Goose Green

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


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In the beginning of the last chapter
I stated the principles on which the
map is coloured. There only remains
to be said, that it is an exact copy
of one by M. C. Gressier, published
by the Depot General de la Marine, in
1835. The names have been altered
into English, and the longitude has
been reduced to that of Greenwich.
The colours were first laid down on
accurate charts, on a large scale. The data, on which the volcanoes
historically known to have been in action, have been marked with
vermillion, were given in a note to the last chapter. I will commence
my description on the eastern side of the map, and will describe each
group of islands consecutively, proceeding westward across the Pacific
and Indian Oceans, but ending with the West Indies.

The WESTERN SHORES OF AMERICA appear to be entirely without
coral-reefs; south of the equator the survey of the "Beagle", and north of
it, the published charts show that this is the case. Even in the
Bay of PANAMA, where corals flourish, there are no true coral-reefs, as I
been informed by Mr. Lloyd. There are no coral-reefs in the
GALAPAGOS Archipelago, as I know from personal inspection; and I believe
there are none on the COCOS, REVILLA-GIGEDO, and other neighbouring islands.
CLIPPERTON rock, 10 deg N., 109 deg W., has lately been surveyed by Captain
Belcher; in form it is like the crater of a volcano. From a drawing
appended to the MS. plan in the Admiralty, it evidently is not an atoll.
The eastern parts of the Pacific present an enormous area, without any
islands, except EASTER, and SALA, and GOMEZ Islands, which do not appear to
be surrounded by reefs.


This group consists of about eighty atolls: it will be quite superfluous
to refer to descriptions of each. In D'Urville and Lottin's chart, one
island (WOLCHONSKY) is written with a capital letter, signifying, as
explained in a former chapter, that it is a high island; but this must be a
mistake, as the original chart by Bellinghausen shows that it is a true
atoll. Captain Beechey says of the thirty-two groups which he examined (of
the greater number of which I have seen beautiful MS. charts in the
Admiralty), that twenty-nine now contain lagoons, and he believes the other
three originally did. Bellinghausen (see an account of his Russian voyage,
in the "Biblioth. des Voyages," 1834, page 443) says, that the seventeen
islands which he discovered resembled each other in structure, and he has
given charts on a large scale of all of them. Kotzebue has given plans of
several; Cook and Bligh mention others; a few were seen during the voyage
of the "Beagle"; and notices of other atolls are scattered through several
publications. The ACTAEON group in this archipelago has lately been
discovered ("Geographical Journal", volume vii., page 454); it consists of
three small and low islets, one of which has a lagoon. Another lagoon-island
has been discovered ("Naut. Mag." 1839, page 770), in 22 deg 4' S.,
and 136 deg 20' W. Towards the S.E. part of the group, there are some
islands of different formation: ELIZABETH Island is described by Beechey
(page 46, 4to edition) as fringed by reefs, at the distance of between two
and three hundred yards; coloured red. PITCAIRN Island, in the immediate
neighbourhood, according to the same authority, has no reefs of any kind,
although numerous pieces of coral are thrown up on the beach; the sea close
to its shore is very deep (see "Zool. of Beechey's Voyage," page 164); it
is left uncoloured. GAMBIER Islands (see Plate I., Figure 8), are
encircled by a barrier-reef; the greatest depth within is thirty-eight
fathoms; coloured pale blue. AURORA Island, which lies N.E. of Tahiti
close to the large space coloured dark blue in the map, has been already
described in a note (page 71), on the authority of Mr. Couthouy; it is an
upraised atoll, but as it does not appear to be fringed by living reefs, it
is left uncoloured.

The SOCIETY Archipelago is separated by a narrow space from the Low
Archipelago; and in their parallel direction they manifest some relation to
each other. I have already described the general character of the reefs of
these fine encircled islands. In the "Atlas of the 'Coquille's' Voyage"
there is a good general chart of the group, and separate plans of some of
the islands. TAHITI, the largest island in the group, is almost
surrounded, as seen in Cook's chart, by a reef from half a mile to a mile
and a half from the shore, with from ten to thirty fathoms within it. Some
considerable submerged reefs lying parallel to the shore, with a broad and
deep space within, have lately been discovered ("Naut. Mag." 1836, page
264) on the N.E. coast of the island, where none are laid down by Cook. At
EIMEO the reef "which like a ring surrounds it, is in some places one or
two miles distant from the shore, in others united to the beach" (Ellis,
"Polynesian Researches," volume i., page 18, 12mo edition). Cook found
deep water (twenty fathoms) in some of the harbours within the reef. Mr.
Couthouy, however, states ("Remarks," page 45) that both at Tahiti and
Eimeo, the space between the barrier-reef and the shore, has been almost
filled up,--"a nearly continuous fringing-reef surrounding the island, and
varying from a few yards to rather more than a mile in width, the lagoons
merely forming canals between this and the sea-reef," that is the
barrier-reef. TAPAMANOA is surrounded by a reef at a considerable distance
from the shore; from the island being small it is breached, as I am informed
by the Rev. W. Ellis, only by a narrow and crooked boat channel. This is the
lowest island in the group, its height probably not exceeding 500 feet. A
little way north of Tahiti, the low coral-islets of TETUROA are situated;
from the description of them given me by the Rev. J. Williams (the author
of the "Narrative of Missionary Enterprise"), I should have thought they
had formed a small atoll, and likewise from the description given by the
Rev. D. Tyerman and G. Bennett ("Journal of Voyage and Travels," volume i.,
page 183), who say that ten low coral-islets "are comprehended within one
general reef, and separated from each other by interjacent lagoons;" but as
Mr. Stutchbury ("West of England Journal," volume i., page 54) describes it
as consisting of a mere narrow ridge, I have left it uncoloured. MAITEA,
eastward of the group, is classed by Forster as a high encircled island;
but from the account given by the Rev. D. Tyerman and G. Bennett (volume
i., page 57) it appears to be an exceedingly abrupt cone, rising from the
sea without any reef; I have left it uncoloured. It would be superfluous
to describe the northern islands in this group, as they may be well seen in
the chart accompanying the 4to edition of Cook's "Voyages," and in the
"Atlas of the 'Coquille's' Voyage." MAURUA is the only one of the northern
islands, in which the water within the reef is not deep, being only four
and a half fathoms; but the great width of the reef, stretching three miles
and a half southward of the land (which is represented in the drawing in
the "Atlas of the 'Coquille's' Voyage" as descending abruptly to the water)
shows, on the principle explained in the beginning of the last chapter,
that it belongs to the barrier class. I may here mention, from information
communicated to me by the Rev. W. Ellis, that on the N.E. side of HUAHEINE
there is a bank of sand, about a quarter of a mile wide, extending parallel
to the shore, and separated from it by an extensive and deep lagoon; this
bank of sand rests on coral-rock, and undoubtedly was originally a living
reef. North of Bolabola lies the atoll of TOUBAI (Motou-iti of the
"'Coquille's' Atlas") which is coloured dark blue; the other islands,
surrounded by barrier-reefs, are pale blue; three of them are represented
in Figures 3, 4, and 5, in Plate I. There are three low coral-groups lying
a little E. of the Society Archipelago, and almost forming part of it,
namely BELLINGHAUSEN, which is said by Kotzebue ("Second Voyage," volume
ii., page 255), to be a lagoon-island; MOPEHA, which, from Cook's
description ("Second Voyage," book iii., chapter i.), no doubt is an atoll;
and the SCILLY Islands, which are said by Wallis ("Voyage," chapter ix.) to
form a GROUP of LOW islets and shoals, and, therefore, probably, they
compose an atoll: the two former have been coloured blue, but not the

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Chapter 6 (third part)

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Before making some concluding remarks
on the relations of the spaces
coloured blue and red, it will be
convenient to consider the position on
our map of the volcanoes historically
known to have been in action. It is
impossible not to be struck, first with
the absence of volcanoes in the great areas of subsidence tinted pale
and dark blue,--namely, in the central parts of the Indian Ocean,
in the China Sea, in the sea between the barriers of Australia and
New Caledonia, in the Caroline, Marshall, Gilbert, and Low Archipelagoes;
and, secondly, with the coincidence of the principal volcanic chains
with the parts coloured red, which indicates the presence of
fringing-reefs; and, as we have just seen, the presence in most
cases of upraised organic remains of a modern date. I may here remark
that the reefs were all coloured before the volcanoes were added to the map, or
indeed before I knew of the existence of several of them.

The volcano in Torres Strait, at the northern point of Australia, is that
which lies nearest to a large subsiding area, although situated 125 miles
within the outer margin of the actual barrier-reef. The Great Comoro
Island, which probably contains a volcano, is only twenty miles distant
from the barrier-reef of Mohila; Ambil volcano, in the Philippines, is
distant only a little more than sixty miles from the atoll-formed Appoo
reef: and there are two other volcanoes in the map within ninety miles of
circles coloured blue. These few cases, which thus offer partial
exceptions to the rule, of volcanoes being placed remote from the areas of
subsidence, lie either near single and isolated atolls, or near small
groups of encircled islands; and these by our theory can have, in few
instances, subsided to the same amount in depth or area, as groups of
atolls. There is not one active volcano within several hundred miles of an
archipelago, or even a small group of atolls. It is, therefore, a striking
fact that in the Friendly Archipelago, which owes its origin to the
elevation of a group of atolls, two volcanoes, and, perhaps, others are
known to be in action: on the other hand, on several of the encircled
islands in the Pacific, supposed by our theory to have subsided, there are
old craters and streams of lava, which show the effects of past and ancient
eruptions. In these cases, it would appear as if the volcanoes had come
into action, and had become extinguished on the same spots, according as
the elevating or subsiding movements prevailed.

There are some other coasts on the map, where volcanoes in a state of
action concur with proofs of recent elevation, besides those coloured red
from being fringed by coral-reefs. Thus I hope to show in a future volume,
that nearly the whole line of the west coast of South America, which forms
the greatest volcanic chain in the world, from near the equator for a space
of between 2,000 and 3,000 miles southward, has undergone an upward
movement during a late geological period. The islands on the north-western
shores of the Pacific, which form the second greatest volcanic chain, are
very imperfectly known; but Luzon, in the Philippines, and the Loo Choo
Islands, have been recently elevated; and at Kamtschatka (At Sedanka, in
latitude 58 deg N. (Von Buch's "Descrip. des Isles Canaries," page 455).
In a forthcoming part, I shall give the evidence referred to with respect
to the elevation of New Zealand.) there are extensive tertiary beds of
modern date. Evidence of the same nature, but not very satisfactory, may
be detected in Northern New Zealand where there are two volcanoes. The
co-existence in other parts of the world of active volcanoes, with upraised
beds of a modern tertiary origin, will occur to every geologist. (During
the subterranean disturbances which took place in Chile, in 1835, I have
shown ("Geolog. Trans." 2nd Ser., vol. v., page 606) that at the same
moment that a large district was upraised, volcanic matter burst forth at
widely separated points, through both new and old vents.) Nevertheless,
until it could be shown that volcanoes were inactive, or did not exist in
subsiding areas, the conclusion that their distribution depended on the
nature of the subterranean movements in progress, would have been
hazardous. But now, viewing the appended map, it may, I think, be
considered as almost established, that volcanoes are often (not necessarily
always) present in those areas where the subterranean motive power has
lately forced, or is now forcing outwards, the crust of the earth, but that
they are invariably absent in those, where the surface has lately subsided
or is still subsiding. (We may infer from this rule, that in any old
deposit, which contains interstratified beds of erupted matter, there was
at the period, and in the area of its formation, a TENDENCY to an upward
movement in the earth's surface, and certainly no movement of subsidence.)


The immense surfaces on the map, which, both by our theory and by the plain
evidence of upraised marine remains, have undergone a change of level
either downwards or upwards during a late period, is a most remarkable
fact. The existence of continents shows that the areas have been immense
which at some period have been upraised; in South America we may feel sure,
and on the north-western shores of the Indian Ocean we may suspect, that
this rising is either now actually in progress, or has taken place quite
recently. By our theory, we may conclude that the areas are likewise
immense which have lately subsided, or, judging from the earthquakes
occasionally felt and from other appearances, are now subsiding. The
smallness of the scale of our map should not be overlooked: each of the
squares on it contains (not allowing for the curvature of the earth)
810,000 square miles. Look at the space of ocean from near the southern
end of the Low Archipelago to the northern end of the Marshall Archipelago,
a length of 4,500 miles, in which, as far as is known, every island, except
Aurora which lies just without the Low Archipelago, is atoll-formed. The
eastern and western boundaries of our map are continents, and they are
rising areas: the central spaces of the great Indian and Pacific Oceans,
are mostly subsiding; between them, north of Australia, lies the most
broken land on the globe, and there the rising parts are surrounded and
penetrated by areas of subsidence (I suspect that the Arru and Timor-laut
Islands present an included small area of subsidence, like that of the
China Sea, but I have not ventured to colour them from my imperfect
information, as given in the Appendix.), so that the prevailing movements
now in progress, seem to accord with the actual states of surface of the
great divisions of the world.

The blue spaces on the map are nearly all elongated; but it does not
necessarily follow from this (a caution, for which I am indebted to Mr.
Lyell), that the areas of subsidence were likewise elongated; for the
subsidence of a long, narrow space of the bed of the ocean, including in it
a transverse chain of mountains, surmounted by atolls, would only be marked
on the map by a transverse blue band. But where a chain of atolls and
barrier-reefs lies in an elongated area, between spaces coloured red, which
therefore have remained stationary or have been upraised, this must have
resulted either from the area of subsidence having originally been
elongated (owing to some tendency in the earth's crust thus to subside), or
from the subsiding area having originally been of an irregular figure, or
as broad as long, and having since been narrowed by the elevation of
neighbouring districts. Thus the areas, which subsided during the
formation of the great north and south lines of atolls in the Indian
Ocean,--of the east and west line of the Caroline atolls,--and of the
north-west and south-east line of the barrier-reefs of New Caledonia and
Louisiade, must have originally been elongated, or if not so, they must
have since been made elongated by elevations, which we know to belong to a
recent period.

I infer from Mr. Hopkins' researches ("Researches in Physical Geology,"
Transact. Cambridge Phil. Soc., volume vi, part i.), that for the formation
of a long chain of mountains, with few lateral spurs, an area elongated in
the same direction with the chain, must have been subjected to an elevatory
movement. Mountain-chains, however, when already formed, although running
in very different directions, it seems (For instance in S. America from
latitude 34 deg, for very many degrees southward there are upraised beds
containing recent species of shells, on both the Atlantic and Pacific side
of the continent, and from the gradual ascent of the land, although with
very unequal slopes, on both sides towards the Cordillera, I think it can
hardly be doubted that the entire width has been upraised in mass within
the recent period. In this case the two W.N.W. and E.S.E. mountain-lines,
namely the Sierra Ventana and the S. Tapalguen, and the great north and
south line of the Cordillera have been together raised. In the West Indies
the N. and S. line of the Eastern Antilles, and the E. and W. line of
Jamaica, appear both to have been upraised within the latest geological
period.) may be raised together by a widely-acting force: so, perhaps,
mountain-chains may subside together. Hence, we cannot tell, whether the
Caroline and Marshall Archipelagoes, two groups of atolls running in
different directions and meeting each other, have been formed by the
subsidence of two areas, or of one large area, including two distinct lines
of mountains. We have, however, in the southern prolongation of the
Mariana Islands, probable evidence of a line of recent elevation having
intersected one of recent subsidence. A view of the map will show that,
generally, there is a tendency to alternation in the parallel areas
undergoing opposite kinds of movement; as if the sinking of one area
balanced the rising of another.

The existence in many parts of the world of high table-land, proves that
large surfaces have been upraised in mass to considerable heights above the
level of the ocean; although the highest points in almost every country
consist of upturned strata, or erupted matter: and from the immense spaces
scattered with atolls, which indicate that land originally existed there,
although not one pinnacle now remains above the level of the sea, we may
conclude that wide areas have subsided to an amount, sufficient to bury not
only any formerly existing table-land, but even the heights formed by
fractured strata, and erupted matter. The effects produced on the land by
the later elevatory movements, namely, successively rising cliffs, lines of
erosion, and beds of literal shells and pebbles, all requiring time for
their production, prove that these movements have been very slow; we can,
however, infer this with safety, only with respect to the few last hundred
feet of rise. But with reference to the whole vast amount of subsidence,
necessary to have produced the many atolls widely scattered over immense
spaces, it has already been shown (and it is, perhaps, the most interesting
conclusion in this volume), that the movements must either have been
uniform and exceedingly slow, or have been effected by small steps,
separated from each other by long intervals of time, during which the
reef-constructing polypifers were able to bring up their solid frameworks
to the surface. We have little means of judging whether many considerable
oscillations of level have generally occurred during the elevation of large
tracts; but we know, from clear geological evidence, that this has
frequently taken place; and we have seen on our map, that some of the same
islands have both subsided and been upraised. I conclude, however, that
most of the large blue spaces, have subsided without many and great
elevatory oscillations, because only a few upraised atolls have been
observed: the supposition that such elevations have taken place, but that
the upraised parts have been worn down by the surf, and thus have escaped
observation, is overruled by the very considerable depth of the lagoons of
all the larger atolls; for this could not have been the case, if they had
suffered repeated elevations and abrasion. From the comparative
observations made in these latter pages, we may finally conclude, that the
subterranean changes which have caused some large areas to rise, and others
to subside, have acted in a very similar manner.


In the three first chapters, the principal kinds of coral-reefs were
described in detail, and they were found to differ little, as far as
relates to the actual surface of the reef. An atoll differs from an
encircling barrier-reef only in the absence of land within its central
expanse; and a barrier-reef differs from a fringing-reef, in being placed
at a much greater distance from the land with reference to the probable
inclination of its submarine foundation, and in the presence of a deep-water
lagoon-like space or moat within the reef. In the fourth chapter the
growing powers of the reef-constructing polypifers were discussed; and it
was shown, that they cannot flourish beneath a very limited depth. In
accordance with this limit, there is no difficulty respecting the
foundations on which fringing-reefs are based; whereas, with barrier-reefs
and atolls, there is a great apparent difficulty on this head; in
barrier-reefs from the improbability of the rock of the coast or of banks of
sediment extending, in every instance, so far seaward within the required
depth;--and in atolls, from the immensity of the spaces over which they are
interspersed, and the apparent necessity for believing that they are all
supported on mountain-summits, which although rising very near to the
surface-level of the sea, in no one instance emerge above it. To escape
this latter most improbable admission, which implies the existence of
submarine chains of mountains of almost the same height, extending over
areas of many thousand square miles, there is but one alternative; namely,
the prolonged subsidence of the foundations, on which the atolls were
primarily based, together with the upward growth of the reef-constructing
corals. On this view every difficulty vanishes; fringing reefs are thus
converted into barrier-reefs; and barrier-reefs, when encircling islands,
are thus converted into atolls, the instant the last pinnacle of land sinks
beneath the surface of the ocean.

Thus the ordinary forms and certain peculiarities in the structure of
atolls and barrier-reefs can be explained;--namely, the wall-like structure
on their inner sides, the basin or ring-like shape both of the marginal and
central reefs in the Maldiva atolls--the union of some atolls as if by a
ribbon--the apparent disseverment of others--and the occurrence, in atolls
as well as in barrier-reefs, of portions of reef, and of the whole of some
reefs, in a dead and submerged state, but retaining the outline of living
reefs. Thus can be explained the existence of breaches through barrier-reefs
in front of valleys, though separated from them by a wide space of
deep water; thus, also, the ordinary outline of groups of atolls and the
relative forms of the separate atolls one to another; thus can be explained
the proximity of the two kinds of reefs formed during subsidence, and their
separation from the spaces where fringing-reefs abound. On searching for
other evidence of the movements supposed by our theory, we find marks of
change in atolls and in barrier-reefs, and of subterranean disturbances
under them; but from the nature of things, it is scarcely possible to
detect any direct proofs of subsidence, although some appearances are
strongly in favour of it. On the fringed coasts, however, the presence of
upraised marine bodies of a recent epoch, plainly show, that these coasts,
instead of having remained stationary, which is all that can be directly
inferred from our theory, have generally been elevated.

Finally, when the two great types of structure, namely barrier-reefs and
atolls on the one hand, and fringing-reefs on the other, were laid down in
colours on our map, a magnificent and harmonious picture of the movements,
which the crust of the earth has within a late period undergone, is
presented to us. We there see vast areas rising, with volcanic matter
every now and then bursting forth through the vents or fissures with which
they are traversed. We see other wide spaces slowly sinking without any
volcanic outburst, and we may feel sure, that this sinking must have been
immense in amount as well as in area, thus to have buried over the broad
face of the ocean every one of those mountains, above which atolls now
stand like monuments, marking the place of their former existence.
Reflecting how powerful an agent with respect to denudation, and
consequently to the nature and thickness of the deposits in accumulation,
the sea must ever be, when acting for prolonged periods on the land, during
either its slow emergence or subsidence; reflecting, also, on the final
effects of these movements in the interchange of land and ocean-water on
the climate of the earth, and on the distribution of organic beings, I may
be permitted to hope, that the conclusions derived from the study of
coral-formations, originally attempted merely to explain their peculiar
forms, may be thought worthy of the attention of geologists.

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Chapter 6 (second part)

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Having made these preliminary
remarks, I will consider first
how far the grouping of the
different kinds of coral-islands
and reefs is corroborative
of the truth of the theory.
A glance at the map shows that
the reefs, coloured blue and red,
produced under widely different
conditions, are not indiscriminately mixed together. Atolls
and barrier-reefs, on the other hand, as may be seen by the
two blue tints, generally lie near each other; and this would
be the natural result of both having been produced during the
subsidence of the areas in which they stand. Thus, the largest
group of encircled islands is that of the Society Archipelago;
and these islands are surrounded by atolls, and only separated by
a narrow space from the large group of Low atolls. In the midst
of the Caroline atolls,there are three fine encircled islands. The northern
point of the barrier-reef of New Caledonia seems itself, as before remarked,
to form a complete large atoll. The great Australian barrier is described
as including both atolls and small encircled islands. Captain King (Sailing
directions, appended to volume ii. of his "Surveying Voyage to Australia.")
mentions many atoll-formed and encircling coral-reefs, some of which lie within
the barrier, and others may be said (for instance between latitude 16 deg and
13 deg) to form part of it. Flinders ("Voyage to Terra Australis," volume
ii. page 336.) has described an atoll-formed reef in latitude 10 deg, seven
miles long and from one to three broad, resembling a boot in shape, with
apparently very deep water within. Eight miles westward of this, and
forming part of the barrier, lie the Murray Islands, which are high and are
encircled. In the Corallian Sea, between the two great barriers of
Australia and New Caledonia, there are many low islets and coral-reefs,
some of which are annular, or horse-shoe shaped. Observing the smallness
of the scale of the map, the parallels of latitude being nine hundred miles
apart, we see that none of the large groups of reefs and islands supposed
to have been produced by long-continued subsidence, lie near extensive
lines of coast coloured red, which are supposed to have remained stationary
since the growth of their reefs, or to have been upraised and new lines of
reefs formed on them. Where the red and blue circles do occur near each
other, I am able, in several instances, to show that there have been
oscillations of level, subsidence having preceded the elevation of the red
spots; and elevation having preceded the subsidence of the blue spots: and
in this case the juxtaposition of reefs belonging to the two great types of
structure is little surprising. We may, therefore, conclude that the
proximity in the same areas of the two classes of reefs, which owe their
origin to the subsidence of the earth's crust, and their separation from
those formed during its stationary or uprising condition, holds good to the
full extent, which might have been anticipated by our theory.

As groups of atolls have originated in the upward growth, at each fresh
sinking of the land, of those reefs which primarily fringed the shores of
one great island, or of several smaller ones; so we might expect that these
rings of coral-rock, like so many rude outline charts, will still retain
some traces of the general form, or at least general range, of the land,
round which they were first modelled. That this is the case with the
atolls in the Southern Pacific as far as their range is concerned, seems
highly probable, when we observe that the three principal groups are
directed in north-west and south-east lines, and that nearly all the land
in the S. Pacific ranges in this same direction; namely, N. Western
Australia, New Caledonia, the northern half of New Zealand, the New
Hebrides, Saloman, Navigator, Society, Marquesas, and Austral
archipelagoes: in the Northern Pacific, the Caroline atolls abut against
the north-west line of the Marshall atolls, much in the same manner as the
east and west line of islands from Ceram to New Britain do on New Ireland:
in the Indian Ocean the Laccadive and Maldiva atolls extend nearly parallel
to the western and mountainous coast of India. In most respects, there is
a perfect resemblance with ordinary islands in the grouping of atolls and
in their form: thus the outline of all the larger groups is elongated; and
the greater number of the individual atolls are elongated in the same
direction with the group, in which they stand. The Chagos group is less
elongated than is usual with other groups, and the individual atolls in it
are likewise but little elongated; this is strikingly seen by comparing
them with the neighbouring Maldiva atolls. In the Marshall and Maldiva
archipelagoes, the atolls are ranged in two parallel lines, like the
mountains in a great double mountain-chain. Some of the atolls, in the
larger archipelagoes, stand so near to each other, and have such an evident
relationship in form, that they compose little sub-groups: in the Caroline
Archipelago, one such sub-group consists of Pouynipete, a lofty island
encircled by a barrier-reef, and separated by a channel only four miles and
a half wide from Andeema atoll, with a second atoll a little further off.
In all these respects an examination of a series of charts will show how
perfectly groups of atolls resemble groups of common islands.


With respect to subsidence, I have shown in the last chapter, that we
cannot expect to obtain in countries inhabited only by semi-civilised
races, demonstrative proofs of a movement, which invariably tends to
conceal its own evidence. But on the coral-islands supposed to have been
produced by subsidence, we have proofs of changes in their external
appearance--of a round of decay and renovation--of the last vestiges of
land on some--of its first commencement on others: we hear of storms
desolating them to the astonishment of their inhabitants: we know by the
great fissures with which some of them are traversed, and by the
earthquakes felt under others, that subterranean disturbances of some kind
are in progress. These facts, if not directly connected with subsidence,
as I believe they are, at least show how difficult it would be to discover
proofs of such movement by ordinary means. At Keeling atoll, however, I
have described some appearances, which seem directly to show that
subsidence did take place there during the late earthquakes. Vanikoro,
according to Chevalier Dillon (See Captain Dillon's "Voyage in search of La
Peyrouse." M. Cordier in his "Report on the Voyage of the 'Astrolabe'"
(page cxi., volume i.), speaking of Vanikoro, says the shores are
surrounded by reefs of madrepore, "qu'on assure etre de formation
tout-a-fait moderne." I have in vain endeavoured to learn some further
particulars about this remarkable passage. I may here add, that according
to our theory, the island of Pouynipete (Plate I., Figure 7), in the
Caroline Archipelago, being encircled by a barrier-reef, must have
subsided. In the "New S. Wales Lit. Advert." February 1835 (which I have
seen through the favour of Dr. Lloghtsky), there is an account of this
island (subsequently confirmed by Mr. Campbell), in which it is said, "At
the N.E. end, at a place called Tamen, there are ruins of a town, NOW ONLY
accessible by boats, the waves REACHING TO THE STEPS OF The HOUSES."
Judging from this passage, one would be tempted to conclude that the island
must have subsided, since these houses were built. I may, also, here
append a statement in Malte Brun (volume ix., page 775, given without any
authority), that the sea gains in an extraordinary manner on the coast of
Cochin China, which lies in front and near the subsiding coral-reefs in the
China Sea: as the coast is granitic, and not alluvial, it is scarcely
possible that the encroachment of the sea can be owing to the washing away
of the land; and if so, it must be due to subsidence.), is often violently
shaken by earthquakes, and there, the unusual depth of the channel between
the shore and the reef,--the almost entire absence of islets on the reef,--
its wall-like structure on the inner side, and the small quantity of low
alluvial land at the foot of the mountains, all seem to show that this
island has not remained long at its present level, with the lagoon-channel
subjected to the accumulation of sediment, and the reef to the wear and
tear of the breakers. At the Society Archipelago, on the other hand, where
a slight tremor is only rarely felt, the shoaliness of the lagoon-channels
round some of the islands, the number of islets formed on the reefs of
others, and the broad belt of low land at the foot of the mountains,
indicate that, although there must have been great subsidence to have
produced the barrier-reefs, there has since elapsed a long stationary

(Mr. Couthouy states ("Remarks," page 44) that at Tahiti and Eimeo the
space between the reef and the shore has been nearly filled up by the
extension of those coral-reefs, which within most barrier-reefs merely
fringe the land. From this circumstance, he arrives at the same conclusion
as I have done, that the Society Islands since their subsidence, have
remained stationary during a long period; but he further believes that they
have recently commenced rising, as well as the whole area of the Low
Archipelago. He does not give any detailed proofs regarding the elevation
of the Society Islands, but I shall refer to this subject in another part
of this chapter. Before making some further comments, I may observe how
satisfactory it is to me, to find Mr. Couthouy affirming, that "having
personally examined a large number of coral-islands, and also residing
eight months among the volcanic class, having shore and partially
encircling reefs, I may be permitted to state that my own observations have
impressed a conviction of the correctness of the theory of Mr. Darwin."

This gentleman believes, that subsequently to the subsidence by which the
atolls in the Low Archipelago were produced, the whole area has been
elevated to the amount of a few feet; this would indeed be a remarkable
fact; but as far as I am able to judge, the grounds of his conclusion are
not sufficiently strong. He states that he found in almost every atoll
which he visited, the shores of the lagoon raised from eighteen to thirty
inches above the sea-level, and containing imbedded Tridacnae and corals
standing as they grew; some of the corals were dead in their upper parts,
but below a certain line they continued to flourish. In the lagoons, also,
he frequently met with clusters of Madrepore, with their extremities
standing from one inch to a foot above the surface of the water. Now,
these appearances are exactly what I should have expected, without any
subsequent elevation having taken place; and I think Mr. Couthouy has not
borne in mind the indisputable fact, that corals, when constantly bathed by
the surf, can exist at a higher level than in quite tranquil water, as in a
lagoon. As long, therefore, as the waves continued at low water to break
entirely over parts of the annular reef of an atoll, submerged to a small
depth, the corals and shells attached on these parts might continue living
at a level above the smooth surface of the lagoon, into which the waves
rolled; but as soon as the outer edge of the reef grew up to its utmost
possible height, or if the reef were very broad nearly to that height, the
force of the breakers would be checked, and the corals and shells on the
inner parts near the lagoon would occasionally be left dry, and thus be
partially or wholly destroyed. Even in atolls, which have not lately
subsided, if the outer margin of the reef continued to increase in breadth
seaward (each fresh zone of corals rising to the same vertical height as at
Keeling atoll), the line where the waves broke most heavily would advance
outwards, and therefore the corals, which when living near the margin, were
washed by the breaking waves during the whole of each tide, would cease
being so, and would therefore be left on the backward part of the reef
standing exposed and dead. The case of the madrepores in the lagoons with
the tops of their branches exposed, seems to be an analogous fact, to the
great fields of dead but upright corals in the lagoon of Keeling atoll; a
condition of things which I have endeavoured to show, has resulted from the
lagoon having become more and more enclosed and choked up with reefs, so
that during high winds, the rising of the tide (as observed by the
inhabitants) is checked, and the corals, which had formerly grown to the
greatest possible height, are occasionally exposed, and thus are killed:
and this is a condition of things, towards which almost every atoll in the
intervals of its subsidence must be tending. Or if we look to the state of
an atoll directly after a subsidence of some fathoms, the waves would roll
heavily over the entire circumference of the reef, and the surface of the
lagoon would, like the ocean, never be quite at rest, and therefore the
corals in the lagoon, from being constantly laved by the rippling water,
might extend their branches to a little greater height than they could,
when the lagoon became enclosed and protected. Christmas atoll (2 deg N.
latitude) which has a very shallow lagoon, and differs in several respects
from most atolls, possibly may have been elevated recently; but its highest
part appears (Couthouy, page 46) to be only ten feet above the sea-level.
The facts of a second class, adduced by Mr. Couthouy, in support of the
alleged recent elevation of the Low Archipelago, are not all (especially
those referring to a shelf of rock) quite intelligible to me; he believes
that certain enormous fragments of rock on the reef, must have been moved
into their present position, when the reef was at a lower level; but here
again the force of the breakers on any inner point of the reef being
diminished by its outward growth without any change in its level, has not,
I think, been borne in mind. We should, also, not overlook the occasional
agency of waves caused by earthquakes and hurricanes. Mr. Couthouy further
argues, that since these great fragments were deposited and fixed on the
reef, they have been elevated; he infers this from the greatest amount of
erosion not being near their bases, where they are unceasingly washed by
the reflux of the tides, but at some height on their sides, near the line
of high-water mark, as shown in an accompanying diagram. My former remark
again applies here, with this further observation, that as the waves have
to roll over a wide space of reef before they reach the fragments, their
force must be greatly increased with the increasing depth of water as the
tide rises, and therefore I should have expected that the chief line of
present erosion would have coincided with the line of high-water mark; and
if the reef had grown outwards, that there would have been lines of erosion
at greater heights. The conclusion, to which I am finally led by the
interesting observations of Mr. Couthouy is, that the atolls in the Low
Archipelago have, like the Society Islands, remained at a stationary level
for a long period: and this probably is the ordinary course of events,
subsidence supervening after long intervals of rest.)

Turning now to the red colour; as on our map, the areas which have sunk
slowly downwards to great depths are many and large, we might naturally
have been led to conjecture, that with such great changes of level in
progress, the coasts which have been fringed probably for ages (for we have
no reason to believe that coral-reefs are of short duration), would not
have remained all this time stationary, but would frequently have undergone
movements of elevation. This supposition, we shall immediately see, holds
good to a remarkable extent; and although a stationary condition of the
land can hardly ever be open to proof, from the evidence being only
negative, we are, in some degree, enabled to ascertain the correctness of
the parts coloured red on the map, by the direct testimony of upraised
organic remains of a modern date. Before going into the details on this
head (printed in small type), I may mention, that when reading a memoir on
coral formations by MM. Quoy and Gaimard ("Annales des Sciences Nat." tom.
vi., page 279, etc.) I was astonished to find, for I knew that they had
crossed both the Pacific and Indian Oceans, that their descriptions were
applicable only to reefs of the fringing class; but my astonishment ended
satisfactorily, when I discovered that, by a strange chance, all the
islands which these eminent naturalists had visited, though several in
number, namely, the Mauritius, Timor, New Guinea, the Mariana, and Sandwich
Archipelagoes, could be shown by their own statements to have been elevated
within a recent geological era.

In the eastern half of the Pacific, the SANDWICH Islands are all fringed,
and almost every naturalist who has visited them, has remarked on the
abundance of elevated corals and shells, apparently identical with living
species. The Rev. W. Ellis informs me, that he has noticed round several
parts of Hawaii, beds of coral-detritus, about twenty feet above the level
of the sea, and where the coast is low they extend far inland. Upraised
coral-rock forms a considerable part of the borders of Oahu; and at
Elizabeth Island ("Zoology of Captain Beechey's Voyage," page 176. See
also MM. Quoy and Gaimard in "Annales de Scien. Nat." tom. vi.) it composes
three strata, each about ten feet thick. Nihau, which forms the northern,
as Hawaii does the southern end of the group (350 miles in length),
likewise seems to consist of coral and volcanic rocks. Mr. Couthouy
("Remarks on Coral Formations," page 51.) has lately described with
interesting details, several upraised beaches, ancient reefs with their
surfaces perfectly preserved, and beds of recent shells and corals, at the
islands of Maui, Morokai, Oahu, and Tauai (or Kauai) in this group. Mr.
Pierce, an intelligent resident at Oahu, is convinced, from changes which
have taken place within his memory, during the last sixteen years, "that
the elevation is at present going forward at a very perceptible rate." The
natives at Kauai state that the land is there gaining rapidly on the sea,
and Mr. Couthouy has no doubt, from the nature of the strata, that this has
been effected by an elevation of the land.

In the southern part of the Low Archipelago, Elizabeth Island is described
by Captain Beechey (Beechey's "Voyage in the Pacific," page 46, 4to
edition.), as being quite flat, and about eighty feet in height; it is
entirely composed of dead corals, forming a honeycombed, but compact rock.
In cases like this, of an island having exactly the appearance, which the
elevation of any one of the smaller surrounding atolls with a shallow
lagoon would present, one is led to conclude (with little better reason,
however, than the improbability of such small and low fabrics lasting, for
an immense period, exposed to the many destroying agents of nature), that
the elevation has taken place at an epoch not geologically remote. When
merely the surface of an island of ordinary formation is strewed with
marine bodies, and that continuously, or nearly so, from the beach to a
certain height, and not above that height, it is exceedingly improbable
that such organic remains, although they may not have been specially
examined, should belong to any ancient period. It is necessary to bear
these remarks in mind, in considering the evidence of the elevatory
movements in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, as it does not often rest on
specific determinations, and therefore should be received with caution.
Six of the COOK AND AUSTRAL Islands (S.W. of the Society group), are
fringed; of these, five were described to me by the Rev. J. Williams, as
formed of coral-rock, associated with some basalt in Mangaia), and the
sixth as lofty and basaltic. Mangaia is nearly three hundred feet high,
with a level summit; and according to Mr. S. Wilson (Couthouy's "Remarks,"
page 34.) it is an upraised reef; "and there are in the central hollow,
formerly the bed of the lagoon, many scattered patches of coral-rock, some
of them raised to a height of forty feet." These knolls of coral-rock were
evidently once separate reefs in the lagoon of an atoll. Mr. Martens, at
Sydney, informed me that this island is surrounded by a terrace-like plain
at about the height of a hundred feet, which probably marks a pause in its
elevation. From these facts we may infer, perhaps, that the Cook and
Austral Islands have been upheaved at a period probably not very remote.

SAVAGE Island (S.E. of the Friendly group), is about forty feet in height.
Forster ("Observations made during Voyage round the World," page 147.)
describes the plants as already growing out of the dead, but still upright
and spreading trees of coral; and the younger Forster ("Voyage," volume
ii., page 163.) believes that an ancient lagoon is now represented by a
central plain; here we cannot doubt that the elevatory forces have recently
acted. The same conclusion may be extended, though with somewhat less
certainty, to the islands of the FRIENDLY GROUP, which have been well
described in the second and third voyages of Cook. The surface of
Tongatabou is low and level, but with some parts a hundred feet high; the
whole consists of coral-rock, "which yet shows the cavities and
irregularities worn into it by the action of the tides." (Cook's "Third
Voyage" (4to edition), volume i., page 314.) On Eoua the same appearances
were noticed at an elevation of between two hundred and three hundred feet.
Vavao, also, at the opposite or northern end of the group, consists,
according to the Rev. J. Williams, of coral-rock. Tongatabou, with its
northern extensive reefs, resembles either an upraised atoll with one half
originally imperfect, or one unequally elevated; and Anamouka, an atoll
equally elevated. This latter island contains (Ibid., volume i., page
235.) in its centre a salt-water lake, about a mile-and-a-half in diameter,
without any communication with the sea, and around it the land rises
gradually like a bank; the highest part is only between twenty and thirty
feet; but on this part, as well as on the rest of the land (which, as Cook
observes, rises above the height of true lagoon-islands), coral-rock, like
that on the beach, was found. In the NAVIGATOR ARCHIPELAGO, Mr. Couthouy
("Remarks on Coral-Formations," page 50.) found on Manua many and very
large fragments of coral at the height of eighty feet, "on a steep hill-side,
rising half a mile inland from a low sandy plain abounding in marine
remains." The fragments were embedded in a mixture of decomposed lava and
sand. It is not stated whether they were accompanied by shells, or whether
the corals resembled recent species; as these remains were embedded they
possibly may belong to a remote epoch; but I presume this was not the
opinion of Mr. Couthouy. Earthquakes are very frequent in this

Still proceeding westward we come to the NEW HEBRIDES; on these islands,
Mr. G. Bennett (author of "Wanderings in New South Wales"), informs me he
found much coral at a great altitude, which he considered of recent origin.
Respecting SANTA CRUZ, and the SOLOMON ARCHIPELAGO, I have no information;
but at New Ireland, which forms the northern point of the latter chain,
both Labillardiere and Lesson have described large beds of an apparently
very modern madreporitic rock, with the form of the corals little altered.
The latter author ("Voyage de la 'Coquille'," Part. Zoolog.) states that
this formation composes a newer line of coast, modelled round an ancient
one. There only remains to be described in the Pacific, that curved line
of fringed islands, of which the MARIANAS form the main part. Of these
Guam, Rota, Tiniam, Saypan, and some islets farther north, are described by
Quoy and Gaimard (Freycinet's "Voyage autour du Monde." See also the
"Hydrographical Memoir," page 215.), and Chamisso (Kotzebue's "First
Voyage."), as chiefly composed of madreporitic limestone, which attains a
considerable elevation, and is in several cases worn into successively
rising cliffs: the two former naturalists seem to have compared the corals
and shells with the existing ones, and state that they are of recent
species. FAIS, which lies in the prolonged line of the Marianas, is the
only island in this part of the sea which is fringed; it is ninety feet
high, and consists entirely of madreporitic rock. (Lutke's "Voyage,"
volume ii., page 304.)

In the EAST INDIAN ARCHIPELAGO, many authors have recorded proofs of recent
elevation. M. Lesson (Partie Zoolog., "Voyage de la 'Coquille'.") states,
that near Port Dory, on the north coast of New Guinea, the shores are
flanked, to the height of 150 feet, by madreporitic strata of modern date.
He mentions similar formations at Waigiou, Amboina, Bourou, Ceram, Sonda,
and Timor: at this latter place, MM. Quoy and Gaimard ("Ann. des Scien.
Nat." tom. vi., page 281.) have likewise described the primitive rocks, as
coated to a considerable height with coral. Some small islets eastward of
Timor are said in Kolff's "Voyage," (translated by Windsor Earl, chapters
vi., vii.) to resemble small coral islets upraised some feet above the sea.
Dr. Malcolmson informs me that Dr. Hardie found in JAVA an extensive
formation, containing an abundance of shells, of which the greater part
appear to be of existing species. Dr. Jack ("Geolog. Transact." 2nd
series, volume i., page 403. On the Peninsula of Malacca, in front of
Pinang, 5 deg 30' N., Dr. Ward collected some shells, which Dr. Malcolmson
informs me, although not compared with existing species, had a recent
appearance. Dr. Ward describes in this neighbourhood ("Trans. Asiat. Soc."
volume xviii., part ii., page 166) a single water-worn rock, with a
conglomerate of sea-shells at its base, situated six miles inland, which,
according to the traditions of the natives, was once surrounded by the sea.
Captain Low has also described (Ibid., part i., page 131) mounds of shells
lying two miles inland on this line of coast.) has described some upraised
shells and corals, apparently recent, on Pulo Nias off SUMATRA; and Marsden
relates in his history of this great island, that the names of many
promontories, show that they were originally islands. On part of the west
coast of BORNEO and at the SOOLOO Islands, the form of the land, the nature
of the soil, and the water-washed rocks, present appearances ("Notices of
the East Indian Arch." Singapore, 1828, page 6, and Append., page 43.)
(although it is doubtful whether such vague evidence is worthy of mention),
of having recently been covered by the sea; and the inhabitants of the
Sooloo Islands believe that this has been the case. Mr. Cuming, who has
lately investigated, with so much success, the natural history of the
PHILIPPINES, found near Cabagan, in Luzon, about fifty feet above the level
of the R. Cagayan, and seventy miles from its mouth, a large bed of fossil
shells: these, he informs me, are of the same species with those now
existing on the shores of the neighbouring islands. From the accounts
given us by Captain Basil Hall and Captain Beechey (Captain B. Hall,
"Voyage to Loo Choo," Append., pages xxi. and xxv. Captain Beechey's
"Voyage," page 496.) of the lines of inland reefs, and walls of coral-rock
worn into caves, above the present reach of the waves, at the LOO CHOO
Islands, there can be little doubt that they have been upraised at no very
remote period.

Dr. Davy describes the northern province of CEYLON ("Travels in Ceylon,"
page 13. This madreporitic formation is mentioned by M. Cordier in his
report to the Institute (May 4th, 1839), on the voyage of the "Chevrette",
as one of immense extent, and belonging to the latest tertiary period.) as
being very low, and consisting of a limestone with shells and corals of
very recent origin; he adds, that it does not admit of a doubt that the sea
has retired from this district even within the memory of man. There is
also some reason for believing that the western shores of India, north of
Ceylon, have been upraised within the recent period. (Dr. Benza, in his
"Journey through the N. Circars" (the "Madras Lit. and Scient. Journ."
volume v.) has described a formation with recent fresh-water and marine
shells, occurring at the distance of three or four miles from the present
shore. Dr. Benza, in conversation with me, attributed their position to a
rise of the land. Dr. Malcolmson, however (and there cannot be a higher
authority on the geology of India) informs me that he suspects that these
beds may have been formed by the mere action of the waves and currents
accumulating sediment. From analogy I should much incline to Dr. Benza's
opinion.) MAURITIUS has certainly been upraised within the recent period,
as I have stated in the chapter on fringing-reefs. The northern extremity
of MADAGASCAR is described by Captain Owen (Owen's "Africa," volume ii.,
page 37, for Madagascar; and for S. Africa, volume i., pages 412 and 426.
Lieutenant Boteler's narrative contains fuller particulars regarding the
coral-rock, volume i., page 174, and volume ii., pages 41 and 54. See also
Ruschenberger's "Voyage round the World," volume i., page 60.) as formed of
madreporitic rock, as likewise are the shores and outlying islands along an
immense space of EASTERN AFRICA, from a little north of the equator for
nine hundred miles southward. Nothing can be more vague than the
expression "madreporitic rock;" but at the same time it is, I think,
scarcely possible to look at the chart of the linear islets, which rise to
a greater height than can be accounted for by the growth of coral, in front
of the coast, from the equator to 2 deg S., without feeling convinced that
a line of fringing-reefs has been elevated at a period so recent, that no
great changes have since taken place on the surface of this part of the
globe. Some, also, of the higher islands of madreporitic rock on this
coast, for instance Pemba, have very singular forms, which seem to show the
combined effect of the growth of coral round submerged banks, and their
subsequent upheaval. Dr. Allan informs me that he never observed any
elevated organic remains on the SEYCHELLES, which come under our fringed

The nature of the formations round the shores of the RED SEA, as described
by several authors, shows that the whole of this large area has been
elevated within a very recent tertiary epoch. A part of this space in the
appended map, is coloured blue, indicating the presence of barrier-reefs:
on which circumstance I shall presently make some remarks. Ruppell
(Ruppell, "Reise in Abyssinien," Band i., s. 141.) states that the tertiary
formation, of which he has examined the organic remains, forms a fringe
along the shores with a uniform height of from thirty and forty feet from
the mouth of the Gulf of Suez to about latitude 26 deg; but that south of
26 deg, the beds attain only the height of from twelve to fifteen feet.
This, however, can hardly be quite accurate; although possibly there may be
a decrease in the elevation of the shores in the middle parts of the Red
Sea, for Dr. Malcolmson (as he informs me) collected from the cliffs of
Camaran Island (latitude 15 deg 30' S.) shells and corals, apparently
recent, at a height between thirty and forty feet; and Mr. Salt ("Travels
in Abyssinia") describes a similar formation a little southward on the
opposite shore at Amphila. Moreover, near the mouth of the Gulf of Suez,
although on the coast opposite to that on which Dr. Ruppell says that the
modern beds attain a height of only thirty to forty feet, Mr. Burton
(Lyell's "Principles of Geology," 5th edition, volume iv., page 25.) found
a deposit replete with existing species of shells, at the height of 200
feet. In an admirable series of drawings by Captain Moresby, I could see
how continuously the cliff-bounded low plains of this formation extended
with a nearly equable height, both on the eastern and western shores. The
southern coast of Arabia seems to have been subjected to the same elevatory
movement, for Dr. Malcolmson found at Sahar low cliffs containing shells
and corals, apparently of recent species.

The PERSIAN GULF abounds with coral-reefs; but as it is difficult to
distinguish them from sand-banks in this shallow sea, I have coloured only
some near the mouth; towards the head of the gulf Mr. Ainsworth
(Ainsworth's "Assyria and Babylon," page 217.) says that the land is worn
into terraces, and that the beds contain organic remains of existing forms.
The WEST INDIAN ARCHIPELAGO of "fringed" islands, alone remains to be
mentioned; evidence of an elevation within a late tertiary epoch of nearly
the whole of this great area, may be found in the works of almost all the
naturalists who have visited it. I will give some of the principal
references in a note. (On Florida and the north shores of the Gulf of
Mexico, Rogers' "Report to Brit. Assoc." volume iii., page 14.--On the
shores of Mexico, Humboldt, "Polit. Essay on New Spain," volume i., page
62. (I have also some corroborative facts with respect to the shores of
Mexico.)--Honduras and the Antilles, Lyell's "Principles," 5th edition,
volume iv., page 22.--Santa Cruz and Barbadoes, Prof. Hovey, "Silliman's
Journal", volume xxxv., page 74.--St. Domingo, Courrojolles, "Journ de
Phys." tom. liv., page 106.--Bahamas, "United Service Journal", No. lxxi.,
pages 218 and 224. Jamaica, De la Beche, "Geol. Man." page 142.--Cuba,
Taylor in "Lond. and Edin. Mag." volume xi., page 17. Dr. Daubeny also, at
a meeting of the Geolog. Soc., orally described some very modern beds lying
on the N.W. parts of Cuba. I might have added many other less important

It is very remarkable on reviewing these details, to observe in how many
instances fringing-reefs round the shores, have coincided with the
existence on the land of upraised organic remains, which seem, from
evidence more or less satisfactory, to belong to a late tertiary period.
It may, however, be objected, that similar proofs of elevation, perhaps,
occur on the coasts coloured blue in our map: but this certainly is not
the case with the few following and doubtful exceptions.

The entire area of the Red Sea appears to have been upraised within a
modern period; nevertheless I have been compelled (though on unsatisfactory
evidence, as given in the Appendix) to class the reefs in the middle part,
as barrier-reefs; should, however, the statements prove accurate to the
less height of the tertiary bed in this middle part, compared with the
northern and southern districts, we might well suspect that it had subsided
subsequently to the general elevation by which the whole area has been
upraised. Several authors (Ellis, in his "Polynesian Researches," was the
first to call attention to these remains (volume i., page 38), and the
tradition of the natives concerning them. See also Williams, "Nar. of
Missionary Enterprise," page 21; also Tyerman and G. Bennett, "Journal of
Voyage," volume i., page 213; also Mr. Couthouy's "Remarks," page 51; but
this principal fact, namely, that there is a mass of upraised coral on the
narrow peninsula of Tiarubu, is from hearsay evidence; also Mr. Stutchbury,
"West of England Journal," No. i., page 54. There is a passage in Von
Zach, "Corres. Astronom." volume x., page 266, inferring an uprising at
Tahiti, from a footpath now used, which was formerly impassable; but I
particularly inquired from several native chiefs, whether they knew of any
change of this kind, and they were unanimous in giving me an answer in the
negative.) have stated that they have observed shells and corals high up on
the mountains of the Society Islands,--a group encircled by barrier-reefs,
and, therefore, supposed to have subsided: at Tahiti Mr. Stutchbury found
on the apex of one of the highest mountains, between 5,000 and 7,000 feet
above the level of the sea, "a distinct and regular stratum of semi-fossil
coral." At Tahiti, however, other naturalists, as well as myself, have
searched in vain at a low level near the coast, for upraised shells or
masses of coral-reef, where if present they could hardly have been
overlooked. From this fact, I concluded that probably the organic remains
strewed high up on the surface of the land, had originally been embedded in
the volcanic strata, and had subsequently been washed out by the rain. I
have since heard from the Rev. W. Ellis, that the remains which he met
with, were (as he believes) interstratified with an argillaceous tuff; this
likewise was the case with the shells observed by the Rev. D. Tyerman at
Huaheine. These remains have not been specifically examined; they may,
therefore, and especially the stratum observed by Mr. Stutchbury at an
immense height, be contemporaneous with the first formation of the Society
Islands, and be of any degree of antiquity; or they may have been deposited
at some subsequent, but probably not very recent, period of elevation; for
if the period had been recent, the entire surface of the coast land of
these islands, where the reefs are so extensive, would have been coated
with upraised coral, which certainly is not the case. Two of the Harvey,
or Cook Islands, namely, Aitutaki and Manouai, are encircled by reefs,
which extend so far from the land, that I have coloured them blue, although
with much hesitation, as the space within the reef is shallow, and the
outline of the land is not abrupt. These two islands consist of coral-rock;
but I have no evidence of their recent elevation, besides, the
improbability of Mangaia, a fringed island in the same group (but distant
170 miles), having retained its nearly perfect atoll-like structure, during
any immense lapse of time after its upheaval. The Red Sea, therefore, is
the only area in which we have clear proofs of the recent elevation of a
district, which, by our theory (although the barrier-reefs are there not
well characterised), has lately subsided. But we have no reason to be
surprised at oscillation, of level of this kind having occasionally taken
place. There can be scarcely any doubt that Savage, Aurora (Aurora Island
is described by Mr. Couthouy ("Remarks," page 58); it lies 120 miles
north-east of Tahiti; it is not coloured in the appended map, because it does
not appear to be fringed by living reefs. Mr. Couthouy describes its summit
as "presenting a broad table-land which declines a few feet towards the
centre, where we may suppose the lagoon to have been placed." It is about
two hundred feet in height, and consists of reef-rock and conglomerate,
with existing species of coral embedded in it. The island has been
elevated at two successive periods; the cliffs being marked halfway up with
a horizontal water-worn line of deep excavations. Aurora Island seems
closely to resemble in structure Elizabeth Island, at the southern end of
the Low Archipelago.), and Mangaia Islands, and several of the islands in
the Friendly group, existed originally as atolls, and these have
undoubtedly since been upraised to some height above the level of the sea;
so that by our theory, there has here, also, been an oscillation of level,
--elevation having succeeded subsidence, instead of, as in the middle part
of the Red Sea and at the Harvey Islands, subsidence having probably
succeeded recent elevation.

It is an interesting fact, that Fais, which, from its composition, form,
height, and situation at the western end of the Caroline Archipelago, one
is strongly induced to believe existed before its upheaval as an atoll,
lies exactly in the prolongation of the curved line of the Mariana group,
which we know to be a line of recent elevation. I may add, that Elizabeth
Island, in the southern part of the Low Archipelago, which seems to have
had the same kind of origin as Fais, lies near Pitcairn Island, the only
one in this part of the ocean which is high, and at the same time not
surrounded by an encircling barrier-reef.

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Chapter 6 (beginning)




The principles, on which this map was coloured, are explained in the
beginning of Chapter VI.; and the authorities for each particular spot are
detailed in the Appendix to "Coral Reefs." The names not printed in upper
case in the Index refer to the Appendix.)

Description of the coloured map.--Proximity of atolls and barrier-reefs.--
Relation in form and position of atolls with ordinary islands.--Direct
evidence of subsidence difficult to be detected.--Proofs of recent
elevation where fringing-reefs occur.--Oscillations of level.--Absence of
active volcanoes in the areas of subsidence.--Immensity of the areas which
have been elevated and have subsided.--Their relation to the present
distribution of the land.--Areas of subsidence elongated, their
intersection and alternation with those of elevation.--Amount and slow rate
of the subsidence.--Recapitulation.

It will be convenient to give here a short account of the appended map
(Plate III.) [Inasmuch as the coloured map would have proved too costly to
be given in this series, the indications of colour have been replaced by
numbers referring to the dotted groups of reefs, etc. The author's
original wording, however, is retained in full, as it will be easy to refer
to the map by the numbers, and thus the flow of the narrative is
undisturbed.]: a fuller one, with the data for colouring each spot, is
reserved for the Appendix; and every place there referred to may be found
in the Index. A larger chart would have been desirable; but, small as the
adjoined one is, it is the result of many months' labour. I have
consulted, as far as I was able, every original voyage and map; and the
colours were first laid down on charts on a larger scale. The same blue
colour, with merely a difference in the depth of tint, is used for atolls
or lagoon-islands, and barrier-reefs, for we have seen, that as far as the
actual coral-formation is concerned, they have no distinguishing character.
Fringing-reefs have been coloured red, for between them on the one hand,
and barrier-reefs and atolls on the other, there is an important
distinction with respect to the depth beneath the surface, at which we are
compelled to believe their foundations lie. The two distinct colours,
therefore, mark two great types of structure.

The DARK BLUE COLOUR [represented by (3) in our plate] represents atolls
and submerged annular reefs, with deep water in their centres. I have
coloured as atolls, a few low and small coral-islands, without lagoons; but
this has been done only when it clearly appeared that they originally
contained lagoons, since filled up with sediment: when there were not good
grounds for this belief, they have been left uncoloured.

The PALE BLUE COLOUR [represented by (2)] represents barrier-reefs. The
most obvious character of reefs of this class is the broad and deep-water
moat within the reef: but this, like the lagoons of small atolls, is
liable to become filled up with detritus and with reefs of delicately
branched corals: when, therefore, a reef round the entire circumference of
an island extends very far into a profoundly deep sea, so that it can
hardly be confounded with a fringing-reef which must rest on a foundation
of rock within a small depth, it has been coloured pale blue, although it
does not include a deep-water moat: but this has only been done rarely,
and each case is distinctly mentioned in the Appendix.

The RED COLOUR (4) represents reefs fringing the land quite closely where
the sea is deep, and where the bottom is gently inclined extending to a
moderate distance from it, but not having a deep-water moat or lagoon-like
space parallel to the shore. It must be remembered that fringing-reefs are
frequently BREACHED in front of rivers and valleys by deepish channels,
where mud has been deposited. A space of thirty miles in width has been
coloured round or in front of the reefs of each class, in order that the
colours might be conspicuous on the appended map, which is reduced to so
small a scale.

The VERMILLION SPOTS, and streaks (1) represent volcanoes now in action, or
historically known to have been so. They are chiefly laid down from Von
Buch's work on the Canary Islands; and my reasons for making a few
alterations are given in the note below.

(I have also made considerable use of the geological part of Berghaus'
"Physical Atlas." Beginning at the eastern side of the Pacific, I have
added to the number of the volcanoes in the southern part of the
Cordillera, and have coloured Juan Fernandez according to observations
collected during the voyage of the "Beagle" ("Geological Transactions,"
volume v., page 601.) I have added a volcano to Albemarle Island, one of
the Galapagos Archipelago (the author's "Journal of Researches," page 457).
In the Sandwich group there are no active volcanoes, except at Hawaii; but
the Rev. W. Ellis informs me, there are streams of lava apparently modern
on Maui, having a very recent appearance, which can be traced to the
craters whence they flowed. The same gentleman informs me, that there is
no reason to believe that any active volcano exists in the Society
Archipelago; nor are there any known in the Samoa or Navigator group,
although some of the streams of lava and craters there appear recent. In
the Friendly group, the Rev. J. Williams says ("Narrative of Missionary
Enterprise," page 29) that Toofoa and Proby Islands are active volcanoes.
I infer from Hamilton's "Voyage in the 'Pandora'" (Page 95), that Proby
Island is synonymous with Onouafou, but I have not ventured to colour it.
There can be no doubt respecting Toofoa, and Captain Edwards (Von Buch,
page 386) found the lava of recent eruption at Amargura still smoking.
Berghaus marks four active volcanoes actually within the Friendly group;
but I do not know on what authority: I may mention that Maurelle describes
Latte as having a burnt-up appearance: I have marked only Toofoa and
Amargura. South of the New Hebrides lies Matthews Rock, which is drawn and
described as an active crater in the "Voyage of the 'Astrolabe'." Between
it and the volcano on the eastern side of New Zealand, lies Brimstone
Island, which from the high temperature of the water in the crater, may be
ranked as active (Berghaus "Vorbemerk," II Lief. S. 56). Malte Brun,
volume xii., page 231, says that there is a volcano near port St. Vincent
in New Caledonia. I believe this to be an error, arising from a smoke seen

on the OPPOSITE coast by Cook ("Second Voyage," volume ii., page 23) which
smoke went out at night. The Mariana Islands, especially the northern
ones, contain many craters (see Freycinet's "Hydrog. Descript.") which are
not active. Von Buch, however, states (page 462) on the authority of La
Peyrouse, that there are no less than seven volcanoes between these islands
and Japan. Gemelli Creri (Churchill's "Collect." volume iv., page 458),
says there are two active volcanoes in latitude 23 deg 30', and in latitude
24 deg: but I have not coloured them. From the statements in Beechey's
"Voyage" (page 518, 4to edition) I have coloured one in the northern part
of the Bonin group. M. S. Julien has clearly made out from Chinese
manuscripts not very ancient ("Comptes Rendus," 1840, page 832), that there
are two active volcanoes on the eastern side of Formosa. In Torres
Straits, on Cap Island (9 deg 48' S., 142 deg 39' E.) a volcano was seen
burning with great violence in 1793 by Captain Bampton (see Introduction to
Flinders' "Voyage," page 41). Mr. M'Clelland (Report of Committee for
investigating Coal in India, page 39) has shown that the volcanic band
passing through Barren Island must be extended northwards. It appears by
an old chart, that Cheduba was once an active volcano (see also "Silliman's
North American Journal", volume xxxviii., page 385). In Berghaus'
"Physical Atlas," 1840, No. 7 of Geological Part, a volcano on the coast of
Pondicherry is said to have burst forth in 1757. Ordinaire ("Hist. Nat.
des Volcans," page 218) says that there is one at the mouth of the Persian
Gulf, but I have not coloured it, as he gives no particulars. A volcano in
Amsterdam, or St. Paul's, in the southern part of the Indian Ocean, has
been seen ("Naut. Mag." 1838, page 842) in action. Dr. J. Allan, of
Forres, informs me in a letter, that when he was at Joanna, he saw at night
flames apparently volcanic, issuing from the chief Comoro Island, and that
the Arabs assured him that they were volcanic, adding that the volcano
burned more during the wet season. I have marked this as a volcano, though
with some hesitation, on account of the possibility of the flame arising
from gaseous sources.)

The uncoloured coasts consist, first and chiefly, of those, where there are
no coral-reefs, or such small portions as to be quite insignificant.
Secondly, of those coasts where there are reefs, but where the sea is very
shallow, for in this case the reefs generally lie far from the land, and
become very irregular, in their forms: where they have not become
irregular, they have been coloured. thirdly, if I had the means of
ascertaining the fact, I should not colour a reef merely coating the edges
of a submarine crater, or of a level submerged bank; for such superficial
formations differ essentially, even when not in external appearance, from
reefs whose foundations as well as superficies have been wholly formed by
the growth of coral. Fourthly, in the Red Sea, and within some parts of
the East Indian Archipelago (if the imperfect charts of the latter can be
trusted), there are many scattered reefs, of small size, represented in the
chart by mere dots, which rise out of deep water: these cannot be arranged
under either of the three classes: in the Red Sea, however, some of these
little reefs, from their position, seem once to have formed parts of a
continuous barrier. There exist, also, scattered in the open ocean, some
linear and irregularly formed strips of coral-reef, which, as shown in the
last chapter, are probably allied in their origin to atolls; but as they do
not belong to that class, they have not been coloured; they are very few in
number and of insignificant dimensions. Lastly, some reefs are left
uncoloured from the want of information respecting them, and some because
they are of an intermediate structure between the barrier and fringing
classes. The value of the map is lessened, in proportion to the number of
reefs which I have been obliged to leave uncoloured, although, in a
theoretical point of view, few of them present any great difficulty: but
their number is not very great, as will be found by comparing the map with
the statements in the Appendix. I have experienced more difficulty in
colouring fringing-reefs than in colouring barrier-reefs, as the former,
from their much less dimensions, have less attracted the attention of
navigators. As I have had to seek my information from all kinds of
sources, and often from indirect ones, I do not venture to hope that the
map is free from many errors. Nevertheless, I trust it will give an
approximately correct view of the general distribution of the coral-reefs
over the whole world (with the exception of some fringing-reefs on the
coast of Brazil, not included within the limits of the map), and of their
arrangement into the three great classes, which, though necessarily very
imperfect from the nature of the objects classified, have been adopted by
most voyagers. I may further remark, that the dark blue colour represents
land entirely composed of coral-rock; the pale blue, land with a wide and
thick border of coral-rock; and the red, a mere narrow fringe of

Looking now at the map under the theoretical point of view indicated in the
last chapter, the two blue tints signify that the foundations of the reefs
thus coloured have subsided to a considerable amount, at a slower rate than
that of the upward growth of the corals, and that probably in many cases
they are still subsiding. The red signifies that the shores which support
fringing-reefs have not subsided (at least to any considerable amount, for
the effects of a subsidence on a small scale would in no case be
distinguishable); but that they have remained nearly stationary since the
period when they first became fringed by reefs; or that they are now rising
or have been upraised, with new lines of reefs successively formed on them:
these latter alternatives are obviously implied, as newly formed lines of
shore, after elevations of the land, would be in the same state with
respect to the growth of fringing-reefs, as stationary coasts. If during
the prolonged subsidence of a shore, coral-reefs grew for the first time on
it, or if an old barrier-reef were destroyed and submerged, and new reefs
became attached to the land, these would necessarily at first belong to the
fringing class, and, therefore, be coloured red, although the coast was
sinking: but I have no reason to believe, that from this source of error,
any coast has been coloured wrongly with respect to movement indicated.
Well characterised atolls and encircling barrier-reefs, where several occur
in a group, or a single barrier-reef if of large dimensions, leave scarcely
any doubt on the mind respecting the movement by which they have been
produced; and even a small amount of subsequent elevation is soon betrayed.
The evidence from a single atoll or a single encircling barrier-reef, must
be received with some caution, for the former may possibly be based upon a
submerged crater or bank, and the latter on a submerged margin of sediment,
or of worn-down rock. From these remarks we may with greater certainty
infer that the spaces, especially the larger ones, tinted blue in the map,
have subsided, than that the red spaces have remained stationary, or have
been upraised.
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Chapter 5 - Theory of the formation of the different classes of coral-reefs

Anatomy of a coral polyp.Image via Wikipedia


The atolls of the larger archipelagoes
are not formed on submerged craters,
or on banks of sediment.--Immense areas
interspersed with atolls.--Their
subsidence.--The effects of storms and
earthquakes on atolls.--Recent
changes in their state.--The origin of
barrier-reefs and of atolls.--Their
relative forms.--The step-formed ledges
and walls round the shores of some
lagoons.--The ring-formed reefs of the
Maldiva atolls.--The submerged
condition of parts or of the whole of
some annular reefs.--The disseverment
of large atolls.--The union of atolls
by linear reefs.--The Great Chagos
Bank.--Objections from the area and
amount of subsidence required by the theory, considered.--The probable
composition of the lower parts of atolls.

The naturalists who have visited the Pacific, seem to have had their
attention riveted by the lagoon-islands, or atolls,--those singular rings
of coral-land which rise abruptly out of the unfathomable ocean--and have
passed over, almost unnoticed, the scarcely less wonderful encircling
barrier-reefs. The theory most generally received on the formation of
atolls, is that they are based on submarine craters; but where can we find
a crater of the shape of Bow atoll, which is five times as long as it is
broad (Plate I., Figure 4); or like that of Menchikoff Island (Plate II.,
Figure 3.), with its three loops, together sixty miles in length; or like
Rimsky Korsacoff, narrow, crooked, and fifty-four miles long; or like the
northern Maldiva atolls, made up of numerous ring-formed reefs, placed on
the margin of a disc,--one of which discs is eighty-eight miles in length,
and only from ten to twenty in breadth? It is, also, not a little
improbable, that there should have existed as many craters of immense size
crowded together beneath the sea, as there are now in some parts atolls.
But this theory lies under a greater difficulty, as will be evident, when
we consider on what foundations the atolls of the larger archipelagoes
rest: nevertheless, if the rim of a crater afforded a basis at the proper
depth, I am far from denying that a reef like a perfectly characterised
atoll might not be formed; some such, perhaps, now exist; but I cannot
believe in the possibility of the greater number having thus originated.

An earlier and better theory was proposed by Chamisso (Kotzebue's "First
Voyage," volume iii., page 331.); he supposes that as the more massive
kinds of corals prefer the surf, the outer portions, in a reef rising from
a submarine basis, would first reach the surface and consequently form a
ring. But on this view it must be assumed, that in every case the basis
consists of a flat bank; for if it were conically formed, like a
mountainous mass, we can see no reason why the coral should spring up from
the flanks, instead of from the central and highest parts: considering the
number of the atolls in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, this assumption is
very improbable. As the lagoons of atolls are sometimes even more than
forty fathoms deep, it must, also, be assumed on this view, that at a depth
at which the waves do not break, the coral grows more vigorously on the
edges of a bank than on its central part; and this is an assumption without
any evidence in support of it. I remarked, in the third chapter, that a
reef, growing on a detached bank, would tend to assume an atoll-like
structure; if, therefore, corals were to grow up from a bank, with a level
surface some fathoms submerged, having steep sides and being situated in a
deep sea, a reef not to be distinguished from an atoll, might be formed: I
believe some such exist in the West Indies. But a difficulty of the same
kind with that affecting the crater theory, runners, as we shall presently
see, this view inapplicable to the greater number of atolls.

No theory worthy of notice has been advanced to account for those
barrier-reefs, which encircle islands of moderate dimensions. The great
reef which fronts the coast of Australia has been supposed, but without any
special facts, to rest on the edge of a submarine precipice, extending
parallel to the shore. The origin of the third class or of fringing-reefs
presents, I believe, scarcely any difficulty, and is simply consequent on
the polypifers not growing up from great depths, and their not flourishing
close to gently shelving beaches where the water is often turbid.

What cause, then, has given to atolls and barrier-reefs their
characteristic forms? Let us see whether an important deduction will not
follow from the consideration of these two circumstances, first, the
reef-building corals flourishing only at limited depths; and secondly, the
vastness of the areas interspersed with coral-reefs and coral-islets, none
of which rise to a greater height above the level of the sea, than that
attained by matter thrown up by the waves and winds. I do not make this
latter statement vaguely; I have carefully sought for descriptions of every
island in the intertropical seas; and my task has been in some degree
abridged by a map of the Pacific, corrected in 1834 by MM. D'Urville and
Lottin, in which the low islands are distinguished from the high ones (even
from those much less than a hundred feet in height) by being written
without a capital letter; I have detected a few errors in this map,
respecting the height of some of the islands, which will be noticed in the
Appendix, where I treat of coral formations in geographical order. To the
Appendix, also, I must refer for a more particular account of the data on
which the statements on the next page are grounded. I have ascertained,
and chiefly from the writings of Cook, Kotzebue, Bellinghausen, Duperrey,
Beechey, and Lutke, regarding the Pacific; and from Moresby (See also
Captain Owen's and Lieutenant Wood's papers in the "Geographical Journal",
on the Maldiva and Laccadive Archipelagoes. These officers particularly
refer to the lowness of the islets; but I chiefly ground my assertion
respecting these two groups, and the Chagos group, from information
communicated to me by Captain Moresby.) with respect to the Indian Ocean,
that in the following cases the term "low island" strictly means land of
the height commonly attained by matter thrown up by the winds and the waves
of an open sea. If we draw a line (the plan I have always adopted) joining
the external atolls of that part of the Low Archipelago in which the
islands are numerous, the figure will be a pointed ellipse (reaching from
Hood to Lazaref Island), of which the longer axis is 840 geographical
miles, and the shorter 420 miles; in this space (I find from Mr. Couthouy's
pamphlet (page 58) that Aurora Island is about two hundred feet in height;
it consists of coral-rock, and seems to have been formed by the elevation
of an atoll. It lies north-east of Tahiti, close without the line bounding
the space coloured dark blue in the map appended to this volume. Honden
Island, which is situated in the extreme north-west part of the Low
Archipelago, according to measurements made on board the "Beagle", whilst
sailing by, is 114 feet from the SUMMIT OF THE TREES to the water's edge.
This island appeared to resemble the other atolls of the group.) none of
the innumerable islets united into great rings rise above the stated level.
The Gilbert group is very narrow, and 300 miles in length. In a prolonged
line from this group, at the distance of 240 miles, is the Marshall
Archipelago, the figure of which is an irregular square, one end being
broader than the other; its length is 520 miles, with an average width of
240; these two groups together are 1,040 miles in length, and all their
islets are low. Between the southern end of the Gilbert and the northern
end of Low Archipelago, the ocean is thinly strewed with islands, all of
which, as far as I have been able to ascertain, are low; so that from
nearly the southern end of the Low Archipelago, to the northern end of the
Marshall Archipelago, there is a narrow band of ocean, more than 4,000
miles in length, containing a great number of islands, all of which are
low. In the western part of the Caroline Archipelago, there is a space of
480 miles in length, and about 100 broad, thinly interspersed with low
islands. Lastly, in the Indian Ocean, the archipelago of the Maldivas is
470 miles in length, and 60 in breadth; that of the Laccadives is 150 by
100 miles; as there is a low island between these two groups, they may be
considered as one group of 1,000 miles in length. To this may be added the
Chagos group of low islands, situated 280 miles distant, in a line
prolonged from the southern extremity of the Maldivas. This group,
including the submerged banks, is 170 miles in length and 80 in breadth.
So striking is the uniformity in direction of these three archipelagoes,
all the islands of which are low, that Captain Moresby, in one of his
papers, speaks of them as parts of one great chain, nearly 1,500 miles
long. I am, then, fully justified in repeating, that enormous spaces, both
in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, are interspersed with islands, of which
not one rises above that height, to which the waves and winds in an open
sea can heap up matter.

On what foundations, then, have these reefs and islets of coral been
constructed? A foundation must originally have been present beneath each
atoll at that limited depth, which is indispensable for the first growth of
the reef-building polypifers. A conjecture will perhaps be hazarded, that
the requisite bases might have been afforded by the accumulation of great
banks of sediment, which owing to the action of superficial currents (aided
possibly by the undulatory movement of the sea) did not quite reach the
surface,--as actually appears to have been the case in some parts of the
West Indian Sea. But in the form and disposition of the groups of atolls,
there is nothing to countenance this notion; and the assumption without any
proof, that a number of immense piles of sediment have been heaped on the
floor of the great Pacific and Indian Oceans, in their central parts far
remote from land, and where the dark blue colour of the limpid water
bespeaks its purity, cannot for one moment be admitted.

The many widely-scattered atolls must, therefore, rest on rocky bases. But
we cannot believe that the broad summit of a mountain lies buried at the
depth of a few fathoms beneath every atoll, and nevertheless throughout the
immense areas above-named, with not one point of rock projecting above the
level of the sea; for we may judge with some accuracy of mountains beneath
the sea, by those on the land; and where can we find a single chain several
hundred miles in length and of considerable breadth, much less several such
chains, with their many broad summits attaining the same height, within
from 120 to 180 feet? If the data be thought insufficient, on which I have
grounded my belief, respecting the depth at which the reef-building
polypifers can exist, and it be assumed that they can flourish at a depth
of even one hundred fathoms, yet the weight of the above argument is but
little diminished, for it is almost equally improbable, that as many
submarine mountains, as there are low islands in the several great and
widely separated areas above specified, should all rise within six hundred
feet of the surface of the sea and not one above it, as that they should be
of the same height within the smaller limit of one or two hundred feet. So
highly improbable is this supposition, that we are compelled to believe,
that the bases of the many atolls did never at any one period all lie
submerged within the depth of a few fathoms beneath the surface, but that
they were brought into the requisite position or level, some at one period
and some at another, through movements in the earth's crust. But this
could not have been effected by elevation, for the belief that points so
numerous and so widely separated were successively uplifted to a certain
level, but that not one point was raised above that level, is quite as
improbable as the former supposition, and indeed differs little from it.
It will probably occur to those who have read Ehrenberg's account of the
Reefs of the Red Sea, that many points in these great areas may have been
elevated, but that as soon as raised, the protuberant parts were cut off by
the destroying action of the waves: a moment's reflection, however, on the
basin-like form of the atolls, will show that this is impossible; for the
upheaval and subsequent abrasion of an island would leave a flat disc,
which might become coated with coral, but not a deeply concave surface;
moreover, we should expect to see, in some parts at least, the rock of the
foundation brought to the surface. If, then, the foundations of the many
atolls were not uplifted into the requisite position, they must of
necessity have subsided into it; and this at once solves every difficulty
(The additional difficulty on the crater hypothesis before alluded to, will
now be evident; for on this view the volcanic action must be supposed to
have formed within the areas specified a vast number of craters, all rising
within a few fathoms of the surface, and not one above it. The supposition
that the craters were at different times upraised above the surface, and
were there abraded by the surf and subsequently coated by corals, is
subject to nearly the same objections with those given above in this
paragraph; but I consider it superfluous to detail all the arguments
opposed to such a notion. Chamisso's theory, from assuming the existence
of so many banks, all lying at the proper depth beneath the water, is also
vitally defective. The same observation applies to an hypothesis of
Lieutenant Nelson's ("Geolog. Trans." volume v., page 122), who supposes
that the ring-formed structure is caused by a greater number of germs of
corals becoming attached to the declivity, than to the central plateau of a
submarine bank: it likewise applies to the notion formerly entertained
(Forster's "Observ." page 151), that lagoon-islands owe their peculiar form
to the instinctive tendencies of the polypifers. According to this latter
view, the corals on the outer margin of the reef instinctively expose
themselves to the surf in order to afford protection to corals living in
the lagoon, which belong to other genera, and to other families!), for we
may safely infer, from the facts given in the last chapter, that during a
gradual subsidence the corals would be favourably circumstanced for
building up their solid frame works and reaching the surface, as island
after island slowly disappeared. Thus areas of immense extent in the
central and most profound parts of the great oceans, might become
interspersed with coral-islets, none of which would rise to a greater
height than that attained by detritus heaped up by the sea, and
nevertheless they might all have been formed by corals, which absolutely
required for their growth a solid foundation within a few fathoms of the

It would be out of place here to do more than allude to the many facts,
showing that the supposition of a gradual subsidence over large areas is by
no means improbable. We have the clearest proof that a movement of this
kind is possible, in the upright trees buried under the strata many
thousand feet in thickness; we have also every reason for believing that
there are now large areas gradually sinking, in the same manner as others
are rising. And when we consider how many parts of the surface of the
globe have been elevated within recent geological periods, we must admit
that there have been subsidences on a corresponding scale, for otherwise
the whole globe would have swollen. It is very remarkable that Mr. Lyell
("Principles of Geology," sixth edition, volume iii., page 386.), even in
the first edition of his "Principles of Geology," inferred that the amount
of subsidence in the Pacific must have exceeded that of elevation, from the
area of land being very small relatively to the agents there tending to
form it, namely, the growth of coral and volcanic action. But it will be
asked, are there any direct proofs of a subsiding movement in those areas,
in which subsidence will explain a phenomenon otherwise inexplicable?
This, however, can hardly be expected, for it must ever be most difficult,
excepting in countries long civilised, to detect a movement, the tendency
of which is to conceal the part affected. In barbarous and semi-civilised
nations how long might not a slow movement, even of elevation such as that
now affecting Scandinavia, have escaped attention!

Mr. Williams (Williams's "Narrative of Missionary Enterprise," page 31.)
insists strongly that the traditions of the natives, which he has taken
much pains in collecting, do not indicate the appearance of any new
islands: but on the theory of a gradual subsidence, all that would be
apparent would be, the water sometimes encroaching slowly on the land, and
the land again recovering by the accumulation of detritus its former
extent, and perhaps sometimes the conversion of an atoll with coral islets
on it, into a bare or into a sunken annular reef. Such changes would
naturally take place at the periods when the sea rose above its usual
limits, during a gale of more than ordinary strength; and the effects of
the two causes would be hardly distinguishable. In Kotzebue's "Voyage"
there are accounts of islands, both in the Caroline and Marshall
Archipelagoes, which have been partly washed away during hurricanes; and
Kadu, the native who was on board one of the Russian vessels, said "he saw
the sea at Radack rise to the feet of the cocoa-nut trees; but it was
conjured in time." (Kotzebue's "First Voyage," volume iii., page 168.) A
storm lately entirely swept away two of the Caroline islands, and converted
them into shoals; it partly, also, destroyed two other islands. (M.
Desmoulins in "Comptes Rendus," 1840, page 837.) According to a tradition
which was communicated to Captain Fitzroy, it is believed in the Low
Archipelago, that the arrival of the first ship caused a great inundation,
which destroyed many lives. Mr. Stutchbury relates, that in 1825, the
western side of Chain Atoll, in the same group, was completely devastated
by a hurricane, and not less than 300 lives lost: "in this instance it was
evident, even to the natives, that the hurricane alone was not sufficient
to account for the violent agitation of the ocean." ("West of England
Journal", No. I., page 35.) That considerable changes have taken place
recently in some of the atolls in the Low Archipelago, appears certain from
the case already given of Matilda Island: with respect to Whitsunday and
Gloucester Islands in this same group, we must either attribute great
inaccuracy to their discoverer, the famous circumnavigator Wallis, or
believe that they have undergone a considerable change in the period of
fifty-nine years, between his voyage and that of Captain Beechey's.
Whitsunday Island is described by Wallis as "about four miles long, and
three wide," now it is only one mile and a half long. The appearance of
Gloucester Island, in Captain Beechey's words (Beechey's "Voyage to the
Pacific," chapter vii., and Wallis's "Voyage in the 'Dolphin'," chapter
iv.), has been accurately described by its discoverer, but its present form
and extent differ materially." Blenheim reef, in the Chagos group,
consists of a water-washed annular reef, thirteen miles in circumference,
surrounding a lagoon ten fathoms deep: on its surface there were a few
worn patches of conglomerate coral-rock, of about the size of hovels; and
these Captain Moresby considered as being, without doubt, the last remnants
of islets; so that here an atoll has been converted into an atoll-formed
reef. The inhabitants of the Maldiva Archipelago, as long ago as 1605,
declared, "that the high tides and violent currents were diminishing the
number of the islands" (See an extract from Pyrard's Voyage in Captain
Owen's paper on the Maldiva Archipelago, in the "Geographical Journal",
volume ii., page 84.): and I have already shown, on the authority of
Captain Moresby, that the work of destruction is still in progress; but
that on the other hand the first formation of some islets is known to the
present inhabitants. In such cases, it would be exceedingly difficult to
detect a gradual subsidence of the foundation, on which these mutable
structures rest.

Some of the archipelagoes of low coral-islands are subject to earthquakes:
Captain Moresby informs me that they are frequent, though not very strong,
in the Chagos group, which occupies a very central position in the Indian
Ocean, and is far from any land not of coral formation. One of the islands
in this group was formerly covered by a bed of mould, which, after an
earthquake, disappeared, and was believed by the residents to have been
washed by the rain through the broken masses of underlying rock; the island
was thus rendered unproductive. Chamisso (See Chamisso, in Kotzebue's
"First Voyage," volume iii., pages 182 and 136.) states, that earthquakes
are felt in the Marshall atolls, which are far from any high land, and
likewise in the islands of the Caroline Archipelago. On one of the latter,
namely Oulleay atoll, Admiral Lutke, as he had the kindness to inform me,
observed several straight fissures about a foot in width, running for some
hundred yards obliquely across the whole width of the reef. Fissures
indicate a stretching of the earth's crust, and, therefore, probably
changes in its level; but these coral-islands, which have been shaken and
fissured, certainly have not been elevated, and, therefore, probably they
have subsided. In the chapter on Keeling atoll, I attempted to show by
direct evidence, that the island underwent a movement of subsidence, during
the earthquakes lately felt there.

The facts stand thus;--there are many large tracts of ocean, without any
high land, interspersed with reefs and islets, formed by the growth of
those kinds of corals, which cannot live at great depths; and the existence
of these reefs and low islets, in such numbers and at such distant points,
is quite inexplicable, excepting on the theory, that the bases on which the
reefs first became attached, slowly and successively sank beneath the level
of the sea, whilst the corals continued to grow upwards. No positive facts
are opposed to this view, and some general considerations render it
probable. There is evidence of change in form, whether or not from
subsidence, on some of these coral-islands; and there is evidence of
subterranean disturbances beneath them. Will then the theory, to which we
have thus been led, solve the curious problem,--what has given to each
class of reef its peculiar form?


AA--Outer edge of the reef at the level of the sea.

BB--Shores of the island.

A'A'--Outer edge of the reef, after its upward growth during a period of

CC--The lagoon-channel between the reef and the shores of the now encircled

B'B'--The shores of the encircled island.

N.B.--In this, and the following woodcut, the subsidence of the land could
only be represented by an apparent rise in the level of the sea.


A'A'--Outer edges of the barrier-reef at the level of the sea. The
cocoa-nut trees represent coral-islets formed on the reef.

CC--The lagoon-channel.

B'B'--The shores of the island, generally formed of low alluvial land and
of coral detritus from the lagoon-channel.

A"A"--The outer edges of the reef now forming an atoll.

C'--The lagoon of the newly formed atoll. According to the scale, the
depth of the lagoon and of the lagoon-channel is exaggerated.)

Let us in imagination place within one of the subsiding areas, an island
surrounded by a "fringing-reef,"--that kind, which alone offers no
difficulty in the explanation of its origin. Let the unbroken lines and
the oblique shading in the woodcut (No. 4) represent a vertical section
through such an island; and the horizontal shading will represent the
section of the reef. Now, as the island sinks down, either a few feet at a
time or quite insensibly, we may safely infer from what we know of the
conditions favourable to the growth of coral, that the living masses bathed
by the surf on the margin of the reef, will soon regain the surface. The
water, however, will encroach, little by little, on the shore, the island
becoming lower and smaller, and the space between the edge of the reef and
the beach proportionately broader. A section of the reef and island in
this state, after a subsidence of several hundred feet, is given by the
dotted lines: coral-islets are supposed to have been formed on the new
reef, and a ship is anchored in the lagoon-channel. This section is in
every respect that of an encircling barrier-reef; it is, in fact, a section
taken (The section has been made from the chart given in the "Atlas of the
Voyage of the 'Coquille'." The scale is .57 of an inch to a mile. The
height of the island, according to M. Lesson, is 4,026 feet. The deepest
part of the lagoon-channel is 162 feet; its depth is exaggerated in the
woodcut for the sake of clearness.) east and west through the highest point
of the encircled island of Bolabola; of which a plan is given in Plate I.,
Figure 5. The same section is more clearly shown in the following woodcut
(No. 5) by the unbroken lines. The width of the reef, and its slope, both
on the outer and inner side, will have been determined by the growing
powers of the coral, under the conditions (for instance the force of the
breakers and of the currents) to which it has been exposed; and the
lagoon-channel will be deeper or shallower, in proportion to the growth of
the delicately branched corals within the reef, and to the accumulation of
sediment, relatively, also, to the rate of subsidence and the length of the
intervening stationary periods.

It is evident in this section, that a line drawn perpendicularly down from
the outer edge of the new reef to the foundation of solid rock, exceeds by
as many feet as there have been feet of subsidence, that small limit of
depth at which the effective polypifers can live--the corals having grown
up, as the whole sank down, from a basis formed of other corals and their
consolidated fragments. Thus the difficulty on this head, which before
seemed so great, disappears.

As the space between the reef and the subsiding shore continued to increase
in breadth and depth, and as the injurious effects of the sediment and
fresh water borne down from the land were consequently lessened, the
greater number of the channels, with which the reef in its fringing state
must have been breached, especially those which fronted the smaller
streams, will have become choked up with the growth of coral: on the
windward side of the reef, where the coral grows most vigorously, the
breaches will probably have first been closed. In barrier-reefs,
therefore, the breaches kept open by draining the tidal waters of the
lagoon-channel, will generally be placed on the leeward side, and they will
still face the mouths of the larger streams, although removed beyond the
influence of their sediment and fresh water;--and this, it has been shown,
is commonly the case.

Referring to the diagram shown above, in which the newly formed barrier-reef
is represented by unbroken lines, instead of by dots as in the former
woodcut, let the work of subsidence go on, and the doubly pointed hill will
form two small islands (or more, according to the number of the hills)
included within one annular reef. Let the island continue subsiding, and
the coral-reef will continue growing up on its own foundation, whilst the
water gains inch by inch on the land, until the last and highest pinnacle
is covered, and there remains a perfect atoll. A vertical section of this
atoll is shown in the woodcut by the dotted lines;--a ship is anchored in
its lagoon, but islets are not supposed yet to have been formed on the
reef. The depth of the lagoon and the width and slope of the reef, will
depend on the circumstances just referred to under barrier-reefs. Any
further subsidence will produce no change in the atoll, except perhaps a
diminution in its size, from the reef not growing vertically upwards; but
should the currents of the sea act violently upon it, and should the corals
perish on part or on the whole of its margin, changes would result during
subsidence which will be presently noticed. I may here observe, that a
bank either of rock or of hardened sediment, level with the surface of the
sea, and fringed with living coral, would (if not so small as to allow the
central space to be quickly filled up with detritus) by subsidence be
converted immediately into an atoll, without passing, as in the case of a
reef fringing the shore of an island, through the intermediate form of a
barrier-reef. If such a bank lay a few fathoms submerged, the simple
growth of the coral (as remarked in the third chapter) without the aid of
subsidence, would produce a structure scarcely to be distinguished from a
true atoll; for in all cases the corals on the outer margin of a reef, from
having space and being freely exposed to the open sea, will grow vigorously
and tend to form a continuous ring whilst the growth of the less massive
kinds on the central expanse, will be checked by the sediment formed there,
and by that washed inwards by the breakers; and as the space becomes
shallower, their growth will, also, be checked by the impurities of the
water, and probably by the small amount of food brought by the enfeebled
currents, in proportion to the surface of living reefs studded with
innumerable craving mouths: the subsidence of a reef based on a bank of
this kind, would give depth to its central expanse or lagoon, steepness to
its flanks, and through the free growth of the coral, symmetry to its
outline:--I may here repeat that the larger groups of atolls in the Pacific
and Indian Oceans cannot be supposed to be founded on banks of this nature.

If, instead of the island in the diagram, the shore of a continent fringed
by a reef had subsided, a great barrier-reef, like that on the north-east
coast of Australia, would have necessarily resulted; and it would have been
separated from the main land by a deep-water channel, broad in proportion
to the amount of subsidence, and to the less or greater inclination of the
neighbouring coast-line. The effect of the continued subsidence of a great
barrier-reef of this kind, and its probable conversion into a chain of
separate atolls, will be noticed, when we discuss the apparent progressive
disseverment of the larger Maldiva atolls.

We now are able to perceive that the close similarity in form, dimensions,
structure, and relative position (which latter point will hereafter be more
fully noticed) between fringing and encircling barrier-reefs, and between
these latter and atolls, is the necessary result of the transformation,
during subsidence of the one class into the other. On this view, the three
classes of reefs ought to graduate into each other. Reefs having
intermediate character between those of the fringing and barrier classes do
exist; for instance, on the south-west coast of Madagascar, a reef extends
for several miles, within which there is a broad channel from seven to
eight fathoms deep, but the sea does not deepen abruptly outside the reef.
Such cases, however, are open to some doubts, for an old fringing-reef,
which had extended itself a little on a basis of its own formation, would
hardly be distinguishable from a barrier-reef, produced by a small amount
of subsidence, and with its lagoon-channel nearly filled up with sediment
during a long stationary period. Between barrier-reefs, encircling either
one lofty island or several small low ones, and atolls including a mere
expanse of water, a striking series can be shown: in proof of this, I need
only refer to the first plate in this volume, which speaks more plainly to
the eye, than any description could to the ear. The authorities from which
the charts have been engraved, together with some remarks on them and
descriptive of the plates, are given above. At New Caledonia (Plate II.,
Figure 5.) the barrier-reefs extend for 150 miles on each side of the
submarine prolongation of the island; and at their northern extremity they
appear broken up and converted into a vast atoll-formed reef, supporting a
few low coral-islets: we may imagine that we here see the effects of
subsidence actually in progress, the water always encroaching on the
northern end of the island, towards which the mountains slope down, and the
reefs steadily building up their massive fabrics in the lines of their
ancient growth.

We have as yet only considered the origin of barrier-reefs and atolls in
their simplest form; but there remain some peculiarities in structure and
some special cases, described in the two first chapters, to be accounted
for by our theory. These consist--in the inclined ledge terminated by a
wall, and sometimes succeeded by a second ledge with a wall, round the
shores of certain lagoons and lagoon-channels; a structure which cannot, as
I endeavoured to show, be explained by the simple growing powers of the
corals,--in the ring or basin-like forms of the central reefs, as well as
of the separate marginal portions of the northern Maldiva atolls,--in the
submerged condition of the whole, or of parts of certain barrier and
atoll-formed reefs; where only a part is submerged, this being generally to
leeward,--in the apparent progressive disseverment of some of the Maldiva
atolls,--in the existence of irregularly formed atolls, some being tied
together by linear reefs, and others with spurs projecting from them,--and,
lastly, in the structure and origin of the Great Chagos Bank.


If we suppose an atoll to subside at an extremely slow rate, it is
difficult to follow out the complex results. The living corals would grow
up on the outer margin; and likewise probably in the gullies and deeper
parts of the bare surface of the annular reef; the water would encroach on
the islets, but the accumulation of fresh detritus might possibly prevent
their entire submergence. After a subsidence of this very slow nature, the
surface of the annular reef sloping gently into the lagoon, would probably
become united with the irregular reefs and banks of sand, which line the
shores of most lagoons. Should, however, the atoll be carried down by a
more rapid movement, the whole surface of the annular reef, where there was
a foundation of solid matter, would be favourably circumstanced for the
fresh growth of coral; but as the corals grew upwards on its exterior
margin, and the waves broke heavily on this part, the increase of the
massive polypifers on the inner side would be checked from the want of
water. Consequently, the exterior parts would first reach the surface, and
the new annular reef thus formed on the old one, would have its summit
inclined inwards, and be terminated by a subaqueous wall, formed by the
upward growth of the coral (before being much checked), from the inner edge
of the solid parts of the old reef. The inner portion of the new reef,
from not having grown to the surface, would be covered by the waters of the
lagoon. Should a subsidence of the same kind be repeated, the corals would
again grow up in a wall, from all the solid parts of the resunken reef,
and, therefore, not from within the sandy shores of the lagoon; and the
inner part of the new annular reef would, from being as before checked in
its upward growth, be of less height than the exterior parts, and therefore
would not reach the surface of the lagoon. In this case the shores of the
lagoon would be surrounded by two inclined ledges, one beneath the other,
and both abruptly terminated by subaqueous cliffs. (According to Mr.
Couthouy (page 26) the external reef round many atolls descends by a
succession of ledges or terraces. He attempts, I doubt whether
successfully, to explain this structure somewhat in the same manner as I
have attempted, with respect to the internal ledges round the lagoons of
some atolls. More facts are wanted regarding the nature both of the
interior and exterior step-like ledges: are all the ledges, or only the
upper ones, covered with living coral? If they are all covered, are the
kinds different on the ledges according to the depth? Do the interior and
exterior ledges occur together in the same atolls; if so, what is their
total width, and is the intervening surface-reef narrow, etc.?)


I may first observe, that the reefs within the lagoons of atolls and within
lagoon-channels, would, if favourably circumstanced, grow upwards during
subsidence in the same manner as the annular rim; and, therefore, we might
expect that such lagoon-reefs, when not surrounded and buried by an
accumulation of sediment more rapid than the rate of subsidence, would rise
abruptly from a greater depth than that at which the efficient polypifers
can flourish: we see this well exemplified in the small abruptly-sided
reefs, with which the deep lagoons of the Chagos and Southern Maldiva
atolls are studded. With respect to the ring or basin-formed reefs of the
Northern Maldiva atolls, it is evident, from the perfectly continuous
series which exists that the marginal rings, although wider than the
exterior or bounding reef of ordinary atolls, are only modified portions of
such a reef; it is also evident that the central rings, although wider than
the knolls or reefs which commonly occur in lagoons, occupy their place.
The ring-like structure has been shown to be contingent on the breaches
into the lagoon being broad and numerous, so that all the reefs which are
bathed by the waters of the lagoon are placed under nearly the same
conditions with the outer coast of an atoll standing in the open sea.
Hence the exterior and living margins of these reefs must have been
favourably circumstanced for growing outwards, and increasing beyond the
usual breadth; and they must likewise have been favourably circumstanced
for growing vigorously upwards, during the subsiding movements, to which by
our theory the whole archipelago has been subjected; and subsidence with
this upward growth of the margins would convert the central space of each
little reef into a small lagoon. This, however, could only take place with
those reefs, which had increased to a breadth sufficient to prevent their
central spaces from being almost immediately filled up with the sand and
detritus driven inwards from all sides: hence it is that few reefs, which
are less than half a mile in diameter, even in the atolls where the
basin-like structure is most strikingly exhibited, include lagoons. This
remark, I may add, applies to all coral-reefs wherever found. The
basin-formed reefs of the Maldiva Archipelago may, in fact, be briefly
described, as small atolls formed during subsidence over the separate
portions of large and broken atolls, in the same manner as these latter were
formed over the barrier-reefs, which encircled the islands of a large
archipelago now wholly submerged.


In the second section of the first chapter, I have shown that there are in
the neighbourhood of atolls, some deeply submerged banks, with level
surfaces; that there are others, less deeply but yet wholly submerged,
having all the characters of perfect atolls, but consisting merely of dead
coral-rock; that there are barrier-reefs and atolls with merely a portion
of their reef, generally on the leeward side, submerged; and that such
portions either retain their perfect outline, or they appear to be quite
effaced, their former place being marked only by a bank, conforming in
outline with that part of the reef which remains perfect. These several
cases are, I believe, intimately related together, and can be explained by
the same means. There, perhaps, exist some submerged reefs, covered with
living coral and growing upwards, but to these I do not here refer.

As we see that in those parts of the ocean, where coral-reefs are most
abundant, one island is fringed and another neighbouring one is not
fringed; as we see in the same archipelago, that all the reefs are more
perfect in one part of it than in another, for instance, in the southern
half compared with the northern half of the Maldiva Archipelago, and
likewise on the outer coasts compared with the inner coasts of the atolls
in this same group, which are placed in a double row; as we know that the
existence of the innumerable polypifers forming a reef, depends on their
sustenance, and that they are preyed on by other organic beings; and,
lastly, as we know that some inorganic causes are highly injurious to the
growth of coral, it cannot be expected that during the round of change to
which earth, air, and water are exposed, the reef-building polypifers
should keep alive for perpetuity in any one place; and still less can this
be expected, during the progressive subsidences, perhaps at some periods
more rapid than at others, to which by our theory these reefs and islands
have been subjected and are liable. It is, then, not improbable that the
corals should sometimes perish either on the whole or on part of a reef; if
on part, the dead portion, after a small amount of subsidence, would still
retain its proper outline and position beneath the water. After a more
prolonged subsidence, it would probably form, owing to the accumulation of
sediment, only the margin of a flat bank, marking the limits of the former
lagoon. Such dead portions of reef would generally lie on the leeward side
(Mr. Lyell, in the first edition of his "Principles of Geology," offered a
somewhat different explanation of this structure. He supposes that there
has been subsidence; but he was not aware that the submerged portions of
reef were in most cases, if not in all, dead; and he attributes the
difference in height in the two sides of most atolls, chiefly to the
greater accumulation of detritus to windward than to leeward. But as
matter is accumulated only on the backward part of the reef, the front part
would remain of the same height on both sides. I may here observe that in
most cases (for instance, at Peros Banhos, the Gambier group and the Great
Chagos Bank), and I suspect in all cases, the dead and submerged portions
do not blend or slope into the living and perfect parts, but are separated
from them by an abrupt line. In some instances small patches of living
reef rise to the surface from the middle of the submerged and dead parts.),
for the impure water and fine sediment would more easily flow out from the
lagoon over this side of the reef, where the force of the breakers is less
than to windward; and therefore the corals would be less vigorous on this
side, and be less able to resist any destroying agent. It is likewise
owing to this same cause, that reefs are more frequently breached to
leeward by narrow channels, serving as by ship-channels, than to windward.
If the corals perished entirely, or on the greater part of the
circumference of an atoll, an atoll-shaped bank of dead rock, more or less
entirely submerged, would be produced; and further subsidence, together
with the accumulation of sediment, would often obliterate its atoll-like
structure, and leave only a bank with a level surface.

In the Chagos group of atolls, within an area of 160 miles by 60, there are
two atoll-formed banks of dead rock (besides another very imperfect one),
entirely submerged; a third, with merely two or three very small pieces of
living reef rising to the surface; and a fourth, namely, Peros Banhos
(Plate I., Figure 9), with a portion nine miles in length dead and
submerged. As by our theory this area has subsided, and as there is
nothing improbable in the death, either from changes in the state of the
surrounding sea or from the subsidence being great or sudden, of the corals
on the whole, or on portions of some of the atolls, the case of the Chagos
group presents no difficulty. So far indeed are any of the above-mentioned
cases of submerged reefs from being inexplicable, that their occurrence
might have been anticipated on our theory, and as fresh atolls are supposed
to be in progressive formation by the subsidence of encircling barrier-reefs,
a weighty objection, namely that the number of atolls must be
increasing infinitely, might even have been raised, if proofs of the
occasional destruction and loss of atolls could not have been adduced.


The apparent progressive disseverment in the Maldiva Archipelago of large
atolls into smaller ones, is, in many respects, an important consideration,
and requires an explanation. The graduated series which marks, as I
believe, this process, can be observed only in the northern half of the
group, where the atolls have exceedingly imperfect margins, consisting of
detached basin-formed reefs. The currents of the sea flow across these
atolls, as I am informed by Captain Moresby, with considerable force, and
drift the sediment from side to side during the monsoons, transporting much
of it seaward; yet the currents sweep with greater force round their
flanks. It is historically known that these atolls have long existed in
their present state; and we can believe, that even during a very slow
subsidence they might thus remain, the central expanse being kept at nearly
its original depth by the accumulation of sediment. But in the action of
such nicely balanced forces during a progressive subsidence (like that, to
which by our theory this archipelago has been subjected), it would be
strange if the currents of the sea should never make a direct passage
across some one of the atolls, through the many wide breaches in their
margins. If this were once effected, a deep-water channel would soon be
formed by the removal of the finer sediment, and the check to its further
accumulation; and the sides of the channel would be worn into a slope like
that on the outer coasts, which are exposed to the same force of the
currents. In fact, a channel precisely like that bifurcating one which
divides Mahlos Mahdoo (Plate II., Figure 4.), would almost necessarily be
formed. The scattered reefs situated near the borders of the new
ocean-channel, from being favourably placed for the growth of coral, would,
by their extension, tend to produce fresh margins to the dissevered portions;
such a tendency is very evident (as may be seen in the large published
chart) in the elongated reefs on the borders of the two channels
intersecting Mahlos Mahdoo. Such channels would become deeper with
continued subsidence, and probably from the reefs not growing up
perpendicularly, somewhat broader. In this case, and more especially if
the channels had been formed originally of considerable breadth, the
dissevered portions would become perfect and distinct atolls, like Ari and
Ross atolls (Plate II., Figure 6), or like the two Nillandoo atolls, which
must be considered as distinct, although related in form and position, and
separated from each other by channels, which though deep have been sounded.
Further subsidence would render such channels unfathomable, and the
dissevered portions would then resemble Phaleedoo and Moluque atolls, or
Mahlos Mahdoo and Horsburgh atolls (Plate II., Figure 4), which are related
to each other in no respect except in proximity and position. Hence, on
the theory of subsidence, the disseverment of large atolls, which have
imperfect margins (for otherwise their disseverment would be scarcely
possible), and which are exposed to strong currents, is far from being an
improbable event; and the several stages, from close relation to entire
isolation in the atolls of the Maldiva Archipelago, are readily explicable.

We might go even further, and assert as not improbable, that the first
formation of the Maldiva Archipelago was due to a barrier-reef, of nearly
the same dimensions with that of New Caledonia (Plate II., Figure 5), for
if, in imagination, we complete the subsidence of that great island, we
might anticipate from the present broken condition of the northern portion
of the reef, and from the almost entire absence of reefs on the eastern
coast, that the barrier-reef after repeated subsidences, would become
during its upward growth separated into distinct portions; and these
portions would tend to assume an atoll-like structure, from the coral
growing with vigour round their entire circumferences, when freely exposed
to an open sea. As we have some large islands partly submerged with
barrier-reefs marking their former limits, such as New Caledonia, so our
theory makes it probable that there should be other large islands wholly
submerged; and these, we may now infer, would be surmounted, not by one
enormous atoll, but by several large elongated ones, like the atolls in the
Maldiva group; and these again, during long periods of subsidence, would
sometimes become dissevered into smaller atolls. I may add, that both in
the Marshall and Caroline Archipelagoes, there are atolls standing close
together, which have an evident relationship in form: we may suppose, in
such cases, either that two or more encircled islands originally stood
close together, and afforded bases for two or more atolls, or that one
atoll has been dissevered. From the position, as well as form, of three
atolls in the Caroline Archipelago (the Namourrek and Elato group), which
are placed in an irregular circle, I am strongly tempted to believe that
they have originated by the process of disseverment. (The same remark is,
perhaps, applicable to the islands of Ollap, Fanadik, and Tamatam in the
Caroline Archipelago, of which charts are given in the atlas of Duperrey's
voyage: a line drawn through the linear reefs and lagoons of these three
islands forms a semicircle. Consult also, the atlas of Lutke's voyage; and
for the Marshall group that of Kotzebue; for the Gilbert group consult the
atlas of Duperrey's voyage. Most of the points here referred to may,
however, be seen in Krusenstern's general Atlas of the Pacific.)


In the Marshall group, Musquillo atoll consists of two loops united in one
point; and Menchikoff atoll is formed of three loops, two of which (as may
be seen in Figure 3, Plate II.) are connected by a mere ribbon-shaped reef,
and the three together are sixty miles in length. In the Gilbert group
some of the atolls have narrow strips of reef, like spurs, projecting from
them. There occur also in parts of the open sea, a few linear and straight
reefs, standing by themselves; and likewise some few reefs in the form of
crescents, with their extremities more or less curled inwards. Now, the
upward growth of a barrier-reef which fronted only one side of an island,
or one side of an elongated island with its extremities (of which cases
exist), would produce after the complete subsidence of the land, mere
strips or crescent or hook-formed reefs: if the island thus partially
fronted became divided during subsidence into two or more islands, these
islands would be united together by linear reefs; and from the further
growth of the coral along their shores together with subsidence, reefs of
various forms might ultimately be produced, either atolls united together
by linear reefs, or atolls with spurs projecting from them. Some, however,
of the more simple forms above specified, might, as we have seen, be
equally well produced by the coral perishing during subsidence on part of
the circumference of an atoll, whilst on the other parts it continued to
grow up till it reached the surface.


I have already shown that the submerged condition of the Great Chagos Bank
(Plate II., Figure 1, with its section Figure 2), and of some other banks
in the Chagos group, may in all probability be attributed to the coral
having perished before or during the movements of subsidence, to which this
whole area by our theory has been subjected. The external rim or upper
ledge (shaded in the chart), consists of dead coral-rock thinly covered
with sand; it lies at an average depth of between five and eight fathoms,
and perfectly resembles in form the annular reef of an atoll. The banks of
the second level, the boundaries of which are marked by dotted lines in the
chart, lie from about fifteen to twenty fathoms beneath the surface; they
are several miles broad, and terminate in a very steep slope round the
central expanse. This central expanse I have already described, as
consisting of a level muddy flat between thirty and forty fathoms deep.
The banks of the second level, might at first sight be thought analogous to
the internal step-like ledge of coral-rock which borders the lagoons of
some atolls, but their much greater width, and their being formed of sand,
are points of essential difference. On the eastern side of the atoll some
of the banks are linear and parallel, resembling islets in a great river,
and pointed directly towards a great breach on the opposite side of the
atoll; these are best seen in the large published chart. I inferred from
this circumstance, that strong currents sometimes set directly across this
vast bank; and I have since heard from Captain Moresby that this is the
case. I observed, also, that the channels or breaches through the rim,
were all of the same depth as the central lagoon-like space into which they
lead; whereas the channels into the other atolls of the Chagos group, and
as I believe into most other large atolls, are not nearly as deep as their
lagoons: for instance at Peros Banhos, the channels are only of the same
depth, namely between ten and twenty fathoms, as the bottom of the lagoon
for a space about a mile and a half in width round its shores, whilst the
central expanse of the lagoon is from thirty-five to forty fathoms deep.
Now, if an atoll during a gradual subsidence once became entirely
submerged, like the Great Chagos Bank, and therefore no longer exposed to
the surf, very little sediment could be formed from it; and consequently
the channels leading into the lagoon from not being filled up with drifted
sand and coral detritus, would continue increasing in depth, as the whole
sank down. In this case, we might expect that the currents of the open
sea, instead of any longer sweeping round the submarine flanks, would flow
directly through the breaches across the lagoon, removing in their course
the finer sediment, and preventing its further accumulation. We should
then have the submerged reef forming an external and upper rim of rock, and
beneath this portion of the sandy bottom of the old lagoon, intersected by
deep-water channels or breaches, and thus formed into separate marginal
banks; and these would be cut off by steep slopes, overhanging the central
space, worn down by the passage of the oceanic currents.

By these means, I have scarcely any doubt that the Great Chagos Bank has
originated,--a structure which at first appeared to me far more anomalous
than any I had met with. The process of formation is nearly the same with
that, by which Mahlos Mahdoo had been trisected; but in the Chagos Bank the
channels of the oceanic currents entering at several different quarters,
have united in a central space.

This great atoll-formed bank appears to be in an early stage of
disseverment; should the work of subsidence go on, from the submerged and
dead condition of the whole reef, and the imperfection of the south-east
quarter a mere wreck would probably be left. The Pitt's Bank, situated not
far southward, appears to be precisely in this state; it consists of a
moderately level, oblong bank of sand, lying from 10 to 20 fathoms beneath
the surface, with two sides protected by a narrow ledge of rock which is
submerged between 5 and 8 fathoms. A little further south, at about the
same distance as the southern rim of the Great Chagos Bank is from the
northern rim, there are two other small banks with from 10 to 20 fathoms on
them; and not far eastward soundings were struck on a sandy bottom, with
between 110 and 145 fathoms. The northern portion with its ledge-like
margin, closely resembles any one segment of the Great Chagos Bank, between
two of the deep-water channels, and the scattered banks, southward appear
to be the last wrecks of less perfect portions.

I have examined with care the charts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and
have now brought before the reader all the examples, which I have met with,
of reefs differing from the type of the class to which they belong; and I
think it has been satisfactorily shown, that they are all included in our
theory, modified by occasional accidents which might have been anticipated
as probable. In this course we have seen, that in the lapse of ages
encircling barrier-reefs are occasionally converted into atolls, the name
of atoll being properly applicable, at the moment when the last pinnacle of
encircled land sinks beneath the surface of the sea. We have, also, seen
that large atolls during the progressive subsidence of the areas in which
they stand, sometimes become dissevered into smaller ones; at other times,
the reef-building polypifers having entirely perished, atolls are converted
into atoll-formed banks of dead rock; and these again through further
subsidence and the accumulation of sediment modified by the force of the
oceanic currents, pass into level banks with scarcely any distinguishing
character. Thus may the history of an atoll be followed from its first
origin, through the occasional accidents of its existence, to its
destruction and final obliteration.


The vast amount of subsidence, both horizontally or in area, and vertically
or in depth, necessary to have submerged every mountain, even the highest,
throughout the immense spaces of ocean interspersed with atolls, will
probably strike most people as a formidable objection to my theory. But as
continents, as large as the spaces supposed to have subsided, have been
raised above the level of the sea,--as whole regions are now rising, for
instance, in Scandinavia and South America,--and as no reason can be
assigned, why subsidences should not have occurred in some parts of the
earth's crust on as great a scale both in extent and amount as those of
elevation, objections of this nature strike me as of little force. The
remarkable point is that movements to such an extent should have taken
place within a period, during which the polypifers have continued adding
matter on and above the same reefs. Another and less obvious objection to
the theory will perhaps be advanced from the circumstance, of the lagoons
within atolls and within barrier-reefs never having become in any one
instance during prolonged subsidences of a greater depth than sixty
fathoms, and seldom more than forty fathoms; but we already admit, if the
theory be worth considering, that the rate of subsidence has not exceeded
that of the upward growth of the coral on the exterior margin; we are,
therefore, only further required to admit, that the subsidence has not
exceeded in rate the filling up of the interior spaces by the growth of the
corals living there, and by the accumulation of sediment. As this filling
up must take place very slowly within barrier-reefs lying far from the
land, and within atolls which are of large dimensions and which have open
lagoons with very few reefs, we are led to conclude that the subsidence
thus counter-balanced, must have been slow in an extraordinary degree; a
conclusion which accords with our only means, namely, with what is known of
the rate and manner of recent elevatory movements, of judging by analogy
what is the probable rate of subsidence.

In this chapter it has, I think, been shown, that the theory of subsidence,
which we were compelled to receive from the necessity of giving to the
corals, in certain large areas, foundations at the requisite depth,
explains both the normal structure and the less regular forms of those two
great classes of reefs, which have justly excited the astonishment of all
persons who have sailed through the Pacific and Indian Oceans. But further
to test the truth of the theory, a crowd of questions will occur to the
reader: Do the different kinds of reefs, which have been produced by the
same kind of movement, generally lie within the same areas? What is their
relation of form and position,--for instance, do adjoining groups of
atolls, and the separate atolls in these groups, bear the same relation to
each other which islands do in common archipelagoes? Have we reason to
believe, that where there are fringing-reefs, there has not lately been
subsidence; or, for it is almost our only way of ascertaining this point,
are there frequently proofs of recent elevation? Can we by this means
account for the presence of certain classes of reefs in some large areas,
and their entire absence in others? Do the areas which have subsided, as
indicated by the presence of atolls and barrier-reefs, and the areas which
have remained stationary or have been upraised, as shown by fringing-reefs,
bear any determinate relation to each other; and are the dimensions of
these areas such as harmonise with the greatness of the subterranean
changes, which, it must be supposed, have lately taken place beneath them?
Is there any connection between the movements thus indicated, and recent
volcanic action? All these questions ought to receive answers in
accordance with the theory; and if this can be satisfactorily shown, not
only is the theory confirmed, but as deductions, the answers are in
themselves important. Under this latter point of view, these questions
will be chiefly considered in the following chapter.

(I may take this opportunity of briefly considering the appearances, which
would probably be presented by a vertical and deep section across a coral
formation (referring chiefly to an atoll), formed by the upward growth of
coral during successive subsidences. This is a subject worthy of
attention, as a means of comparison with ancient coral-strata. The
circumferential parts would consist of massive species, in a vertical
position, with their interstices filled up with detritus; but this would be
the part most subject to subsequent denudation and removal. It is useless
to speculate how large a portion of the exterior annular reef would consist
of upright coral, and how much of fragmentary rock, for this would depend
on many contingencies,--such as on the rate of subsidence, occasionally
allowing a fresh growth of coral to cover the whole surface, and on the
breakers having force sufficient to throw fragments over this same space.
The conglomerate which composes the base of the islets, would (if not
removed by denudation together with the exterior reef on which it rests) be
conspicuous from the size of the fragments,--the different degrees in which
they have been rounded,--the presence of fragments of conglomerate torn up,
rounded, and recemented,--and from the oblique stratification. The corals
which lived in the lagoon-reefs at each successive level, would be
preserved upright, and they would consist of many kinds, generally much
branched. In this part, however, a very large proportion of the rock (and
in some cases nearly all of it) would be formed of sedimentary matter,
either in an excessively fine, or in a moderately coarse state, and with
the particles almost blended together. The conglomerate which was formed
of rounded pieces of the branched corals, on the shores of the lagoon,
would differ from that formed on the islets and derived from the outer
coast; yet both might have accumulated very near each other. I have seen a
conglomerate limestone from Devonshire like a conglomerate now forming on
the shores of the Maldiva atolls. The stratification taken as a whole,
would be horizontal; but the conglomerate beds resting on the exterior
reef, and the beds of sandstone on the shores of the lagoon (and no doubt
on the external flanks) would probably be divided (as at Keeling atoll and
at Mauritius) by numerous layers dipping at considerable angles in
different directions. The calcareous sandstone and coral-rock would almost
necessarily contain innumerable shells, echini, and the bones of fish,
turtle, and perhaps of birds; possibly, also, the bones of small saurians,
as these animals find their way to the islands far remote from any
continent. The large shells of some species of Tridacna would be found
vertically imbedded in the solid rock, in the position in which they lived.
We might expect also to find a mixture of the remains of pelagic and
littoral animals in the strata formed in the lagoon, for pumice and the
seeds of plants are floated from distant countries into the lagoons of many
atolls: on the outer coast of Keeling atoll, near the mouth of the lagoon,
the case of a pelagic Pteropodous animal was brought up on the arming of
the sounding lead. All the loose blocks of coral on Keeling atoll were
burrowed by vermiform animals; and as every cavity, no doubt, ultimately
becomes filled with spathose limestone, slabs of the rock taken from a
considerable depth, would, if polished, probably exhibit the excavations of
such burrowing animals. The conglomerate and fine-grained beds of coral-rock
would be hard, sonorous, white and composed of nearly pure calcareous
matter; in some few parts, judging from the specimens at Keeling atoll,
they would probably contain a small quantity of iron. Floating pumice and
scoriae, and occasionally stones transported in the root of trees (see my
"Journal of Researches," page 549) appear the only sources, through which
foreign matter is brought to coral-formations standing in the open ocean.
The area over which sediment is transported from coral-reefs must be
considerable: Captain Moresby informs me that during the change of
monsoons the sea is discoloured to a considerable distance off the Maldiva
and Chagos atolls. The sediment of fringing and barrier coral-reefs must
be mingled with the mud, which is brought down from the land, and is
transported seaward through the breaches, which occur in front of almost
every valley. If the atolls of the larger archipelagoes were upraised, the
bed of the ocean being converted into land, they would form flat-topped
mountains, varying in diameter from a few miles (the smallest atolls being
worn away) to sixty miles; and from being horizontally stratified and of
similar composition, they would, as Mr. Lyell has remarked, falsely appear
as if they had originally been united into one vast continuous mass. Such
great strata of coral-rock would rarely be associated with erupted volcanic
matter, for this could only take place, as may be inferred from what
follows in the next chapter, when the area, in which they were situated,
commenced to rise, or at least ceased to subside. During the enormous
period necessary to effect an elevation of the kind just alluded to, the
surface would necessarily be denuded to a great thickness; hence it is
highly improbable that any fringing-reef, or even any barrier-reef, at
least of those encircling small islands, would be preserved. From this
same cause, the strata which were formed within the lagoons of atolls and
lagoon-channels of barrier-reefs, and which must consist in a large part of
sedimentary matter, would more often be preserved to future ages, than the
exterior solid reef, composed of massive corals in an upright position;
although it is on this exterior part that the present existence and further
growth of atolls and barrier-reefs entirely depend.

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