Page:Darwin Journal of Researches.djvu/479

This page has been validated.
1836.]
457
THE SETTLEMENT.

of coral rock on the outside, by its breadth, breaks the first violence of the waves, which otherwise, in a day, would sweep away these islets and all their productions. The ocean and the land seem here struggling for mastery: although terra firma has obtained a footing, the denizens of the water think their claim at least equally good. In every part one meets hermit crabs of more than one species,[1] carrying on their backs the shells which they have stolen from the neighbouring beach. Overhead, numerous gannets, frigate-birds, and terns, rest on the trees; and the wood, from the many nests and from the smell of the atmosphere, might be called a sea-rookery. The gannets, sitting on their rude nests, gaze at one with a stupid yet angry air. The noddies, as their name expresses, are silly little creatures. But there is one charming bird: it is a small snow-white tern, which smoothly hovers at the distance of a few feet above one's head, its large black eye scanning, with quiet curiosity, your expression. Little imagination is required to fancy that so light and delicate a body must be tenanted by some wandering fairy spirit.

Sunday, April 3rd.—After service I accompanied Captain Fitz Roy to the settlement, situated at the distance of some miles, on the point of an islet thickly covered with tall cocoa-nut trees. Captain Ross and Mr. Liesk live in a large barn-like house open at both ends, and lined with mats made of woven bark. The houses of the Malays are arranged along the shore of the lagoon. The whole place had rather a desolate aspect, for there were no gardens to show the signs of care and cultivation. The natives belong to different islands in the East Indian archipelago, but all speak the same language: we saw the inhabitants of Borneo, Celebes, Java, and Sumatra. In colour they resemble the Tahitians, from whom they do not widely differ in features. Some of the women, however, show a good deal of the Chinese character. I liked both their general expressions and the sound of their voices. They appeared poor, and their houses were destitute of furniture; but it was evident, from the plumpness of

  1. The large claws or pincers of some of these crabs are most beautifully adapted, when drawn back, to form an operculum to the shell, nearly as perfect as the proper one originally belonging to the molluscous animal. I was assured, and as far as my observation went I found it so, that certain species of the hermit-crabs always use certain species of shells.