The uproar made by these animals, by the females and their young especially, surpasses description. One would think that herds of cattle were bellowing on the beach. Neither difficulty nor danger attends the capture, or at least the slaughter of the marine beasts. The sealers kill them with a blow of a club when they are lying in the sands on the strand. These are the special features that differentiate Scandinavia from the Falklands, not to speak of the infinite number of birds which rose on my approach, grebe, cormorants, black-headed swans, and above all, tribes of penguins, of which hundreds of thousands are massacred every year.
One day, when the air was filled with a sound of braying, sufficient to deafen one, I asked an old sailor belonging to Port Egmont,—
“Are there asses about here?”
“Sir,” he replied, “those are not asses that you hear, but penguins.”
The asses themselves, had any been there, would have been deceived by the braying of these stupid birds. I pursued my investigations some way to the west of the bay. West Falkland is more extensive than its neighbour, La Soledad, and possesses another fort at the southern point of Byron’s Sound—too far off for me to go there.
I could not estimate the population of the Archipelago even approximately. Probably, it did not then exceed from two to three hundred souls, mostly English, with some Indians, Portuguese, Spaniards, Gauche from the Argentine Pampas, and natives from Tier Del Fuel. On the other hand, the representatives of the ovine and bovine races were to be counted by tens of thousands. More than five hundred thousand sheep yield over four hundred thousand dollars’ worth of wool yearly. There are also horned cattle bred on the islands; these seem to have increased in size, while the other quadrupeds, for instance, horses, pigs, and rabbits, have decreased. All these live in a wild state, and the only beast of prey is the dog-fox, a species peculiar to the fauna of the Falklands.
Not without reason has this island been called “a cattle farm.” What inexhaustible pastures, what an abundance of that savoury grass, the tussock, does nature lavish on animals there! Australia, though so rich in this respect, does not set a better spread table before her ovine and bovine pensioners.
The Falklands ought to be resorted to for the re-victualling of ships. The groups are of real importance to navigators making for the Strait of Magellan, as well as to those who come to fish in the vicinity of the polar regions.
When the work on the hull was done, West occupied himself with the masts and the rigging, with the assistance of Martin Holt, our sailing master, who was very clever at this kind of industry.
On the 21st of October, Captain Len Guy said to me: “You shall see, Mr. Jeorling, that nothing will be neglected to ensure the success of our enterprise. Everything that can be foreseen has been foreseen, and if the Halbrane is to perish in some catastrophe, it will be because it is not permitted to human beings to go against the designs of God.”
“I have good hopes, captain, as I have already said. Your vessel and her crew are worthy of confidence. But, supposing the expedition should be much prolonged, perhaps the supply of provisions—”
“We shall carry sufficient for two years, and those shall be of good quality. Port Egmont has proved capable of supplying us with everything we require.” ”Another question, if you will allow me?”
“Put it, Mr. Jeorling, put it.”
“Shall you not need a more numerous crew for the Halbrane?” Though you have men enough for the working of the ship, suppose you find you have to attack or to defend in the Antarctic waters? Let us not forget that, according to Arthur Pym’s narrative, there were thousands of natives on Tsalal Island, and if your brother—if his companions are prisoners—”
“I hope, Mr. Jeorling, our artillery will protect the Halbrane better than the Jane was protected by her guns. To tell the truth, the crew we have would not be sufficient for an expedition of this kind. I have been arranging for recruiting our forces.”
“Will it be difficult?”
“Yes and no; for the Governor has promised to help me.”
“I surmise, captain, that recruits will have to be attracted by larger pay.”
“Double pay, Mr.