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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Henslow1   18 May – 16 June 1832

Rio de Janeiro.

May 18th. 1832

My dear Henslow.—

I have delayed writing to you till this period as I was determined to have a fair trial of the voyage. I have so many things to write about, that my head is as full of oddly assorted ideas, as a bottle on the table is with animals.— You being my chief Lord of the Admiralty, must excuse this letter being full of my’s & I’s.— After our two attempts to put to sea in spite of the gales, the time at Plymouth passed away very unpleasantly.— I would have written, only I had nothing to say, excepting what had better be left unsaid: so that I only wrote to Shrewsbury.— At length we started on ye 27th of December with a prosperous wind, which has lasted during our whole voyage:— The two little peeps at seasick misery gave me but a faint idea of what I was going to undergo.— Till arriving at Teneriffe (we did not touch at Madeira) I was scarcely out of my hammock & really suffered more than you could well imagine from such a cause.— At Santa Cruz, whilst looking amongst the clouds for the Peak & repeating to myself Humboldts sublime descriptions, it was announced we must perform 12 days strict quarantine.— We had made a short passage so “Up Jib” & away for St Jago.— You will say all this sounds very bad, & so it was: but from that to the present time it has been nearly one scene of continual enjoyment.— A net over the stern kept me at full work, till we arrived at St Jago: here we spent three most delightful weeks.— The geology was preeminently interesting & I believe quite new:2 there are some facts on a large scale of upraised coast (which is an excellent epoch for all the Volcanic rocks to [be] dated from) that would interest Mr. Lyell.—3 One great source of perplexity to me is an utter ignorance whether I note the right facts & whether they are of sufficient importance to interest others.— In the one thing collecting, I cannot go wrong.— St Jago is singularly barren & produces few plants or insects.—so that my hammer was my usual companion, & in its company most delightful hours I spent.—

On the coast I collected many marine animals chiefly gasteropodous (I think some new).— I examined pretty accurately a Caryophyllea & if my eyes were not bewitched former descriptions have not the slightest resemblance to the animal.— I took several specimens of an Octopus, which possessed a most marvellous power of changing its colours; equalling any chamaelion, & evidently accommodating the changes to the colour of the ground which it passed over.—yellowish green, dark brown & red were the prevailing colours: this fact appears to be new, as far as I can find out.— Geology & the invertebrate animals will be my chief object of pursuit through the whole voyage.— We then sailed for Bahia, & touched at the rock of St Paul.— This is a Serpentine formation.— Is it not the only island in the Atlantic which is not Volcanic?—4 We likewise staid a few hours at Fernando Noronha; a tremendous surf was running, so that a boat was swamped, & the Captain would not wait.— I find my life on board, when we are in blue water most delightful; so very comfortable & quiet: it is almost impossible to be idle, & that for me is saying a good deal.— Nobody could possibly be better fitted out in every respect for collecting than I am: many cooks have not spoiled the broth this time; Mr Brownes little hints about microscopes &c have been invaluable.— I am well off in books, the Dic: Class: is most useful.— If you should think of any thing or book that would be useful to me; if you would write one line E Darwin Whyndham Club5 St James Sqr.— He will procure them, & send them with some other things to Monte Video, which for the next year will be my head quarters.— Touching at the Abrolhos, we arrived here on April 4th; when amongst others I received your most kind letter: you may rely on it, during the evening, I thought of the many most happy hours I have spent with you in Cambridge.— I am now living at Botofogo, a village about a league from the city, & shall be able to remain a month longer.— The Beagle has gone back to Bahia, & will pick me up on its return.— There is a most important error in the longitude of S America, to settle which this second trip has been undertaken.— Our Chronometers at least 16 of them, are going superbly: none on record ever have gone at all like them.— A few days after arriving I started on an expedition of 150 miles to Rio Macaò, which lasted 18 days.— Here I first saw a Tropical forest in all its sublime grandeur.— Nothing, but the reality can give any idea, how wonderful, how magnificent the scene is.— If I was to specify any one thing I should give the preemenence to the host of parasitical plants.— Your engraving6 is exactly true, but underates, rather than exagerates the luxuriance.— I never experienced such intense delight.— I formerly admired Humboldt, I now almost adore him; he alone gives any notion, of the feelings which are raised in the mind on first entering the Tropics.—

I am now collecting fresh-water & land animals: if what was told me in London is true, viz that there are no small insects in the collections from the Tropics.— I tell Entomologists to look out & have their pens ready for describing.— I have taken, as minute (if not more so) as in England, Hydropori, Hygroti, Hydrobii, Pselaphi, Staphylini, Curculio, Bembididous insects &c &c.— It is exceedingly interesting observing the difference of genera & species from those which I know. it is however much less than I had expected I am at present red-hot with Spiders, they are very interesting, & if I am not mistaken, I have already taken some new genera.— I shall have a large box to send very soon to Cambridge, & with that I will mention some more Natural History particulars.

The Captain does every thing in his power to assist me, & we get on very well.—but I thank my better fortune he has not made me a renegade to Whig principles: I would not be a Tory, if it was merely on account of their cold hearts about that scandal to Christian Nations, Slavery.— I am very good friends with all the officers; & as for the Doctor he has gone back to England.—as he chose to make himself disagreeable to the Captain & to Wickham    He was a philosopher of rather an antient date; at St Jago by his own account he made general remarks during the first fortnight & collected particular facts during the last.—

I have just returned from a walk, & as a specimen how little the insects are know.—Noterus, according to Dic Class. contains solely 3 European species, I, in one hawl of my net took five distinct species.— is this not quite extraordinary?.—

June 16th.— I have determined not to send a box till we arrive at Monte Video.—it is too great a loss of time both for Carpenters & myself to pack up whilst in harbor.— I am afraid when I do send it, you will be disappointed, not having skins of birds & but very few plants, & geological specimens small: the rest of the things in bulk make very little show.—

I received a letter from Herbert, stating that you have a vol: of Dic Class— Will you send it to Whyndam Club.— I suppose you are at this moment in some sea-port, with your pupils.— I hope for their & your sake, that there will be but few rainy mathematical days.— How I should enjoy one week with you: quite as much as you would one in the glorious Tropics.—

We sail for Monte Video at the end of this month (June) so that I shall have been here nearly 3 months.— this has been very lucky for me.—as it will be some considerable period before we again cross the Tropic.— I am sometimes afraid I shall never be able to hold out for the whole voyage. I believe 5 years is the shortest period it will consume.— The mind requires a little case-hardening, before it can calmly look at such an interval of separation from all friends.— Remember me most kindly to Mrs. Henslow & the ⁠⟨⁠t⁠⟩⁠wo Signoritas; also to L. Jenyns, Mr Dawes ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ Mr Peacock.— Tell Prof: Sedgwick he does not know how much I am indebted to him for the Welch expedition.— it has given me an interest in geology, which I would not give up for any consideration.— I do not think I ever spent a more delightful three weeks, than in pounding the NW mountains.— I look forward to the Geology about M. Video—as I hear there are slate there, so I presume in that district I shall find the junction of the Pampas of the enormous granite formation of Brazils.— At Bahia the Pegmatite & gneiss in beds had same direction as observed by Humboldt prevailing over Columbia, distant 1300 miles: is it not wonderful?—

M Video will be for long time my direction:— I hope you will write again to me.— there is nobody, from whom I like receiving advice so much as from you.—

I shall be much obliged if you will get one of the engravings of poor Mr Ramsay & keep it for me.— Excuse this almost unintelligible letter & believe me dear Henslow—with the warmest feelings of respect & friendship | Yours affectionately | Chas Darwin *S 2

June. 16th.—

P.S. I found the other day a beautiful Hymenophallus, (but broke it to pieces in bringing home) & with it an accompanying Leiodes.—a most perfect copy of the Barmouth specimen.—7


Henslow extracted passages from CD’s letters and, without his knowledge, read them to the Cambridge Philosophical Society. The extracts were then published with some editorial changes, usually minor, in a pamphlet privately printed for the Society (Henslow 1835, Collected papers 1: 3–16). From this letter the following passages were extracted: 1.8 ‘we started … December’ 1.8 1.18 ‘at St Jago … Mr. Lyell.’ 1.22 1.25 ‘St Jago … companion’ 1.26 2.1 ‘On the coast … passed over.’ 2.7 2.10 ‘We then … formation.’ 2.11 2.23 ‘[After] Touching … April 4th’ 2.31 ‘A few days … 18 days.’ 2.32 3.1 ‘I am now … expected’ 3.6 5.1 ‘I have just … species.’ 5.3 8.14 ‘At Bahia … 1300 miles’ 8.16
CD’s first field notebook (no. 1.4, now at Down House) contains geological observations of the Cape Verde Islands (briefly excerpted in Voyage). More detailed notes are in the manuscript ‘Diary of observations on the geology of the places visited during the voyage, Part 1’ (DAR 32.1: 15–36). The Cape Verde mineralogical specimens are described in Harker 1907. The entire collection is now in the Department of Earth Sciences, Cambridge University.
‘I had brought with me the first volume of Lyell’s Principles of Geology (C. Lyell 1830–3), which I studied attentively; and this book was of the highest service to me in many ways. The very first place which I examined, namely St. Jago in the Cape Verde islands, showed me clearly the wonderful superiority of Lyell’s manner of treating geology, compared with that of any other author, whose works I had with me or ever afterwards read.’ (Autobiography, p. 77). Henslow had recommended that CD take the first volume of Lyell’s Principles on the voyage, ‘but on no account to accept the views therein advocated’ (ibid., p. 101). CD’s copy, preserved in Darwin Library–CUL, is inscribed ‘From Capt FitzRoy’.
See Darwin and Henslow, p. 54 n. 1 for the modern view of the geology of St Paul Rocks.
Windham Club.
This apparently refers to the French engraving ‘La Forêt du Brésil’. See letter to Caroline Darwin, 25–6 April [1832].


Autobiography: The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by Nora Barlow. London: Collins. 1958.

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

Darwin and Henslow: Darwin and Henslow: the growth of an idea. Letters 1831–1860. Edited by Nora Barlow. London: John Murray. 1967.

Harker, A. 1907. Notes on the rocks of the Beagle collection. Geological Magazine 5th ser. 4: 100–6.

Henslow, John Stevens. 1835. A catalogue of British plants, arranged according to the natural system, with the synonyms of De Candolle, Smith, Lindley, and Hooker. 2d ed. Cambridge.

Lyell, Charles. 1830–3. Principles of geology, being an attempt to explain the former changes of the earth’s surface, by reference to causes now in operation. 3 vols. London: John Murray.

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


His first letter to JSH since December. Recounts his seasickness, geologising and marine collecting at St Jago [Santiago, Cape Verde Is.]; his first tropical forest. Collecting small insects from the tropics. His Welsh trip with Sedgwick has been extremely valuable.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Stevens Henslow
Sent from
Rio de Janeiro
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Henslow letters: 12 DAR/1/1/12)
Physical description
ALS 6pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 171,” accessed on 4 March 2024,

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