This interactive is optimized for landscape orientation.
Please rotate your device.

Darwin's journal:

The Beagle and Cordillera Expedition

The Beagle Voyage

The second voyage of HMS Beagle (1831—1836) was a Royal Navy surveying expedition to chart the southern coasts of South America. Charles Darwin joined the voyage at the age of 22 as a naturalist companion to Captain Robert Fitzroy and Darwin’s father paid for his passage. Darwin’s Cambridge tutor John Stevens Henslow had recommended him not as a

‘…finished Naturalist, but as amply qualified for collecting, observing, & noting any thing worthy to be noted in Natural History.’

Letter from J. S. Henslow, 24 August 1831 View Letter

The voyage enabled Darwin’s career as a scientist through the observations and collections he made and the network of experts it introduced him to.

Darwin spent two thirds of the five-year Beagle voyage on land, exploring habitats and collecting animals, plants and rocks. Darwin described the start of one of his inland traverses on 23 July 1834:

‘The Beagle anchored late at night in the bay of Valparaiso, the chief seaport of Chile. When morning came, everything appeared delightful. After Tierra del Fuego, the climate felt quite delicious—the atmosphere so dry, and the heavens so clear and blue with the sun shining brightly, that all nature seemed sparkling with life.’

Journal of Researches (later Voyage of the Beagle) 1845, p. 252

Valparaiso to Santiago

On 27 August 1834, Darwin caught his first glimpse of Santiago, the capital of Chile, describing

‘the city in the distance, abutting horizontally against the base of the Andes, whose snowy peaks were bright with the evening sun’

and immediately geologising that

‘the plain represented the extent of a former inland sea’

Journal of Researches 1845, p. 262

Darwin’s journey on horseback from Valparaiso to Santiago included an excursion to the base of the Andes to observe the beds of shells above sea level as geological evidence of elevation of the coastline.

He found signs of frequent earthquakes when he climbed up the rough mass of greenstone to the summit of the Campana (Bell) Mountain at 6400 feet, descending through the beautiful valley towns of Quillota and San Felipe.

At the Jajuel copper mines. which shipped ore to Swansea to be smelted, he observed the very harsh conditions of the labouring miners.

‘I had some capital scrambling about the mountains… I throughily enjoyed rambling about, hammer in hand, the bases of these great giants, as independently as I would the mountains in Wales.’

Letter to Caroline Darwin, 13 October 1834 View Letter

In Santiago he wrote to Captain Fitzroy back on the Beagle:

‘My ride has enabled me to understand a little of the Geology… all the rocks have been frizzled melted and bedevilled in every possible fashion… I can by no means procure any sort of Map.’

Letter to Robert Fitzroy, 28 August 1834 View Letter

Robert Fitzroy in 1835 (left)
Charles Darwin, after the voyage c. 1840 (right)

Darwin described Thomas Sutcliffe, a European mercenary:

‘I have seen a strange genius a Major Sutcliffe… I do not know what to make of him. He is full of marvellous stories; and to the surprise of every one every now & then some of them are proved to be true’

Letter to Robert Fitzroy, 28 August 1834 View Letter

Sutcliffe provided Darwin with this hand drawn map charting the route from Santiago to Nancagua and letters of introduction to people to stay with along the way.

Letter from Thomas Sutcliffe, 28 August – 5 September 1834 View Letter