The Swiss Family Robinson

Author: Johann Wyss  | Date: 1813


Close of the Rainy Season- The Monarch of the Deep-

The New Robinson- Coral, its Origin, and its Uses

THE END OF THE month of August was marked by a renewal of the bad weather. The rain, the winds, the thunder redoubled with new fury. How happy we were in the habitation we had made. What would have become of us in our aerial palace at Falcon’s Nest? and our tent, how could that have withstood the storm? But at last the weather became more settled; the clouds dissipated; the rain ceased; and we were able to venture out from our grotto, to see whether the world yet remained firm.

We promenaded upon the belt of rocks that extended all along the coast; and, as we had need of liberty and exercise, we took pleasure in scaling the highest peaks, and looking over the plain which was spread out beneath us. Fritz, always daring, and whose eye almost rivalled that of his eagle, was standing upon the peak of rocks, when he perceived, upon the little island in Flamingo Bay, a black spot, the nature and form of which he could not determine; but he thought it was a shipwrecked vessel. Ernest, who mounted after him, took it for a sea-lion, such as Admiral Anson speaks of in his voyages. I determined to go and inspect it myself. We walked down to the sea-shore, emptied the rain-water from the canoe, and all set off, with the exception of Francis and my wife, who hardly liked our excursion.

The nearer we approached, the more rapidly one conjecture followed another. At last, when we were near enough to distinguish it, what was our surprise to see an enormous whale, lying on his side upon the strand.

Being ignorant whether he was dead or sleeping, I did not think it prudent to approach without precaution; consequently we turned around and steered for the other side of the island, which consisted of nothing more than a sandbank elevated above the waves; but a rank growth of herbs and plants covered it, and it was the resort of numbers of sea-birds, whose nests and eggs we found in abundance.

There were two roads to choose, by which to reach the whale: one by climbing over the rocks, which rendered it laborious; the other longer, but far the less fatiguing. I took the first path, and commanded the boys to take the other, as I wished to examine fully this little island, which wanted but trees to render it charming. From this elevation I could see the whole coast, from Tent House to Falcon’s Nest, which spectacle made me almost forget the whale; and when I reached the side where my children were, they came running toward me, screaming with joy, and carrying their hats full of shells and coral, which they had picked up on the beach. ’Look, papa,’ said they, ’what beautiful shells we have found; what can have brought them here?’

’It is the sea, my children,’ I answered; ’the sea has thrown them up from its abyss, and it appears to be little cause for astonishment that she should bring such frail, light things as those shells, when she has thrown upon our shores a monster whose bulk is so immense.’

’Enormous,’ replied Fritz. ’It seems strange that we should amuse ourselves with these petty trifles instead of examining our whale. I can hardly estimate its grandeur.’

Ernest did not like to hear the shells called petty trifles, and declared he would rather examine one of them than a thousand such enormous masses as our ugly whale; but I ended the dispute that was arising between himself and his brother, by declaring that we would return after dinner, with the necessary articles for attacking the enormous prey that the ocean had thrown for us upon the sand.

I remarked that Ernest followed us to our embarkation with regret. I asked him the cause, and he declared that, if I wished to make him happy, I would leave him alone on this island, where he would live like Robinson Crusoe. The idea made me smile, and I instantly replied, ’You foolish boy, do you know that the life of Robinson is but a finely-wrought fiction, and that your romantic project has a thousand obstacles attending it? You would not be there long before you would grow tired of your solitude; sickness would come, and some fine morning we should find the poor hermit dead upon the beach. Thank God, He did not separate us at our shipwreck; we are six in all, and we are scarcely able to provide for our well-being. What could you do, alone, upon these rocks?’

The new Robinson was convinced, and quietly followed us to the boat. My little rowers were scarcely able to make any headway against the tide, and they complained bitterly of the hard lot to which they were subjected.

’You ought, dear papa,’ said they, ’to devise some plan to render rowing less laborious.’

’You think I have more power than I really possess,’ I answered; ’but if you can procure me an iron wheel, about a foot in diameter, I will try what can be done.’

’An iron wheel?’ said Fritz; ’there were two among our iron-works: they belonged to a smoke-jack; and I can easily get them for you, if mamma has not taken them yet.’

I did not want to engage myself too far; so I neither promised nor refused, but urged my rowers to redouble their labours, and we soon glided swiftly over the waves.

Some moments after, the conversation turned upon coral, and Jack asked me what use they made of this production of nature.

’Formerly,’ said I, ’coral was in great vogue throughout Europe, as it was used in the head-dresses of ladies; but the coral has now gone out of fashion, and it is only gathered as specimens for museums, which is all we can do with this, among our other curiosities.’

Fritz wished to know to what region coral belonged; ’for,’ said he, ’I have read that it was the work of a little worm.’

’It is true,’ said I; ’all sorts of shells are formed by the viscous deposit of the individual who dwells in them. Coral is formed by a very minute insect, which lives in the water, but is of so frail a nature that it cannot subsist but in numberless quantities.’

I then related to my sons the phenomena of the existence of the polypi. I told them also about the coral fisheries; and, while talking, we arrived at our destination, where my wife and son were ready to receive us. She admired the beauty of our coral, but observed that it was of no use in the household affairs; and when I had told her my resolution to return to the whale that afternoon, she cheerfully declared that she would accompany me. I was enchanted at this resolution, and we hastened to prepare the necessary provisions and articles for a stay of two days; for, perhaps, we might be detained on the island, and I thought it best to make preparations accordingly.


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Chicago: Johann Wyss, "33," The Swiss Family Robinson Original Sources, accessed May 30, 2023,

MLA: Wyss, Johann. "33." The Swiss Family Robinson, Original Sources. 30 May. 2023.

Harvard: Wyss, J, '33' in The Swiss Family Robinson. Original Sources, retrieved 30 May 2023, from