Page images

which it is separated by the Strait of Schelikof, and containing, on its north-east side, St. Paul's, an inconsiderable place, formerly the capital of Russian America. Norih of Kodiak, an arm of the ocean, called by the English Cook's Inlet, and by Russians the Gulf of Kenay, stretches northwardly into the continent nearly two hundred miles; east of which, and separated from it by a peninsula, is another great bay, called Prince William's Sound, or the Gulf of Tschugatsch, containing a number of islands; and still farther east is Comptroller's Bay, into which empties Copper River, the largest stream flowing from this part of America. Each of these bays was minutely examined by Cook, in 1778, and by Vancouver, in 1794, while in search of a passage to the Atlantic; and several good harbors were thus discovered, on the shores of which the Russians have formed trading establishments.

The most remarkable natural feature of this part of America is, however, the great volcanic peak of Mount St. Elias, which rises from the shore of the Pacific, under the 61st parallel of latitude, to the height of more than seventeen thousand feet above the ocean level. Near it, on the south-east, is Mount Fairweather, only two thousand feet less in elevation; and between the two peaks lies Admiralty, or Bering's, or Yakutat Bay, where the Russian navigators Bering and Tchirikof are supposed to have first anchored on their voyage of discovery from Kamtchatka, in 1741.

The peninsula of Aliaska is a chain of lofty volcanic mountains, stretching through the Pacific from the latitude of 59 degrees south-westward to that of 54 degrees 40 minutes. The most elevated peak, called Mount Scheschaldin, is frequently in action, throwing forth large quantities of lava and ashes. Near the southern extremity of the peninsula, on the east, is the group of small islands, called the Schumagin Islands; and from the same extremity, as if in continuation of the peninsula, the Aleutian Islands extend, at short distances apart, in a line nearly due westward, more than six hundred miles, to the vicinity of Kamtchatka.

The Aleutian Islands include two districts of the Russian American possessions. The easternmost and largest islands of the archipelago, called the Fox Islands, among which are Unimak, Unalashka, and Umnak, and the small group of the Pribulow Islands, lying a little farther north and west of Aliaska, form the district of Unalashka. The district of Atcha comprises the other islands, which are small, and are divided into three groups, called the Rat, the Andreanowsky, and the Commodore Islands. These islands are all mountains, rising above the sea, some of them, to a great height: only the larger ones are inhabited, or indeed habitable; the others are visited at certain periods by the Russian hunters and fishermen, in search of the animals which abound on their shores. The principal settlement is Illiluk, on the Bay of Samagoondha, in the north-east part of Unalashka, which is also the residence of a bishop of the Greek church.

The northern, or Michaelof, district includes all the territories and islands of America, north of Aliaska, bordering on the division of the Pacific, called the Sea of Kamtchatka, which extends from the Aleutian Islands to Bering's Strait : the only establishments, however, are those on the shores of the great gulf of that sea, called Norton's Sound, south of the 64th parallel of latitude. The principal of these establishments is Fort St Michael, near Stuart's Island, to which furs, skins, oil, and ivory tusks, are brought by the Esquimaux and Tchukskies from the islands near Bering's Strait and the shores of the Arctic Sea. Several expeditions have been recently made by Russian officers into the interior of these countries, in which two large rivers, the Kwikpak and the Kuskokwim, emptying into the sea between the 60th and the 63d de grees of latitude, were traced to great distances from their mouths.

The part of Asia bathed by the Sea of Kamtchatka, like the opposite part of America, is a waste of snow-covered rocks, among which rise chains of lofty mountains. The principal of these chains extends southward through the Pacific from the 60th parallel of latitude, forming the great peninsula of Kamtchatka: south of which stretch the Kurile Islands, south of these the Japan Islands, and still farther south, the Philippine Islands; all forming parts of the same line of volcanoes which extends along the west coasts of North America. The only place of importance in Kamtchatka is Petropawlowsk, a small town situated on the Bay of Avatscha, in the south-east part of the peninsula, in latitude of 53 degrees 58 minutes. Near the point where the peninsula joins the continent stands another small town, called Ochotsk, on the northernmost shore of the Gulf of Ochotsk, which separates Kamtchatka from the main land on the west.

The Kurile Islands are twenty-two in number, of which nineteen are subject to Russia, and the others to Japan. The Russian Islands form one district of the Russian American Company's possessions; they are all small, and of little value, many of them being entirely without springs of fresh water. The Russians have but one establishment on them, called Semussir, in Urup, the southernmost of the islands, from which some seal-skins are annually carried to Petropawlowsk and Ochotsk.


These islands, sometimes called the Hawaiian Archipelago, are situated in the north-west division of the Pacific, nearly due south of Aliaska, and west of the southern extremity of California, at nearly equal distances - that is, about two thousand five hundred miles from each of those parts of America, and from the Bay of San Francisco. Their distance from Canton is about five thousand miles. They are ten in number, extending, in a curved line, about three hundred miles in length, from the 19th degree of latitude, north-westward, to the 22d: their whole superficial extent is estimated at six thousand six hundred square miles, and the number of their population, by the latest accounts, was about one hundred and fifty thousand.

The south-easternmost of the islands, embracing two thirds of the surface, and more than half of the population, of the whole, is Owyhee, (or Hawaii, according to the orthography adopted by the American missionaries.*) North-west of Owyhee is Mowee, (or Maui,) the second in size of the islands, with about twenty thousand inhabitants. Near Mowee, on the west, are Tahoorowa, (Kahulawe,) Morokini, (Molokini,) Ranai, (Lanai,) and Morotai, (Molokai,) all of them small and unimportant. Farther in the same direction is Woahoo, (Oahu,) nearly as large

* See account of this system at p. 330 of the History.

and populous as Mowee, and perhaps the most valuable of all the islands, agriculturally and commercially; and eighty miles farther west are the large island of Atooi, (Kauai,) and the smaller ones of Oneehow, (Nihau,) and Tahoora, (Kaula,) which complete the number of the group.

The islands are all mountainous and volcanic. On Owyhee are three great peaks -- Mowna Roa, (Mauna Loa,) fourteen thousand feet high, Mowna Kea, and Mowna Hualalei, from which eruptions occasionally take place more extensive in their effects than any others on record, except, perhaps, those in Iceland. They, nevertheless, contajn large tracts of fine land, which, under the influence of a regular and genial climate, are made to yield all the productions of the tropical, and many of those of the temperate regions; and they are probably destined to be to the countries bordering upon the North Pacific what the West Indies are to those on the North Atlantic. They remain in the possession of their aboriginal occupants, who appear to evince considerable aptitude to receive instruction, and have, with the aid of some missionaries from the United States, established a regular government, in the form of a hereditary monarchy, under constitutional restrictions. The native population is, however, rapidly diminishing, while that of foreigners, especially from the United States, is increasing.

The principal ports in the islands are Honoruru, (Honolulu,) on the south side of Woahoo, and Lahaina, on the west side of Mowee. The town of Honoruru contains about ten thousand inhabitants; it is much frequented, especially by the whaling vessels of the United States; and property to a great amount in manufactured articles, provisions, oil, &c., belonging to American citizens, is often deposited there. Owyhee has no good harbor, and the only places in it where vessels find secure anchorage are the Bays of Karakakooa, (Kealakeakua,) in which Captain Cook was murdered in 1779, and Toyahyah, (Kawaihae,) on the west side of the island.

About two thousand miles south-east from the Sandwich Islands are the Marquesas Islands, of which the five northernmost, the most important in the group, discovered in April, 1791, by Captain Ingraham, of the brig Hope, of Boston, and named the Washington Islands, were occupied, in 1842, by the French. Six hundred miles south-west of these lie the Society Islands, of which the largest, Otaheite, or Tahiti, according to the new nomenclature, has been the subject of contention between France and Great Britain, in consequence of the attempts of the former power to take possession of it. The Marquesas are small, rocky, and unproductive, and cannot afford support to more than a small number of civilized people; so that the French will probably find it prudent to abandon them. Otaheite, on the contrary, contains a large extent of the richest soil, and has every other requisite for a valuable possession to a maritime and commercial nation.


It will also be proper, in conclusion, to offer some observations on a subject which may be considered worthy of interest here, from its apparent connection with the destinies of North-West America.

The only means of communication for vessels between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans at present known or believed to exist, are through the seas south of the southern extremities of America and Africa; and each of these routes being circuitous and dangerous, the question as to the practicability of a canal, for the passage of ships through the central parts of the American continent where those seas are separated by narrow tracts of land, has been frequently agitated. Humboldt, in his justlycelebrated essay on Mexico, indicated nine places in America, in which the waters of the two oceans, or of streams entering into them respectively, are situated at short distances apart. Of these places it is necessary here to notice but three, to each of which attention has been strongly directed, at different times, and especially of late years, in the expectation that such a navigable passage for ships might be effected through it. They are,

the Isthmus of Panamá — Nicaragua and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

With regard to the last-mentioned of these places, it has been determined, by accurate surveys, that the mountain chain, separating the two oceans, is nowhere less than a thousand feet in height above the level of the sea; and that a canal connecting the River Guasecualco, flowing into the Mexican Gulf, with the Pacific, must pass through an open cut of nearly that depth, or a tunnel, in either case more than thirty miles in length, as there is no water on the summit to supply locks, should it be found practicable to construct them. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec, however, offers many advantages for travellers, and even for the transportation of precious commodities, especially to the people of the United States. The mouth of the Guasecualco River, on its northern shore, is less than seven hundred miles from the mouth of the Mississippi, and only one hundred miles by the road from a port on the Pacific, near Tehuantepec, which might be made a good harbor; so that even now a traveller might go in a fortnight from Washington to the Pacific coast, and thence, by a steam vessel, in ten days more, to the mouth of the Columbia, or to the Sandwich Islands.

In Nicaragua, it has been proposed to improve the navigation of the San Juan River, from its mouth on the Mosquito coast, to the great Lake of Nicaragua, from which it flows, or to cut a canal from the Atlantic to that lake, whence another canal should be made to the Pacific. Now, without enumerating the many other obstacles to this plan, any one of them sufficient to defeat it, were all things besides favorable, it may be simply stated, that one mile of tunnel and two of very deep cutting through volcanic rock, in addition to many locks, will be required in the fifteen miles, which, by the shortest and least difficult route, must be passed between the lake and the Pacific. Is such a work practicable ?

The Isthmus of Panamá remains to be considered. From recent and minute surveys, it has been proved that no obstacles to a ship-canal are presented by the surface of this isthmus, equal to those which have been surmounted, in many instances of a similar nature, in Europe and in the United States. On the other hand, the country contains only a few inhabitants of the most wretched description, from whose assistance in the work no advantage in any way could be derived; so that all the laborers, with all their clothes, provisions, and tools, must be transported thither from a distance. The heat is at all times intense, and the wet season continues during eight months of the year; the rains in July, August, September, and October, being incessant, and heavier, perhaps, than in any other part of the world. As to salubrity, there is a difference of opinion ; but it is scarcely possible that the extremes of heat and dampness, which are there combined, could be otherwise than deleterious to persons from Europe, or from the Northern States of the American Union, by whom the labor of cutting a canal must be performed, unless, indeed, it should be judged proper to employ negroes from the West Indies on the work.

It seems, therefore, that a canal is practicable across the Isthmus of Panamá : there is, however, not the slightest probability that it will be made during this century, if ever; the commercial utility of such a communication being scarcely sufficient to warrant the enormous expenses of its construction and maintenance. Ships from Europe or the United States, bound for the west coasts of America, or the North Pacific, or China, would probably pass through it, unless the tolls should be too heavy; but those returning from China would pursue the route around the Cape of Good Hope, which would be, in all respects, more advantageous for them, as well as for vessels sailing between the Atlantic coasts and India, or Australia. Not only is the direct distance from South Asia and Australia to the Atlantic coasts greater by way of the Pacific, but vessels taking that route must deviate very far from the direct course, in order to avoid the trade winds, which blow constantly westward over the intertropical parts of the Pacific.

As regards political effects, it may be assumed as certain, that, should the canal be made by any company or nation whatsoever, it will, in time, notwithstanding any precautions by treaty or otherwise, become the property of the greatest naval power, which will derive a vast increase of political strength from the possession.

« PreviousContinue »