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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Henslow1   18 July 1833

Rio de la Plata | H.M.S. Beagle

July 18th.— 1833.

My dear Henslow,

My last letter was dated on the sea.— I then expected to stop at the R. Negro in Patagonia; our domineering master, the wind, ordered otherwise; in consequence, the greater part of the winter has been passed in this river at Maldonado.— Amongst a heap of letters which awaited me, I was sadly disappointed not to see your hand-writing; for several months I had been looking forward with no little pleasure to hearing how you all are going on at Cambridge, & with a good deal of anxiety respecting the fate of my collections.— Our direction, for a long period hence, will be Valparaiso: I should be so much obliged if you would write to me:— You only know anything about my collections, & I feel as if all future satisfaction after this voyage will depend solely upon your approval. I am afraid you have thought them very scanty: but, as I have said before, you must recollect how much time is lost at sea, & that I make it a constant rule, to prefer the obscure & diminutive tribes of animals.— I have now got a servant of my own, whom I have taught to skin birds &c, so that for the future I trust, there will be rather a larger proportion of showy specimens.— We have got, almost every bird in this neighbourhead,2 (Maldonado) about 80 in number & nearly 20 quadrupeds.— But, alas, excepting this there has not been much done.—

By the same packet, which takes this, there will come four barrells: the largest will require opening, as it contains skins, Plants &c &c, & cigar box with pill boxes: the two next in size, only Geological specimens need not be opened, without you like to see them, the smallest & flat barrell, contains fish; with a gimlet, you can easily ascertain how full it is of spirits.— Several of the pill-boxes are marked thus (X), they contain Coleoptera, & will require (as likewise the Case) airing & perhaps a little Essential oil.— This is not nearly all which I have collected this summer, but for several reasons I have deferred sending the other half.— It is useless attempting to thank you for taking charge of my collections: for as I know no other person who would; this voyage would then be useless & I would return home.—

Our future plans are, in a few days, to go to the R. Negro, to survey some banks.— I shall be put on shore: I wish we could remain there for a long time.— The geology must be very interesting— it is near the junction of the Megatherium & Patagonian cliffs.— From what I saw of the latter, in one 12 hour in St Josephs bay, they would be well worth a long examination.— above the great oyster bed, there is one of gravel, which fills up inequalities in its inferior;3 & above this, & therefore high out of the water is one of such modern shells, that they retain their colour & emit bad smell when burnt. Patagonia must clearly have but lately risen from the water. After the Beagle returns from this short cruize, we take in 12 months provisions & in beginning of October proceed to Tierra del F.; then pass the Straits of Magellan & enter the glorious Pacific: The Beagle after proceeding to Conception or Valparaiso, will once more go Southward, (I however will not leave the warm weather) & upon her return we proceed up the coast, ultimately to cross the Pacific.— I am in great doubt whether to remain at Valparaiso or Conception: at the latter beds of Coal & shells, but at the former I could cross & recross the grand chain of the Andes.—

I am ready to bound for joy at the thoughts of leaving this stupid, unpic- turesque side of America. When Tierra del F is over, it will all be Holidays. And then the very thoughts of the fine Coralls, the warm glowing weather, the blue sky of the Tropics is enough to make one wild with delight.— I am anxious to know, what has become of a large collection (I fancy ill assorted) of Geological specimens made in former voyage from Tierra del Fuego4 I hope to see enough of this country to be able to make a rough sketch of it—& then of course specimens with localities marked on them, would be to me very valuable. Remember me most kindly to Prof. Sedgwick, perhaps he would enquire at Geolog: Soc: whether they are in existence.— Some body told me you had Volume of Dic Class: Explan: of Plates. My brother will in short time send me a parcel: by which it can come: his direction is Whyndham Club St. James Square. If you know of any book, which would be useful to me, you can mention it to him: I trust I shall find a letter (although it is a long time to look forward to) at Valparaiso: I shall be so glad to hear what you are doing.— Very often during your last Spring when the weather has been fine; I have been guessing whether it would do for Gamblingay5 or whether at that very instant some revered Botanist was not anxiously looking at the other side of a fenny ditch.— The only piece of Cambridge news, which I have heard for a long time was a good one: it was that a Living has been given to you.— I hope it is true.—

Remember me most truly to Mrs. Henslow & to Leonard Jennings.—6 & believe me My dear Henslow.— Your most obliged & affectionate friend— Chas. Darwin.—


The following passages from this letter were extracted by Henslow and published in the Cambridge Philosophical Society pamphlet: 1.3 ‘the greater … Maldonado.’ 1.4 1.15 ‘We … quadrupeds.’ 1.16 3.1 ‘in a few days … banks.’ 3.2 3.3 ‘The geology … water.’ 3.9; 3.7 ‘inferior’ changed to ‘interior’
CD’s idiosyncratic spelling of certain words, though not entirely consistent, continued almost to the end of the voyage. Frank J. Sulloway has tabulated the variations in CD’s spelling of ‘occasion’, ‘coral’, and ‘Pacific’ in his letters, diaries, and other voyage documents (Sulloway 1982b) and has demonstrated the importance of the misspellings in helping to establish the time of writing of ‘Ornithological notes’ and other specimen catalogues as the last year of the voyage.
Henslow transcribed the word ‘inferior’ as ‘interior’; but the manuscript is clear and the meaning is confirmed by the description of the beds as ‘underlying’ in South America, pp. 5, 109.
The specimens were sent to the Geological Society by Captain Phillip Parker King. ‘Of the specimens sent home by Capt. King from this remote quarter of the globe, it may be remarked, in general, that they agree perfectly with the rocks of Europe and other parts of the world;—the resemblance amounting, in several cases, to almost complete identity.’ (Proceedings of the Geological Society of London 1 (1826–33): 29–31) A second collection was presented in 1831.
Gamlingay, about 15 miles from Cambridge, a favourite entomological hunting ground. Leonard Jenyns described it as ‘a locality so rich, from its geological position, in rare species of insects and plants not found in any other part of Cambridgeshire, and so well known to Cambridge men in later times, from the excursions yearly made there by Henslow with his botanical class’ (Jenyns 1862, p. 24).
CD’s misspelling of Jenyns.


Jenyns, Leonard. 1862. Memoir of the Rev. John Stevens Henslow, late rector of Hitcham, and professor of botany in the University of Cambridge. London: John Van Voorst.

South America: Geological observations on South America. Being the third part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1846.


Fears JSH will think his collections scanty. Makes it a constant rule to prefer obscure and diminutive tribes of animals.

Now has a servant whom he has taught to skin birds, etc.

Lists four barrels of specimens he is sending.

Gives future route. He looks forward to the western coast of South America.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Stevens Henslow
Sent from
Rio de la Plata, HMS Beagle
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Henslow letters: 18 DAR/1/1/18)
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 210,” accessed on 10 June 2023,

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