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Darwin's Diary

Introduction | 1809-1825 | 1826-1829 | 1831 | 1832 | 1833 | 1835 | 1836
1837 | 1838 | 1842-1854 | 1856 | 1858-1859 | 1881 | 1882


January 1833 (Voyage of the Beagle)

One of the goals of the Beagle voyage is to establish a Christian mission on Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of South America. The Beagle's other goal here is to chart the complex coastline -- a daunting task that rattles the meticulous Captain FitzRoy.

Like most Europeans of the day, Darwin considers the tribal people of Tierra del Fuego "savages." He writes, "The sight of a naked savage in his native land is an event which can never be forgotten." They are, to him, "like the troubled spirits of another world."

Camping near a Fuegian village, Darwin fears for his life.

"[T]he consciousness rushes on the mind in how remote a corner of the globe you are ... in ... [T]he quiet of the night is only interrupted by the heaving breathing of the men and the cry of the night birds -- the occasional distant bark of a dog reminds one that the Fuegians may be prowling, close to the tents, ready for a fatal rush."

Four years earlier, FitzRoy brought three Fuegians to England to "civilize" them. The names he gave them -- Fuegia Basket, Jemmy Button, and York Minister -- hint that he considers them more as pets than human equals. Their real names were Yokcushlu, Orundellico, and El'leparu. Darwin is particularly fond of Jemmy. "He was merry and often laughed, and was remarkably sympathetic with anyone in pain." And he calls Fuegia Basket "a nice, modest, reserved young girl ... very quick in learning anything."

By returning the Fuegians to their homeland, FitzRoy hopes to spread Christianity and European culture. But the experiment is an utter failure: A year after dropping the Fuegians off, the Beagle crew returns to find their former shipmates have reverted to their old ways.

"[It is] painful to behold him [the Fuegian Jemmy Button]; thin, pale, & without a remnant of clothes round his waist: his hair hanging over his shoulders; & so ashamed of himself, he turned his back to the ship ... I never saw so complete & grievous a change."

Darwin sees how quickly the trappings of "civilization" can disappear. Here, humans are clearly part of the natural world -- "fitted ... to the climate and Productions of the country."

Summer 1833 (Voyage of the Beagle) (Birth of a Theory)

Darwin rides across the plains of Patagonia with a group of Argentine cowboys, or gauchos.

"We halted for the night: at this instant an unfortunate cow was spied by the lynx-eyed gauchos, who set off in full chase, and in a few minutes dragged her in with their lazos ... We here had the four necessaries of life 'en el campo' -- pasture for the horses, water (only a muddy puddle), meat and firewood ... This was the first night which I passed under the open sky, with the gear of the recado [saddle] for my bed. There is high enjoyment in the independence of the gaucho life."

On these dusty plains there are few living animals -- some llama and hare-like agoutis. But there are many creatures long dead.

"We passed the night in Punta Alta, and I employed myself in searching for fossil bones, this point being a perfect catacomb for monsters of extinct races."

Over the course of several weeks, Darwin finds the remains of nine different colossal animals, and countless separate bones.

"It is impossible to reflect on the changed state of the American continent without the deepest astonishment. Formerly it must have swarmed with great monsters: now we find mere pygmies ... What has exterminated so many species?"

As he later learns more about the fossils, Darwin also wonders why the "pygmies" of today in South America -- sloths, anteaters, and armadillo -- resemble the extinct giants of the past. Could they, in fact, be modified descendants?

During the voyage, Darwin ships his fossils and other collections back home, and his fame as a naturalist-explorer begins to rise. One friend writes, "Your name is likely to be immortalized." And Darwin's mentor, John Stevens Henslow, urges, "Send more bones ... Every scrap of Megatherium skull you can set your eyes upon."

-> Go to 1835


Introduction | 1809-1825 | 1826-1829 | 1831 | 1832 | 1833 | 1835 | 1836
1837 | 1838 | 1842-1854 | 1856 | 1858-1859 | 1881 | 1882

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