Natural History Handiworks
Aftermath Waterton Links Links - General Book Shelf
Overtown Miscellany - Charles Waterton
 site search by freefind  
Waterton's Wanderings.
The Wanderings - The Second Journey, 1816.
Chapter 1
Chapter 1 Pages

• 1  • 2  • 3  • 4  • 5

Chapter 2Chapter 3

Click to enlargeTwo days before the vernal equinox in 1816, Charles Waterton set sail from Liverpool for Pernambuco* on the coast of Brazil.
The vernal equinox was on 20th March, so he left Liverpool on the 18th.
(Based upon my understanding of Nova Scotia's Electric Scrapbook, Vernal Equinox, Date and Time of the
Spring Equinox 1788 - 2211
. [Accessed 3rd September 2017.]

* Waterton is referring to the town now known as Recife, the capital of Pernambuco, a state in the north east of the country.

Click to enlargeVernal Equinox
The date (roundabout 21st March in the Northern Hemisphere)
when night and day are nearly the same length and the Sun crosses the celestial equator
(i.e., declination 0) moving northward.

■ Find out more at
• The Equinox in March and September: Vernal and Autumnal
at TheTimeNow.com
• Spring Equinox – Vernal Equinox at timeanddate.com.

Click to enlargeSuch a voyage in those days was not remarkable in itself. Many sailing ships plied the Seven Seas and there was brisk trade between the Americas and Europe.

To a naturalist such as Waterton, there would have been much to interest him - even the gulls that accompanied the ship were worthy of note. But his real interest lay in the tropics.

"The Ocean", he noted in his journal, "swarms with curiosities. Probably the flying fish may be considered as one of the most singular."

FLYING FISH - the common name for members of the Exocoetidae, a family of carnivorous and herbivorous fish of the warmer seas.
Flying fish usually swim in shoals. They average 17.5-30 cm. (7" to 12") in length and have pectoral fins that compare in size with the wings of birds; in some species the pelvic fins also are enlarged.
The four-winged flying fish is common in the Atlantic Ocean.

The SECOND JOURNEY in Waterton's own words......

▼ Chapter 1, p.1.

Click to enlargeFrom Liverpool to Pernambuco. Stormy petrels. Tropical zoology. Flying fish. Bonito, Albicore, and 'Dolphin'. Frigate bird. Arrival at Pernambuco. The expelled Jesuit. Pombal, the Captain-General. Southey's History of Brazil. Botanical garden. Sangredo Buey. Rattlesnake. Narrow Escape. Rainy. Sail for Cayenne. Shark-catching.

In the year 1816, two days before the vernal equinox [i.e. about 18th March], I sailed from Liverpool for Pernambuco, in the southern hemisphere, on the coast of Brazil. There is little at this time of the year, in the European part of the Atlantic, to engage the attention of the naturalist. As you go down the Channel you see a few divers and gannets. The middle-sized gulls, with a black spot at the end of the wings, attend you a little way into the Bay of Biscay. When it blows a hard gale of wind the stormy petrel makes its appearance. While the sea runs mountains high, and every wave threatens destruction to the labouring vessel, this little harbinger of storms is seen enjoying itself, on rapid pinion, up and down the roaring billows. When the storm is over it appears no more. It is known to every English sailor by the name of Mother Carey's chicken. It must have been hatched in Æolus's cave, amongst a clutch of squalls and tempests, for whenever they get out upon the ocean it always contrives to be of the party.

Though the calms and storms and adverse winds in these latitudes are vexatious, still, when you reach the trade-winds, you are amply repaid for all disappointments and inconveniences. The trade-winds prevail about thirty degrees on each side of the equator. This part of the ocean may be called the Elysian Fields of Neptune's empire; and the torrid zone, notwithstanding Ovid's remark, "non est habitabilis æstu," is rendered healthy and pleasant by these gently-blowing breezes. The ship glides smoothly on, and you soon find yourself within the northern tropic. When you are on it Cancer is just over your head, and betwixt him and Capricorn is the high-road of the Zodiac, forty-seven degrees wide, famous for Phaeton's misadventure. His father begged and entreated him not to take it into his head to drive parallel to the five zones, but to mind and keep on the turnpike which runs obliquely across the equator. "There you will distinctly see," said he, "the ruts of my chariot wheels, 'manifesta rotæ vestigia cernes.'" "But," added he, "even suppose you keep on it, and avoid the by-roads, nevertheless, my dear boy, believe me, you will be most sadly put to your shifts; 'ardua prima via est,' the first part of the road is confoundedly steep! 'ultima via prona est,' and after that, it is all down- hill! Moreover, 'per insidias iter est, formasque ferarum,' the road is full of nooses and bull-dogs, 'Hæmoniosque arcus,' and spring guns, 'sævaque circuitu, curvantem brachia longo, Scorpio,' and steel traps of uncommon size and shape." These were nothing in the eyes of Phaeton; go he would, so off he set, full speed, four in hand. He had a tough drive of it, and after doing a prodigious deal of mischief, very luckily for the world he got thrown out of the box, and tumbled into the River Po.

Some of our modern bloods have been shallow enough to try to ape this poor empty-headed coachman on a little scale, making London their Zodiac. Well for them if tradesmen's bills and other trivial perplexities have not caused them to be thrown into the King's Bench.

The productions of the torrid zone are uncommonly grand. Its plains, its swamps, its savannas and forests abound with the largest serpents and wild beasts; and its trees are the habitation of the most beautiful of the feathered race. While the traveller in the Old World is astonished at the elephant, the tiger, the lion and rhinoceros, he who wanders through the torrid regions of the New is lost in admiration at the cotingas, the toucans, the humming-birds and aras.

The ocean likewise swarms with curiosities. Probably the flying-fish may be considered as one of the most singular. This little scaled inhabitant of water and air seems to have been more favoured than the rest of its finny brethren. It can rise out of the waves and on wing visit the domain of the birds.

After flying two or three hundred yards, the intense heat of the sun has dried its pellucid wings, and it is obliged to wet them in order to continue its flight. It just drops into the ocean for a moment, and then rises again and flies on; and then descends to remoisten them, and then up again into the air; thus passing its life, sometimes wet, sometimes dry, sometimes in sunshine, and sometimes in the pale moon's nightly beam, as pleasure dictates or as need requires. The additional assistance of wings is not thrown away upon it. It has full occupation both for fins and wings, as its life is in perpetual danger.

The bonito and albicore chase it day and night, but the dolphin is its worst and swiftest foe. If it escape into the air, the dolphin pushes on with proportional velocity beneath, and is ready to snap it up the moment it descends to wet its wings.

You will often see above one hundred of these little marine aerial fugitives on the wing at once. They appear to use every exertion to prolong their flight, but vain are all their efforts, for when the last drop of water on their wings is dried up their flight is at an end, and they must drop into the ocean. Some are instantly devoured by their merciless pursuer, part escape by swimming, and others get out again as quick as possible, and trust once more to their wings.

It often happens that this unfortunate little creature, after alternate dips and flights, finding all its exertions of no avail, at last drops on board the vessel, verifying the old remark:

▲ Chapter 1, p.1.

▼ Chapter 1, p.2.

Incidit in Scyllam, cupiens vitare Charybdim.

There, stunned by the fall, it beats the deck with its tail and dies. When eating it you would take it for a fresh herring. The largest measure from fourteen to fifteen inches in length. The dolphin, after pursuing it to the ship, sometimes forfeits his own life.

In days of yore the musician used to play in softest, sweetest strain, and then take an airing amongst the dolphins: "inter delphinas Arion." But nowadays our tars have quite capsized the custom, and instead of riding ashore on the dolphin, they invite the dolphin aboard. While he is darting and playing around the vessel a sailor goes out to the spritsail yard-arm, and with a long staff, leaded at one end, and armed at the other with five barbed spikes, he heaves it at him. If successful in his aim there is a fresh mess for all hands. The dying dolphin affords a superb and brilliant sight:

Mille trahit moriens, adverse sole colores.

All the colours of the rainbow pass and repass in rapid succession over his body, till the dark hand of death closes the scene.

From the Cape de Verd Islands to the coast of Brazil you see several different kinds of gulls, which, probably, are bred in the Island of St. Paul. Sometimes the large bird called the frigate pelican soars majestically over the vessel, and the tropic bird comes near enough to let you have a fair view of the long feathers in his tail. On the line, when it is calm, sharks of a tremendous size make their appearance. They are descried from the ship by means of the dorsal fin, which is above the water.

On entering the Bay of Pernambuco, the frigate pelican is seen watching the shoals of fish from a prodigious height. It seldom descends without a successful attack on its numerous prey below.

As you approach the shore the view is charming. The hills are clothed with wood, gradually rising towards the interior, none of them of any considerable height. A singular reef of rocks runs parallel to the coast and forms the harbour of Pernambuco. The vessels are moored betwixt it and the town, safe from every storm. You enter the harbour through a very narrow passage, close by a fort built on the reef. The hill of Olinda, studded with houses and convents, is on your right-hand, and an island thickly planted with cocoa-nut trees adds considerably to the scene on your left. There are two strong forts on the isthmus betwixt Olinda and Pernambuco, and a pillar midway to aid the pilot.

Click to enlarge Pernambuco probably contains upwards of fifty thousand souls. It stands on a flat, and is divided into three parts: a peninsula, an island and the continent. Though within a few degrees of the line, its climate is remarkably salubrious and rendered almost temperate by the refreshing sea- breeze. Had art and judgment contributed their portion to its natural advantages, Pernambuco at this day would have been a stately ornament to the coast of Brazil. On viewing it, it will strike you that everyone has built his house entirely for himself, and deprived public convenience of the little claim she had a right to put in. You would wish that this city, so famous for its harbour, so happy in its climate and so well situated for commerce, could have risen under the flag of Dido, in lieu of that of Braganza.

As you walk down the streets the appearance of the houses is not much in their favour. Some of them are very high, and some very low; some newly whitewashed, and others stained and mouldy and neglected, as though they had no owner.

The balconies, too, are of a dark and gloomy appearance. They are not, in general, open as in most tropical cities, but grated like a farmer's dairy- window, though somewhat closer.

There is a lamentable want of cleanliness in the streets. The impurities from the houses and the accumulation of litter from the beasts of burden are unpleasant sights to the passing stranger. He laments the want of a police as he goes along, and when the wind begins to blow his nose and eyes are too often exposed to a cloud of very unsavoury dust.

When you view the port of Pernambuco, full of ships of all nations; when you know that the richest commodities of Europe, Africa and Asia are brought to it; when you see immense quantities of cotton, dye-wood and the choicest fruits pouring into the town, you are apt to wonder at the little attention these people pay to the common comforts which one always expects to find in a large and opulent city. However, if the inhabitants are satisfied, there is nothing more to be said. Should they ever be convinced that inconveniences exist, and that nuisances are too frequent, the remedy is in their own hands. At present, certainly, they seem perfectly regardless of them; and the Captain-General of Pernambuco walks through the streets with as apparent content and composure as an English statesman would proceed down Charing Cross. Custom reconciles everything. In a week or two the stranger himself begins to feel less the things which annoyed him so much upon his first arrival, and after a few months' residence he thinks no more about them, while he is partaking of the hospitality and enjoying the elegance and splendour within doors in this great city.

▲ Chapter 1, p.2.

▼ Chapter 1, p.3.

Close by the river-side stands what is called the palace of the Captain- General of Pernambuco. Its form and appearance altogether strike the traveller that it was never intended for the use it is at present put to.

Reader, throw a veil over thy recollection for a little while, and forget the cruel, unjust and unmerited censures thou hast heard against an unoffending order. This palace was once the Jesuits' college, and originally built by those charitable fathers. Ask the aged and respectable inhabitants of Pernambuco, and they will tell thee that the destruction of the Society of Jesus was a terrible disaster to the public, and its consequences severely felt to the present day.

The Indian MotherAlexander von Humboldt, who travelled in South America, including Venezuela, in the early 19th century,
describes a darker side of the missionaries in this sad account of the method of proselytising by an Orinoco mission. (1)

When Pombal took the reins of power into his own hands, virtue and learning beamed bright within the college walls. Public catechism to the children, and religious instruction to all, flowed daily from the mouths of its venerable priests.

They were loved, revered and respected throughout the whole town. The illuminating philosophers of the day had sworn to exterminate Christian knowledge, and the college of Pernambuco was doomed to founder in the general storm. To the long-lasting sorrow and disgrace of Portugal, the philosophers blinded her king and flattered her prime minister. Pombal was exactly the tool these sappers of every public and private virtue wanted. He had the naked sword of power in his own hand, and his heart was hard as flint. He struck a mortal blow and the Society of Jesus, throughout the Portuguese dominions, was no more.

One morning all the fathers of the college in Pernambuco, some of them very old and feeble, were suddenly ordered into the refectory. They had notice beforehand of the fatal storm, in pity, from the governor, but not one of them abandoned his charge. They had done their duty and had nothing to fear. They bowed with resignation to the will of Heaven. As soon as they had all reached the refectory they were there locked up, and never more did they see their rooms, their friends, their scholars, or acquaintance. In the dead of the following night a strong guard of soldiers literally drove them through the streets to the water's edge. They were then conveyed in boats aboard a ship and steered for Bahia. Those who survived the barbarous treatment they experienced from Pombal's creatures, were at last ordered to Lisbon. The college of Pernambuco was plundered, and some time after an elephant was kept there.

Thus the arbitrary hand of power, in one night, smote and swept away the sciences: to which succeeded the low vulgar buffoonery of a showman. Virgil and Cicero made way for a wild beast from Angola! and now a guard is on duty at the very gate where, in times long past, the poor were daily fed!

Trust not, kind reader, to the envious remarks which their enemies have scattered far and near; believe not the stories of those who have had a hand in the sad tragedy. Go to Brazil, and see with thine own eyes the effect of Pombal's short-sighted policy. There vice reigns triumphant and learning is at its lowest ebb. Neither is this to be wondered at. Destroy the compass, and will the vessel find her far-distant port? Will the flock keep together, and escape the wolves, after the shepherds are all slain? The Brazilians were told that public education would go on just as usual. They might have asked Government, who so able to instruct our youth as those whose knowledge is proverbial? who so fit as those who enjoy our entire confidence? who so worthy as those whose lives are irreproachable?

They soon found that those who succeeded the fathers of the Society of Jesus had neither their manner nor their abilities. They had not made the instruction of youth their particular study. Moreover, they entered on the field after a defeat where the officers had all been slain; where the plan of the campaign was lost; where all was in sorrow and dismay. No exertions of theirs could rally the dispersed, or skill prevent the fatal consequences. At the present day the seminary of Olinda, in comparison with the former Jesuits' college, is only as the waning moon's beam to the sun's meridian splendour.

Click to enlarge When you visit the places where those learned fathers once flourished, and see with your own eyes the evils their dissolution has caused; when you hear the inhabitants telling you how good, how clever, how charitable they were; what will you think of our poet laureate for calling them, in his History of Brazil, "Missioners whose zeal the most fanatical was directed by the coolest policy"?

Was it fanatical to renounce the honours and comforts of this transitory life in order to gain eternal glory in the next, by denying themselves, and taking up the cross? Was it fanatical to preach salvation to innumerable wild hordes of Americans? to clothe the naked? to encourage the repenting sinner? to aid the dying Christian? The fathers of the Society of Jesus did all this. And for this their zeal is pronounced to be the most fanatical, directed by the coolest policy. It will puzzle many a clear brain to comprehend how it is possible, in the nature of things, that zeal the most fanatical should be directed by the coolest policy. Ah, Mr. Laureate, Mr. Laureate, that "quidlibet audendi" of yours may now and then gild the poet at the same time that it makes the historian cut a sorry figure!

▲Chapter 1, p.3.


▼ Chapter 1, p.4.

Could Father Nobrega rise from the tomb, he would thus address you: "Ungrateful Englishman, you have drawn a great part of your information from the writings of the Society of Jesus, and in return you attempt to stain its character by telling your countrymen that 'we taught the idolatry we believed'! In speaking of me, you say it was my happy fortune to be stationed in a country where none but the good principles of my order were called into action. Ungenerous laureate, the narrow policy of the times has kept your countrymen in the dark with regard to the true character of the Society of Jesus; and you draw the bandage still tighter over their eyes by a malicious insinuation. I lived and taught and died in Brazil, where you state that none but the good principles of my order were called into action, and still, in most absolute contradiction to this, you remark we believed the idolatry we taught in Brazil. Thus we brought none but good principles into action, and still taught idolatry!

"Again, you state there is no individual to whose talents Brazil is so greatly and permanently indebted as mine, and that I must be regarded as the founder of that system so successfully pursued by the Jesuits in Paraguay: a system productive of as much good as is compatible with pious fraud. Thus you make me, at one and the same time, a teacher of none but good principles, and a teacher of idolatry, and a believer in idolatry, and still the founder of a system for which Brazil is greatly and permanently indebted to me, though, by the by, the system was only productive of as much good as is compatible with pious fraud!

"What means all this? After reading such incomparable nonsense, should your countrymen wish to be properly informed concerning the Society of Jesus, there are in England documents enough to show that the system of the Jesuits was a system of Christian charity towards their fellow-creatures administered in a manner which human prudence judged best calculated to ensure success; and that the idolatry which you uncharitably affirm they taught was really and truly the very same faith which the Catholic Church taught for centuries in England, which she still teaches to those who wish to hear her, and which she will continue to teach, pure and unspotted, till time shall be no more."

The environs of Pernambuco are very pretty. You see country houses in all directions, and the appearance of here and there a sugar-plantation enriches the scenery. Palm-trees, cocoanut-trees, orange and lemon groves, and all the different fruits peculiar to Brazil, are here in the greatest abundance.

At Olinda there is a national botanical garden: it wants space, produce and improvement. The forests, which are several leagues off, abound with birds, beasts, insects and serpents. Besides a brilliant plumage, many of the birds have a very fine song. The troupiale, noted for its rich colours, sings delightfully in the environs of Pernambuco. The red-headed finch, larger than the European sparrow, pours forth a sweet and varied strain, in company with two species of wrens, a little before daylight. There are also several species of the thrush, which have a song somewhat different from that of the European thrush; and two species of the linnet, whose strain is so soft and sweet that it dooms them to captivity in the houses. A bird called here sangre-do-buey, blood of the ox, cannot fail to engage your attention: he is of the passerine tribe, and very common about the houses; the wings and tail are black and every other part of the body a flaming red. In Guiana there is a species exactly the same as this in shape, note and economy, but differing in colour, its whole body being like black velvet; on its breast a tinge of red appears through the black. Thus Nature has ordered this little tangara to put on mourning to the north of the line and wear scarlet to the south of it.

For three months in the year the environs of Pernambuco are animated beyond description. From November to March the weather is particularly fine; then it is that rich and poor, young and old, foreigners and natives, all issue from the city to enjoy the country till Lent approaches, when back they hie them. Villages and hamlets, where nothing before but rags was seen, now shine in all the elegance of dress; every house, every room, every shed become eligible places for those whom nothing but extreme necessity could have forced to live there a few weeks ago: some join in the merry dance, others saunter up and down the orange groves; and towards evening the roads become a moving scene of silk and jewels. The gaming-tables have constant visitors: there thousands are daily and nightly lost and won--parties even sit down to try their luck round the outside of the door as well as in the room:

Vestibulum ante ipsum primisque in faucibus aulæ
Luctus et ultrices, posucre sedilia curæ.

About six or seven miles from Pernambuco stands a pretty little village called Monteiro. The river runs close by it, and its rural beauties seem to surpass all others in the neighbourhood. There the Captain-General of Pernambuco resides during this time of merriment and joy.

The traveller who allots a portion of his time to peep at his fellow- creatures in their relaxations, and accustoms himself to read their several little histories in their looks and gestures as he goes musing on, may have full occupation for an hour or two every day at this season amid the variegated scenes around the pretty village of Monteiro. In the evening groups sitting at the door, he may sometimes see with a sigh how wealth and the prince's favour cause a booby to pass for a Solon, and be reverenced as such, while perhaps a poor neglected Camoens stands silent at a distance, awed by the dazzling glare of wealth and power. Retired from the public road he may see poor Maria sitting under a palm-tree, with her elbow in her lap and her head leaning on one side within her hand, weeping over her forbidden bans. And as he moves on "with wandering step and slow," he may hear a broken-hearted nymph ask her faithless swain:

How could you say my face was fair,
     And yet that face forsake?
How could you win my virgin heart,
     Yet leave that heart to break?

▲ Chapter 1, p.4.

▼ Chapter 1, p.5.

One afternoon, in an unfrequented part not far from Monteiro, these adventures were near being brought to a speedy and a final close: six or seven blackbirds, with a white spot betwixt the shoulders, were making a noise and passing to and fro on the lower branches of a tree in an abandoned, weed-grown orange-orchard. In the long grass underneath the tree apparently a pale green grasshopper was fluttering, as though it had got entangled in it. When you once fancy that the thing you are looking at is really what you take it for, the more you look at it the more you are convinced it is so. In the present case this was a grasshopper beyond all doubt, and nothing more remained to be done but to wait in patience till it had settled, in order that you might run no risk of breaking its legs in attempting to lay hold of it while it was fluttering--it still kept fluttering; and having quietly approached it, intending to make sure of it --behold, the head of a large rattlesnake appeared in the grass close by: an instantaneous spring backwards prevented fatal consequences. What had been taken for a grasshopper was, in fact, the elevated rattle of the snake in the act of announcing that he was quite prepared, though unwilling, to make a sure and deadly spring. He shortly after passed slowly from under the orange-tree to the neighbouring wood on the side of a hill: as he moved over a place bare of grass and weeds he appeared to be about eight feet long; it was he who had engaged the attention of the birds and made them heedless of danger from another quarter: they flew away on his retiring--one alone left his little life in the air, destined to become a specimen, mute and motionless, for the inspection of the curious in a far distant clime.

It was now the rainy season. The birds were moulting--fifty-eight specimens of the handsomest of them in the neighbourhood of Pernambuco had been collected; and it was time to proceed elsewhere. The conveyance to the interior was by horses, and this mode, together with the heavy rains, would expose preserved specimens to almost certain damage. The journey to Maranham by land would take at least forty days. The route was not wild enough to engage the attention of an explorer, or civilised enough to afford common comforts to a traveller. By sea there were no opportunities, except slave-ships. As the transporting poor negroes from port to port for sale pays well in Brazil, the ships' decks are crowded with them. This would not do.

Excuse here, benevolent reader, a small tribute of gratitude to an Irish family whose urbanity and goodness have long gained it the esteem and respect of all ranks in Pernambuco. The kindness and attention I received from Dennis Kearney, Esq., and his amiable lady will be remembered with gratitude to my dying day.

After wishing farewell to this hospitable family, I embarked on board a Portuguese brig, with poor accommodations, for Cayenne in Guiana. The most eligible bedroom was the top of a hen-coop on deck. Even here an unsavoury little beast, called bug, was neither shy nor deficient in appetite.

The Portuguese seamen are famed for catching fish. One evening, under the line, four sharks made their appearance in the wake of the vessel. The sailors caught them all.

▲Chapter 1, p.5.


1. Remarkable Men, Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, Charing Cross, London. Circa 1892.

Chapter 1 Pages

• 1  • 2  • 3  • 4  • 5

Chapter 2Chapter 3

 Visit the Bookshelf.

OVERTOWN MISCELLANY (overtown.org.uk)  
© John S. Sargent, 1997 - 2021.  All rights reserved.  
• About this site  • Contact  
Squire Charles Waterton