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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Henslow1   11 April 1833

April 11th.— 1833

My dear Henslow

We are now running up from the Falkland Islands to the Rio Negro (or Colorado).— The Beagle will proceed to M: 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 civilized 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 23 days off Cape Horn, & could by no means get to the Westward.— The last & finale gale, before we gave up the attempt was unusually severe. A sea stove one of the boats & there was so much water on the decks, that every place was afloat; nearly all the paper for drying plants is spoiled & half of this cruizes collection.— We at last run in to harbor & 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, & thus I had an excellent opportunity of geologising & 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, & 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, untill it is experienced. I shall never forget, 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 & their long hair streaming they seemed the troubled spirits of another world.— The climate in some respects, is a curious mixture of severity & 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 was, as indeed every place is, to me very interesting.— the country is non-fossiliferous & a common place succession of granitic rocks & Slates: attempting to make out the relation of cleavage, strata &c &c 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.

In Zoology, during the whole cruize, I have done little; the Southern ocean is nearly as sterile as the continent it washes.— Crustaceæ have afforded me most work: it is an order most imperfectly known: I found a Zoëa, of most curious form, its body being only 16 th the length of the two spears.— I am convinced from its structure & other reasons it is a young Erichthus!—2 I must mention part of the structure of a Decapod, it so very anomalous: the last pair of legs are small & dorsal, but instead of being terminated by a claw, as in all others, it has three curved bristle-like appendages, these are finely serrated & furnished with cups, somewhat resembling those of the Cephalopods.— The animal being pelagic it is a beautiful structure to enable it to hold on to light floating objects.— I have found out something about the propagation of that ambiguous tribe, the Corallinas.— And this makes up nearly the poor catalogue of rarities during this cruize. After leaving Tierra del we sailed to the Falklan⁠⟨⁠ds.⁠⟩⁠ I forgot to mention the fate of the Fuegians, w⁠⟨⁠hom⁠⟩⁠ we took back to their country.— They had beco⁠⟨⁠me⁠⟩⁠ entirely Europæan in their habits & wishes: so much so, that the younger one had forgotten his own language & their countrymen paid but very little attention to them.— We built houses for them & planted gardens, but by the time we return again on o⁠⟨⁠ur⁠⟩⁠ passage round the Horn, I think it will be very doubtful how much of their property will be left unstolen.—

On our arrival at the Falklands everyone was much surprised to find the English flag hoisted. This our new island, is but a desolate looking spot yet must eventually be of great importance to shipping.— I had here the high good fortune, to find amongst most primitive looking rocks, a bed of micaceous sandstone, abounding with Terebratula & its subgenera & Entrochitus. As this is so remote a locality from Europe I think the comparison of these impressions, with those of the oldest fossiliferous rocks of Europe will be preeminently interesting.3 Of course there are only models & casts; but many of these are very perfect. I hope sufficiently so to identify species.— As I consider myself your pupil, nothing gives me more pleasure, than telling you my good luck.— I am very impatient to hear from you. When I am sea-sick & miserable, ⁠⟨⁠i⁠⟩⁠t is one of my highest consolations, to picture the future, ⁠⟨⁠w⁠⟩⁠hen we again shall be pacing together the roads round Cambridge. That day is a weary long way off: we have another cruize to make to Tierra del. next summer, & then our voyage round the world will really commence. Capt. FitzRoy has purchased a large Schooner of 170 tuns. In many respects it will be a great advantage having a consort: perhaps it may somewhat shorten our cruize: which I most cordially hope it may: I trust however that the Corall reefs4 & various animals of the Pacific may keep up my resolution.—

Remember me most kindly to Mrs. Henslow & all other friends; I am a true lover of Alma Mater, & all its inhabitants. Believe me My dear Henslow | Your affectionate & most obliged friend | Charles Darwin

Recollect, if should think of any books, scientific travels &c &c which would be useful to me do not let them pass out of yr mind.

We are all very curious to to hear something about some great Comet, which is coming at some time: Do pump the learned & send us a report:5

I am convinced from talking to the finder,6 that the Megatherium, sent to Geol: Soc: belongs to same formation which those bones I sent home do & that it was wa⁠⟨⁠she⁠⟩⁠d into the River from the cliffs which compose the banks:7 Professor Sedgwick might like to know this: & tell him I have never ceased being thankful for that short tour in Wales


The following passages from this letter were extracted by Henslow and published in the Cambridge Philosophical Society pamphlet: 1.1 ‘We … Colorado).’ 1.2 1.3 ‘It is … Westward.—’ 1.7 1.10 ‘We at last … channels.—’ 1.11 1.12 ‘with two boats … trees.’ 1.17 1.23 ‘The climate … amusement.’ 1.29; omits 1.26 ‘as indeed every place is,’ 2.1 ‘the Southern … work’ 2.3 2.3 ‘I found … Corallinas.’ 2.12 2.13 ‘After … Falklan⁠⟨⁠ds.⁠⟩⁠’ 3.3 ‘I had here … perfect.’ 3.9
The specimen (no. 485) is described in detail in the ‘Zoological diary’ (DAR 30.2: 128–33).
Four genera of CD’s Falkland Island fossil shell specimens are described as similar to Silurian and Devonian forms by Morris and Sharpe (1846). On the relationship of the fossils to those of European formations, the authors considered the number of species collected by CD to be ‘too limited to justify any close comparison with the palæozoic fauna of other portions of the globe’.
This is CD’s first mention of an interest in coral reefs. It perhaps resulted from reading the second volume of Lyell’s Principles, which he had recently received. His copy, inscribed ‘M: Video. Novemr. 1832’, is in Darwin Library–CUL. It is lightly annotated in pencil.
A reference to Woodbine Parish’s agent, ‘Mr Oakley, a gentleman of the United States’ (Parish 1834, p. 404). In a field notebook entry of 3 November 1832 CD refers to him as ‘Oakley, a Joiner with red hair, M. Video’ (Voyage, p. 168). Later, under the same date is: ‘Oakley’s fossil—one scapula in true Tosca’ (ibid., p. 169). (See below, n. 7.) Parish presented the skeleton and other fossils to the Royal College of Surgeons on 13 June 1832 after they had been exhibited at the Geological Society, London (see Clift 1835, p. 437 and n., and Parish 1838, pp. 175–7).
On 20 November [1832] CD made the following note in his geological diary: ‘In the Newspaper accounts the Megatherium lately presented by Mr. Parish to the Geological society, is stated to have been found in the mud in bed of the river Salado [interl].— Upon examining Mr. Oakley, who procured it for Mr. Parish, it seems the river flows through cliffs of the Tosca, & which doubtless is identical with that of Bahia Blanca & Buenos Ayres … Mr. Oakley clearly recollects that one of the Scapulas was imbedded in [’th‘ del ] a mass of Tosca’ (DAR 32.1: 71v.). Tosca is a limestone formation underlying the Pampean formation.


Clift, William. 1835. Some account of the remains of the Megatherium sent to England from Buenos Ayres by Woodbine Parish, Jun. [Read 13 June 1832.] Transactions of the Geological Society of London 2d ser. 3: 437–50.

Parish, Woodbine. 1834. An account of the discovery of portions of three skeletons of the Megatherium in the province of Buenos Ayres in South America. Followed by a description of the bones by William Clift. [Read 13 June 1832.] Proceedings of the Geological Society of London 1: 403–4.

Parish, Woodbine. 1838. Buenos Ayres, and the provinces of the Rio de la Plata: their present state, trade, and debt; with some account from original documents of the progress of geographical discovery in those parts of South America during the last sixty years. London.

Voyage: Charles Darwin and the voyage of the Beagle. Edited by Nora Barlow. London: Pilot Press. 1945.


Description of the months at Tierra del Fuego. His first sight of the primitive Fuegians. Geological and zoological observations and specimens.

The Falklands: geological and zoological observations.

Convinced the [Megatherium] sent to Royal College of Physicians [by Woodbine Parish] belongs to same formation as bones he sent home.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Stevens Henslow
Sent from
HMS Beagle
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Henslow letters: 17 DAR/1/1/17)
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 204,” accessed on 18 May 2024,

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