To Caroline Darwin 30 March – 12 April 1833
Falkland Island.— Berkeley Sound:
March 30th. 1833
My dear Caroline
The Beagle will sail in a few days for Monte Video, & as this sheet of paper is very large I have taken good time to begin my letter.— It is now four months since my last letter so I will write a sort of journal of everything which has since happened.— That we might not lose the long days we made a straight course for the South: my first introduction to the notorious Tierra del F was at Good Success Bay & the master of the ceremonies was a gale of wind.— This place was visited by Capt. Cook; when ascending the mountains, which caused so many disasters to Mr Banks I felt that I was treading on ground, which to me was classic.—1 We here saw the native Fuegian; an untamed savage is I really think one of the most extraordinary spectacles in the world.— the difference between a domesticated & wild animal is far more strikingly marked in man.—in the naked barbarian, with his body coated with paint, whose very gestures, whether they may be peacible or hostile are unintelligible, with difficulty we see a fellow-creature.—2 No drawing or description will at all explain the extreme interest which is created by the first sight of savages.— It is an interest which almost repays one for a cruize in these latitudes; & this I assure you is saying a good deal.—
We doubled Cape Horn on a beautiful afternoon; it was however the last we were doomed to have for some time.— After trying to make head against the Westerly gales we put into a cove near the Cape.— Here we experienced some tremendous weather; the gusts of wind fairly tear up the water & carry clouds of spray.— We again put to sea, with no better success, gales succeed gales, with such short intervals, that a ship can do nothing.— After 23 days knocking about, we only reached false Cape Horn3 a few miles distant.— This finale gale was worthy of the reputation which, this climate since Ansons times,4 has possessed.— The Captain considers it the most severe one he was ever in.— We have already heard of two vessels which were wrecked at the very same period.— At Breakfast, I was remarking that a gale of wind, was nothing so very bad in a good sea-boat; the Captain told me to wait till we shipped a sea; it was prophetic; for at noon we shipped a great one; & it is a sight for a landsman to remember; one of our boats was knocked to pieces & was immediately cut away: the water being deep on the deck, it did me an infinity of harm, as it wetted a great deal of paper & dried plants..— I suffered also much from sea-sickness: & yet with all this I am becoming quite hardened; it makes me however, think with greater ectasy of the warm serene air & the beautiful forms of the Tropics.— No disciple of Mahomet ever looked to his seventh heaven, with greater zeal, than I do to those regions.—
Having found a good anchorage; we took the Fuegians & Matthews in a flotilla of boats to Jemmy Buttons country.— Jemmy’s relations knew him, but having forgotten his language & being dressed in clothes, they paid no attention to him, & were much more earnest in begging for knives &c.— Having dug a garden & built houses.—the Captain went (taking me with him) on a long surveying cruize with two boats; when we returned to the Settlement, things were in a ruinous condition, almost every thing had been plundered, & the Fuegians had made such signs to Matthews that the Captain advised him not to stay with them. These Fuegians are Cannibals;5 but we have good reason to suppose it carried on to an extent which hitherto has been unheard of in the world.— Jemmy Button told Matthews, a long time since, that in winter they sometimes eat the women.—certain it is the women are in a very small proportion.—yet we could not believe it.— But the other day a Sealing Captain said that a Fuegian boy, whom he had, said the same thing.— upon being asked, “why no eat dogs”.— The boy answered “dog catch otter”,—“woman good for nothing”—man very hungry”.— He said they smothered, them: it is difficult to disbelieve two such distinct explicit accounts & given by boys.— Was ever any thing so atrocious heard of, to work them like slave to procure food in the summer & occasionally in winter to eat them.— I feel quite a disgust at the very sound of the voices of these miserable savages.— This boat expedition was exceedingly interesting: we went about 300 miles & were absent 23 days.— the worst part was the Fuegians being in such large bodies, that we were often obliged to find a quiet sleeping place after it was dark.— This often precluded us from the greatest luxury; a shingle beach for a bed: the greater part of the way was in the Beagle Channel, an arm of the sea, which connects the Atlantic & Pacific.— Some of the scenes from their retirement & others from their desolate air, were very grand.— Glaciers descend to the waters edge; the azure blue of the ice, contrasted with the white snow, & surrounded by dark green forests were views as beautiful, as they were novel to me.— An avalance falling into the water put us for a second in great peril.— Our boats were hauled up on the beach, but a great wave rushed onwards & nearly dashed them to pieces: our predicament, without food & surrounded by Savages would not have been comfortable.—
We arrived here in the Falkland Islands in the beginning of this month & after such a succession of gales, that a calm day is quite a phenomenon..— We found to our great surprise the English flag hoisted.—6 I suppose the occupation of this place, has only just been noticed in the English paper; but we hear all the Southern part of America is in a ferment about. By the aweful language of Buenos Ayres one would suppose this great republic meant to declare war against England!— These islands have a miserable appearance; they do not possess a tree; yet from their local situation will be of great impo〈rtance〉 to shipping; from this Cause the Captain intends making an accurate survey.—7 A great event has happened here in the history of the Beagle.— it is the purchase of a large Schooner 170 tuns, only 70 less than the Beagle: The Captain has bought it for himself, but intends writing to the Admiralty for men &c &c.—8 Wickham will have the command; it will double our work, perhaps shorten our cruize, will carry water & provisions, & in the remote chance of fire or sticking on a Corall reef may save many of our lives.— It is the present intention to take the Schooner to the R Negro & then to refit, whilst the Beagles goes to M. Video: if so I shall stay at the former place; as it is a nice wild place, & the Rio Plata I detest.—
I have been very successful in geology; as I have found a number of fossil shells, in the very oldest rocks, which ever have organic remains.— This 〈ha〉s long been a great desideratum in geology, viz the comparison of animals of equally remote epocks at different stations in the globe.— As for living creatures, these wretched climates are very unfavourable; yet I have the great satisfaction to find my powers of examining & describing them have increased at a great pace.— As for our future plans I know nothing; circumstances alter them daily.— I believe we must have one more trip to the South, before finally going round the Horn, or rather passing the Sts. of Magellan, for the Captain had enough of the great sea at the Cape to last him all his life.— I am quite astonished, to find I can endure this life; if it was not for the strong & increasing pleasure from Nat: History I never could.—
It is a tempting thought, to fancy you all round the fire, & I perhaps plaguing Granny for some music.— Such recollections are very vivid, when we are pitching bows under & I sea-sick & cold.— Yet if I was to return home now I should feel as if there had been no interval of time, I suppose it is from having so throughily made up my mind for a long absence.—
March9 8th.— We have just had our usual luck, in a heavy gale of wind: but I wont write any more for I have not half got over my sea-sickness, & am ready to exclaim all is vanity & vexation of spirit.
April 12th Of this same vexation of spirit there is an abundance in a Ship: it is paying a heavy price, but not too dear, to see all, which we see; but such scenes it would be impossible to behold by any other means:—& for the zeal, which this voyage has given me, for every branch of Natural History I shall never cease being glad.—
Wickham will be a heavy loss to this vessel; there is not another 〈in〉 the ship worth half of him. Hamond also, who lately joined 〈the〉 Beagle, from stammering & disliking the Service intends leaving it altogether.— I have seen more of him, than any other one & like him accordingly.— I can very plainly see, there will not be much pleasure or contentment, till we get out of these detestable latitudes & are carrying on all sail to the land where Bananas grow. Oh those realms of peace & joy; I trust, by this time next year, we shall be under their blue sky & clear atmosphere.— At this instant we are shortening sail, as by the morning we expect to be in sight of the mouth of the Rio Negro.—10 I send by the Beagle (if I stay behind) a bill for 60£:.— I owe some little money & I hope to live on shore at the Rio Negro.— I shall get your letters in about a month’s time; a pleasure which thanks to you all, never fails me.
With my most affectionate love to my Father & to all of you & may you all be happy: believe me dear Caroline, Yrs very sincerely | Chas. Darwin
I have drawn a bill of Seventy Pounds: I shall stay nearly 2 months at the R. Negro
Account of the four-month voyage to Tierra del Fuego, Cape Horn, and return. The Fuegians are landed with Richard Matthews [the missionary in charge of them]. Storms, seasickness, hostile savages, and scenery are described. His increasing interest in all branches of natural history makes the hardships worth while. FitzRoy buys a schooner. CD will stay at Rio Negro while it is fitted.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 203,” accessed on 1 October 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-203