30th April 1836

I spent the greater part of the next day in walking about the town & visiting different people. The town is of considerable size, & is said to contain 20,000 inhabitants; the streets are very clean & regular. Although the island has been so many years under the English government, the general character of the place is quite French. Englishmen speak to their servants in French, & the shops are all French; indeed I should think that Calais or Boulogne was much more Anglefied. There is a very pretty little theatre, in which operas are excellently performed, & are much preferred by the inhabitants1 to common plays. We were also surprised at seeing large booksellers shops with well stored shelves: — music & reading bespeak our approach to the old world of civilization, for in truth both Australia & America may be considered as New Worlds.

Syms Covington Journal
THE town IS situated nearly at THE base of the highest mountains, and gradual ascent from the coast, with small race ground at THE back of town. The port is very snug, and a good anchorage, with a fort on each side of Outside of THE Basin, round the islands at seven tenths of a mile from THE entrance, which entrance is about a quarter of a mile wide. THERE ARE moorings for three men of war, viz. line of battle ship, frigate and sloop.

Here THERE are frequent squalls, or showers of rain, occasioned by the mountains back of town, which break the clouds in their passage. Fort Adelaide, now building, is said will be bomb proof when finished. IT will contain all the English on the island with provisions for seven years, AND commands the town and harbour, by being situated AT THE back of town and TO THE left of race ground. THERE are situated here 2500 soldiers, the general standard complement. Paul and Virginia's graves seven miles from town.

The town is laid out, like Spanish towns in South America, viz. in squares. THE houses ARE nearly all built of wood. Here the scene was greatly changed from the Spanish style, to the Eastern or turbaned heads, with their long white (sort of) tunicks, with the white trousers of some. Their large pipes, etc. having a very novel appearance. THERE WERE people from various nations, both from Europe and the East. Here silks, etc. are very little cheaper than in England.

29th April 1836

In the morning we passed round the northern extremity of the Isle of France or Mauritius. From this point of view the aspect of the island equalled the expectations raised by the many well known descriptions of its beautiful scenery. The sloping plain of the Pamplemousses, scattered over with houses & coloured bright green from the large fields of sugar cane, composed the foreground. The brilliancy of the green was the more remarkable because it is a colour which generally is only conspicuous from a very short distance. Towards the centre of the island groups of wooded mountains arose out of the highly cultivated plain, their summits, as so commonly happens with ancient volcanic rocks, being jagged by the sharpest points. Masses of white clouds were collected around these pinnacles, as if merely for the sake of pleasing the stranger's eye. The whole island, with its sloping border & central mountains, was adorned with an air of perfect elegance; — the scenery, If I may use such an expression, appeared to the senses harmonious.

Shortly after midday we came to an anchor at Port Louis.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
We anchored in Port Louis, at the Mauritius, on the 29th of April.

Syms Covington Journal
Anchored ship in Port Louis, Mauritius or Isle of France, April 29th. Passed several small islands very near the main island previous to entrance in port, and very low point of Isle. The sea shore very low and flat, until the base of the mountains. Mountains rise very abruptly, their tops very rugged. Some run up like pinnacles, their height 2,000 to 3,000 feet.

25th April 1836

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
Our passage to the Mauritius was slow, but in smooth water. Tropic birds, a few terns, and gannets were seen, at intervals, when passing the neighbourhood of the Chagos Islands, and at our approach to the island Rodriguez.

A note from Roger R.

There will be a short hiatus until the Beagle reaches Mauritius on the 29th April.  Another opportunity to read back?

12th April 1836

South Keeling Islands
In the morning we stood out of the Lagoon.  I am glad we have visited these Islands; such formations surely rank high amongst the wonderful objects of this world.  It is not a wonder which at first strikes the eye of the body, but rather after reflection, the eye of reason.  We feel surprised when travellers relate accounts of the vast piles & extent of some ancient ruins; but how insignificant are the greatest of them, when compared to the matter here accumulated by various small animals.  Throughout the whole group of Islands, every single atom, even from the most minute particle to large fragments of rocks, bear the stamp of once having been subjected to the power of organic arrangement.  Capt.  FitzRoy at the distance of but little more than a mile from the shore sounded with a line 7200 feet long, & found no bottom.

Hence we must consider this Isld as the summit of a lofty mountain; to how great a depth or thickness the work of the Coral animal extends is quite uncertain.  If the opinion that the rock-making Polypi continue to build upwards, as the foundation of the Isld from volcanic agency, after intervals gradually subsides, is granted to be true; then probably the Coral limestone must be of great thickness.  We see certain Isds in the Pacifick, such as Tahiti & Eimeo, mentioned in this journal, which are encircled by a Coral reef separated from the shore by channels & basins of still water.  Various causes tend to check the growth of the most efficient kinds of Corals in these situations.  Hence if we imagine such an Island, after long successive intervals to subside a few feet, in a manner similar, but with a movement opposite to the continent of S.  America; the coral would be continued upwards, rising from the foundation of the encircling reef.  In time the central land would sink beneath the level of the sea & disappear, but the coral would have completed its circular wall.  Should we not then have a Lagoon Island? — Under this view, we must look at a Lagoon Isd as a monument raised by myriads of tiny architects, to mark the spot where a former land lies buried in the depths of the ocean.

The Beagle stood over to the Northern Isd, distant about 12 miles.  This likewise is a small Lagoon Isd, but its centre is nearly filled up: the entrance is not deep enough even for a boat to enter.  — The plan being completed; in the evening a course was taken for the Isle of France.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
On the 12th we sailed, carrying a good sea-stock of cocoanuts, pigs, poultry, pumpkins, and turtle. Maize and sugarcane might have been had, if wanted. We first went round the northern Keeling:—on this island, about a mile across and but a few feet above the ocean, two English vessels have been lost since 1825, and probably other ships met a similar fate there in earlier years, when its existence was hardly known. We found the current setting towards the north-west, as I had been led to expect; but, from what I could observe, during our stay, as well as from oral information, I am led to believe that the current only sets strongly during about the last half of the flood tide, and the first half of the ebb; and that during the other six hours there is little or no current; as is the case off Cape Horn, and in many other places.

Syms Covington Journal

Sailed from the Cocos, April 12th for the Isle of France; from here we had the Trade Winds the whole passage, a distance of about 2200 miles.  During our passage we had frequent heavy showers of rain with but little wind, AS about the middle of April the hurricanes are all over.

10th April 1836

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
I was informed by the residents that between October and April, they are occasionally visited by severe gales of wind, at times almost hurricanes, so strong as to root up trees, strip the leaves off others, and unroof or blow down houses. These storms begin between south-east and south, and when they abate draw towards the west (by the south) there ending. For those who take interest in the course of storms I subjoin extracts from Mr. Ross's Journal given to me by Leisk. Earthquakes have been felt several times, I was told by Mr. Leisk, but I could get only one extract from the Journal which mentioned a shock.

9th April 1836

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
A word about the inhabitants, and I leave the Keelings. No material difference was detected by me between the Malays on these islands, and the natives of Otaheite or New Zealand. I do not mean to assert that there were not numbers of men at each of those islands to whom I could not trace resemblances (setting individual features aside,) at the Keelings; I merely say that there was not one individual among the two hundred Malays I saw there whom I could have distinguished from a Polynesian Islander, had I seen him in the Pacific.

Two boys attracted my notice particularly, because their colour was of a brighter red than that of any South American or Polynesian whom I had seen, and upon enquiry I found that these two boys were sons of Alexander Hare and a Malay woman.

Excepting the two English families I have mentioned, all on the Keelings in 1836, were Mahometans. One of their number officiated as priest; but exclusive of an extreme dislike to pigs, they showed little outward attention to his injunctions. As no Christian minister had ever visited the place, and there was no immediate prospect of one coming there, I was asked to baptize the children of Mrs. Leisk. So unusual a demand occasioned some scruples on my part, but at last I complied, and performed the appointed service in Mr. Ross's house; where six children of various ages were christened in succession. This and other facts I have mentioned respecting these sequestered islands shew the necessity that exists for some inspecting influence being exercised at every place where British subjects are settled. A visit from a man of war, even once only in a year, is sufficient (merely in prospect) to keep bad characters in tolerable check, and would make known at head quarters the more urgent wants of the settlers.

In observing the sun's meridian altitude at this place, the sextants were used, which I have adverted to before, and the latitude deduced from their results only differed two or three seconds from that obtained by stars, without using the additional glass: I forgot to say, in speaking of the Galapagos, how useful those instruments were there; enabling us to measure the sun's meridian altitude in an artificial horizon when nearly eighty degrees high. I would not say this in favour of my own invention, if I did not feel certain that seamen will find it useful, and that somebody ought to tell them of it, for their own sake. (These sextants were made by Worthington.)

7th to 11th April 1836

South Keeling Islands
During these days nearly every one was employed in parts of the examination of the Island; but the winds being very strong rendered the most important part, the deep sea sounding, scarcely practicable. I visited Horsburgh & West Isd. — In the latter the vegetation is perhaps more luxuriant than in any other part. Generally the Cocoa nut trees grow separate, but here the young ones flourish beneath their tall parents & formed with their long & curved fronds the most shady arbors. Those alone who have tried it, can tell how delicious it is to be seated in such shade & there drink the cool pleasant fluid of the Cocoa nut which close by hangs in great bunches. In this Isd there is a large bay, or little lagoon, composed of the finest white sand; it is quite level & is only covered by the tide at high water. From this large bay smaller creeks penetrate the surrounding woods; thus to see a field of glittering sand representing water, & around the border of which the Cocoa nut trees extend their tall waving trunks, formed a singular & very pretty view.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal

Except sea-fowl and the domestic creatures which have accompanied man to the Keelings, there is no bird or animal; but a kind of land-rail, which is numerous. Besides the palm there are upon the largest islets other trees, particularly a kind of teak, and some less valuable wood, from which a vessel was built.

Fresh water is not scarce on the larger islets of the group, but it is only to be got by digging wells in the coral foundation, covered as it is by vegetation. In these wells, about six feet deep, the water rises and falls as the tide of the ocean flows and ebbs; which I believe to be the case at most other coral islands where there is fresh water. It appears that the fresh water of heavy rains is held in the loose soil, (a mixture of coral, sand, and decayed vegetable substances,) and does not mix with the salt water which surrounds it, except at the edges of the land. The flowing tide pushes on every side, the mixed soil being very porous, and causes the fresh water to rise: when the tide falls the fresh water sinks also. A sponge full of fresh water placed gently in a basin of salt water, will not part with its contents for a length of time if left untouched. The water in the middle of the sponge will be found untainted by salt for many days; perhaps much longer, if tried.

6th April 1836

South Keeling Islands
I accompanied Capt. FitzRoy to an island near the head of the Lagoon; the channel was exceedingly intricate, winding through fields of delicately branched Corals. We saw several turtle & two boats were then employed in catching them. — The method is rather curious; the water is so clear & shallow that although at first the turtle dives away with much rapidity, yet a canoe or a boat under sail will after no very long chase overtake it; a man standing ready in the bows at this moment dashes through the water upon its back. Then clinging with both hands by the shell of the neck, he is carried away till the turtle becomes exhausted & is secured. It was quite an interesting chase to see the two boats doubling about, & the men dashing into the water till at last their prey was seized.

When we arrived at the head of the lagoon we crossed the island, & found a great surf breaking on the windward coast. I can hardly explain the cause, but there is to my mind a considerable degree of grandeur in the view of the outer shores of these Lagoon Islands. There is a simplicity in the barrier-like beach, the margin of green bushes & tall Cocoa nuts, the solid flat of Coral rock, strewed with occasional great fragments, & the line of furious breakers all rounding away towards either hand. The ocean throwing its waters over the broard reef appears an invincible all-powerful enemy, yet we see it resisted & even conquered by means which would have been judged most weak & inefficient. The little sketch of Whit sunday Isd in Capt. Beechey's voyage, gives as accurate an idea of the scene as can be well imagined. We did not return on board till late in the evening, as we staid sometime in the lagoon, looking at the Coral fields & collecting specimens of the giant Chama.

Robert Fitzroy Journal

Among the great variety of corals forming the walls around the immediately visible basement, and the under-water forests of the Keeling islands, there is more difference than between a lily of the valley and a gnarled oak. Some are fragile and delicate, of various colours, and just like vegetables to the eye, others are of a solid description, like petrified tropical plants; but all these grow within the outer reef, and chiefly in the lagoons.

The wall, or outer reef, about which so much has been said and thought, by able men, without their having arrived at any definite conclusion, is solid and rock-like, with a smooth surface; and where the surf is most violent, there the coral is fullest of animated matter. I was anxious to ascertain if possible, to what depth the living coral extended, but my efforts were almost in vain, on account of a surf always violent, and because the outer wall is so solid that I could not detach pieces from it lower down than five fathoms. Small anchors, hooks, grappling irons, and chains were all tried—and one after another broken by the swell almost as soon as we 'hove a strain' upon them with a 'purchase' in our largest boats. Judging however, from impressions made upon a large lead, the end of which was widened, and covered with tallow hardened with lime, and from such small fragments as we could raise, I concluded that the coral was not alive at a depth exceeding seven fathoms below low water. But this subject has been, or will be, fully discussed by Mr. Darwin, therefore I need say no more.

As if in speaking of these singular, though so small islands,—where crabs eat cocoa-nuts, fish eat coral, dogs catch fish, men ride on turtle, and shells are dangerous man-traps,—any thing more were necessary to ensure the voyager's being treated like the old woman's son who talked to her about flying-fish,—it must yet be said that the greater part of the sea-fowl roost on branches, and that many rats make their nests at the top of high palm-trees.

5th April 1836

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
The manner of ascending tall palm-trees is similar to that described at Otaheite, and requires strength as well as agility: both which are also shown by these Malays in their chases after turtle among the shallows and coral 'thickets' of the lagoon, where they abound. A party of men go in a light boat and look for a fine turtle in some shallow place. Directly one is seen, they give chase in the boat, endeavouring to keep it in a shallow, and tolerably clear place, till it begins to be tired by its exertions to escape; then, watching a favourable moment, a man jumps out of the boat and seizes the turtle. Away it darts, with the man on its back grasping its neck until he can get an opportunity, by touching ground with his feet, to turn it over, and secure his prize. Only the more active men can succeed well in this sort of fishing.

Other unusual things were seen by us at this place, one or two of which I will mention. There are fish that live by feeding upon small branches of the coral, which grows in such profusion in the lagoon. One species of these fish is about two feet and a half long, of a beautiful green colour about the head and tail, with a hump on its head, and a bony kind of mouth, almost like that of a turtle, within which are two rows of saw-like teeth. Mr. Stokes saw a dog, (bred on the island), catch three such fish in the course of a few hours by chasing them in shallow water, springing after them, almost as a kangaroo springs on land. Sometimes one would take shelter under a rock, when the dog would drive it out with his paw, and seize it with his mouth as it bolted.

Syms Covington Journal
Only one genus of land bird here, viz. the land rail, indigenous to THESE islands. A great many sea birds and very tame, as to let you come close to the them or within a yard or two. THEY build their nests on the trees close to beach. On this Island were great numbers of the land rail, about several houses. The Java sparrow WAS brought here.

Outside of THE Basin, round the islands at seven tenths of a mile from THE beach, soundings 100 fathoms; a mile out, no bottom. AT THE southernmost part of basin a channel is cut through coral for the boats, and stakes drove in different places to mark the channel. Even then, you are very apt to run foul of or branches of coral. WE had a pilot in the boat.

4th April 1836

Darwin Beagle Diary
I was employed all the day in examining the very interesting yet simple structure & origin of these islands. The water being unusually smooth, I waded in as far as the living mounds of coral on which the swell of the open sea breaks. In some of the gullies & hollows, there were beautiful green & other colored fishes, & the forms & tints of many of the Zoophites were admirable. It is excusable to grow enthusiastic over the infinite numbers of organic beings with which the sea of the tropics, so prodigal of life, teems; yet I must confess I think those Naturalists who have described in well known words the submarine grottoes, decked with a thousand beauties, have indulged in rather exuberant language.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
By some strange misconception, not intentional act of injustice, Mr. Ross had refused to give Hare's slaves their freedom, for fear that the executors of that man should demand their value from him; but he paid them each two rupees a week, in goods (at his own valuation), provided that they worked for him, both men and women, as he thought proper. Mr. Leisk told me this, and said that "many of the Malays were very discontented, and wanted to leave the island." "No wonder," thought I, "for they are still slaves, and only less ill used than they were by the man who purchased them."

These Malays were allowed to rear poultry, which they sometimes sold to shipping. They were also allowed to have the produce of a certain number of cocoa-nut trees, and might catch fish and turtle for their own use; but the sale of turtle to shipping, when they touched there, and the immense crops of cocoa-nuts which are produced annually on all the islets of the group were monopolized by Mr. Ross for his sole advantage. One daily task imposed upon the Malay women was to "husk" a hundred nuts, collected for them by the men, who extract a gallon of oil from every ten.

Another kind of oil, said to be very good, is derived from the fat tail of a large land-crab, which feeds on cocoa-nuts. About a pint and a half may be obtained from one crab. The manner in which these creatures—nearly the size of a large cray-fish—tap the nuts in order to get at their contents is curious. Numbers of windfall nuts, in a comparatively soft state, are always to be found lying about under the trees: a crab seizes one of these, and pegs away at the eyes (each nut has three eyes) with one of its claws, that is long and sharp, purposely, it would seem, until it opens a hole, through which the crab extracts the juice, and some of the solid part.

Syms Covington Journal
A lake (lagoon) IS on the largest island. In the small lagoons or pools on reefs are immense numbers of small fish of different species, and of the most brilliant colours and shapes I ever saw or fancy could paint. Here are great numbers A green fish, THE coral eater. Here also are land crabs, very curious and very strong in claws. THEY are eaten by the inhabitants. Here, I should suppose is one of the largest shells in the world, sort of clam shell, WHICH would take a very strong man to lift one with the animal in. The largest is about nine feet long. Different sorts OF SHELL AS WELL, leopard shells, etc. Great quantities of bĂȘche-de-mer, WHICH is like A large, black English slug only about ten times the size, are dried here for the Indies.

3rd April 1836

South Keeling Islands
After service I accompanied Capt. FitzRoy to the Settlement. We found on a point thickly scattered over with tall Cocoa nut trees, the town. Capt Ross & Mr Liesk live in a large barn-like house open at both ends & lined with mats made of the woven bark: the houses of the Malays are arranged along the shore of the lagoon. The whole place bore rather a desolate air, because there were no gardens to show the signs of care & cultivation. The natives come from different islands of the East Indian Archipelago, but all speak the same language; we saw inhabitants of Borneo, Celebes, Java & Sumatra. In color of the skin they resemble the Tahitians, nor widely differ from them in form of features: some of the women, however, showed a good deal of the Chinese character. I liked both their general expression & the sound of their voices. They appeared poor & their houses were destitute of furniture; but it was evident from the plumpness of the little children, that cocoa nuts & turtle afford no bad sustenance. On this island the wells occur from which ships obtain water; at first sight it appears not a little remarkable that the fresh water regularly ebbs & flows with the usual tide. We must believe that the compressed sand & porous Coral rock act like a sponge, & that the rain water which falls on the ground, being specifically lighter than the salt, merely floats on its surface & is subject to the same movements. There can be no actual attraction between salt & fresh water, & the spongy texture must tend to prevent all mixture from slight movements; on the other hand, where the land solely consists of loose fragments, a well being dug, salt or brackish water enters, of which fact we saw an instance.

After dinner we staid to see a half superstitious scene, acted by the Malay women. They dress a large wooden spoon in garments — carry it to the grave of a dead man — & then at the full of the moon they pretend it becomes inspired & will dance & jump about. After the proper preparations the spoon held by two women became convulsed & danced in good time to the song of the surrounding children & women. It was a most foolish spectacle, but Mr Liesk maintained that many of the Malays believed in its spiritual movements. The dance did not commence till the moon had risen & it was well worth remaining to behold her bright globe so quietly shining through the long arms of the Cocoa nuts, as they waved in the evening breeze. These scenes of the Tropics are in themselves so delicious, that they almost equal those dearer ones to which we are bound by each best feeling of the mind.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
These lonely islands (also called Cocos,) were discovered in 1608-9 by Captain William Keeling, who was in the East India Company's service, and held a commission from King James I. Little or no notice was taken of them from that time till 1823, when one Alexander Hare, a British subject, established himself and a small party of Malays, upon the Southern Keeling Island, which he thought a favourable place for commerce, and for maintaining a seraglio of Malay women, whom he confined to one island,—almost to one house.

In 1826, or within a year of that time, Mr. J. C. Ross, some time master of a merchant ship, took up his abode on the south-eastern islet of the group; and in a very short time Hare's Malay slaves, aggrieved by his harsh treatment of them, especially by his taking away the women, and shutting them up on an island which the Malay men might not approach, deserted in a body, and claimed protection from Mr. Ross. Hare then left the Keelings, and about a year afterwards was arrested in his lawless career by death, while establishing another harem at Batavia.

From that time Mr. Ross and the Malays lived peaceably, collecting cocoa-nut oil, turtle, tortoise-shell, and bicho do mar; and occasionally sailing to the Mauritius, Singapore, or Batavia, to dispose of them, and buy necessaries with their produce. Another Englishman, Mr. C. Leisk, who had served as mate of Mr. Ross's ship, lived with him, and they both had wives (English) and children, the whole party residing together in a large house of Malay build—just such a structure as one sees represented upon old japanned work. At the time of our visit Mr. Ross was absent on one of their trading excursions, and his deputy, Leisk, was left in charge of everything.

Syms Covington Journal
Captain Ross, the governor, is now absent at the Cape. Plenty of poultry (A Chinese breed) and turtles, the latter of which the ship was supplied during our stay: two per day, each about A hundred fifty pounds IN weight. Also hogs, sugar cane and bananas (the latter I never saw); tobacco, planted here, produces well. I believe the coffee plant was also tried but never saw it. THERE ARE two sorts of indigenous fruit AND plenty OF watermelon, ALSO maiz. The water is very brackish and for which one is obliged to dig wells; THE WATER LEVEL rises and falls with the tide although IT IS some distance from THE beach, and THEY WERE obliged to dig until they came to a number OF stones, under which springs the water.

On Sunday the 3rd of April was caught a shark eight feet long, which put a stop to our bathing, which before was at every evening by moonlight.

It is excessively hot. When sitting still the sweat is constantly dropping off the body

2nd April 1836

South Keeling Islands
I went on shore. The strip of dry land is only a few hundred yards wide; on the lagoon side we have the white beach, the radiation from which in such a climate is very oppressive; & on the outer coast a solid broad flat of coral rock, which serves to break the violence of the open ocean. Excepting near the lagoon where there is some sand, the land is entirely composed of rounded fragments of coral. In such a loose, dry, stony soil, nothing but the climate of the intertropical regions could produce a vigorous vegetation. Besides the Cocoa nut which is so numerous as at first to appear the only tree, there are five or six other kinds. One called the Cabbage tree, grows to a great bulk in proportion to its height, & has an irregular figure; its wood being very soft. Besides these trees the number of native plants is exceedingly limited; I suppose it does not exceed a dozen. Yet the woods, from the dead branches of the trees, & the arms of the Cocoa nuts is a thick jungle.

There are no true land birds; a snipe & land-rail are the only two "waders", the rest are all birds of the sea. Insects are very few in number; I must except some spiders & a small ant, which swarms in countless numbers in every spot & place. These strips of land are raised only to the height to which during gales of wind the surf can throw loose fragments; their protection is due to the outward & lateral increase of the reef, which must break off the sea. The aspect & constitution of these Islets at once calls up the idea that the land & the ocean are here struggling for the mastery: although terra firma has obtained a footing, the denizens of the other element think their claim at least equal. In every part one meets Hermit-Crabs of more than one species, The large claw or pincers of some of these crabs are most beautifully adapted, when drawn back to form an operculum to the shell, which is nearly as perfect as the proper one which the living molluscous animal formerly possessed. I was assured, and as far as my observation went, it was confirmed, that there are certain kinds of these hermits which always use certain kinds of old shells. Carrying on their backs the houses they have stolen from the neighbouring beach.

Overhead, the trees are occupied by numbers of gannets, frigate birds & terns; from the many nests & smell of the air, this might be called a sea rookery; but how great the contrast with a rookery in the fresh budding woods of England! The gannets, sitting on their rude nests look at an intruder with a stupid yet angry air. The noddies, as their name expresses, are silly little creatures. But there is one charming bird, it is a small and snow white tern, which smoothly hovers at the distance of an arm's length from ones head, its large black eye scanning with quiet curiosity your expression. Little imagination is required to fancy that so light & delicate a body must be tenanted by some wandering fairy spirit.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
Until the 12th every one was actively occupied; our boats were sent in all directions, though there was so much wind almost each day as materially to impede surveying. Soundings on the seaward sides of the islands could seldom be obtained; but two moderate days were eagerly taken advantage of to go round the whole group in a boat, and get the few deep soundings… The two principal islands (considering the whole southern group as one island,) lie north and south of each other, fifteen miles apart; and as soundings were obtained two miles north of the large island, it may be inferred, I think, that the sea is not so deep between the two as it is in other directions. Only a mile from the southern extreme of the South Keeling, I could get no bottom with more than a thousand fathoms of line.

The southern cluster of islets encircle a shallow lagoon, of an oval form, about nine miles long, and six wide. The islets are mere skeletons—little better than coral reefs, on which broken coral and dust have been driven by sea and wind till enough has been accumulated to afford place and nourishment for thousands of cocoa-palms. The outer edges of the islands are considerably higher than the inner, but nowhere exceed about thirty feet above the mean level of the sea. The lagoon is shallow, almost filled with branching corals and coral sand. The small northern island is about a mile in diameter; a strip of low coral land, almost surrounding a small lagoon, and thickly covered with cocoa-nut trees.

1st April 1836

South Keeling Islands

We arrived in view of the Southern Keeling or Cocos Isd. Our passage would have been a very good one, if during the last five days when close to our journey's end, the weather had not become thick & tempestuous. Much rain fell, & the heat & damp together were very oppressive: in the Poop cabin the thermometer however only stood at 81° or 82°. Keeling Isd is one of the low circular Coral reefs, on the greater part of which matter has accumulated & formed strips of dry land. Within the chain of Isds there is an extensive shallow lake or lagoon. The reef is broken on the Northern side & there lies the entrance to the anchorage. The general appearance of the land at a distance is precisely similar to what I have mentioned at the Low Isds of the Pacifick.

On entering the Lagoon the scene is very curious & rather pretty, its beauty is however solely derived from the brilliancy of the surrounding colors. The shoal, clear & still water of the lagoon, resting in its greater part on white sand, is when illuminated by a vertical sun of a most vivid green. This brilliant expanse, which is several miles wide, is on all sides divided either from the dark heaving water of the ocean by a line of breakers, or from the blue vault of Heaven by the strip of land, crowned at an equal height by the tops of the Cocoa nut trees. As in the sky here & there a white cloud affords a pleasing contrast, so in the lagoon dark bands of living Coral are seen through the emerald green water. — Looking at any one & especially a smaller Islet, it is impossible not to admire the great elegant manner in which the young & full grown Cocoa-nut trees, without destroying each others symmetry, mingle together into one wood: the beach of glittering white Calcareous sand, forms the border to these fairy spots.

When the ship was in the channel at the entrance, Mr Liesk, an English resident, came off in his boat. The history of the inhabitants of this place, is, in as few words as possible, as follows. About nine years ago a Mr Hare, a very worthless character, brought from the E. Indian Archipelago a number of Malay slaves which now including children amount to more than a hundred. Shortly afterwards Capt. Ross, who had before visited these Isds in his merchant ship, arrived from England bringing with him his family & goods for Settlement. — Along with him came Mr Liesk, who had been a Mate in the same ship. The Malay slaves soon ran away from the Isd on which Mr Hare was settled & joined Capt. Ross's party: Mr Hare upon this was ultimately obliged to leave these Islands. The Malays are now nominally in a state of freedom, & certainly so as far as respects their personal treatment; but in most other points they are considered as slaves. From the discontented state of the people, the repeated removals & perhaps from a little mismanagement, things are not very prosperous. The Island has no quadruped excepting pigs, & no vegetables in any quantity excepting Cocoa nuts. On this tree depends the prosperity of the Isld. — The only export is Cocoa nut oil. At this present time Capt. Ross has taken, in a small schooner which was built here, a cargo of this oil & that of the nuts to Singapore. He will bring back rice & goods for the Malays. — On the Cocoa nuts, the Pigs, which are loaded with fat, almost entirely subsist, as likewise do the poultry & ducks. Even a huge land-crab is furnished by nature with a curious instinct & form of legs to open & feed on the same fruit. There is no want of animal food at these Islands, for turtle & fish abound in the lagoon. — The situation of this Isld & its facilities for shipping must one day make it of some consequence, & then its natural advantages will be more fully developed. The ship came to an anchor in the evening, but on the following morning was warped nearer to Direction or Rat Isd.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
Early next morning (after making but little way during a fine night) saw the Keelings right ahead, about sixteen miles distant.

A long but broken line of cocoa-palm trees, and a heavy surf breaking upon a low white beach, nowhere rising many feet above the foaming water, was all we could discern till within five miles of the larger Keeling, (there are two distinct groups) and then we made out a number of low islets, nowhere more than thirty feet above the sea, covered with palm-trees, and encircling a large shallow lagoon.

We picked our way into Port Refuge (the only harbour), passing cautiously between patches of coral rock, clearly visible to an eye at the mast-head, and anchored in a safe, though not the best berth. An Englishman (Mr. Leisk) came on board, and, guided by him, we moved into a small but secure cove close to Direction Island.

Many reasons had induced me to select this group of coral islets for such an examination as our time and means would admit of; and, as the tides were to be an object of especial attention in a spot so favourably situated for observing them, a tide-guage was immediately placed. Its construction was then new, and, being found to answer, I will describe it briefly. Two poles were fixed upright, one on shore (above high water mark, and sheltered from wind), the other in the sea beyond the surf at low water. A block was fastened to the top of each pole, and a piece of well-stretched log-line 'rove' through them. One end of the line was attached to a board that floated on the water; the other suspended a leaden weight, which traversed up and down the pole, on shore, as the float fell or rose with the tide. Simple as this contrivance was, and useful as we should have found it in many places where the surf or swell made it difficult to measure tides at night, without using a boat, I never thought of it till after we left King George Sound.

Syms Covington Journal

Anchored in the Basin, Keeling or Cocos Islands, after having a heavy breeze the last two or three days of our passage.

The Islands ARE all very low; the beaches appear to be the highest. AND the highest I should suppose not more than twelve to fifteen feet high; all coral, about forty in number, the largest not more than ten miles long. The islands are complete forests of cocoa nut trees; if not for THE trees, the land would be seen FROM but a very short distance. ONE can wade from one island to another when the tide is low, to nearly all except THE entrance to THE Basin, which Basin is formed by the islands being as placed to form a circle. The Basin IS about twelve miles across. ONE cannot go far in with A ship; we anchored in seven or eight fathom OF water; coral bottom with white sand, the water always being clear. Beautiful branches of coral can be seen from the ship's side, the fish constantly passing and repassing amongst the coral, has a most beautiful effect, etc.

An Englishman and HIS family, with about sixty or seventy Mulattos from the Cape of Good Hope, live on one of the islands.