28 February 1832 - to -13 January 1833

Survey of South America, Part 1

The Beagle arrives at Salvador, Brazil
Survey work at Rio de Janeiro
Survey work at Buenos Aires
Two boats hired to assist in surveying
Violent storms at Tierra del Fuego

On 28 February the Beagle arrived at Salvador (Bahia), Brazil, and anchored in All Saints Bay. Darwin spent a few days exploring the tropical rain forests on long walks, taking in the rich magnificence of nature. He described the scene as beautiful beyond his wildest dreams, even von Humboldt did not do it justice in his "Personal Narrative."


While strolling about the town Darwin was disgusted at the sight of black slaves, and upon returning to the Beagle he got into a big quarrel with Capt. FitzRoy about the ethics of treating humans as property. FitzRoy flew into a temper and forbid Darwin to share his dinner table with him ever again. After a short cooling off period Capt. FitzRoy apologized to Darwin and his privilege to dine with him was restored.

"We had several quarrels; for when out of temper he [FitzRoy] was utterly unreasonable. For instance, early in the voyage at Bahia in Brazil he defended and praised slavery, which I abominated, and told me that he just visited a great slave-owner, who had called up many of his slaves and asked them whether they were happy, and whether they wished to be free, and all answered 'No.' I then asked him, perhaps with a sneer, whether he thought that the answers of slaves in the presence of their master was worth anything. This made him excessively angry ..."
-- Charles Darwin [11]

On 18 March the Beagle set out from All Saints Bay and spent the next two weeks doing sounding measurements at the hazardous Abrolhos Shoals. During this survey Darwin made observations of microscopic tube-like "animals" that colored the ocean surface brown.




The Beagle arrived at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 3 April 1832 and the crew received its first mail from England. Darwin learned that his former girlfriend, Fanny Owen, was now married (last May) to a wealthy politician named Robert Biddulph. He stayed onshore, perhaps to recover from his sea-sickness, while the Beagle surveyed around Cape Frio. While surveying a small cove, eleven of the crew went onshore to explore the Rio Racacu. At some time during this inland trek Charles Musters (volunteer 1st class), Morgan (seaman) and Jones (a boy) came down with malaria and died a short time later.

On 8 April Darwin went off exploring in the tropical rain forest with Patrick Lennon, a local English merchant, and five others. They explored about one-hundred miles up the coast from Rio de Janeiro.


Along the way they traveled through several small villages, one of which treated them to a huge feast. Darwin collected many good specimens of plants, insects and animals during this trek. They spent three days at an estate on the Rio Macae where Darwin was again disgusted at the treatment of slaves. Over the next two days they traced their steps back to Rio de Janeiro.

Darwin returned to Rio de Janeiro on the evening of 23 April with a collection of insects and plants that was beyond his wildest dreams. He learned that the Beagle had gone back towards Salvador to check on some survey readings in the Abrolhos Shoals, so he took a boat to Botofogo Bay with Augustus Earle (the ship's draughtsman) and Philip King (Midshipman) to wait for the Beagle to return.

They spent the next few weeks in a little cottage located beneath the rounded mountain of Corcovado (2,300 feet). Darwin occupied himself in collecting and preserving specimens, making notes, and writing letters back to England. The climate was delightful during this time of year, about 72 degrees all day and Darwin often spent his evenings sitting in the garden, listening to the frogs and crickets chirping and cicada buzzing in the forest that surrounded him.

"It was impossible to wish for any thing more delightful than thus to spend some weeks in so magnificent a country. In England any person fond of natural history enjoys in his walks a great advantage, by always having something to attract his attention; but in these fertile climates, teeming with life, the attractions are so numerous, that he is scarcely able to walk at all."
-- Charles Darwin [12]

The Beagle returned on 6 June from its survey work off the coast of Salvador. At some time during the next few weeks the ships surgeon, Robert McCormick, resigned his position and headed back to England on the H.M.S. Tyne (a British warship with a crew of 175 men). On British survey ships it was standard practice for the ship's surgeon to collect specimens during a voyage, and McCormick felt his duty was usurped by Darwin. Benjamin Bynoe (formally Assistant Surgeon) was made head surgeon for the voyage.

The Beagle headed out of Rio de Janeiro harbor on 5 July 1832 and set sail for Montevideo. Along the way the ship was escorted by hundreds of porpoises which probably would have excited Darwin a great deal, had he not been sea-sick the whole time.


They arrived at Montevideo on the 26th amid much lightning and St. Elmo's Fire (a glowing light seen on the tops of masts caused by a discharge of atmospheric electricity which gives off a crackling or fizzing noise). Fortunately the Beagle was equipped with William Harris's new lightning conductors, which worked perfectly during the entire voyage. A packet ship dropped off mail a few days later, but Darwin received nothing from his family or friends. While in port FitzRoy led a survey trip up the Rio Parana in one of the Beagle's boats.


When he returned to Montevideo on 31 July Capt. FitzRoy was requested by the local police chief to help put down a negro riot in town. Fifty men went on shore and matters were soon put to right.

On 19 August Darwin shipped off his first load of specimens and notes to Revd. Henslow back in Cambridge. The specimens included several rocks and tropical plants, four bottles of animals in spirits, many beetles, and various marine animals; all of which were numbered, catalogued and described. Apparently Darwin had much doubt about the quality of his work and feared Henslow would think the shipment was quite small and of little importance to natural science (CCD, 1:179).

Later in the month the Beagle started surveying south along the coastline towards Bahia Blanca, guided by Mr. Harris, a local Englishman employed in the sealing trade.

During the first week in September Capt. FitzRoy, Darwin, and Mr. Harris went onshore to visit Fort Argentina (see map, below), a military stronghold just south of Bahia Blanca. The Major in charge of the fort eyed them with much suspicion, especially Darwin with his odd looking instruments. He thought they were spies sent to reconnoiter the fort, and ordered his soldiers to watch their every move.



"We afterwards heard, that the old major's suspicions had been very much increased by Mr. Harris's explanation of Mr. Darwin's occupation. 'Un naturalista' was a term unheard of by any person in the settlement, and being unluckily explained by Harris as meaning 'a man that knows every thing,' any further attempt to quiet anxiety was useless."
-- Capt. Robert FitzRoy [13]

Always eager to get off the ship, Darwin spent many weeks collecting fossils in Patagonia, and found huge fossil bones in a cliff at Punta Alta. Darwin knew very little about paleontology, but he figured any fossils he collected may be of some interest to the experts back in England. When Darwin came back onboard Capt. FitzRoy had a difficult time understanding why he was bringing all sorts of "useless junk" on the ship. The fossils he collected at Punta Alta turned out to be giant rodent-like animals, armadillo shells, ground sloths and giant teeth, most of which were entirely unknown to science at the time.


At this early stage in FitzRoy's survey work it was already becoming obvious that the requirements of the Admiralty Office could not possibly be met with just one ship. As luck would have it, Mr. Harris owned two schooners (the Paz and Liebre) at the town of Del Carmen on the Rio Negro, and was willing to loan them to Capt. FitzRoy to assist him with his survey work along the Patagonian coast.

The Paz and Liebre met up with the Beagle one week later, and after a brief inspection they were hauled on shore at Arroyo Pareja, near Bahia Blanca, for refitting. During the refit the Beagle surveyed along the coast to Bahia Blanca, then towards Mt. Hermosa where Darwin collected many good fossils (see map, below).

The refitting of the Paz and Liebre was completed on 18 October 1832 and Lieutenant John Wickham was put in command of them. A few days later the schooners surveyed along the outside of Blanco Bay (see map, below).


While the schooners were out surveying down the coast, the Beagle headed back to Montevideo to collect Revd. Richard Matthews and the three Fuegians, and take on provisions for the trip further south.


Another load of mail arrived by packet ship a few days later and Darwin received some letters from his sisters, Susan and Caroline (CCD 1:170, 173). In his mail Darwin also found a copy of Charles Lyell's second volume of "Principles of Geology" which he had been very much looking forward to. Darwin now had his Beagle Diary up to about 250 pages.

On 24 November Darwin sent his second load of specimens and notes to Revd. Henslow. This collection consisted of the teeth of a Cavia (a large rodent-like creature), the upper jaw and head of a large animal (perhaps a Megatherium), the lower jaw of another large animal, some rodent teeth, several marine shells, an odd looking bird, some snakes and lizards, a toad, many crustaceans, dried plants, fish, some seeds, and naturally a lot of beetles.

The Beagle left Montevideo on 27 November, taking on a new crew member, Mr. Robert Hammond (a Mate), who came onboard from H.M.S. Druid (a warship with a crew of 315 men). On 3 December the Beagle caught up with the Paz and Liebre down the coast. Lieutenant Wickham reported that all his survey work has gone well, but he was very sunburn on his face, and this drew much laughter from the crew. The next day the ships parted ways and the Beagle sailed towards Tierra del Fuego.



Tierra del Fuego was sighted on 18 December and the three Fuegians became very excited to be so close to their home. As the Beagle rounded Cape San Diego, dozens of natives appeared along the forested cliffs and followed the Beagle along the strait, screaming and shouting at them for hours on end. In the afternoon they sailed through the strait of Le Maire, and anchored at Good Success Bay ("G" on map, below).


The next morning Capt. FitzRoy sent a party out to attempt communication with the Fuegians. A small group of Fuegians met the landing party as they came ashore. After a futile attempt at verbal communication, the crew presented the Fuegians with some bright red cloth and they immediately became friendly with them. They initiated a dialogue by patting the crewmen on their chests, evidently a sign of friendship. A crude dialogue followed, with Jemmy and York Minster as interpreters. Apparently, the Fuegians had the most amazing ability to mimic the crew's gestures and even the words they spoke - often repeating whole English sentences back to them. Darwin and the other crew members were bewildered by this display, while the Fuegians were astounded by the crew's singing and dancing, their ugly beards, and odd pale skin.

"These poor wretches were stunted in their growth, their hideous faces bedaubed with white paint, their skins filthy and greasy, their hair entangled, their voices discordant, their gestures violent and without dignity. Viewing such men, one can hardly make oneself believe they are fellow-creatures, and inhabitants of the same world."
-- Charles Darwin [14]

About a week later Darwin explored the dense forest surrounding Good Success Bay. He tried to climb Banks Hill but had a very difficult time scrambling through the dense vegetation and eventually gave up and followed a stream back down to the shore.

The following day the Beagle set out again, passing the Barnevelts, then sailing to Cape Deceit ("D" on map, above) and on to Cape Horn. The ship stood out to sea during the night, then sailed back into the islands of Tierra del Fuego the next day. Late in the afternoon they experienced heavy rains and squalls, so FitzRoy ordered the Beagle to Wigwam Cove in Cape Horn for shelter.

On 24 December H.M.S. Beagle was off Cape Spencer at Hermit Island ("H" on map, above), and later in the day the ship moved to St. Francis Bay to hunt game for the upcoming Christmas dinner.

The Beagle spent the next few weeks out at sea waiting out a series of violent storms (see map, above). Capt. FitzRoy tried to enter the Beagle Channel on 13 January 1833, but the winds were so fierce that it was impossible to do so. Bringing the Beagle into the Channel was a risk Capt. FitzRoy was not willing to take, so the next day they crossed Nassau Bay ("N" on map, above) and anchored at Windhond Bay ("W" on map, above) where the Beagle would be safe from the elements.

[11] The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, page 73. Barlow, Nora. (editor). New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993. (1958 reprint)

[12] Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, Volume 3, page 29. Darwin, Charles. New York: AMS Press, 1966. (a reprint of the 1839 edition, by Henry Colburn Publishers, London)

[13] Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, Volume 2, page 104. FitzRoy, Capt. Robert. New York: AMS Press, 1966. (a reprint of the 1839 edition, by Henry Colburn Publishers, London)

[14] Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, Volume 3, page 235.