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Upon returning from North Wales, Darwin found letters waiting for him from Revd. John Henslow and George Peacock. Darwin had been invited to be a naturalist aboard H.M.S. Beagle on its two-year survey of South America.
The ship was to set sail on 25 September. He immediately accepted the offer, but his father and sisters were totally against the idea. They saw it as a continuation of Darwin’s long line of idle pursuits. Worst of all, such a journey would get in the way of Darwin going into the clergy. However, his father’s refusal was not absolute, telling Darwin that if he could find a man with common sense who thought it was a good idea, then he would allow him to go.
Darwin wrote to Revd. Henslow that his father would not allow him to go on the voyage. At the same time, his father wrote to Josiah Wedgwood II about the offer Darwin had been given. In the afternoon, Darwin rode out to Maer Hall (home of the Wedgwoods) for the start of the shooting season on 1 September.
At Maer Hall, Darwin related his father’s objections to his uncle Josiah. After much discussion, Josiah wrote a letter to Darwin’s father, answering all of the objections in his favor.
Darwin woke up early for the first day of bird hunting season, and while he was out, he received word that his uncle Josiah wanted the two of them to return to Shrewsbury at once.
Upon arriving at The Mount, Darwin found that his uncle’s letter had done the trick, and his father allowed him to go on the voyage and would support him in any way necessary.
FitzRoy told Darwin that the other person he had offered the job to had just turned it down, and he wanted to know if Darwin was still interested in the position. He enthusiastically accepted the offer, and FitzRoy outlined the details of the voyage.
Darwin learned that the sail date had been postponed until 10 October. Later in the afternoon, Darwin took up residence at 17 Spring Gardens, just around the corner from Whitehall. The next few days were spent shopping in London and discussing the details of the voyage with FitzRoy.
Darwin was in Plymouth and started sleeping onboard the ship. He was given quarters in the chat room, one deck above Capt. FitzRoy’s quarters, at the stern of the ship. The chart room was nine feet by eleven feet and had five feet of generous headroom.
The walls were lined with bookshelves, cabinets, an oven, and a washstand. To make matters worse, the mizzenmast came up through the floor, and a large four-foot by six-foot chart table sat in the middle of the room. In all, there was about six feet by eight feet of space to work in. Darwin lived in this room, on and off, for nearly five years.
After a few delays, H.M.S. Beagle headed out from Plymouth with a crew of 73 under clear skies and a good wind. Darwin became seasick almost immediately.
The ship arrived at the port of Santa Cruz, Tenerife Island. The crew was prevented from going ashore due to a cholera outbreak in England. They would have to wait out a quarantine period of twelve days but Capt. FitzRoy would not be delayed and gave orders for the ship to proceed. Darwin was devastated at missing the chance to see the island of his dreams and watched Tenerife fade off into the horizon.
The Beagle arrived at Santiago in the Cape Verde Islands and anchored at Porto Praya. Darwin went ashore and explored for a few days. Here he made his first “discovery” – a horizontal white band of shells within a cliff face along the shoreline about forty-five feet above sea level.
The cliff face was at one time under water. Darwin wondered how it ended up forty-five feet above the sea. He noted that the line was not even horizontal but varied in height. This supported Lyell’s theory of a world slowly changing over a great period of time. The ship stayed on the island for twenty-three days.
The ship arrived in Salvador, Brazil, in All Saints Bay. Darwin explored the tropical rain forests on long walks by himself, taking in the rich, glorious spender of nature.
In town, Darwin was disgusted at the sight of black slavery. He got into a big quarrel with Capt. FitzRoy tried to justify the slave trade. Darwin gave him a lecture about the ethical problems of treating humans as property and Capt.
FitzRoy fell into one of his tempers and forbid Darwin to share his dinner table with him ever again. After a short cooling-off period, he apologized to Darwin, and all was back to normal.
The Beagle dropped anchor at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 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.
During their time in Rio, Darwin went off exploring the tropical forest with Patrick Lennon, a local English merchant. They were away for eighteen days on a 150-mile trek inland to Rio Macao, where Darwin witnessed the more brutal treatment of blacks.
Darwin returned to Rio with a collection of insects and plants that was beyond his wildest dreams. He learned that the Beagle had gone back to Salvador to check on some survey readings so he took a boat to Botafogo Bay with Augustus Earle (the ship’s draughtsman) and Philip King (Midshipman) and waited for the return of the ship.
They spent a few weeks here in a little cottage. During this time, Darwin continued collecting specimens, preserving them, making notes, and writing letters back home to England.
The Beagle returned from Salvador. Three crew members had died from a fever and the ship’s surgeon, Robert McCormick, resigned from his position and headed back to England on the ship, H.M.S. Tyne.
It was standard practice for the ship’s surgeon to collect specimens during a survey voyage, and McCormick felt his duty was usurped by Darwin. Benjamin Bynoe was made acting surgeon for the remainder of the voyage.
Darwin sent off his first load of specimens and notes to Henslow in Cambridge. He had doubts about the quality of his work and feared Henslow would think the shipment was quite small.
The specimens included several rocks, tropical plants, four bottles of animals in spirits, many beetles, and various marine animals; all numbered, cataloged, and described.
At about this time, Capt. FitzRoy started surveying the Patagonia coastline. Darwin spent many weeks collecting fossils of which he knew very little, but he figured they might be of some interest to the experts back in England. Capt. FitzRoy had a difficult time understanding why Darwin was bringing all sorts of “useless junk” aboard the ship. The fossils turned out to be giant rodent-like animals, armadillo shells, ground sloths, and giant teeth, most of which were unknown to science.
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 lots and lots of beetles.
After passing through the strait of Le Maire at Tierra del Fuego, the Beagle anchored at Good Success Bay, here Darwin had his first encounter with savages. He was shocked by the primitive way of life they led but was also fascinated by them. A group of four male Fuegians met the landing party.
After an attempt to communicate with the Feugians, the party presented them with some bright red cloth, and the Feugians immediately became friendly with them. The natives initiated a dialogue by patting the crewmen on their chests.
Apparently, they 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 was bewildered by all this.
A mission was started at Woolya Cove just off the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego. Revd. Richard Matthews and three anglicized Fuegians stayed behind to run the mission (their names were: York Minster, Jemmy Button, and a female named Fuegia Basket).
Small huts were built and gardens planted, and much cargo and provisions were left with them. On the way back east along the Beagle Channel, Darwin marveled at the snow, glaciers, and icebergs.
After nine days, they returned to the mission and found the place looted by the native Fuegians. Darwin had doubts that savages like these could become civilized. Richard Matthews returned to the Beagle, leaving the three Fuegians behind to run the mission on their own.
H.M.S. Beagle arrived at the Falkland Islands at Port Louis. The British Navy had just taken over the islands from Argentina last January. A lot of surveying work was done here. Darwin was intrigued by the fossils on the islands and decided to do comparative studies between all the fossils, plants, and animals he collected during the voyage.
Capt. FitzRoy purchased a schooner to aid in his surveying work. He named it the “Adventure” after a supply ship used on the previous Beagle voyage. He did not check with the Admiralty for permission to buy the ship, however.
Darwin was dropped off at Maldonado while the Beagle returned to Montevideo. He went on a twelve-day interior expedition with two hired gauchos and a team of horses.
Darwin returned to Montevideo. In a letter to his sister, Catherine, he asked his father if he would provide the funds for Darwin to hire a servant who would work for him at a rate of about £60 a year. Syms Covington, the Beagle’s odd job man, was to be this servant.
During this time, Darwin spent a few weeks teaching Covington how to shoot and stuff animals. Now Darwin had more time to make observations and theorize about what he saw.
More mail arrived, and the third load of specimens was sent to Revd. Henslow. This shipment consisted of about eighty species of birds, twenty quadrupeds, four barrels of skins and plants, geological specimens, and some fish.
By this time, Darwin was getting tired of this side of South America and wanted to see the Andes Mountains on the west coast.
The Beagle arrived at the Rio Negro River. Darwin went on another inland expedition on horseback upstream to the town of Patagones, then overland to General Juan Rosa’s camp on the Rio Colorado.
Darwin arrived at General Rosas’s camp and received permission to proceed overland to Bahia Blanca. He spent his days riding on the plains, while his nights were spent drinking, smoking cigars, and singing songs with the gauchos.
Darwin seemed to take quite a liking to living on the open plains. While at Bahia Blanca, he uncovered the complete fossil of a very large animal that he could not identify at all (it turned out to be a giant ground sloth).
Oddly enough, the fossil was located below a layer of white sea shells, similar to the layer he found on the island of Santiago. This puzzled Darwin a great deal because it was obviously a very old specimen, but how did it end up below an ocean deposit, and why did it become extinct?
Darwin left Buenos Aires amid much civil unrest in the city and boarded a packet ship to join the Beagle at Montevideo.
A fourth group of specimens was shipped to Cambridge. This load consisted of about two-hundred animal skins, some mice, a jar of fish, insects, rocks, seeds, and of course, his big collection of fossils and geological specimens.
Darwin, having become totally hooked on fossil collecting, explored the Mercedes region of Uruguay, where he was told very large specimens could be found. Flooding of the rivers caused much delay, requiring travel by horseback instead of by boat.
On the way back to Montevideo, he found the head of a fossilized Toxodon, a hippo-like animal. He also found a few other fossils remains nearby.
He was now back in Montevideo. Ironically, Darwin could not wait to get back onboard the Beagle, even if it meant becoming seasick again.
The Beagle and Adventure were now at Woolya Cove again, and Capt. FitzRoy checked on the missionaries that were left behind. They found the mission completely abandoned and the gardens in ruins.
A short time later, some Fuegians arrived in canoes, one of which contained Jemmy Button, who seemed to have reverted back to his native state. On this date Darwin turned twenty-five years old, and for his birthday Capt. FitzRoy named the highest mountain in the region Mt. Darwin.
The Beagle finally sailed around Cape Horn to the Pacific Ocean via the Strait of Magellan and the Magdalena Channel. Another packet ship arrived with the mail. H.M.S. Beagle and Adventure surveyed up the coast to the island of Chiloe, Chile.
The two ships arrived at Valparaiso, Chile, near the city of Santiago. Darwin was very glad to be in a warmer climate, and his stomach was happier to be in calmer seas. Both ships stayed here for a few weeks to be refitted for the Pacific Ocean crossing.
Darwin met up with an old Shrewsbury classmate, Richard Corfield, who owned a house in town and let him stay there. He was not very impressed with the surrounding landscape.
Darwin arrived back at Valparaiso from an inland excursion but had been very sick for the past few weeks. He stayed at Corfield’s house with a bad fever and did not recover until late October. During this time, he wrote a letter to his sisters back home describing his adventures and also told of how ill he had been (an act he would later regret).
Another shipment of specimens was sent to Revd. Henslow. This one included many bird skins, insects, seeds, some plants, and water and gas samples from some hot springs in the Andes Mountains.
H.M.S. Beagle picked up Darwin (now in much better health) and headed south to survey the Chronos Archipelago and the waters around Chiloe Island. Darwin went on a little excursion on the island, hoping to do some geology, but he was not very impressed. The Beagle next surveyed up the coast to the town of Valdivia.
A massive earthquake hit Valdivia, and Darwin was right in the middle of the action. The devastation was horrible – nearly every building in the area was destroyed.
While the Beagle tried to make anchorage at Concepcion, Darwin was dropped off at the island of Quiriquina, and while exploring around the island, he found areas of land that had risen a few feet due to the earthquake.
He became very excited about this find, as it was direct evidence that the Andes mountains, and indeed all of South America, were very slowly rising above the ocean. This confirmed Charles Lyell’s theory that land masses rose in tiny increments over an extremely long period of time.
Given this fact, Darwin accepted the idea that the earth must be extremely old. The next day he went by ship to the town of Talcuhano and, from there, rode by horse to Concepcion to meet up with the Beagle.
Darwin worked out another Andes expedition while in the town of Santiago. The Beagle returned south to Concepcion and was engaged for the next few months in investigating the effects of the earthquake.
At 4:00 AM, Darwin started out on his Andes expedition with a Spanish-speaking guide and many mules to carry provisions. He had doubts about making it to the top of the Andes due to snow blocking the mountain passes. He headed towards the Portillo Pass, one of the two clear routes to the Andes during this time of the year.
Darwin was back on the coast in the town of Santiago. A few days later, he returned to Valparaiso and stayed at Mr. Corfield’s house, where he worked on another expedition north along the coast.
H.M.S. Beagle arrived in Lima, Peru. Darwin looked around the city and was shocked at the state of decay all around him. The next few weeks were spent taking on provisions for the trip across the Pacific Ocean.
Today Darwin received two letters from his sisters telling him how worried they had been about his being ill for such a long time at Valparaiso. They feared that if he continued on the voyage, his health may be ruined for the rest of his life, and they pleaded with him to return to England at once. He immediately wrote a letter home telling his sisters that he was resolute to see the voyage to the end, ill health or not.
H.M.S. Beagle set sail from Callao, Peru, to the Galapagos Archipelago.
In the afternoon, a tiny point of land was seen on the horizon. This was the first sighting of the Galapagos Archipelago, and it turned out to be Mount Pitt, a large hill on the northeast end of Chatham Island.
H.M.S. Beagle reached Hood Island today. Early in the morning, Edward Chaffers (master) and Arthur Mellersh (midshipman) set out on a boat to examine the island’s shoreline. By noon another boat was launched to survey the central islands of the archipelago.
Later in the afternoon, H.M.S. Beagle reached Chatham Island. Darwin was intrigued by the black lava rocky shore and raw hostile environment of the island.
They sailed to the northeast end of Chatham. Capt. FitzRoy and others went on a short inland excursion. Darwin and John Stokes (assistant surveyor) were also put on shore and explored on their own.
Darwin examined the huge tortoises here but collected just ten plants, most of which he thought were unimpressive little things. Eighteen tortoises were brought on board as food.
H.M.S. Beagle anchored at the northern tip of James Island. Some of the crew went on shore and met up with a party of Spanish settlers salting fish and extracting oil from tortoises. Edward Chaffers, Charles Johnson (midshipman), and six others set off on a boat to explore Bindloe, Abingdon, and Tower Islands.
Charles Darwin was very anxious to go exploring, so he, Syms Covington (Darwin’s servant), Benjamin Bynoe (acting surgeon), and H. Fuller (Bynoe’s servant) stayed behind on James Island. The Beagle set sail for Chatham to get fresh water, but the currents slowed them down.
They surveyed north along the eastern shore of Albermarle Island. At noon the Beagle took a detour to Punta Cordova and picked up Darwin, and the others left on James Island the week before.
In the afternoon, they returned to Albermarle Island and spent the night sailing north along the coast. Darwin brought aboard quite a large haul of plants, animals, rocks, and insects.
The entire day was spent surveying Wenman and Culpepper Islands. In the evening, the crew raised all sails and, under a good strong wind, steered for the island of Tahiti.
H.M.S. Beagle arrived at Tahiti, approximately 3,200 miles from South America. They remained at Tahiti for ten days, and during this time, Darwin went on a two-day inland expedition and was awed by the glorious tropical vegetation.
He was also impressed with the good work the missionaries had done with the Tahitians, who Darwin had very high regard for.
The Beagle arrived in New Zealand. Darwin was not too impressed with the natives, whom he viewed with suspicion (they practiced cannibalism before the missions arrived).
H.M.S. Beagle arrived at Sydney Harbor, Australia.
Darwin started on a 130-mile inland trip to Bathurst, New South Wales. Along the way, he made observations of the wildlife and was so astonished by the creatures he saw (namely, the odd-looking platypus) that he surmised there must have been a separate creation just for these odd creatures.
On his return, he visited Capt. King, the commander of the first Beagle surveying voyage. He was now living on his farm just outside Sydney.
H.M.S. Beagle arrived at Hobart Town on the island of Tasmania. Darwin took several inland trips on the island, studying the local geology.
The Beagle arrived at King George’s Sound at the town of Albany, about 250 miles southeast of Perth, Australia. They remained there for eight days, and Darwin found the place an absolute bore. He went on a few inland excursions but was not very impressed with the landscape.
H.M.S. Beagle dropped anchor at the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean. Darwin explored some of the islands and was impressed with the myriad of coconut trees, although hardly anything else existed on these islands.
The islands were composed entirely of coral, and Darwin surmised that they were once part of a large submerged coral reef. Despite the relatively desolate state of the islands, he did manage to collect several plants, a few small birds, one species of lizard, several species of insects, and a lot of coral.
H.M.S. Beagle arrived at Port Louis, Mauritius Island, and remained there a few days.
The Beagle sailed around the southern tip of Africa and anchored at Simon’s Bay near Cape Town.
A packet ship arrived with mail for H.M.S. Beagle. Darwin went onshore to pay a visit to Sir John Herschel, who had been living there since 1833. He was in charge of the new Royal Observatory built at Cape Town.
Darwin was pleased to discover that Herschel had a keen interest in natural history. They had many conversations about volcanoes, earthquakes, the movement of continents, the origin of mankind, and how new species come into being.
H.M.S. Beagle arrived at St. Helena Island, where they remained for five days. Darwin found the island to be a desolate place, essentially a giant mountain of rocky lava rock, except inland, where the scenery was more akin to the landscape of Wales. He spent most of his time here exploring the geology of the island
They stayed at Ascension Island, which was inhabited entirely by British marines and a few liberated Africans from slave ships, for four days. The entire crew was now very anxious to get back to England.
Capt. FitzRoy was concerned that he may have taken faulty measurements at Salvador, so he ordered the Beagle on a detour back to South America.
Survey corrections were completed today, and the Beagle headed straight for England.
The Beagle arrived at the Azores and anchored at the island of Terceira. Darwin went off exploring what he had been told was an active crater. He did not find the landscape very appealing.
H.M.S. Beagle finally arrived home after a voyage of four years, nine months, and five days. They docked at Falmouth, England, at night during a storm. Darwin set off immediately for home.