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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Caroline Darwin   10–13 March 1835

[Off Valparaiso]

March 10th. | 1835

My dear Caroline,

We now are becalmed some leagues off Valparaiso & instead of growling any longer at our ill fortune, I will begin this letter to you. The first & best news I have to tell, is that our voyage has at last a definite & certain end fixed to it. I was beginning to grow quite miserable & had determined to make a start, if the Captain had not come to his conclusion. I do not now care what happens. I know certainly we are on our road to England, although that road is not quite the shortest. On the 1st. of June the Beagle sails from Valparaiso to Lima, touching only at one intermediate port—from Lima direct to Guayaquil—to the Galapagos, Marquesas so as to reach Otaheite middle of November, & Sydney, end of January of next year.—

This letter will be sent across land so will reach England soon: after receiving this you must direct till the middle of November to Sydney.—then till the middle of June to the C. of Good Hope.— We expect to arrive in England in September 1836.— The letters which come directed to S. America will not be lost for the Captain will write to the Admiral to forward them to Sydney.— I do so long to see you all again. I am beginning to plan the very coaches by which I shall be able to reach Shrewsbury in the shortest time. The voyage has been grievously too long; we shall hardly know each other again; independent of these consequences, I continue to suffer so much from sea-sickness, that nothing, not even geology itself can make up for the misery & vexation of spirit. But now that I know I shall see you all again in the glorious month of September, I will care for nothing; the very thoughts of that pleasure shall drive sea sickness & blue sea devils far away.—

We are now on our road from Concepcio⁠⟩⁠n.— The papers will have told you about the great Earthquake of the 20th of February.— I suppose it certainly is the worst ever experienced in Chili.— It is no use attempting to describe the ruins—it is the most awful spectacle I ever beheld.— The town of Concepcion is now nothing more than piles & lines of bricks, tiles & timbers—it is absolutely true there is not one house left habitable; some little hovels built of sticks & reeds in the outskirts of the town have not been shaken down & these now are hired by the richest people. The force of the shock must have been immense, the ground is traversed by rents, the solid rocks are shivered, solid buttresses 6–10 feet thick are broken into fragments like so much biscuit.— How fortunate it happened at the time of day when many are out of their houses & all active: if the town had been over thrown in the night, very few would have escaped to tell the tale. We were at Valdivia at the time the shock there was considered very violent, but did no damage owing to the houses being built of wood.— I am very glad we happened to call at Concepcion so shortly afterwards: it is one of the three most interesting spectacles I have beheld since leaving England—A Fuegian savage.—Tropical Vegetation—& the ruins of Concepcion— It is indeed most wonderful to witness such desolation produced in three minutes of time. I wrote a short letter from Chiloe,1 but forget at what date.— We had a remarkably pleasant boat expedition along the Eastern Coast. I am afraid it will be the last cruize of this sort. You cannot imagine what merry work such a wandering journey is; in the morning we never know where we shall sleep at night. Carrying, like snail, our houses with us we are always independent; when the day is over we sit round our fire & pity all you who are confined within houses.— I joined the Ship at the South extremity & proceeded with her amongst the Chonos Isd & Tres Montes. There was a good deal of rough water; & the geology not very interesting but upon the whole this cruize has been a very fair one.— Chiloe I have seen throughily having gone round it & crossed it on horseback in two directions. I am tired of the restraint of those gloomy forests of the South & shall enjoy the open country of Chili & Peru. Valdivia is a quiet little hamlet, just like those in Chiloe: We had an opportunity of seeing many of the famous tribe of Araucanian Indians. The only men in the Americas, who have successfully withstood for centuries the conquering arms of the Europæans.—

During this cruize, we have had the misfortune to loose 4 anchors; this is the cause of our now proceeding to Valparaiso—with only one anchor at the Bows it would not be safe to survey the coast. The Beagle will immediately return to Concepcion, from there resume the survey & continue it to Coquimbo. Then she will return to Valparaiso take in provisions & start for Lima.— I shall leave the Ship for the present; & not join her till the beginning of June: the Captain most kindly has offered to run in to Coquimbo to pick me up, in his way up the coast to Lima.— I hope & trust it will not be too late to cross the Cordilleras; besides the interest of such a journey, I am most anxious to see a geological section of this grand range.— Two days after we get in port, I will be off for St Iago & cross the Andes by the bad pass, see Mendoza & return by the common one.—2 I am much afraid of this cloudy weather, if snow falls early I may be detained a prisoner on the other side! I shall be obliged to spend a good deal of money; but I can most conscientiously say, I never spend a dollar, without thinking whether it is worth it. I am sure my Father will not grudge me a little more money than usual, for this is the last journey I shall be able take on shore; anyhow before we reach Sydney.— Oh the precious money wasted in Cambridge; I am ashamed to think of it.—

I am very glad of this spell on shore; my stomach, partly from sea sickness & partly from my illness in Valparaiso is not very strong. I expect some good rides will make another man of me.— And now our Voyage for many months will be in fine warm weather & the fair trade wind. Again I shall see palms, & eat Bananas & I look forward with pleasure to the very buzzing of the Mosquitos. The Captain is quite himself again, & thank Heavens as anxious to reach dear old England as all the rest of us.— The interval appears nothing—I can almost fancy we are running up the chops of the Channel & the look-out man has just hailed the “Lizard lights right ahead Sir”3 There will be more men aloft that day, than on the deck.—

Valparaiso, 13th.— I am in all the delightful hurry of a quick march.— tomorrow morning at four oclock I start for St. Iago. I am yet very doubtful about the Andes, but hope for the best: A pretty thing if the Snow falls whilst I am in Mendoza! in that case I should have to beg my way up to Potosi.— I am now in Corfield’s house, who is as hospitable & kind as he always is.— Tell my Father I have drawn a bill for sixty pounds.— When we arrived the day before yesterday, I only received two letters, (both most full of interesting news) from Katty Sept. & Caroline, October.— The June, July, August ones have miscarried. I expect however they are in the Commodores ships, & Commodores are fully priviledged to forget the entire concerns of a ten gun Brig:— others are sufferers with me.— I am very sorry for this, because I actually suppose, that Erasmus has written; & it will indeed be hard if I lose this. Also it seems poor William Owen has badly hurt his leg.— I wish they had not met this fate. You allude to some of the fossil bones being of value, & this of course is the very best news to me, which I can hear.— See how much obliged I am to all of you for your faithful performance of the promise of monthly letters.— I might have been more than a year without hearing—it is now 10 months.— God bless you all, for the best Sisters anyone ever had.—

I cannot write more, for horse cloths stirrups pistols & spurs are lying on all sides of me.— Give my most affectionate love to my dear Father.— | Farewell. Chas. Darwin—


This letter has not been found.
CD left Santiago for Mendoza via the Portillo Pass on 18 March and returned via the Uspallata Pass, arriving on 10 April. See ‘Beagle’ diary, pp. 288–306, and Journal of researches, ch. 17.
The lights at Lizard Head, Cornwall, the southernmost point of the British mainland.


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


Definite plans now to leave Valparaiso 1 June and to arrive in Sydney in January; then Cape of Good Hope and home in September 1836.

Describes Concepción after earthquake.

Will cross the Cordilleras. Hopes snow will hold off.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Caroline Sarah (Caroline) Darwin/Caroline Sarah (Caroline) Wedgwood
Sent from
Off Valparaiso
Source of text
DAR 223: 26
Physical description
ALS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 271,” accessed on 25 July 2024,

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