29 November 1833 to 11 June 1834

Survey of South America, Part 3:

Return to the mission
Falkland Islands, revisited
Expedition up the Rio Santa Cruz
The Beagle rounds the Cape

After sending a small boat up the Rio Plata to get fresh water, the Beagle and Adventure left Montevideo (on 6 December) and continued south. While passing San Blas Bay the ship became enveloped in a cloud of butterflies which had flown out from the coast. This puzzled Darwin a great deal, as there had been no air currents blowing off the coast that would have forced them out to sea. The ships arrived at Port Desire the day after Christmas ("D" on map, below) and during the next few weeks the Adventure stayed in port and had much needed repairs done on its masts. In the mean time, Darwin went on shore to examine the landscape which was very flat and dry. He wrote at length in his journal about the limited flora and fauna, especially the Guanaco, a llama-like animal.

The Beagle left Port Desire on 4 January 1834 to survey down the coast to Port San Julian ("J" on map, above), about 110 miles away. They stayed at San Julian for eight days during which time Capt. FitzRoy, Darwin, and few others went ashore to examine around the harbor for sources of fresh water. Unfortunately, they found nothing but saline lakes. The Beagle left Port San Julian on 19 January and returned to Port Desire the next day. On 22 January the Adventure sailed out to survey the Falkland Islands, while the Beagle continued further south to survey the interior of the Strait of Magellan as far as the first and second narrows (1 and 2 on map, below), and then on through the the Beagle Channel.

The Beagle arrived at Woolya Cove ("M" on map, above) on 5 March to check up on the three Fuegian missionaries who were left behind last year. Along the way they saw no natives anywhere at all, a stark contrast to their last visit. They found the mission completely abandoned, and the gardens in ruins. One can imagine how despondent FitzRoy must have been - over five years of work for nothing. While salvaging what they could from the mission, some Fuegians arrived in three canoes from Button Island, Jemmy being among them. He had seemed to have reverted back to his native state. FitzRoy learned from Jemmy that an invading tribe had forced them out from the Cove and that Fuegia Basket and York Minster had left months ago to live with their own people (the Woolya Tribe). FitzRoy concluded that the plan to establish a mission at Tierra del Fuego was conducted on too small a scale.

The Beagle left for the Falkland Islands on 9 March and arrived shortly before the Adventure came into port after surveying the west, south and south-east coasts of the islands. A few days later Darwin explored East Falkland island on horseback and commented on the "rivers" of huge rocks covering the island (actually, streams of dried lava). While anchored in port a packet ship arrived with mail and Darwin finally received a letter from Revd. Henslow (CCD, 1:213) regarding the specimens he had been sending back to England. He learned that his shipments of specimens were arriving safely in Cambridge, and that Henslow found many of them to be very interesting indeed. Needless to say, this news excited Darwin a great deal.

The Beagle left Berkeley Sound on 6 April 1834 while the Adventure continued to survey around the Falklands. When they arrived at the mouth of the Rio Santa Cruz on 13 April the Beagle was heaved ashore and her copper hull was checked for damage. In the meantime, Capt. FitzRoy prepared for a trek up the Rio Santa Cruz Valley which had been partially explored in 1827 during the Beagle's first survey mission.

On 17 April Bartholomew Sulivan were put in charge of the Beagle, while Capt. FitzRoy, Darwin, some of the officers, and about twenty other crew members started out on a three week expedition in three whale boats up the Rio Santa Cruz (see map, below). The next day the current became so strong that the crew had to take turns hauling the three boats by rope along the shoreline ("A" on map, below). A few days later they were able to paddle upstream, but still only covered about ten miles a day ("B" on map, below). Along the way they found signs that Indians had been in the area and may be tracking them, so they proceeded with caution. To make their situation even more ominous, the air temperature had dropped to sub-freezing levels, about 22 degrees for most of the trip. Many of their tools became frozen, worst of all their guns, which were needed almost daily to shoot guanacos for meat.

Stokes and Darwin sighted the Cordilleras Range on 29 April from a hill and Darwin was eager to get closer to them. Unfortunately, on 4 May Capt. FitzRoy decided to proceed no further by boat, as there was nothing very interesting ahead of them and they were running short on provisions. FitzRoy, Darwin and a few others proceeded on foot for one day directly west for eight miles, and returned to the boats the same day ("C" on map, above). The next day the boats headed back downstream and made very good time - about eighty-three miles a day. They arrived back at the coast on 7 May, and the next morning met up with the Beagle. Apparently, most of the crew was not very pleased about how the trip turned out except, of course, for Darwin who was fascinated by the geology of the river valley basin.

Darwin's Discovery:

Darwin was very curious about the geology of the river valley. The walls of the valley had the same layers of shells he had seen many times before. It was during this expedition that Darwin theorized that the cliffs of the river valley, and indeed the Andes Mountains themselves, had been slowly raising above sea level.

The evidence for a planet in a state of constant flux was becoming stronger and stronger. While today we take this for granted, in Darwin's day the notion of changes on a planetary scale went against the view that god's creation was perfect and thus change was unnecessary.

After water and guanacos were brought on board the Beagle left the Rio Santa Cruz (12 May) and sailed out towards the Falkland Islands to join the Adventure. Later in the month the Beagle headed back to Tierra del Fuego to survey around the Strait of Magellan (see map, below). The Adventure joined up with the Beagle on 23 May and assisted in the survey of the Strait. During the first week of June the ships surveyed down to Port Famine and then continued along the Strait. Tierra del Fuego was very misty this time of year, so their view of the beautiful scenery was blocked, except for the occasional glimpse of the snow capped mountains and ice-blue glaciers. By 9 June the weather had cleared up quite a bit and the crew had great views of Mount Sarmiento and the glaciers flowing into the sea.

On 10 June the Beagle went through the Magdalen Channel, on through the Cockburn Channel, and past Mt. Skyring. On 11 June 1834 they passed through the East and West Furies, the Tower Rocks, and finally into the Pacific ocean.