Page images
[merged small][ocr errors]

are of all temperatures—from the tepid water in which the natives play luxuriously for hours, to the boiling springs in which they place their food and leave it to cook itself. Some of these natural boilers He so close to the shore, that the fishers who haunt the reefs, armed with long four-pronged spears, have only to throw their prize into the rockcaldron the moment they have secured it. No fear of tainted fish for them! Nor need they search far for drinking water. Probably the nearest spring is quite cold and excellent. Some of the springs are highly medicated, and many resort to the healing waters, some of which are especially efficacious for the cure of ulcerous sores.

Beyond the strangely fertile crust, covering the region of horror, lies an unveiled tract of cinders and black volcanic ash, forming a wide barren valley from which rises the principal cone. This valley is intersected by a multitude of fissures from which issue scalding sulphureous fumes. Here aud there beds of the purest sulphur have been deposited, and trading vessels occasionally carry hence a cargo of this pale primrose-coloured mineral, to be turned to good domestic uses. Pools of boiling mud alternate with springs of cold water clear as crystal; and in fissures lying but a few feet apart the same strange diversity exists. One sends forth a blast of scalding steam, while in the next a drip


ping spring yields its slow but continuous supply of ice-cold water, falling drop by drop.

The cone, which is called Asoor by the Tannese, is about 300 feet in height It is a gradual ascent, but fatiguing, owing to the accumulation of fine black ash or sand, in which the foot sinks at every step. Masses of scoria and vitreous lava, or obsidian, have been thrown up by the volcano, and lie scattered on every side.

On reaching the summit, you find yourself on the brink of a crater half a mile in diameter, within which lie five secondary craters. These act as so many chimneys for the great furnace, which roars and bellows below, and which day and night, with deafening roar, unweariedly throws up its fiery blast at intervals of five, seven, or ten minutes, according as its action is more or less vehement. Some travellers have visited it repeatedly at intervals of several years, and their accounts of the intervals of eruption never vary beyond this slight difference. Huge masses of black rock or liquid fire are tossed in the air, to a height of 200 or 300 feet, often falling back within the crater, or else hurled to the valley below. Clouds of white steam mingle with denser clouds of the finest darkgrey dust, which is carried by the wind to all parts of the island, coating every green leaf with a powder like fine steel-filings, which fills the eyes

[merged small][ocr errors]

and nostrils of all breathing creatures in a most unpleasant manner. When rain falls, it absorbs this dust, and becomes literally a mud-shower.

From the position of the inner craters, it is obvious that even the most foolhardy scientific traveller could hardly venture to approach them to peer into the mysterious workings of that mighty caldron. Yet a native legend records, that in one of the fierce battles between the tribes of Tanna, one party was gradually driven backward, till they retreated to the summit of the cone, and even there they still fought on, contesting foot by foot of the sandy ridges of the inner crater, where a multitude of these savage warriors perished, having fought to the death, unheeding the wrath of the fire-gods.

But of the isles visited by the Seignelay, before I had the privilege of joining the party, there is none which I regret so much as Easter Island, or, as the inhabitants call it, Rapa Nui, where they touched on the way from Valparaiso, from which it is distant about 2500 miles, without any intermediate isle. I think it must be the loneliest spot in the Pacific, as there are apparently only two little isles anywhere within a radius of 1000 miles. It is a volcanic island, about 11 miles long by 4 wide. It is covered with extinct craters, in some of which are deep pools of water. The highest point is about 1000 feet above the sea-level. The hills are covered with hybiscus and other scrub. It is inhabited by a race of very fair natives, like the Tahitians, and very elaborately tattooed.

But the isle owes its interest to its mysterious relics of a forgotten race, who have utterly and completely died out, even from legendary lore; while their handiwork abides, written on the rocks, which are so covered with carving as to resemble the studio of some giant sculptor. Colossal stone images lie half buried beneath the creeping grass and encroaching scrub. At intervals all round the coast there are cyclopean platforms, from 200 to 300 feet in length, and about 30 feet high, all built of hewn stones 5 or 6 feet long, and accurately fitted, without cement. And above these, on the headlands, are artificially levelled platforms, paved with square blocks of black lava. On all these, stone pedestals remain, whereon were placed the great images, which, by some powerful force, have mostly been thrown to the ground and broken.

The average height of the figures is about 18 feet; some of those lying prostrate are 27 feet long, and measure 8 feet across the breast. You can infer the size of some of the upright ones from the fact that, so near noon as 2 P.m., they cast sufficient shadow to cover a party of thirty persons. Some have been found which measure

[merged small][ocr errors]

37 feet. They are all hewn of a close-grained grey lava, which is only found at Otouli, a crater on the east side of the island. On a platform near this quarry several gigantic images stand in perfect preservation. One of these measures 20 feet from the shoulder to the crown of the head.

They represent an unknown type. Very square face — short, thin upper lip, giving a somewhat scornful expression — broad nose and ears, with pendent lobes. All the faces look upward. The eyes are deeply sunken, and are supposed to have originally had eyeballs of obsidian.

All the principal images have the top of the head cut flat and crowned with a cylindrical mass of red lava, hewn perfectly round. Some of these crowns are 66 inches in diameter and 52 in height. The only place on the island where this red lava is found, is the crater of Terano Hau, which is fully eight miles from Otouli; and how these ponderous crowns were conveyed to their position on the heads of the grey rock-kings, is one of the mysteries of the isle. About thirty of them still lie in the quarry where they were hewn, ready for the heads which they were never destined to adorn. Some of these are 30 feet in circumference.

Well may we marvel by what means those unknown sculptors transported their ponderous works of art from one distant point to another on this

« PreviousContinue »