January 1833 to 28 November 1833
of South America, Part 2:
mission is started in Tierra del Fuego
visit to the Falkland Islands
leads the Gaucho life
explores Buenos Aires
explores the Rio Negro
Two days later Capt. FitzRoy tried again for the Beagle Channel,
but to no avail. Undaunted by this setback, FitzRoy remained
determined to get his Fuegians home again. They left Windhond
Bay ("W" on map, below) anchored at Goree Roads ("G"
on map, below) and spent the next few days loading three whale-boats
and the yawl with provisions. On 18 January 1833 Capt. FitzRoy
took the three Fuegians, twenty-eight members of the crew, and
Darwin, in the four boats down the Beagle Channel ("B"
on map, below).
the afternoon they headed into the eastern side of the Channel,
and in a short time found a small cove hidden by a few little
islets and camped there for the night. The next day they glided
along the Beagle Channel under the watchful eyes of native Fuegians
on shore. At their next camp the crew met with several natives
who begged endlessly for the most trifling objects. Over the
next few days they continued along the channel and camped near
the northern point of Ponsonby Sound ("P" on map,
above). The next morning several natives came to their camp,
all of whom were very excited to see the strange "pale
people" who have visited their land.
23 January the four boats proceeded down Ponsonby Sound, escorted
by many canoes, and arrived at Woolya Cove ("M" on
map, above) where the mission was to be started. Jemmy's mother,
two sisters and four brothers came to visit a short time later.
The next few days were engaged in setting up the mission at
Woolya Cove among dozens of Fuegian onlookers. Three small huts
were built and the provisions were unloaded from the boats and
secured in them to discourage thievery, (despite this, the Fuegians
still managed to snatch a few items). Gardens were planted with
potatoes, carrots, turnips, beans, peas, lettuce, onions, leeks
and cabbages. By 27 January the mission was complete and Revd.
Richard Matthews and the three anglicized Fuegians settled down
to run the mission.
next day the yawl and one whale-boat were sent back to the Beagle.
Darwin stayed with the other two whale-boats which continued
along the Beagle Channel to survey as far west as Whale-boat
Sound. Darwin marveled at the many cliffs of ice, deep blue
water, and glaciers. While camping on shore one day the boats
became caught up by the waves and nearly floated out into the
Channel, but Darwin and three others were quick enough on their
feet to save them. In honor of Darwin's courage, Capt. FitzRoy
named the highest peak in the area Mount Darwin ("D"
on map, above).
boats returned to Woolya Cove on 6 February to check up on the
Fuegians but en-route they noticed to their dismay that many
of the natives walking along the shore wore strips of English
cloth. Their worst fears were realized when they found the mission
had been looted many times over and the gardens trampled upon.
Revd. Matthews, in a fit of despair, packed his gear and returned
with the boats. The three Fuegians were left to fend for themselves,
and promised to carry on their mission duties. The two boats
left the same day and reached the Beagle on the evening of 7
about the well being of the three Fuegians, FitzRoy and a few
others took a boat out on the 12th to check up on the mission
at Woollya (see map, below). He found that the Fuegians had
fixed up the place, the gardens were replanted, and the huts
in good repair. After staying at the mission for a few days
the crew headed back to the Beagle.
Beagle sailed from Goree Roads on 21 February, but was stuck
at Good Success Bay for a few days due to violent storms.
Beagle arrived at the Falkland Islands on 1 March and anchored
in Berkeley Sound at Port Louis. The British Navy had just taken
over the islands from Argentina last January, and the Beagle
provided needed security until reinforcements from the Navy
went on shore and spent the next few weeks engaged in fossil
collecting. One thing that caught Darwin's attention was how
different the fossils on the island were from those he found
on the coast of South America. During his stay at the Falklands
Darwin decided to do comparative studies between all the fossils,
plants and animals he collected during the voyage. Such studies
would later influence his views on plant and animal distribution,
and eventually on the adaptation of similar species to different
sealing schooner by the name of Unicorn arrived in port on the
8th. The owner, William Low, was nearly bankrupt as he had spent
the past six months hunting seals and came back empty handed.
As luck would have it, Capt. FitzRoy saw the need for an extra
ship to speed up his survey work, and after examining the Unicorn,
he bought her for £1,300. An additional £403 were
spent on new fittings, ropes, and canvas. She was renamed, Adventure,
after the supply ship used on the previous Beagle voyage, and
John Wickham was put in command of her. Unfortunately, FitzRoy
did not check with the Admiralty for permission to buy the ship,
a mistake he would pay for later in the voyage.
two ships left the Falkland Islands on 6 April 1833 and arrived
at the Rio Negro amid strong winds on the 12th. The Adventure
was sent a few days later to Maldonado for refitting.
Beagle arrived at Montevideo on 26 April, dropped off some French
passengers from the Falkland Islands, and sailed the next day
to Maldonado to check on the Adventure. More mail arrived by
packet ship a few days later and Darwin received six letters
from his sisters: two from Caroline, two from Catherine, and
two from Susan.
Darwin went on shore at Maldonado but found it to be a depressing
and dull little place. He found that he could make it appear
somewhat appealing only by comparing it to being cooped up in
the Beagle. On 2 April 1833 he went on a twelve day expedition
into the interior with two hired guides and a team of a dozen
horses. Along the way he collected a large number of exotic
animals, birds, and reptiles, and saw many herds of ostrich
on the pampas (see map, below).
this trek Darwin had a few interesting meetings with the inhabitants.
While at one village the locals were astonished that he could
find his way around the landscape guided only by his compass,
and were even more shocked that he actually washed his face!
At the village of Las Minas he met Gaucho soldiers for the first
time and was impressed with their appearance and politeness.
Darwin became very curious about the bolas the Gauchos used
to catch game. He asked if they would teach them how to use
it, and after a short demonstration he tried one himself. The
results were disastrous! He caught his own horse in the leg
while the other end flew into the bushes. This incited much
laughter from the Gauchos, as they never saw someone catch their
own horse! By the time he returned to Maldonado his collection
of specimens had grown to a considerable sum. He took about
eighty species of exotic tropical birds, nine species of snakes,
a native deer, eight species of mouse, a Capybara, and a Tucutuco.
1 May a small boat named Constitution was loaned to FitzRoy,
and Mr. Usborne and six others took her to survey up the Rio
Negro until the end of the month. The following day the Beagle
returned to Montevideo to buy copper sheeting and planking for
the Adventure. Darwin stayed behind in Montevideo while the
Adventure was being refitted.
to now Darwin had been very successful in collecting specimens
- too successful in fact, as he found the work was getting in
the way of him studying their habits in nature. In a letter
to his sister, Catherine, Darwin asked his father to provide
funds so he could hire a servant who would assist him in collecting
specimens (CCD, 1:206). Darwin received permission from Capt.
FitzRoy to take on Syms Covington, the Beagle's odd job man
and fiddle player, to be his servant (at a reasonable rate of
about £60 a year). Darwin spent a few weeks teaching Covington
how to shoot and stuff animals, and he proved to be an eager
Adventure was heaved onshore at Maldonado on 28 May and was
prepared to receive a new copper hull. The Beagle stayed at
Maldonado with the Adventure during all of June, probably because
most of the crew was needed for the refit. About a week later
Capt. FitzRoy heard that a packet ship was due at Montevideo,
and on 8 July he sailed there to await the ship which arrived
on the 18th of June.
sent a third load of specimens to Revd. Henslow in Cambridge
on 18 July 1833. This shipment included: eighty species of birds,
twenty quadrupeds, four barrels of skins and plants, geological
specimens and some fish.
early August the Adventure set sail and by 11 August the two
ships arrived at the Rio Negro where Darwin started on another
inland expedition. On this trip he went with Mr. Harris, a guide
and five gauchos, upstream to the village of Patagones where
Mr. Harris had a residence (see map, below). The next day he
rode through the vast open plains of the Pampas and spotted
several Guanaco (wild llama), deer, and the Agouti (a kind of
large rodent). Darwin seemed to enjoy himself a great deal on
the open plains; the nights were spent drinking, smoking cigars,
and singing songs with the gauchos.
"This was the first night which I had ever passed
under the open sky, with the gear of the recado for my bed.
There is high enjoyment in the independence of the Gaucho
life - to be able at any moment to pull up your horse, and
say, 'Here we will pass the night."
-- Charles Darwin 
reached the Rio Colorado on the 13th, and after presenting his
passport and letter of recommendation from the Buenos Aires
government, Darwin was allowed to proceed to a military outpost
near the river (see map, above). The outpost was run by General
Juan Manuel de Rosas who had the unpleasant occupation of maintaining
control over the local Indian tribes. After staying at the camp
for a few days, Darwin continued along the Colorado River and
reached Bahia Blanca on the 17th.
next day Darwin went with a guide and a few horses about twenty-five
miles along the coast to where the Beagle was supposed to meet
him. However, the ship was not there so he headed back to Bahia
few days later (21st) Darwin rode again to see if the Beagle
had returned, but to no avail. The next day he continued on
to Punta Alta where he could view the entire harbor and keep
watch for the Beagle.
searching for fossils along the shore of Punta Alta, Darwin
came across a very interesting find. He uncovered the complete
fossil of a very large animal which he could not identify
at all (it turned out to be a giant ground sloth). What struck
Darwin as very odd was that this fossil was imbedded in a
cliff face below a layer of white sea shells, similar to the
layer he found on the island of Santiago the year before.
Needless to say, this puzzled Darwin a great deal. Among the
questions that ran through Darwin's head were:
Why were there were no living animals in South America that
looked remotely like the creature he found?
Did changes in the environment cause its extinction? If so,
If the environment did change, what caused those changes?
How long ago did this creature die? According to Lyell's theory,
land masses rose in tiny increments over eons of time. Based
on where this fossil was situated, it must have died many
thousands of years ago.
last Darwin heard that the Beagle was anchored in Port Belgrano,
near Bahia Blanca, and rode out to meet the ship there.
Beagle left the Rio Negro on 1 September and headed north to
survey near the Plate River. Darwin received permission to stay
behind and explore on yet another inland trek, this time to
the coast Darwin discovered many fossils imbedded in the beach
sand. He found the near perfect head of a Megatherium, part
of another skull, the teeth of another, an animal of the Edentate
order (armadillos, anteaters, sloths), more fossils related
to the Edentate, a large Toxodon-like creature, a giant fossilized
armadillo shell, the tusk of a boar-like creature, and a fossil
tooth of some kind of horse-like animal. About 30 miles from
here, in a red earth cliff, he found the fossils of rodent teeth,
and the head of a Ctenomys (like the Tucutuco rodent).
thing that puzzled Darwin about the fossils he was collecting
throughout South America was that many of them had obviously
been huge animals in their day. The problem was, large animals
require huge amounts of food to survive, and this area of
South America had very sparse vegetation. Darwin theorized
that during the time these huge animals roamed the continent
the plains must have been covered in lush vegetation. Perhaps
over time the vegetation became more sparse and the animals
starved to death?
obvious question was - what caused the environment to change
had second thoughts on this, however. He saw that by comparing
the large size of modern animals in Africa, a region with
sparse vegetation, to the fossils he was collecting in South
America, that the bulk of an animal has no relation to the
amount of food it needed to consume each day.
an environmental change that reduced the vegetation in South
America may not have caused the animals to die off.
burning question remained - how did the animals become extinct?
Darwin arrived back at Bahia Blanca on the 8th the Beagle had
not yet returned from its surveying duties, so he set off overland
to Buenos Aires with a Gaucho guide (see map, below). He reached
the Rio Sauce by noon and then headed for the Sierra de Ventana
mountains which Darwin was most interested in as it had remained
entirely unexplored. On the morning of the 9th Darwin ascended
the mountain only to find a valley between himself and the peak.
He crossed the grassy valley and reached the top of the peak
in the afternoon, but was not very impressed with the geology
of the area.
Darwin stopped at a Posta (a small military outpost) on the
12th and waited for some of General Rosa's soldiers to arrive
and escort him to Buenos Aires. A few days passed and the soldiers
had not arrived, so he left the posta with five other armed
Guachos and headed back to Buenos Aires. Darwin arrived at Buenos
Aires on the 20th, and took up lodgings with a local English
merchant by the name of Edward Lamb.
the evening of 27 September Darwin set out with some guides
for the town of St. Fe on the Parana River. A few days later
he arrived at the Rio Tererco ("A" on map, below)
where some local men took Darwin in a canoe to some fossil beds
along the Tererco, but he found only a few poor specimens there.
He arrived at St. Fe on 2 October where he spent the next few
days confined to bed with a headache and was attended to by
an elderly lady.
On 5 October 1833 Darwin crossed the Rio Parana to the village
of St. Fe Bajada ("B" on map, above). He stayed here
five days and located several good fossils: a four foot long
giant armadillo case, the molar tooth of a mastodon, and many
other small fossils.
on this trek Darwin spent much time thinking about how species
in South America were similar to those in Europe. He found
it odd that within such different environments there existed
the same types of animals. This conflicted with the notion
that god created each species perfectly adapted to its particular
a week later Darwin wanted to continue exploring upstream, but
he still felt a bit ill so he secured passage on a one-masted
boat and headed back to Buenos Aires.
Darwin arrived near the mouth of the Parana River on 20 October
he went on shore and found out that a revolution had broken
out at Buenos Aires. This made further travel on the river impossible
so the next day he proceeded overland and with some difficulty
made it to Buenos Aires. Two weeks later Darwin "escaped"
from Buenos Aires amid much civil unrest and boarded a packet
ship en-route to the Beagle at Montevideo. As was usually the
case, when he arrived a few days later the Beagle was not there
to pick him up. There was nothing to be done about it, so Darwin
thought about taking another trek into the countryside.
planning out his next adventure Darwin shipped his forth group
of specimens to Cambridge. This load consisted of about two-hundred
animal skins, some mice, a jar of fish, many insects, rocks,
seeds, and naturally, his huge collection of fossils and geological
started his next trek on 14 November, traveling first to the
village of Canelones, and over the next few days continuing
on through the villages of St. Lucia and San Jose. On 20 November
he rode to the headland of the Uruguay River at Punta Gorda
where he tried unsuccessfully to hunt down a jaguar. In the
evening Darwin proceeded to the town of Mercedes on the Rio
Negro where he stayed at a large estancia and dined with an
army Captain and some of his soldiers.
captain said at last, he had one question to ask me, which
he should be very much obliged if I would answer with all
truth. I trembled to think how deeply scientific it would
be: it was, 'Whether the ladies of Buenos Ayres were not the
handsomest in the world.' I replied, 'Charmingly so.' He added,
'I have one other question. Do the ladies in any other part
of the world wear such large combs?' I solemnly assured him
they did not. They were absolutly delighted. The captain exclaimed,
'Look there! a man who has seen half the world says it is
the case; we always thought so, but now we know it.' My excellent
judgment in beauty procured me a most hospital reception ..."
-- Charles Darwin 
headed back to Montevideo on 26 November, stopping by a small
farm on the Sarandis river near the Rio Negro where he heard
some large fossils could be found. At the farm he was shown
the head of a large animal which he bought for 18 pence, but
Darwin was unable to identify what species it belonged to (it
was later identified by Richard Owen as the head of a Toxodon).
He also found the fossilized shell of an gigantic armadillo
nearby. As you can imagine, by this time Darwin had become totally
hooked on fossil collecting.
Beagle picked up Darwin at Montevideo on the 28 November. Ironically
Darwin could not wait to get back onboard the Beagle even if
it meant becoming seasick. They set sail on the 3rd and, you
guessed it, Darwin became seasick again.
Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure
and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, Volume 3, page 82.
Darwin, Charles. New York: AMS Press, 1966. (a reprint of the
1839 edition, by Henry Colburn Publishers, London)
Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure
and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, Volume 3, page 172.