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Darwin Correspondence Project

From C. D. Douglas1   5 January 1836

Sn. Carlos [Chiloé]

5 January 1836.

Dear Sir.

I recieved your kind letter on the 27th. of July last year, & finding that you wish me to direct to you in England, I have taken mature time to investigate the questions on which you wish information, before returning my answer which I expect will arrive in England as soon as the Beaugle. I have been over the greatest part of the province since Feby. last, my information was verbal accuired on the spot where the observations were taken; & are the following.

There were three shocks felt at Sn. Carlos on the 20th. Feby. the first at 10m. past 11h. A.M. so weak as not to be generaly felt; no change was observed on the Sea, nor on the Volcanoes. It is worthy of remark that the Volcano of Osorno had been in moderate eruption, at least 48h. before, that of Renigue2 in moderate action much the same as it has been these 30 years past, the Corcovado in a state of inaction these twelve months past.

The second horizontal shock began at half past 11h. according to Sn. Carlos town time & was said to last 712 minutes: it was described here & in every other place on this Island, the same as I felt it on Caucague, it was less felt in Calbuco than here, & on the Cordilleras not at all. people at work in the astilleras3 of Mellipulli & Coyhuin, were not aware of it; & when told of it by those who felt it on the beach, they recolected that they were not able to strike fair with the ax for some time, some spoilt a board &c. by cutting too deep, while triming it down. The effect on the Sea in this harbour was instantaneous, not being quite low water, it fell ten inches during the shock & imediatly after it, began to flow with violence till two P.M. when it ebbed quicker than it had flowed; at half past two, it was low water: it then flowed with less violence than before till half past seven, having then attained four feet higer than common springs; empty water casks were washed over the punta Arena, to the westward: & it is afirmed by some that the tides were not quite regular the next day. I inclose you Mr. Garrao’s written acct.4 it contains less information than I expected. The last shock began at a quarter past seven, P.M. was more perpendicular & lasted five seconds, & perhaps helped to raise the tide so high. Calbucanos on the beach near the entrance of the River Coyhuin, felt the middle shock, & directly after it passed, they saw the Sea advancing over the extensive flats, forming three waves & roaring as it aproached; it flowed three miles up the river & still’d the current on the first rapid; it then ebbed so strong that no boat could stem the current, till it left the flats dry their whole distance, which is nearly four miles; it flowed again in the evening, so high as to still the current on the fourth rapid which is the end of boat navigation. It is not known how high it rose above that, for being night, no rafts were plying. Note, there are twelve rapids between the beach & the road that leads up to the astillero. On the extensive shoals of Cheyhuau, off the Island Caylin, the ripples & swell were unusually violent all the afternoon. The effect on the tides were no where observed except in Caucague in Sn. Carlos, & Coyhuin, although it must have been general all over the archipielago.

Great numbers of the poor inhabitants of this province, depend on the beach for their dayly food: these were all picking up shell fish when the shock happned, they were again on the beach in the afternoon, without observing any irregularity in the tides. What information can be expected from such people?

The Volcanos were as suddenly afected by the middle Shock as the Sea, that of Osorno threw up a thick colum of dark blue smoke during the shock, and directly that pass’d, a large crater was seen forming on the S.S.E. side of the Mountain, it boiled over melted lava & threw up burning stones to some height, but the smoke falling down, soon hid the Mountain in obscurity. And when seen again a few days after it showed very little smoke by day, but both craters continued to show a clear steady flame nightly, up to the date of my information, Sepr. 20th.

The action of Renigue was similar to that of Osorno, two curling pillars of white smoke had been seen all the morning, during the shock numerous small chimneys seemed to be smoking in the great Crater, lava & burning stones were thrown from a small crater on the S.W. side of the mountain, just above the verge of snow.

The thundering Corcovado, showed not the least Sign of activity, nor was it heard after the haze had hid the Cordilleras. So much from information: what follows is from Notes of my own observations, written in clear spaces of my poket work book little expecting they would be of any use. I shall remark here, that at the time, I had no idea of the earthquaqe having been felt beyond this province, also, that when I wrote you that hurried letter from Dalcague,5 some twenty people were in the room, disputing loudly, different topics of private interest; so, as I do not recollect its contents, I shall continue my remarks the same as if it had not been written.

Caucague Friday 20th. Feby. watch set to true mean time by sun rise this morning. At 11h. 33m. A.M. felt an earthquake, motion horizontal & slow, similar to that of a ship at Sea going before a high regular swell, with three to five shocks in a minute somewhat stronger than the continued general motion, direction from N.E. to S.W. Forest trees nearly touched the ground in these directions, but none fell in our vicinity; pocket compas placed level on the ground, N. point set to lubbers point, remarked that it vibrated two points to westward, & only half a point to E. ward during the violent Shocks, & stood at N. when the motion was less violent, the Sea in the channel very smooth; 11h. 34m. the ripple caused by the ebb tide in midchannel disapeared (to be calculated at leisure whether low water or not) 11h. 37m. 10s. a shock more violent than any of the preceeding, a small wave advancing to each shore, & directly after the ripple in midchannel showed it had turned flood. Compas vibrated the same as in weaker shocks. 11h. 40m. 40s. another violent shock, two waves smaller than the preceeding. Compas vibrated as before the motion from this time, became gradually less distinct 11h. 40m. 45s. motion ceas’d entirly. Several bystanders imagined they felt it two minutes longer. After waiting a few minutes to be sure the earthquaqe had pass’d & a strong wind springing up at N.E. which set a swell into the channel, we resumed our occupations. 3h. 40m. P.M. tide more than half ebb, mark left by flood on the beach, afoot higher than yesterdays tide. I consider this tide contrary to the regular order of Nature (Remr. to inquire whether it has been general all over this Archipielago) 4h. 10m. boat in the offing met the flood tide strong. Wind fresh from N.N.E. & hazy weather, Cordilleras not seen. At 9.50. P.M. arrived at Tenaun, low water just turned flood. Feby. 21. arrived at Delcague Mr. Robt. Barr thought the direction of the earthquake, from N.W. to S.E. which opinion was afterwards confirmed by observers in Sn. Carlos Castro & Quinched,6 but he did not remark the efect on the Tides.

Quinched Feby. 27. Saw the volcanoes for the first time since the earthquake, Renigue threw up four colums of white smoke, the small crater formed outside the Mountain had gone out. The Corcovado was silent but the snow was melted round the N.W. crater. Osorno is not seen from here. On the Seven peaked Mountain South from the corcovado were three large black patches among the Snow, which had all the appearance of volcanic craters. I did not observe these spots when to the Southward in the Boats. Quinched Feby. 28. three colums of smoke proceed from Renigue the whole top of this Mountain which appears from the water like Table land, seen at this elevation seems to be the rim of a great Volcanic Crater; opning in a gully to N.W. & the smoke proceeds from small sugar loaf shaped hills situated within this, & their tops are seen over it at sunrise; during the night five small red flames are seen in a line, low at N.W. & highest at S.E. they are equidistant, show a steady light & appear like the street of a village illuminated. Quinched 1st. March Renigue has shown gradually les activity since the 28 ulto. & to day I can only distinguish one small colum of smoke I am told that it is never entirly inactive.

Frangui 16th. March had a fine view of the Corcovado this morning, from the N.E. point of this Island called Guechupicun, the curved ridge on its E. side is hid by this view, & the mountain appears a well shaped cone with two large craters, one open to N.W. & the other to S.W. & only seperated by a large rock that swells out N. & S. as it rises, & forms like a crown to the Mountain. The Snow appears to cover 15 of its perpendicular hieght.

March 26th. at 8h. 13m. P.M. boat passing between the Island Lemuy & the village Chonchi, felt a smart perpendicular shock of an earthquake, which lasted ten seconds as near as I could guess, for before I could light a cigar & by its fire see my watch, the shock had passed. Five red fires seen in Renigue during the night. Corcovado silent.—

April 8. N.E. point of Island Quegui called peldén. The sun rose beautifully from behind the mountain Renigue, between two high curling colums of smoke. I saw the tops of fifteen conical hills within the great crater, & during the following night saw nine steady red fires, seven in a line & two straggling. An old Indian in whose house I lodged told me, that Renigue was formerly a very high three peaked Mountain, that two years before his marriage, its whole top fell in during an earthquake & it became a volcano, he never saw fire in it before that time, but it has been in constant action ever since

April 25th. Boat passing between the Chengues & Quicavi. At 10h. P.M. Saw the volcano Osorno for the first time since Feby. 20th. the low crater is larger than the high one, both show a steady white flame. At 11h. saw momentary flames issue from the side of the mountain, between the two craters: these flames first played round in a large circle, as if a new crater was about to be formed, but lastly they spread out in a straight line fliting up & down the side of the mountain between the two craters; these momentary flames all distant from each other & at least thirty in number, gave an idea of great distance between the craters, and also of this imense mountain being hollow perhaps only a thin shell which the flames can penetrate at pleasure, & some future earthquake may throw down like Renigue.

Sn. Carlos Novr. 11 Strong gales from N.W. & heavy continued rain, the Tide rose to day 18 inches higher than comon springs, during the night the volcanoes of Osorno & the Corcovado were in violent action throwing up stones to great heights in the air, the thunder of both Volcanoes were distinctly heard. Renigue not seen from here. Novr. 20 arrivals from Calbuco state that the dark blue smoke thrown out of Osorno on the 11 & 12 inst. was in such quantity as to threaten darkness at midday. Decr 1st. an arrival from the leeward coast, states that on the 11th. inst Talcahuano suffred a second ruin more dreadful than the first.

Caucague Decr. 5. at 10 P.M. emerging suddenly from a patch of wood land, through which my road lay, my attention was arrested by the grandest Volcanic spectacle I ever saw, the S.S.E. side of the Mountain Osorno had fallen in, uniting the two craters, & appeared like an imense river of fire, from the top rose an immense colum of dark blue smoke, ashes & lava, which the strong S.W. wind bent in an arch to N.E. & fell behind the mountain, a dense black cloud stood high aboe it, & discharged forked lightning towards it, three to seven flashes in a minute. At 10h. 15m. a long square colum of burning matter was thrown very high from the Mountain top, & very large flash of lightning from the cloud struck it & stopt its ascent, it formed itself into a round globe & burst, scattring its fragments in every direction, some of which were followed & overtaken by lightning from the cloud & burst as before: Other smaller masses were thrown up succesively, many of which were struck by lightning & burst like the first. I appeared to be a tragic representation of Miltons battle of the Angels as descibed in Paradise Lost. At 10h. 35m. an envious vapour propelled by the wind advanced from the Southward & hid the magnificent spectacle from my view, I waited till half past twelve expecting the screen would be raised as in the Theatre, but I was mistaken, for the vapour kept thickning into a dense black cloud, which remained stationary all night & next day, notwithstanding the wind continued fresh at S.W.

Chacaó Decr. 19. Volcano Osorno in violent action, the dark blue smoke which it iructated, setteled down on the gulf & appeared for several days like a new range of cordilleras, suffrining very little change in form or situation.

Sn. Carlos 23 Decr. which was signalised by the strongest gale of wind that has been felt this year. it began at 8 P.M. at N.N.E. gradually veering to N.NW. & increasing till 12. & continued in lulls & violent squalls till 2 AM. of the 24th. when its violence abated & by five it was moderate; the rain was unusually heavy during the whole night. At half past one A.M. an alarm was given by some timid person, that the sea was coming in & had destroyed several houses on the beach: the panic became general in a few minutes, & great confusion ensued; the old & young of both sexes leapt from their warm beds & were soon drenched in the midnight rain, many were thrown down by the violence of the wind & rolled in the mud or bruised against the stones, & obliged to take refuge in the first house they could reach, where they waited in dreadful anxiety. I forced my way down the street with some difficulty & found, that the waters had only risen 14 inches higher than extreeme springs.

Before collecting these notes in form of a letter, I had intended to call your attention to several observations & querries in geology, Astronomy, Hydraulics &c, but considering the size of the packet, these remarks would swell my letter into, with the probable expence of postage, I have left them out: more willingly considering that all my observations & many others I have no idea of, must have occured to your own observation, & what are inexplicable querries to me, may be as plain as the alphabet to a man of your extensive knowledge.

I shall only trouble you with one more observation, diging in the E. cliff of the Island Caucague, I saw protubrences in the hardned sand, which had the appearence of the shells that you found bedded in rock: after many fruitles atempts, I succeded in cutting one out intire, it had the appearance of a thick clam shell, half wore by long beating on the beach, but so soft as only to be handled with the greatest care, breaking it with care it had some signs of concoidal fracture, the substance was like dried marl, & was ground into an impalpable powder between the fingers, the cliff where found was at least 200 feet above the present level of the sea. I will not determine whether this is a shell or not, till I find more perfect samples in other places. I intend to write to Capt. Fitzroy during the insuing winter, when I shall have completed my observations on Indian & Spanish population. | Your humble & obedient Servant. | Chas. D. Douglas

CD annotations

2.1 There … past. 2.6] scored
3.4 people … quicker 3.10] scored
5.1 The Volcanos … snow. 6.5] scored
6.4 just above … snow. 6.5] ‘X’ in margin
7.4 I shall … private interest; 7.7] scored, ink
8.3 of a ship … disapeared 8.10] scored
8.7 two … disapeared 8.10] heavily scored
8.14 another … distinct 8.16] scored
8.24 At 9.50. P.M. … Tides. 8.28] heavily scored
9.1 Quinched … inactive. 9.16] scored
9.3 The Corcovado … crater. 9.4] ‘0’ in margin
10.4 the other … hieght. 10.6] scored, ink
11.3 as near … silent.— 11.5] scored
12.3 tops … Mountain 12.6] scored
14.1 Sn. Carlos … Osorno 14.6] scored
14.6 on the 11 … first. 14.9] triple scored, ink
15.1 Caucague … lava, 15.5] scored
at end of letter: ‘Compare. West Isd of Scotland | coast of England | Volcan of [centrl] France’7


For CD’s extensive use of the information in this letter, see his ‘On the connexion of certain volcanic phenomena in South America’, Collected papers 1: 53–86.
In his paper CD uses the Indian name ‘Minchinmadom’ for this volcano.
The letter, in Spanish, signed [Humberto] Garrao, answers briefly and rather vaguely Douglas’s questions about the level of the tides on 20 and 23 February 1835 (DAR 39.1: 6a).
CD in ‘Beagle’ diary, p. 253, calls this island ‘Quinchao’. Phillip Parker King (in Narrative 1: 271) refers to it as ‘Achao, or Quinchao’.
In his paper CD makes similar geographical references to give an idea of the extent of the volcanic action (Collected papers 1: 59).


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

Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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.


Reports in detail on the 20 Feb 1835 earthquake and on volcanic activity into December of 1835. Encloses a letter sent to him describing the earthquake.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles D. Douglas
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
San Carlos, Chiloé
Source of text
DAR 39.1: 5–6
Physical description
ALS 4pp † encl

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 292,” accessed on 8 June 2023,

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