‘If it was not for sea-sickness the whole world would be sailors.’

During Darwin’s five year Beagle voyage he spent many months on land, collecting specimens. It seems, from his letters and diary entries, that this must have provided great relief as he suffered terribly from sea-sickness. He writes to his father at the begnning of the voyage:


In the Bay of Biscay there was a long & continued swell & the misery I endured from sea-sickness is far far beyond what I ever guessed at.— I believe you are curious about it. I will give all my dear-bought experience.— Nobody who has only been to sea for 24 hours has a right to say, that sea-sickness is even uncomfortable.— The real misery only begins when you are so exhausted—that a little exertion makes a feeling of faintness come on.— I found nothing but lying in my hammock did me any good.

As a doctor, Darwin’s father may indeed have been curious about his son’s condition.


Darwin’s cabin, shared with members of the crew and their belongings was roughly 10ft x 11ft. Space was so limited that he had to remove the top drawer from a chest every evening in order to rig up his hammock. Despite this, he describes the ship to his father as ‘a comfortable house, with everything you want‘. Perhaps he did not want his father to regret finally agreeing to the voyage but a diary entry written in the same month (February 1832), does not depict life below deck so ‘comfortably’.


This has been the first day that the heat has annoyed us, & in proportion all have enjoyed the delicious coolness of the moonlight evenings: but when in bed, it is I am sure just like what one would feel if stewed in very warm melted butter. — This morning a glorious fresh trade wind is driving us along; I call it glorious because others do; it is however bitter cruelty to call anything glorious that gives my stomach so much uneasiness. — Oh a ship is a true pandemonium, & the cawkers who are hammering away above my head veritable devils. —[1]

Only four more years to go Charles…


[1]Richard Darwin Keynes (ed), Charles Darwin’s Beagle Diary, (Cambridge, 1988), p. 35


(More interesting snippets will be available soon from the interactive Beagle Voyage Activity Pack; a cross-curricula pack for 11-14 years, free to download.)

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