This is a small hilly island, bearing evident marks of volcanic origin, or of having been subject to the action of subterraneous fire. The hills are conical, and were by Kotzebue supposed to resemble those of Hawaii. Nothing can be more contradictory than the descriptions different voyagers have given of the appearance of this island. Some, as in Roggewein's account, and that of La Perouse, representing it as rich and fertile; others, as Forster, describing it as parched and desolate. The population, which La Perouse estimated at about two thousand, is supposed by Kotzebue to have increased; by others they are said to have decreased, and not to exceed 1,200. The inhabitants are evidently part of the race which has spread itself extensively over the isles of the Pacific, and they evince that propensity to licentiousness and theft which mark the larger communities.
The most remarkable objects in Easter Island are its monuments of stone-work and sculpture, which, though rude and imperfect, are superior to any found among the more numerous and civilized tribes inhabiting the South Sea Islands. These monuments consist in a number of terraces or platforms, page 326 built with stones, cut and fixed with great exactness and skill, forming, though destitute of cement, a strong durable pile. On these terraces are fixed colossal figures or busts. They appear to be monuments erected in memory of ancient kings or chiefs, as each bust or column had a distinct name. One of these, of which Forster took the dimensions, consisted of a single stone twenty feet high and five wide, and represented a human figure to the waist; on the crown of the head, a stone of cylindrical shape was placed crect: this stone was of a different colour from the rest of the figure, which appeared to be formed of a kind of cellular lava. In one place, seven of these statues or busts stood together:∗ one, which they saw lying on the ground, was twenty-seven feet long and nine in diameter. The largest, however, that La Perouse saw, was fourteen feet six inches high, and seven feet six inches in diameter. The inhabitants of many of the northern and eastern islands make stone representations of their deities, and of their departed ancestors, but none equal in size to those found in Easter Island. When Cook visited this island, the natives appeared to possess but few means of subsistence, and to inhabit very small and comfortless dwellings. A greater abundance appeared, when they were subsequently visited by the French navigator; their habitations appeared more comfortable, one of which was 310 feet long and ten feet wide.
∗Forster's Voyage, vol, i. p. 586.
Easter Island is situated in 27 deg. 8 sec. south lat., and 109 deg. 43 sec. west long. It is called by the inhabitants Waihu.
It has been already stated, that Magellan was the first European who sailed from the Atlantic to the page 327 Pacific. The navigation of the Straits was often tedious and unsafe; yet it was the only communication known for nearly a century after its discovery, when, in January 1616, Schouten and Le Maire, two Dutch navigators, passed round the southern extremity of the American continent, which, in honour of the town whence they sailed, they designated Cape Horn. This course is now almost invariably preferred; and though the sea is high, and the gales are often boisterous and severe, the passage round the Cape is found more expeditious, and less hazardous, than the way through the Straits.
One of the first objects that arrests the attention of many, soon after they enter the Pacific, is the small island of Juan Fernandez, situated in lat. 33 deg. 49 sec. S. long. 80.30. The centre is mountainous, and the shore rocky, having one or two good harbours. It has received its designation from its discoverer,∗ a Spanish pilot, Juan Fernandez, who originally, with several Spanish families, settled on its shores, but removed to the opposite coast of Chili, when the inhabitants became subject to his countrymen. It is distinguished by its verdant and romantic appearance, the luxuriance with which peaches, nectarines, apricots, and plums, (produced from seeds left by different visitors,) grow in different parts of the island, and by the bright red colour of the soil. But it is chiefly celebrated as having been the abode of Alexander Selkirk, a native of Fife, in Scotland, who, being left on shore by the captain of the ship in which he sailed, remained on solitude on the island four years and four months, when he was released by Captain Rogers, on the 2d of page 328 February, 1709.∗ During his residence here, he subsisted on such vegetables as he found on the island, with fish, and the broiled flesh of goats, which he pursued with surprising agility among the rocky and mountainous parts of the island. Captain Rogers observes, that when he came on board “he was clothed in goat-skins, and looked wilder than the first owners of them;” and adds, “he had so much forgotten his language, that we could scarcely understand him.” Cowper, with his accustomed sensibility of feeling and felicity of expression, has commemorated his exile in those beautiful lines which commence with, “I am monarch of all I survey.” The adventures of Selkirk, in Juan Fernandez, also furnished De Foe with the materials for his unrivalled “Robinson Crusoe.”
∗Rogers' Voyage of Duke and Duchess.