Geological Observations on the Volcanic Islands

C. Darwin

Smith, Elder & Co., London, 1844.



Basaltic lavas—Numerous craters truncated on the same side—Singular structure of volcanic bombs—Aëriform explosions—Ejected granitic fragments—Trachytic rocks—Singular veins—Jasper, its manner of formation— Concretions in pumiceous tuff—Calcareous deposits and frondescent incrustations on the coast—Remarkable laminated beds, alternating with, and passing into obsidian—Origin of obsidian—Lamination of volcanic rocks.

This island is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, in lat. 8° S., long. 14° W. It has the form of an irregular triangle (see accompanying Map), each side being about six miles in length. Its highest point is 2,870 feet[1] above the level of the sea. The whole is volcanic, and, from the absence of proofs to the contrary, I believe of subaërial origin. The fundamental rock is everywhere of a pale colour, generally compact, and of a feldspathic nature. In the SE. portion of the island, where the highest land is situated, well characterised trachyte, and other cogenerous rocks of that varying family, occur. Nearly the entire circumference is covered up by black and rugged streams of basaltic lava, with here and there a hill or single point of rock (one of which near the sea-coast, north of the Fort, is only two or three yards across) of the trachyte still remaining exposed.

Basaltic rocks.—The overlying basaltic lava is in some parts extremely vesicular, in others little so; it is of a black colour, but sometimes contains crystals of glassy feldspar, and seldom much olivine. These streams appear to have possessed singularly little fluidity; their side walls and lower ends being very steep, and even as much as between twenty or thirty feet in height. Their surface is extraordinarily rugged, and from a short distance appears as if studded with small craters. These projections consist of broad, irregularly conical, hillocks, traversed by fissures, and composed of the same unequally scoriaceous basalt with the surrounding streams, but having an obscure tendency to a columnar structure; they rise to a height between ten and thirty feet above the general surface, and have been formed, as I presume, by the heaping up of the viscid lava at points of greater resistance. At the base of several of these hillocks, and occasionally likewise on more level parts, solid ribs, composed of angulo-globular masses of basalt, resembling in size and outline arched sewers or gutters of brickwork, but not being hollow, project between two or three feet above the surface of the streams; what their origin may have been, I do not know. Many of the superficial fragments from the basaltic streams present singularly convoluted forms; and some specimens could hardly be distinguished from logs of dark-coloured wood without their bark.

Many of the basaltic streams can be traced, either to points of eruption at the base of the great central mass of trachyte, or to separate, conical, red-coloured hills, which are scattered over the northern and western borders of the island. Standing on the central eminence, I counted between twenty and thirty of these cones of eruption. The greater number of them had their truncated summits cut off obliquely, and they all sloped towards the SE., whence the trade-wind blows.[2] This structure no doubt has been caused by the ejected fragments and ashes being always blown, during eruptions, in greater quantity towards one side than towards the other. M. Moreau de Jonnès has made a similar observation with respect to the volcanic orifices in the West Indian Islands.

Volcanic bombs.—These occur in great numbers strewed on the ground, and some of them lie at considerable distances from any points of eruption. They vary in size from that of an apple to that of a man's body; they are either spherical or pear-shaped, or with the hinder part (corresponding to the tail of a comet) irregular, studded with projecting points, and even concave. Their surfaces are rough, and fissured with branching cracks; their internal structure is either irregularly scoriaceous and compact, or it presents a symmetrical and very curious appearance. An irregular segment of a bomb of this latter kind, of which I found several, is accurately represented in the accompanying woodcut. Its size was about that of a man's head. The whole interior is coarsely cellular; the cells averaging in diameter about the tenth of an inch; but nearer the outside they gradually decrease in size. This part is succeeded by a well-defined shell of compact lava, having a nearly uniform thickness of about the third of an inch; and the shell is overlaid by a somewhat thicker coating of finely cellular lava (the cells varying from the fiftieth to the hundredth of an inch in diameter), which forms the external surface: the line separating the shell of compact lava from the outer scoriaceous crust is distinctly defined. This structure is very simply explained, if we suppose a mass of viscid, scoriaceous matter, to be projected with a rapid, rotatory motion through the air; for whilst the external crust, from cooling, became solidified (in the state we now see it), the centrifugal force, by relieving the pressure in the interior parts of the bomb, would allow the heated vapours to expand their cells; but these being driven by the same force against the already-hardened crust, would become, the nearer they were to this part, smaller and smaller or less expanded, until they became packed into a solid, concentric shell. As we know that chips from a grindstone[3] can be flirted off, when made to revolve with sufficient velocity, we need not doubt that the centrifugal force would have power to modify the structure of a softened bomb, in the manner here supposed. Geologists have remarked, that the external form of a bomb at once bespeaks the history of its aërial course, and we now see that the internal structure can speak, with almost equal plainness, of its rotatory movement.

M. Bory St. Vincent[4] has described some balls of lava from the Isle of Bourbon, which have a closely similar structure; his explanation, however (if I understand it rightly), is very different from that which I have given; for he supposes that they have rolled, like snow-balls, down the sides of the crater. M. Beudant,[5] also, has described some singular little balls of obsidian, never more than six or eight inches in diameter, which he found strewed on the surface of the ground: their form is always oval; sometimes they are much swollen in the middle, and even spindle-shaped: their surface is regularly marked with concentric ridges and furrows, all of which on the same ball are at right angles to one axis: their interior is compact and glassy. M. Beudant supposes that masses of lava, when soft, were shot into the air, with a rotatory movement round the same axis, and that the form and superficial ridges of the bombs were thus produced. Sir Thomas Mitchell has given me what at first appears to be the half of a much flattened oval ball of obsidian; it has a singular artificial-like appearance, which is well represented (of the natural size) in the accompanying woodcut. It was found in its present state, on a great sandy plain between the rivers Darling and Murray, in Australia, and at the distance of several hundred miles from any known volcanic region. It seems to have been embedded in some red tufaceous matter; and may have been transported either by the aborigines or by natural means. The external saucer consists of compact obsidian, of a bottle-green colour, and is filled with finely-cellular black lava, much less transparent and glassy than the obsidian. The external surface is marked with four or five not quite perfect ridges, which are represented rather too distinctly in the woodcut. Here then we have the external structure described by M. Beudant, and the internal cellular condition of the bombs from Ascension. The lip of the saucer is slightly concave, exactly like the margin of a soup-plate, and its inner edge overlaps a little the central cellular lava. This structure is so symmetrical round the entire circumference, that one is forced to suppose that the bomb burst during its rotatory course, before being quite solidified, and that the lip and edges were thus slightly modified and turned inwards. It may be remarked that the superficial ridges are in planes, at right angles to an axis, transverse to the longer axis of the flattened oval: to explain this circumstance, we may suppose that when the bomb burst, the axis of rotation changed.

Aëriform explosions.—The flanks of Green Mountain and the surrounding country are covered by a great mass, some hundred feet in thickness, of loose fragments. The lower beds generally consist of fine-grained, slightly consolidated tuffs,[6] and the upper beds of great loose fragments, with alternating finer beds.[7] One white ribbon-like layer of decomposed, pumiceous breccia, was curiously bent into deep unbroken curves, beneath each of the larger fragments in the superincumbent stratum. From the relative position of these beds, I presume that a narrow-mouthed crater, standing nearly in the position of Green Mountain, like a great air-gun, shot forth, before its final extinction, this vast accumulation of loose matter. Subsequently to this event, considerable dislocations have taken place, and an oval circus has been formed by subsidence. This sunken space lies at the north-eastern foot of Green Mountain, and is well represented in the accompanying map. Its longer axis, which is connected with a NE. and SW. line of fissure, is three-fifths of a nautical mile in length; its sides are nearly perpendicular, except in one spot, and about 400 feet in height; they consist, in the lower part, of a pale basalt with feldspar, and in the upper part, of the tuff and loose ejected fragments; the bottom is smooth and level, and under almost any other climate a deep lake would have been formed here. From the thickness of the bed of loose fragments, with which the surrounding country is covered, the amount of aëriform matter necessary for their projection must have been enormous; hence we may suppose it probable that after the explosions vast subterranean caverns were left, and that the falling in of the roof of one of those produced the hollow here described. At the Galapagos Archipelago, pits of a similar character, but of a much smaller size, frequently occur at the bases of small cones of eruption.

Ejected granitic fragments.—In the neighbourhood of Green Mountain, fragments of extraneous rock are not unfrequently found embedded in the midst of masses of scoriæ. Lieut. Evans, to whose kindness I am indebted for much information, gave me several specimens, and I found others myself. They nearly all have a granitic structure, are brittle, harsh to the touch, and apparently of altered colours. First, a white syenite, streaked and mottled with red; it consists of well crystallised feldspar, numerous grains of quartz, and brilliant, though small, crystals of hornblende. The feldspar and hornblende in this and the succeeding cases have been determined by the reflecting goniometer, and the quartz by its action under the blowpipe. The feldspar in these ejected fragments, like the glassy kind in the trachyte, is from its cleavage a potash-feldspar. Secondly, a brick-red mass of feldspar, quartz, and small dark patches of a decayed mineral; one minute particle of which I was able to ascertain, by its cleavage, to be hornblende. Thirdly, a mass of confusedly crystallised white feldspar, with little nests of a dark coloured mineral, often carious, externally rounded, having a glossy fracture, but no distinct cleavage: from comparison with the second specimen, I have no doubt that it is fused hornblende. Fourthly, a rock, which at first appears a simple aggregation of distinct and large-sized crystals of dusky-coloured Labrador feldspar;[8] but in their interstices there is some white granular feldspar, abundant scales of mica, a little altered hornblende, and, as I believe, no quartz. I have described these fragments in detail, because it is rare[9] to find granitic rocks ejected from volcanos with their minerals unchanged, as is the case with the first specimen, and partially with the second. One other large fragment, found in another spot, is deserving of notice; it is a conglomerate, containing small fragments of granitic, cellular, and jaspery rocks, and of hornstone porphyries, embedded in a base of wacke, threaded by numerous thin layers of a concretionary pitchstone passing into obsidian. These layers are parallel, slightly tortuous, and short; they thin out at their ends, and resemble in form the layers of quartz in gneiss. It is probable that these small embedded fragments were not separately ejected, but were entangled in a fluid volcanic rock, allied to obsidian; and we shall presently see that several varieties of this latter series of rock assume a laminated structure.

Trachytic series of rocks.—Those occupy the more elevated and central, and like wise the south-eastern, parts of the island. The trachyte is generally of a pale brown colour, stained with small darker patches; it contains broken and bent crystals of glassy feldspar, grains of specular iron, and black microscopical points, which latter, from being easily fused, and then becoming magnetic, I presume are hornblende. The greater number of the hills, however, are composed of a quite white, friable stone, appearing like a trachytic tuff. Obsidian, hornstone, and several kinds of laminated feldspathic rocks, are associated with the trachyte. There is no distinct stratification; nor could I distinguish a crateriform structure in any of the hills of this series. Considerable dislocations have taken place; and many fissures in these rocks are yet left open, or are only partially filled with loose fragments. Within the space,[10] mainly formed of trachyte, some basaltic streams have burst forth; and not far from the summit of Green Mountain, there is one stream of quite black, vesicular basalt, containing minute crystals of glassy feldspar, which have a rounded appearance.

The soft white stone above mentioned is remarkable from its singular resemblance, when viewed in mass, to a sedimentary tuff: it was long before I could persuade myself that such was not its origin; and other geologists have been perplexed by closely similar formations in trachytic regions. In two cases, this white earthy stone formed isolated hills; in a third, it was associated with columnar and laminated trachyte; but I was unable to trace an actual junction. It contains numerous crystals of glassy feldspar and black microscopical specks, and is marked with small darker patches, exactly as in the surrounding trachyte. Its basis, however, when viewed under the microscope, is generally quite earthy; but sometimes it exhibits a decidedly crystalline structure. On the hill marked 'Crater of an old volcano,' it passes into a pale greenish-gray variety, differing only in its colour, and in not being so earthy; the passage was in one case effected insensibly; in another, it was formed by numerous, rounded and angular, masses of the greenish variety, being embedded in the white variety;—in this latter case, the appearance was very much like that of a sedimentary deposit, torn up and abraded during the deposition of a subsequent stratum. Both these varieties are traversed by innumerable tortuous veins (presently to be described), which are totally unlike injected dikes, or indeed any other veins which I have ever seen. Both varieties include a few scattered fragments, large and small, of dark-coloured scoriaceous rocks, the cells of some of which are partially filled with the white earthy stone; they likewise include some huge blocks of a cellular porphyry.[11] These fragments project from the weathered surface, and perfectly resemble fragments embedded in a true sedimentary tuff. But as it is known that extraneous fragments of cellular rock are sometimes included in columnar trachyte, in phonolite,[12] and in other compact lavas, this circumstance is not any real argument for the sedimentary origin of the white earthy stone.[13] The insensible passage of the greenish variety into the white one, and likewise the more abrupt passage by fragments of the former being embedded in the latter, might result from slight differences in the composition of the same mass of molten stone, and from the abrading action of one such part still fluid on another part already solidified. The curiously formed veins have, I believe, been formed by siliceous matter being subsequently segregated. But my chief reason for believing that these soft earthy stones, with their extraneous fragments, are not of sedimentary origin, is the extreme improbability of crystals of feldspar, black microscopical specks, and small stains of a darker colour occurring in the same proportional numbers in an aqueous deposit, and in masses of solid trachyte. Moreover, as I have remarked, the microscope occasionally reveals a crystalline structure in the apparently earthy basis. On the other hand, the partial decomposition of such great masses of trachyte, forming whole mountains, is undoubtedly a circumstance of not easy explanation.

Veins in the earthy trachytic masses.—These veins are extraordinarily numerous, intersecting in the most complicated manner both coloured varieties of the earthy trachyte: they are best seen on the flanks of the 'Crater of the old volcano.' They contain crystals of glassy feldspar, black microscopical specks and little dark stains, precisely as in the surrounding rock; but the basis is very different, being exceedingly hard, compact, somewhat brittle, and of rather less easy fusibility. The veins vary much, and suddenly, from the tenth of an inch to one inch in thickness; they often thin out, not only on their edges, but in their central parts, thus leaving round, irregular apertures; their surfaces are rugged. They are inclined at every possible angle with the horizon, or are horizontal; they are generally curvilinear, and often interbranch one with another. From their hardness they withstand weathering, and projecting two or three feet above the ground, they occasionally extend some yards in length: these plate-like veins, when struck, emit a sound, almost like that of a drum, and they may be distinctly seen to vibrate; their fragments, which are strewed on the ground, clatter like pieces of iron when knocked against each other. They often assume the most singular forms; I saw a pedestal of the earthy trachyte, covered by a hemispherical portion of a vein, like a great umbrella, sufficiently large to shelter two persons. I have never met with, or seen described, any veins like these; but in form they resemble the ferruginous seams, due to some process of segregation, occurring not uncommonly in sandstones,—for instance, in the New Red sandstone of England. Numerous veins of jasper and of siliceous sinter, occurring on the summit of this same hill, show that there has been some abundant source of silica, and as these plate-like veins differ from the trachyte only in their greater hardness, brittleness, and less easy fusibility, it appears probable that their origin is due to the segregation or infiltration of siliceous matter, in the same manner as happens with the oxides of iron in many sedimentary rocks.

Siliceous sinter and jasper.—The siliceous sinter is either quite white, of little specific gravity, and with a somewhat pearly fracture, passing into pinkish pearly quartz; or it is yellowish white, with a harsh fracture, and it then contains an earthy powder in small cavities. Both varieties occur, either in large irregular masses in the altered trachyte, or in seams included in broad, vertical, tortuous, irregular veins of a compact, harsh, stone of a dull red colour, appearing like a sandstone. This stone, however, is only altered trachyte; and a nearly similar variety, but often honeycombed, sometimes adheres to the projecting plate-like veins, described in the last paragraph. The jasper is of an ochre yellow or red colour; it occurs in large irregular masses, and sometimes in veins, both in the altered trachyte and in an associated mass of scoriaceous basalt. The cells of the scoriaceous basalt are lined or filled with fine, concentric layers of chalcedony, coated and studded with bright-red oxide of iron. In this rock, especially in the rather more compact parts, irregular angular patches of the red jasper are included, the edges of which insensibly blend into the surrounding mass; other patches occur having an intermediate character between perfect jasper and the ferruginous, decomposed, basaltic base. In these patches, and likewise in the large vein-like masses of jasper, there occur little round cavities, of exactly the same size and form with the air-cells, which in the scoriaceous basalt are filled and lined with layers of chalcedony. Small fragments of the jasper, examined under the microscope, seem to resemble the chalcedony with its colouring matter not separated into layers, but mingled in the siliceous paste, together with some impurities. I can understand these facts,—namely, the blending of the jasper into the semi-decomposed basalt,—its occurrence in angular patches, which clearly do not occupy pre-existing hollows in the rock,—and its containing little vesicles filled with chalcedony, like those in the scoriaceous lava,—only on the supposition that a fluid, probably the same fluid which deposited the chalcedony in the air-cells, removed in those parts where there were no cavities, the ingredients of the basaltic rock, and left in their place silica and iron, and thus produced the jasper. In some specimens of silicified wood, I have observed, that in the same manner as in the basalt, the solid parts were converted into a dark-coloured homogeneous stone, whereas the cavities formed by the larger sap-vessels (which may be compared with the air-vesicles in the basaltic lava) and other irregular hollows, apparently produced by decay, were filled with concentric layers of chalcedony; in this case, there can be little doubt that the same fluid deposited the homogeneous base and the chalcedonic layers. After these considerations, I cannot doubt but that the jasper of Ascension may be viewed as a volcanic rock silicified, in precisely the same sense as this term is applied to wood, when silicified; we are equally ignorant of the means by which every atom of wood, whilst in a perfect state, is removed and replaced by atoms of silica, as we are of the means by which the constituent parts of a volcanic rock could be thus acted on.[14] I was led to the careful examination of these rocks, and to the conclusion here given, from having heard the Rev. Professor Henslow express a similar opinion, regarding the origin in trap-rocks of many chalcedonies and agates. Siliceous deposits seem to be very general, if not of universal occurrence, in partially decomposed trachytic tuffs;[15] and as these hills, according to the view above given, consist of trachyte softened and altered in situ, the presence of free silica in this case may be added as one more instance to the list.

Concretions in pumiceous tuff.—The hill, marked in the map 'Crater of an old volcano,' has no claims to this appellation, which I could discover, except in being surmounted by a circular, very shallow, saucer-like summit, nearly half a mile in diameter. This hollow has been nearly filled up with many successive sheets of ashes and scoriæ, of different colours, and slightly consolidated. Each successive saucer-shaped layer crops out all round the margin, forming so many rings of various colours, and giving to the hill a fantastic appearance. The outer ring is broad, and of a white colour; hence it resembles a course round which horses have been exercised, and has received the name of the Devil's Riding School, by which it is most generally known. These successive layers of ashes must have fallen over the whole surrounding country, but they have all been blown away except in this one hollow, in which probably moisture accumulated, either during an extraordinary year when rain fell, or during the storms often accompanying volcanic eruptions. One of the layers of a pinkish colour, and chiefly derived from small, decomposed fragments of pumice, is remarkable, from containing numerous concretions. These are generally spherical, from half-an-inch to three inches in diameter; but they are occasionally cylindrical, like those of iron-pyrites in the chalk of Europe. They consist of a very tough, compact, pale-brown stone, with a smooth and even fracture. They are divided into concentric layers by thin white partitions, resembling the external superficies; six or eight of such layers are distinctly defined near the outside; but those towards the inside generally become indistinct, and blend into a homogeneous mass. I presume that these concentric layers were formed by the shrinking of the concretion, as it became compact. The interior part is generally fissured by minute cracks or septaria which are lined, both by black, metallic, and by other white and crystalline specks, the nature of which I was unable to ascertain. Some of the larger concretions consist of a mere spherical shell, filled with slightly consolidated ashes. The concretions contain a small proportion of carbonate of lime: a fragment placed under the blowpipe decrepitates, then whitens and fuses into a blebby enamel, but does not become caustic. The surrounding ashes do not contain any carbonate of lime; hence the concretions have probably been formed, as is so often the case, by the aggregation of this substance. I have not met with any account of similar concretions; and considering their great toughness and compactness, their occurrence in a bed, which probably has been subjected only to atmospheric moisture, is remarkable.

Formation of calcareous rocks on the sea-coast.—On several of the sea-beaches, there are immense accumulations of small, well-rounded particles of shells and corals, of white, yellowish, and pinkish colours, interspersed with a few volcanic particles. At the depth of a few feet, these are found cemented together into stone, of which the softer varieties are used for building; there are other varieties, both coarse and fine-grained, too hard for this purpose: and I saw one mass divided into even layers half-an-inch in thickness, which were so compact that when struck with a hammer they rang like flint. It is believed by the inhabitants, that the particles become united in the course of a single year. The union is effected by calcareous matter; and in the most compact varieties, each rounded particle of shell and volcanic rock can be distinctly seen to be enveloped in a husk of pellucid carbonate of lime. Extremely few perfect shells are embedded in these agglutinated masses; and I have examined even a large fragment under a microscope, without being able to discover the last vestige of striæ or other marks of external form: this shows how long each particle must have been rolled about, before its turn came to be embedded and cemented.[16] One of the most compact varieties, when placed in acid, was entirely dissolved, with the exception of some flocculent animal matter; its specific gravity was 263. The specific gravity of ordinary limestone varies from 26 to 275; pure Carrara marble was found by Sir H. De la Beche[17] to be 27. It is remarkable that these rocks of Ascension, formed close to the surface, should be nearly as compact as marble, which has undergone the action of heat and pressure in the plutonic regions.

The great accumulation of loose calcareous particles, lying on the beach near the Settlement, commences in the month of October, moving towards the SW., which, as I was informed by Lieut. Evans, is caused by a change in the prevailing direction of the currents. At this period the tidal rocks, at the SW. end of the beach, where the calcareous sand is accumulating, and round which the currents sweep, become gradually coated with a calcareous incrustation, half-an-inch in thickness. It is quite white, compact, with some parts slightly spathose, and is firmly attached to the rock. After a short time it gradually disappears, being either redissolved, when the water is less charged with lime, or more probably is mechanically abraded. Lieut. Evans has observed these facts, during the six years he has resided at Ascension. The incrustation varies in thickness in different years: in 1831 it was unusually thick. When I was there in July, there was no remnant of the incrustation; but on a point of basalt, from which the quarrymen had lately removed a mass of the calcareous freestone, the incrustation was perfectly preserved. Considering the position of the tidal rocks, and the period at which they become coated, there can be no doubt that the movement and disturbance of the vast accumulation of calcareous particles, many of them being partially agglutinated together, cause the waves of the sea to be so highly charged with carbonate of lime, that they deposit it on the first objects against which they impinge. I have been informed by Lieut. Holland, R.N., that this incrustation is formed on many parts of the coast, on most of which, I believe, there are likewise great masses of comminuted shells.

A frondescent calcareous incrustation.—In many respects this is a singular deposit; it coats throughout the year the tidal volcanic rocks, that project from the beaches composed of broken shells. Its general appearance is well represented in the accompanying woodcut; but the fronds or disks, of which it is composed, are generally so closely crowded together as to touch. These fronds have their sinuous edges finely crenulated, and they project over their pedestals or supports; their upper surfaces are either slightly concave, or slightly convex; they are highly polished, and of a dark gray or jet black colour; their form is irregular, generally circular, and from the tenth of an inch to one inch and a half in diameter; their thickness, or amount of their projection from the rock on which they stand, varies much, about a quarter of an inch being perhaps most usual. The fronds occasionally become more and more convex, until they pass into botryoidal masses with their summits fissured; when in this state, they are glossy and of an intense black, so as to resemble some fused metallic substance. I have shown the incrustation, both in this latter and in its ordinary state to several geologists, but not one could conjecture its origin, except that perhaps it was of volcanic nature!

The substance forming the fronds has a very compact and often almost crystalline fracture; the edges being translucent, and hard enough easily to scratch calcareous spar. Under the blowpipe it immediately becomes white, and emits a strong animal odour, like that from fresh shells. It is chiefly composed of carbonate of lime; when placed in muriatic acid it froths much, leaving a residue of sulphate of lime, and of an oxide of iron, together with a black powder, which is not soluble in heated acids. This latter substance seems to be carbonaceous, and is evidently the colouring matter. The sulphate of lime is extraneous, and occurs in distinct, excessively minute, lamellar plates, studded on the surfaces of the fronds, and embedded between the fine layers of which they are composed; when a fragment is heated in the blowpipe, these lamellæ are immediately rendered visible. The original outline of the fronds may often be traced, either to a minute particle of shell fixed in a crevice of the rock, or to several cemented together; these first become deeply corroded, by the dissolving power of the waves, into sharp ridges, and then are coated with successive layers of the glossy, gray, calcareous incrustation. The inequalities of the primary support affect the outline of every successive layer, in the same manner as may often be seen in bezoar-stones, when an object like a nail forms the centre of aggregation. The crenulated edges, however, of the frond appear to be due to the corroding power of the surf on its own deposit, alternating with fresh depositions. On some smooth basaltic rocks on the coast of St. Jago, I found an exceedingly thin layer of brown calcareous matter, which under a lens presented a miniature likeness of the crenulated and polished fronds of Ascension; in this case a basis was not afforded by any projecting extraneous particles. Although the incrustation at Ascension is persistent throughout the year; yet from the abraded appearance of some parts, and from the fresh appearance of other parts, the whole seems to undergo a round of decay and renovation, due probably to changes in the form of the shifting beach, and consequently in the action of the breakers: hence probably it is, that the incrustation never acquires a great thickness. Considering the position of the incrusted rocks in the midst of the calcareous beach, together with its composition, I think there can be no doubt that its origin is due to the dissolution and subsequent deposition of the matter composing the rounded particles of shells and corals.[18] From this source it derives its animal matter, which is evidently the colouring principle. The nature of the deposit, in its incipient stage, can often be well seen upon a fragment of white shell, when jammed between two of the fronds; it then appears exactly like the thinnest wash of a pale gray varnish. Its darkness varies a little, but the jet blackness of some of the fronds and of the botryoidal masses seems due to the translucency of the successive gray layers. There is, however, this singular circumstance, that when deposited on the underside of ledges of rock or in fissures, it appears always to be of a pale, pearly gray colour, even when of considerable thickness: hence one is led to suppose, that an abundance of light is necessary to the development of the dark colour, in the same manner as seems to be the case with the upper and exposed surfaces of the shells of living mollusca, which are always dark, compared with their under surfaces and with the parts habitually covered by the mantle of the animal. In this circumstance,—in the immediate loss of colour and in the odour emitted under the blowpipe,—in the degree of hardness and translucency of the edges,—and in the beautiful polish of the surface,[19] rivalling when in a fresh state that of the finest Oliva, there is a striking analogy between this inorganic incrustation and the shells of living molluscous animals.[20] This appears to me to be an interesting physiological fact.[21]

Singular laminated beds alternating with and passing into obsidian.—These beds occur within the trachytic district, at the western base of Green Mountain, under which they dip at a high inclination. They are only partially exposed, being covered up by modern ejections; from this cause, I was unable to trace their junction with the trachyte, or to discover whether they had flowed as a stream of lava, or had been injected amidst the overlying strata. There are three principal beds of obsidian, of which the thickest forms the base of the section. The alternating stony layers appear to me eminently curious, and shall be first described, and afterwards their passage into the obsidian. They have an extremely diversified appearance; five principal varieties may be noticed, but these insensibly blend into each other by endless gradations.

First,—A pale gray, irregular and coarsely laminated,[22] harsh-feeling rock, resembling clay-slate which has been in contact with a trap-dike, and with a fracture of about the same degree of crystalline structure. This rock, as well as the following varieties, easily fuse into a pale glass. The greater part is honey-combed with irregular, angular, cavities, so that the whole has a curious appearance, and some fragments resemble in a remarkable manner silicified logs of decayed wood. This variety, especially where more compact, is often marked with thin whitish streaks, which are either straight or wrap round, one behind the other, the elongated carious hollows.

Secondly,—A bluish gray or pale brown, compact, heavy, homogeneous stone, with an angular, uneven, earthy fracture; viewed, however, under a lens of high power, the fracture is seen to be distinctly crystalline, and even separate minerals can be distinguished.

Thirdly,—A stone of the same kind with the last, but streaked with numerous, parallel, slightly tortuous, white lines of the thickness of hairs. These white lines are more crystalline than the parts between them; and the stone splits along them: they frequently expand into exceedingly thin cavities, which are often only just perceptible with a lens. The matter forming the white lines becomes better crystallised in these cavities, and Prof. Miller was fortunate enough, after several trials, to ascertain that the white crystals, which are the largest, were of quartz,[23] and that the minute green transparent needles were augite, or, as they would more generally be called, diopside: besides these crystals, there are some minute, dark specks without a trace of crystallisation, and some fine, white, granular, crystalline matter which is probably feldspar. Minute fragments of this rock are easily fusible.

Fourthly,—A compact crystalline rock, banded in straight lines with innumerable layers of white and gray shades of colour, varying in width from the 1/30th to the 1/200th of an inch; these layers seem to be composed chiefly of feldspar, and they contain numerous perfect crystals of glassy feldspar, which are placed lengthways; they are also thickly studded with microscopically minute, amorphous, black specks, which are placed in rows, either standing separately, or more frequently united, two or three or several together, into black lines, thinner than a hair. When a small fragment is heated in the blowpipe, the black specks are easily fused into black brilliant beads, which become magnetic,—characters that apply to no common mineral except hornblende or augite. With the black specks there are mingled some others of a red colour, which are magnetic before being heated, and no doubt are oxide of iron. Round two little cavities, in a specimen of this variety, I found the black specks aggregated into minute crystals, appearing like those of augite or hornblende, but too dull and small to be measured by the goniometer; in this specimen, also, I could distinguish amidst the crystalline feldspar, grains, which had the aspect of quartz. By trying with a parallel ruler, I found that the thin gray layers and the black hair-like lines were absolutely straight and parallel to each other. It is impossible to trace the gradation from the homogeneous gray rocks to these striped varieties, or indeed the character of the different layers in the same specimen, without feeling convinced that the more or less perfect whiteness of the crystalline feldspathic matter depends on the more or less perfect aggregation of diffused matter, into the black and red specks of hornblende and oxide of iron.

Fifthly,—A compact heavy rock, not laminated, with an irregular, angular, highly crystalline, fracture; it abounds with distinct crystals of glassy feldspar, and the crystalline feldspathic base is mottled with a black mineral, which on the weathered surface is seen to be aggregated into small crystals, some perfect, but the greater number imperfect. I showed this specimen to an experienced geologist, and asked him what it was, he answered, as I think every one else would have done, that it was a primitive greenstone. The weathered surface, also, of the foregoing (No. 4) banded variety, strikingly resembles a worn fragment of finely laminated gneiss.

These five varieties, with many intermediate ones, pass and repass into each other. As the compact varieties are quite subordinate to the others, the whole may be considered as laminated or striped. The laminæ, to sum up their characteristics, are either quite straight, or slightly tortuous, or convoluted; they are all parallel to each other, and to the intercalating strata of obsidian; they are generally of extreme thinness; they consist either of an apparently homogeneous, compact rock, striped with different shades of gray and brown colours, or of crystalline feldspathic layers in a more or less perfect state of purity, and of different thicknesses, with distinct crystals of glassy feldspar placed lengthways, or of very thin layers chiefly composed of minute crystals of quartz and augite, or composed of black and red specks of an augitic mineral and of an oxide of iron, either not crystallised or imperfectly so. After having fully described the obsidian, I shall return to the subject of the lamination of rocks of the trachytic series.

The passage of the foregoing beds into the strata of glassy obsidian is effected in several ways: first, angulo-nodular masses of obsidian, both large and small, abruptly appear disseminated in a slaty, or in an amorphous, pale-coloured feldspathic rock, with a somewhat pearly fracture. Secondly, small irregular nodules of the obsidian, either standing separately, or united into thin layers, seldom more than the tenth of an inch in thickness, alternate repeatedly with very thin layers of a feldspathic rock, which is striped with the finest parallel zones of colour, like an agate, and which sometimes passes into the nature of pitchstone; the interstices between the nodules of obsidian are generally filled by soft white matter, resembling pumiceous ashes. Thirdly, the whole substance of the bounding rock suddenly passes into an angulo-concretionary mass of obsidian. Such masses (as well as the small nodules) of obsidian are of a pale green colour, and are generally streaked with different shades of colour, parallel to the laminæ of the surrounding rock; they likewise generally contain minute white sphærulites, of which half is sometimes embedded in a zone of one shade of colour, and half in a zone of another shade. The obsidian assumes its jet black colour and perfectly conchoidal fracture, only when in large masses; but even in these, on careful examination and on holding the specimens in different lights, I could generally distinguish parallel streaks of different shades of darkness.

One of the commonest transitional rocks deserves in several respects a further description. It is of a very complicated nature, and consists of numerous thin, slightly tortuous, layers of a pale-coloured feldspathic stone, often passing into a imperfect pitchstone, alternating with layers formed of numberless little globules of two varieties of obsidian, and of two kinds of sphærulites, embedded in a soft or in a hard pearly base. The sphærulites are either white and translucent, or dark brown and opaque; the former are quite spherical, of small size, and distinctly radiated from their centre. The dark brown sphærulites are less perfectly round, and vary in diameter from the 1/20th to 1/30th of an inch; when broken they exhibit towards their centres, which are whitish, an obscure radiating structure; two of them when united, sometimes have only one central point of radiation; there is occasionally a trace of a hollow or crevice in their centres. They stand either separately, or are united two or three or many together into irregular groups, or more commonly into layers, parallel to the stratification of the mass. This union in many cases is so perfect, that the two sides of the layer thus formed, are quite even; and these layers, as they become less brown and opaque, cannot be distinguished from the alternating layers of the pale-coloured feldspathic stone. The sphærulites, when not united, are generally compressed in the plane of the lamination of the mass; and in this same plane, they are often marked internally, by zones of different shades of

colour, and externally by small ridges and furrows. In the upper part of the accompanying woodcut, the sphærulites with the parallel ridges and furrows are represented on an enlarged scale, but they are not well executed; and in the lower part, their usual manner of grouping is shown. In another specimen, a thin layer formed of the brown sphærulites closely united together, intersects, as represented in the woodcut, No. 7 a layer

of similar composition; and after running for a short space in a slightly curved line, again intersects it, and likewise a second layer lying a little way beneath that first intersected. The small nodules also of obsidian are sometimes externally marked with ridges and furrows, parallel to the lamination of the mass, but always less plainly than the sphærulites. These obsidian nodules are generally angular, with their edges blunted: they are often impressed with the form of the adjoining sphærulites, than which they are always larger; the separate nodules seldom appear to have drawn each other out by exerting a mutual attractive force. Had I not found in some cases, a distinct centre of attraction in these nodules of obsidian, I should have been led to have considered them as residuary matter, left during the formation of the pearlstone, in which they are embedded, and of the sphærulitic globules.

The sphærulites and the little nodules of obsidian in these rocks so closely resemble, in general form and structure, concretions in sedimentary deposits, that one is at once tempted to attribute to them an analogous origin. They resemble ordinary concretions in the following respects: in their external form,—in the union of two or three, or of several, into an irregular mass, or into an even-sided layer,—in the occasional intersection of one such layer by another, as in the case of chalk-flints,—in the presence of two or three kinds of nodules, often close together, in the same basis,—in their fibrous, radiating structure, with occasional hollows in their centres,—in the co-existence of a laminary, concretionary, and radiating structure, as is so well developed in the concretions of magnesian limestone, described by Professor Sedgwick.[24] Concretions in sedimentary deposits, it is known, are due to the separation from the surrounding mass of the whole or part of some mineral substance, and its aggregation round certain points of attraction. Guided by this fact, I have endeavoured to discover whether obsidian and the sphærulites (to which may be added marekanite and pearlstone, both of them occurring in nodular concretions in the trachytic series) differ in their constituent parts, from the minerals generally composing trachytic rocks. It appears from three analyses, that obsidian contains on an average 76 per cent. of silica; from one analysis, that sphærulites contain 79·12; from two, that marekanite contains 79·25; and from two other analyses, that pearlstone contains 75·62 of silica.[25] Now, the constituent parts of trachyte, as far as they can be distinguished, consist of feldspar, containing 65·21 of silica; or of albite, containing 69·09; of hornblende, containing 55·27,[26] and of oxide of iron: so that the foregoing glassy concretionary substances all contain a larger proportion of silica than that occurring in ordinary feldspathic or trachytic rocks. D'Aubuisson,[27] also, has remarked on the large proportion of silica compared with alumina, in six analyses of obsidian and pearlstone given in Brongniart's 'Mineralogy.' Hence I conclude, that the foregoing concretions have been formed by a process of aggregation, strictly analogous to that which takes place in aqueous deposits, acting chiefly on the silica, but likewise on some of the other elements of the surrounding mass, and thus producing the different concretionary varieties. From the well-known effects of rapid cooling[28] in giving glassiness of texture, it is probably necessary that the entire mass, in cases like that of Ascension, should have cooled at a certain rate; but considering the repeated and complicated alternations of nodules and thin layers of a glassy texture with other layers quite stony or crystalline, all within the space of a few feet or even inches, it is hardly possible that they could have cooled at different rates, and thus have acquired their different textures.

The natural sphærulites in these rocks[29] very closely resemble those produced in glass, when slowly cooled. In some fine specimens of partially devitrified glass, in the possession of Mr. Stokes, the sphærulites are united into straight layers with even sides, parallel to each other, and to one of the outer surfaces, exactly as in the obsidian. These layers sometimes interbranch and form loops; but I did not see any case of actual intersection. They form the passage from the perfectly glassy portions, to those nearly homogeneous and stony, with only an obscure concretionary structure. In the same specimen, also, sphærulites differing slightly in colour and in structure, occur embedded close together. Considering these facts, it is some confirmation of the view above given of the concretionary origin of the obsidian and natural sphærulites, to find that M. Dartigues,[30] in his curious paper on this subject, attributes the production of sphærulites in glass, to the different ingredients obeying their own laws of attraction and becoming aggregated. He is led to believe that this takes place, from the difficulty in remelting sphærulitic glass, without the whole be first thoroughly pounded and mixed together; and likewise from the fact, that the change takes place most readily in glass composed of many ingredients. In confirmation of M. Dartigues' view, I may remark, that M. Fleurian de Bellevue[31] found that the sphærulitic portions of devitrified glass were acted on both by nitric acid and under the blowpipe, in a different manner from the compact paste in which they were embedded.

Comparison of the obsidian beds and alternating strata of Ascension, with those of other countries.—I have been struck with much surprise, how closely the excellent description of the obsidian rocks of Hungary, given by Beudant,[32] and that by Humboldt, of the same formation in Mexico and Peru,[33] and likewise the description given by several authors[34] of the trachytic regions in the Italian islands, agree with my observations at Ascension. Many passages might have been transferred without alteration from the works of the above authors, and would have been applicable to this island. They all agree in the laminated and stratified character of the whole series; and Humboldt speaks of some of the beds of obsidian being ribboned like jasper.[35] They all agree in the nodular or concretionary character of the obsidian, and of the passage of these nodules into layers. They all refer to the repeated alternations, often in undulatory planes, of glassy, pearly, stony, and crystalline layers: the crystalline layers, however, seem to be much more perfectly developed at Ascension, than in the above-named countries. Humboldt compares some of the stony beds, when viewed from a distance, to strata of a schistose sandstone. Sphærulites are described as occurring abundantly in all cases; and they everywhere seem to mark the passage, from the perfectly glassy to the stony and crystalline beds. Beudant's account[36] of his 'perlite lithoide globulaire' in every, even the most trifling particular, might have been written for the little brown sphærulitic globules of the rocks of Ascension.

From the close similarity in so many respects, between the obsidian formations of Hungary, Mexico, Peru, and of some of the Italian islands, with that of Ascension, I can hardly doubt that in all these cases, the obsidian and the sphærulites owe their origin to a concretionary aggregation of the silica, and of some of the other constituent elements, taking place whilst the liquefied mass cooled at a certain required rate. It is, however, well known, that in several places, obsidian has flowed in streams like lava; for instance, at Teneriffe, at the Lipari Islands, and at Iceland.[37] In these cases, the superficial parts are the most perfectly glassy, the obsidian passing at the depth of a few feet into an opaque stone. In an analysis by Vanquelin of a specimen of obsidian from Hecla, which probably flowed as lava, the proportion of silica is nearly the same as in the nodular or concretionary obsidian from Mexico. It would be interesting to ascertain, whether the opaque interior portions and the superficial glassy coating contained the same proportional constituent parts: we know from M. Dufrénoy[38] that the exterior and interior parts of the same stream of lava sometimes differ considerably in their composition. Even should the whole body of the stream of obsidian turn out to be similarly composed with nodular obsidian, it would only be necessary, in accordance with the foregoing facts, to suppose that lava in these instances had been erupted with its ingredients mixed in the same proportion, as in the concretionary obsidian.

Lamination of volcanic rocks of the trachytic series.

We have seen that, in several and widely distant countries, the strata alternating with beds of obsidian, are highly laminated. The nodules, also, both large and small, of the obsidian, are zoned with different shades of colour; and I have seen a specimen from Mexico in Mr. Stokes' collection, with its external surface weathered[39] into ridges and furrows, corresponding with the zones of different degrees of glassiness: Humboldt,[40] moreover, found on the Peak of Teneriffe, a stream of obsidian divided by very thin, alternating, layers of pumice. Many other lavas of the feldspathic series are laminated; thus, masses of common trachyte at Ascension are divided by fine earthy lines, along which the rock splits, separating thin layers of slightly different shades of colour; the greater number, also, of the embedded crystals of glassy feldspar are placed lengthways in the same direction. Mr. P. Scrope[41] has described a remarkable columnar trachyte in the Panza Islands, which seems to have been injected into an overlying mass of trachytic conglomerate: it is striped with zones, often of extreme tenuity, of different textures and colours; the harder and darker zones appearing to contain a larger proportion of silica. In another part of the island, there are layers of pearlstone and pitchstone, which in many respects resemble those of Ascension. The zones in the columnar trachyte are generally contorted; they extend uninterruptedly for a great length in a vertical direction, and apparently parallel to the walls of the dike-like mass. Von Buch[42] has described at Teneriffe, a stream of lava containing innumerable, thin, plate-like crystals of feldspar, which are arranged like white threads, one behind the other, and which mostly follow the same direction. Dolimieu[43] also states, that the gray lavas of the modern cone of Vulcano, which have a vitreous texture, are streaked with parallel white lines: he further describes a solid pumice-stone which possesses a fissile structure, like that of certain micaceous schists. Phonolite, which I may observe is often, if not always, an injected rock, also, often has a fissile structure; this is generally due to the parallel position of the embedded crystals of feldspar, but sometimes, as at Fernando Noronha, seems to be nearly independent of their presence.[44] From these facts we see, that various rocks of feldspathic series have either a laminated or fissile structure, and that it occurs both in masses, which have been injected into overlying strata, and in others which have flowed as streams of lava.

The laminæ of the beds, alternating with the obsidian at Ascension, dip at a high angle under the mountain, at the base of which they are situated; and they do not appear as if they had been inclined by violence. A high inclination is common to these beds in Mexico, Peru, and in some of the Italian islands:[45] on the other hand, in Hungary, the layers are horizontal; the laminæ, also, of some of the lava-streams above referred to, as far as I can understand the descriptions given of them, appear to be highly inclined or vertical. I doubt whether in any of these cases, the laminæ have been tilted into their present position; and in some instances, as in that of the trachyte described by Mr. Scrope, it is almost certain that they have been originally formed with a high inclination. In many of these cases, there is evidence that the mass of liquefied rock has moved in the direction of the laminæ. At Ascension, many of the air-cells have a drawn-out appearance, and are crossed by coarse semi-glassy fibres, in the direction of the laminæ; and some of the layers, separating the sphærulitic globules, have a scored appearance, as if produced by the grating of the globules. I have seen a specimen of zoned obsidian from Mexico, in Mr. Stokes' collection, with the surfaces of the best-defined layers streaked or furrowed with parallel lines; and these lines or streaks precisely resembled those, produced on the surface of a mass of artificial glass by its having been poured out of a vessel. Humboldt, also, has described little cavities, which he compares to the tails of comets, behind sphærulites in laminated obsidian rocks from Mexico, and Mr. Scrope has described other cavities behind fragments embedded in his laminated trachyte, and which he supposes to have been produced during the movement of the mass.[46] From such facts, most authors have attributed the lamination of these volcanic rocks to their movement whilst liquefied. Although it is easy to perceive, why each separate air-cell, or each fibre in pumice-stone,[47] should be drawn out in the direction of the moving mass; it is by no means at first obvious why such air-cells and fibres should be arranged by the movement, in the same planes, in laminæ absolutely straight and parallel to each other, and often of extreme tenuity; and still less obvious is it, why such layers should come to be of slightly different composition and of different textures.

In endeavouring to make out the cause of the lamination of the igneous feldspathic rocks, let us return to the facts so minutely described at Ascension. We there see, that some of the thinnest layers are chiefly formed by numerous, exceedingly minute, though perfect, crystals of different minerals; that other layers are formed by the union of different kinds of concretionary globules, and that the layers thus formed, often cannot be distinguished from the ordinary feldspathic and pitchstone layers, composing a large portion of the entire mass. The fibrous radiating structure of the sphærulites seems, judging from many analogous cases, to connect the concretionary and crystalline forces: the separate crystals, also, of feldspar all lie in the same parallel planes.[48] These allied forces, therefore, have played an important part in the lamination of the mass, but they cannot be considered the primary force; for the several kinds of nodules, both the smallest and the largest, are internally zoned with excessively fine shades of colour, parallel to the lamination of the whole; and many of them are, also, externally marked in the same direction with parallel ridges and furrows, which have not been produced by weathering.

Some of the finest streaks of colour in the stony layers, alternating with the obsidian, can be distinctly seen to be due to an incipient crystallisation of the constituent minerals. The extent to which the minerals have crystallised can, also, be distinctly seen to be connected with the greater or less size, and with the number, of the minute, flattened, crenulated air-cavities or fissures. Numerous facts, as in the case of geodes, and of cavities in silicified wood, in primary rocks, and in veins, show that crystallisation is much favoured by space. Hence, I conclude, that, if in a mass of cooling volcanic rock, any cause produced in parallel planes a number of minute fissures or zones of less tension, (which from the pent-up vapours would often be expanded into crenulated air-cavities), the crystallisation of the constituent parts, and probably the formation of concretions, would be superinduced or much favoured in such planes; and thus, a laminated structure of the kind we are here considering would be generated.

That some cause does produce parallel zones of less tension in volcanic rocks, during their consolidation, we must admit in the case of the thin alternate layers of obsidian and pumice described by Humboldt, and of the small, flattened, crenulated air-cells in the laminated rocks of Ascension; for on no other principle can we conceive why the confined vapours should through their expansion form air-cells or fibres in separate, parallel planes, instead of irregularly throughout the mass. In Mr. Stokes' collection, I have seen a beautiful example of this structure, in a specimen of obsidian from Mexico, which is shaded and zoned, like the finest agate, with numerous, straight parallel layers, more or less opaque and white, or almost perfectly glassy; the degree of opacity and glassiness depending on the number of microscopically minute, flattened air-cells; in this case, it is scarcely possible to doubt but that the mass, to which the fragment belonged, must have been subjected to some, probably prolonged, action, causing the tension slightly to vary in the successive planes.

Several causes appear capable of producing zones of different tension, in masses semi-liquefied by heat. In a fragment of devitrified glass, I have observed layers of sphærulites which appeared, from the manner in which they were abruptly bent, to have been produced by the simple contraction of the mass in the vessel, in which it cooled. In certain dikes on mount Etna, described by M. Elie de Beaumont,[49] as bordered by alternating bands of scoriaceous and compact rock, one is led to suppose that the stretching movement of the surrounding strata, which originally produced the fissures, continued whilst the injected rock remained fluid. Guided, however, by Professor Forbes'[50] clear description of the zoned structure of glacier-ice, far the most probable explanation of the laminated structure of these feldspathic rocks appears to be, that they have been stretched whilst slowly flowing onwards in a pasty condition,[51] in precisely the same manner as Professor Forbes believes, that the ice of moving glaciers is stretched and fissured. In both cases, the zones may be compared to those in the finest agates; in both, they extend in the direction in which the mass has flowed, and those exposed on the surface are generally vertical: in the ice, the porous laminæ are rendered distinct by the subsequent congelation of infiltrated water, in the stony feldspathic lavas, by subsequent crystalline and concretionary action. The fragment of glassy obsidian in Mr. Stokes' collection, which is zoned with minute air-cells, must strikingly resemble, judging from Professor Forbes' descriptions, a fragment of the zoned ice; and if the rate of cooling and nature of the mass had been favourable to its crystallisation or to concretionary action, we should here have had the finest parallel zones of different composition and texture. In glaciers, the lines of porous ice and of minute crevices seem to be due to an incipient stretching, caused by the central parts of the frozen stream moving faster than the sides and bottom, which are retarded by friction: hence in glaciers of certain forms and towards the lower end of most glaciers, the zones become horizontal. May we venture to suppose that in the feldspathic lavas with horizontal laminæ, we see an analogous case? All geologists, who have examined trachytic regions, have come to the conclusion, that the lavas of this series have possessed an exceedingly imperfect fluidity; and as it is evident that only matter thus characterised would be subject to become fissured and to be formed into zones of different tensions, in the manner here supposed, we probably see the reason why augitic lavas, which appear generally to have possessed a high degree of fluidity, are not,[52] like the feldspathic lavas, divided into laminæ of different composition and texture. Moreover, in the augitic series, there never appears to be any tendency to concretionary action, which we have seen plays an important part in the lamination of rocks of the trachytic series, or at least in rendering that structure apparent.

Whatever may be thought of the explanation here advanced of the laminated structure of the rocks of the trachytic series, I venture to call the attention of geologists to the simple fact, that in a body of rock at Ascension, undoubtedly of volcanic origin, layers often of extreme tenuity, quite straight, and parallel to each other, have been produced;—some composed of distinct crystals of quartz and diopside, mingled with amorphous augitic specks and granular feldspar,—others entirely composed of these black augitic specks, with granules of oxide of iron,—and lastly, others formed of crystalline feldspar, in a more or less perfect state of purity, together with numerous crystals of feldspar, placed lengthways. At his island, there is reason to believe, and in some analogous cases, it is certainly known, that the laminæ have originally been formed with their present high inclination. Facts of this nature are manifestly of importance, with relation to the structural origin of that grand series of plutonic rocks, which like the volcanic have undergone the action of heat, and which consist of alternate layers of quartz, feldspar, mica, and other materials.


  1. 'Geographical Journal,' vol. v. p. 243.
  2. M. Lesson, in the 'Zoology of the Voyage of the "Coquille"' (p. 490), has observed this fact. Mr. Hannah ('Geolog. Proceedings,' 1835, p. 189) further remarks that the most extensive beds of ashes at Ascension invariably occur on the leeward side of the island.
  3. Nichol's 'Architecture of the Heavens.'
  4. 'Voyage aux Quatre Isles d'Afrique,' tom. i. p. 222.
  5. 'Voyage en Hongrie,' tom. ii. p. 214.
  6. Some of this peperino, or tuff, is sufficiently hard not to be broken by the greatest force of the fingers.
  7. On the northern side of the Green Mountain a thin seam, about an inch in thickness, of compact oxide of iron, extends over a considerable area; it lies conformably in the lower part of the stratified mass of ashes and fragments. This substance is of a reddish-brown colour, with an almost metallic lustre; it is not magnetic, but becomes so after having been heated under the blowpipe, by which it is blackened and partly fused. This seam of compact stone, by intercepting the little rain-water which falls on the island, gives rise to a small dripping spring, first discovered by Dampier. It is the only fresh-water on the island, so that the possibility of its being inhabited has entirely depended on the occurrence of this ferruginous layer.
  8. Professor Miller has been so kind as to examine this mineral. He obtained two good cleavages of 86° 30' and 86° 50'. The mean of several, which I made, was 86° 30'. Prof. Miller states that these crystals, when reduced to a fine powder, are soluble in hydrochloric acid, leaving some undissolved silex behind; the addition of oxalate of ammonia gives a copious precipitate of lime. He further remarks, that according to Von Kobell, anorthite (a mineral occurring in the ejected fragments at Mount Somna) is always white and transparent, so that if this be the case, these crystals from Ascension must be considered as Labrador feldspar. Prof. Miller adds, that he has seen an account, in Erdmann's 'Journal für technische Chemie,' of a mineral ejected from a volcano, which had the external characters of Labrador feldspar, but differed in the analysis from that given by mineralogists of this mineral: the author attributed this difference to an error in the analysis of Labrador feldspar, which is very old.
  9. Daubeny, in his work on Volcanos (p. 389), remarks that this is the case; and Humboldt, in his 'Personal Narrative' (vol. i. p. 236), says, 'In general, the masses of known primitive rocks, I mean those which perfectly resemble our granites, gneiss, and mica-slate, are very rare in lavas: the substances we generally denote by the name of granite, thrown out by Vesuvius, are mixtures of nepheline, mica, and pyroxene.'
  10. This space is nearly included by a line sweeping round Green Mountain, and joining the hills, called the Weather Port Signal, Holyhead, and that denominated (improperly in a geological sense) 'the crater of an old volcano.'
  11. The porphyry is dark coloured; it contains numerous, often fractured, crystals of white opaque feldspar, also decomposing crystals of oxide of iron; its vesicles include masses of delicate, hair-like, crystals, apparently of analcime.
  12. D'Aubuisson, 'Traité de Géognosie,' tom. ii. p. 548.
  13. Dr. Daubeny (on Volcanos, p. 180) seems to have been led to believe that certain trachytic formations of Ischia and of the Puy de Dôme, which closely resemble these of Ascension, were of sedimentary origin, chiefly from the frequent presence in them 'of scoriform portions, different in colour from the matrix.' Dr. Daubeny adds, that on the other hand, Brocchi, and other eminent geologists, have considered these beds as earthy varieties of trachyte; he considers the subject deserving of further attention.
  14. Beudant ('Voyage en Hongrie' tom. iii. pp. 502, 504) describes kidney-shaped masses of jasper-opal, which either blend into the surrounding trachytic conglomerate, or are embedded in it like chalk-flints; and he compares them with the fragments of opalised wood, which are abundant in this same formation. Beudant, however, appears to have viewed the process of their formation rather as one of simplé infiltration than of molecular exchange; but the presence of a concretion, wholly different from the surrounding matter, if not formed in a pre-existing hollow, clearly seems to me to require, either a molecular or mechanical displacement of the atoms, which occupied the space afterwards filled by it. The jasper-opal of Hungary passes into chalcedony, and therefore in this case, as in that of Ascension, jasper seems to be intimately related in origin with chalcedony.
  15. Beudant ('Voyage Min' tom. iii. p. 507) enumerates cases in Hungary, Germany, Central France, Italy, Greece, and Mexico.
  16. The eggs of the turtle being buried by the parent, sometimes become enclosed in the solid rock. Mr. Lyell has given a figure ('Principles of Geology,' book iii. ch. 17) of some eggs, containing the bones of young turtles, found thus entombed.
  17. 'Researches in Theoretical Geology,' p.12.
  18. The selenite, as I have remarked, is extraneous, and must have been derived from the sea-water. It is an interesting circumstance thus to find the waves of the ocean, sufficiently charged with sulphate of lime, to deposit it on the rocks, against which they dash every tide. Dr. Webster has described ('Voyage of the "Chanticleer,"' vol. ii. p. 819) beds of gypsum and salt, as much as two feet in thickness, left by the evaporation of the spray on the rocks on the windward coast. Beautiful stalactites of selenite, resembling in form those of carbonate of lime, are formed near these beds. Amorphous masses of gypsum, also, occur in caverns in the interior of the island; and at Cross Hill (an old crater) I saw a considerable quantity of salt oozing from a pile of scoriæ. In these latter cases, the salt and gypsum appear to be volcanic products.
  19. From the fact described in my 'Journal of Researches' (p. 12), of a coating of oxide of iron, deposited by a streamlet on the rocks in its bed (like a nearly similar coating at the great cataracts of the Orinooco and Nile), becoming finely polished where the surf acts, I presume that the surf in this instance, also, is the polishing agent.
  20. In the section descriptive of St. Paul's Rocks, I have described a glossy, pearly substance, which coats the rocks, and an allied stactitical incrustation from Ascension, the crust of which resembles the enamel of teeth, but is hard enough to scratch plate glass. Both these substances contain animal matter, and seem to have been derived from water infiltrating through birds' dung.
  21. Mr. Horner and Sir David Brewster have described ('Philosophical Transactions,' 1836, p. 65) a singular 'artificial substance, resembling shell.' It is deposited in fine, transparent, highly-polished, brown-coloured laminæ, possessing peculiar optical properties, on the inside of a vessel, in which cloth, first prepared with glue and then with lime, is made to revolve rapidly in water. It is much softer, more transparent, and contains more animal matter, than the natural incrustation at Ascension; but we here again see the strong tendency which carbonate of lime and animal matter evince to form a solid substance allied to shell.
  22. This term is open to some misinterpretation, as it may be applied both to rocks divided into laminæ of exactly the same composition, and to layers firmly attached to each other, with no fissile tendency, but composed of different minerals, or of different shades of colour. The term 'laminated,' in this chapter, is applied in these latter senses; where a homogeneous rock splits, as in the former sense, in a given direction, like clay-slate, I have used the term 'fissile.'
  23. Professor Miller informs me that the crystals which he measured had the faces P, x, m of the figure (147) given by Haidinger in his Translation of Mohs: and he adds, that it is remarkable, that none of them had the slightest trace of faces r of the regular six-sided prism.
  24. 'Geological Transactions,' vol. iii. part i. p. 37.
  25. The foregoing analyses are taken from Beudant, 'Traité de Minéralogie,' tom. ii. p. 113; and one analysis of obsidian, from Phillips's 'Mineralogy.'
  26. These analyses are taken from Von Kobell's 'Grundzüge der Mineralogie,' 1838.
  27. 'Traité de Géogn.' tom. ii. p. 535.
  28. This is seen in the manufacture of common glass, and in Gregory Watts's experiments on molten trap; also on the natural surfaces of lava-streams, and on the side-walls of dikes.
  29. I do not know whether it is generally known, that bodies having exactly the same appearance as sphærulites, sometimes occur in agates. Mr. Robert Brown showed me in an agate, formed within a cavity in a piece of silicified wood, some little specks, which were only just visible to the naked eye: these specks, when placed by him under a lens of high power, presented a beautiful appearance: they were perfectly circular, and consisted of the finest fibres of a brown colour, radiating with great exactness from a common centre. These little radiating stars are occasionally intersected, and portions are quite cut off by the fine, ribbon-like zones of colour in the agate. In the obsidian of Ascension, the halves of a sphærulite often lie in different zones of colour, but they are not cut off by them, as in the agate.
  30. 'Journal de Physique,' tom. 59 (1804), pp. 10,12.
  31. Idem, tom. 60 (1805), p. 418.
  32. 'Voyage en Hongrie,' tom. i. p. 330; tom. ii. pp. 221 and 315; tom. iii. pp. 369, 371, 377, 381.
  33. 'Essai Géognostique,' pp. 176, 326, 328.
  34. P. Scrope, in 'Geological Transactions,' vol. ii. (second series) p. 195. Consult, also, Dolimieu's 'Voyage aux Isles Lipari,' and D'Aubuisson, 'Traité de Géogn.' tom. ii. p. 534.
  35. In Mr. Stokes' fine collection of obsidians from Mexico, I observe that the sphærulites are generally much larger than those of Ascension; they are generally white, opaque, and are united into distinct layers: there are many singular varieties, different from any at Ascension. The obsidians are finely zoned, in quite straight or curved lines, with exceedingly slight differences of tint, of cellularity, and of more or less perfect degrees of glassiness. Tracing some of the less perfectly glassy zones, they are seen to become studded with minute white sphærulites, which become more and more numerous, until at last they unite and form a distinct layer: on the other hand, at Ascension, only the brown sphærulites unite and form layers; the white ones always being irregularly disseminated. Some specimens at the Geological Society, said to belong to an obsidian formation from Mexico, have an earthy fracture, and are divided in the finest parallel laminæ, by specks of a black mineral, like the augitic or hornblendic specks in the rocks at Ascension.
  36. Beudant's 'Voyage,' tom. iii. p. 373.
  37. For Teneriffe, see Von Buch, 'Descript. des Isles Canaries,' pp. 184 and 190; for the Lipari Islands, see Dolimieu's 'Voyage,' p. 34; for Iceland, see Mackenzie's 'Travels,' p. 369.
  38. 'Mémoires pour servir à une Descript. Géolog. de la France,' tom. iv. p. 371.
  39. MacCulloch states ('Classification of Rocks,' p. 531), that the exposed surfaces of the pitchstone dikes in Arran are furrowed, 'with undulating lines, resembling certain varieties of marbled paper, and which evidently result from some corresponding difference of laminar structure.'
  40. 'Personal Narrative,' vol. i. p. 222.
  41. 'Geological Transactions,' vol. ii. (second series) p. 195.
  42. 'Description des Iles Canaries,' p. 184.
  43. 'Voyage aux Isles de Lipari,' pp. 35 and 85.
  44. In this case, and in that of the fissile pumice-stone, the structure is very different from that in the foregoing cases, where the laminæ consist of alternate layers of different composition or texture. In some sedimentary formations, however, which apparently are homogeneous and fissile, as in glossy clay-slate, there is reason to believe, according to D'Aubuisson, that the laminæ are really due to excessively thin, alternating, layers of mica.
  45. See Phillips's 'Mineralogy,' for the Italian Islands, p. 136. For Mexico and Peru, see Humboldt's 'Essai Géognostique.' Mr. Edwards, also, describes the high inclination of the obsidian rocks of the Cerro del Navaja in Mexico, in the 'Proc. of the Geolog. Soc.' for June, 1838.
  46. 'Geological Transactions,' vol. ii. (second series) p. 200 &c. These embedded fragments, in some instances, consist of the laminated trachyte broken off and 'enveloped in those parts, which still remained liquid.' Beudant, also, frequently refers, in his great work on 'Hungary' (tom. iii. p. 386), to trachytic rocks, irregularly spotted with fragments of the same varieties, which in other parts form the parallel ribbons. In these cases, we must suppose, that after part of the molten mass had assumed a laminated structure, a fresh irruption of lava broke up the mass, and involved fragments, and that subsequently the whole became relaminated.
  47. Dolimieu's 'Voyage,' p. 64.
  48. The formation, indeed, of a large crystal of any mineral in a rock of mixed composition implies an aggregation of the requisite atoms, allied to concretionary action. The cause of the crystals of feldspar in these rocks of Ascension, being all placed lengthways, is probably the same with that which elongates and flattens all the brown sphærulitic globules (which behave like feldspar under the blowpipe) in this same direction.
  49. 'Mém. pour servir,' &c., tom. iv. p. 131.
  50. 'Edinburgh New Phil. Journal,' 1812, p. 350.
  51. I presume that this is nearly the same explanation which Mr. Scrope had in his mind, when he speaks ('Geolog. Transact.' vol. ii. second series, p. 228) of the ribboned structure of his trachytic rocks, having arisen, from 'a linear extension of the mass, while in a state of imperfect liquidity, coupled with a concretionary process.'
  52. Basaltic lavas, and many other rocks, are not unfrequently divided into thick laminæ or plates, of the same composition, which are either straight or curved; these being crossed by vertical lines of fissure, sometimes become united into columns. This structure seems related, in its origin, to that by which many rocks, both igneous and sedimentary, become traversed by parallel systems of fissures.

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