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Waterton's Wanderings.
The Wanderings - The First Journey, 1812.
Chapter 3
Chapter 3 Pages

• 1  • 2  • 3  • 4  • 5

Chapter 1Chapter 2

▼ Chapter 3, p.1.

1st and 3rd JourneysMap showing the First and Third Journeys. (1)
(Click image to enlarge).

Continuing the First Journey in Waterton's own words......

Operation of the Wourali. Descent of the Essequibo. The Buccaneers. Long Life and Quite Death of Wouralia. When good King Arthur Ruled this land.
■ More about curare

Having now followed the Indian in the chase and described the poison, let us take a nearer view of its action and observe a large animal expiring under the weight of its baneful virulence.

Many have doubted the strength of the wourali poison. Should they ever by chance read what follows, probably their doubts on that score will be settled for ever.

In the former experiment on the dog some faint resistance on the part of Nature was observed, as if existence struggled for superiority, but in the following instance of the sloth life sunk in death without the least apparent contention, without a cry, without a struggle and without a groan. This was an ai, or three-toed sloth. It was in the possession of a gentleman who was collecting curiosities. He wished to have it killed in order to preserve the skin, and the wourali poison was resorted to as the easiest death.

Of all animals, not even the toad and tortoise excepted, this poor ill- formed creature is the most tenacious of life. It exists long after it has received wounds which would have destroyed any other animal, and it may be said, on seeing a mortally-wounded sloth, that life disputes with death every inch of flesh in its body.

The ai was wounded in the leg, and put down on the floor about two feet from the table; it contrived to reach the leg of the table, and fastened itself on it, as if wishful to ascend. But this was its last advancing step: life was ebbing fast though imperceptibly, nor could this singular production of Nature, which has been formed of a texture to resist death in a thousand shapes, make any stand against the wourali poison.

First one fore-leg let go its hold, and dropped down motionless by its side; the other gradually did the same. The fore-legs having now lost their strength, the sloth slowly doubled its body and placed its head betwixt its hind-legs, which still adhered to the table; but when the poison had affected these also it sunk to the ground, but sunk so gently that you could not distinguish the movement from an ordinary motion, and had you been ignorant that it was wounded with a poisoned arrow you would never have suspected that it was dying. Its mouth was shut, nor had any froth or saliva collected there.

There was no 'subsultus tendinum'* or any visible alteration in its breathing. During the tenth minute from the time it was wounded it stirred, and that was all; and the minute after life's last spark went out. From the time the poison began to operate you would have conjectured that sleep was overpowering it, and you would have exclaimed: "Pressitque jacentem, dulcis et alta quies, placidaeque simillima morti."

There are now two positive proofs of the effect of this fatal poison: viz. the death of the dog and that of the sloth. But still these animals were nothing remarkable for size, and the strength of the poison in large animals might yet be doubted were it not for what follows.

A large well-fed ox, from nine hundred to a thousand pounds weight, was tied to a stake by a rope sufficiently strong to allow him to move to and fro. Having no large coucourite spikes at hand, it was judged necessary, on account of his superior size, to put three wild-hog arrows into him: one was sent into each thigh just above the hock in order to avoid wounding a vital part, and the third was shot traversely into the extremity of the nostril.

The poison seemed to take effect in four minutes. Conscious as though he would fall, the ox set himself firmly on his legs and remained quite still in the same place till about the fourteenth minute, when he smelled the ground and appeared as if inclined to walk. He advanced a pace or two, staggered and fell, and remained extended on his side, with his head on the ground. His eye, a few minutes ago so bright and lively, now became fixed and dim, and though you put your hand close to it, as if to give him a blow there, he never closed his eyelid.

His legs were convulsed and his head from time to time started involuntarily, but he never showed the least desire to raise it from the ground. He breathed hard and emitted foam from his mouth. The startings, or 'subsultus tendinum'*, now became gradually weaker and weaker; his hinder parts were fixed in death, and in a minute or two more his head and fore-legs ceased to stir.

(* subsultus tendinum. An involuntary twitching of the muscles, esp. of those of the arms and feet, causing movement of the tendons.)


▲ Chapter 3, p.1.

▼ Chapter 3, p.2.

[Sweet and savoury at dinner]
Nothing now remained to show that life was still within him except that his heart faintly beat and fluttered at intervals. In five and twenty minutes from the time of his being wounded he was quite dead. His flesh was very sweet and savoury at dinner.

On taking a retrospective view of the two different kinds of poisoned arrows, and the animals destroyed by them, it would appear that the quantity of poison must be proportioned to the animal, and thus those probably labour under an error who imagine that the smallest particle of it introduced into the blood has almost instantaneous effects.

Make an estimate of the difference in size betwixt the fowl and the ox, and then weigh a sufficient quantity of poison for a blow-pipe arrow, with which the fowl was killed, and weigh also enough poison for three wild-hog arrows, which destroyed the ox, and it will appear that the fowl received much more poison in proportion than the ox. Hence the cause why the fowl died in five minutes and the ox in five and twenty.

Indeed, were it the case that the smallest particle of it introduced into the blood has almost instantaneous effects, the Indian would not find it necessary to make the large arrow: that of the blow-pipe is much easier made and requires less poison.

And now for the antidotes, or rather the supposed antidotes. The Indians tell you, that if the wounded animal be held for a considerable time up to the mouth in water the poison will not prove fatal; also that the juice of the sugar-cane poured down the throat will counteract the effects of it. These antidotes were fairly tried upon full-grown healthy fowls, but they all died, as though no steps had been taken to preserve their lives. Rum was recommended, and given to another, but with as little success.

It is supposed by some that wind introduced into the lungs by means of a small pair of bellows would revive the poisoned patient, provided the operation be continued for a sufficient length of time. It may be so; but this is a difficult and a tedious mode of cure, and he who is wounded in the forest, far away from his friends, or in the hut of the savages, stands but a poor chance of being saved by it.

Had the Indians a sure antidote, it is likely they would carry it about with them or resort to it immediately after being wounded, if at hand; and their confidence in its efficacy would greatly diminish the horror they betray when you point a poisoned arrow at them.

One day, while we were eating a red monkey erroneously called the baboon, in Demerara, an Arowack Indian told an affecting story of what happened to a comrade of his. He was present at his death. As it did not interest this Indian in any point to tell a falsehood, it is very probable that his account was a true one. If so, it appears that there is no certain antidote, or at least an antidote that could be resorted to in a case of urgent need, for the Indian gave up all thoughts of life as soon as he was wounded.

The Arowack Indian said it was but four years ago that he and his companion were ranging in the forest in quest of game. His companion took a poisoned arrow and sent it at a red monkey in a tree above him. It was nearly a perpendicular shot. The arrow missed the monkey, and in the descent struck him in the arm a little above the elbow. He was convinced it was all over with him. "I shall never," said he to his companion, in a faltering voice, and looking at his bow as he said it, "I shall never," said he, "bend this bow again." And having said that, he took off his little bamboo poison-box, which hung across his shoulder, and putting it together with his bow and arrows on the ground, he laid himself down close by them, bid his companion farewell, and never spoke more.

He who is unfortunate enough to be wounded by a poisoned arrow from Macoushia had better not depend upon the common antidotes for a cure. Many who have been in Guiana will recommend immediate immersion in water, or to take the juice of the sugar-cane, or to fill the mouth full of salt; and they recommend these antidotes because they have got them from the Indians. But were you to ask them if they ever saw these antidotes used with success, it is ten to one their answer would be in the negative.

Wherefore let him reject these antidotes as unprofitable and of no avail. He has got an active and deadly foe within him which, like Shakespeare's fell Serjeant Death, is strict in his arrest, and will allow him but little time--very, very little time. In a few minutes he will be numbered with the dead. Life ought, if possible, to be preserved, be the expense ever so great. Should the part affected admit of it, let a ligature be tied tight round the wound, and have immediate recourse to the knife:

Continuo, culpam ferro compesce, priusquam Dira per infaustum serpant contagia corpus.

And now, kind reader, it is time to bid thee farewell. The two ends proposed have been obtained. The Portuguese inland frontier-fort has been reached and the Macoushi wourali poison acquired. The account of this excursion through the interior of Guiana has been submitted to thy perusal in order to induce thy abler genius to undertake a more extensive one. If any difficulties have arisen, or fevers come on, they have been caused by the periodical rains which fall in torrents as the sun approaches the Tropic of Cancer. In dry weather there would be no difficulties or sickness.

▲ Chapter 3, p.2.

▼ Chapter 3, p.3.

And now, kind reader, it is time to bid thee farewell. The two ends proposed have been obtained. The Portuguese inland frontier-fort has been reached and the Macoushi wourali poison acquired. The account of this excursion through the interior of Guiana has been submitted to thy perusal in order to induce thy abler genius to undertake a more extensive one. If any difficulties have arisen, or fevers come on, they have been caused by the periodical rains which fall in torrents as the sun approaches the Tropic of Cancer. In dry weather there would be no difficulties or sickness.

Amongst the many satisfactory conclusions which thou wouldest be able to draw during the journey there is one which, perhaps, would please thee not a little, and that is with regard to dogs. Many a time, no doubt, thou hast heard it hotly disputed that dogs existed in Guiana previously to the arrival of the Spaniards in those parts. Whatever the Spaniards introduced, and which bore no resemblance to anything the Indians had been accustomed to see, retains its Spanish name to this day.

Thus the Warow, the Arowack, the Acoway, the Macoushi and Carib tribes call a hat - sombrero; a shirt or any kind of cloth - camisa; a shoe - zapalo; a letter - carta; a fowl - gallina; gunpowder - colvora (Spanish 'polvora'); ammunition - bala; a cow - vaca; and a dog - perro.

This argues strongly against the existence of dogs in Guiana before it was discovered by the Spaniards, and probably may be of use to thee in thy next canine dispute.

In a political point of view this country presents a large field for speculation. A few years ago there was but little inducement for any Englishman to explore the interior of these rich and fine colonies, as the British Government did not consider them worth holding at the Peace of Amiens. Since that period their mother-country has been blotted out from the list of nations, and America has unfolded a new sheet of politics. On one side the Crown of Braganza, attacked by an ambitious chieftain, has fled from the palace of its ancestors, and now seems fixed on the banks of the Janeiro. Cayenne has yielded to its arms, La Plata has raised the standard of independence and thinks itself sufficiently strong to obtain a Government of its own. On the other side the Caraccas are in open revolt, and should Santa Fe join them in good earnest they may form a powerful association.

Thus on each side of ci-devant Dutch Guiana most unexpected and astonishing changes have taken place. Will they raise or lower it in the scale of estimation at the Court of St. James's? Will they be of benefit to these grand and extensive colonies? Colonies enjoying perpetual summer. Colonies of the richest soil. Colonies containing within themselves everything necessary for their support. Colonies, in fine, so varied in their quality and situation as to be capable of bringing to perfection every tropical production, and only want the support of Government, and an enlightened governor, to render them as fine as the finest portions of the equatorial regions. Kind reader, fare thee well!

* * * * *

Letter to the Portuguese Commander


Como no tengo el honor, de ser conocido de VM. lo pienso mejor, y mas decoroso, quedarme aqui, hastaque huviere recibido su respuesta. Haviendo caminado hasta la choza, adonde estoi, no quisiere volverme, antes de haver visto la fortaleza de los Portugueses; y pido licencia de VM. para que me adelante. Honradissimos son mis motivos, ni tengo proyecto ninguno, o de comercio, o de la soldadesca, no siendo yo, o comerciante, o oficial. Hidalgo catolico soy, de hacienda in Ynglatierra, y muchos anos de mi vida he pasado en caminar. Ultimamente, de Demeraria vengo, la quai dexe el 5 dia de Abril, para ver este hermoso pais, y coger unas curiosidades, especialmente, el veneno, que se llama wourali. Las mas recentes noticias que tenian en Demeraria, antes di mi salida, eran medias tristes, medias alegres. Tristes digo, viendo que Valencia ha caido en poder del enemigo comun, y el General Blake, y sus valientes tropas quedan prisioneros de guerra. Alegres, al contrario, porque Milord Wellington se ha apoderado de Ciudad Rodrigo. A pesar de la caida de Valencia, parece claro al mundo, que las cosas del enemigo, estan andando, de pejor a pejor cada dia. Nosotros debemos dar gracias al Altissimo, por haver sido servido dexarnos castigar ultimamente, a los robadores, de sus santas Yglesias. Se vera VM. que yo no escribo Portugues ni aun lo hablo, pero, haviendo aprendido el Castellano, no nos faltara medio de communicar y tener conversacion. Ruego se escuse esta carta escrita sin tinta, porque un Indio dexo caer mi tintero y quebrose. Dios le de a VM. muchos anos de salud. Entretanto, tengo el honor de ser

Su mas obedeciente servidor,


* * * * *


▲Chapter 3, p.3.


▼ Chapter 3, p.4.


Incertus, quo fata ferant, ubi sistere detur.

Kind and gentle reader, if the journey in quest of the wourali poison has engaged thy attention, probably thou mayest recollect that the traveller took leave of thee at Fort St. Joachim, on the Rio Branco. Shouldest thou wish to know what befell him afterwards, excuse the following uninteresting narrative.

Having had a return of fever, and aware that the farther he advanced into these wild and lonely regions the less would be the chance of regaining his health, he gave up all idea of proceeding onwards, and went slowly back towards the Demerara, nearly by the same route he had come.

On descending the falls in the Essequibo, which form an oblique line quite across the river, it was resolved to push through them, the downward stream being in the canoe's favour. At a little distance from the place a large tree had fallen into the river, and in the meantime the canoe was lashed to one of its branches.

The roaring of the water was dreadful: it foamed and dashed over the rocks with a tremendous spray, like breakers on a lee-shore, threatening destruction to whatever approached it. You would have thought, by the confusion it caused in the river and the whirlpools it made, that Scylla and Charybdis, and their whole progeny, had left the Mediterranean and come and settled here. The channel was barely twelve feet wide, and the torrent in rushing down formed traverse furrows which showed how near the rocks were to the surface.

Nothing could surpass the skill of the Indian who steered the canoe. He looked steadfastly at it, then at the rocks, then cast an eye on the channel, and then looked at the canoe again. It was in vain to speak. The sound was lost in the roar of waters, but his eye showed that he had already passed it in imagination. He held up his paddle in a position as much as to say that he would keep exactly amid channel, and then made a sign to cut the bush-rope that held the canoe to the fallen tree. The canoe drove down the torrent with inconceivable rapidity. It did not touch the rocks once all the way. The Indian proved to a nicety: "medio tutissimus ibis."

Shortly after this it rained almost day and night, the lightning flashing incessantly and the roar of thunder awful beyond expression.

The fever returned, and pressed so heavy on him that to all appearance his last day's march was over. However, it abated, his spirits rallied, and he marched again; and after delays and inconveniences he reached the house of his worthy friend Mr. Edmonstone, in Mibiri Creek, which falls into the Demerara. No words of his can do justice to the hospitality of that gentleman, whose repeated encounters with the hostile negroes in the forest have been publicly rewarded and will be remembered in the colony for years to come.

[Eruption in St. Vincent's. See Chapter 1.]
Here he learned that an eruption had taken place in St. Vincent's, and thus the noise heard in the night of the first of May, which had caused such terror amongst the Indians and made the garrison at Fort St. Joachim remain under arms the rest of the night, is accounted for.

[Captain Peake]
After experiencing every kindness and attention from Mr. Edmonstone he sailed for Granada, and from thence to St. Thomas's, a few days before poor Captain Peake* lost his life on his own quarter-deck bravely fighting for his country on the coast of Guiana.

[* See monumental inscription in St. George's Cathedral, Georgetown, Guyana.]

At St. Thomas's they show you a tower, a little distance from the town, which they say formerly belonged to a bucanier chieftain. Probably the fury of besiegers has reduced it to its present dismantled state. What still remains of it bears testimony of its former strength and may brave the attack of time for centuries. You cannot view its ruins without calling to mind the exploits of those fierce and hardy hunters, long the terror of the Western world. While you admire their undaunted courage, you lament that it was often stained with cruelty; while you extol their scrupulous justice to each other, you will find a want of it towards the rest of mankind. Often possessed of enormous wealth, often in extreme poverty, often triumphant on the ocean and often forced to fly to the forests, their life was an ever- changing scene of advance and retreat, of glory and disorder, of luxury and famine. Spain treated them as outlaws and pirates, while other European powers publicly disowned them. They, on the other hand, maintained that injustice on the part of Spain first forced them to take up arms in self- defence, and that, whilst they kept inviolable the laws which they had framed for their own common benefit and protection, they had a right to consider as foes those who treated them as outlaws. Under this impression they drew the sword and rushed on as though in lawful war, and divided the spoils of victory in the scale of justice.

▲ Chapter 3, p.4.

▼ Chapter 3, p.5.

After leaving St. Thomas's, a severe tertian ague every now and then kept putting the traveller in mind that his shattered frame, "starting and shivering in the inconstant blast, meagre and pale, the ghost of what it was," wanted repairs. Three years elapsed after arriving in England before the ague took its final leave of him.

[Experiments with curare and the 'happy ever after' life of Wouralia]
During that time, several experiments were made with the wourali poison. In London an ass was inoculated with it and died in twelve minutes. The poison was inserted into the leg of another, round which a bandage had been previously tied a little above the place where the wourali was introduced. He walked about as usual and ate his food as though all were right. After an hour had elapsed the bandage was untied, and ten minutes after death overtook him.

A she-ass received the wourali poison in the shoulder, and died apparently in ten minutes. An incision was then made in its windpipe and through it the lungs were regularly inflated for two hours with a pair of bellows. Suspended animation returned. The ass held up her head and looked around, but the inflating being discontinued she sunk once more in apparent death. The artificial breathing was immediately recommenced, and continued without intermission for two hours more. This saved the ass from final dissolution: she rose up and walked about; she seemed neither in agitation nor in pain. The wound through which the poison entered was healed without difficulty. Her constitution, however, was so severely affected that it was long a doubt if ever she would be well again. She looked lean and sickly for above a year, but began to mend the spring after, and by midsummer became fat and frisky.

The kind-hearted reader will rejoice on learning that Earl Percy, pitying her misfortunes, sent her down from London to Walton Hall, near Wakefield. There she goes by the name of Wouralia. Wouralia shall be sheltered from the wintry storm; and when summer comes she shall feed in the finest pasture. No burden shall be placed upon her, and she shall end her days in peace.

For three revolving autumns, the ague-beaten wanderer never saw without a sigh the swallow bend her flight towards warmer regions. He wished to go too, but could not for sickness had enfeebled him, and prudence pointed out the folly of roving again too soon across the northern tropic. To be sure, the Continent was now open, and change of air might prove beneficial, but there was nothing very tempting in a trip across the Channel, and as for a tour through England!--England has long ceased to be the land for adventures. Indeed, when good King Arthur reappears to claim his crown, he will find things strangely altered here; and may we not look for his coming? for there is written upon his gravestone:

Hic jacet Arturus, Rex quondam Rexque futurus.

Here Arthur lies, who formerly Was king--and king again to be.

Don Quixote was always of opinion that this famous king did not die, but that he was changed into a raven by enchantment and that the English are momentarily expecting his return. Be this as it may, it is certain that when he reigned here all was harmony and joy. The browsing herds passed from vale to vale, the swains sang from the bluebell-teeming groves, and nymphs, with eglantine and roses in their neatly-braided hair, went hand in hand to the flowery mead to weave garlands for their lambkins. If by chance some rude, uncivil fellow dared to molest them, or attempted to throw thorns in their path, there was sure to be a knight-errant not far off ready to rush forward in their defence. But alas! in these degenerate days it is not so. Should a harmless cottage-maid wander out of the highway to pluck a primrose or two in the neighbouring field, the haughty owner sternly bids her retire; and if a pitying swain hasten to escort her back, he is perhaps seized by the gaunt house-dog ere he reach her!

Aeneas's route on the other side of Styx could not have been much worse than this, though, by his account, when he got back to earth, it appears that he had fallen in with "Bellua Lernae, horrendum stridens, flammisque, armata Chimaera."

Moreover, he had a sibyl to guide his steps; and as such a conductress nowadays could not be got for love or money, it was judged most prudent to refrain from sauntering through this land of freedom, and wait with patience the return of health. At last this long-looked-for, ever-welcome stranger came.

*** END ***

1. Map contained in Wanderings in South America, Charles Waterton, with article by Sydney Smith. Hutchinson & Co., Paternoster Row, London, 1906.

▲Chapter 3, p.5.


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