Picture of George Head

George Head

places mentioned

Visiting Mull

Next Selection Previous Selection


Go on board the Highland Steamer—Dunolly Castle—Bay of Tobermory— A kind Landlady—Expedition in the Highlander—Departure—Calliach Head—Treshanish Islands—First View of Staffa—The Buchaille—Inconvenient Landing at Iona—Pebbles—The Ruins—Their desecration—A civil Scotsman—Embarkation—Landing at Staffa—Fingall's Cave —Ascent on the Island—Delightful Prospect—A Herd of Seals—Anecdote of a tame Seal—Its resemblance to the Mermaid—Dr. Taylor's Museum of comparative Anatomy at Manchester—Anecdote of a Boa Constrictor at Derby— Re-embarkation—The Cotton Umbrella—A black Cook— Return to Tobermory.

THE change of vessels, it was immediately evident, was much to our advantage; for the Highlander, though a much smaller craft than the Maid of Morven, was less encumbered with a cargo of merchandize, and the few persons now on board were all engaged in a similar object—namely, to visit the Islands of Staffa and Iona. We had a delightful voyage the remainder of the evening, from the moment we left the Bay of Oban, skirting the projecting rock whereon Dunolly Castle, the domain of Macdougall of Lorn, has rested above the waters for succeeding ages; and the building and the rock have become so blended together that both in appearance seem crumbled into one, till, making the bluff island of Mull, we steered our course up Tobermory Sound, and at half-past nine o'clock, after five hours' passage from Oban, cast anchor in the bay—a bay within a bay, sheltered by the surrounding hills from every wind that blows. No refuge for small vessels can possibly be more perfect than the harbour of Tobermory, although on our arrival the light was insufficient to see it to advantage: the party, however, who succeeded us on the next voyage, had still more reason to complain, for they were detained so long at the rendezvous at Oban, that the hour was three in the morning when they arrived at Tobermory.

Close to the water's edge stands the principal public-house of the village, whence the buildings, planted on steep and precipitous positions, rise one above another to the summit of the elevated land that girds the bay. Above all, is the small neat church. On stepping on shore, we immediately wended our way up this acclivity, and were received midway at the house of the postmaster, where good will and cleanliness combine to impress the visitor with those favourable impressions, which, the longer the sojourn he happens to make, the more amply will he find realised. At the house of Mrs. Cuthbertson, Scotch broth and marmalade, together with all the delicacies of a Scots wife's cuisine, during the whole time we remained in the mansion, were afforded us in profuse liberality.

According to the general arrangements before adverted to, the hour of seven o'clock the next morning was appointed for our departure, on board the Highlander, for Staffa and Iona; and at seven o'clock, accordingly, or rather nearly an hour before, I heard the vessel's engine vehemently hissing under my window; a sound which vastly contributed to rouse the senses, and render one more eager than before to join the expedition; moreover, a general enlivenment is created on these occasions, which extends to every inhabitant, young and old, of the town of Tobermory. The commander of the Highlander, leaving the assembled crowd on the beach, set steam and shaped his course towards the domain of the Laird of Col, at the mouth of the bay, where having received on board a fair charge, consisting of two young ladies, he continued, for the credit of the vessel, and the amusement of the spectators, to sweep round and round in circles, on the bosom of this inland lake, whereby the remainder of the passengers were obliged to put off from the shore, and go on board in a boat. The manoeuvre was merely intended as a preliminary to the actual movement, thereby to instigate the loitering, and determine the wavering passenger, and by all and every fair means, to collect recruits. Accordingly, small boats were seen on their way from various points on shore, containing some youths who leaped on deck with faces half shaved, and others en deshabille; and even many among the ladies, whose dress, after they came on board, needed trifling adjustment. These services were mutually rendered to each other; a little button fastened here, another there, and those well directed, dexterous twitches inflicted on garments, wherewith female fingers alone, skilled to compose the folds of drapery, are wont to excel. At least half a dozen skiffs thus arrived in succession; containing for the most part younger branches of families, bedecked in white dresses, bearing green parasols, and advancing with a serpentine waddling gait through the water, as the native clown, tugging vigorously at the oar, plainly testified exuberance of lusty strength over nautical skill. Of these, one or two remained in our wake even after we had started, till seeing we were in right earnest, the boatmen, relaxing suddenly from their labours, lay on their oars far astern, in despair, each from a small speck on the waves, regarding with lingering interest the line of our progress, and then returning with flagging stroke disappointed to his home.

Fascinated either by Highland beauty, or Highland scenery, the young ladies in the foreground or the venerable mountains in the distance, it was hardly without regret, as many persons remained on deck, that in obedience to the captain's announcement, I found it necessary to partake of breakfast in the cabin below,—that magnificent repast, welcomed by the healthy, nauseated by the puling debauchee, whereof moderate excess is the legitimate offspring of temperance; that meal whereat we all now joined heart and hand to enjoy, as if there were no such thing to be met with as a dinner in Scotland.

Steering round Callioch Head, we soon arrived in the neighbourhood of the Treshanish islands, Fladda, Lunga, and the Dutchman's Cap; and afterwards caught a view of Staffa, whose flat tabular surface supported on lofty perpendicular cliffs, protruding abruptly from the sea, has an extraordinary and remarkable appearance. Far beyond, as we pursued our course, the shadowy outline of a square church tower loomed indistinctly on the horizon through the mist, and becoming clearer by degrees, as we made steady progress on our voyage, the figure of the cathedral of Iona reared itself in full view. In form the edifice might seem a moderate sized English country church, although in size beyond the lowly steeples in the vicinity, and out of proportion with the small remote island whereon it is erected. Although it was proposed, with reference to the low state of the flood tide, to postpone the visit to Staffa till our return from Iona, in the meantime, passing close to the cliffs, we obtained an excellent view of the Buchaille, or Herdsman's Rock, and of the entrance, as we weathered the angle at the extremity of the island, of Fingall's Cave. The former of these objects consists of a huge heap of broken basaltic columns, that, like a little mountain of thunderbolts, lie heaped in the form of an obtuse cone, about forty feet high, a few yards from the shore. The channel here between Staffa and the island of Mull, is apparently about four miles wide; and the Buchaille, in conjunction with the oblique slant visible at that part of the cliffs of Staffa, bears evident testimony of that mighty shock, when in former ages, either by the agency of the earthquake or volcano, it was riven from the parent land.

The most lively imagination, even at the first sudden view of Fingall's Cave, is completely gratified; yet I cannot pretend to convey to the reader more than a faint idea of the impressions I received from the spectacle. I had by no means anticipated so near resemblance to the works of art, as is exhibited by the fluted basaltic columns that form this splendid arch. The elegance of its form, as if the work of fairies or of giants, seems expressly fashioned to bear the ponderous weight of that superincumbent mass or crust, the stupendous crown of rock that reposes upon its apex; serving as it were as a model to the architect to shew the aptitude of the curve for mighty pressure. It is a spot appropriately identified with the wild poetry of Ossian, and calculated above all things to recall to the memory the melodies of Calcot, or the voice of the deep-toned Bartleman. I gazed upon the object with pure astonishment, till gliding onwards on our way the cave grew indistinct, the Buchaille and Island altogether sank deeper and deeper in the waters, and finally the outline on the horizon once more vanished in shadow.

Curiosity, from this period henceforward, already sufficiently excited, never again gained time to cool, and no sooner were former objects of interest lost in mist, than the Island of Iona claimed our attention; whose shores are perfectly flat, and the beach, when seen from a distance, is covered with sand so purely white as to be readily mistaken for chalk.

On arriving within a few fathoms of Iona, the channel being about a quarter of a mile wide, the Highlander's anchor was dropped, and we went on shore in a boat; the water the whole way from the vessel being resplendently clear, and rendered still more pellucid in appearance by the whiteness of the sand below, and the huge blocks of granite rock, that here and there protrude from the bottom. We landed upon a flat shoal of this material, which circumstance, as the tide happened to be low, and several ladies, some of them old ones, belonged to our party, might be called inauspicious. A more perilous and slippery path, under the ordinary contingencies of every day life, is rarely encountered. Sometimes it was necessary to step across deep chasms, with no better footing on the opposite side than a rudely pointed fragment of stone; at others we proceeded along apparently flat, even pavement, abounding in watery snares for the unwary, and from which, in fact, caution the most vigilant was insufficient protection. Here some of the party dropped mid-leg deep into hidden pools, covered deceitfully by the broad slippery leaves of sea-weed; others, squeezing under their feet the bloated bags or cists attached to some marine plants, squirted water as high as their own and their neighbours' heads, or still higher, bespattering their clothes and faces; and one or two persons, too confident in their activity, rolled over on their backs, and got a sound ducking. Gallantry itself was paralyzed as regarded the ladies, who each proceeded alone the best manner she could, in a predicament wherein not even the skill of Archimedes, without a single attainable point of resistance, could have rendered her assistance. On they all went, with a mincing gait, as if groping their way in the dark, some tittering, others lamenting, so that, with slipping and splashing, in despite of vigilance and timidity, certainly not less than once in every three or four steps, ill surely came of it to some of the party, either one way or another.

A group of children, chiefly little girls, each with a plate in her hand containing pebbles and shells for sale, had already collected on the shore, and were standing in a line to receive us. Among these specimens, the light green stone especially, peculiar to the island, was in tolerable abundance, though it is singular, considering these are purchased with avidity by the numerous travellers who visit the spot, that any should now remain. Of all it may be observed, that although in the spirit of hard dealing, artfully wetted with sea-water to improve their brilliancy, they are of better than ordinary quality.

As the buildings, the object of our present visit, are within three or four stones' throw of the shore, our purpose after once being fairly landed was speedily effected, the which was so far fortunate, inasmuch as the period allotted by the captain to this portion of our day's business, was not more than sufficient to perfect the end proposed, without affording any individual an opportunity of walking round or even across this very small island. We accordingly immediately proceeded en masse to the celebrated ruins of the Cathedral, the Chapel of St. Obans, and the Nunnery. The upper surface of the land appeared to be chiefly the aforesaid white sand, covered by natural, sweet, tender herbage, and abounding in mineral substances containing mica especially in large proportion. Of the stones, many of a greenish tinge, with which, loosely laid one upon another, the walls are composed, I hardly observed two exactly alike, excepting those of red granite, which material is universally predominant. In one place, in an excavation dug on the side of a bank, I saw a stratum two feet thick of perfect fossil shells. The habitations consisted only of a few small cottages, although, as if preparatory to an increase of population, a small village church had recently been endowed, and a neat manse-house built for the clergyman.

It is impossible to approach these venerable ruins without a sensation of respect and awe, on contrasting sublime designs of architecture, and grand monumental reliques, with the humility of the remote spot whereon they have been placed, a spot which, to former generations, and before the invention and aid of steam, might be considered by the inhabitants of the south nearly as inaccessible as Iceland. It is extraordinary to witness a display of ornamental sepulchres here in this land of mist and storm, apart

until recently from the civilized world, yet calculated, in regard to workmanship and design, to do honour to the most celebrated of our ecclesiastical edifices, whether of York, Canterbury, Wells, Westminster Abbey, or elsewhere. Some are within the cathedral, the greater part in the burying ground outside; however, the outer walls of the former building alone remain, so that these receive no manner of shelter. The ruins of durable red granite are in excellent preservation, together with various arches within, fretted work, and columns exquisitely chiseled; a forbearance, whether on the part of time or of the marauder, rather to be attributed to the hardness of the material, than the protection of the constituted authorities. Although not versed, even to a limited extent, in antiquarian lore, I could not divest myself of a feeling of sincere regret, on witnessing the more than apathetic neglect of this magnificent cemetery, wherein the tombs are exposed at present to absolute degradation. Here, in a country where want of respect to ancestry is by no means a national failing, the reliques of the mighty dead, of the dignified priesthood of former days, and of Norwegian kings, are actually lying unprotected from the wind and rain, unhallowed from desecration by the boisterous intruder, and deserted by the lords of the soil, their natural protectors. Surely, even were it considered objectionable to remove these monuments to a secure though distant spot, it were incumbent on somebody or some persons to gird the whole precincts with a fence or wall, and throw a roof above those tombs deposited in the cathedral. The latter expedient, since the walls are yet sound, even though slightly performed, would answer good purpose, and be effected at small expense.

One instance of thoughtless damage fell under my own observation. Having picked up a large stone that attracted my attention, I was retiring towards a natural rock for the purpose of breaking it, when a young lithsome Scotsman, perceiving my object, with extraordinary civility interfered, requesting me to allow him to perform the office. I accordingly delivered him the fragment, when, being near-sighted, he first held it close to his nose, then gave it two or three tosses and turns till he had perfectly satisfied himself as to its grain and texture. Without more ado he then spat in his hand, and hurled it with all his force against one of the supine effigies that reclined below, which manoeuvre split it into half a dozen pieces. The feat was so uncalled for, and in fact so outrageous, that I was really shocked and surprised withal that no one present noticed the wanton trespass. Such in fact it was, although instigated by sheer good nature. It may be asked of our guide why did he not interfere ? and so probably he would, if not engaged elsewhere. Formerly a schoolmaster in Mull, and learned in the first place in ancient inscriptions, he was at the time too busily occupied in expounding epitaphs to the inquisitive; secondly, our party consisting of about thirty persons, were too ubiquitous a body to be submitted to control; and thirdly, the space over which all had free range was too unlimited, to enable him, without the eyes of Argus, to exercise superintendence.

The above-mentioned crew, who had gradually increased to the present force from different parts of the coast during the voyage from Tobermory, now prepared, after three quarters of an hour expended at Iona, to commence embarkation. All were successfully carried in two trips of the boat on board the Highlander, whose paddles, then again put in motion, never ceased to thump the waves, till she hove to and dropped anchor a furlong's distance from Fingall's Cave at Staffa. Here again was immediately performed another landing expedition, whereupon all were so eager to go on shore by the first conveyance, that in the course of one minute the skiff was filled with as many persons as she could conveniently hold, and then two or three stepped in, in despite of remonstrance, into the bargain. More actually would have followed, had not the captain, finding it was of as little avail to stand still saying "hoot, hoot," as whistle, waxing wrath and red in the face, forcibly dragged back the invaders by the collar. Fortunately the weather and the tide were both favourable, whereby we were enabled to land at the entrance of the cave without difficulty, which object is impracticable unless at particular periods of the ebb and flood, and while the sea is more than usually calm.

As we approached the entrance of the cavern, wherein the sea enters like a river, a heavy ground swell agitated the boat with so violent a motion, as plainly to show, the wind having been for some time past perfectly still, the precarious nature of access under other circumstances; for not only do the waves at this spot bound and reverberate against the cliffs, but the cavern regurgitates the mighty volume of water that enters within its ample throat, propelling it outwards in a flood of resistance against the advancing billows. So great was the reaction on the present occasion, that steadiness and activity were indispensable on the part of every person in the boat, to catch the precise moment of stepping out cleverly upon the rugged causeway on one side of the cavern, and to take advantage of the alternate heaving of the swell. This causeway extends the whole length within, like the side-path of a canal, and being formed of the broken surfaces of basaltic columns of unequal lengths, which nevertheless increase in height from the centre outwards, the adventurer may proceed according to his fancy, either ascending nearly to the summit of the roof, or keeping the lower level. The water below, of an unusually pale green, is quite clear, so that the bottom, about ten or twelve feet deep, is distinctly discernible. The dimensions of this splendid vault are so extensive, that although there is no other aperture to admit light than the entrance, a person standing at its mouth and looking within, even to its farther extremity, may clearly define its proportions, beautiful in architectural symmetry, and regular as the honey-comb.

I am free to confess I preferred this mode, to advancing in the interior; considering, as regards position, that of the two ends of any given straight line, it were well at all times to select the more convenient,—a principle which may be turned to special account in matters of altitude. To scan the dimentions of a lofty mountain standing at the base, is perhaps equally profitable as to ascend its rugged sides, supposing the sole object of the traveller, as is frequently the case, be merely to say he has been there. At all events, here, on the exact spot whereon I landed from the boat, I remained, edified by the magnificent spectacle within, and amused by the appearance created by our party, ladies and gentlemen, some above and some below, at various degrees of elevation, as if suspended one above another in the air on an undefined foundation. As they poked their way along, apparently with much hesitation, one might have imagined all in considerable jeopardy; nevertheless, progress was free from danger by reason of the rough, sound footing afforded by the surface of the columns whereon they trod.

Since the eye collects its materials with great rapidity, and nothing is to be effected within the cavern, but walk to the extreme end and then back again, the exploring party in a short space of time returned perfectly satisfied, and in a quarter of an hour from the moment of disembarkation, were ready again for departure. Previously to betaking ourselves to the boat, it was our plan to ascend the heights on the summit of the island.

The site of Fingall's Cave is close to an angular point of the cliffs, round which it was now necessary to clamber the best manner we could, in order to descend upon a narrow strip of beach, which in some places three or four, in others thirty or forty yards wide, hereabouts surrounds the island at its base. With this object in view, a plank was laid across a chasm otherwise impassable, over which the party proceeded cautiously one after another, each person steadying himself by a boat-hook held by two sailors at each opposite end to serve as a guard or rail. The above was a ticklish contrivance, for though the men extended the pole across from shoulder to shoulder, their footing was so precarious, and the plank so unsteadily supported on the rock, that I much question, in case of stress being actually laid on the former, if all three persons had not been soused in the water. Everybody walked across without disaster, and descended upon the aforesaid beach, wherefrom the cliffs above, entirely composed of basaltic columns, rise in figure and elevation resembling the highest of those of chalk in Kent and Sussex. Making progress within the base of the Buchaille, for the distance of three or four hundred yards, we arrived at the spot whence access to the summit of the cliffs was now to be made by those persons adventurous in spirit, by aid of the broken shafts of the basaltic columns, which afford an extremely irregular footing all the way to the top. 1 would by no means recommend a stranger to make this experiment, but rather to advance quietly a little farther, to a spot whence a winding but regular path safely conducts him to the table land above.

Notwithstanding the celebrity of this basaltic formation, the individual columns are by no means so perfect as those of the Giant's Causeway in Ireland, at which latter place each block is as true as if cast in a mould, the convex end of each joint resting in the other's concavity with the same precision as vertebrae in the back-bone of a horse. In the cabins in the vicinity, pieces of these naturally formed joints are frequently used to serve the purpose of a seat; but portable and durable as these specimens are, it is singular, few are to be met with in England. One pair, and extremely good ones, are in the Natural History Museum in Manchester, but with the exception of these, I never remember meeting elsewhere with another. At the Giant's Causeway the surfaces, or horizontal sections of the columns, are perfect polygons, regular, rectilinear figures; but here at Staffa, the angles being generally ill-defined, the planes more resemble the sawed-off trunks of trees.

For my own part, I had no particular reason for making the ascent in question, but because the same freak was performed by many, among others, ladies; wherefore difficulty and danger at any rate seemed out of the question. Nevertheless, the contrary in the end turned out to be the case, and as in those instances in common life where there are many ways to one object, liberty of choice is frequently repaid by injudicious selection, so here, by reason of the inequality of the broken shafts, he who followed the steps of many leaders profited by the example of none. For a considerable distance I proceeded prosperously enough, ascending from the broken surface of one column, ad libitum to that most convenient above, and thus I went on mounting pillar after pillar, without feeling the least necessity of looking behind, obtaining a firm hold invariably for the feet and fingers, till I reached a considerable height from the ground. The edges of the columns at first were not only horizontal, but frequently somewhat concave towards the centre; but the planes increasing in obliquity towards the summit, the grip at last grew so awfully insecure, that I was necessarily constrained, particularly as I was unable to trace my way back, to pause for a moment and look around. In point of fact, the fair sex on the present occasion were the innocent cause of bringing me to such an extremely awkward predicament, that without being able to proceed with convenience and safety either way, a slight puff of wind where I at present stood might have effectually disturbed my equilibrium. I gave place during the ascent to one lady, lent a helping hand to another, and paid so much general attention to the progress of all, that I had taken a devious course meanwhile myself, and wandered out of the right way altogether. Even now I had no sooner, in order to shape my steps aright, looked perpendicularly upwards, than regard to propriety immediately compelled me again to look clown, as these Highland damsels, striding like hunters of the Alps from crag to crag, displaying a degree of agility that would have done honour to Taglioni, necessarily exhibited their fair forms in very curious and extraordinary attitudes. At all events I considered myself fortunate so soon as I arrived prosperously on the top of the precipice, particularly as a plethoric pursy person for some time stuck close to my rear, and continued awfully to snuffle and blow within reach of my skirts.

The trouble of scaling these heights is repaid by a lovely prospect in fine weather; the day during our whole excursion had been more than usually propitious; and as the fragrant sea breeze swept this elevated spot, the most enchanting scenery appeared in the distance that heart could desire. The island of Rum and her smaller sisters of these western Hebrides, whereon good grouse-shooting is to be had at little cost, inasmuch as, provided the sportsman taketh not with him people to eat the birds, means are found wanting when killed to convey them away, exhibited afar off almost every variety of mountain tracery; while the contiguous island of Mull, with her peculiarly shaped hills, displayed a series of rounded summits and serrated ridges, extending as far as the eye could reach along the horizon, and in altitude till their tops were lost in the clouds. And what can any lover of the picturesque wish for more?

Although on viewing from a vessel at sea the island of Staffa, the surface appears perfectly flat, the appearance on surmounting the elevation is of an extensive plain, occasionally varied by gentle risings and concavities, covered with excellent herbage, and setting entirely apart the associations of Fingall and his abode, a most delectable spot for summer residence. Deep-rooted in the sea, fortified by inaccessible cliffs, and with soil quite sufficient for the purposes of agriculture, one might imagine the site even preferable for a church establishment to that of Iona. The grass is indeed particularly fine, in some places short and tufted, in others, especially along the banks of the hollows, even rank and dark coloured. In one particular spot I observed a bed of black peat, from whence a considerable quantity had already been dug. About a dozen head of small horned cattle as wild and active as deer, remarkable for their beauty, and smaller than the Alderney breed, seemed by bounding and leaping away at the approach of strangers, to enjoy by right of inheritance, and unmolested, the free pasture of the soil. These cattle were, however, as we perceived afterwards, together with as many sheep and a goat, under the guardianship of an old woman and a young girl, both of whom, by the way, were in appearance as wild and timorous as themselves. If not inhabitants of a cave in some concealed nook within the territory, these native shepherdesses were probably ferried across daily from the island of Mull in a boat; on this point I endeavoured to get information, but was un able to obtain a reply from either. At any rate, neither house, cabin, nor tenement of any description was to be seen on this island.

A more liberal portion of time being here allotted to our party than on the island of Iona, I wandered away from my companions to the verge of the opposite cliffs, and here keeping in a line with the seashore, I saw abundance of sea-birds, and in many places, strewed on the grass, in heaps of a bushel or more together, the shells of periwinkles and limpets that they had devoured. At last I arrived at a delightful grassy spot not more than a few yards removed from the precipice, yet as inviting to meditation and repose as if it were far inland. It was a deep abrupt hollow, quarried by the hand of nature and carpeted with luxuriant herbage; and here I seated myself for a few minutes to enjoy the serene stillness of solitude, excluded from every feature in the landscape but the sky above. As I listened to the waves' alternate heavings on the shore, as it were the respiration of the ocean, a sound suddenly struck upon my ear as of a human being drowning in the sea below; and, conversant as I was with the cause, the tone was so perfectly human, that for a few seconds I was really deceived. However, starting on my feet, I no sooner gained the edge of the cliff, than I saw a herd of seals swimming backwards and forwards and sporting in the water.

Surely the intonation of no other animal in nature so closely resembles the human voice as that of the seal; and yet it is a wild unearthly howl, uttered as this wonderful creature rears its close cropped head above the waves, and surveys with a cautious yet eager gaze the world around him. Most people at one or other time in their lives have seen a seal, especially in rough weather, off a rocky coast, turning its head continually from side to side as it moves along, a link between two distinct orders in creation. Many a time in early days have I watched hour after hour of the wintery day on the sea-shore, in the vain hope of surprising for a moment their ever watchful sagacity, but once only had I an opportunity of observing the extraordinary faculties of the animal when in a state of domestication. The opportunity afforded me on the occasion alluded to was so perfectly satisfactory, that I will venture here to relate the particulars.

A healthy, young, full-grown seal, very few years ago, either temporarily tired of the company of his acquaintance, or fatigued by exercise, abandoned one morning for a time his patrimonial territory near the Reculvers on the coast of Kent, and clambering or floundering out of the sea upon a plate of flat rock adjoining the new pier or jetty at Herne Bay, there inconsiderately lay down to sleep. In this helpless state he was unfortunately surprised by a sturdy fisherman, who without more ado, though unassisted by comrade or auxiliary of any description, determined on securing the prisoner; and to that end, drawing from his shoulders an impenetrable pea-jacket, lined within by the stoutest drugget, fortified without by indurated blotches of tar and pitch, and double patched moreover across the elbows, stealthily approached the monster, threw the garment over his body, simultaneously fell upon and grappled his victim after the fashion of a bear, and bore him away in triumph. The poor seal, roused from peaceful slumber, his visions of coral rocks and crystal palaces in a moment dissevered, and the lively prospects of youth thus vanished for ever, made all the resistance in a seal's power, but every effort was in vain; nevertheless, with teeth clogged with pitch, and fins pinioned close to his sides, he soundly flapped the fisherman's boots with his heavy wet tail. After all, the conqueror placed him in a cart and conveyed him to Brighton.

It was there I visited him, not only once a-day but several times a-day, and not only thus of one day, but of many days during the period while, at the small charge of three pence each person, he was exhibited under a tent erected on the sea-shore, on that part of the cliff immediately below Regency Square. I never witnessed a spectacle more universally popular, or resorted to with fewer restrictions as to rank or station; the spectators consisting of persons grave and idle of all descriptions, lords and ladies, masters and mistresses, governesses, servants, nursery-maids, and tribes of little children.

The animal was placed in a large deal vat, well caulked and pitched withinside, secured at the top with a strong moveable grating of iron wire, and half filled with sea-water. His favourite position when undisturbed was floating on his belly, the upper part of the head stretched forwards flat upon the water, his nostrils remaining barely above the surface. His whiskers and coal-black eyes, the latter usually steady and fixed, were not unlike those of the water-rat. The eyes nevertheless were quite flat, as it were pieces of jet set in stone; when motionless, reflecting a senseless glare, but animated by eagerness or alarm, expressive as the eyes of a dog; commanding a view moreover before and behind and on every side, and gathering a peculiar look of archness and sagacity by a wrinkle formed by the pressure of the orbs against the fatty part of their circumference. The mouth displayed two characters; of the quadruped, and of the fish; the teeth partaking of the former, and the tongue and gums, as to their deep red colour, belonging to the latter. The tongue, moreover, was thick and short, like the tongue of a fish. The nostrils, most curiously formed, possessed the power of excluding air as well as water, the orifices, opening and shutting at will, being capable of extraordinary dilatation, and the cartilage so pliable, as when in full stretch, to give to the aperture an opposite line of direction; which peculiarity may be also observed in the mouth of a serpent. Through the nostrils alone he breathed, inhaling at very irregular intervals, remaining sometimes for two or three minutes together without breathing at all.

Compared to the physical properties above described, the moral qualities were considerably more extraordinary; and it was wonderful to observe the rapidity of transition wherewith this apparently senseless mass of blubber, suddenly relinquishing the torpid nature of the fish, became enlightened with the intelligence of the dog. Indeed the head in form and motion bore exact resemblance to that of a cropped Danish coach-dog. The change was instantaneous; now lying on the water an inanimate log, in a single moment Proteus-like he started up a, different animal. A long flexible neck protruded itself from hitherto shapeless proportions, whereon the head turned from side to side lively and active, and the whole form, endued with the attitude and gait of the quadruped, became replete with newly found and rapid action.

In a corner of the tent lay the creature's food, and the common expression, "as fat as a seal," was compatible with the alacrity wherewith he devoured flukes and flounders, at all hours in the day. No seal was ever fatter than he, and the keeper, a good-natured fellow, ever ready to feed his prisoner and oblige the public, supplied him abundantly with food. No dog ever watched the expected morsel with more eagerness on its way from the hand of his master, than did the seal attend to the motions of whomsoever approached the corner where his food lay; marking the individual incessantly round and round the tent until he obtained his desire. When a large flounder was presented to him, he took it from the hand with the air of a well bred dog, closing his teeth upon it gently,—at the same time, it must be confessed, holding it so firmly, that it was out of the question to endeavour to take it again from him. In short, his was altogether the manner of a dog, and like a dog he used his fins as paws, holding the fish firmly between them, and tearing off the skin with his teeth. After he had skinned the fish he bolted each mouthful whole, without an effort to bite, or apparently any desire to taste it.

" Over!" said the keeper, as he occasionally brandished a thick cudgel over his head, whereat the poor seal rolled over in his tank obediently, keeping an eye continually on the stick, and moaning in a lamentable key, a tone indeed peculiarly hideous, the water gurgling in his throat, as of a human being drowning; meanwhile, every look and turn evinced the intelligence of the quadruped, and particularly attachment and subservience to man.

One word still remains to be said of his fins; used as cleverly as arms, as has been already observed, with regard to skinning the flounders. Each fin is armed with five claws, long and of equal length, like those of a bear, and consequently resembling in no very remote degree the human hand. The resemblance of the seal or sea-calf to the calf, consists only in the voice, and the voice of the calf is certainly not dissimilar to that of a man; therefore the connexion of the seal with humanity is perhaps farther preserved by the Greek word signifying a man being φως and a seal φωχη. But the claws of the seal, as well as the hand, are like a lady's back hair comb, wherefore, altogether, supposing the resplendence of sea-water streaming down its polished neck on a sunshiny day the substitute for a looking-glass, we arrive at once at the fabulous history of the marine maiden, or mermaid, and the appendages of her toilet.

To investigate animal life, and animal faculties, is at all times a pleasing speculation, particularly in the case of the seal, a being not only amphibious in habits, but, in form partaking in triple proportion the character of the finny tribe, yet doomed by Providence to bear to the remote depths of ocean the sagacity of quadrupeds.

With regard to the organs required for amphibious respiration, an opportunity was afforded me during the last summer of seeing in the private collection of specimens of comparative anatomy, the most valuable perhaps at present in England, belonging to Dr. Taylor, at Manchester, a beautiful preparation of the lungs of a turtle; a wonderful exemplification of the mechanism necessary for subaqueous existence. The whole fabric, owing to the increased size of the air vessels, infinitely more spongy than is the case in land animals, exactly resembles, as relates to consistence, a conglomerated mass of the finer filaments of moss or sea-weed, and in colour a piece of delicately white honey-comb, when dry and free from honey.

Here also I saw skeletons of an albatross, and of other birds; the former shewing the extreme difference in weight of bone, according to the exigency of each particular species, whether for the purposes of protracted flight, or otherwise. The bone in question, a wing bone, of a bird destined to float in the air, almost continually on its pinions, though in size as big as the leg-bone of a sheep, the knob at either end being even still larger, was nevertheless so delicately light, that in substance hardly exceeding that of a common quill, it really felt in the hand, as if a puff of air would have blown it away.

Here also was a preparation of the stomach and bowels of a boa constrictor, or rather the entire bowel of the reptile, for they have no separate stomach, guts and haggis being as it were all in one piece, the latter suddenly expanding so as to form the bag, in a state of nature capable probably of great expansion; the present, hardly exceeding in size an ordinary pig's bladder. The formation of the glands set apart for the secretion of saliva, so copiously required by serpents for the purposes of deglutition, must be highly curious; indeed, to the quantity of saliva so applied, I have it in my power to bear testimony; as will appear by one more short anecdote, wherewith I will close this digression.

In a former volume I related a feat, that of swallowing a rabbit, performed by a boa constrictor. On the present occasion I saw three rabbits, tied together by a string, bolted in the same manner. However, as the tale may appear somewhat marvellous, I will state the place where it happened, attested by scores of inhabitants, and the date, namely, on the 5th of July, 1836, in the town of Derby. A clumsy fellow, the proprietor of a travelling caravan, anxious, as ho said, "to give the serpent a good blow out," so soon as the head of one rabbit was fairly within its jaws, attached to the hind legs by a piece of thick rope-yarn, the fore legs of another newly killed, and thus of three in succession. The experiment ended in disappointment, for the boa, so soon as the last rabbit was fairly down, without farther ceremony opened his mouth to the full extent of his jaws, and puked all three up again. I am quite sure that the quantity of saliva expended in this operation was not less than half a gallon, wherewith the disgorged rabbits' hides were as thoroughly saturated, as if parboiled in a cauldron.

I would willingly have loitered about this wild seagirt spot the entire day, but since the hour of departure was now at hand, the Highlander's passengers received signal accordingly to hasten to their rendezvous. Instead of descending to the sea-shore by our former line of escalade from the beach, we returned by the narrow beaten path before mentioned, walking easily, one after another like wild ducks, along a winding track from the summit of the cliffs to their base. Here we found the boat already in readiness, and the boatmen anxious to be gone.

The Highlander, meanwhile, embedded on the calm sea, lay quietly at anchor a quarter of a mile distant, restraining her black smoke within her own bowels, and as if sympathising with the serenity of nature, spreading upwards a soft wreath of white vapour, in fleecy columns upon the clear blue sky. The first batch of passengers were speedily in their places, and with alacrity the stout rowers returned for the remainder. These, in consequence of bad arrangement, consisted of a considerable majority of the party. In the former instance of disembarkation, the balance of numbers rested the other way; in both cases the distribution was unequal, and at all events, now, inconvenience was to be endured. Though stimulated before by the excitement of novelty, now that curiosity was gratified people were prone to delay; and he who on going on shore figured combatively among the first ranks, was now a laggard and careless to depart. The consequence accordingly was, that on this the boat's second trip, after our rear-guard were got together, the live cargo proved greater than was altogether convenient, wherefore to trim the boat, and arrange the stowage, required not a little adjustment.

At last, when all were seated in their places, still agitated by the inshore swell, a frown on the cockswain's countenance betokened that something yet was wrong, and as he still hesitated to depart, it appeared that one individual of the party, a loiterer still on shore, most vexatiously caused the delay.

The truant was an uncouth, learned man, whom I had often during our voyage remarked in fits of abstraction and reverie; a geologist, I presume, from the interest he bestowed on fragments of rock and pebbles, which, gloating upon as if they were apples, he would daintily twist round in his fingers immediately close to his nose. He was dressed in a suit of rusty black, with thick soled shoes, ribbed worsted stockings, and small unstarched cravat, that fitted his neck like a rope. His inexpressive countenance was agitated by natural contortions, vexing as it were capriciously his cheeks and ears. Though abundantly silent, while others were engaged in conversation, frequently, apropos to nothing at all, he would display an extraordinary smile, a gleam of simplicity, meanwhile illuminating a wide mouth, and large teeth, that in my mind distinctly likened him to Scott's portrait of the creature Dougal, in Rob Roy. Amused by his own reflections, or delighted by a geological specimen, his features responded invariably by a laugh, which muscular effort served besides for all other possible contingencies,—joy, sorrow, acquiescence, denial, or what not; and particularly, whenever asked any sort of question, instead of words, a laugh was the only reply;—a laugh like a sudden puff of gunpowder, the snort of a porpoise, or the peculiar bark of a pig, if incautiously stumbled upon, concealed under the straw.

Of this individual we were now waiting the pleasure, when we perceived him, as our boat was uncomfortably bobbing up and down in the water, obstinately, as if on purpose to try our patience, not only disregarding hailings and hallooings, like a man stone deaf, but actually wandering away in a wrong direction. At first, since his eyes were bent towards the earth, we concluded he was looking for pebbles, and the general wish was to push off without him, but as at last it became evident by his manner that he had actually lost something, which article might be his watch or his purse, or something of still greater value, courtesy and good fellowship demanded forbearance and additional law. Indulgence was, however, quite thrown away. The cockswain, having been restrained from departure to the present period not without difficulty, would now positively wait no longer; and accordingly, after warning the delinquent once for all to come on board, under pain of being left behind, we actually commenced progress towards the steamer. The geologist merely replied to the latter injunction by a wave of the hand, and a fretful shake of the head, and then down again went his eyes, upon the beach as before; but so soon as he perceived that we were really gone in right earnest, roused as if awakened from a dream, he instantly bellowed to be taken on board. We had now already proceeded some distance from the shore, the boat considerably overladen, being nearly gunwale to, though the sea was perfectly calm. Many of our passengers, moreover, were ladies, whose convenience it was imperative to consider; wherefore a proposal so perfectly unreasonable as to row back towards this land lubber, being scouted without a division, the rowers, bending their necks upon the oars, replied by laughter to his gestures and ridiculous grimaces.

Meanwhile, various were the opinions regarding the man on shore. Some said he was mad; others thought him only selfish; while a few imagined it possible that Cupid, the crafty analyst of stony hearts, had inflicted him with tender fantasies with reference to the young shepherdess, and that perhaps assailed by love at first sight, he had determined to remain at Staffa for ever and for aye, tend lambkins in sweet converse with the short-skirted Highland damsel during the livelong day, and employ his time when sated with amorous dalliance, in whistling tender melodies upon the flute: at any rate, instant preparations were made for departure.

The creaking capstan had accordingly performed its office, and the paddles commenced their rotatory motion, when Caliban flung about his arms in despair, and roared for mercy's sake in so dolorous a key, that whether he succeeded in melting the hard heart of the captain, or whether his passage-money might be still perchance unpaid, at all events the commander gave the word to stop the vessel's way, and dispatched the boat ashore, manned by a couple of clumsy fellows like himself, fool or philosopher, to bring him away.

On the return of the party, the rope was scarcely thrown from the vessel, when the captain immediately ordered to give way, whereby the boat was dragged violently through the water, and a meed of punishment exercised on the offender, who, with clothes well splashed, was coarsely hauled up the vessel's side. Treated somewhat despitefully, he no sooner arrived on deck than he sat himself down assiduously to dry with a handkerchief his moistened garments, and continued so occupied while the captain and passengers crowded round him in a body, each intensely curious to know what manner of accident had detained him on shore. His silence was inexorable; he responded to none. "What had ye drappit ?" enquired the captain. The other gave no answer but a grin, whereupon the former had recourse to his mull with a look of serious displeasure. "Hoot, hoot, man alive," he rejoined violently, begriming his nose with snuff till it became the colour of the fungus known by the name of the devil's snuff-box, "what for you no come on board; what the deevil garred ye no come on board ?" The geologist replied to this latter question by an interjectional snigger, and at the same time extended his right arm with a significant gesture. Curiosity was appeased. The lost article was found. It was a cotton umbrella!

While, as Julius Caesar used to say, these matters proceeded by land and by sea, the black cook, perspiring copiously within his narrow dominions below, produced the result of his toil—an excellent dinner. Some people in the world are so fastidious as to object altogether to a repast served by a black cook, and more especially a hot, black cook; others, on the contrary, whether the cook be hot or whether he be black, care very little about the matter. Of the latter description of persons were most of the passengers on board the Highlander. For my own part, I had some consolation in reflecting, that the viands now laid upon the table, by reason of natural covering, bid defiance to contamination from the fragrant artist: for example—a fine fresh salmon rejoicing in his silvery skin, and a steaming dish of potatoes in their impenetrable russet garments.

Refreshed by food and whiskey, our day's expedition was drawing to a close. We had still, however, to experience the delight of gliding, amid the serene stillness of a summer's evening, through a beautiful portion of the voyage; for the sea, here bounded by the shores of Mull, mountainous to the water's edge, assumes for the most part the appearance of a magnificent lake. As we approached the Sound, several small skiffs, each manned by one or two men or boys, who, with no other apparatus than an ordinary hook and line, were occupied in fishing, floated tranquilly upon the sea. As we passed along, the owners of these small craft occasionally hauled up a line rapidly hand over hand, and disengaged a fish, a yard or more in length, from the end of it. Boats also were now continually arriving from the shore, wherein those ladies and gentlemen who had joined us on the way, were conveyed to their homes; and finally, at nine o'clock in the evening, once more reduced to our original numbers, we entered and dropped anchor in the placid bay of Tobermory.

George Head, A Home Tour through various parts of the United Kingdom (London: John Murray, 1837) Conversion to HTML and placename mark-up by Humphrey Southall, 2012.

Next Selection Previous Selection