Posted by: Rob Viens | January 29, 2012

Quarantine in the Canaries

I look forward to catching up to be in synch with the daily entries – sometimes a lot happens in a week of the voyage making it necessary to be selective.

On the 5th, Darwin mentions passion the Salvage Islands (specifically the southernmost island sometimes called Little Piton. The Salvages are currently part of a Nature Reserve under the sovereignty of Portugal. The only human residents are the reserve warden’s who oversee the protection of migratory birds and well over 100 endemic species (found only here) including snails, geckos and over 100 indigenous plants. Although he didn’t think twice as passed by (at least in his journal), I’m sure Darwin would have loved to spend some time exploring the islands. Read more on Wikipedia.

Tarentola boettgeri (type of gecko) – subspecies from the Canary Islands similar to an endemic variety in the Salvage Islands (from the Reptile Database):

Picture of a Tarentola boettgeri

On the 6th of January the Beagle arrived at Tenerife, the largest island in the Canary Island archipelago (see yesterday’s map – it is the large island chain south of Madeira labeled “Palmas de Gran Canaria). Tenerife and the rest of the Canary Islands are another good example of a hot spot volcanic island chain.  Like Medeira, they are essentially shield volcanoes that rise several miles off the ocean floor. – the island being the tip of the volcano.  Unlike Medeira, the Canaries are more active.  The last eruption on Tenerife (as of this writing) occurred in 1909.

The Canaries are also famous in geologic circles for being a source of (usually rare) tsunami in the Atlantic Ocean.  Once in a while, one of the old volcanic cones collapses and crashes into the sea – leaving a large scallop-shape scar in the island and sending a wave radiating out for 1000’s of miles.

From the ship, Darwin longingly describes the view of the volcanic peak of Tenerife and the town of Santa Cruz, describing it as the “long wished for object of my ambition” (Jan 6). Alas, (“oh misery, misery”) because of a Cholera outbreak in England, the ship would be required to be quarantined for 12 days before anyone would be allowed to go ashore.  The Beagle’s Captain FitzRoy decided not to wait and they set sail again the next morning for the Cape Verde Islands.  Darwin’s frustration are summed up in the diary:

“And we have left perhaps one of the most interesting places in the world, just at the moment when we were near enough for every object to create, without satisfying, our utmost curiosity.” (Jan 6)

“A fine breeze is now blowing us from its coast: one has read so many accounts of this island, that it is like parting from a friend; a different feeling from what I shall experience when viewing the Andes.” (Jan 7)

Made even more beautiful by being just out of reach, Darwin’s entry on January 7th is devoted almost entirely to a detailed description of a brilliant sunrise over the island. (Even though Darwin couldn’t visit, you can still read up on Tenerife at Wikipedia) (RJV)


  1. […] Beagle over the past couple years was the fear that they were carrying cholera from England (see Quarantine in the Canaries). Even today, we have elaborate protocols in place to try to prevent the rapid spread of human […]

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