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The Daily Volcano Quote: Charles Darwin on San Cristóbal 12 February 2009

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Charles Darwin. Portrait by George Richmond, c. 1838 (detail).

The Beagle sailed round Chatham Island, and anchored in several bays. One night I slept on shore, on a part of the island where some black cones — the former chimneys of the subterranean heated fluids — were extraordinarily numerous. From one small eminence, I counted sixty of these truncated hillocks, which were all surmounted by a more or less perfect crater. The greater number consisted merely of a ring of red scoriæ, or slags, cemented together: and their height above the plain of lava, was not more than from fifty to a hundred feet. From their regular form, they gave the country a workshop appearance, which strongly reminded me of those parts of Staffordshire where the great iron-foundries are most numerous.

Charles Darwin visited Chatham Island in the Galápagos, today known as San Cristóbal, between 17 and 23 September 1835, during the voyage of the Beagle. San Cristóbal is a low shield volcano which produces effusive lava flows from fissure eruptions. In this account Darwin is describing scoria or spatter cones, built up along the lines of the eruptive fissures from lava fragments thrown up during the eruptions. The account above is characteristic of Darwin: careful observation, precise description, and the use of a homely image – the landscape of the iron-founding areas of Staffordshire – to bring a strange and outlandish landscape vividly to life.

From Charles Darwin, Voyages of the Adventure and Beagle (London: Henry Colburn, 3 vols., 1839), vol. III, p. 455. Available online at The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online.

For one week from 12 February 2009, the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, The Volcanism Blog will feature a volcano-related quote from Darwin each day.

The Daily Volcano Quote: from Monday to Friday, a new eruption of volcanic verbiage each day.

The Volcanism Blog