The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 78 of 188

Charles Darwin to J.S. Henslow.

April 11, 1833.

My dear Henslow,

We are now running up from the Falkland Islands to the Rio Negro (or Colorado). The Beagle will proceed to Monte Video; but if it can be managed I intend staying at the former place. It is now some months since we have been at a civilised port; nearly all this time has been spent in the most southern part of Tierra del Fuego. It is a detestable place; gales succeed gales with such short intervals that it is difficult to do anything. We were twenty-three days off Cape Horn, and could by no means get to the westward. The last and final gale before we gave up the attempt was unusually severe. A sea stove one of the boats, and there was so much water on the decks that every place was afloat; nearly all the paper for drying plants is spoiled, and half of this curious collection.

We at last ran into harbour, and in the boats got to the west by the inland channels. As I was one of this party I was very glad of it. With two boats we went about 300 miles, and thus I had an excellent opportunity of geologising and seeing much of the savages. The Fuegians are in a more miserable state of barbarism than I had expected ever to have seen a human being. In this inclement country they are absolutely naked, and their temporary houses are like what children make in summer with boughs of trees. I do not think any spectacle can be more interesting than the first sight of man in his primitive wildness. It is an interest which cannot well be imagined until it is experienced. I shall never forget this when entering Good Success Bay–the yell with which a party received us. They were seated on a rocky point, surrounded by the dark forest of beech; as they threw their arms wildly round their heads, and their long hair streaming, they seemed the troubled spirits of another world. The climate in some respects is a curious mixture of severity and mildness; as far as regards the animal kingdom, the former character prevails; I have in consequence not added much to my collections.

The Geology of this part of Tierra del Fuego was, as indeed every place is, to me very interesting. The country is non-fossiliferous, and a common-place succession of granitic rocks and slates; attempting to make out the relation of cleavage, strata, etc., etc., was my chief amusement. The mineralogy, however, of some of the rocks will, I think, be curious from their resemblance to those of volcanic origin.

After leaving Tierra del Fuego we sailed to the Falklands. I forgot to mention the fate of the Fuegians whom we took back to their country. They had become entirely European in their habits and wishes, so much so that the younger one had forgotten his own language, and their countrymen paid but very little attention to them. We built houses for them and planted gardens, but by the time we return again on our passage round the Horn, I think it will be very doubtful how much of their property will be left unstolen.

…When I am sea-sick and miserable, it is one of my highest consolations to picture the future when we again shall be pacing together the roads round Cambridge. That day is a weary long way off. We have another cruise to make to Tierra del Fuego next summer, and then our voyage round the world will really commence. Captain Fitz-Roy has purchased a large schooner of 170 tons. In many respects it will be a great advantage having a consort–perhaps it may somewhat shorten our cruise, which I most cordially hope it may. I trust, however, that the Coral Reefs and various animals of the Pacific may keep up my resolution. Remember me most kindly to Mrs. Henslow and all other friends; I am a true lover of Alma Mater and all its inhabitants.

Believe me, my dear Henslow, Your affectionate and most obliged friend,
Charles Darwin.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)