RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1840. The Lagoon Islands of the Pacific Ocean. The Penny Magazine of the society for the diffusion of useful knowledge 517 (25 April): 156.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned by Angus Carroll. Transcribed (single key) by AEL Data 10.2008. RN1

NOTE: A quotation from Darwin's book F10.3 pp. 540-1.

[page 155]

Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.


[page] 156

The Lagoon Islands of the Pacific Ocean.—The annular reef of this lagoon island [Keeling] is surmounted in the greater part of its length by linear islets. On the northern side there is an opening, through which vessels reach the anchorage. On entering, the scene was very curious and rather pretty: its beauty, however, being solely dependent on the brilliancy of the surrounding colours. The shallow, clear, and still water of the lagoon, resting in its greater part on white sand, is, when illuminated by a vertical sun, of a most vivid green. This brilliant expanse, several miles in width, is on all sides divided, either from the dark heaving water of the ocean by a line of snow-white breakers, or from the blue vault of heaven by the strips of land, crowned at an equal height by the tops of the cocoa-nut trees. As a white cloud here and there affords a pleasing contrast with the azure sky, so in the lagoon dark bands of living coral appear through the emerald-green water.

The next morning after anchoring, I went on shore on Direction Island. The strip of dry land is only a few hundred yards wide; on the lagoon side we have a white calcareous beach, the radiation from which in such a climate is very oppressive; and on the outer coast, a solid broad flat of coral rock, which serves to break the violence of the open sea. Excepting near the lagoon, where there is some sand, the land is entirely composed of rounded fragments of coral. In such a loose, dry, stony soil the climate of the intertropical regions alone could produce a vigorous vegetation. On some of the smaller islets, nothing could be more elegant than the manner in which the young and full-grown cocoanut trees, without destroying each other's symmetry, were mingled into one wood. A beach of glittering white sand formed a border to these fairy spots.

I will now give a sketch of the natural history of these islands, which, from its very paucity, possesses a peculiar interest. The cocoa-nut tree at the first glance, seems to compose the whole wood: there are, however, five or six other kinds. One of these grows to a very large size, but, from the extreme softness of its wood, is useless; another sort affords excellent timber for ship-building. Besides the trees, the number of plants is exceedingly limited, and consists of insignificant weeds. In my collection, which includes, I believe, nearly the perfect Flora, there are twenty species, without reckoning a moss, lichen, and fungus. To this number two trees must be added; one of which was not in flower, and the other I only heard of. The latter is a solitary tree of its kind in the whole group, and grows near the beach, where without doubt, the one seed was thrown up by the waves. I do not include in the above list the sugar-cane, banana, some other vegetables, fruit-trees, and imported grasses. As these islands consist entirely of coral, and at one time probably existed as a mere water washed reef, all the productions now living here must have been transported by the waves of the sea. In accordance to this, the Flora has quite the character of a refuge for the destitute: Professor Henslow informs me that, of the twenty species nineteen belong to different genera, and these again to no less than sixteen orders!—From Darwin's Voyages of the Adventure and Beagle, under Captains King and Fitzroy.

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