Under the Southern Cross

Under the Southern Cross
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Ballou Maturin Murray. Under the Southern Cross



















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When the author resolved upon a journey to the Antipodes he was in London, just returned from Norway, Sweden, and Russia, and contemplated reaching the far-away countries of Australia and New Zealand by going due east through the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, and then crossing the Indian Ocean. But this is not the nearest route to Oceania. The English monthly mail for that part of the world is regularly forwarded from Liverpool to Boston or New York, thence across the continent of America, and by steamboat from San Francisco. These mail steamers touch at the Sandwich Islands, after which the course lies southwest into the island-dotted latitudes of the widespread South Pacific. Auckland, in New Zealand, is reached by this route in thirty-seven days from London; and Sydney, in Australia, five days later, – the two great English colonies being separated by over a thousand miles of unbroken ocean. The latter route was adopted by the writer of these pages as being both more comfortable and more expeditious. Having already experienced the sirocco-like heat of the Red Sea throughout its whole length, from Adin to Suez, the prospect of a second journey in that exhausting region was anything but attractive. The Atlantic Ocean was therefore crossed to the westward, and a fair start made from much nearer home; namely, by the American Central Pacific route.

The journey by rail across our own continent was easily accomplished in one week of day-and-night travel, covering a distance of thirty-four hundred miles from Boston to San Francisco. Comfortable sleeping-cars obviate the necessity of stopping by the way for bodily rest, provided the traveller be physically strong and in good health. On a portion of the road one not only retires at his usual hour, but he also breakfasts, dines, and enjoys nearly all the domestic conveniences in the train, while it is moving at a rate varying from thirty-five to forty-five miles per hour, in such well-adjusted cars as hardly to realize that he is all the time being rapidly and surely forwarded to his destination.


The sudden change of the color of the ocean was very noticeable as we steamed at half speed through a narrow gap of the coral reef which forms a natural breakwater to the harbor. We passed the light-house which stands on the inner edge of the reef, – a structure not over thirty feet in height, consequently not visible from a ship's deck more than ten miles away. The captain informed us that it was the only light between this island and the coast of New Zealand, in the far South Pacific. The channel through the reef to safe anchorage is carefully buoyed on either side, and at night a safety-lantern is placed upon each of these little floating beacons, so that a steamer can easily steer her course in safety, come when she may.

Though the volcanic origin of the land is plain, it is not the sole cause of these reefs and islands appearing thus in mid-ocean. Upon the flanks of the upheaval the coral insect with tireless industry rears its amazing structure, until it reaches the surface of the waves as a reef, more or less contiguous to the shore, and to which ages finally serve to join it. The tiny creature delegated by Providence to build these reefs dies on exposure to air, – its work being then done. The far-reaching antiquity of the islands is established by these very coralline formations, which could only have attained their present elevation just below the surface by the growth of thousands of years. As already intimated, the land rises so abruptly from the bottom of the sea that the water retains its dark-blue tint to within a short distance of the shore, where it assumes a light-blue and bottle-green hue, with other magic colors striking in their effect viewed beneath the clear morning light and embossed with the rays of the glowing sun.


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