NOTRE DAME, IN.- Although Darwin sailed on HMS Beagle as a guest of Captain FitzRoy, and paid his own way, he was the official naturalist on board. This role could have been played in a number of ways, and Darwin chose to follow the lead of Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist, explorer and writer whose book Personal Narrative of the Equinoctial Regions of South America had become a bestseller in the early 1800s. Humboldt set an example of the gentleman scientist who was interested in describing his reactions to and interpretations of everything he saw on his travels.
In the opening paragraph of his book Journal of Researches Darwin wrote: After having been twice driven back by heavy south-western gales, Her Majestys Ship Beagle, a ten gun brig, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, sailed from Devonport on the 27th of December, 1831. The object of the expedition was to complete the survey of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, commenced under Captain King in 1826 to 1830 to survey the shores of Chile, Peru, and some of the islands in the Pacific and to carry a chain of chronometrical measurements round the world.
Darwin stayed for three months in a cottage on the bay of Rio de Janiero while Captain FitzRoy returned north with the Beagle to Salvador/Bahia, Brazil, to correct several mistakes in his charts. During this time Darwin happily studied ants, wasps and spiders, and was horrified to see the cruel treatment of slaves.
Everyone has heard of the beauty of the scenery near Botofogo. The house in which I lived was seated close beneath the well-known mountain of Corcovado. It has been remembered with much truth, that abruptly conical hills are characteristic of the formation which Humboldt designates as gneiss-granite. Nothing can be more striking than the effect of these huge rounded masses of naked rock rising out of the most luxuriant vegetation.
(April 1832. Rio de Janiero. Journal of Researches p.27)
While staying at this estate, I was very nearly being an eye-witness to one of those atrocious acts which can only take place in a slave country. Owing to a quarrel and a law-suit, the owner was on the point of taking all the women and children from the male slaves, and selling them separately at the public auction at Rio.
(April 14, Rio de Janiero. ibid p.23)
Here Darwin expresses his pleasure in the natural beauty around him: The day has passed delightfully. Delight itself however, is a weak term to express the feelings of a naturalist, who, for the first time, has wandered by himself in a Brazilian forest. The elegance of the grasses, the novelty of the parasitical plants, the beauty of the flowers, the glossy green of the foliage, but above all the general luxuriance of the vegetation filled me with admiration.
(February 29, 1832. Bahia/San Salvador. ibid p.11)
As the Beagle enters the bay of Rio, Darwin describes the splendor of the harbor and the surrounding mountains:
The winds being light we did not pass under the Sugar loaf until after dinner; our slow ruize was enlivened by the changing prospects of the mountains; sometimes enveloped by white clouds, sometimes brightened by the sun, the wild and stony peaks presented new scenes.
(April 4, 1832. Diary. Charles Darwins diary of the voyage of HMS Beagle edited from the MS by Nora Barlow. Cambridge University Press. 1933 pp. 47-8)
In the morning we got under way, and stood out of the splendid harbour of Rio de Janiero.
(July 5, 1832. Rio de Janiero/Maldonado. Journal of Researches. p.36)
Here Darwin poetically describes his reaction to the natural beauty of Brazil in 1832:
The mind is a chaos of delight, out of which a world of future and more quiet pleasure will arise. I am at present fit only to read Humboldt; he like another sun illumines everything I behold.
(Charles Darwins diary of the voyage of HMS Beagle edited from the MS by Nora Barlow. Cambridge University Press. 1933. pp.39-40 Referred to in The Beagle Record. Editor R.D. Keynes. Cambridge University Press. 1979 p. 41)
... when on shore, and wandering in the sublime forests, surrounded by views more gorgeous than even Claude ever imagined, I did enjoy a delight which none but those who have experienced it can understand if it is to be done, it must be done by studying Humboldt.
(May 1832 Letter to William Darwin Fox. Botofogo Bay. Quoted from Charles Darwin. The Beagle Letters. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt. Cambridge University Press. 2008 p. 123)
Darwin stayed for ten weeks in Maldonado, Uruguay, a small town on the River Plata, where he collected, killed and catalogued animals, birds and reptiles while Captain FitzRoy charted coastal waters in the Beagle. In this quotation Darwin comments on the look of the water in the mouth of the river as the currents from the river and the ocean flow together.
When within the mouth of the river, I was interested by observing how slowly the waters of the sea and river mixed. The latter, muddy and discolored, from its less specific gravity, floated on the surface of the salt water. This was curiously exhibited in the wake of the vessel, where a line of blue water was seen mingling in little eddies, with the adjoining fluid.
(July 5, 1832. Maldonado. Journal of Researches p.37)
The Araucanian/Mapuche Indians lived in Patagonia/southern Argentina and southern Chile. They were much feared for their skill and bravery in battle.
General Juan Manuel Rosas, who united the nation of Argentina and ruled as dictator from 1835-1842, came from a rich, land-owning Spanish family in Buenos Aires. He gave up a sedentary life in the city to lead the gauchos and settlers in a campaign against the fierce Araucanian/Mapuche horse-Indians, saying his were the forces of civilization fighting against barbarism. Darwin came from a land-owning family himself, and so his sympathies were initially with Rosas and his gauchos.
Darwin recounted this description of an attack told him by a Spaniard:
On the way we passed the ruins of some fine estancias, (ranches), which a few years since had been destroyed by the Indians. The Indians were Araucanians from the south of Chile; several hundreds in number, and highly disciplined. They first appeared in two bodies on a neighbouring hill, having there dismounted and taken off their fur mantles, they advanced naked to the charge. The only weapon of an Indian is a very long bamboo or chuzo, ornamented with ostrich feathers, and pointed by a sharp spear-head.
(August 1833 ibid p.60)
The gauchos were the horsemen of the Argentinian pampas, who shot wild animals and corralled cattle and horses. Although they were often of mixed Indian and Spanish blood, some of them joined General Juan Manuel Rosas in his military-style campaign against the indigenous Indians. When Darwin rode through their territories in August 1833 he was deeply impressed by the gauchos courage and skills in horsemanship:
... at this instant an unfortunate cow was spied by the lynx-eyed Gauchos, who set off in full chace (sic) and in a few minutes dragged her in with their lazos, and slaughtered her. ... The Gauchos were in high spirits at finding all these luxuries; and we soon set to work at the poor cow. This was the first night which I passed under the open sky, with the gear of the recado (saddle) for my bed.
(August 1833. Rio Negro to Bahia Blanca ibid p.65)
In the middle of 1833, while Captain FitzRoy on the Beagle was surveying the eastern coast, Darwin decided to take a first-hand look at the geology and wild life of the Patagonian plains by riding five hundred miles on horseback from Patagones to Buenos Aires. For safety against attack by marauding Indians, he planned to ride along the route of a string of post-houses maintained by small groups of General Rosass gaucho-soldiers.
Darwin found the behavior and appearance of the gauchos irresistibly romantic:
At night we stopped at a pulperia, or drinking shop. During the evening a great number of Gauchos came in to drink spirits and smoke cigars: their appearance is very striking: they are generally tall and handsome; but with a proud and dissolute expression of countenance. They frequently wear their moustaches and long black hair curling down their backs. With their brightly-coloured garments, great spurs clanking about their heels and knives stuck as daggers ... they look a very different race of men from what might be expected.
(August 1833 ibid p.40)
Capturing a puma by means of the bolas:
The Captain had bought from the Gaucho soldiers a large Puma or South American lion, and this morning it was killed for its skin. These animals are common in the pampas; I have frequently seen their footsteps in my walks. It is said they will not attack a man, though they evidently are quite strong enough.
The Gauchos secured this one by first throwing the balls and entangling its front legs; they then lassoed or noosed him, when by riding round a bush and throwing other lassos, he was soon lashed firm and secured.
(October 8, 1832. Diary. Charles Darwins diary of the voyage of HMS Beagle edited from the MS by Nora Barlow. Cambridge University Press. 1933 p.p. 105-6)
A tall man wearing European clothes stands holding a tripod surrounded by gauchos with spears. This seems to be a meeting of men involved in old and new technologies. A telescope has been attached to the tripod, suggesting that we are looking at a surveyors instrument, a theodolite, which measures horizontal and vertical angles of the land by means of triangulation. The surveyor might be planning to use his information to make a map, or in order to consider placement of a building, a road or a fence for the demarcation of ownership boundaries.
Because Captain FitzRoys main task on the Beagle voyage was to complete the survey of the coasts of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego for the Royal Navy, he had equipped himself with the most up-todate instruments available. For the measurement of longitude he had bought twenty-four marine chronometers and had hired a skilled instrument maker to look after them.
To chart the South American coastal waters marine surveyors on the Beagle would also have used their own theodolite, a sextant, compasses, small boats, measuring chains and beacons set on shore. The captain was very advanced in his thinking about weather forecasting, and would have also used a barometer to test the pressure of the atmosphere throughout the voyage.
A photograph taken in Buenos Aires, documents a friendly relationship established between Lewis Jones, leader of a group of Welsh immigrants who made a settlement at Puerto Madryn, Patagonia, and a group of the most important local Tehuelche Indian chiefs.
An earlier adventure in 1833 that involved the Beagle and three Indians from Tierra del Fuego was a complete failure. During the 1828 voyage of the Beagle, Captain FitzRoy had taken three Fuegians captive. He educated them at a Christian school in England, hoping they would form the nucleus of a Christian community when he repatriated them.
On the return of the Beagle in 1833 with Darwin on board, the Fuegians were left on an island beach with a missionary and supplies. In a letter to his sister (March 30, 1833) Darwin describes the scene at the beach several weeks later,
When we returned to the settlement things were in a ruinous condition, almost everything had been plundered. As the missionary was afraid for his life, he returned to the Beagle.
The anglicized Fuegians quickly reverted to their former ways, which amazed Darwin. He described the Fuegian native like this, ... the naked barbarian, with his body coated with paint, whose very gestures ... are unintelligible, with difficulty we see a fellow-creature. No drawing or description will at all explain the extreme interest which is created by the first sight of savages.
(Charles Darwin. The Beagle Letters Edited by Frederick Burkhardt. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2008 p.193)
By the time of his first visit to Valparaiso, July 23, 1834, Darwin had read all three volumes of Charles Lyells new analysis of the formation of continents, oceans and mountain ranges described in his Principles of Geology (1830-33). Lyell contradicted the prevailing belief that shells had been deposited upon mountainsides by the biblical Deluge, with his idea that the continents were very much older than had previously been thought, and that mountains and plains had risen and sunk because of natural movements of the earth, such as earthquakes and volcanoes.
On February 20, 1835, a powerful earthquake shook the Chilean coast at Valparaiso. After experiencing tremors, severe aftershocks, tidal waves and seeing volcanoes, and finding that the coast had risen several feet, Darwin now looked for signs of these geological events on his expeditions by mule train into the Cordillera of the Andes.
(Charles Lyell. Principles of Geology. John Murray. London 1830-33)
Darwin arrived in Valparaiso for the first time with a great feeling of relief and pleasure at having left the cold and wet climate further south. He wrote:
The Beagle anchored late at night in the bay of Valparaiso, the chief seaport of Chile. When morning came everything appeared delightful. After Tierra del Fuego, the climate felt quite delicious the atmosphere so dry, and the heavens so clear and blue with the sun shining brightly, that all nature seemed sparkling with life.
(July 23, 1834 Central Chile. Journal of Researches p. 240)
In Valparaiso Darwin found a childhood friend from his schooldays in Shrewsbury, so he was able to stay comfortably in a private house for several months. He made two expeditions by mule train across the high passes of the Andes which were important for confirming in his mind the truth of Lyells theory of the formation of the mountains and oceans.
When the Beagle arrived at the port of Callao, Peru, in July 1835, the country was in a state of civil war, and Darwin was unable to make any long expeditions into the mountains. He found the archaeological remains of several ancient Indian villages near Lima, but to his surprise there was no source of water close to them.
Darwin did not like the towns of Peru nor its climate, perhaps because the civil war stopped him from exploring the surrounding geological formations as much as he wanted. This quiet street in the coastal town of Paita (see back cover) must have looked very similar to streets in Callao, the seaport for Lima, where Darwin was cooped up for several weeks before setting off for the Galapagos Islands.
By the end of his stay in Peru, Darwins letter to his Cambridge mentor John Stevens Henslow shows how much he has learned about geology from his own explorations of the Andes:
This last journey has explained to me much of the ancient history of the Cordillera I feel sure they formerly consisted of a chain of Volcanoes from which enormous streams of lava were poured forth at the bottom of the sea. The alternations of compact crystalline rocks ...and sedimentary beds, now upheaved, fractured and indurated from the main range of the Andes.
From his reading of Lyell and his own observations, Darwin now could believe in the idea that small changes could lead to large effects in geology, and later he went on to apply this idea to his theory of evolution.
(Letter to John Stevens Henslow. July 12, 1835, Lima. Charles Darwin. The Beagle Letters. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt, Cambridge University Press. 2008 p. 353)
In this exhibition we take our leave of Darwin and the Beagle in Peru, before they arrived at the Galapagos Islands, with their famous diversity of animals and birds, which was one of the causes of Darwins ideas on the development of species. Throughout his five-year voyage he documented and crated up his collections, and sent them back to England from every port of call around the continent of Latin America. When he began his voyage Charles Darwin was a curious, well-educated twenty-two year old, but by the time he returned home in 1836 he had gained the tools and the experience to begin to rethink the Western European interpretation of life on earth.
The Beagle voyage had become one of the most significant journeys ever made. Darwin recognized the role of this journey in his Autobiography where he wrote,
The voyage of the Beagle has been by far the most important event in my life and has determined my whole career.
In 1859, having included ideas from Thomas Malthuss Essay on the Principles of Population (J. Johnson. London. 1798) , Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species in which he presented his theory that natural selection was the mechanism by which evolution occurred.
In the first paragraph of his Authors Introduction Darwin wrote:
When on board the HMS Beagle as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts ... seemed to throw some light on the origin of species that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers.