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Letter 1229a

Darwin, C. R. to Simmonds, P. L.

25 Feb [1849]

Summary

Sends detailed report on the prospects for a settlement on the coast of Patagonia, pointing out many problems, and recommending instead the Falkland Islands.

Transcription

Down Farnborough Kent

Feb 25th

Sir

The state of my health prevents me replying at length to your letter.f2 I saw very little of the country near New Bay & was not at the Chupat;f3 what I did see was poor & water generally absent: there wd be brush-wood in the valleys in all probability. About the year 1790 there was a Spanish Settlement there; but every soul except one was murdered by the Indians.— Indians now perhaps tamer, but never to be trusted; between 1820 & 1830, they attacked every separate farm near the Rio Negro: further south at the Str of Magellan they are much tamer: coal probably not to be found; that in Straits said to be only lignite.— I know nothing about the Fish on the coast. Cattle cd be easily driven from the R. Negro to the Chupat. Anyone settling there, wd I apprehend be under the government of B. Ayres, about as bad as could be.f4 Interior absolutely unknown; probably as bad as that seen by us on the S. Cruz.f5 The climate fine & dry in summer: no severe frosts or snow in winter.— Wheat does excellently in the valley of the R. Negro: the plains everywhere sterile. Port Desire was the best spot which we saw on the Patagonian coast; but the country is poor; it was once settled by the Spaniards, but long since deserted. Altogether I have a very poor opinion of the whole coast of Patagonia south of R. Negro & I shd sincerely pity any emigrants there: on the other hand if such a coast existed, under British Rule, as in Australia, I have no doubt it wd be thinly settled soon & would feed sheep.— If I had to choose, I wd incomparably prefer the Falkland Islands to Patagonia— there you wd. have cattle & horses & pigs—peat & brushwood for fire—plenty of fish as is asserted. There are no severe frosts & the snow does not lie long. On other hand no timber, country looks desolate & is very stormy. I have reason to believe that though twice there we happened to be very unfortunate in our weather—f6 An emigrant wd. be there under British Government & free of Indians.—f7 Wild cattle thrive there & most vegetables: I rather think wheat has lately succeeded. I wish I could hav⟨e⟩ given you fuller information.

Sir | Your obet. sevt. | C. Darwin

Postmark: <    > 26 1849
Quentin Keynes (private collection)

true

Footnotes

f1
This letter was published in Correspondence vol. 4 in the form in which it appeared in a sale catalogue and is republished here transcribed from the original text.
f2
Simmonds’s letter has not been found. CD recorded in his ‘Journal’ for 1849 ‘Jan 1st to March. 10th. Health very bad with much sickness & failure of power’. This was the end of a period of ill health that had lasted from July 1848. See Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix I.
f3
CD refers to the Chubut river, Patagonia (see Correspondence vol. 1, letter from Edward Lumb, 13 November 1833 and n. 1).
f4
Simmonds may have asked CD for information on the suitability of Patagonia for colonial settlers, either in his capacity as editor of Simmonds’s Colonial Magazine and Foreign Miscellany or as proprietor of a colonial agency office. He published the magazine, which regularly carried articles on likely places of settlement, until March 1849, and actively promoted emigration in his editorials as a cure for social ills. See Simmond’s Colonial Magazine and Foreign Miscellany, January 1849 and April 1849; Post Office London directory, 1848 and 1849. For CD’s opinion of the government in Buenos Aires, see Correspondence vol. 1, letter to Edward Lumb, 30 March 1834.
f5
CD visited the Santa Cruz river in April 1834 during the Beagle voyage (see Correspondence vol. 1, letter to Catherine Darwin, 20–9 July 1834, and Appendix I); for his unfavourable impressions of Patagonia in general, see Correspondence vol. 1, letter to Catherine Darwin, 6 April 1834, and Journal of researches, chapters 10 and 11, where he commented that the ‘curse of sterility’ was on the land (ibid., p. 215).
f6
CD visited the Falkland Islands twice during his voyage on board the Beagle. He first arrived in March 1833 after a succession of gales (see Correspondence vol. 1, letter to Caroline Darwin, 30 March – 12 April 1833); he spent four days exploring the island in March 1834, during the whole of which time ‘it blew a gale of wind with hail & snow’ (Correspondence vol. 1, letter to Catherine Darwin, 6 April 1834).
f7
British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands had been re-established early in 1833, shortly before CD’s first visit, following a brief occupation by Argentina (see Correspondence vol. 1, letter to Caroline Darwin, 30 March – 12 April 1833 and n. 6.)
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