« EelmineJätka »
The only inhabitants of any size that the island can boast of are a large herd of goats, whose well-worn tracks show plainly on every slope and cliff. A score of these animals, left in 1891 by the station steamer from Port Blair, have so thriven that their descendants must now be numbered in hundreds, and are so free from fear, and unsuspicious, that had we needed them we could have butchered any quantity.
From the landing-place the ground slopes gently upward to the floor of the crater, which is about 50 feet above sea level. In the centre of this rises the little cone of slightly truncated form. Symmetrical in outline, 1000 feet high and perhaps 2000 feet in diameter at the base, there is nothing it reminds one of more closely than a huge heap of purplish-black coal-dust, with patches and streaks of brown on the top.
To right and left of the base, and thence towards the sea, flows a broad black stream of clinkery lava, the masses of which it is composed varying in dimensions from rugged blocks of scoriæ a ton or more in weight to pieces the size of one's fist. The journey across it would be one of some difficulty, were it not that the goats, coming from all parts of the island in their need for water, by constantly travelling to and fro in the same line, have worn a smooth and deep path from side to side, some 200 yards distant from the sea.
The level ground at the base of the cone, widest on the southern side, is covered with tall bamboo grass and various kinds of low bushes. On the inner slopes of the crater, the south and east sides, which are of rocky formation, support a certain amount of small forest, in which we quickly noticed the absence of such tropical forms as palms, rattans and lianas, and of trees more than 60 or 70 feet high and 4 or 5 feet in diameter;
the same date Dr von Liebig records a broad but thin sheet of nearly boiling water issuing from beneath the lava, and the sea warm for many yards to a depth of more than 8 feet. Earlier still, in 1831, we have Dr Adam's account, which states that 100 yards from shore the water was nearly boiling ; the stones and rocks on shore exposed at low tide were smoking and hissing, and the water was boiling all round them.
In 1789 only withered shrubs and blasted trees were to be seen on parts
INTERIOR OF THE CRATER
the remaining sides, composed mainly of volcanic ash, afford foothold only to a coarse tussocky plant growing in clumps on the loose black dust. We found these latter slopes not at all an attractive scene of operations, for the feet sank and slipped at every step, and raised at the same time clouds of fine black dust.
During the day the heat in the interior was extreme, for the sun's rays beat down upon, and were reflected from, the dark slopes, while the wall of the crater completely cut off any sea breeze. We did not ascend the cone, for our stay was to be short, and we wished to investigate the fauna as fully as possible ; but from reports of the visits paid to the island once every three or four years from Port Blair, it would seem that the slight signs of activity still existent consist of an issue of steam and the continued sublimation of sulphur; while of the two cones which form the top, one is cold, and already bamboo grass and ferns are beginning to clothe the entire summit. There is ample proof in those details which have been recorded of the island during the last century that the volcano is rapidly becoming quiescent, and is indeed, perhaps verging on a condition of extinction, as has long been the case with Narkondam.
Captain Blair, who passed near in 1795, writes of enormous volumes of smoke and frequent showers of red-hot stones.
“ Some were of a size to weigh three or four tons, and had been thrown some hundred yards past the foot of the cone. There were two or three eruptions while we were close to it; several of the red-hot stones rolled down the sides of the cone and bounded a considerable way beyond us. . . . Those parts of the island that are distant from the volcano are thinly covered with withered shrubs and blasted trees.”
A few years later Horsburgh records an explosion every ten minutes, and a fire of considerable extent burning on the eastern side of the crater. In the next thirty years, the
remote from the cone (Blair): while as late as 1866 there were no trees of any height, but on the slopes and ridges abundance of bushes, some rising 20 feet (Report of the Andaman Committee).
subterranean forces had considerably diminished in activity, and at the end of that period only volumes of white smoke with no flame were to be seen. Drs Mouat and Liebig, who visited the island within a few months of each other in 1857, write respectively of volumes of dark smoke, and clouds of hot, watery vapour. In 1866, a whitish vapour was emitted from several deep fissures, and about 1890, steam was seen to be issuing at the top from a sulphur-bed, which was liquid and pasty, and a new jet was coming from a lump on the sloping side of the cone; while the sole evidence of activity now to be observed is the deposition of sulphur, and an escape of steam that often condenses on the surface rocks.
Concerning the fauna of the island, birds—inside the crater
were not numerous : commonest were a little white - eye (Zosterops palpebrosa), and the Indian cuckoo, which swarmed everywhere, its loud cries, “ko-el, ko - el,” resounding in all directions. The only mammals other than the goats were rats, which, while of one species (Mus atratus, sp. nov.), afford a rather curious example of range of colouring, for while many were of the usual brown shade, a great number were of a glossy coal-black, much resembling in tint the lava and volcanic dust in which they made their homes. The island is everywhere riddled with their holes, but though so numerous, the landcrabs may fairly claim to divide the place with them. Trapping for rats was a failure, for no sooner was one caught than it would be torn to pieces by the crabs, who in other instances would spring the trap long before the others were attracted by the bait.
Altogether we landed four times, but soon found that very little variety was to be obtained: the sea, however, swarmed with fish, and many fine catches of rock - cod, trigger - fish, and mullet, 20 to 70 lbs. in weight, were made by the crew.
Late one evening we left Barren Island, and with a fair though moderate breeze, which, however, soon drew round against us, covered the 36 miles to the Andamans proper,