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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Catherine Darwin   6 April 1834

East Falkland Isd.

April 6th.— 1834.

My dear Catherine

When this letter will reach you I know not—but probably some man of war will call here before in the common course of events I should have another opportunity of writing.— I have received your letter dated Sept 27th. 1833, & Caroline’s before that. Since leaving the Plata, we have had, pretty fine weather, & a very pleasant cruize. The gales have not been half so spiteful or so furious this year as last.— We reached Port Desire without one; & there we staid for about three weeks.— We also went to Port St Julian.— I was exceedingly glad to have these opportunities of seeing Patagonia: it is a miserable country, great sterile plains abounding with salt & inhabited by scarcely any animals but the Guanaco.— I was very lucky & managed to kill a couple of these animals: one of which gave us fresh meat for dinner on Christmas day.— The geology of this district abounds with interest; the recent elevation of this whole side of S. America can be most clearly proved— At Port St Julian, I had the good fortune to find some very perfect bones, of what I believe is some sort of Mastodon or Elephant

There is nothing like geology; the pleasure of the first days partridge shooting or first days hunting cannot be compared to finding a fine group of fossil bones, which tell their story of former times with almost a living tongue. After entering the Sts of Magellan; we had a very interesting interview with the Patagonians, the giants of the older navigators1 ; they are a very fine set of men, & from their large Guanaco mantles & long flowing hair, have a very imposing appearance.— Very few, however, were over 6 feet high, but broad across the shoulders in proportion to this.— They have so much intercourse with Sealers & Whalers, that they are semi-civilized: one of them, who dined with us eat with his knife & fork as well as any gentleman.— Many of them could talk a little Spanish.— For observations we ran on to P. Famine; justly so called from the terrible sufferings of Sarmiento’s colony.—2 Of this there is not now the least vestige; every thing is covered up by the deep entangled forest of Beech. We then returned to the outside coast & completed the Chart of the Eastern side: When this was finished after visiting some of the Southern islands we beat up through the magnificent scenery of the Beagle channel to Jemmy Buttons country. We could hardly recognize poor Jemmy; instead of the clean, well-dressed stout lad we left him, we found him a naked thin squalid savage. York & Fuegia had moved to their own country some months ago; the former having stolen all Jemmy’s clothes: Now he had nothing, excepting a bit of blanket round his waist.— Poor Jemmy was very glad to see us & with his usual good feeling brought several presents (otter skins which are most valuable to themselves) for his old friends.— The Captain offered to take him to England, but this, to our surprise, he at once refused: in the evening his young wife came alongside & showed us the reason: He was quite contented; last year in the height of his indignation, he said “his country people no sabe nothing.— damned fools” now they were very good people, with too much to eat & all the luxuries of life—

Jemmy & his wife paddled away in their canoe loaded with presents & very happy.— The most curious thing is, that Jemmy instead of recovering his own language, has taught all his friends a little English: “J. Button’s canoe & Jemmy’s wife come”.—“give me knife” &c was said by several of them.— We then bore away for this island,—this little miserable seat of discord.— We found that the Gauchos under pretence of a revolution had murdered & plundered all the Englishmen whom they could catch & some of their own country men.— All the economy at home makes the foreign movements of England most contemptible: how different from old Spain: Here we, dog-in the manger fashion seize an island & leave to protect it a Union jack; the possessor has been of course murdered: we now send a Lieutenant, with four sailors, without authority or instructions. A man of war however ventured to leave a party of marines, & by their assistance & the treachery of some of the party, the murderers have all been taken.—their being now as many prisoners as inhabitants.—

This island must some day become a very important halting place in the most turbulent sea in the world.—it is mid way between Australia & South sea to England. Between Chili Peru &c & the R. Plata & R. de Janeiro.— There are fine harbors, plenty of fresh water & good beef: it would doubtlessly produce the coarser vegetables. In other respects it is a wretched place: a little time since I rode across the island & returned, in four days: my excursion would have been longer: but during the whole time it blew a gale of wind with hail & snow; there is no fire wood bigger than Heath & the whole country is a more or less an elastic peat bog.— Sleeping out at night was too miserable work to endure it for all the rocks in S. America.—

We shall leave this scene of iniquity in two or three days & go to the Rio de la St. Cruz: one of the objects is to look at the Ships bottom; we struck rather heavily on an unknown rock, off Port Desire, & some of her copper is torn off.— After this is repaired, the Captain has a glorious scheme: it is to go to the very head, that is probably to the Andes, of this river.— it is quite unknown. the Indians tell us it is two or 3 hundred yards broad & horses can no where ford it! I cannot imagine anything more interesting. Our plans then are to go to Port Famine & there we meet the Adventure, who is employed in making the chart of the Falklands. This will be in the middle of winter, so I shall see Tierra del in her white drapery.— We leave the Straits, to enter the Pacific by the Barbara channel, one very little known & which passes close to the foot of M. Sarmiento (the highest mountain in the South, excepting M. !!Darwin!!.).—3 We then shall scud away for Concepcion in Chili.— I believe the Ship must once again steer Southward, but if any one catches me there again, I will give him leave to hang me up as scarecrow for all future naturalists.—

I long to be at work in the Cordilleras, the geology of this side, which I understand pretty well is so intimately connected with periods of violence in that great chain of mountains.— The future is indeed to me a brilliant prospect: you say its very brilliancy frightens you; but really I am very careful; I may mention as a proof, in all my rambles, I have never had any one accident or scrape.

And now for some queries.— Have you received a small square deal box, with part of my Journal, sent from the Plata in July 1833 (through Capt. Beaufort) Acknowledge it in more than one letter: recollect what a bobbery (a sea phrase)4 I made about the other parcel.— I received a box with some delightful books & letter from Henslow: did Erasmus send it? there was not even a list of the books & I know not whom to thank. There is a Hon. Col. Walpole, consul-general at St Jago de Chili.—5 Have I not heard of some such man at Walcot?— What sort of person is he?—

I do not recollect anything more to say: not having any apologetical messages about money, is nearly as odd a feature in my letters, as it would have ⁠⟨⁠been⁠⟩⁠ in Dick Musgrove’s.—6 I am afraid it will be, till we cross the Pacific, a solitary exception.

Remember me most affectionately to all the Owens tell dear Fanny I do not how to thank her, at this distance, for remembering me.— Continue in your good custom of writing plenty of gossip: I much like hearing all about all things: Remember me most kindly to Uncle Jos & to all the Wedgwoods. Tell Charlotte (their married names sound downright unnatural) I should like to have written to her; to have told her how well every thing is going on.— But it would only have been a transcript of this letter, & I have a host of animals, at this minute, surrounding me, which all require embalming & Numbering.—

I have not forgotten the comfort I received that day at Maer, when my mind was like a swinging pendulum.— Give my best love to my Father. I hope he will forgive all my extravagance—but not as a Christian—for then I suppose he would send me no more money.—

Good bye dear Katty to you & all ye goodly Sisterhood. | Your affectionate brother | Chas. Darwin.—

My love to Nancy. tell her if she was now to see me with my great beard, she would think I was some worthy Solomon come to sell the trinkets.—

I have enclosed a letter of my servants will you pay the postage & forward it: by being my servant, he looses the penny priviledge & his friends cannot afford ye 3s ’6d.—7


Magellan is said to have named the people of this region Patagones when he observed gigantic footprints in the sand (Narrative 2: 133–4).
Pedro Sarmiento had established a Spanish colony of 400 at the head of the Straits of Magellan in 1584. The name ‘Port Famine’ was given by Thomas Cavendish in 1587 when he found the starving colonists during his circumnavigation of the globe (1587–8) (see DNB, ‘Thomas Cavendish’).
In ‘Beagle’ diary, p. 214, CD wrote: ‘A mountain which the Captain has done me the honour to call by my name, has been determined by angular measurement to be the highest in Tierra del Fuego, above 7000 feet & therefore higher than M. Sarmiento.’ Robert FitzRoy (Narrative 2: 215–16) is less certain, ‘as the measurements obtained did not rest upon satisfactory data’. He gives its height (in a ‘Table of remarkable heights’, ibid. Appendix, pp. 301–3) as 6800 ft and Mt Sarmiento as 6910 ft. In the Times atlas the heights are given, respectively, as 2135 m and 2300 m.
‘Noise, noisy disturbance, “row” ’ (OED).
BDR, p. 33, lists Lieutenant-Colonel Hon. John Walpole as Consul-General and Plenipotentiary at Santiago, Chile, but only for 1837–41. He was, however, certainly in residence when CD arrived in Santiago in August 1834 (see letter to Robert FitzRoy, [28 August 1834]).
At the upper left corner of the first page, the following appears, in another hand: ‘Mrs. Hewtson Camelford Cornwall’—the address to which Covington’s letter was to be forwarded.


BDR: British diplomatic representatives 1789–1852. Edited by S. T. Bindoff, E. F. Malcolm Smith, and C. K. Webster. London: Offices of the Royal Historical Society. 1934.

‘Beagle’ diary: Charles Darwin’s Beagle diary. Edited by Richard Darwin Keynes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1988.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Narrative: Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s ships Adventure and Beagle, between the years 1826 and 1836. [Edited by Robert FitzRoy.] 3 vols. and appendix. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Times atlas: ‘The Times’ atlas of the world. Comprehensive edition. 9th edition. London: Times Books. 1992.


Describes Patagonia and its inhabitants.

Writes of his pleasure in geology.

Predicts that Falklands will become an "important halting place". Outlines Beagle’s future itinerary.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Emily Catherine (Catherine) Darwin/Emily Catherine (Catherine) Langton
Sent from
East Falkland Islands
Source of text
DAR 223
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 242,” accessed on 15 July 2024,

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