Posted by: Rob Viens | March 3, 2012

George Rowlett and the “Auld Reekie” Side of Bahia

On March 3rd, Darwin was still having fun.  He states:

“I am quite ashamed at the very little I have done during these two days; a few insects & plants make up the sum total. — My only excuse is the torrents of rain, but I am afraid idleness is the true reason. ” (Mar 3)

He’s got five years to get his job done, I guess we can grant him a little fun! (But notice, he still collected a “few” samples.) Today Darwin went sightseeing:

“To day Rowlett & myself went to the city & he performed the part of Cicerone to me.”

George Rowlett was the Beagle‘s Purser (the person responsible for the supplies and the money), and a Cirerone is basically a tour guide.  George had been on the first voyage of the Beagle, so he probably knew the area, and was more than happy to share his knowledge.  Interestingly, Rowlett also has the distinction of being the oldest crew member – leaving Plymouth at a ripe old age of 35. It is good to see Charlie making a lot of friends.

The tour started near the wharfs, where:

“the smell is very strong & disagreeable, which is not to be wondered at, since I observe they have the same need of crying “gardez l’eau” as in Auld Reekie”

To put this in context, “gardez l’eau” (which literally means “watch out for the water” in French) is what people yelled when they dumped their chamber pots out the window into the street.  (Apparently, this was written as “gargyloo” in English and became the origin of them “loo”.) And “Auld Reekie” happens to be an old nickname for Edinburgh (it translates into “Old Smokey”). Another song forever changed in my head – “On top of Auld Reekie”…

Historic picture from Toilets of the World illustrating “gardez l’eau”:
gardez l'eau!

Darwin goes on to briefly describe visiting churches and merchant warehouses, watching black men doing all the work and engaged in animated conversations, and seeing only one “wheeled carriage”.  Interestingly, he seems to make an effort to visit the “dirty” side of town, as much as the  “pretty” spots – taking the time to observe and describe them in his diary.

Though he doesn’t give us much detail, Darwin spends the later part of the day horseback riding – probably thinking a little about the life he left behind just a few months ago which still reveling in the scenery.  He notes:

“Mr Gond, one of the principal merchants in the place, offered to lend us horses, if we would walk to his country house. — We gladly accepted his offer & enjoyed a most delightful ride; one beautiful view after another opening upon us in endless succession. ” (Mar 3)

Tomorrow – another day of fun as Darwin goes to Carnival! (RJV)


  1. […] more seedy part of town.  Darwin described this when he visited the city with George Rowlett (see George Rowlett and the “Auld Reekie” side of Bahia). “Upper Town” (Cidade Alta) is the beautiful historic part of town that consists of […]

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