Posted by: Rob Viens | March 15, 2012

Darwin Goes Local

Today, March 15th, Darwin took the opportunity to have a “sleep over” in Bahia.  FitzRoy needed to take the ship out to “sound the bank, which runs out at the head of the bay”, so Darwin was dropped off on shore. Apparently the survey would take some time, so his plan was to spend the night in the city.

He mentions doing some exploring of the ” beautiful country round Bahia”, though gives no specifics about these explorations. So what does he talk about in his diary today?  What would any 20-yr old young man do when his mother (ship) is away and he has a day in town on his own? Why go out on the town, of course.

“After walking for some time in the heat of the sun, we entered a Venda & drank some most excellent Sangaro.” (Mar 15)

As both “venda” and “sangaro” don’t seem to have a definition that fits here, I have to wonder about Darwin’s spelling (which he did have some problems with).  (Ironically both words, as proper nouns, refer to people or places in Africa but  I can’t see how that relates here.) Did he mean “vendor” and “sangria”? He later refers to “wine” in the entry, so I am going with the idea that he drank “sangria” at the “bar” as the correct interpretation.

During his time at the “Venda” he met some new friends who were fascinated (and possibly frightened) by Darwin’s “technology”.

“As is generally the case we were soon surrounded by black men, women & children. I do not know whether they afforded me or I them the most amusement; their astonishment was great at the Fly net, small pistol & compass: as one thing came out after another from my most capacious pockets, they cried “full, full of sins”. — Doubtless thinking all my instruments were related “al Diabolo”.” (Mar 15)

This seems to be one of the first places that we see Darwin interacting with the “locals”.  He comments a little bit of the people he observed in St. Jago, and I know that in future stops he will immerse himself in the culture.  But this is the first time on the voyage he writes about interacting with anyone other than crewmates, and other Royal Navy officers. He seems to be genuinely enjoying himself.

When evening approached he “gave [his] friends at the Venda some wine” and headed off to find a hotel for the night:

“In the evening I went to the Hotel d Universe, where by the help of the three words “comer” to eat, “cama” a bed & “pagar” my host & myself contrived to agree very well.” (Mar 15)

“Pagar” means to pay, so sounds like all he had to say is I want to pay for food and a bed and he was set. Darwin was apparently horrible at latin and greek studies at school, and I’ve never seen any indication that he was any good at languages.  So I assume that he is being pretty honest that these were some of the few words of Portuguese that he knew.

Historic district in Salvador, Bahia (from

Salvador Historic District

Modern Salvador has a large historic district, however, I could not find a reference to a Hotel d’Universe still existing there today. Long shot I know, but it would be cool if it did. After those “sangaros”  I wonder how much he had to “pagar”? (RJV)

PS- Today is my 50th post a Darwin blogger – got to celebrate those milestones!


  1. Congratulations on your 50th Darwin blog. You’re doing a superb job well worth reading. You’ve brought his diary down to a concept we can understand and relate to in present times. This has been a part of my daily breakfast “ritual” (toast, coffee and The Beagle Project.)


  2. Dear Rob Viens,

    I am from Bahia. The noun “Venda” was very common until mid 20th century. It means a general store where you can buy almost anything.

    Jonildo Bacelar

  3. Dear Rob Viens,

    The Hotel d’Universe was a building that was just right the Theater in the illustration of Augustus Earle, but can not be seen in it. See page

    You can see the place in this page:, but with a building with the name Mercurio.

    Now the same place is occupied by the building A Tarde. see page

    Jonildo Bacelar

    • Jonildo – Thanks for sharing these links and comments. It is always great to get some more personal information who know the area much better than I do. -Rob

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: