Posted by: Rob Viens | April 7, 2014

Mr. Smith Goes to Berkeley Sound

After a few weeks off to wrap up another busy quarter, do a little traveling and lighten my brain a bit, I have taken a trip via the “wayback machine” to rejoin my companions on the Beagle.  During the time I have been away, Darwin spent a couple of weeks in the Falkland Islands, and as of today (April 7th), the ship weighed actor -heading back to the mainland. Fortunately, after the first few days in the Falklands it was also a relatively quiet time for Darwin’s diary. So I’ll spend a couple of entries getting caught up and pick up from there…

After traveling across the open ocean, the Beagle arrived in the Falklands on March 10th:

“Arrived in the middle of the day at Berkeley Sound, having made a short passage by scudding before a gale of wind. — Mr Smith, who is acting as Governor, came on board, & has related such complicated scenes of cold-blooded murder, robbery, plunder, suffering, such infamous conduct in almost every person who has breathed this atmosphere, as would take two or three sheets to describe. — With poor Brisbane, four others were butchered; the principal murderer, Antuco, has given himself up. — he says he knows he shall be hanged but he wishes some of the Englishmen, who were implicated, to suffer with him; pure thirst for blood seems to have incited him to this latter act. — Surrounded as Mr Smith [is] with such a set of villains, he appears to be getting on with all his schemes admirably well” (March 10)

Port Louis, East Faulklands. March 14 1834 by Conrad Martens

Conrad Martens Falklands painting

“Mr. Smith” is Lt. Henry Smith, who arrived in the Falkland Islands aboard the HMS Challenger in January.  He was charged with rounding up the criminals who committed the massacre back in August (chiefly Antonio Rivero, who Darwin calls “Antico” – see Rumors of Unrest in the Falklands) and restoring British authority to the islands.  He served as governor until 1838.

Darwin later writes of the governor, and the remote outpost at the bottom of the world in Voyage:

“The Englishman who was left in charge of the flag was consequently murdered. A British officer was next sent, unsupported by any power: and when we arrived, we found him in charge of a population, of which rather more than half were runaway rebels and murderers.

The theatre is worthy of the scenes acted on it. An undulating land, with a desolate and wretched aspect, is everywhere covered by a peaty soil and wiry grass, of one monotonous brown colour. Here and there a peak or ridge of grey quartz rock breaks through the smooth surface. Every one has heard of the climate of these regions; it may be compared to that which is experienced at the height of between one and two thousand feet, on the mountains of North Wales; having however less sunshine and less frost, but more wind and rain.” (Voyage of the Beagle)

Sounds, um, pleasant…

Settlement at Port Louis (after Martens, in FitzRoy’s Narrative)

Port Louis engraving based on Conrad Marten's sketch

Over the next few day’s Darwin prepared for a trip to the interior – an area that he had not had a chance to explore on the previous visit:

“The ship was moved to near the Town. The Adventure arrived, after an exceedingly prosperous voyage. They killed so many wild bulls, geese &c &c & caught so many fish, that they have not tasted salt meat; this with fine weather is the beau ideal of a sailors cruize. I went on shore, intending to start on a riding excursion round the island, but the weather was so bad I deferred it.” (March 11-14)

The weather may have improved by the time journey began on March 16th, but Darwin’s view of the Falklands did not change much.  You might notice a theme here – it was pretty clear when Darwin did not like a place very much. As he set out on his journey he wrote:

“Early in the morning I set out with 6 horses & two Gauchos. These were the only two Spaniards who were not directly concerned with the murder; but I am afraid my friends had a very good idea of what was going to take place. — However they had no temptation to murder me & turned out to be most excellent Gauchos, that is they were dexterous hands in all the requisites of making the camp-life comfortable. — The weather was very boisterous & cold, with heavy hail storms. We got on however pretty well; excepting some little geology nothing could be less interesting. — The country is uniformly the same, an undulating moorland; the surface covered with light brown withered grass, & some few very low shrubs all growing out of an elastic peaty soil. — There is one main range of quartz rock hills, whose broken barren crests gave us some trouble to cross. Few sorts of birds inhabit this miserable looking country: there are many small flocks of geese feeding in the valleys, & solitary snipes are common in all parts. — On the South side of the range of hills we came into the best country for the wild cattle; we did not however see very many, because the Murderers had by hunting them so much, driven them amongst the mountains. These men only killed the cows, & then took out the tongue & piece of meat from the breast, when this was finished they killed another. By their own account they must have killed more than 200 head, — We saw plenty of the half decayed carcases.” (March 16)

On any adventure it is important to “pack a lunch”, and this trip was no exception. In his diary, Darwin describes the process by which the gauchos captured a cow and prepared the meat for the journey:

“In the evening we came across a nice little herd. St Jago soon separated a fat cow, he threw his balls, they hit her legs, but did not entangle her: he dropped his hat to mark the place where the balls fell, uncoiled his lazo & again we commenced the chace; at last he caught her round the horns. — The other Gaucho had gone on with the horses, so that St Jago had some difficulty in killing the furious beast. The horses generally soon learn for their own safety to keep the lazo tight when their rider dismounts, when this is the case the man can easily hamstring & thus secure the beast. Here the horse would not stand still, & it was admirable to see with what dexterity St Jago dogged about the cow till he contrived to give the fatal touch to the main tendon of the hind leg. After which, driving his knife into the head of the spinal marrow the animal dropped as if struck by lightning. — St Jago cut off enough flesh with the skin, & without any bones, to last for our expedition. We then rode on to our sleeping place. Meat roasted with its skin (carne con cuero) is known over all these parts of S. America for its excellence. — it bears the same relation to common beef, which venison does to mutton. — I am sure if any worthy alderman was once to taste it; carne con cuero would soon be celebrated in London.” (March 16)

A modern version of asado con cuero  – large masses of beef still on the skin, cooked over a bbq (from AbsolutArgentina):

asado con cuero

Darwin’s carne con cuero (meet with leather/skin) appears to be what is now referred to as asado en el cuero (barbecue on the leather). It is still known as a signature dish throughout many parts of South America… (RJV)

PS – For more on the geology of the Falklands see Falkland Geology Part I: Ancient Shells and Glacial Remains and The Slow Boat from Africa (Falkland Geology Part II).

Posted by: Rob Viens | March 15, 2014

Live Long and Prosper Jemmy Button

On March 5th the Beagle continued along the Southern coast of Tierra del Fuego in an effort to return to the site of the failed Christian mission. Everyone (no doubt) anticipated the reunion with the three Fugeians who had spent time in England (Jemmy Button, York Minster and Fuegia Basket) after having been away from them for a year. I’m sure that Captain FitzRoy was anxious to see how his “civilized Feugians” were doing back in their native environment – hoping that they had started to convert their tribesmen into “good Christians”.  But what he found was the exact opposite – York and Fuegia had run off with any valuables left by the Englishmen, and Jemmy had completely converted back to the lifestyle of the Yaghans. And even more amazingly (to the crew)– he was quite happy with having thrown off the shackles of “civilization” and had no desire to return to England. Darwin described the encounter in his diary over two days:

“In the morning, after anchoring in Ponsonby Sound we stood down to Wullia or Jemmy Buttons country. This being a populous part of the country, we were followed by seven canoes. — When we arrived at the old spot; we could see no signs of our friends, & we were the more alarmed, as the Fuegians made signs of fighting with their bows and arrows. — Shortly afterwards a canoe was seen coming with a flag hanging up: untill she was close alongside, we could not recognise poor Jemmy. It was quite painful to behold him; thin, pale, & without a remnant of clothes, excepting a bit of blanket round his waist: his hair, hanging over his shoulders; & so ashamed of himself, he turned his back to the ship as the canoe approached. When he left us he was very fat, & so particular about his clothese, that he was always afraid of even dirtying his shoes; scarcely ever without gloves & his hair neatly cut. — I never saw so complete & grievous a change. — When however he was clothed & the first flurry over, things wore a very good appearance. — He had plenty (or as he expressed himself too much) to eat. — was not cold; his friends were very good people; could talk a little of his own language! & lastly we found out in the evening (by her arrival) that he had got a young & very nice looking squaw. This he would not at first own to: & we were rather surprised to find he had not the least wish to return to England. Poor Jemmy with his usual good feeling brought two beautiful otter skins for two of his old friends & some spear heads & arrows of his own making for the Captain. — He had also built a canoe. —& is clearly now well established. The various things now given to him he will doubtless be able to keep. — The strangest thing is Jemmys difficulty in regaining his own language. — He seems to have taught all his friends some English. — When his wife came, an old man announced her, “as Jemmy Buttons wife”! — York Minster returned to his own country several month ago, & took farewell by an act of consummate villainy: He persuaded Jemmy & his mother to come to his country, when he robbed them of every thing & left them. — He appears to have treated Fuegia very ill.” (Mar 5)

Fuegians in Portrait Cove (by Conrad Martens)

Fuegians in Portrait Cove

“Jemmy went to sleep on shore but came in the morning for breakfast. — The Captain had some long conversations with him & extracted much curious information: they had left the old wigwams & crossed the water in order to be out of the reach of the Ohens men who came over the mountains to steal. They clearly are the tall men, the foot Patagonians of the East coast. — Jemmy staid on board fill the ship got under weigh, which frightened his wife so that she did not cease crying till he was safe out of the ship with all his valuable presents. — Every soul on board was as sorry to shake hands with poor Jemmy for the last time, as we were glad to have seen him. — I hope & have little doubt he will be as happy as if he had never left his country; which is much more than I formerly thought. — He lighted a farewell signal fire as the ship stood out of Ponsonby Sound, on her course to East Falkland Island.” (Mar 6)

I think this whole encounter had an impact on Darwin.  In the previous weeks he had written quite a bit about the pathetic state of the native people. But I think he started to realize that they were living a lifestyle that actually made sense in the climate and environment of Tierra del Fuego. The same sort of concept that he would later realize was true of all plants and animals that were well adapted to their environment. It must have been interesting to him when he realized that this concept also applied to humans.  Now, that being said, he still seems to have considered the locals a “lesser species of man”.  Even having had time to think about it for a few years, he still wrote (in Voyage of the Beagle) that the social structure of the Fuegians led them to be forever trapped in a “lesser state”.  He writes:

“The perfect equality among the individuals composing the Fuegian tribes, must for a long time retard their civilization. As we see those animals, whose instinct compels them to live in society and obey a chief, are most capable of improvement, so is it with the races of mankind. Whether we look at it as a cause or a consequence, the more civilized always have the most artificial governments. For instance, the inhabitants of Otaheite, who, when first discovered, were governed by hereditary kings, had arrived at a far higher grade than another branch of the same people, the New Zealanders,—who, although benefited by being compelled to turn their attention to agriculture, were republicans in the most absolute sense. In Tierra del Fuego, until some chief shall arise with power sufficient to secure any acquired advantage, such as the domesticated animals, it seems scarcely possible that the political state of the country can be improved. At present, even a piece of cloth given to one is torn into shreds and distributed; and no one individual becomes richer than another. On the other hand, it is difficult to understand how a chief can arise till there is property of some sort by which he might manifest his superiority and increase his power.

I believe, in this extreme part of South America, man exists in a lower state of improvement than in any other part of the world. The South Sea Islanders of the two races inhabiting the Pacific, are comparatively civilized. The Esquimaux, in his subterranean hut, enjoys some of the comforts of life, and in his canoe, when fully equipped, manifests much skill. Some of the tribes of Southern Africa, prowling about in search of roots, and living concealed on the wild and arid plains, are sufficiently wretched. The Australian, in the simplicity of the arts of life, comes nearest the Fuegian: he can, however, boast of his boomerang, his spear and throwing-stick, his method of climbing trees, of tracking animals, and of hunting. Although the Australian may be superior in acquirements, it by no means follows that he is likewise superior in mental capacity: indeed, from what I saw of the Fuegians when on board, and from what I have read of the Australians, I should think the case was exactly the reverse.” (Voyage of the Beagle)

Yes indeed, Darwin was a product of his times.  And although he made some progress in how he viewed indigenous people, his worldview about people did not change as radically as did his view of how new species are made.

AS for Jemmy – he continued to encounter European missionaries and travelers for several decades after saying goodbye to the Beagle.  I’m sure they were amazed to find a Yaghan speaking English in such a remote location.  Reports of Jemmy suggest that he died in 1866 – seven years after Darwin published his most famous book. There is no reason to believe that he even regretted returning to his people, though one has to wonder if he ever told his family about the poor Englishmen and their “lesser” way of life :).

One of the most famous painting of the voyage from Conrad Martens was the one showing the Beagle in Ponsonby Sound with, what some claim, is Jemmy Button waving goodbye:

Beagle in the Beagle Channel

Now it was time to head east to the Falkland Islands one more time… (RJV)

PS – Read the story of Jemmy, York and Fuegia in Part I, Part II and Part III of The Beagle’s Fuegians.

Posted by: Rob Viens | March 12, 2014

Cucumber Wranglin’

As the beginning of March rolled around the crew was stocking up and preparing to head back into the open ocean and make the trip to the Falklands.  As they collected their supplies they came across several local people – probably wondering what the “savage” northerners where up to:

“All hands employed in getting in a stock of wood & water. There were three canoes full of Fuegians in this bay, who were very quiet & civil & more amusing than any Monkeys.  Their constant employment was begging for everything they saw; by the eternal word—yammer-scooner.— They understood that guns could kill Guanaco & pointed out in which direction to go. — They had a fair idea of barter & honesty. — I gave one man a large nail (a very valuable present) & without making signs for any return, he picked out two fish & handed them up on the point of his spear. — If any present was designed for one canoe & it fell near another, invariably it was restored to the right owner. — When they yammer-scooner for any article very eagerly; they by a simple artifice point to their young women or little children; as much as to say, “if you will not give it me, surely you will to them”. ” (Mar 1)

Most interesting to the locals was most likely the crazy Englishman who seemed to be completed preoccupied by the marine invertebrates living in the shallow waters along the coast. Throughout the end of February and early March, Darwin’s Zoological Notebook is full of descriptions of marine life – in particular bryozoans, sponges, crustaceans, mollusks and echinoderms.  Today I thought I’d take a brief look at the unusual of world of the sea cucumber (class Holothuroidea).

To get us started here is a brief except from one are Darwin’s descriptions of a sea cucumber from Tierra del Fuego – one that the footnotes in his diary suggest might be Psolus antarcticus or Psolus patagonicus:

“Body oval depressed, strikingly resembling a Nudibranch. Upper surface convex covered with scales, form truncated angular pointing from edges of body to central parts.— outer ones small (but not gradually) increasing towards the centre. Scales covered with punctures.— Lower surface soft concave.— The mouth is situated at ¼ length of body from anterior extremity; circular is completely closed by 5 pointed scales: Tentacula 10. long. ½ length of body: tapering, little branched, tree like (in contradistinction to bush-like).— Resemble that of Holuthuria — They surround the mouth.— The bony collar consists of 10 truncated gothic arches or rather 5 pair.— slightly stony.— When the Tentacula are retracted this collar is nearly in centre of body & lies in an inclined position with respect to the plain [sic] of body.” (Zoological Notebook)

It is the “scales” that Darwin describes in such detail that places this sea sponge in the echinoderm phylum.  Echinoderm means “hedgehog skin” and they have plates (or scales) made of calcium carbonate in their skin. Much like the bony plates found in the Xenthera (see Meet the Xenarthra), these little plates are called ossicles. It is these plates that make the “skin” of a starfish so hard, or that fuse together to form the outer “shell” (more technically “test”) and spines of a sea urchin (other echinoderms).

This Three-Rowed Sea Cucumber (Isostichopus badionotus) (from Wikipedia Commons)

Sea cucumber

Sea cucumbers are pretty odd critters.  Here are a few interesting tidbits, that always remind me to be amazed about the diversity of live of Earth:

  • They can liquefy their body and literally “ooze” through very small openings. This is a way to get into safe crevices to avoid predators. (one in the hole they “firm up” again, which makes it virtually impossible to extract them if they don’t want to leave.
  • When startled some species expel some of their internal organs (their respiratory trees, along with toxic fluids) into the surrounding waters. In a crude (and greatly oversimplified) analogy, imagine barfing up your lungs when a predator is about to try to eat you.
  • Sea cucumbers can grow these respiratory trees back after expelling them.
  • They communicate with one another by releasing hormones into the water.
  • In the deeper ocean sea cucumbers can make up a large percentage of the biomass – moving across the ocean floor in great herds while eating up all the detritus they can find.  This raises the question – are there sea cucumber cowboys riding along with them.  Maybe their cousins the starfish :).
  • They have no real “brain” as we know it – in fact, when the nerve ring in the head is removed, sea cucumbers keep on doing their thing.  So they are sort of like lobotomized herds of cattle.
  • There are over 700 species worldwide.
  • And lastly my personal favorite – of all the phylum of animals in the world, the echinoderms appear the be the most closely related to our phylum (the Chordata). My cousin the sea cucumber…

“Endless forms most beautify”, indeed!

Sea cucumber from Patagonia (by Anders Poulsen)

sea cucumber

Sea cucumber (on it’s way to be coming a salad) from the Yucatan Times

sea cucumber

Like the restless herds of sea cucumbers, the sailors from the other side of the world had to move on, and by the second day of March the Beagle was underway and heading southwest.  Along the way, they encountered more indigenous people, with whom Darwin seemed to be fascinated:

“The Captain determined to make the bold attempt of beating against the Westerly winds & proceeding up the Beagle channel to Ponsonby Sound or Jemmy Buttons country. — The day was beautiful, but a calm.” (Mar 2)

“Came to an anchor in the Northern part of Ponsonby sound. We here enjoyed three very interesting days: the weather has been fine & the views magnificent. The mountains, which we passed today, on the Northern shore of the Channel are about 3000 feet high. — they terminate in very broken & sharp peaks; & many of them rise in one abrupt rise from the waters edge to the above elevation. The lower 14 or 1500 feet is covered with a dense forest. — A mountain, which the Captain has done me the honour to call by my name, has been determined by angular measurement to be the highest in Tierra del Fuego, above 7000 feet & therefore higher than M. Sarmiento.—1 It presented a very grand, appearance; there is such splendour in one of these snow-clad mountains, when illuminated by the rosy light of the sun; & then the outline is so distinct, yet from the distance so light & aerial, that one such view merely varied by the passing clouds affords a feast to the mind. — Till near Ponsonby Sound we saw very few Fuegians; yesterday we met with very many; they were the men Jemmy Button was so much afraid of last year, & said they were enemies to his tribe; the intervening & thinly inhabited space of ground, I suppose, is neutral between the belligerents. — We had at one time 10 or 12 canoes alongside; a rapid barter was established Fish & Crabs being exchanged for bits of cloth & rags. — It was very amusing to see with what unfeigned satisfaction one young & handsome woman with her face painted black, tied with rushes, several bits of gay rags round her head. — Her husband, who enjoyed the very unusual priviledge in this country of possessing two wives, evidently became jealous of all the attention paid to his young wife, & after a consultation with his two naked beauties, was paddled away by them. — As soon as a breeze sprung up, the Fuegians were much puzzled by our tacking; they had no idea that it was to go to windward & in consequence all their attempts to meet the ship were quite fruitless. — It was quite worth being becalmed, to have so good an opportunity of looking & laughing at these curious creatures; I find it makes a great difference being in a ship instead of a boat. — Last year I got to detest the very sound of their voices; so much trouble did it generally bring to us. — But now we are the stronger party, the more Fuegians the merrier & very merry work it is. — Both parties laughing, wondering & gaping at each other: we pitying them for giving us good fish for rags &c; they grasping at the chance of finding people who would exchange such valuable articles for a good supper. ” (Mar 4)

I wonder what the local residents thought of sea cucumber?  The Yaghan people did fish in the cold southern waters – maybe they augmented their meals with a little cucumber… (RJV)

Posted by: Rob Viens | March 6, 2014

“Savages” in a “Charming Country”

Before I get too far behind Darwin, I thought I would do something a little unusual and just post a few days of Darwin’s diary without much comment. During most of this period of time, the Beagle was in the vicinity of Wollaston Island located near Cape Horn.  (This was an area discussed almost exactly one year ago (see Of Rock, Chemists and Darwin’s Uncle Charles).)  By the end of the month the crew had retraced their route and moved east to the Beagle Channel (see Border Wars and the Beagle Channel).

Tierra del Fuego by Conrad Martens

Tierra del Fuego Map

As always it is always a little difficult to listen to Darwin’s view of the primitive nature of the locals, but I hesitate to selectively edit his thoughts.  He was a product of his time, and clearly thought like a 19th century man from the dominant culture. The end of his entry on February 25th, however, is interesting in that he (1) realizes the local people are not just miserable (and are in fact happy) and (2) that they have adapted to their environment in the same way the other living things of Tierra del Fuego have. The first point will become even more clear to him in the next few weeks when he has the chance to meet Jemmy Button for the first time in a year.

With that, I’ll let Darwin speak for himself, and wrap up the rest of the month of February in his own words:

“Came to an anchor in the evening under Woollaston Isd.” (Feb 24)

“I walked or rather crawled to the tops of some of the hills; the rock is not slate, & in consequence there are but few trees; the hills are very much broken & of fantastic shapes. —

Whilst going on shore, we pulled alongside a canoe with 6 Fuegians. I never saw more miserable creatures; stunted in their growth, their hideous faces bedaubed with white paint & quite naked.— One full aged woman absolutely so, the rain & spray were dripping from her body; their red skins filthy & greasy, their hair entangled, their voices discordant, their gesticulation violent & without any dignity. Viewing such men, one can hardly make oneself believe that they are fellow creatures placed in the same world.

I can scarcely imagine that there is any spectacle more interesting & worthy of reflection, tha[n] one of these unbroken savages. — It is a common subject of conjecture; what pleasure in life some of the less gifted animals can enjoy? How much more reasonably it may be asked with respect to these men. — To look at the Wigwam; any little depression in the soil is chosen, over this a few rotten trunks of trees are placed & to windward some tufts of grass. Here 5 or 6 human beings, naked & uncovered from the wind, rain & snow in this tempestuous climate sleep on the wet ground, coiled up like animals. — In the morning they rise to pick shell fish at low water; & the women winter & summer dive to collect sea eggs; such miserable food is eked out by tasteless berrys & Fungi. —They are surrounded by hostile tribes speaking different dialects; & the cause of their warfare would appear to be the means of subsistence.  Their country is a broken mass of wild rocks, lofty hills & useless forests, & these are viewed through mists & endless storms. In search of food they move from spot to spot, & so steep is the coast, this must be done in wretched canoes. — They cannot know the feeling of having a home — & still less that of domestic affection; without, indeed, that of a master to an abject laborious slave can be called so. — How little can the higher powers of the mind come into play: what is there for imagination to paint, for reason to compare, for judgement to decide upon. — to knock a limpet from the rock does not even require cunning, that lowest power of the mind. Their skill, like the instinct of animals is not improved by experience; the canoe, their most ingenious work, poor as it may be, we know has remained the same for the Iast 300 years. Although essentially the same creature, how little must the mind of one of these beings resemble that of an educated man. What a scale of improvement is comprehended between the faculties of a Fuegian savage & a Sir Isaac Newton — Whence have these people come? Have they remained in the same state since the creation of the world? What could have tempted a tribe of men leaving the fine regions of the North to travel down the Cordilleras the backbone of America, to invent & build canoes, & then to enter upon one of the most inhospitable countries in the world. — Such & many other reflections, must occupy the mind of every one who views one of these poor Savages. — At the same time, however, he may be aware that some of them are erroneous. — There can be no reason for supposing the race of Fuegians are decreasing, we may therefore be sure that he enjoys a sufficient share of happiness (whatever its kind may be) to render life worth having. Nature, by making habit omnipotent, has fitted the Fuegian to the climate & productions of his country.” (Feb 25)

“In the night it blew very hard & another anchor was let go. — The leaden sky, the water white with foam, brings one back to reason after all the fine weather. — Dear Tierra del has recollected her old winning ways. — The ship is now starting & surging with her gentle breath. — Oh the charming country.” (Feb 26)

“The weather was very bad: we left Wollaston Island & ran through Goree roads & anchored at the NE end of Navarin Island.”  (Feb 27)

“This not being found a good place, the ship was moved to within the East end of the Beagle Channel & was moored by a beautiful little cove, with her stern not 100 yards from the mountains side. We passed this way last year in the boats.” (Feb 28)


Posted by: Rob Viens | March 2, 2014

Breaching the Subject of Sperm Whales

The next 10 days found the Beagle surveying the east coast of Tierra del Fuego.  As the ship worked on completing its mission in the Atlantic, Darwin was taken by one of the most awesome sights to grace the ocean – breaching whales.   And these were no “little” orcas – they were the world’s largest toothed predators – sperm whales:

“During this week a complete survey has been made of the East coast of Tierra del Fuego. We landed only once, which was at the mouth of what was formerly supposed to be St Sebastians Channel, it now turns out only to be a large wild bay. — The country here is part of Patagonia, open & without trees; further to the South, we have the same sort of transition of the two countries which is to be observed in the Straits of Magellan. The scenery has in consequence a pretty, broken & park-like appearance. — In St Sebastian bay, there was a curious spectacle of very many Spermaceti Whales, some of which were jumping straight up out of the water; every part of the body was visible excepting the fin of the tail. As they fell sideways into the water, the noise was as loud as a distant great gun. — By the middle of the day we were, after very fortunate weather, at anchor in Thetis Bay, between C St Vincent & Diego.” (Feb 14-21)

Sperm whale (from Wikipedia Commons)

Sperm whale

Sperm whale breaching (from the blog Ten pages (or More))

sperm whale breaching

As already noted, the ” Spermaceti Whales” that Darwin refers to are sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus). These cetaceans are just plain big.  Along with being the largest tooted whales, they also have the largest brains in the animal kingdom (averaging about 17 pounds (~8 kg)) and can dive deeper and hold their breadth longer than any other mammal (~3 km and 90 minutes respectively). Males have been found up to about 67 feet (~20 m) long and with weights up to about 63 tons.  So you can see why Darwin was so impressed as he watched these whales shooting out of the water and crashing back down into the sea with a thundering boom.  I have seen humpbacks doing a full-body breach in Alaska, and it is a sight to behold. I can only imagine how impressive the even larger sperm whale would be.

The sperm whale is named for its spermaceti organ which takes up a large portion of the head that is filled with a large volume of fats and waxes called spermaceti.  It was this material that whalers where most interested in harvesting as “whale oil”. (They were so focused on the spermaceti that they referred to the large melon in the whale’s head as “junk”. Though the ambergris found in the stomach was coveted for perfumes.) Several hypotheses have been proposed for the function of the organ, including a role in buoyancy. However, evidence seems to suggest that the most likely function of the spermaceti is for echolocation- amplifying the “signal” as sound waves move from seawater into the higher density fluid, and making the whales more effective at hunting their prey.

Cross section of a sperm whale’s head showing the spermaceti organ (from Wikipedia Commons):

Sperm whale head

Amidst the majestic whales, the crew continued to work over the next few days, however, the weather created both treacherous conditions and becalmed seas that made the work difficult:

“Upon going on shore, we found a party of Fuegians; or the foot Patagonians, fine tall men with Guanaco mantle. — The wigwam was also covered with the skin of the same animal. — It is a complete puzzle to every-one, how these men with nothing more than their slight arrows, manage to kill such strong wary animals.” (Feb 14-21)

“As soon as the Ship doubled C. St Diego she got into a very great & dangerous tide rip. The Ship pitched very heavily; in a weak vessel it would almost have been sufficient to have jerked out her Masts. We soon got out of these uncomfortable straits; where a strong tide, great swell, & a bottom so uneven as to vary from 16 to 60 fathoms & then to 5, almost always cause a great bubbling sea. — In the evening, it fell a complete calm, & the long Southerly swell set us far too close to the West end of Staten land.” (Feb 22)

“What a great useless animal a ship is, without wind; here the swell was setting us right on shore & in the morning we found ourselves at the East end of the island about 30 miles further from our destination, than on the day before. — Staten land is one of the most desolate places; it is the mere backbone of a mountain forming a ridge in the ocean. Its outline is peaked, castellated & most rugged.” (Feb 23)

A reminder of some of the places Darwin mentions in his diary:

Tierra del Fuego Map

Staten Island has remained largely uninhabited since it was first “discovered” by the Dutch in 1615.  Over the years it has seem some minor use, including as a base of operations for sealing, a prison, and the home of the “Lighthouse at the end of the world” (Faro del fin del mundo). Today there is a small outpost of the Argentinean navy located on the island, which is otherwise uninhabited by humans.

When the winds picked up again, the Beagle would leave the deserted island and head west to revisit some old sites from last summer… (RJV)

Posted by: Rob Viens | February 26, 2014

Sealing the Fate of Seals

It was not unusual to encounter other ships in the straits, and everyone had a story to tell.  The sealer who shared tales of the Falklands also shared stories of the weather:

“This Sealer has been this summer at anchor for six weeks under the Diego Ramiroz islands; & without a gale of wind! — The very time during which last year we had a gale of a month. — He was last year at these same islands. — during the gale of the 13th his deck was fairly swept, he lost all his boats &c &c. — At this time two of his men were on one of the Diego rocks, where they were left miserably to perish, as he was obliged to run for the Falkland Ids.” (Feb 11)

Newfoundland sealing steamer S.S. Kite (from

sealing streamer

Although sealing had been conducted for thousands of years by indigenous people, commercial sealing is said to have gotten its start in 1521 when a load of fur seal skins was sent back to Spain from Spanish settlements in Uruguay. However, most early commercial sealing was done in the North Atlantic, escalating in the 1700’s and 1800’s.  By the late 1700’s serious operations started to move into the South Atlantic where fur seals and elephant seals where abundant. One site notes, “According to Dr H. R. Mill, English sealers brought back from the Isle of Georgia and Magellan Strait as many as 40,000 seal skins and 2,800 tons of elephant oil in 1778. In 1791, no less than 102 vessels, averaging 200 tons burden and manned by 3000 sealers, were engaged in securing fur seals and oil in the southern ocean.” (from A History of World Fur Sealing) Hunting was so intense that by the 1830’s when Darwin was in the South Atlantic, sealing was already in decline.

Seal hunting in Newfoundland, Canada, around 1883 (from Newfoundland, the Oldest British Colony by Hatton and Harvey)

Seal hunting in Newfoundland

Seals were hunted for their skins (valued in clothing) and meat.  In addition, much like whales, seals fat was processed into oil that was used for lamps, cooking, lubricants, soap and processing other materials.

By the late 1800’s mechanized ships, essentially floating processing factories, upped the ante and greatly increased the annual “take” a single ship could process. Again, like with whales, some seal populations faced potential extinction if hunts continued at this accelerated rate. Ironically, it was a conversion to “rock oil” (petroleum) that helped “save” the seals and whales from utter annihilation. However, their soft fur is still coveted by some markets, and sealing continues today.

Although it is nowhere near as extensive as in the past, there is still a lot of criticism for countries that still hunt seal today – including Canada, Namibia, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Russia.

As tragic as the massive seal harvest where, far more unforgivable was the near extermination of the indigenous people of Patagonia. As in earlier entries, Darwin’s diary provides us with some lasting record of the peoples of southern South America.  I’ll let Darwin speak for himself and share some of his observations from mid February:

“With very baffling winds we anchored late in the evening in Gregory Bay, where our friends the Indians anxiously seemed to desire our presence. During the day we passed close to Elizabeth Island, on North end of which there was a party of Fuegians with their canoe &c. — They were tall men & clothed in mantles; & belong probably to the East Coast; the same set of men we saw in Good Success Bay; they clearly are different from the Fuegians, & ought to be called foot Patagonians. — Jemmy Button had a great horror of these men, under the name of “Ohens men”. — “When the leaf is red, he used to say, Ohens men come over the hill & fight very much.”  (Feb 12)

“Early in the morning we paid the Indians a visit in hopes of being able to obtain some Guanaco meat. — They were as usual very civil: there is now married & living amongst them a native of M: Video (by birth I should think 2/3 of Northern Indian blood) who has been four years with them. — He tells us that they will remain here all the winter & then proceed up the Cordilleras; hunting for ostrich eggs; but that Guanaco meat never fails them in these parts. — The Captain is thinking of exploring the R. Santa Cruz, & this man gave us some good news, viz that there are very few Indians in that part & that the river is so deep, that horses can no where ford it. — In the R. Chupat, much further North, there are very many Indians; enemies to this tribe. — But that all the Southern Indians 900 in number are friends. — At this present time there were two boat Indians paying the Patagonians a visit (the men whom I have called foot Patagonians); they do not speak the same language; but one of this tribe has learnt their dialect. — These Indians appear to have a facility in learning languages: most of them speak a little Spanish & English, which will greatly contribute to their civilization or demorilization: as these two steps seem to go hand in hand. —

At mid-day we passed out of the first Narrows, & began to survey the coast. — There are many & dangerous banks, on one of which we ran a very good chance of sticking; to escape it was necessary to get in three Fathom water. (Feb 13)

If you are wondering how Jemmy is doing, hold on – Darwin will pay a visit to his former shipmate later this year… (RJV)

Posted by: Rob Viens | February 24, 2014

Rumors of Unrest in the Falklands

The Beagle spent the next few days cruising through the Straits of Magellan on its way back to survey the eastern coast of Tierra del Fuego.  The journey consisted of many stories – of massacres, sealers, and “Indians”. First a story that had been coming out of the Falklands about chaos and murder:

“The next day we were almost becalmed. — It is a most extraordinary contrast with the last season. — A sealing Schooner in the course of the day sent a boat on board; which brought lamentable news from the Falkland Islands. — the Gauchos had risen & murdered poor Brisbane & Dixon & the head Gaucho Simon, & it is feared several others. — Some English sailors managed to escape & are now in the West Island. — Since this the Challenger has been there & left the Governor with six (!) marines. — A Governor with no subjects except some desperate gauchos who are living in the middle of the island. — Of course they have taken all the half wild cattle & horses: in my opinion the Falkland islands are ruined. — this second desperate murder will give the place so bad a name that no Spanish Gauchos will come there, & without them to catch the wild cattle, the island is worth nothing.” (Feb 11)

From the time English captain John Strong laid foot on the uninhabited islands in 1690 there has been controversy in the Falklands. For most of the next century the islands were inhabited by the French, English and Spanish – often with long periods of time passing with no inhabitants. In the early 1800’s  Buenos Aires tried to claim the islands and in 1826 sponsored a local businessman, Luis Vernet, who settled on the islands with a group of gauchos that he brought with him from the mainland. In an effort to control seal hunting in the area, Vernet got into some scraps with American sealers and ultimately the US Navy. He left the islands in 1831, but his settlement remained, run by the Englishman Matthew Brisbane. In January 1833, right before Darwin’s last visit, the British reestablished their rule of the islands.

Luis Vernet and Antonio Rivero

Luis Vernet and Antonio Rivero

Later that year, on the 26th of August 1833, Antonio “El Gaucho” Rivero (one of Vernet’s gauchos, who had been unsatisfied with unpaid promissory notes for the work he had done) led an “uprising” that included “two gauchos, Juan Brasido and José María Luna, and five Charrúa Indians, Manuel González, Luciano Flores, Felipe Salazar, Pascual Latorre and Manuel Godoy” (Wikipedia). The leaders of Port Louis were killed and 18 survivors (including women and children) escaped to a nearby island, where they were rescued later that year. Word soon got back to England.

Having none of this, the British returned to the islands in January 1834 (while Darwin was just across the water in Patagonia) and laid down the law. The rebels were captured, but due to technicalities in British Law they were not tried and eventually returned to Rio de Janeiro.

Historians are not fully in agreement on why Rivero did what he did (however, I am not sure if there is more consensus on one side or the other).  After the uprising, some in Argentina viewed Rivero as a hero – a rebel against British rule in what was perceived as Buenos Aires territory. Some still view him as a martyr today and his image and the name “El Gaucho” come up often in references to “taking back” the Falklands. Nationalism might have been part of Rivero’s motivation in killing the island leaders, but others view him as a common criminal – motivated by revenge or greed.  In any case, the conflict between Britain and Argentina regarding the islands has never truly gone away.

It was into this unrest that the Beagle would soon be heading… (RJV)

Posted by: Rob Viens | February 22, 2014

Shearwaters and the Lonely Mountain

Coast Near Port Famine (from Wikipedia Commons)

Port Famine

After his climb to the top of Mt. Tarn, Darwin spent the next few days along the coast, walking the beaches and observing the flora and fauna:

“The day has been splendidly clear; Sarmiento, appearing like a solid mass of snow, came quite close to us. If Tierra del could boast one such day a week, she would not be so throughily detested, as she is by all who know her. — I made the most of it & enjoyed a pleasant stroll with Mr Rowlett & Martens. — There is little fear of Indians. — we found however a wigwam which was not very old. — & the marks of a horse; There can be little inducement for the Patagonians to come here, as they cannot leave the beach; it is one of the few spots where the Fuegian & Patagonian can meet. — Many of the trees are of a large size. I saw several near the Sedger river, 13 feet in circumference & there is one 18·9 inches. — I saw a Winters bark 4′.6″ in circumference” (Feb 7)

As mentioned a couple of posts ago, Mt. Sarmiento was named by Philip Parker King after Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa (the “founder” of the original failed settlement of Port Famine). The 7,369 ft (2,246 m) peak was first ascended in the 1950’s. Amazingly the second successful accent of it’s highest point was only made a few months ago in late 2013 – in winter!

Mount Sarmiento in Terra del Fuego (with the Beagle in the foreground) by Conrad Martens

Mount Sarmiento

While strolling on the beach Darwin described one of the local birds – one identified upon his return as Puffinus cinereus.  In usual form, his description of the local waterfowl was quite thorough:

“This bird is very abundant in the Sts of Magellan near P Famine.— It is particularly active late in the evenings & early in the mornings.— flies in long strings, up & down very rapidly, settles in large flocks on the water.— On the East coast of Tierra del Fuego single ones & Pairs may generally be seen flying about. When slightly wounded could not dive.— The male & female are of the same plumage.— In the stomach of one, small fish & 7 or 8 Crust. Mac. same as (820 spirits). stomach much distended.— shot late in the evening in a boat.— very wary & shy, will not approach a ship.— Mr Bynoes has seen them in very great number in the quiet sea of straits & passages of the Western Coast.— [In foot] inner web “red lilac purple”, edges of all & greater part of outer web blackish; legs & half of lower mandible pale “do purple”.” (Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle)

My first thought when I saw the name of this bird was that these were puffins and that this was another case where Darwin named birds after those he was familiar with from back home (puffins are only a northern bird). But in fact, the Puffinus consist of the largest group of birds known as the shearwaters – a name that refers to how they glide just above the surface of the water. There are actually three genus of shearwaters – the Puffinus, Calonectris, and Procellaria.  The later are the petrels (for more on them see Cruising with Elegant Petrels and Mother Carey’s Chickens.

Species of shearwaters found in Tierra del Fuego (that Darwin might have observed) include the sooty shearwater (Puffinus griseus) and greater shearwaters (Puffinus gravis). (There are other shearwaters on the Pacific side of South America, but it is hard to tell if they extend this far into the straits.) The sooty variety migrates over 10,000 miles, and can be found in the North Atlantic as far north as Norway. So in some ways, they are Darwin’s fellow travelers – traversing the globe nearly from pole to pole. By some strange coincidence, he may even saw these same birds back home.

Sooty Shearwater (from Wikipedia Commons)

sooty shearwater

Greater Shearwater (from Wikipedia Commons)

greater shearwater

On the 10th, the Beagle was ready to head back to the Atlantic:

“As soon as observations were obtained, we made sail in order to leave the Straits & survey the East coast of Tierra del Fuego.” (Feb 10)

In a couple more weeks it would be back to the Falklands…(RJV)

Posted by: Rob Viens | February 16, 2014

Ammonites on Top of Mount Tarn

February 6th found Darwin back on the climbing trail as he ascended nearby Mt. Tarn ) located a  few miles south of Port Famine.  His diary entry today leaves me with a few stories to tell. So let’s get started…

Mt Tarn (from Panaramio by Patagonia Chilena)

Mt. Tarn

Let me began with Darwin’s description of the start of his day – a slog through the forested lowlands at the base of the peak:

“I left the ship at four oclock in the morning to ascend Mount Tarn; this is the highest land in this neighbourhead being 2600 feet above the sea. For the two first hours I never expected to reach the summit. — It is necessary always to have recourse to the compass: it is barely possible to see the sky & every other landmark which might serve as a guide is totally shut out. — In the deep ravines the death-like scene of desolation exceeds all description. It was blowing a gale of wind, but not a breath stirred the leaves of the highest trees; everything was dripping with water; even the very Fungi could not flourish. — In the bottom of the valleys it is impossible to travel, they are barricaded & crossed in every direction by great mouldering trunks: when using one of these as a bridge, your course will often be arrested by sinking fairly up to the knee in the rotten wood; in the same manner it is startling to rest against a thick tree & find a mass of decayed matter is ready to fall with the slightest blow.” (Feb 6)

It is interesting that the hardest part of the ascent appears to have involved no climbing at all.  It was the slow slog through the decaying underbrush at the foot of the mountain.  Having tried to traverse similar forested terrain in Alaska, I wholeheartedly agree with the assessment that it is “impossible to travel”. In fact, I can recall the same sorts of experiences sinking into rotten logs. Presumably this dense forest was just found along the coast, because if it had gone on for very long, Darwin would have never made the ascent.

As it turns out, Darwin has very little to say about the rest of the ascent, and quickly jumps to the tremendous view from the top (which seems to overcome the discomfort brought about by the weather):

“I at last found myself amongst the stunted trees & soon reached the bare ridge which conducted me to the summit. — Here was a true Tierra del Fuego view; irregular chains of hills, mottled with patches of snow; deep yellowish-green valleys; & arms of the sea running in all directions; the atmosphere was not however clear, & indeed the strong wind was so piercingly cold, that it would prevent much enjoyment under any circumstances.” (Feb 6)

Check out the 360 View from the top of Mt. Tarn posted to YouTube by bomberocroata.  I suspect it does not look much different from the view Darwin saw 180 years ago.

Here is a link to another short video that follows a hiker through his ascent of the peak (in the beginning you can see the dense forest growth that Darwin discussed).

A modern climbing team at the top of Mt Tarn (from Panaramio by patriciocaceres). Note the layers of rock – these are Cretaceous sedimentary rocks (sandstone and siltstone).

Mt. Tarn

In concluding his diary entry, Darwin offhandedly notes some shells he found at the top of the peak:

“I had the good luck to find some shells in the rocks near the summit. — Our return was much easier as the weight of the body will force a passage through the underwood; & all the slips & falls are in the right direction.” (Feb 6)

These shells turned out to be the first ammonites ever described from the continent of South America. Ammonites are a type of cephalopod (octopus, squid, etc.) that lived during the Mesozoic Era.  They are so abundant (and come in so many forms) that they have become one of the more iconic fossils from that period of time.  Dinosaurs may have “ruled” the Earth, but it was ammonites that were found throughout the oceans of the world, and left behind there shells for the masses.

Ammonite from the genus Maorites (from the Paleontological Research Institution)

Maorites ammonite

Darwin’s fossil did not look like a traditional ammonite – in fact it appears to just be a piece of one.   In a 1846 publication it was identified as Ancyloceras simplex – a name that has not stood the test of time.  Geologists today suggest that these rocks where too young for this species, and some have suggested it is a deformed piece of another genus of ammonite known as Maorites (similar to the one shown above).

The ammonite sample collected by Darwin (on display in the London Natural History Museum):

Mt. Tarn ammonite

(For more on ammonites in this region see the 2009 journal article The stratigraphy of cretaceous mudstones in the eastern Fuegian Andes: new data from body and trace fossils. This article is also the source of the picture above.)

A fossil of the genus Ancyloceras (from Centre d’Etudes Méditerranéennes):

ancyloceras ammonite

Now the interesting implication, of course, is that the sandstones, siltstones and ammonites found at the top of Mt. Tarn (at 2707 feet) where at the bottom of the sea back in the Cretaceous Period when they formed.  That means they were lifted up at least 3000 feet since they were deposited about 75 millions years ago!

One last story to tell – the origin of the name of Mt. Tarn. My first thought was that the mountain was named after a glacial feature called a tarn.  These are small lakes that fill the bowl-shaped depression carved out at the head of a glacier. (When the glacier melts away these “bowls” are left behind just below the glacial-carved peaks – often forming a number of small alpine lakes common in glaciated terrain.)  But I was incorrect.  Mount Tarn was actually named after the surgeon on the first voyage of Beagle.  John Tarn was the surgeon on the HMS Adventure, and is credited with the first ascent of the mountain (the first recorded European ascent anyway).  Tarn was about 34 years old when he first climbed “his mountain” in February 1827. He spent most of his life serving as a ship’s surgeon, and was later was awarded the Sir Gilbert Blane’s Gold Medal for his service. He died in 1877.

Sir Gilbert Blane’s Gold Medal
Sir Gilbert Blane Gold Medal

So in this case, Darwin was literally following in the footsteps of the previous expedition… (RJV)

Posted by: Rob Viens | February 12, 2014

Birthday Wishes in Port Famine

It is hard to believe that after more than 2 years at sea, on this day in 1834 Charles Darwin was celebrating his 25th birthday. I doubt there was any cake, certainly no ice cream, and, in the barren landscape of the Straits of Magellan, it is doubtful Darwin even had a nice orange or banana to mark the occasion.  He doesn’t even bring it up in his diary.  But I can’t image such a milestone birthday passed without our hero thinking about his future career – still unaware of just how big of an impact he would have.  Happy Birthday Charlie!

Back in early February the Beagle was cruising the Straits of Magellan – sailing between the lands of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Darwin described the next few days as the crew approached Port Famine:

“So in the morning got under weigh to run to Port Famine; The wind fell light; so the Captain sent the ship back to her anchorage & proceeded in a boat to the head of Shoal Harbor, During the last voyage the Captain discovered a large inland sea (Skyring water), 50 miles long; From the end of Shoal harbor we walked 5 miles across the country in hopes of being able to see it; the distance turned out to be greater than was expected & we were disappointed, if it had been nearer, the Captain had intended to have put a whale-boat on wheels & dragged it across, which would have saved much time in the survey of this Water. As soon as we came on board, the anchor was weighed & with a light air stood down for Port Famine.

The country, in this neighbourhead, may be called an intermixture of Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego; here we have many plants of the two countries; the nature of the climate being intermediate: a few miles to the South the rounded Slate hills & forests of evergreen beeches commence. — The country is however throughily uninteresting.” (Feb 1)

“We got into Port Famine in the middle of the night, after a calm delightful day. M. Sarmiento a mountain 6800 feet high, was visible although 90 miles distant.” (Feb 2)

Port Famine is known for essentially two things – neither of them particularly positive.  The first, is the incident that provided the site with its name.  The second, is that it is the final resting place of Pringle Stokes.  Let me elaborate…

Location of Port Famine

Not long after what was left of Magellan’s “fleet”  returned to Spain, the Spanish decided to establish a presence in the strait – in part to help gain control of the important waterway. This plan was supported by the King, at the advice of one of the commanders who had been chasing down “pirates” like Sir Francis Drake in South America for over a decade – Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa. The first attempt to send 3000 colonists to the region in 1581 never reached South America.  The expedition was forced back to Spain by storms. Shortly afterward Gamboa left with a small fleet to try again.  This time, after several lost ships and disagreements that resulted in others returning to Spain, about 300 colonists and 4 ships reached the site that would become Port Famine and established a colony.  They called it Ciudad del Rey Don Felipe – the “City of King Philip”.

The colonists – including soldiers, priests, women and children – built a town on the site, but from the beginning appear to have had difficultly with the indigenous people (big surprise) and the availability of food. Gamboa returned to Spain (more on that shortly) in 1584, and nothing more seems to have been heard from the colony until Thomas Cavendish stopped there in 1587. Cavendish found the ruins of a town with only 18 starving survivors, only one of which trusted the Englishman enough to come aboard and return to Europe.  The In the end, he would be the only one left to tell the tale of The City of King Philip – a tale of starvation and loss.  A tale that led Cavendish to rename the site Port Famine.

Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa

Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa
Gamboa, didn’t get off that easy himself.  His ship was captured by the British while returning to Europe and was brought before the queen.  She sent him back to Spain with an offering of peace, but he was again captured – this time by the French – and the message never made it to the king.  One has to wonder if the war between England and Spain would have ended earlier if the queen’s letter of peace had reach King Philip?

In site of Port Famine, Mt. Sarimiento is named after the Spanish commander (image from Climbing Magazine)

The next time the Port Famine “made the headlines” was 1828, when it was visited by the HMS Beagle on its first voyage of discovery. At that time the ship was commanded by Pringle Stokes (second in command to Philip Parker King who commanded the expedition from the HMS Adventure).  It was in Port Famine that Stokes succumbed to deep depression brought on by the desolation of the southern weather and shot himself.  Along with the ruins of the Spanish colony, Stokes’ grave site is one of the few landmarks of Port Famine.  Recall that this was one of the things that set in motion a string of events that led to Darwin’s invitation to join the Beagle‘s second voyage. (For more on Stokes’ story see The First Voyage of the Beagle – Part I.)

Grave site of Pringle Stokes (by Igor Solar)

Pringle Stokes gravestone

Much like 1828, Darwin’s early days in Port Famine were cold and wet – and for the next few days his motion was somewhat restricted by the weather:

“We are now within a wet circle, in consequence every morning there has been torrents of rain; in the evening I managed to have some walks along the beach; which is the only place where it is possible to proceed in any way but scrambling.” (Feb 3-5)

But there would be more climbing in Darwin’s future very soon… (RJV)

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