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by Charles DarwinJanuary 18th, 2023
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Chatham Island. Craters composed of a peculiar kind of tuff. Small basaltic craters, with hollows at their bases. Albemarle Island; fluid lavas, their composition. Craters of tuff; inclination of their exterior diverging strata, and structure of their interior converging strata. James Island, segment of a small basaltic crater; fluidity and composition of its lava-streams, and of its ejected fragments. Concluding remarks on the craters of tuff, and on the breached condition of their southern sides. Mineralogical composition of the rocks of the archipelago. Elevation of the land. Direction of the fissures of eruption.
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Volcaninc Islands by Charles Darwin, is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. GALAPAGOS ARCHIPELAGO


Chatham Island. Craters composed of a peculiar kind of tuff. Small basaltic craters, with hollows at their bases. Albemarle Island; fluid lavas, their composition. Craters of tuff; inclination of their exterior diverging strata, and structure of their interior converging strata. James Island, segment of a small basaltic crater; fluidity and composition of its lava-streams, and of its ejected fragments. Concluding remarks on the craters of tuff, and on the breached condition of their southern sides. Mineralogical composition of the rocks of the archipelago. Elevation of the land. Direction of the fissures of eruption.


Showing Wenman, Abingdon, Bindloes, Tower, Narborough, Albemarle, James, Indefatigable, Barrington, Chatham, Charles and Hood’s Islands.)

This archipelago is situated under the equator, at a distance of between five and six hundred miles from the west coast of South America. It consists of five principal islands, and of several small ones, which together are equal in area, but not in extent of land, to Sicily, conjointly with the Ionian Islands. (I exclude from this measurement, the small volcanic islands of Culpepper and Wenman, lying seventy miles northward of the group. Craters were visible on all the islands of the group, except on Towers Island, which is one of the lowest; this island is, however, formed of volcanic rocks.) They are all volcanic: on two, craters have been seen in eruption, and on several of the other islands, streams of lava have a recent appearance. The larger islands are chiefly composed of solid rock, and they rise with a tame outline to a height of between one and four thousand feet. They are sometimes, but not generally, surmounted by one principal orifice. The craters vary in size from mere spiracles to huge caldrons several miles in circumference; they are extraordinarily numerous, so that I should think, if enumerated, they would be found to exceed two thousand; they are formed either of scoriae and lava, or of a brown-coloured tuff; and these latter craters are in several respects remarkable. The whole group was surveyed by the officers of the “Beagle.” I visited myself four of the principal islands, and received specimens from all the others. Under the head of the different islands I will describe only that which appears to me deserving of attention.


Towards the eastern end of this island there occur two craters composed of two kinds of tuff; one kind being friable, like slightly consolidated ashes; and the other compact, and of a different nature from anything which I have met with described. This latter substance, where it is best characterised, is of a yellowish-brown colour, translucent, and with a lustre somewhat resembling resin; it is brittle, with an angular, rough, and very irregular fracture, sometimes, however, being slightly granular, and even obscurely crystalline: it can readily be scratched with a knife, yet some points are hard enough just to mark common glass; it fuses with ease into a blackish-green glass. The mass contains numerous broken crystals of olivine and augite, and small particles of black and brown scoriae; it is often traversed by thin seams of calcareous matter. It generally affects a nodular or concretionary structure. In a hand specimen, this substance would certainly be mistaken for a pale and peculiar variety of pitchstone; but when seen in mass its stratification, and the numerous layers of fragments of basalt, both angular and rounded, at once render its subaqueous origin evident. An examination of a series of specimens shows that this resin-like substance results from a chemical change on small particles of pale and dark-coloured scoriaceous rocks; and this change could be distinctly traced in different stages round the edges of even the same particle. The position near the coast of all the craters composed of this kind of tuff or peperino, and their breached condition, renders it probable that they were all formed when standing immersed in the sea; considering this circumstance, together with the remarkable absence of large beds of ashes in the whole archipelago, I think it highly probable that much the greater part of the tuff has originated from the trituration of fragments of the grey, basaltic lavas in the mouths of craters standing in the sea. It may be asked whether the heated water within these craters has produced this singular change in the small scoriaceous particles and given to them their translucent, resin-like fracture. Or has the associated lime played any part in this change? I ask these questions from having found at St. Jago, in the Cape de Verde Islands, that where a great stream of molten lava has flowed over a calcareous bottom into the sea, the outermost film, which in other parts resembles pitchstone, is changed, apparently by its contact with the carbonate of lime, into a resin-like substance, precisely like the best characterised specimens of the tuff from this archipelago. (The concretions containing lime, which I have described at Ascension, as formed in a bed of ashes, present some degree of resemblance to this substance, but they have not a resinous fracture. At St. Helena, also, I found veins of a somewhat similar, compact, but non- resinous substance, occurring in a bed of pumiceous ashes, apparently free from calcareous matter: in neither of these cases could heat have acted.)

To return to the two craters: one of them stands at the distance of a league from the coast, the intervening tract consisting of a calcareous tuff, apparently of submarine origin. This crater consists of a circle of hills some of which stand quite detached, but all have a very regular, qua- qua versal dip, at an inclination of between thirty and forty degrees. The lower beds, to the thickness of several hundred feet, consist of the resin- like stone, with embedded fragments of lava. The upper beds, which are between thirty and forty feet in thickness, are composed of a thinly stratified, fine-grained, harsh, friable, brown-coloured tuff, or peperino. (Those geologists who restrict the term of “tuff” to ashes of a white colour, resulting from the attrition of feldspathic lavas, would call these brown-coloured strata “peperino.”) A central mass without any stratification, which must formerly have occupied the hollow of the crater, but is now attached only to a few of the circumferential hills, consists of a tuff, intermediate in character between that with a resin-like, and that with an earthy fracture. This mass contains white calcareous matter in small patches. The second crater (520 feet in height) must have existed until the eruption of a recent, great stream of lava, as a separate islet; a fine section, worn by the sea, shows a grand funnel-shaped mass of basalt, surrounded by steep, sloping flanks of tuff, having in parts an earthy, and in others a semi-resinous fracture. The tuff is traversed by several broad, vertical dikes, with smooth and parallel sides, which I did not doubt were formed of basalt, until I actually broke off fragments. These dikes, however, consist of tuff like that of the surrounding strata, but more compact, and with a smoother fracture; hence we must conclude, that fissures were formed and filled up with the finer mud or tuff from the crater, before its interior was occupied, as it now is, by a solidified pool of basalt. Other fissures have been subsequently formed, parallel to these singular dikes, and are merely filled with loose rubbish. The change from ordinary scoriaceous particles to the substance with a semi-resinous fracture, could be clearly followed in portions of the compact tuff of these dikes.


At the distance of a few miles from these two craters, stands the Kicker Rock, or islet, remarkable from its singular form. It is unstratified, and is composed of compact tuff, in parts having the resin-like fracture. It is probable that this amorphous mass, like that similar mass in the case first described, once filled up the central hollow of a crater, and that its flanks, or sloping walls, have since been worn quite away by the sea, in which it stands exposed.


A bare, undulating tract, at the eastern end of Chatham Island, is remarkable from the number, proximity, and form of the small basaltic craters with which it is studded. They consist, either of a mere conical pile, or, but less commonly, of a circle, of black and red, glossy scoriae, partially cemented together. They vary in diameter from thirty to one hundred and fifty yards, and rise from about fifty to one hundred feet above the level of the surrounding plain. From one small eminence, I counted sixty of these craters, all of which were within a third of a mile from each other, and many were much closer. I measured the distance between two very small craters, and found that it was only thirty yards from the summit-rim of one to the rim of the other. Small streams of black, basaltic lava, containing olivine and much glassy feldspar, have flowed from many, but not from all of these craters. The surfaces of the more recent streams were exceedingly rugged, and were crossed by great fissures; the older streams were only a little less rugged; and they were all blended and mingled together in complete confusion. The different growth, however, of the trees on the streams, often plainly marked their different ages. Had it not been for this latter character, the streams could in few cases have been distinguished; and, consequently, this wide undulatory tract might have (as probably many tracts have) been erroneously considered as formed by one great deluge of lava, instead of by a multitude of small streams, erupted from many small orifices.

In several parts of this tract, and especially at the base of the small craters, there are circular pits, with perpendicular sides, from twenty to forty feet deep. At the foot of one small crater, there were three of these pits. They have probably been formed, by the falling in of the roofs of small caverns. (M. Elie de Beaumont has described (“Mem. pour servir” etc. tome 4 page 113) many “petits cirques d’eboulement” on Etna, of some of which the origin is historically known.) In other parts, there are mammiform hillocks, which resemble great bubbles of lava, with their summits fissured by irregular cracks, which appeared, upon entering them, to be very deep; lava has not flowed from these hillocks. There are, also, other very regular, mammiform hillocks, composed of stratified lava, and surmounted by circular, steep-sided hollows, which, I suppose have been formed by a body of gas, first, arching the strata into one of the bubble- like hillocks, and then, blowing off its summit. These several kinds of hillocks and pits, as well as the numerous, small, scoriaceous craters, all show that this tract has been penetrated, almost like a sieve, by the passage of heated vapours. The more regular hillocks could only have been heaved up, whilst the lava was in a softened state. (Sir G. Mackenzie “Travels in Iceland” pages 389 to 392, has described a plain of lava at the foot of Hecla, everywhere heaved up into great bubbles or blisters. Sir George states that this cavernous lava composes the uppermost stratum; and the same fact is affirmed by Von Buch “Descript. des Isles Canaries” page 159, with respect to the basaltic stream near Rialejo, in Teneriffe. It appears singular that it should be the upper streams that are chiefly cavernous, for one sees no reason why the upper and lower should not have been equally affected at different times;—have the inferior streams flowed beneath the pressure of the sea, and thus been flattened, after the passage through them, of bodies of gas?)


This island consists of five, great, flat-topped craters, which, together with the one on the adjoining island of Narborough, singularly resemble each other, in form and height. The southern one is 4,700 feet high, two others are 3,720 feet, a third only 50 feet higher, and the remaining ones apparently of nearly the same height. Three of these are situated on one line, and their craters appear elongated in nearly the same direction. The northern crater, which is not the largest, was found by the triangulation to measure, externally, no less than three miles and one-eighth of a mile in diameter. Over the lips of these great, broad caldrons, and from little orifices near their summits, deluges of black lava have flowed down their naked sides.


Near Tagus or Banks’ Cove, I examined one of these great streams of lava, which is remarkable from the evidence of its former high degree of fluidity, especially when its composition is considered. Near the sea-coast this stream is several miles in width. It consists of a black, compact base, easily fusible into a black bead, with angular and not very numerous air-cells, and thickly studded with large, fractured crystals of glassy albite, varying from the tenth of an inch to half an inch in diameter. (In the Cordillera of Chile, I have seen lava very closely resembling this variety at the Galapagos Archipelago. It contained, however, besides the albite, well-formed crystals of augite, and the base (perhaps in consequence of the aggregation of the augitic particles) was a shade lighter in colour. I may here remark, that in all these cases, I call the feldspathic crystals, “albite,” from their cleavage-planes (as measured by the reflecting goniometer) corresponding with those of that mineral. As, however, other species of this genus have lately been discovered to cleave in nearly the same planes with albite, this determination must be considered as only provisional. I examined the crystals in the lavas of many different parts of the Galapagos group, and I found that none of them, with the exception of some crystals from one part of James Island, cleaved in the direction of orthite or potash-feldspar.) This lava, although at first sight appearing eminently porphyritic, cannot properly be considered so, for the crystals have evidently been enveloped, rounded, and penetrated by the lava, like fragments of foreign rock in a trap-dike. This was very clear in some specimens of a similar lava, from Abingdon Island, in which the only difference was, that the vesicles were spherical and more numerous. The albite in these lavas is in a similar condition with the leucite of Vesuvius, and with the olivine, described by Von Buch, as projecting in great balls from the basalt of Lanzarote. (“Description des Isles Canaries” page 295.) Besides the albite, this lava contains scattered grains of a green mineral, with no distinct cleavage, and closely resembling olivine (Humboldt mentions that he mistook a green augitic mineral, occurring in the volcanic rocks of the Cordillera of Quito, for olivine.); but as it fuses easily into a green glass, it belongs probably to the augitic family: at James Island, however, a similar lava contained true olivine. I obtained specimens from the actual surface, and from a depth of four feet, but they differed in no respect. The high degree of fluidity of this lava-stream was at once evident, from its smooth and gently sloping surface, from the manner in which the main stream was divided by small inequalities into little rills, and especially from the manner in which its edges, far below its source, and where it must have been in some degree cooled, thinned out to almost nothing; the actual margin consisting of loose fragments, few of which were larger than a man’s head. The contrast between this margin, and the steep walls, above twenty feet high, bounding many of the basaltic streams at Ascension, is very remarkable. It has generally been supposed that lavas abounding with large crystals, and including angular vesicles, have possessed little fluidity; but we see that the case has been very different at Albemarle Island. (The irregular and angular form of the vesicles is probably caused by the unequal yielding of a mass composed, in almost equal proportion, of solid crystals and of a viscid base. It certainly seems a general circumstance, as might have been expected, that in lava, which has possessed a high degree of fluidity, AS WELL AS AN EVEN-SIZED GRAIN, the vesicles are internally smooth and spherical.) The degree of fluidity in different lavas, does not seem to correspond with any APPARENT corresponding amount of difference in their composition: at Chatham Island, some streams, containing much glassy albite and some olivine, are so rugged, that they may be compared to a sea frozen during a storm; whilst the great stream at Albemarle Island is almost as smooth as a lake when ruffled by a breeze. At James Island, black basaltic lava, abounding with small grains of olivine, presents an intermediate degree of roughness; its surface being glossy, and the detached fragments resembling, in a very singular manner, folds of drapery, cables, and pieces of the bark of trees. (A specimen of basaltic lava, with a few small broken crystals of albite, given me by one of the officers, is perhaps worthy of description. It consists of cylindrical ramifications, some of which are only the twentieth of an inch in diameter, and are drawn out into the sharpest points. The mass has not been formed like a stalactite, for the points terminate both upwards and downwards. Globules, only the fortieth of an inch in diameter, have dropped from some of the points, and adhere to the adjoining branches. The lava is vesicular, but the vesicles never reach the surface of the branches, which are smooth and glossy. As it is generally supposed that vesicles are always elongated in the direction of the movement of the fluid mass, I may observe, that in these cylindrical branches, which vary from a quarter to only the twentieth of an inch in diameter, every air-cell is spherical.)


About a mile southward of Banks’ Cove, there is a fine elliptic crater, about five hundred feet in depth, and three-quarters of a mile in diameter. Its bottom is occupied by a lake of brine, out of which some little crateriform hills of tuff rise. The lower beds are formed of compact tuff, appearing like a subaqueous deposit; whilst the upper beds, round the entire circumference, consist of a harsh, friable tuff, of little specific gravity, but often containing fragments of rock in layers. This upper tuff contains numerous pisolitic balls, about the size of small bullets, which differ from the surrounding matter, only in being slightly harder and finer grained. The beds dip away very regularly on all sides, at angles varying, as I found by measurement, from twenty-five to thirty degrees. The external surface of the crater slopes at a nearly similar inclination, and is formed by slightly convex ribs, like those on the shell of a pecten or scallop, which become broader as they extend from the mouth of the crater to its base. These ribs are generally from eight to twenty feet in breadth, but sometimes they are as much as forty feet broad; and they resemble old, plastered, much flattened vaults, with the plaster scaling off in plates: they are separated from each other by gullies, deepened by alluvial action. At their upper and narrow ends, near the mouth of the crater, these ribs often consist of real hollow passages, like, but rather smaller than, those often formed by the cooling of the crust of a lava-stream, whilst the inner parts have flowed onward;—of which structure I saw many examples at Chatham Island. There can be no doubt but that these hollow ribs or vaults have been formed in a similar manner, namely, by the setting or hardening of a superficial crust on streams of mud, which have flowed down from the upper part of the crater. In another part of this same crater, I saw open concave gutters between one and two feet wide, which appear to have been formed by the hardening of the lower surface of a mud stream, instead of, as in the former case, of the upper surface. From these facts I think it is certain that the tuff must have flowed as mud. (This conclusion is of some interest, because M. Dufrenoy “Mem. pour servir” tome 4 page 274, has argued from strata of tuff, apparently of similar composition with that here described, being inclined at angles between 18 degrees and 20 degrees, that Monte Nuevo and some other craters of Southern Italy have been formed by upheaval. From the facts given above, of the vaulted character of the separate rills, and from the tuff not extending in horizontal sheets round these crateriform hills, no one will suppose that the strata have here been produced by elevation; and yet we see that their inclination is above 20 degrees, and often as much as 30 degrees. The consolidated strata also, of the internal talus, as will be immediately seen, dips at an angle of above 30 degrees.) This mud may have been formed either within the crater, or from ashes deposited on its upper parts, and afterwards washed down by torrents of rain. The former method, in most of the cases, appears the more probable one; at James Island, however, some beds of the friable kind of tuff extend so continuously over an uneven surface, that probably they were formed by the falling of showers of ashes.

Within this same crater, strata of coarse tuff, chiefly composed of fragments of lava, abut, like a consolidated talus, against the inside walls. They rise to a height of between one hundred and one hundred and fifty feet above the surface of the internal brine-lake; they dip inwards, and are inclined at an angle varying from thirty to thirty-six degrees. They appear to have been formed beneath water, probably at a period when the sea occupied the hollow of the crater. I was surprised to observe that beds having this great inclination did not, as far as they could be followed, thicken towards their lower extremities.


(FIGURE 13. A SECTIONAL SKETCH OF THE HEADLANDS FORMING BANKS’ COVE, showing the diverging crateriform strata, and the converging stratified talus. The highest point of these hills is 817 feet above the sea.)

This harbour occupies part of the interior of a shattered crater of tuff larger than that last described. All the tuff is compact, and includes numerous fragments of lava; it appears like a subaqueous deposit. The most remarkable feature in this crater is the great development of strata converging inwards, as in the last case, at a considerable inclination, and often deposited in irregular curved layers. These interior converging beds, as well as the proper, diverging crateriform strata, are represented in Figure 13, a rude, sectional sketch of the headlands, forming this Cove. The internal and external strata differ little in composition, and the former have evidently resulted from the wear and tear, and redeposition of the matter forming the external crateriform strata. From the great development of these inner beds, a person walking round the rim of this crater might fancy himself on a circular anticlinal ridge of stratified sandstone and conglomerate. The sea is wearing away the inner and outer strata, and especially the latter; so that the inwardly converging strata will, perhaps, in some future age, be left standing alone—a case which might at first perplex a geologist. (I believe that this case actually occurs in the Azores, where Dr. Webster “Description” page 185, has described a basin-formed, little island, composed of STRATA OF TUFF, dipping inwards and bounded externally by steep sea-worn cliffs. Dr. Daubeny supposes “Volcanoes” page 266, that this cavity must have been formed by a circular subsidence. It appears to me far more probable, that we here have strata which were originally deposited within the hollow of a crater, of which the exterior walls have since been removed by the sea.)


Two craters of tuff on this island are the only remaining ones which require any notice. One of them lies a mile and a half inland from Puerto Grande: it is circular, about the third of a mile in diameter, and 400 feet in depth. It differs from all the other tuff-craters which I examined, in having the lower part of its cavity, to the height of between one hundred and one hundred and fifty feet, formed by a precipitous wall of basalt, giving to the crater the appearance of having burst through a solid sheet of rock. The upper part of this crater consists of strata of the altered tuff, with a semi-resinous fracture. Its bottom is occupied by a shallow lake of brine, covering layers of salt, which rest on deep black mud. The other crater lies at the distance of a few miles, and is only remarkable from its size and perfect condition. Its summit is 1,200 feet above the level of the sea, and the interior hollow is 600 feet deep. Its external sloping surface presented a curious appearance from the smoothness of the wide layers of tuff, which resembled a vast plastered floor. Brattle Island is, I believe, the largest crater in the Archipelago composed of tuff; its interior diameter is nearly a nautical mile. At present it is in a ruined condition, consisting of little more than half a circle open to the south; its great size is probably due, in part, to internal degradation, from the action of the sea.


(FIGURE 14. SEGMENT OF A VERY SMALL ORIFICE OF ERUPTION, on the beach of Fresh-water Bay.)

One side of Fresh-water Bay, in James Island, is bounded by a promontory, which forms the last wreck of a great crater. On the beach of this promontory, a quadrant-shaped segment of a small subordinate point of eruption stands exposed. It consists of nine separate little streams of lava piled upon each other; and of an irregular pinnacle, about fifteen feet high, of reddish-brown, vesicular basalt, abounding with large crystals of glassy albite, and with fused augite. This pinnacle, and some adjoining paps of rock on the beach, represent the axis of the crater. The streams of lava can be followed up a little ravine, at right angles to the coast, for between ten and fifteen yards, where they are hidden by detritus: along the beach they are visible for nearly eighty yards, and I do not believe that they extend much further. The three lower streams are united to the pinnacle; and at the point of junction (as shown in Figure 14, a rude sketch made on the spot), they are slightly arched, as if in the act of flowing over the lip of the crater. The six upper streams no doubt were originally united to this same column before it was worn down by the sea. The lava of these streams is of similar composition with that of the pinnacle, excepting that the crystals of albite appear to be more comminuted, and the grains of fused augite are absent. Each stream is separated from the one above it by a few inches, or at most by one or two feet in thickness, of loose fragmentary scoriae, apparently derived from the abrasion of the streams in passing over each other. All these streams are very remarkable from their thinness. I carefully measured several of them; one was eight inches thick, but was firmly coated with three inches above, and three inches below, of red scoriaceous rock (which is the case with all the streams), making altogether a thickness of fourteen inches: this thickness was preserved quite uniformly along the entire length of the section. A second stream was only eight inches thick, including both the upper and lower scoriaceous surfaces. Until examining this section, I had not thought it possible that lava could have flowed in such uniformly thin sheets over a surface far from smooth. These little streams closely resemble in composition that great deluge of lava at Albemarle Island, which likewise must have possessed a high degree of fluidity.


In the lava and in the scoriae of this little crater, I found several fragments, which, from their angular form, their granular structure, their freedom from air-cells, their brittle and burnt condition, closely resembled those fragments of primary rocks which are occasionally ejected, as at Ascension, from volcanoes. These fragments consist of glassy albite, much mackled, and with very imperfect cleavages, mingled with semi-rounded grains, having tarnished, glossy surfaces, of a steel-blue mineral. The crystals of albite are coated by a red oxide of iron, appearing like a residual substance; and their cleavage-planes also are sometimes separated by excessively fine layers of this oxide, giving to the crystals the appearance of being ruled like a glass micrometer. There was no quartz. The steel-blue mineral, which is abundant in the pinnacle, but which disappears in the streams derived from the pinnacle, has a fused appearance, and rarely presents even a trace of cleavage; I obtained, however, one measurement, which proved that it was augite; and in one other fragment, which differed from the others, in being slightly cellular, and in gradually blending into the surrounding matrix the small grains of this mineral were tolerably well crystallised. Although there is so wide a difference in appearance between the lava of the little streams, and especially of their red scoriaceous crusts, and one of these angular ejected fragments, which at first sight might readily be mistaken for syenite, yet I believe that the lava has originated from the melting and movement of a mass of rock of absolutely similar composition with the fragments. Besides the specimen above alluded to, in which we see a fragment becoming slightly cellular, and blending into the surrounding matrix, some of the grains of the steel-blue augite also have their surfaces becoming very finely vesicular, and passing into the nature of the surrounding paste; other grains are throughout, in an intermediate condition. The paste seems to consist of the augite more perfectly fused, or, more probably, merely disturbed in its softened state by the movement of the mass, and mingled with the oxide of iron and with finely comminuted, glassy albite. Hence probably it is that the fused albite, which is abundant in the pinnacle, disappears in the streams. The albite is in exactly the same state, with the exception of most of the crystals being smaller in the lava and in the embedded fragments; but in the fragments they appear to be less abundant: this, however, would naturally happen from the intumescence of the augitic base, and its consequent apparent increase in bulk. It is interesting thus to trace the steps by which a compact granular rock becomes converted into a vesicular, pseudo-porphyritic lava, and finally into red scoriae. The structure and composition of the embedded fragments show that they are parts either of a mass of primary rock which has undergone considerable change from volcanic action, or more probably of the crust of a body of cooled and crystallised lava, which has afterwards been broken up and re-liquified; the crust being less acted on by the renewed heat and movement.


These craters, from the peculiarity of the resin-like substance which enters largely into their composition, from their structure, their size and number, present the most striking feature in the geology of this Archipelago. The majority of them form either separate islets, or promontories attached to the larger islands; and those which now stand at some little distance from the coast are worn and breached, as if by the action of the sea. From this general circumstance of their position, and from the small quantity of ejected ashes in any part of the Archipelago, I am led to conclude, that the tuff has been chiefly produced, by the grinding together of fragments of lava within active craters, communicating with the sea. In the origin and composition of the tuff, and in the frequent presence of a central lake of brine and of layers of salt, these craters resemble, though on a gigantic scale, the “salses,” or hillocks of mud, which are common in some parts of Italy and in other countries. (D’Aubuisson “Traite de Geognosie” tome 1 page 189. I may remark, that I saw at Terceira, in the Azores, a crater of tuff or peperino, very similar to these of the Galapagos Archipelago. From the description given in Freycinet “Voyage,” similar ones occur at the Sandwich Islands; and probably they are present in many other places.) Their closer connection, however, in this Archipelago, with ordinary volcanic action, is shown by the pools of solidified basalt, with which they are sometimes filled up.

It at first appears very singular, that all the craters formed of tuff have their southern sides, either quite broken down and wholly removed, or much lower than the other sides. I saw and received accounts of twenty-eight of these craters; of these, twelve form separate islets (These consist of the three Crossman Islets, the largest of which is 600 feet in height; Enchanted Island; Gardner Island (760 feet high); Champion Island (331 feet high); Enderby Island; Brattle Island; two islets near Indefatigable Island; and one near James Island. A second crater near James Island (with a salt lake in its centre) has its southern side only about twenty feet high, whilst the other parts of the circumference are about three hundred feet in height.), and now exist as mere crescents quite open to the south, with occasionally a few points of rock marking their former circumference: of the remaining sixteen, some form promontories, and others stand at a little distance inland from the shore; but all have their southern sides either the lowest, or quite broken down. Two, however, of the sixteen had their northern sides also low, whilst their eastern and western sides were perfect. I did not see, or hear of, a single exception to the rule, of these craters being broken down or low on the side, which faces a point of the horizon between S.E. and S.W. This rule does not apply to craters composed of lava and scoriae. The explanation is simple: at this Archipelago, the waves from the trade-wind, and the swell propagated from the distant parts of the open ocean, coincide in direction (which is not the case in many parts of the Pacific), and with their united forces attack the southern sides of all the islands; and consequently the southern slope, even when entirely formed of hard basaltic rock, is invariably steeper than the northern slope. As the tuff-craters are composed of a soft material, and as probably all, or nearly all, have at some period stood immersed in the sea, we need not wonder that they should invariably exhibit on their exposed sides the effects of this great denuding power. Judging from the worn condition of many of these craters, it is probable that some have been entirely washed away. As there is no reason to suppose, that the craters formed of scoriae and lava were erupted whilst standing in the sea, we can see why the rule does not apply to them. At Ascension, it was shown that the mouths of the craters, which are there all of terrestrial origin, have been affected by the trade-wind; and this same power might here, also, aid in making the windward and exposed sides of some of the craters originally the lowest.


In the northern islands, the basaltic lavas seem generally to contain more albite than they do in the southern half of the Archipelago; but almost all the streams contain some. The albite is not unfrequently associated with olivine. I did not observe in any specimen distinguishable crystals of hornblende or augite; I except the fused grains in the ejected fragments, and in the pinnacle of the little crater, above described. I did not meet with a single specimen of true trachyte; though some of the paler lavas, when abounding with large crystals of the harsh and glassy albite, resemble in some degree this rock; but in every case the basis fuses into a black enamel. Beds of ashes and far-ejected scoriae, as previously stated, are almost absent; nor did I see a fragment of obsidian or of pumice. Von Buch believes that the absence of pumice on Mount Etna is consequent on the feldspar being of the Labrador variety (“Description des Isles Canaries” page 328.); if the presence of pumice depends on the constitution of the feldspar, it is remarkable, that it should be absent in this archipelago, and abundant in the Cordillera of South America, in both of which regions the feldspar is of the albitic variety. Owing to the absence of ashes, and the general indecomposable character of the lava in this Archipelago, the islands are slowly clothed with a poor vegetation, and the scenery has a desolate and frightful aspect.


Proofs of the rising of the land are scanty and imperfect. At Chatham Island, I noticed some great blocks of lava, cemented by calcareous matter, containing recent shells; but they occurred at the height of only a few feet above high-water mark. One of the officers gave me some fragments of shells, which he found embedded several hundred feet above the sea, in the tuff of two craters, distant from each other. It is possible, that these fragments may have been carried up to their present height in an eruption of mud; but as, in one instance, they were associated with broken oyster- shells, almost forming a layer, it is more probable that the tuff was uplifted with the shells in mass. The specimens are so imperfect that they can be recognised only as belonging to recent marine genera. On Charles Island, I observed a line of great rounded blocks, piled on the summit of a vertical cliff, at the height of fifteen feet above the line, where the sea now acts during the heaviest gales. This appeared, at first, good evidence in favour of the elevation of the land; but it was quite deceptive, for I afterwards saw on an adjoining part of this same coast, and heard from eye- witnesses, that wherever a recent stream of lava forms a smooth inclined plane, entering the sea, the waves during gales have the power of ROLLING UP ROUNDED blocks to a great height, above the line of their ordinary action. As the little cliff in the foregoing case is formed by a stream of lava, which, before being worn back, must have entered the sea with a gently sloping surface, it is possible or rather it is probable, that the rounded boulders, now lying on its summit, are merely the remnants of those which had been ROLLED UP during storms to their present height.


The volcanic orifices in this group cannot be considered as indiscriminately scattered. Three great craters on Albermarle Island form a well-marked line, extending N.W. by N. and S.E. by S. Narborough Island, and the great crater on the rectangular projection of Albemarle Island, form a second parallel line. To the east, Hood’s Island, and the islands and rocks between it and James Island, form another nearly parallel line, which, when prolonged, includes Culpepper and Wenman Islands, lying seventy miles to the north. The other islands lying further eastward, form a less regular fourth line. Several of these islands, and the vents on Albemarle Island, are so placed, that they likewise fall on a set of rudely parallel lines, intersecting the former lines at right angles; so that the principal craters appear to lie on the points where two sets of fissures cross each other. The islands themselves, with the exception of Albemarle Island, are not elongated in the same direction with the lines on which they stand. The direction of these islands is nearly the same with that which prevails in so remarkable a manner in the numerous archipelagoes of the great Pacific Ocean. Finally, I may remark, that amongst the Galapagos Islands there is no one dominant vent much higher than all the others, as may be observed in many volcanic archipelagoes: the highest is the great mound on the south- western extremity of Albemarle Island, which exceeds by barely a thousand feet several other neighbouring craters.

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