The Author's reasons for undertaking a voyage of discovery.--He builds a vessel for his purpose upon a new plan.--His departure from the United States.
In the year 1817, I projected a voyage of discovery, in the hope of finding a passage to a new and untried world. I flattered myself that I should open the way to new fields for the enterprise of my fellow-citizens, supply new sources of wealth, fresh food for curiosity, and additional means of enjoyment; objects of vast importance, since the resources of the known world have been exhausted by research, its wealth monopolized, its wonders of curiosity explored, its every thing investigated and understood!
The state of the civilized world, and the growing evidences of the perfectibility of the human mind, seemed to indicate the necessity of a more extended sphere of action. Discontent and uneasiness were every where apparent. The faculties of man had begun to dwindle for want of scope, and the happiness of society required new and more copious contributions.
I reasoned with myself as follows: A bountiful Providence provides food for the appetite which it creates; therefore the desire of mankind for a greater world to bustle in, manifested by their dissatisfaction with the one which they possess, is sufficient evidence that the means of gratification are provided. And who can doubt but that this is the time to find the means of satisfying so general a desire?
The Author arrives at the Falkland Islands.--Describes West Point Island, and States harbor.--Visits the city of the Gentoo Penguins on the Grand Jason.--Gives some account of the polity and habits of those civilized amphibia.--Sails for South Georgia.
Having seen my vessel safely moored, I left her in charge of Mr. Albicore, the second mate, with strict orders not to permit either fire of candle to be used on board in my absence. I caused a cook house to be erected on shore, and left five men with Mr. Albicore, to fill up the water-casks, catch and cure fish, make the necessary repairs to the rigging, and put the vessel in perfect order against my return. With the remainder of the officers and men, in the launch and one whale boat, I made a harbor at West Point Island early the first day, and at the close of the second joined the party under Mr. Boneto, on the Grand Jason. I found that Boneto had made good use of this time, having cleared this island and all the neighboring keys and shores to which he could prudently go with open whale boats, of the few seal which could be found. There was but here and there a seal to be seen ,excepting on some points of land, which on account of the surf were nearly inaccessible. The frequent visits of sealers from the United States had either destroyed or frightened most of them away. This gave me no uneasiness, for I expected it when I planned my voyage. I concurred in the opinion published by Capt. Symmes, that seals, whales, and mackerel, come from the internal world through the openings at the poles; and was aware of the fact, that the nearer we approach those openings, the more abundant do we find seals and whales. I felt perfectly satisfied that I had only to find an opening in the 'icy hoop,' through which I could dash with my vessel, to discover a region where seals could be taken as fast as they could be stripped and cured. I therefor employed myself chiefly in procuring comforts for my people, and in studying the habits and propensities of those amphibious animals which might be supposed to have communication with the internal world, whither I was ambitious to find my way.
A colony of Gentoo Penguins, on the borders of the south-east cove of Grand Jason, first attracted my attention. Their city stands on a beautiful level spot, a short distance from the water. Every pair of Penguins has a separate establishment built of earth, stones, and sticks, of about two feet elevation, and eighteen inches diameter; on the top of which is their nest. There are some thousands of these stands arranged in regular order, with an open square in the centre, regular streets between the ranges of nests, and a broad avenue leading from the square towards the places of landing and diving. This avenue, a short distance from the settlement, divides into two broad paths; on leading to the diving place, which is a perpendicular rock in deep water, and the other to the landing place; which is a sloping rock of easy access from the sea.
These Gentoo Penguins are amphibious birds, nearly two feet high when standing erect. Their bodies are somewhat larger than those of geese, and well proportioned throughout; their necks being just long enough to look well. In place of wings they have fins for swimming, and their feet are equally well adapted tot he land and water. Their covering is very short feathers, closely and firmly set in a thick skin. Their backs, fins, feet, and legs, are black; the rest of their bodies pure white; they walk bolt upright, with a firm step like a grenadier, and have the appearance, when formed in squadrons, of soldiers, in a uniform of black coats, white underdress, and black gaiters. From the attentive observations of Jack Whiffle, I obtained the following particulars of their habits and polity:
At the time of full sea, one half of the Penguins assemble in the centre-square, where they parade in regular order. They then march off, two abreast, and in close order, preceded by a leader to the diving place. They dive into he sea in succession, as they arrive, and swim off to feed on kelp, rock-weed, small fish, and other marine productions. During their absence, the other half remain stationary upon their stands, keeping watch; occasional short visits by some few of them to their nearest neighbors, being the only deviation from strict duty in this particular, that is allowed. If any one strays far from his station, or has a disposition to go out to feed, he is pecked and driven back by the others. At the turn of the tide, those that are out collect about the landing-place; some sporting in the water, leaping and diving with great dexterity; others lounging upon the shore, apparently admiring themselves and each other, like our fashionable belles and dandies in Broadway. When the leader lands, they form in regular order, march to the square, in the same manner as they left it, divide into squadrons, and file off to their respective stations to relieve guard. As soon as those returned from feeding mount the stands, the other leap off and repair to the square. When collected, they form, and march off to the diving place in the manner before described, to take their tide of feeding and recreation. Thus they occupy the day; each having the benefit of a full tide, and each doing his share of domestic duties.
At night all are assembled in the city, and each stand is crowned with two of these exemplary birds.
The contemplation of these orderly, discreet, and beautiful amphibia, afforded me much pleasure, and gave rise to many delightful anticipations. It appeared certain to me that they, in common with seals, whales, and mackerel, were visitors from the internal world through the southern opening, which they were admirably formed to pass and repass; for they moved with great facility, in the water, and could exist under it as well as fish. On land they walked with as much ease as men, and in the same erect posture. It occurred to me that a world, in which the brute creation were so neatly formed, so polished in their manners, so social in their habits, and so quiet and well behaved, must, if men existed in it, be the abode of a race perfect in their kind. I had no apprehension of the air being unhealthy in the internal world, as suggested by Capt. Symmes, because the climate in which these visitors are found in the greatest numbers is the healthiest of the external world, which indicates that they are accustomed to good air, or they would not affect this salubrious region.
Again, I had observed all these amphibia to be of a remarkably gentle and harmless disposition. The sea-lion, sea-elephant, and common seal, together with the king-penguin, the Gentoo, macaroni, and jackass-penguin, all of different habits, yet obviously of the same origin, accommodated themselves on the same island, fed in the same sea, and on the same food, without interfering with and without ever being observed to offer violence to each other; from which I inferred that the inhabitants of the internal world, influence by the same course, must be of a remarkably pacific, and gentle disposition.