skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Susan Darwin   28 January 1836


January 28th.— 1836

My dear Susan

The day after tomorrow we shall sail from this place; but before I give any account of our proceedings, I will make an end with Business.— Will you tell my Father that I have drawn a bill for 100£, of which Fifty went to pay this present & last year’s mess money. The remaining fifty is for current expenses; or rather I grieve to say it was for such expences: for all is nearly gone.— This is a most villainously dear place; & I stood in need of many articles. You will have received my letter some time ago, from New Zealand. Here we arrived on the 12th of this month.— On entering the harbor we were astounded with all the appearances of the outskirts of a great city:—numerous Windmills—Forts— large stone white houses, superb Villas &c &c.— On coming to an Anchor I was full of eager expectation; but a damp was soon thrown over the whole scene by the news there was not a single letter for the Beagle.— None of you at home, can imagine what a grief this is. There is no help for it: We did not formerly expect to have arrived here so soon, & so farewell letters.— The same fate will follow us to the C. of Good Hope; & probably when we reach England, I shall not have received a letter dated within the last 18 months. And now that I have told my pitiable story, I feel much inclined to sit down & have a good cry.

Two days after arriving here I started on a ride to Bathurst, a place about 130 in the interior, & the waters of which flow in to the vast unknown interior.— My object was partly for Geology, but chiefly to get an idea of the state of the colony, & see the country. Large towns, all over the world are nearly similar, & it is only by such excursions that the characteristic features can be perceived. This is really a wonderful Colony; ancient Rome, in her Imperial grandeur, would not have been ashamed of such an offspring. When my Grandfather wrote the lines of “Hope’s visit to Sydney Cove” on Mr Wedgwood’s medallion he prophecyed most truly.1 Can a better proof of the extraordinary prosperity of this country be conceived, than the fact that 78 th of an acre of land in the town sold by auction for 12000£ sterling? There are men now living, who came out as convicts (& one of whom has since been flogged at the Cart’s tail round the town) who are said to possess without doubt an income from 12 to 15000 pounds per annum.— Yet with all this, I do not think this Colony ever can be like N. America: it never can be be an agricultural country. The climate is so dry & the soil light, that the aspect even of the better parts is very miserable. The scenery is singular from its uniformity.—every where open Forest land; the trees have all the same character of growth & their foliage is of one tint.— It is an admirable country to grow rich in; turn Sheep-herd & I believe with common care, you must grow wealthy: Formerly I had entertained Utopian ideas concerning it; but the state of society of the lower classes, from their convict origin, is so disgusting, that this & t⁠⟨⁠he⁠⟩⁠ sterile monotonous character of the scenery, hav⁠⟨⁠e⁠⟩⁠ driven Utopia & Australia into opposite sides of the World.—

In my return from my ride I staid a night with Capt King, who lives about 30 miles from Sydney.— With him, I called on some of his relations, a family of Mac Arthurs, who live in a beautiful very large country house. When we called I suppose there were twenty people sitting down to luncheon; There was such a bevy of pretty lady like Australian girls, & so deliciously English-like the whole party looked, that one might have fancied oneself actually in England. From Sydney we go to Hobart Town from thence to King George Sound & then adie⁠⟨⁠u⁠⟩⁠ to Australia. From Hobart town being superadded to the list of places I think we shall not reach England before September: But, thank God the Captain is as home sick as I am, & I trust he will rather grow worse than better.2 He is busy in getting his account of the voyage in a forward state for publication. From those parts, which I have seen of it, I think it will be well written, but to my taste is rather defecient in energy or vividness of description. I have been for the last 12 months on very Cordial terms with him.— He is an extra ordinary, but noble character, unfortunately however affected with strong peculiarities of temper. Of this, no man is more aware than himself, as he shows by his attempts to conquer them. I often doubt what will be his end, under many circumstances I am sure, it would be a brilliant one, under others I fear a very unhappy one.

From K. George Sound to Isle of France, C. of Good Hope, St. Helena, Ascencion & omitting the C. Verd’s on account of the unhealthy season, to the Azores & then England.— To this last stage I hourly look forward with more & more intense delight; I try to drive into my stupid head Maxims of patience & common sense, but that head is too full of affection for all of you to allow such dull personages to enter. My best love to my Father.— God bless you all. My dearest old Granny | Your most affectionate brother | Charles Darwin.

Tell my Father I really am afraid I shall be obliged to draw a small bill at Hobart. I know my Father will say that a hint from me on such subject is worthy of as much attention, as if it was foretold by a sacred revelation. But I do not feel in truth oracular on the subject. I have been extra⁠⟨⁠vag⁠⟩⁠ant & bought two water-color sketches, one of the S. Cruz river & & another in T. del Fuego; 3 guineas each, from Martens, who is established as an Artist at this place.3 I would not have bought them if I could have guessed how expensive my ride to Bathurst turned out.


The prophecy of the bright future for the new colony in Erasmus Darwin’s poem (E. Darwin 1791, Canto 2: 315) was inspired by a Wedgwood medallion modelled from clay brought from Sydney soon after the colony was founded (see Voyage, p. 134).
In a report to Captain Beaufort dated only two days earlier (26 January 1836), Robert FitzRoy commented: ‘My messmate Mr. Darwin is so much the worse for a long voyage that I am most anxious to hasten as much as possible. Others are ailing and much require that rest which can only be obtained at home.’ (F. Darwin 1912, p. 548). Francis Darwin observes that the most interesting point about this report ‘is Captain FitzRoy’s statement about the poor state of Darwin’s health. I was quite unprepared for such a statement, and it seems probable that it was the beginning of the general breakdown in health which began so soon after his return to England.’ (ibid). But CD’s letters of this date make no mention of ill health and his twelve-day journey into the interior immediately before does not suggest any serious illness. One morning during the journey he did not feel well and ‘thought it more prudent not to set out’ (‘Beagle’ diary, p. 385), but he soon recovered. It is likely that FitzRoy was referring to CD’s recurrent seasickness, as, a few days later (on 3 February 1836), he wrote: ‘My messmate Mr. Darwin is now pretty well; but he is a martyr to confinement and sea-sickness when under way’ (F. Darwin 1912, p. 548).
The watercolours are listed in Keynes 1979 as No. 193 ‘Banks of Santa Cruz River’ (owned by Mrs R. G. Barnet) and No. 150 ‘Beagle in Beagle Channel’ (owned by George Pember Darwin). For excellent reproductions of Conrad Martens’s watercolours of the voyage see Stanbury 1977 and Keynes 1979.


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

Darwin, Erasmus. 1791. The economy of vegetation. Part 1 of The botanic garden. London.

Darwin, Francis. 1912. FitzRoy and Darwin, 1831–36. Nature 88: 547–8.

Keynes, Richard Darwin, ed. 1979. The Beagle record. Selections from the original pictorial records and written accounts of the voyage of HMS Beagle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Vols. 1,9,10]

Stanbury, David. 1977. A narrative of the voyage of HMS Beagle: being passages from the "Narrative’ written by Captain Robert FitzRoy … selected and edited by David Stanbury. London: The Folio Society.

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


CD’s impressions of Sydney and of FitzRoy’s character and temperament.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Susan Elizabeth Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 223
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 294,” accessed on 27 May 2022,

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