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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Catherine Darwin   22 May – 14 July 1833

Maldonado. Rio Plata

May 22d. 1833

My dear Catherine

Thanks to my good fortune & my good sisters I have to acknowledge the following string of letters: (August I received many months ago:) September 12th Caroline: October 14th. Catherine: November 12th. Susan: December 15th. Caroline: & Jan 13th. Caroline:

My last folio letter was dated on the sea; after being disappointed at the Rio Negro.— the same foul winds & ill fate followed me to Maldonado; so that the Beagle proceeded direct to M: Video.— Here we remained only one night, when I received your four first letters: I really had not time to open & alter my letter, but sent it, as it was.— Leaving M: Video we came directly to Maldonado.— I the next day took up my residence on shore.— The Beagle has not yet returned (for she went again there) from M: Video, & I know nothing of our future plans: the purchase of the Schooner has so altered every thing. I have been living here for the last three weeks; it is quiet little village, surrounded on all sides by the endless succession of green turf hills & stony ridges.— I have had one little excursion which I enjoyed very much; I procured two trust-worthy men & a troop of horses & have had a 12 days ride into the interior.— the country continues very similar; so that one dreadfully misses the gorgeous views of Brazil.— I saw however a good deal of the Gauchos; a singular race of countrymen.— “Heads gallop” gives a most faithful picture; nothing can, I think, be more spirited & just than his remarks.—

Besides your letters I received several others.—one from Charlotte: 2 from Fox: also one of the very kindest I ever received in my life time, from Mrs. Williams.— I am very sorry to hear from your latter letters, that she has lost so much of the Owen constitution: I am very sure that with it, none of the Owen goodness has gone.—

I most devoutly trust that next summer (your winter) will be the last on this side of the Horn: for I am become throughily tired of these countries: a live Megatherium would hardly support my patience: the good people of Shropshire, who say I shall find cruizing in the South-seas stupid work, know very little of the numberless invertibrate animals, which abound in the inter-tropical ocean.— If it was not for these & still more for geology—I would in short time make a bolt across the Atlantic to good old Shropshire.— In for penny, in for pound.— I have worked very hard (at least for me) at Nat History & have collected many animals & observed many geological phenomena: & I think it would be a pity having gone so far, not to go on & do all in my power in this my favourite pursuit; & which I am sure, will remain so for the rest of my life.—

The following business piece is to my Father: having a servant of my own would be a really great addition to my comfort.—for these two reasons; as at present, the Captain has appointed one of the men always to be with me.—but I do not think it just thus to take a seaman out of the ship:—& 2d when at sea, I am rather badly off for anyone to wait on me.— The man is willing to be my servant & all the expences would be under sixty £ per annum.— I have taught him to shoot & skin birds, so that in my main object he is very useful.— I have now left England nearly 1 & 12 years: & I find my expences are not above 200£ per annum:—so that it being hopeless from time to write for permission I have come to the conclusion you would allow me this expense.— But I have not yet resolved to ask the Captain: & the chances are even that he would not be willing to have an additional man in the ship.— I have mentioned this because for a long time I have been thinking about it.—1

June:— I have just received a bundle more letters.— I do not know how to thank you all sufficiently:—one from Catherine Feb 8th:—another from Susan, March 3d.; together with notes from Caroline & from my Father; give my best love to my Father; I almost cried for pleasure at receiving it.—it was very kind, thinking of writing to me.— My letters are both few, short, & stupid in return for all yours; but I always ease my conscience by considering the Journal as a long letter. If I can manage it, I will before doubling the Horn send the rest.— I am quite delighted to find, the hide of the Megatherium has given you all some little interest in my employments. These fragments are not however by any means the most valuable of the Geological relics. I trust & believe, that the time spent in this voyage, if thrown away for all other respects, will produce its full worth in Nat: History: And it appears to me, the doing what little one can to encrease the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life, as one can in any likelihood pursue.— It is more the result of such reflections (as I have already said) than much immediate pleasure, which now makes me continue the voyage: together with the glorious prospect of the future, when passing the Straits of Magellan, we have in truth the world before us.— Think of the Andes; the luxuriant forest of the Guayquil; the islands of the South Sea & new South Wale. How many magnificent & characteristic views, how many & curious tribes of men we shall see.—what fine opportunities for geology & for studying the infinite host of living beings: is not this a prospect to keep up the most flagging spirit?— If I was to throw it away; I dont think I should ever rest quiet in my grave; I certainly should be a ghost & haunt the Brit: Museum.—

How famously the Ministers appear to be going on I always much enjoy political ⁠⟨⁠goss⁠⟩⁠ip, & what you, at home think will &c &c take place.— I steadily read up the weekly Paper: but it is not sufficient to guides one opinion: & I find it a very painful state not to be as obstinate as a pig in politicks. I have watched how steadily the general feeling, as shown at elections, has been rising against Slavery.— What a proud thing for England, if she is the first Europæan nation which utterly abolishes it.— I was told before leaving England, that after living in Slave countries: all my opinions would be altered; the only alteration I am aware of is forming a much higher estimate of the Negros character.— it is impossible to see a negro & not feel kindly towards him; such cheerful, open honest expressions & such fine muscular bodies; I never saw any of the diminutive Portuguese with their murderous countenances, without almost wishing for Brazil to follow the example of Hayti; & considering the enormous healthy looking black population, it will be wonderful if at some future day it does not take place.— There is at Rio, a man (I know not his titles) who has large salary to prevent (I believe) th⁠⟨⁠e⁠⟩⁠ landing of slaves: he lives at Botofogo, & yet that was the ⁠⟨⁠b⁠⟩⁠ay, where during my residence the greater number of smuggled slaves were landed.— Some of the Anti-Slavery people ought to question about his office: it was the subject of conversation at Rio amongst some of the lower English.—

June 19th. I write this letter by patches:— I have just spent a day on board to see old Wickham, who has returned from his little hired Schooner to be Captain of the new one.— This same Schooner will produce the greatest benefits to me.— The Captain always anxious to make every body comfortable, has given me all Stokes (who will be in the Schooner) drawers in the Poop Cabin, & for the future nobody will live there except myself.— I absolutely revel in room:— I would not change berths with anyone in the Ship.— The cause of our very long delay here, is coppering the Schooner; as soon as this is finished the Beagle will go for a month to R. Negro return to the R. Plata & take in provisions for the whole summer.— The Captain is anxious to then be able to pass on to Conception on the other side.— I am ready to bound for joy at the thoughts at it.— Volcanic plains: beds of Coal: lakes of Nitre, & the Lord only knows what more.— If this was certain I would hatch a grand plan, viz of now remaining behind, & posting up to B. Ayres; I heard of so many curious things there; per contrà at R. Negro cliffs almost built of fossil shells.— Was ever a Philosopher (my standard name on board) placed between two such bundles of Hay?— The worst of it is the B. A. bundle is rather expensive, & nearly all the 70£ is gone in paying what I owed & in my long residence here.— And then the mere reading the sum total from July 31 to 32 is enough to give one an indigestion: what it must have been to have paid it, I dont know:— I shall go on board in a weeks time & then I shall know more:—

June [July] 6th.— I am now living on board: The Packet has just come in; but no letters for poor me; I have no right to growl, for I suppose the Capt. Beaufort parcel has robbed this month. Farewell for the future to regular correspondence.— You must direct hereafter to Valparayso. Our plans are (always winds & waves permitting) to go for a month to the banks off the R. Negro, return to the Plata; find the Schooner, ready, take in at M Video one years provisions & Lark away to the land of storms, in the Autumn (your Spring) pass the Straits of Magellan: I am ready to bound for joy at this prospect. I long to bid adieu to the Atlantic. Already I almost fancy I see through a long vista of storms, the blue sky of the Tropics.— I wrote the other day to Mr. Hughes’ at B Ayres, & I am sorry to hear he has left that place, chiefly from ill health.— I have asked the Captain & obtained his consent respecting a servant.—but he has saved me much expence, by keeping him on the books for victuals & will write to Admiralty for permission.— So that it will not be much more than 30£ per annum.— I shall now make a fine collection, in birds & quadrupeds, which before took up far too much time. We here got 80 birds & 20 quadrupeds. Tell Caroline, to thank Charlotte very much for writing to me. When we are on the other side, I shall have more to say, & will then write to thank her.— I have lost all interest in this part of America, & I feel more inclined to growl, than write civilly to any-body.—

July 14th.— We have just had a trip to M: Video & in few days go Southward: I received letter of Caroline May 1st.— my last was the Beaufort parcel in March; the April one alas is lost: Excepting when the letters are sent from home, remember the 3"6 is temptation for any body to tear up the letter:2 By the same packet which takes this the rest of my journal will arrive, through Capt. Beaufort.— so if it does not come, you will know where to enquire about it.— The journal latterly has not been flourishing, for there is nothing to write about in these well-known-uninteresting countries.— The letter ought to have made as it were two distinct ones: but when living on shore, I did not hear of conveyances to M. Video.— Once more I must thank you all for writing: it is so very delightful having a regular correspondence.—

Give my love to my Father & Erasmus & all of you: God bless you all.— | My dear Katty: Your most affectionately, | Chas. Darwin.—

P.S.— When you read this I am afraid you will think that I am like the Midshipman in Persuasion who never wrote home, excepting when he wanted to beg: it is chiefly for more books; those most valuable of all valuable things: “Flemings philosophy of Zoology” & Pennants Quadrupeds” these I have at home: “Davys consolation in Travel”: “Scoresby Arctic regions”: “Playfairs Hutton, theory of the earth” “Burchells travels” “Paul Scrope on Volcanoes” a pamphlet by “J. Dalyell Observations on the Planariæ, Edinburgh” Caldcleugh travels in S America.— If any of these books are expensive, strike them out: Tell Erasmus I shall be very much obliged if with my Fathers consent he will undertake this commission. If the 8th Vol of Humboldt or Sedgwick & Conybeares geological book is out I should like them both:3 You people at home cannot appreciate the exceeding value of Books: Cary has 3s"6 tape measure of about 12 feet.4 I have lost mine: I have at present a double convex lens, fitted to the object glass, & about one inch in diameter: now I want one on a larger scale & with longer focal distance, for illuminating opake objects: it must be fixed on a stand with plenty of motions. I want to use it, by placing it near the Microscope, & thus have steady light on opake object.— I daresay an Optician must have made some such contrivance. Also another box of Promethians5 (I blush like this red ink, when I ask for it) but the natives here are so much astounded at them, that I have wasted a great many:—& lastly 4 pair of very strong walking shoes from Howell if he has my measure; it is impossible to procure them in this country:

I guess, as the Yankys say, this a pretty considerable tarnation impudent Postcript: I have no doubt, Capt Beaufort will undertake to foreward the box to Valparaiso:—


Syms Covington, ‘Fiddler and Boy to the Poop cabin’, became CD’s servant and remained with him as assistant, secretary, and servant until 1839, when he migrated to Australia.
3s. 6d., a considerable sum, was the postage for a letter to South America. Presumably CD means that a post office clerk—away from home, where the family was known—would be tempted to destroy the letter and pocket the fee.
Burchell 1822–4, Caldcleugh 1825, Dalyell 1814, Davy 1830, Fleming 1822, Pennant 1781, Playfair 1802, Scoresby 1820, and Scrope 1825. No eighth volume of Humboldt’s Personal narrative was ever published (see letter from E. A. Darwin, 18 August [1832], n. 3). No geological work by Sedgwick and Conybeare was published. Annotated copies of Fleming 1822 and Playfair 1802, and an unannotated Pennant (3d edition, 1793) are in the Darwin Library–CUL. Unannotated copies of Burchell 1822–4, Scoresby 1820, and Scrope 1825 are in the Darwin Library–Down. CD’s copies of Caldcleugh 1825, Dalyell 1814, and Davy 1830 have not been found. Playfair and Caldcleugh were used by CD in the Beagle. Fleming and Pennant were sent to him from Shrewsbury and were probably used on board the Beagle, but there is no corroborating evidence, either in the books themselves or in CD’s notes.
CD’s measurements were sometimes improvised and approximate. For weighing he balanced with his water flask and for more refined weights used bullets and pellets; e.g., ‘Big rat weighs flask with water, without bottom 2 bullets, 4 pellets’ (Voyage, p. 183).
A kind of match. ‘I carried with me some promethean matches, which I ignited by biting; it was thought so wonderful that a man should strike fire with his teeth, that it was usual to collect the whole family to see it: I was once offered a dollar for a single one’ (Journal of researches, p. 47).


Burchell, William John. 1822–4. Travels in the interior of Southern Africa. 2 vols. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown.

Caldcleugh, Alexander. 1825. Travels in South America, during the years 1819 … 21. 2 vols. London.

Dalyell, John Graham. 1814. Observations on some interesting phenomena in animal physiology, exhibited by several species of Planariae. Illustrated by coloured figures of living animals. Edinburgh.

Davy, Humphry. 1830. Consolations in travel, or the last days of a philosopher. Edited by John Davy. London.

Fleming, John. 1822. The philosophy of zoology; or, a general view of the structure, functions, and classification of animals. 2 vols. Edinburgh.

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.

Pennant, Thomas. 1781. History of quadrupeds. 2 vols. London.

Playfair, John. 1802. Illustrations of the Huttonian theory of the earth. Edinburgh: Cadell and Davies.

Scoresby, William. 1820. An account of the Arctic regions, with a history and description of the northern whale-fishery. 2 vols. Edinburgh: Archibald Constable and Co., Edinburgh, and Hurst, Robinson and Co., London.

Scrope, George Poulett. 1825. Considerations on volcanos, the probable causes of their phenomena, the laws which determine their march, the disposition of their products, and their connexion with the present state and past history of the globe; leading to the establishment of a new theory of the earth. London: W. Phillips.

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


Longs to be on the other side of the Horn; tired of these countries. Natural history makes him continue. He now knows it will remain his favourite pursuit for the rest of his life.

Comments on slavery.

Will have additional space on board and a servant [Syms Covington] who will help him with the collection of birds and quadrupeds.

Asks for books, a lens, and four pairs of shoes.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Emily Catherine (Catherine) Darwin/Emily Catherine (Catherine) Langton
Sent from
Maldonado, Rio Plata
Source of text
DAR 223
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 206,” accessed on 4 March 2024,

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