing in the full Orchestra a Chorus of the Messiah.

We descended into the intermediate district & took up our quarters for the night: the elevation cannot be much short of 10,000 ft, in consequence the vegetation is very scanty & there are no bushes; the roots of a certain plant which are thick, serve for bad fuel. It was piercingly cold, & I having a headache went to bed. During the night the sky suddenly became clouded; I awakened the Arriero to know if there was any danger, but he told me, without thunder & lightning there is no risk of a bad snow storm. The peril is imminent, & the difficulty of subsequent escape great, to a person caught in a heavy storm between the two Cordilleras. There is only one place of shelter, a cave, where Mr Caldcleugh, who crossed on the very same day of the month, took refuge for some time. From this cause the Portillo pass in the Autumn is so much more dangerous than the other one, where there are Casuchas built.

Under the diminished pressure, of course water boils at a lower temperature; in consequence of this the potatoes after boiling for some hours were as hard as ever; the pot was left on the fire all night, but yet the potatoes were not softened. I found out this, by overhearing in the morning my companions discussing the cause; they came to the simple conclusion that "the cursed pot (which was a new one) did not choose to boil potatoes".

20th March 1835

Santiago to Mendoza (Day 3) – Valle del Yeso
As we ascended the valley the vegetation became exceedingly scanty; there were however a few very pretty Alpine plants. — Scarcely a bird or insect was to be seen. — The lofty mountains, their summits marked with a few patches of snow, stood well separated one from the other; The valleys are filled up with an enormous thickness of Alluvium. In the scenery of the Andes, the parts which strike me as contrasted with the few other mountain chains which I have seen, are; — the flatness of the valleys, the narrow plain being composed of shingle, through which the river cuts a channel. Geological reasons induce me to believe that this gravel &c was deposited by the ocean when it occupied these ravines, & that the agency of the rivers is solely to remove such rubbish. If such be the case the elevation of the Andes, being posterior to most other mountains, accounts for these fringes still remaining attached to the sides of the valleys. Again, the bright colors, chiefly red & purple, of the utterly bare & steep hills; — the great & continuous wall-like dykes; — the manifest stratification, which where nearly vertical causes the wildest & most picturesque groups of peaks, where little inclined we have massive unbroken mountains; these latter occupy the outskirts of the Cordilleras, as the others do the more central & lofty parts. And lastly the vast piles of fine & generally bright colored detritus. These decline from the sides of the mountains at a high angle into the bottom of the valley. These smooth & unbroken conical piles must often have an elevation of 2,000 ft.

I have often noticed that where snow lies long on the ground, the stones seem very apt to crumble, and in the Cordilleras, Rain never falls. Hence the quantity of degraded rock. — It occassionally happens that in the Spring, a quantity of such rubbish falls over the drift snow at the base of the hills; & so forms for many years a natural Ice-house: We rode over one of these: the elevation is far beneath the line of perpetual snow. — During the day, in a very desert & exposed part of the valley, we passed the remains of some Indian houses; I shall have occasion to mention this subject again.

As the evening was drawing on, we reached the Valle del Yeso. This is a very singular basin which must once have been a large lake*. — The barrier is formed by what deserves the name of a mountain of Alluvium, on one side of which the river has cut a gorge. The plain is covered by some dry pasture, & we had the agreeable prospect of herds of cattle. The valley is called Yeso from a great bed, I should think nearly 2,000 ft thick, of white & in many parts quite pure Gypsum. — We slept with a party of men who were employed in loading mules with this substance & who had come up for the Cattle.

*It is a large lake again, the 'Embalse de Yeso' is an artificial dam with a beautiful alpine-style lake at 2560 m.

19th March 1835

Santiago to Mendoza (Day 2) – Rio Yeso
We rode during this day to the last or highest house in the valley. The number of inhabitants became scanty, but wherever water could be brought on the land it was very fertile. The valley is very narrow & consists of a plain of shingle, generally elevated some hundred feet above the river. The Maypo is rather a great mountain torrent than a river: the fall is very great, & the water the color of mud; the roar is very like that of Sea, as it rushes amongst the great rounded fragments. — Amidst the din, the noise of the stones rattling one over the other is most distinctly audible. — The hills on each side are I suppose 3–5,000 ft high; their faces are very steep & bare, the color generally purple & stratification of the rocks is very striking; but the forms are not wild. — If the scenery is not very beautiful, it is remarkable & grand.

We met during the day several troops of Cattle which had been driven down from the higher valleys; this sign of the approaching winter hurried our steps more than was convenient for geology. Our sleeping place was about a league below where the Maypo divides into R. del Valle del Yeso & R. del Volcan; the valley leaving here its Southerly course enters more directly the main Cordilleras. — The house also is at the foot of the mountain, in the top of which are the mines of S. Pedro de Nolasko: the ascent to which is so spiritedly described by Capt. Head.— We saw the mules creeping up the zigzag track. — Even at this advanced season of the year, there were some small patches of Snow on the summit; — the height must at least be 10,000 ft. — Capt. Head wonders how mines in such extraordinary situations are discovered. In the first place, metallic veins are here generally harder than the surrounding strata, hence during the gradual degradation of the hills, they project above the surface of the ground. — Secondly almost every labourer, especially in the Northern parts of Chili, understands something about the appearances of ores. — In the great mining provinces of Coquimbo & Copiapo, firewood is very scarce & men are employed in searching for it over every hill & dale; by this means nearly all the richest mines have been discovered. — Chanuncillo, from which silver to the value of many hundred thousand pounds has been raised in the course of a few years, was thus discovered by a man picking up a stone to throw at his loaded donkey, which afterwards it struck him was very heavy, & again picking it up, he found it was nearly pure Silver. — The vein occurred at no great distance standing up like a wedge of Silver. — The miners also, on Sundays, taking a crowbar often sally out on such discoveries. — In the South part of Chili, the men who drive cattle into the Cordillera & who hunt out every ravine where there is a little pasture, are the usual agents.

18th March 1835

[Today -- 175 years ago of course -- Charles sets off to trek from Santiago in Chile to Mendoza in Argentina right across the top of the Andes. We will be following day by day, illustrated with photographs taken of his route -- today's being of the Maipo valley. Must admit it's nice to be introduced to Madrina. It's these little things that make the Diary quite so immediate.]

Santiago to Mendoza (Day 1) - Valle del Maipo
Started by the Portillo Pass for Mendoza. I took with me my former companion, Mariano Gonzales, & an Arriero with ten mules & the Madrina. The Madrina is a mare with a little bell round her neck; she is a sort of step-mother to the whole troop. — It is quite curious to see how steadily the mules follow the sound of the Bell, — if four large troops are grazing together during the night, the Muleteers in the morning have only to draw a little apart each Madrina & tinkle the Bell, & immediately the mules although 2–300 together, will all go to their proper troop. — The affection of the mules for the Madrina saves an infinity of trouble; if one is detained for several hours & then let loose, she will like a dog track out the Troop or rather the Madrina, for she seems the chief attraction. — Six of the mules were for riding & four for Cargoes; each taking turn about. — We carried a good deal of food, in case of being snowed up, as the season was rather late for passing by the Portillo.

Leaving St Jago in the morning we rode over the great burnt up plain till we arrived at the mouth of the valley of the Maypo. This is one of the principal rivers in Chili; the valley is bounded by the high mountains of the first Cordilleras; it is not broad, but very fertile. The numerous cottages are surrounded with Grapes, Apples, Nectarines & Peaches; the boughs of the latter were bending & breaking with the weight of the beautiful ripe fruit. In the evening we passed the Custom house, where our boxes were examined. The frontier of Chili is better guarded by the Cordilleras than by so much sea; the mountains on each side of the few narrow valleys where there are Custom-houses, are far too steep & high for any beast of burden to pass over. — The officers were very civil, partly owing to my carrying a strong passport from the President of Chili. But I must express my admiration of the politeness of every Chileno. In this instance the contrast is strong with the same class of officers in England. — I may mention an anecdote which at the time struck me: we met in Mendoza a very little, fat, poor Negress, with so enormous a goitre, that ones eyes almost involuntarily were fixed with surprise; but I noticed my two companions after looking for a short time took off their hats as an apology. Where would one of the lower classes in Europe show such feeling politeness to a poor & miserable object of a degraded race? — We slept at a cottage; our manner of travelling is delightfully independent; in the inhabited parts, we hire pasture for the animals, buy a little firewood, & bivouac in the corner of the field; carrying our cooking apparatus, we eat our supper under the cloudless sky & know no troubles.

Mapping: Revista de la Asociación Geológica Argentina

15th March 1835

Mr Caldcleugh most kindly assisted me in making all the little preparations for crossing the Cordilleras.

14th March 1835

Set out for St Jago in one of the covered gigs or Birloches which travel between the two places; sleeping at the Post house at the foot of the Rado, reached the city early in the day.

11th March 1835

['Valparaiso 1834' by Conrad Marten, from the National Library of Australia]

After a succession of calms we reached Valparaiso in the evening. — On the next day I moved into Mr Corfields house in the Almendral.

7th March 1835

Concepcion to Valparaiso
After the last three active days we made sail for Valparaiso. — Mr Stokes & Usborne are left on shore with tents to work at the Charts. It is a great convenience to many of the inhabitants our proceeding & returning directly from Valparaiso. — there is a great derth of money, & we shall be able to bring a supply. — The Captain took on board a Padre, whom we found houseless. — We had known him at Chiloe. — The wind being Northerly, we only reached the mouth of the harbor after it was dark; a heavy fog coming on & being very near the land we dropped the anchor. Presently a large American Whaler appeared close a long side of us: we heard the Yankee swearing at his men to keep quiet whilst he listened where the breakers were: The Captain hailed him in a loud clear voice to anchor where he then was. The poor man must have thought the voice came from the shore, such a Babel of cries at once issued from the ship; every one hollowing out, "Let go the anchor, veer cable, shorten sail"; it was the most laughable thing I ever heard; if the ship had been full of Captains & no men to work, there could not have been such an uproar of orders. We afterward found the Mate stuttered: I suppose all hands were assisting him in giving his orders.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
We left the melancholy ruins and their disconsolate tenants.

6th March 1835

[The cathedral in Concepcion after the 1835 earthquake]

I crossed the Bay to Linguen to see the best coal-mine of Concepción: as all the rest which I have seen, it is rather Lignite than Coal & occurs in a very modern formation. — The mine is not worked, for the coal when placed in a heap has the singular property of spontaneously igniting, it is certain that several vessels have been set on fire. — I found Capt. Walford, a Shropshire man, residing in a nice quiet valley. — Linguen is a short distance from Penco; the former port of Concepcion, which was destroyed by an Earthquake & consequent wave in the year 1751. — From what I could see at the distance, the overthrow could not have been so complete as now at Talcuana. How strange it is with this example before their eyes, people should build houses & massive churches with bricks.

I am much disappointed with the scenery of Concepcion; the outline of the land is very tame & no part of the Cordilleras or intermediate high mountains are in view: In the general aspect of the vegetation there is a greater similarity to Valparaiso than the damp forests of the South; yet here in the valleys there is plenty of wood. — I could see none of the Park-like scenery mentioned by Capt. Basil Hall on the road to Concepcion: it might perhaps wear that aspect to a person who had just returned from the sterile sands of Peru.

In the course of the day I felt two smart Earthquakes & there was a third which I did not notice; the first was sufficient to make a heap of tiles rattle. — Yet I believe this day has been freer from shocks than almost any one since the great & first Earthquake. They expect to feel small tremblings for some weeks to come. — These shocks render the searching for property amongst the ruins very dangerous; for there must always be a great probability of the shattered walls falling in.

5th March 1835

[Darwin's impressions of the aftermath of the 1835 Concepcion earthquake and tsunami]
I went on shore to Talcuana, & afterwards rode with the Captain to Concepcion. — The two towns presented the most awful yet interesting spectacle I ever beheld. — To any person who had formerly known them it must be still more so; for the ruins are so confused & mingled & the scene has so little the air of an habitable place that it is difficult to understand how great the damage has been. — Many compared the ruins to those of Ephesus or the drawings of Palmyra & other Eastern towns; certainly there is the same impossibility of imagining their former appearance & condition. In Concepcion each house or row of houses stood by itself a heap or line of ruins: in Talcuhano, owing to the great wave little more was left than one layer of bricks, tiles & timber, with here & there part of a wall yet standing up. From this circumstance Concepcion, although not so completely desolated, was the more terrible, & if I may so call it, picturesque sight. The Earthquake took place, as we have seen at Valdivia, at half past eleven. It is generally thought if it had happened in the night, at least ¾S of the inhabitants would have perished. It is probable that not more than 100 have met their deaths; yet many must still lie buried in the ruins. The earthquake came on with tremendous violence & gave no notice; the constant habit of these people of running out of their houses instantly on perceiving the first trembling only saved them. The inhabitants scarcely passed their thresholds before the houses fell in. This is thought to be the worse Earthquake ever known in Chili; it is however hard to tell, for the worst sorts happen only after long intervals from 60 to 100 years. Indeed several degrees worse would not signify, for the desolation is now complete.

After viewing the ruins of Concepcion, I cannot understand how the greater part escaped unhurt; the houses in many places have fallen outwards on each side into the street, so that it is frequently necessary to pass over little hillocks several feet high. In other places the houses fell in; in a large boarding school, the beds were buried 8 feet beneath bricks, yet all the young ladies escaped. — How dreadful would the slaughter have been, if as I said it had happened at night. Mr Rous, the English Consul, told us he was at breakfast; at the first motion he ran out, but only reached the middle of his little court-yard when one side of his house came thundering down; he retained presence of mind to remember that if he once got on the top of that part which had already fallen, he should be safe; not being able, from the motion of the ground, to stand on his legs he crawled up on his hands & knees; no sooner had he ascended this little eminence, than the other side of the house fell in; the great beams sweeping close in front of his head. — The sky became dark from the dense cloud of dust; with his eyes blinded & mouth choked he at last reached the street. Shock succeeded shock at the interval of a few minutes; no one dared approach the shattered ruins; no one knew whether his dearest friends or relations were perishing from the want of help. The thatched roofs fell over the fires, & flames burst forth in all parts; hundreds knew themselves ruined & few had the means of procuring food for the day. — Can a more miserable & fearful scene be imagined?

I shall never again laugh when I see people running out of their houses at a trifling shock; nor will any onboard who now has seen what an Earthquake is. The earthquake alone is sufficient to destroy the prosperity of a country; if beneath England a volcanic focus should reassume its power; how completely the whole country would be altered. What would become of the lofty houses, thickly packed cities, the great manufactories, the beautiful private & public buildings? If such a Volcanic focus should announce its presence by a great earthquake, what a horrible destruction there would be of human life. — England would become bankrupt; all papers, accounts, records, as here would be lost: & Government could not collect the taxes. — Who can say how soon such will happen? — Talcuana is built on a low flat bit of ground at the foot of some hills; a great wave, so common an occurrence with Earthquakes, entirely flowed over the whole town; after the houses had been shaken down, the destruction caused by the water can be well imagined. Few of the inhabitants were drowned; for the unbroken swell was seen travelling onwards at the distance of 5 or 6 miles. The people ran for the high land; as soon as the swell came close on shore it broke & is believed to have risen 23 ft higher than the Spring tides; it was followed by two other lesser ones; in the retreat of the water many things which could float were carried out to sea; hence the wreck on Quiriquina. The force of the wave must have been very great, for in the fort a gun & carriage, which some of the officers thought weighed about 4 tuns, was removed 15 ft upwards. — 200 yards from the beach & well within the town there is now lying a fine Schooner, a most strange witness of the height of the wave.

Before the swell reached the town it was seen tearing up all the cottages which were scattered around the Bay; some boats pulled out to meet it, the men knowing well that they would be safe if they reached the wave before it broke. In the confusion a little English boy 4 or 5 years old & an old woman got into a boat, but with nobody to pull them to seaward; the surf in consequence carried the boat with immense force into the town, where striking against an anchor it was cut into two; the old woman was drowned but the little boy clinging to the broken boat was carried out to sea, & was picked up some hours afterwards quietly seated on the thwart. The Ships at anchor were whirled about; two which were near each other had their two cables with three turns; although anchored in 36 ft water, they were for some minutes aground. — In another part of the harbor a vessel was pitched high & dry on shore, was carried off, was again driven on shore & again carried off! — The wave is said to have come from the South and in its road sadly devastated the Isd of St Mary; it is certain that it entered this harbor by the entrance nearest to the South. The permanent level of the land & water is, I believe, altered, but this Capt. FitzRoy will investigate when we return.

At this present time there are pools of sea water in the streets of the town; & the children making boats with old tables & chairs, appear as happy as their parents are miserable. — I must however say it is admirable to see how cheerful & active every-body is. Mr Rous remarked that it makes a wonderful difference the misfortune being universal: a man is not humbled, he has no reason to suspect his friends will look down on him & this perhaps is the worst part in loss of wealth. Mr Rous has a few Apple trees in his garden. He & a large party lived there for the first week & were as merry as if it had been a pic-nic. Some heavy rain after that period added much to their misery; many, Mr Rous for one, being absolutely without any shelter. Almost every one has now made a hut with planks. The hovels built of sticks & straw which belonged to the poorest class of people, were not shaken down, & they are now hired at a high price by the richest people. We saw many pretty ladies standing at the doors of such Ranchos. Those who have estates have gone there: The town is in such complete ruins that it is not yet decided whether it will not be better to change the situation, although at the loss of the close neighbourhead of the materials.

Heavy misfortunes are well known to make the bad worse; & here there were many robbers; there was a mixture of religion in their depredations which we should not see in England; at each little trembling of the ground, with one hand they beat their breasts & cried out "Miserecordia", & with the other continued to filch from the ruins. The necessity of every man watching what he contrived to save, added much to the trouble of the more respectable inhabitants.

With respect to the extent of the earthquake, we know it was severely felt at Valdivia; at Valparaiso they had a sharp shock but it did no damage. All the towns, Talca, Chillan, &c &c between Concepcion & St Jago have been destroyed, till we reach S. Fernando, which has only been partially destroyed. We may imagine the shock at this place & at Valdivia to have had the same degree of force, & looking at the map, they will be found to be nearly equally distant; hence Concepcion may be supposed to be about the centre of the disturbance; The length of coast which has been much affected is rather less than 400 miles. Mr Rous thinks the vibration came from the East, & this would appear probable from the greater number and & longest cracks having a N & S direction, which line would correspond to the tops of the undulations. — The Volcano of Antuco, which is a little to the North of Concepcion is said to be in great activity. The people in Talcuana say that the Earthquake is owing to some old Indian Woman two years ago being offended, that they by witchcraft stopped the Volcano, & now comes the Earthquake. This silly belief is curious because it shows that experience has taught them the constant relation between the suppressed activity of volcanoes & tremblings of the ground. It is necessary to apply the Witchcraft to the point where their knowledge stops, & this is the closing of the Volcanic Vent.

The town of Concepcion is built, as is usual, with all its streets at rt angles; one set runs (SW by W & NE by E) & the other (NW by N & SE by S). The walls which have the former direction certainly have stood better than those at right angles to them; If, as would seem probable Antuco may be considered as the centre it lying rather to the Northward of Concepcion,2 the concentric lines of undulation would not be far from coincident with NW by N & SE by S walls: this being the case the whole line would be thrown out of its centre of gravity at the same time & would be more likely to fall, than those which presented their ends to the shock. The different resistance offered by the two sets of walls is well seen in the great Church. This fine building stood on one side of the Plaza: it was of considerable size & the walls very thick, 4 to 6 ft & built entirely of brick: the front which faced the NE forms the grandest pile of ruins I ever saw; great masses of brick-work being rolled into the square as fragments of rock are seen at the base of mountains. — Neither of the side walls are entirely down, but exceedingly fractured; they are supported by immense buttresses, the inutility of which is exemplified by their having been cut off smooth from the wall, as if done by a chisel, whilst the walls themselves remain standing. There must have been a rotatory motion in the earth for square ornaments placed on the coping of this wall are now seated edge-ways. — Generally in all parts of the town arched doorways & windows stood pretty well; an old man however, who was lame, had always been in the custom of running to a certain doorway; this time however it fell & he was crushed to pieces.

With my idea of a vibration having come from Antuco, the Northward of E, I cannot understand the wave travelling from the South. The cause however of an earthquake causing one, two, or three great waves does not to me appear very clear.

The effect of so violent a shock on the springs was of course considerable; some poured out much more water than usual, some were closed: in one place black hot water flowed from a crack & it is said bubbles of gas & discoloured water were seen rising in the Bay. Many geological reasons have been advanced for supposing that the earth is a mere crust over a fluid melted mass of rock & that Volcanoes are merely apertures through this crust. When a Volcano has been closed for some time, the increased force (whatever its nature may be) which bursts open the orifice might well cause an undulation in the fluid mass beneath the earth; at each successive ejection of Lava a similar vibration would be felt over the surrounding country; these are known gradually to become less & less frequent, & with them probably the earthquakes, till at last the expansive force is counterbalanced by the pressure in the funnel of the Volcano. — Where Earthquakes take place without any volcanic action, we may either imagine that melted rock is injected in the inferior strata, or that an abortive attempt at an eruption has taken place beneath the Volcano. — On the supposition of an inferior fluid mass there is no difficulty in understanding that gases, the results of the Chemical action of the great heat, should penetrate upwards through the cracks; or water that had percolated deep near to the regions of fire should by the motion of the earth be forced upwards. — Most certainly an earthquake feels very like the motion of a partially elastic body over a fluid in motion. The motion of this Earthquake must have been exceedingly violent; the man at Quiriquina told me the first notice he had of the shock, was finding both his horse & self rolling on the ground. He rose, hardly knowing what it was, & again was thrown down, but not the horse a second time; some of the cattle likewise fell, & some near the edges of the cliffs were rolled into the sea. On one island at the head of the Bay the wave drowned 70. The cattle were exceedingly terrified, running about as if mad, with their tails in the air. It is said that light articles lying on the ground, were fairly pitched to & fro. — The French Vice Consul mentioned a fact which if authentic is very curious, that the Dogs generally during an Earthquake howl, as when hearing military music, but that this time they all quietly left the town some minutes before the shock & were standing on the surrounding hills. — I believe other such facts are on record. — It is also universally stated that on the same morning at 9 oclock, wonderfully large flocks of gulls & other sea birds were noticed with surprise directing their course inland. I feel doubtful how much credit to give to this statement: I have not forgotten that the inhabitants of Lemuy, when we in the boats arrived there, exclaimed, "this is the reason we have seen so many parrots lately".

I have not attempted to give any detailed description of the appearance of Concepcion, for I feel it is quite impossible to convey the mingled feelings with which one beholds this spectacle. — Several of the officers visited it before me; but their strongest language failed to communicate a just idea of the desolation. — It is a bitter & humiliating thing to see works which have cost men so much time & labour overthrown in one minute; yet compassion for the inhabitants is almost instantly forgotten by the interest excited in finding that state of things produced at a moment of time which one is accustomed to attribute to a succession of ages. — To my mind since leaving England we have scarcely beheld any one other sight so deeply interesting. The Earthquake & Volcano are parts of one of the greatest phenomena to which this world is subject.

Syms Covington Journal:
Went to Talcahuano the the following morning. We found the town in a most deplorable state, viz. not a single house habitable, the earth cracked in all directions, roads blocked up with fallen rocks, cliffs shattered to pieces on the sea coast, fish etc. left on the dry land; indeed, the whole country round spoke the devastation it had made.

4th March 1835

[Both images above are, of course, from the devastating earthquake of 27th February, 2010]

As soon as the ship entered the harbor of Concepcion, I landed on the island of Quiriquina, & there spent the day, whilst the ship was beating up to the anchorage. The Major domo of the estate rode down to tell us the terrible news of the great Earthquake of the 20th: — "That not a house in Concepcion or Talcuhano (the port) was standing, that seventy villages were destroyed, & that a great wave had almost washed away the ruins of Talcuhano". — Of this latter fact I soon saw abundant proof; the whole coast was strewed over with timber & furniture as if a thousand great ships had been wrecked. Besides chairs, tables, bookshelves &c &c in great numbers, there were several roofs of cottages almost entire, Store houses had been burst open, & in all parts great bags of cotton, Yerba, & other valuable merchandise were scattered about. During my walk round the island I observed that numerous fragments of rock, which form the marine productions adhering to them must recently have been lying in deep water, had been cast high up on the beach: one of these was a slab six feet by three square & about two thick.

The Island itself showed the effects of the Earthquake, as plainly as the beach did that of the consequent great wave. Many great cracks which had a North & South direction, traversed the ground; some of these near the cliffs on the coast were a yard wide; & many enormous masses in every part had fallen down; in the winter when the rain comes, the water will cause greater slips. The effect on the underlying hard slate was still more curious; the surface being shattered into small fragments. — If this effect is not confined, as I suppose it is, to the upper parts, it appears wonderful that any solid rock can remain in Chili. — For the future when I see a geological section traversed by any number of fissures, I shall well understand the reason. I believe this earthquake has done more in degrading or lessening the size of the island, than 100 years of ordinary wear & tear.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
When the Beagle entered Concepcion Bay, she had only one heavy anchor left, having broken or lost the others; and as there were none fit for her at Talcahuano, it became absolutely necessary to go to Valparaiso.

Syms Covington Journal:
Went to the Island of Quiriquina previous to ship coming to an anchor. This island is in the mouth of the harbour. In our going on shore we found the Island dreadfully cracked the Island was also surrounded with the timbers and furniture of houses which had floated from Talcahuano. Left the island for the ship after dark. It WAS about four miles, and in consequence of its blowing heavy, and both wind and tide against us, we were four or five hours before reaching ship, both cold and wet, the waves constantly breaking over the boat, and of course, drenched to the skin. A treat, but nothing new.

3rd March 1835

Mocha to Concepcion
We felt, on board, a very smart shock of an earthquake: some compared the motion to that of a cable running out, & others to the ship touching on a Mud bank. Capt. FitzRoy heard when on Mocha that the Sealers had experienced a succession of shocks during the last fortnight.

1st March 1835

Mocha to Concepcion
To crown our ill fate, we now have a light foul wind. Nobody, but those on board a ship can know how vexatious these petty misfortunes are.