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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Henslow1   12 November 1833

Monte Video.

November 12th. 1833.

My dear Henslow.—

By the same packet, which takes this I send a cargo of specimens.— There are two boxes & a cask.— One of the former is lined with tin-plate & contains nearly 200 skins of birds & animals.—amongst others a fine collection of the mice of S America.— the other box contains spirit bottles, & will only require just looking at to see how the Spirit stands.— But the Bird-skins, if you will take the trouble will be much better for a little airing.— The Cask is divided into Compartments the upper contains a few skins.—the other a jar of fish, & I am very anxious to hear how the Spirit withstands evaporation,—an insect Case, which would require airing, a small box of stones.—which may be left in statu quo.—a bundle of seeds,2 which I send as a most humble apology for my idleness in Botany.— They were collected in Port Alegra & in this country: the temperature of the former, must be that of a warm greenhouse.—& even plants of this country would require some protection (the olive & orange bear fruit here).— Also a bag of the sweepings of a Granary; it will be a Botanical problem to find out to what country the weeds belong: It might be curious to observe whether Europæan weeds have undergone any change by their residence in this country.— If they are like the men, I will answer for it they are not much improved.— I also send to the care of Dr Armstrong in Plymouth, an immense box of Bones & Geological specimens. I do this to avoid the long land-carriage: & as they do not want any care it does not much signify where kept.—another reason is, not feeling quite sure of the value of such bones as I before sent you.— I have one mutilated skeleton of the animal of which I sent the jaw with 4


small teeth.—3

Since my last letter to you (middle of July, when I sent off some specimens) I have been, as they say here, un grande galopeador.— I left the Beagle at the R. Negro & crossed by land to B. Ayres. There is now carrying on a bloody war of extermination against the Indians, by which I was able to make this passage.— But at the best it is sufficiently dangerous, & till now very rarely travelled.— It is the most wild, dreary plain imaginable; without one settled inhabitant or head of cattle. There are military Postas, at wide intervals, by which means I travelled.— We lived for many days on deer & ostriches & had to sleep in the open camp.— I am quite charmed with the Gaucho life: my luggage consisted of a Hammer Pistol & shirt & the Recado (saddle) makes the bed: Wherever the horses tire, there is your house & home:— I had the satisfaction of ascending the Sierra de la Ventana, a chain of mountains between 3 & 4000 feet high;—the very existence of which is scarcely known beyond the Rio Plata.— After resting a week at Buenos Ayres, I started for St Fe ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ on the road the Geology was interesting.— I foun⁠⟨⁠d⁠⟩⁠ two great groups of immense bones; but so very soft a⁠⟨⁠s⁠⟩⁠ to render it impossible to remove. I think from a fragment of one of the teeth they belonged to ye Mastodon: In ye R. Carcarana I got a tooth, which puzzles even my conjectures, it looks like an enormous gnawing one.—4 At St Fe; not being well, I embarked & had a fine sail of 300 miles down that princely river the Parana.— When I returned to B. Ayres I found the country upside down with revolutions, which caused me much trouble. I last got away & joined the Beagle.— I am now going to have one more gallop to the Uruguay, & then we are off Tierra del Fuego.—

We shall for the future be much amongst Volcanic rocks, & I shall want more mineralogical knowledge.— Can you send me out any book, which with instructions from yourself will enable me to use my reflecting Goniometer. If you know of any, it would doing me a great favour to send it to Capt. Beaufort, who will forward it.— As I am very anxious to hear from you.—perhaps this will be the best manner of sending me a letter.— I want much to hear about your family.— L. Jenyns, your lectures excursions, & parties &c.—respecting all of which I have so very many pleasant recollections, that I cannot bear to know nothing.— We shall pass the Str of Magellan in the Autumn & I hope stay some time in the Southern parts of Chili

There are two Volcanoes within 60 miles of Conception. I will run the risk of being eat up alive to see two real good burning Volcanoes. Oh the blue skys & the Bananas of the Tropics.— Life is not worth having in these miserable climates, after one peep within those magic lines.— Believe me my dear Henslow | Ever yours most truly obliged | Chas. Darwin.—

Would it not be a good plan to send sea-weeds in Spirits, having previously noted ye colour by Werner??5


The following passages from this letter were extracted by Henslow and published in the Cambridge Philosophical Society pamphlet: 2.1 ‘I left … camp.’ 3.7 2.10 ‘I had … Beagle.’ 3.20
In Journal of researches, p. 600 n., in a section devoted to advice to collectors, CD warns that: ‘Seeds must not be sent home in the same case with skins prepared with poison, camphor, or essential oils; scarcely any of mine germinated, and Professor Henslow thinks they were thus killed.’
Later identified by Richard Owen, who named it Mylodon darwinii (Fossil Mammalia, pp. 63–73).
Richard Owen later identified it as belonging to Toxodon platensis (see Fossil Mammalia, p. 19, and South America, p. 88).


Fossil Mammalia: Pt 1 of The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle … during the years 1831 to 1836. By Richard Owen. Edited and superintended by Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder and Co. 1839–43.

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

Mammalia: Pt 2 of The zoology of the voyage of HMS Beagle. By George Robert Waterhouse. Edited and superintended by Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder and Co. 1838–9.

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.

Syme, Patrick. 1821. Werner’s nomenclature of colours, with additions, arranged so as to render it highly useful to the arts and sciences, particularly zoology, botany, chemistry, mineralogy, and morbid anatomy. Annexed to which are examples selected from well-known objects in the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms. 2d ed. Edinburgh.


Is sending a cargo of specimens – birds’ skins, small quadrupeds, and fossil bones.

Describes his overland trip from Rio Negro to Buenos Aires and his expedition to Santa Fé.

Asks for mineralogical works to help him with the volcanic rocks of the west coast.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Stevens Henslow
Sent from
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Henslow letters: 20 DAR/1/1/20)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 229,” accessed on 25 January 2022,

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