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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Catherine Darwin   20–9 July 1834

a hundred miles South of Valparaiso.

Sunday.— July 20th.— 1834—

My dear Catherine.

Being at sea & the weather fine, I will begin a letter, which shall be finished when we arrive in Port.— I have received the whole series of letters up to yours of November, 1833.— I wrote last from the Falkland Isds. (where the Conway left for us a letter Bag); in this I mention receiving a Box; which must have come from Henslow; The next Man of War that comes round the Horn will bring the one from you.— We left the Island of Chiloe a week since; for which place a succession of gales compelled us to bear up.— We staid there some days in order to refresh the men.— Pigs & potatoes are as plentiful as in Ireland. With the exception of this weighty advantage, Chiloe, from its climate is a miserable hole.— I forget whether you were at home, when my friend Mr Proctor1 was there, & told us about the place, where his Uncle says it never ceases to rain; I am sure he must have meant Chiloe.—

Altogether the last six months since leaving the Plata, has been a most prosperous cruize.— Much as I detest the Southern Latitudes, I have been enabled, during this period to do so much in Geology & Natural History, that I look back to Tierra del Fuego with grateful & almost kindly feelings. You ask me about the specimens which I send to Cambridge I collect every living creature, which I have time to catch & preserve; also some plants.— Amongst Animals, on principle I have lately determined to work chiefly amongst the Zoophites or Coralls: it is an enormous branch of the organized world; very little known or arranged & abounding with most curious, yet simple, forms of structures.—

But to go on with our history; when I wrote from the Falklands we were on the point of sailing for the S. Cruz on the coast of Patagonia.— We there looked at ye Beagle’s bottom, her false keel was found knocked off, but otherwise not damaged.— When this was done, the Captain & 25 hands in three boats pro-ceeded to follow up the course of the river of S. Cruz.— The expedition lasted three weeks; from want of provisions we failed reaching as far as was expected, but we were within 20 miles of ye great snowy range of the Cordilleras: a view which has never before been seen by Europæan eyes.—2 The river is a fine large body of water, it traverses wild desolate plains inhabited by scarcely anything but the Guanaco.— We saw in one place smoke & tracks of the horses of a party of Indians: I am sorry we did not see them, they would have been out & out wild Gentlemen. In June, in the depth of winter we beat through the Straits of Magellan; the great chain of mountains, in which Sarmiento stands presented a sublime spectacle of enormous piles of snow.— Scenery however, is not sufficient to make a man relish such a climate. We passed out by the Magdalen channel, an unfrequented & little known exit; on our passage up, before we were driven into Chiloe, Mr Rowlett, the purser, died; Having gradually sunk under a complication of diseases.—

So much for the past; our future plans are as yet very uncertain: After Valparaiso, we shall go to Coquimbo to refit.— Here the climate is fine, but every thing else bad; the desert of Peru may be said to extend so far South; where man-kind is only enticed to live by the richer metals.— Next summer there is a good deal of work to be done behind & around Chiloe; how far I shall accompany the vessels I do not yet know.—

Amongst all the things you & Susan have told me in the last letters; you do not ever mention Erasmus; I hope the good lazy old Gentleman is alive; tell him, I should like very much to have one more letter from him; perhaps the box will bring one: if he would write to me four letters during the whole voyage, I would not grumble at all.— As for all of you, you are the best correspondents a brother, 3000 miles off, ever had.— I wish you could inspire Erasmus with a little of the superabundance of your virtues.— I am afraid he thinks your stock is sufficient for the whole family.— I am much pleased to hear my Father likes my Journal: as is easy to be seen I have taken too little pains with it.— My geological notes & descriptions of animals I treat with far more attention: from knowing so little of Natural History, when I left England, I am constantly in doubt whether these will have any value.— I have however found the geology of these countries so different from what I read about Europe, & in consequence when compared with it so instructive to myself; that I cannot help hoping that even imperfect descriptions may be of some general utility.—

Of one thing, I am sure; that such pursuits, are sources of the very highest pleasures I am capable of enjoying.— Tell my Father also, how much obliged I am for the affectionate way he speaks about my having a servant. It has made a great difference in my comfort; there is a standing order, in the Ship, that no one, excepting in civilized ports, leaves the vessel by himself By thus having a constant companion, I am rendered much more independent, in that most dependent of all lives, a life on board.— My servant is an odd sort of person; I do not very much like him; but he is, perhaps from his very oddity, very well adapted to all my purposes.

July 29th., Valparaiso.— I have again to thank you all, for being such good sisters, as you are.— I have just received 3 letters, one from each of you, in due order the last being from Susan, Feb 12th.— Also the box of books, with sundry notes & letters.— I am much obliged for your chain, I wear Caroline’s pencil case, suspended by it round my neck.— Thank Granny for her purse & tell her I plead guilty to some of her [two words obliterated], but the others are certainly only accidental errors— Moreover I am much obliged for Carolines criticisms (see how good I am becoming!) they are perfectly just, I even felt aware of the faults she points out, when writing my journal.—3 The little political books are very popular on board; I have not had time yet to read any of them.— Everything came right in the box; the shoes are invaluable, tell Erasmus he is a very good old gentleman for doing all my commissions, but he would be still better if he would write once again.—four letters are too much, it will frighten him, so I will change my demand into two, & they may be as short as he likes, so that they really come from him.— One other message & I have done, it is to my Father, that I have drawn a bill of eighty pounds.— I must now hold out, as the only economical prospect, the time when we cross the South Seas.— I hope this will not be considered as a little “South Sea scheme”.—4

Valparaiso is a sort of London or Paris, to any place we have been to.— it is most disagreeable to be obliged to shave & dress decently.— We shall stay here two months, instead of going North-ward, during which time the ship will be refitted & all hands refreshed. You cannot imagine how delightfull the climate feels to all of us, so dry, warm & cheerful: it is not here as in T. del Fuego where one fine day, makes one fear the next will be twice as bad as usual.— The scenery wears such a different aspect, I can sit on the hills & watch the setting sun brighten the Andes, as at Barmouth we used to look at Cader-Idris.— The time of year, being now winter, is very unfortunate for me, it is quite hopeless to penetrate the Cordilleras; There is a mountain, near here, at Quillota, 4700 feet high. I am going in a few days to try to ascend it; I fear however the snow will be too thick. R. Corfield is living here, I cannot tell you how very obliging & kind he is to me.—5 He has a very nice house & before long I am going on shore to pay him a visit; he presses me most goodnaturedly to make his house my headquarters.—

I have had some long & pleasant walks in the country; I am afraid it is not a very good place for Natural History; after my first ride I shall know more about it. I have received two letters from Henslow, he tells me my treasures have arrived safe & I am highly delighted at what he says about their value.— What work I shall have, when I return; there will be a glorious mass of what Wickham calls d— —d beastly devilment. Although Wickham always was growling at my bringing more dirt on board than any ten men, he is a great loss to me in the Beagle.6 He is far the most conversible being on board, I do not mean talks the most, for in that respect Sulivan quite bears away the palm. Our new artist, who joined us at M. Video, is a pleasant sort of person, rather too much of the drawing-master about him; he i⁠⟨⁠s⁠⟩⁠ very unlike to Earles eccentric character.—

We all jog on very well together, there is no quarrelling on board, which is something to say:— The Captain keeps all smooth by rowing every one in turn, which of course he has as much right to do, as a gamekeeper to shoot Partridges on the first of September.—7 When I began this long straggling letter, I had intended to have sent it per Admiralty; but now it must be sent by Liverpool, so there will be double postage to pay.— Thank most affectionately those good dear ladies, Sarah W. & Fanny B: I am very sorry to find I have lost the second of Mr Owen’s letters Remember me at Maer, Woodhouse & I believe those two houses will include every one, I shall care any thing about, when I return. How every thing will be altered by that time; looking at things from a distance, they appear to be undergoing changes far faster than when living amongst them.— Will Erasmus be married? all these gay doing with Cab & horses portend something eventful: Can he build a castle in the air, where he does not quarrel with his wife in the first week? If he has arrived at such a pitch, I know well I shall find him a well-broken-in subjected husband.

Give my best love to my Father, Erasmus & each of the Sisterhood.— Dear Katty, Your most affectionate brother | Charles Darwin

There are several good dear people, whom I should like much to write to, but at present I really have not the time. Thank Fanny for her nice, goodnatured note; I have just re-read it. The sight of her hand writing is enough alone to make me long for this voyage to come to some end.—


George Proctor, a fellow student at Christ’s College. His uncle, Robert Proctor, had lived and travelled in Peru and Chile in 1823–4. (See Proctor 1825, of which a copy, signed ‘C. Darwin’ on the inside front cover, is in Christ’s College Library, Cambridge. There is no evidence that CD had it on board the Beagle.)
CD’s account is in Chapter X of Journal of researches. Robert FitzRoy read a paper about the expedition at the Royal Geographical Society on 8 May 1837 (FitzRoy 1837).
Five lines of the manuscript (‘tell her … journal’) have been deleted in black ink, presumably by one of CD’s sisters.
A reference to the speculation and fraud of the famous ‘South Sea Bubble’ of the early eighteenth century.
Richard Henry Corfield attended Shrewsbury School, 1816–19; CD entered in 1818 (Shrewsbury School Register). Corfield’s letters to CD, 26–7 June 1835 and 14–18 July 1835, indicate that he was engaged in trading or shipping business at Valparaiso.
John Clements Wickham had been placed in command of the Adventure by FitzRoy shortly after he bought her in March 1833.
The opening day of the English shooting season.


FitzRoy, Robert. 1837. Extracts from the diary of an attempt to ascend the River Santa Cruz, in Patagonia, with the boats of HMS Beagle. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 7: 114–26.

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.

Proctor, Robert. 1825. Narrative of a journey across the Cordillera of the Andes, and of a residence in Lima, and other parts of Peru, in the years 1823 and 1824. London.


In the past six months he has done much geology and natural history. His geological pursuits are a source of high pleasure. Has lately determined to work chiefly on corals.

Spent three weeks going up the Santa Cruz with a party; they ran out of provisions 20 miles from the Cordilleras. Winter at present prevents his doing much natural history.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Emily Catherine (Catherine) Darwin/Emily Catherine (Catherine) Langton
Sent from
A hundred miles south of Valparaiso
Source of text
DAR 223
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 248,” accessed on 23 July 2024,

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