The Voyage of the Beagle – Day 44 of 164

This revolution was supported by scarcely any pretext of grievances: but in a state which, in the course of nine months (from February to October, 1820), underwent fifteen changes in its government—each governor, according to the constitution, being elected for three years—it would be very unreasonable to ask for pretexts. In this case, a party of men—who, being attached to Rosas, were disgusted with the governor Balcarce—to the number of seventy left the city, and with the cry of Rosas the whole country took arms. The city was then blockaded, no provisions, cattle or horses, were allowed to enter; besides this, there was only a little skirmishing, and a few men daily killed. The outside party well knew that by stopping the supply of meat they would certainly be victorious. General Rosas could not have known of this rising; but it appears to be quite consonant with the plans of his party. A year ago he was elected governor, but he refused it, unless the Sala would also confer on him extraordinary powers. This was refused, and since then his party have shown that no other governor can keep his place. The warfare on both sides was avowedly protracted till it was possible to hear from Rosas. A note arrived a few days after I left Buenos Ayres, which stated that the General disapproved of peace having been broken, but that he thought the outside party had justice on their side. On the bare reception of this the Governor, ministers, and part of the military, to the number of some hundreds, fled from the city. The rebels entered, elected a new governor, and were paid for their services to the number of 5500 men. From these proceedings, it was clear that Rosas ultimately would become the dictator: to the term king, the people in this, as in other republics, have a particular dislike. Since leaving South America, we have heard that Rosas has been elected, with powers and for a time altogether opposed to the constitutional principles of the republic.

Buenos Ayres bullock-waggons Fuegians and wigwams

Chapter VIII–Banda Oriental and Patagonia

Excursion to Colonia del Sacramiento—Value of an Estancia—Cattle, how counted—Singular Breed of Oxen—Perforated Pebbles—Shepherd-dogs—Horses broken-in, Gauchos Riding—Character of Inhabitants—Rio Plata—Flocks of Butterflies—Aeronaut Spiders—Phosphorescence of the Sea—Port Desire—Guanaco—Port St. Julian—Geology of Patagonia—Fossil gigantic Animal—Types of Organisation constant—Change in the Zoology of America—Causes of Extinction.

Having been delayed for nearly a fortnight in the city, I was glad to escape on board a packet bound for Monte Video. A town in a state of blockade must always be a disagreeable place of residence; in this case moreover there were constant apprehensions from robbers within. The sentinels were the worst of all; for, from their office and from having arms in their hands, they robbed with a degree of authority which other men could not imitate.

Our passage was a very long and tedious one. The Plata looks like a noble estuary on the map; but is in truth a poor affair. A wide expanse of muddy water has neither grandeur nor beauty. At one time of the day, the two shores, both of which are extremely low, could just be distinguished from the deck. On arriving at Monte Video I found that the Beagle would not sail for some time, so I prepared for a short excursion in this part of Banda Oriental. Everything which I have said about the country near Maldonado is applicable to Monte Video; but the land, with the one exception of the Green Mount, 450 feet high, from which it takes its name, is far more level. Very little of the undulating grassy plain is enclosed; but near the town there are a few hedge-banks, covered with agaves, cacti, and fennel.

November 14th.—We left Monte Video in the afternoon. I intended to proceed to Colonia del Sacramiento, situated on the northern bank of the Plata and opposite to Buenos Ayres, and thence, following up the Uruguay, to the village of Mercedes on the Rio Negro (one of the many rivers of this name in South America), and from this point to return direct to Monte Video. We slept at the house of my guide at Canelones. In the morning we rose early, in the hopes of being able to ride a good distance; but it was a vain attempt, for all the rivers were flooded. We passed in boats the streams of Canelones, St. Lucia, and San José, and thus lost much time. On a former excursion I crossed the Lucia near its mouth, and I was surprised to observe how easily our horses, although not used to swim, passed over a width of at least six hundred yards. On mentioning this at Monte Video, I was told that a vessel containing some mountebanks and their horses, being wrecked in the Plata, one horse swam seven miles to the shore. In the course of the day I was amused by the dexterity with which a Gaucho forced a restive horse to swim a river. He stripped off his clothes, and jumping on its back, rode into the water till it was out of its depth; then slipping off over the crupper, he caught hold of the tail, and as often as the horse turned round the man frightened it back by splashing water in its face. As soon as the horse touched the bottom on the other side, the man pulled himself on, and was firmly seated, bridle in hand, before the horse gained the bank. A naked man on a naked horse is a fine spectacle; I had no idea how well the two animals suited each other. The tail of a horse is a very useful appendage; I have passed a river in a boat with four people in it, which was ferried across in the same way as the Gaucho. If a man and horse have to cross a broad river, the best plan is for the man to catch hold of the pommel or mane, and help himself with the other arm.

We slept and stayed the following day at the post of Cufre. In the evening the postman or letter-carrier arrived. He was a day after his time, owing to the Rio Rozario being flooded. It would not, however, be of much consequence; for, although he had passed through some of the principal towns in Banda Oriental, his luggage consisted of two letters! The view from the house was pleasing; an undulating green surface, with distant glimpses of the Plata. I find that I look at this province with very different eyes from what I did upon my first arrival. I recollect I then thought it singularly level; but now, after galloping over the Pampas, my only surprise is, what could have induced me ever to have called it level. The country is a series of undulations, in themselves perhaps not absolutely great, but, as compared to the plains of St. Fé, real mountains. From these inequalities there is an abundance of small rivulets, and the turf is green and luxuriant.

November 17th.—We crossed the Rozario, which was deep and rapid, and passing the village of Colla, arrived at mid-day at Colonia del Sacramiento. The distance is twenty leagues, through a country covered with fine grass, but poorly stocked with cattle or inhabitants. I was invited to sleep at Colonia, and to accompany on the following day a gentleman to his estancia, where there were some limestone rocks. The town is built on a stony promontory something in the same manner as at Monte Video. It is strongly fortified, but both fortifications and town suffered much in the Brazilian war. It is very ancient; and the irregularity of the streets, and the surrounding groves of old orange and peach trees, gave it a pretty appearance. The church is a curious ruin; it was used as a powder-magazine, and was struck by lightning in one of the ten thousand thunderstorms of the Rio Plata. Two-thirds of the building were blown away to the very foundation; and the rest stands a shattered and curious monument of the united powers of lightning and gunpowder. In the evening I wandered about the half-demolished walls of the town. It was the chief seat of the Brazilian war—a war most injurious to this country, not so much in its immediate effects, as in being the origin of a multitude of generals and all other grades of officers. More generals are numbered (but not paid) in the United Provinces of La Plata than in the United Kingdom of Great Britain. These gentlemen have learned to like power, and do not object to a little skirmishing. Hence there are many always on the watch to create disturbance and to overturn a government which as yet has never rested on any stable foundation. I noticed, however, both here and in other places, a very general interest in the ensuing election for the President; and this appears a good sign for the prosperity of this little country. The inhabitants do not require much education in their representatives; I heard some men discussing the merits of those for Colonia; and it was said that, “although they were not men of business, they could all sign their names:” with this they seemed to think every reasonable man ought to be satisfied.

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