Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed.
Glenora Single Malt Whisky

Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.
Scottish Review

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

The Cruise of the Betsey
Chapter 5

     We leave behind us the musical sand, and reach the point of the promontory which forms the northern extremity of the Bay of Laig.  Wherever the beach has been swept bare, we see it floored with trap-dykes worn down to the level, but in most places accumulations of huge blocks of various composition cover it up, concealing the nature of the rock beneath.  The long semicircular wall of precipice which, sweeping inwards at the bottom of the bay, leaves to the inhabitants between its base and the beach their fertile meniscus of land, here abuts upon the coast.  We see its dark forehead many hundred feet overhead, and the grassy platform beneath, now narrowed to a mere talus, sweeping upwards to its base from the shore, - steep,. broken, lined thick with horizontal pathways, mottled over with ponderous masses of rock.

     Among the blocks that load the beach, and render our onward progress difficult and laborious, we detect occasional fragments of an amygdaloidal basalt, charged with a white zeolite, consisting of crystals so extremely slender, that the balls, with their light fibrous contents, remind us of cotton apples divested of the seeds.  There occur, though more rarely, masses of a hard white sandstone, abounding in vegetable impressions, which, from their sculptured markings, recall to memory the Sigilaria of the Coal Measures. Here and there, too, we find fragments of a calcareous stone, so largely charged with compressed shells, chiefly bivalves, that it may be regarded as a shell breccia.  There occur, besides, slabs of fibrous limestone, exactly resembling the limestone of the ichthyolite beds of the Lower Old Red; and blocks of a hard gray stone, of silky lustre in the fresh fracture, thickly speckled with carbonaceous markings. These fragmentary masses, - all of them, at least, except the fibrous limsetone, which occurs in mere plank-like bands, represent distinct beds, of which this part of the island is composed, and which present their edges, like courses of ashlar in a building, in the splendid section that stretches from the tall brow of the precipice to the beach; though in the slopes of the talus, where the lower beds appear in but occasional protrusions and landslips, we find some difficulty in tracing their order of succession.

     Near the base of the slope, where the soil has been undermined and the rock laid bare by the waves, there occur beds of a bituminous black shale,  - resembling the dark shales so common in the Coal Measures, - that seem to be fresh-water or estuary origin.  Their fossils, though numerous, are ill preserved; but we detect in them scales and plates of fishes, at least two species of minute bivalves, one of which very much resembles  a Cyclas; and in some of the fragments, shells of Cypris lie embedded in considerable abundance.  After all that has been said and written by way of accounting for those alternations of lacustrine with marine remains which are of such frequent occurrence in the various formations,  secondary and tertiary, from the Coal Measures downwards, it does seem strange enough that the estuary, or fresh-water lake, should so often in the old geologic periods have changed places with the sea. It is comparatively easy to conceive that the inner Hebrides should have once existed as a broad ocean-sound, bounded on one or either side by Oolitic islands,from which streams descended, sweeping with them, to the marine depths, productions, animal and vegetable, of the land. But it is less easy to conceive, that in that sound, the area covered by the ocean one year should have been covered by a fresh-water lake in perhaps the next, and then by the ocean again a few years after. And yet among the Oolitic deposits of the Hebrides evidence seems to exist that changes of this nature actually took place. I am not inclined to found much on the apparently fresh-water character of the bituminous shales of Eigg; - the embedded fossils are all too obscure to be admitted in evidence: but there can exist no doubt, that fresh-water, or at least estuary formations, do occur among the marine Oolites of the Hebrides. Sir R. Murchison, one of the most cautious, as he is certainly one of the most distinguished, of living geologists, found in a northern district of Skye, in 1826, a deposit containing Cyclas, Paludina, Neritina, - all shells of unequivocally fresh-water origin,- which must have been formed, he concludes, in either a lake or estuary.  What had been sea at one period had been estuary or lake at another.  In every case, however, in which these intercalated deposits are restricted to single strata of no great thickness, it is perhaps safer to refer their formation to the agency of temporary land-floods, than to that of violent changes of level, - now elevating and now depressing the surface.  There occur, for instance, among the marine Oolites of Brora, - the discovery of Mr. Robertson of Inverugie, - two strata containing fresh-water fossils in abundance; but the one stratum is little more than an inch in thickness, - the other little more than a foot; and it seems considerably more probable, that such deposits should have owed their existence to extraordinary land-floods, like those which in 1829 devastated the province of Moray, and covered over whole miles of marine beach with the spoils of land and river, than that a sea-bottom should have been elevated, for their production,into a fresh-water lake, and then let down into a sea-bottom again. We find it recorded in the “Shepherd’s Calendar,” that after the thaw  which followed the great snow-storm of 1794, there were found on a part of the sands of the Solway Frith known as the Beds of Esk, where the tide disgorges much of what is thrown into it by the rivers, “one thousand eight hundred and forty sheep, nine black cattle, three horses, two men, one woman, forty-five dogs, and one hundred and eighty hares, besides a number of meaner animals.” A similar storm in an earlier time, with a soft sea-bottom prepared to receive and retain its spoils, would have formed a fresh-water stratum intercalated in a marine deposit.

     Rounding the promontory, we lose sight of the Bay of Laig, and find the narrow front of the island that now presents itself exhibiting the appearance of a huge bastion.  The green talus slopes upwards, as its basement, for full three hundred feet; and a  noble wall of perpendicular rock, that towers over and beyond for at least four hundred feet more, forms the rampart.   Save towards the sea, the view is of but limited extent: we see it restricted, on the landward side, to the bold face of the bastion; and  a narrow and broken dell that runs nearly parallel to the shore for a few hundred yards between the top of the talus and the base of the rampart, - a true covered way, - we see but the rampart alone.But the dizzy front of black basalt, dark as night, save where a broad belt of light-coloured sandstone traverses it in an angular  direction, like a white sash thrown across a funeral robe, - the fantastic peaks and turrets in which the rock terminates atop, - the masses of broken ruins, roughened with moss and lichen, that have fallen from above, and lie scattered at its base, - the extreme loneliness of the place, for we have left behind us every trace of the human family, - and the expanse of solitary sea which it commands, - all conspire to render the scene a profoundly imposing one.  It is one of those scenes in which man feels that he is little, and that nature is great. There is no precipice in the island in which the puffin so delights to build  as among the dark pinnacles overhead, or around which the silence is so frequently broken by the  harsh scream of the eagle.  The sun had got far adown the sky ere we had reached the covered way at the base of the rock. All lay dark below; and the red light atop, half-absorbed by the dingy hues of the stone, shone with a gleam so faint and melancholy, that it served but to deepen the effect of the shadows.

     The puffin, a comparatively rare bird in the inner Hebrides, builds, I was told, in great numbers in the continuous line of precipice which, after sweeping for a full mile round the Bay of Laig, forms the pinnacled rampart here,and then, turning another angle of the island, runs on parallel to the coast for about six miles more. In former times the puffin furnished the islanders, as in St Kilda, with a staple article of food, in those hungry months of summer in which the stores of the old crop had begun to fail, and the new crop had not yet ripened; and the peole of Eigg, taught by their necessities, were bold cragsmen.  But men d not peril life and limb for the mere sake of a meal, save when they cannot help it; and the introduction of the potatoe has done much to put out the practice of climbing for the bird, except among a few young lads, who find excitement enough n the work to pursue it for its own sake, as an amusement.  I found among the islanders what was said to be a piece of the natural history of the puffin, sufficiently apocryphal to remind one of the famous passage in the history of the barnacle, which traced the lineage of the bird to one of the pedunculated cirripedes, and the lineage of the cirripede to a log of wood. The puffin feeds its young, say the islanders, on an oily scum of the sea, which renders it such an unwieldy mass of fat, that about the time when it should be beginning to fly, it becomes unable to get out of its hole.  The parent bird, not in the least puzzled, however, treats the case medicinally, and, - like mothers of another two-legged genus, who, when their daughters get over-stout, put them through a course of reducing acids to bring them down, - feeds it on sorrel-leaves for several days together, till, like a boxer under training, it gets thinned to the proper weight, and becomes able not only to get out of its cell, but also to employ its wings.

     We pass through the hollow, and, reaching the farther edge of the bastion, towards the east, see a new range of prospect opening before us.  There is first a  long unbroken wall of precipice, - a continuation of the tall rampart overhead, - relieved along its irregular upper line by the blue sky.  We mark the talus widening at its base, and expanding, as on the shores of the Bay of Laig, into an irregular grassy platform, that, sinking midway into a ditch-like hollow, rises again towards the sea, and presents to the waves a perpendicular precipice of red stone.  The sinking sun shone brightly  this evening; and the warm hues of the precipice, which bears the name of Ru-Stoir,- the Red Head, - strikingly contrasted with the pale and dark tints of the alternating basalts and sandstones in the taller cliff behind. The ditch-like hollow, which seems to indicate the line of a fault, cuts off this red headland from all the other rocks of the island, from which it appears to differ as considerably in texture as in hue.  It consists mainly of thick beds of a pale red stone, which M’Culloch regarded as a trap, and which, intercalated with here and there a thin band of shale, and presenting not a few of the mineralogical appearances fo what geologists of the school of the late Mr. Cunningham term Primary Old Red Sandstone, in some cases has been laid down as a deposit of Old Red proper, abutting in the line of a fault on the neighbouring Oolites and basalts.  In the geological map which I carried with me, - not one of high authority, however, - I found it actually coloured as a patch of this ancient system.  The Old Red Sandstone is largely developed in the neighbouring island of Rum, in the line of which the Ru-Stoir seems to have a more direct bearing than any of the other deposits of Eigg;  and yet the  conclusion regarding this red headland merely adds one proof more to the many furnished already, of the inadequacy of mineralogical testimony, when taken in evidence regarding the eras of the geologist. The hard red beds of Ru-Stoir belong, as I was fortunate enough this evening to ascertain, not to the ages  of the Coccosteus and Pterichthys, but to the far later ages of the Pleiosaurus and the fossil crocodile. I found them associated with more reptilian remains, of a character more unequivocal, than have been yet exhibited by any other deposit in Scotland.

     What first strikes the eye, in approaching the Ru-Stoir from the west, is the columnar character of the stone.  The precipices rise immediately over the sea, in rude colonnades of from thirty to fifty feet in height; single pillars, that have fallen from their places in the  line, and exhibit a tenacity rare among the trap-rocks, - for they occur in unbroken lengths of from ten to twelve feet, - lie scattered below; and in several places where the waves have joined issue with the precipices in the line on which the base of the columns rest, and swept away the supporting foundations, the colonnades open into roomy caverns, that resound to the dash of the sea.  Wherever the spray lashes, the pale red hue of the stone prevails, and theangles of the polygonal shafts are rounded; while higher up all is sharp-edged, and the unweathered surface is covered by a gray coat of lichens. The tenacity of the prostrate columns first drew my attention. The builder scant of materials would have experienced no difficulty in finding among them sufficient lintels for apertures from eight to twelve feet in width.  I was next struck with the peculiar composition of the stone: it much rather resembles an altered sandstone, in at least the weathered specimens, than a trap, and yet there seemed nothing to indicate that it was an Old Red Sandstone. Its columnar structure bore evidence to the action of great heat; and its pale red colour was exactly that which the Oolitic sandstones of the island, with their slight ocherous tinge, would assume in a commone fire.  And so I set myself to look for fossils. In the columnar stone itself I expected none, as none occur in vast beds of the unaltered sandstones, out of some one of which I supposed it might possibly have been formed; and none I found: but in a rolled block of altered shale of a much deeper red than the general mass, and much more resembling OldRed Sandstone, I succeeded in detecting several shells,identical with those of the deposit of blue clay described in a former chapter. There occurred in it the small univalve resembling a Trochus, together with the oblong bivalve, somewhat like a Tellina; and, spread thickly throughout the block, lay fragments of coprolitic matter, and the scales and teeth of fishes. Night was coming on, and the tide had risen on the beach; but I hammered lustily, and laid open in the dark red shale a vertebral joint, a rib, and a parallelogramical fragment of solid bone, none of which could have belonged to any fish. It was an interesting moment for the curtain to drop over the promontory of Ru-Stoir: I had thus already found in connection with it well nigh as many reptilian remains as had been found in all Scotland before, - for there could exist no doubt that the bones I laid open were such; and still more interesting discoveries promised to await the coming morning and a less hasty survey. We found a hospitable meal awaiting us at a picturesque old two-storey house, with, what is rare in the island, a clump of trees beside it, which rises on the northern angle of the Oolitic meniscus; and after our day’s hard work in the fresh sea-air, we did ample justice to the viands. Dark night had long set in ere we reached our vessel.

     Next day was Saturday; and it behoved my friend the minister, - as scrupulously careful in his pulpit preparations for  the islanders of Eigg as if his congregation were an Edinburgh one, - to remain on board, and study his discourse for the morrow.I found, however, no unmeet companion for my excursion in his trusty mate John Stewart.  John had not very much English, and I had no Gaelic; but we contrived to understand one another wonderfully well; and ere evening I had taught him to be quite as expert in hunting dead crocodiles as myself.  We reached the Ru-Stoir, set hard to work with hammer and chisel. The fragments of red shale were strewed thickly along the shore for at least three quarters of a mile; - wherever the red columnar rock appeared, there lay the shale, in water-worn blocks, more or less indurated; but the beach  was covered over with shingle and detached masses of rock, and we could nowhere find it in situ.A winter storm powerful enough to wash the beach bare might do much to assist the explorer. There is a piece of shore on the eastern coast of Scotland, on which for years together I used to pick up nodular masses of lime containing fish of the Old Red Sandstone; but nowhere in the neighbourhood could I find the ichthyolite bed in which they had originally formed.  The storm of a single night swept the beach; and in the morning the ichthyolites lay revealed in situ under a stratum of shingle which I had a hundred times examined, but which, though scarce a foot in thickness, had concealed from me he ichthyolite bed for five twelvemonths together!

     Wherever the altered shale of Ru-Stoir has been thrown high on the beach, and exposed to the influences of the weather, we find it fretted over with minute organisms, mostly the scales, plates, bones, and teeth of fishes.  The organisms, as is frequently the case, seem indestructible, while the hard matrix in which they are embedded has weathered from around them. Some of the scales present the rhomboidal outline, and closely resemble those of the Lepidotus Minor of the Weald; others approximate in shape to an isosceles triangle  The teeth are of various forms: some of them, evidently palatal, are mere blunted protuberances glittering with enamel -  some of them present the usual slim, thorn-like type common in the teeth of the existing fish of our coasts, - some again are squat and angular, and rest on rectilinear bases, prolonged considerably on each side of the body of the tooth, like the rim of a hat or the flat head of a scupper nail.  Of the occipital plates, some present a smooth enamelled surface, while some are thickl;y tuberculated, - each tubercle bearing a minute depression in its apex, like a crater on the summit of a rounded hill.  We find reptilian bones in abundance, - a thing new to Scotch geology, - and in a state of keeping peculiarly fine. They not a little puzzled John Stewart: he could not resist the evidence of his senses: they were bones, he said real bones, - there could be no doubt of that: there were the joints of a back-bone, with the hole the brain-marrow had passed through; and there were shank-bones and ribs, and fishes’ teeth; but how, he wondered, had they all got into the very hearat of the hard red stones?.He had seen what was called wood, he said, dug out of the side of the Scuir, without being quite certain whether it was wood or no; but there could be no uncertainty here.  I laid open numerous vertebrae of various forms, - some with long spinous processes rising over the body or centrum of the bone, - which I found in every instance, unlike that of the Ichthyuosaurus, only moderately concave on the articulating faces; in others the spinous process seemed altogether wanting.  Only two of the number bore any mark of the suture which unites, in most reptiles, the annular process to the centrum:in the others both centrum and process seemed anchylosed, as in quadrupeds, into one bone; and there remained no scar to show that the suture had ever existed.  In some specimens the ribs seem to have been articulated to the sides of the centrum; in others there is a transverse process, but no marks of articulation.  Some of the vertebrae are evidently dorsal, some cervical, one apparently caudal; and almost all agree in showing in front two little eyelets, to which the great descending artery seems to have sent out blood-vessels in pairs.  The more entire ribs I was lucky enough to disinter have, as in those of crocodileans, double heads; and a part of a fibula, about four inches in length, seems also to belong to this ancient family.  A large proportion of the other bones are evidently Plesiosaurian.  I found the head of the flat humerus so characteristic of the extinct order to which the Plesiosaurus has been assigned, and two digital bones of the paddle, that, from their comparat   ively slender and slightly curved form, so unlike the digitals of its cogener the Ichthyosaurus, could have belonged evidently to no other reptile.  I observed, too, in the slightly-curved articulations of not a few of the vertebrae, the gently convexity in the concave centre, which, if not peculiar to the Plesiosaurus, is at least held to distinguish it from most of its contemporaries.  Among the various nondescript organisms of the shale, I laid open a smooth angular bone,hollowed something like a grocer’s scoop; a three-pronged caltrop-looking bone, that seems to have formed part of a pelvic arch; another angular bone, much massier than the first, regarding the probable position of which I could not form a conjecture, but which some of my geological friends deem cerebral; an extremely dense bone, imperfect at each end, which presents the appearance of a cylinder slightly flattened; and various curious fragments, which, with what our Scotch museums have not yet acquired, - entire reptilian fossils for the purposes of comparison,- might, I doubt not, be easily assigned to their proper places.  It was in vain that, leaving John to collect the scattered pieces of shale in which the bones occurred, I set myself again and again to discover the bed from which they had been detached.  The tide had fallen; and a range of skerries lay temptingly off, scarce a hundred yards from the water’s edge: the shale-beds might be among them, with Plesiosauri and crocodiles stretching entire; and fain would I have swam off to them, as I had done oftener than once elsewhere, with my hammer in my teeth, and with shirt and drawers in my hat; but a tall brown forest of kelp and tangle, in which even a seal might drown, rose thick and perilous round both shore and skerries; a slight swell was felting the long fronds together; and I deemed it better, on the whole, that the discoveries I had already made should be recorded, than that  they should be lost to geology, mayhap for a whole age, in the attempt to extend them.

     The water, beautifully transparent, permitted the eye to penetrate into its green depths for many fathoms around, though every object presented, through the agitated surface, an uncertain and fluctuating outline.  I could see, however, the pink-coloured urchin warping himself up, by his many cables, along the steep rock-sides; the green crab stalking along the gravelly bottom; a scull of small rock-cod darting hither and thither among the tangle- roots ; and a few large medusae slowly flapping their continuous fins of gelatine in the opener spaces, a few inches under the surface. Many curious families had their representatives within the patch of sea which the eye commanded; but the strange creatures that had once inhabited it by thousands, and whose bones still lay sepulchred on its shores, had none.  How strange, that the identical sea heaving around stack and skerry  in this remote corner of the Hebrides should have once been thronged by reptile shapes more strange that poet ever imagined, -  dragons, gorgons and chimeras!  Perhaps of all the extinct reptiles, the Plesiosaurus was the most extraordinary. An English geologist has described it, grotesquely enough, and yet most happily, as a snake threaded through a tortoise.  And here, on this very spot, must these monstrous dragons have disported and fed; here must they have raised their little reptile heads and long swan-like necks over the surface, to watch an antagonist or select a victim; here must they have warred and wedded, and pursued all the various instincts of their unknown natures.  A strange story, surely, considering it is a true one! I may mention in the passing, that some of the fragments of the shale in which the remains are embedded have been baked by the intense heat into an exceedingly hard, dark-coloured stone,  somewhat resembling basalt.  I must add further, that I by no means determine the rock with which we find it associated to be in reality an altered sandstone.Such is the appearance which it presents where weathered ; but its general aspect is that of a porphyritic trap.  Be it what it may, the fact is not at all affected, that the shores, wherever it occurs on this tract of insular coast, are strewed with reptilian remains of the Oolite.

     The day passed pleasantly in the work of exploration and discovery; the sun had already declined far in the west; and, bearing with us our better fossils, we set out, on our return, by the opposite route to that along the Bay of Laig, which we had now thrice walked over.  The grassy talus so often mentioned continues to run o the eastern side of the island for about six miles, between the sea and the inaccessible rampart of precipice behind.  It varies in breadth from about two to four hundred yards; the rampart rises over it from three to five hundred feet; and a noble expanse of sea, closed in the distance by a still nobler curtain of blue hills, spreads away from its base; and it was along this grassy talus that our homeward road lay.  Let the Edinburgh reader imagine the fine walk under Salisbury Crags lengthened some twenty times, - the line of precipices above heightened some five or six times, - the gravelly slope at the base not much increased in altitude, but developed transversely into a green undulating belt of hilly pasture, with here and there a sunny slope level enough for the plough, and here and there  a rough wilderness of detached crags and broken banks; let him further imagine the sea sweeping around the base of this talus, with the nearest opposite land - bold, bare, and undulating atop - some six or eight miles distant; and he will have no very inadequate idea of the peculiar and striking scenery through which, this evening, our homeward route lay.  I have scarce ever walked over a more solitary tract.  The sea shuts it in on the one hand, and the rampart of rocks on the other; there occurs along its entire length no other human dwelling than a lonely summer shieling; for full one-half the way we saw no trace of man; and the wildness of the few cattle which we occasionally startled in the hollows showed us that man was no very frequent visitor among them.  About half an hour before sunset we reached the midway shieling. 

     Rarely have I seen a more interesting spot, or one that, from its utter loneliness, so impressed the imagination.  The shieling, a rude low-roofed erection of turf and stone, with a door in the centre some five feet in height or so, but with no window, rose on the grassy slope immediately in front of the vast continuous rampart.  A slim pillar of smoke ascends from the roof, in the calm, faint and blue within the shadow of the precipice, but it caught the sun-light in its ascent, and blushed, ere it melted into the ether, a ruddy brown.   A  streamlet came pouring from above in a long white thread, that maintained its continuity unbroken for at least two-thirds of the way; and then, untwisting into a shower of detached drops, that pattered loud and vehemently in a rocky recess, it again gathered itself up into a lively little stream, and, sweeping past the shieling, expanded in front into a circular pond, at which a few milch cows were leisurely slaking their thirst.  The whole grassy talus, with a strip, mayhap a hundred yards wide, of deep green sea, lay within the shadow of the tall rampart; but the red light fell, for many a mile beyond, on the glassy surface; and the distant Cuchullin Hills, so dark at other times, had all their prominent slopes and jutting precipices tipped with bronze; while here and there a mist streak, converted into bright flame, stretched along their peaks, or rested on their sides.  Save the lonely shieling, not a human dwelling was in sight.  An island girl of eighteen, more than merely good-looking, though much embrowned by the sun, had come to the door to see who the unwonted visitors might be, and recognized  in John Stewart an old acquaintance.  John informed her in her own language that I was Mr. Swanson’s sworn friend, and not a Moderate, but one of their own people, and that I had fasted all day, and had come for a drink of milk.  The name of her minister proved a strongly recommendatory one: I have not yet seen the true Celtic interjection of welcome, - the kindly “O o o,” - attempted on paper; but I had a very agreeable specimen of it on  this occasion, viva voce.  And as she set herself to prepare for us a rich bowl of mingled milk and cream, John and I entered the shieling.  There was turf fire at the one end, at which there sat two little girls, engaged in keeping up the blaze under a large pot, but sadly diverted from their work by our entrance; while the other end was occupied by a bed of dry straw, spread on the floor from wall to wall, and fenced off at the foot by a line of stones.  The middle space was occupied by the utensils and produce of the dairy, - flat wooden vessels of milk, a butter-churn, and a tub half-filled with curd; while a few cheeses, soft from the press, lay on a shelf above.  The little girls were but occasional visitors, who had come out of a juvenile frolic, to pass the night in the place; but I was informed by John that the shieling had two other inmates, young women, like the one so hospitably engaged in our behalf, who were out at the milking, and that they lived here all alone for several months every year, when the pasturage was at its best, employed in making butter and cheese for their master, worthy Mr. M’Donald of Keill. They must often feel lonely when night has closed darkly over mountain and sea, or in those dreary days of mist and rain so common in the Hebrides, when nought may be seen save the few shapeless crags that stud the nearer hillocks arounds them, and nought heard save the moaning of the wind in the precipices above, or the measured dash of the wave on the wild beach below.  And yet they would do ill to exchange their solitary life and rude shieling for the village dwellings and gregarious habits of the females who ply their rural labours in bands among the rich fields of the Lowlands, or for the unwholesome back-room and weary task-work of the city seamstress.  The sun-light was fading from the higher hill-tops of Skye and Glenelg, as we bade farewell to the lonely shieling and the hospitable island girl.  The evening deepened as we hurried southawards along the scarce visible pathway, or paused for a few seconds to examine some shattered block, bulky as a Highland cottage, that had fallen from the precipice above.  Now that the whole landscape lay equally in shadow, one of the more picturesque peculiarities of the continuous rampart came out more strongly as a feature of the scene than when a strip of shade rested along the face of the rock, imparting to it a retiring character, and all was sunshine beyond. A thick bed of white sandstone, as continuous as the rampart itself, runs nearly horizontally about midway in the precipice for mile after mile, and, standing out in strong contrast with the dark-coloured trap above and below, reminds one of a belt of white hewn work in a basalt house-front, or rather - for there occurs above a second continuous strip, of an olive hue,the colour assumed, on weathering, by a bed of amygdaloid - of a piece of dingy old-fashioned furniture, inlaid with one stringed belt of bleached holly, and another of faded green-wood.  At some of the more accessible points I climbed to the line of white belting, and found it to consist of the same soft quartzy sandstone that in the Bay of Laig furnishes the musical sand.  Lower down there occur, alternating with the trap, beds of shale andof blue clay, but they are lost mostly in the talus. Ill adapted to resist the frosts and rains of winter, their exposed edges have mouldered into a loose soil, now thickly covered over with herbage; and, but for the circumstance that we occasionally find them laid bare by a water-course, we would scarce be aware of their existence at all.  The shale exhibits everywhere, as on the opposite side of the Ru-Stoir, faint impressions of a minute shell resembling a Cyclas, and ill-preserved fragments of fish-scales.  The blue clay I found at one spot where the pathway had cut deep into the hill-side, richly charged with bivalves of the species I had seen so abundant in the resembling clay of the Bay of Laig; but the closing twilight prevented me from ascertaining whether it also contained the characteristic univalves of the deposit, and whether its shells, - for they seem identical with those of the altered shales of the Ru-Stoir, - might not be associated, like these, with reptilian remains.  Night fell fast, and the streaks of mist that had mottled the hills at sunset began to spread gray over the heavens in a continuous curtain; but there was light enough left to show me that the trap became more columnar as we neared our journey’s end.  One especial jutting in the rock presented in the gloom the appearance of an ancient portico, with pediment and cornice, such as the traveller sees on the hill-sides of Petraea in front of some old tomb; but it may possibly appear less architectural by day.  At length, passing from under the long line of rampart, just as the stars that had begun to twinkle over it were disappearing, one after one, in the thickeninig vapour, we reached little bay of Kildonan, and found the boat waiting us on the beach.  My friend the minister, as I entered the cabin, gathered up his notes from the table, and gave orders for the tea-kettle; and I spread out before him - a happy man- an array of fossils new to Scotch Geology.  No one  not an enthusiastic geologist or a zealous Roman Catholic can really know how vast an amount of interest may attach to a few old bones.  Has the reader ever heard how fossil relics one saved the dwelling of a monk, in a time of great general calamity, when all his other relics proved of no avail whatever?

     Thomas Campbell, when asked for a toast in a society of authors, gave the memory of Napoleon Bonaparte; significantly adding,”he once hung a bookseller.”  On a nearly similar principle I would be disposed to propose among geologists a grateful bumper in honour of the revolutionary army that besieged Maestricht.  That city, some seventy-five or eighty years ago, had its zealous naturalist in the person of M.Hoffmann, a diligent excavator in the quarries of St. Peter’s mountain, long celebrated for its extraordinary fossils.  Geology, as a science, had no existence at the time; but Hoffmann was doing, in a quiet way, all he could to give it a beginning; - he was transferring from the rock to his cabinet, shells, and corals, and crustacea, and the teeth and scales of fishes, with now and then the vertebrae, and now and then the limb-bone, of a reptile.  And as he honestly remunerated all the workmen he employed, and did no manner of harm to any one, no one heeded him.  On one eventful morning, however, his friends the quarriers laid bare a most extraordinary fossil, - the occipital plates of an enormous saurian, with jaws four and a half feet long, bristling over with teeth, like chevaux de frise; and after Hoffmann, who got the block in which it lay embedded, cut out entire, and transferred to his house, had spent week after week in painfully relieving it from the mass, all Maestricht began to speak of it as something really wonderful.  There is a cathedral on St.Peter’s mountain, - the mountain itself is church-land; and the lazy canon, awakened by the general talk, laid claim to poor Hoffmann’s wonderful fossil as his property.  He was lord of the manor, he said, and the mountain and all that it contained belonged to him.  Hoffmann defended his fossil as he best could in an expensive lawsuit; but the judges found the law clean against him; the huge reptile head was declared to be “treasure trove” escheat to the lord of the manor; and Hoffmann half broken-hearted, with but his labour and the lawyer’s bills for his pains, saw it transferred by rude hands from its place in his museum, to the residence of the grasping churchman.  The huge fossil head experienced the fate of Dr. Chalmers’ two hundred churches.  Hoffmann was a philosopher, however, and he continued to observe and collect as before; but he never found such another fossil; and at length, in the midst of his ingenious labours, the vital energies failed within him, and he broke down and died.  The useless canon lived on.  The French Revolution broke out; the republican army invested Maestricht; the batteries were opened; and shot and shell fell thick on the devoted city. But in one especial quarter there alighted neither shot nor shell.  All was safe around the canon’s house. Ordinary relics would have availed him nothing in the circumstances, - no, not “the three kings of Cologne,” had he possessed the three kings entire, or the jaw-bones of the “eleven thousand virgins;” but there was virtue in the jaw-bones of the Mosasaurus, and safety in their neighbourhood. The French savans, like all the other savans of Europe, had heard of Hoffmann’s fossil, and the French artillery had been directed to play wide of the place where it lay.  Maestricht surrendered; the fossil was found secreted in a vault, and sent away to the Jardin des Plantes at Paris, maugre the canon, to delight there the heart of Cuvier; and the French, generously addressing themselves to the heirs of Hoffmann as its legitimate owners, made over to them a considerable sum fo money as its price.  They reversed the finding of the Maestricht judges; and all save the monks of St Peter’s have acquiesced in the justice of the decision.

Return to Book Index


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus