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The winds proved light and variable during our passage to Rio Negro, and we occasionally experienced a southwesterly current, of little strength. On the 18th January, when seventy-eight miles distant from the mouth of the Rio la Plata, we passed through the discoloured water of that river. Its temperature was 4o less than that of the surrounding sea. After getting to the southward of the river, the direction of the current changed, and it was found to be setting to the northward.
Towards evening, on the 19th, we met many discoloured patches in the water, and found they proceeded from a species of Salpæ, which we had not before seen. When the night closed in, the sea became very luminous, the vessels in passing through the water leaving long bright trains behind them. Vivid lightning in the west showed a dark bank of clouds, betokening a storm. About 10 o'clock P. M., a haze suddenly enveloped us; the temperature of both air and water fell from 67° to 57°, ten degrees, giving a cold clammy feeling to the air. The water became quite smooth, and the breeze died away; all on deck seemed awakened to a sense of danger. We immediately shortened sail and sounded, but found no bottom with one hundred and fifty fathoms of line. The vessels of the squadron came up in close order, sailing as it were in a sea of silver, from the light of which their forms became visible. The effect was beautiful, and increased the mysterious and alarming sensation. Shortly after, we had a change of wind to the southwest, followed by a dense fog, which lasted for a day; but the temperature of both air and water remained six to eight degrees colder, until the 23d, when it again rose to the height it had been before.
I have little doubt but this remarkable change and fall of temperature, were caused by the near approach to icebergs, some of which have been at times seen nearly in this latitude, 38° 55' S., longitude 54° 30' W. After this we had fine pleasant weather, until our arrival off the Rio Negro, the temperature of the air and water having fallen ten degrees during our progress from Rio.
On the 22d we experienced a heavy dew. Our observations confirmed the remarks of Captain King, that it is accompanied by a northerly wind, or change to that quarter.
We next passed over the position assigned the Ariel Rocks on the charts, and sailed two degrees on their parallel, but saw no indication of them.
In approaching the coast, the soundings were remarkably regular, decreasing about a fathom in three miles. After passing to the south of the river La Plata, they were composed of fine gray sand, with pebbles and shells, while to the north they were of blue mud. Soundings were had in fifty fathoms water, one hundred and fifty miles off the coast.
On the 25th we discovered the coast, which is a line of low sandhills, without trees, and it exhibits little appearance of vegetation. In the evening we anchored off the bar, in eight fathoms water, just after which we experienced one of the remarkable squalls of this coast, that rose from the southward and westward : it was attended with much lightning and thunder ; quantities of sand and insects were blown off from the land; but little rain fell. The barometer indicated this squall by a depression of two-tenths of an inch. The wind soon changed and brought fine weather, the thermometer falling six degrees during the change.
Having been led to believe we should be boarded by pilots on our anchoring off the bar, I was a good deal surprised to find none, and no endeavour making to board us, although the sea was quite smooth. The only appearances of inhabitants which we could see with our telescopes, were a few horsemen suspiciously reconnoitring us from the flagstaff on the top of the hill. I then concluded to despatch the Sea-Gull under Lieutenant-Commandant Ringgold into the river, for the purpose of having communication with the town, directing him to take the channel leading to the northward and westward, as shown by the only chart we had, whilst I followed in the Flying-Fish, with the scientific gentlemen; it proved to be the wrong one, and on the tide falling the schooners both grounded. Our situation was not the most agreeable ; for, in the event of the sea rising, we should have been exposed to all the fury of the surf, without any escape from the
It became necessary, as the tide rose, to make the river. The Sea-Gull having got off, I put the scientific gentlemen on board of her, and ordered Lieutenant-Commandant Ringgold to proceed in, keeping in what the chart pointed out as the channel-way and deepest water. He finally succeeded in getting into the river, after thumping heavily over a sand-bar, with some fears on the part of the passengers, but without injury to the vessel, and anchored, after dark, about half a mile up the river.
During this time an amusing occurrence took place in the roadstead. I had directed Lieutenant-Commandant Ringgold, in case of accident or requiring aid, to make signal, that I might order boats at once to his assistance. When the night closed in, the signal was seen; when the requisite signal was made from the Flying-Fish to the different vessels to send boats to assist. The commanding officer's mind being somewhat impressed with an idea of the hostility of those on shore, he concluded the boats were required to repel an attack, and had them fully armed; in this state they were met in a short time exerting themselves to their fullest strength at the oars, to be in time to take part in the expected fray, and appeared greatly disappointed when it proved a false alarm, and that none was to take place.
Shortly after the schooner anchored, a voice was heard from the shore, ordering a boat to be sent immediately, when a party landed, but no one was found to receive them. Seeing a light at a distance, they proceeded towards it: it proved to be the pilot's house, a long low barn-like building; but no inhabitants were visible, and none made their appearance until our party had taken a survey of the premises. The furniture was of a rude and scanty description; a table, bench, two or three bunks in one corner, and in another a number of arms, consisting of cutlasses, carbines, and pikes, in good order; in the others, various accoutrements. The two pilots, one an Englishman and the other a Frenchman, with a negro, then made their appearance, and unravelled the mystery, by informing them that the vessels had been mistaken for the French squadron, and much alarm had been created by our visit; they also said that the guard of about thirty Guachos were in ambush near where they landed, with the intention of cutting our party off; but hearing them speaking English, they found to their satisfaction that they were not French. They also stated that all the inhabitants living near the mouth of the river had fled to the town, and that most of the women and children in the town were hurrying off to the interior. They were likewise employed driving off the cattle, and preparing to fire the country, the usual mode of warfare, and were rejoiced to identify us as Americans.
All this accounted for the reconnoitring that we had observed, and our not being able to obtain a pilot. What still more alarmed them was the different vessels firing whilst surveying, and our making the attempt to force the passage in the small vessels.
The captain of the coast guard now afforded all facilities, and a pilot for the schooner was sent on board to take her up the river, and horses and guides were furnished for a party to visit the town.
The next morning a detachment of lancers arrived from the governor, with orders not to allow our vessels to proceed up, and that the pilot should come on shore, which effectually put a stop to our plans ; when Lieutenant-Commandant Ringgold determined to go by land.
It caused much alarm to the pilot, who entreated the officers to intercede with the governor in his behalf, and for that of the captain of the coast guard, stating that their lives would be forfeited for having attempted to pilot a vessel without the governor's orders. After some delay, a party proceeded to Carmen, under the escort of Guachos, to wait on the governor or commandant. On their way they met with a cordial welcome from all they passed, as the minds of all were now entirely relieved from fear, and great delight was expressed at seeing the North Americans.
These Guachos are generally well made, tall and muscular, with swarthy complexions, black eyes, and long hair, very large mustachios and remarkably small feet. Their costume is a red striped shirt, and white drawers, large, loose, and fringed at the bottom of the leg, called calzoncillas. Their trousers (chilipa) consist of two yards of scarlet cloth, which is times ornamented at the corners; to form this into any thing like a garment appeared strange enough; yet, when it is on the wearer, it has the appearance of a pair of Turkish trousers. The mode in which it is put on is to confine the ends round the waist by a girdle (triando), the middle of the cloth passing down between the legs, while the ends fall over the girdle. On the head was worn a red conical cap surmounted by a tassel.
Their riding boots or leggings are made of the hide from the leg of a horse. This is stripped off and put on the leg while yet green, where it is suffered to dry, and remain until worn out. They fit very closely to the foot, like a stocking. The two largest toes of each foot were uncovered, for the convenience of putting them into the stirrup, which is only large enough to admit them. A long knife in the girdle completes the dress.
During the time of our stay, the naturalists ranged the country in the vicinity, and the officers were engaged in making a survey of the roadstead and bar.
The road to El Carmen is on the north bank of the river, over a range of downs, the south side being low. The river continues, about one-third of a mile wide, flowing in a broad, still current. There are no trees to be seen in the landscape.
On their way, the party stopped at several estancias. These are houses built of adobes or unburnt brick, divided into two or three apartments, without floor, ceiling, or furniture, and with a few out
houses for the horses and slaves, and a coural for the cattle, formed of high poles, placed so near as to prevent the cattle from breaking through; the poles are from four to six inches in diameter, and from twenty to thirty feet high. They were met on the way by the minister of finance or collector, whose interrogations were satisfactorily answered; they were then allowed again to proceed.
The next person whom they encountered was an American, Dr. Ducatel, who was especially despatched by the governor; he announced himself as a physician and a citizen of the United States. His appearance was unlike both. He was dressed in the chilipa and calzoncillas,—in the full costume, and had the appearance, of the Guachos. His skill was much vaunted by his attendants. We afterwards understood that the doctor, having picked up a smattering of physic, and wishing to acquire a fortune, had gone to Buenos Ayres to seek one. There he accidentally heard of the want of Rio Negro in that respect; he embarked for that place with an ample store of drugs, and established himself as apothecary, surgeon, and physician. He is reported as having done well for some time, notwithstanding the healthiness of the climate and place, until the troubles at Buenos Ayres with the French, when the communication with the city being cut off, had prevented him from obtaining his usual supplies, and the troops from receiving their pay. With the former he had lost the means of VOL. 1.