skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To R. W. Darwin   8 February – 1 March 1832

(Brazils) | Bahia or St. Salvador

My dear Father

I am writing this on the 8th of February one days sail past St. Jago, (Cape De Verd), & intend taking the chance of meeting with a homeward bound vessel somewhere about the Equator.— The date however will tell this whenever the opportunity occurs.— I will now begin from the day of leaving England & give a short account of our progress.—

We sailed as you know on the 27th. of December & have been fortunate enough to have had from that time to the present a fair & moderate breeze: It afterward proved that we escaped a heavy gale in the Channel, another at Madeira, & another on coast of Africa.— But in escaping the gale, we felt its consequence—a heavy sea: In the Bay of Biscay there was a long & continued swell & the misery I endured from sea-sickness is far far beyond what I ever guessed at.—1 I believe you are curious about it. I will give all my dear-bought experience.— Nobody who has only been to sea for 24 hours has a right to say, that sea-sickness is even uncomfortable.— The real misery only begins when you are so exhausted—that a little exertion makes a feeling of faintness come on.— I found nothing but lying in my hammock did me any good.— I must especially except your receipt of raisins, which is the only food that the stomach will bear:— On the 4th of January we were not many miles from Madeira: but as there was a heavy sea running, & the Island lay to Wind ward it was not thought worth while to beat up to it.— It afterwards has turned out it was lucky we saved ourselves the trouble: I was much too sick even to get up to see the distant outline.— On the 6th in the evening we sailed into the harbour of Santa Cruz.— I now first felt even moderately well, & I was picturing to myself all the delights of fresh fruit growing in beautiful valleys, & reading Humboldts descriptions of the Islands glorious views.— When perhaps you may nearly guess at our disappointment, when a small pale man informed us we must perform a strict quarantine of 12 days. There was a death like stillness in the ship; till the Captain cried “Up Jib”, & we left this long wished for place.— We were becalmed for a day between Teneriffe & the grand Canary & here I first experienced any enjoyment: the view was glorious. The peak of Teneriffe. —was seen amongst the clouds like another world.— Our only drawback was the extreme wish of visiting this glorious island.— “Tell Eyton, never to forget either Canary islands or S America;—that I am sure it will well repay the necessary trouble but that he must make up his mind to find a good deal of the latter.— I feel certain, he will repent it, if he does not make the attempt”.—

From Teneriffe to St. Jago, the voyage was extremely pleasant.— I had a net astern the vessel, which caught great numbers of curious animals, & fully occupied my time in my cabin, & on deck the weather was so delightful, & clear, that the sky & water together made a picture.— On the 16th. we arrived at Port Praya, the capital of the Cape de Verds, & there we remained 23 days viz till yesterday the 7th. of February.— The time has flown away most delightfully, indeed nothing can be pleasanter; exceedingly busy, & that business both a duty & a great delight.— I do not believe, I have spent one half hour idly since leaving Teneriffe: St Jago has afforded me an exceedingly rich harvest in several branches of Nat: History.—2 I find the descriptions scarcely worth anything of many of the commoner animals that inhabit the Tropic.— I allude of course to those of the lower classes.— Geologising in a Volcanic country is most delightful, besides the interest attached to itself it leads you into most beautiful & retired spots.—

Nobody but a person fond of Nat: history, can imagine the pleasure of strolling under Cocoa nuts in a thicket of Bananas & Coffee plants, & an endless number of wild flowers.— And this Island that has given me so much instruction & delight, is reckoned the most uninteresting place, that we perhaps shall touch at during our voyage.— It certainly is generally very barren.—but the valleys are more exquisitely beautiful from the very contrast:— It is utterly useless to say anything about the Scenery.— it would be as profitable to explain to a blind man colours, as to person, who has not been out of Europe, the total dissimilarity of a Tropical view.— Whenever I enjoy anything I always either look forward to writing it down either in my log Book (which increases in bulk) or in a letter.—3 So you must excuse raptures & those raptures badly expressed.—

I find my collections are increasing wonderfully, & from Rio I think I shall be obliged to send a Cargo home.— All the endless delays, which we experienced at Plymouth, have been most fortunate, as I verily believe no person ever went out better provided for collecting & observing in the different branches of Natural hist.— In a multitude of counsellors I certainly found good.— I find to my great surprise that a ship is singularly comfortable for all sorts of work.— Everything is so close at hand, & being cramped, make one so methodical, that in the end I have been a gainer.—

I already have got to look at going to sea as a regular quiet place, like going back to home after staying away from it.— In short I find a ship a very comfortable house, with everything you want, & if it was not for sea-sickness the whole world would be sailors.— I do not think there is much danger of Erasmus setting the example, but in case there should be, he may rely upon it he does not know one tenth of the sufferings of sea-sickness.— I like the officers much more than I did at first.—especially Wickham & young King, & Stokes & indeed all of them.— The Captain continues steadily very kind & does everything in his power to assist me.— We see very little of each other when in harbour, our pursuits lead us in such different tracks..— I never in my life met with a man who could endure nearly so great a share of fatigue.— He works incessantly, & when apparently not employed, he is thinking.— If he does not kill himself he will during this voyage do a wonderful quantity of work.— I find I am very well & stand the little heat we have had as yet as well as any-body.— We shall soon have it in real ernest.— We are now sailing for Fernando Norunho off the coast of Brazil.—where we shall not stay very long, & then examine the shoals between there & Rio, touching perhaps at Bahia:— I will finish this letter, when an opportunity of sending it occurs.—

Feb 26th. about 280 miles from Bahia.— On the 10th we spoke the packet Lyra on her voyage to Rio. I sent a short letter by her to be sent to England on first opportunity.— We have been singularly unlucky in not meeting with any homeward bounds vessels, but I suppose Bahia we certainly shall be able to write to England.— Since writing the first part of letter nothing has occurred except crossing the Equator & being shaved.— This most disagreeable operation consists of having your face rubbed with paint & tar, which forms a lather for a saw which represents the razor & then being half drowned in a sail filled with salt water.— About 50 miles North of the line, we touched at the rocks of St Paul.— this little speck (about 12 of a mile across) in the atlantic, has seldom been visited.— It is totally barren, but is covered by hosts of birds.— they were so unused to men that we found we could kill plenty with stones & sticks.— After remaining some hours on the island, we returned on board with the boat loaded with our prey.— From this we went to Fernando Noronha, a small island where the Brazilians send their exiles.— The landing there was attended with so much difficulty owing a heavy surf, that the Captain determined to sail the next day after arriving.— My one day on shore was exceedingly interesting. the whole island is one single wood so matted together by creepers, that it is very difficult to move out of beaten path.— I find the Nat: History of all these unfrequented spots most exceedingly interesting, especially the geology.

I have written this much in order to save time at Bahia.— Decidedly the most striking thing in the Tropics is the novelty of the vegetable forms.— Cocoa Nuts could well be imagined from drawings if you add to them a graceful lightness, which no European tree partakes of.— Bananas & Plantains, are exactly the same as those in hothouses: the acacias or tamarinds are striking from blueness of their foliage: but of the glorious orange trees no description no drawings, will give any just idea: instead of the sickly green of our oranges, the native ones exceed the portugal laurel in the darkness of their tint & infinitely exceed it in beauty of form.—

Cocoa-nuts, Papaws.—the light-green Bananas & oranges loaded with fruit generally surround the more luxuriant villages.— Whilst viewing such scenes, one feels the impossibility than any description should come near the mark,— much less be overdrawn.—

March 1st. Bahia or St. Salvador.— I arrived at this place on the 28th of Feb & am now writing this letter after having in real earnest strolled in the forests of the new world.— “No person could imagine anything so beautiful as the antient town of Bahia; it is fairly embosomed in a luxuriant wood of beautiful trees.—& situated on a steep bank overlooks the calm waters of the great bay of All Saints.— The houses are white & lofty, & from the windows being narrow and long have a very light & elegant appearance    Convents, porticos & public buildings vary the uniformity of the houses: the bay is scattered over with large ships. in short & what can be said more it is one of the finest views in the Brazils”.— (copied from my journal) But the exquisite glorious pleasure of walking amongst such flowers, & such trees cannot be comprehended, but by those who have experienced it.— Although in so low a Latitude the weather is not disagreeably hot, but at present it is very damp, for it is the rainy season.— I find the climate as yet agrees admirably with me: it mak⁠⟨⁠es⁠⟩⁠ one long to live quietly for some time in suc⁠⟨⁠h⁠⟩⁠ a country.— If you really want to have a ⁠⟨⁠notion⁠⟩⁠ of tropical countries, study Humboldt.— Skip th⁠⟨⁠e⁠⟩⁠ scientific parts & commence after leaving Teneriffe.— My feelings amount to admiration the more I read him.— Tell Eyton (I find I am writing to my sisters!) how exceedingly I enjoy America & tha⁠⟨⁠t⁠⟩⁠ I am sure it will be a great pity if ⁠⟨⁠he⁠⟩⁠ does not make a start.— This letter will go ⁠⟨⁠on⁠⟩⁠ the 5th & I am afraid will be some time before it reaches you.— it must be a warning, how in other parts of the world, you may be a long time without hearing from.— A year might by accident thus pass.—

About the 12th we start for Rio, but remain some time on the way in sounding the Albrolhos shoals. Tell Eyton, as far as my experience goes let him study Spanish French, Drawing & Humboldt. I do sincerely hope to hear of (if not to see him), in S America.— I look forward to the letters in Rio. till each one is acknowledged mention its date in the next: We have beat all the ships in mæneuvering, so much so that commanding officer says we need not follow his example, because we do everything better than his great ship.— I begin to take great interest in naval points, more especially now, as I find they all say, we are the No 1 in South America.— I suppose the Captain is a most excellent officer.— It was quite glorious to day how we beat the Samarang in furling sails: It is quite a new thing for a “sounding ship” to beat a regular man of war.— And yet the Beagle is not at all a particular ship: Erasmus will clearly perceive it, when he hears that in the night I have actually sat down in the sacred precincts of the Quarter deck.— You must excuse these queer letters, & recollect they are generally written in the evening after my days work.— I take more pains over my Log Book.—so that eventually you will have a good account of all the places I visit.—

Hitherto the voyage has answered admirably to me, & yet I am now more fully aware of your wisdom in throwing cold water on the whole scheme: the chances are so numerous of it turning out quite the reverse.— to such an extent do I feel this that if my advice was asked by any person on a similar occasion I should be very cautious in encouraging him.— I have not time to write to any body else: so send to Maer to let them know that in the midst of the glorious tropical scenery I do not forget how instrumental they were in placing me there.— I will not rapturize again: but I give myself great credit in not being crazy out of pure delight.—

Give my love to every soul at home, & to the Owens I think ones affections, like other good things, flourish & increase in these tropical regions.—

The conviction that I am walking in the new world, is even yet marvellous in my own eyes, & I daresay it is little less so to you, the receiving a letter from a son of yours in such a quarter: Believe me, my dear Father Your most affectionate son | Charles Darwin *S 2

St Salvador, Brazils

I find after the first page I have been writing to my sisters


In a personal letter from Bahia on 5 March 1832 (see F. Darwin 1912, p. 548), Robert FitzRoy wrote to Francis Beaufort at the Admiralty: ‘He was terribly sick until we passed Teneriffe, and I sometimes doubted his fortitude holding out against such a beginning of the campaign. However, he was no sooner on his legs than anxious to set to work, and a child with a new toy could not have been more delighted than he was with St. Jago. It was odd to hear him say, after we left Porto Praya, “Well, I am glad we are quietly at sea again, for I shall be able to arrange my collections and set to work more methodically.” He was sadly disappointed by not landing at Teneriffe and not seeing Madeira, but there was no alternative.’ For other reminiscences of CD’s seasickness by his ship-mates John Lort Stokes and Alexander Burns Usborne, see LL 1: 224.
In his official report to Beaufort of 4 March 1832 (F. Darwin 1912, p. 548), FitzRoy wrote: ‘Mr. Darwin has found abundant occupation already, both at sea and on shore; he has obtained numbers of curious though small inhabitants of the ocean, by means of a Net made of Bunting, which might be called a floating or surface Trawl, as well as by searching the shores and the Land. In Geology he has met with far much more interesting employment in Porto Praya than he had at all anticipated. From the manner in which he pursues his occupation, his good sense, inquiring disposition, and regular habits, I am certain that you will have good reason to feel much satisfaction in the reflection that such a person is on board the Beagle, and the certainty that he is taking the greatest pains to make the most of time and opportunity.’
For the different kinds of records CD kept during the voyage see Correspondence vol.1, Appendix II.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Darwin, Francis. 1912. FitzRoy and Darwin, 1831–36. Nature 88: 547–8.

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.


Writes with great happiness about the first part of the voyage, after his misery from seasickness passed. He finds himself well prepared, the ship quiet, comfortable, and compact; he has already a "rich harvest" and finds the natural history (especially geology) exceedingly interesting. The tropics are full of great beauty.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Robert Waring Darwin
Sent from
(Brazils) Bahia or St Salvador
Source of text
DAR 223: 8
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 158,” accessed on 25 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 1