Posted by: Rob Viens | April 8, 2012

Strangers on a Trail

On April 8th, with all his paperwork in order, Darwin set out on a two-week expedition to the town of Macaé.  He had been in Rio a mere 3 days, and during that time he met a man – Patrick Lennon – who was making a trip to his coffee plantation/estate a couple hundred kilometers up the coast. Eager to see the forest firsthand, Darwin arranged to join the journey.

To put the trip in perspective here is the first of several maps –  a general Google Map of South America showing the position of Rio de Janeiro (remember you can zoom in and change the labels, etc.)

Amazingly Darwin makes his first reference to the trip on April 5th – just one day after arriving in Rio.  How on Earth did he get connected so quickly to a stranger making a trip into the forest?  He must have either had some connections, or just was fairly proactive about searching out opportunities. In any case, it is interesting to see how willing he his to take off into the wilds of the Brazilian rainforest with a group of complete strangers. He does not at all seem to be concerned about the prospect – just excited.

Darwin does write about Lennon’s reasons for the trip:

“After many delays Mr Patrick [Lennon] resolved in person to visit his estate. — It was easily arranged that I should be a companion & certainly in many respects it has been an excellent opportunity for seeing the country & its inhabitant.” (Apr 8)

Darwin’s traveling companions were an interesting (maybe unsavory) bunch.  Charles himself refers to them as an “extraordinary & quixotic set of adventurers”. They included:

  1. Mr. Patrick Lennon
    “a regular Irishman, who when the Brazils were first opened to the English made a large fortune by selling spectacles, Thermometers &c &c. — About 8 eight years since he purchased a tract of forest country on the Macaè & put an English agent over it. … Mr Lennon has resided in Rio 20 years & was in consequence well qualified to obtain information — in his disposition very shrewd & intelligent.” (Apr 8)
  2. Lennon’s nephew (who remained unnamed in Darwin’s diary)
    “a sharp youngster following the steps of his Uncle & making money” (Apr 8)
  3. Mt. Lawrie (Laure?)
    “a well informed clever Scotchman, selfish unprincipled man, by trade partly Slave-Merchant partly Swindler… Mr Lawries brother married a handsome Brazilian lady, daughter of a large landed proprietor, also on the Macaè, & this person Mr Lawrie was going visit.” (Apr 8)
  4. Mr. Gosling – a friend of Mr. Laurie and
    “an apprentice to a Druggist” (Apr 8)
  5. A guide – described only as a “black boy”
  6. Darwin – naturalist extraordinaire – the only one from the Beagle on the trip.
  7. ?? – Oddly in Voyage Darwin says it was a band of 7 travelers, but does not mention anyone by name.  Did he leave someone out or just remember the number incorrectly?

The expedition began across the bay from Botofogo Bay, in a area that is now part of the city of Niteroi.

“At 9 oclock I joined my party at Praia Grande, a village on the opposite side of the Bay.” (Apr 8)

The following map is a close up of the area ENE of Rio where the trip occurred (modified from Google Maps).  I’ll try to update this regularly to show the approximate path of the trip and the places where Darwin and is companions spent the night (though it is not always entirely obvious from Darwin’s notes.) For reference, note Cape Frio where the wreck of the HMS Thetis occurred in 1830 and Macaé, the final destination of the trip.

Map of Darwin's Expedition – April 8, 1832

During the Macaé excursion Darwin alternated between some very long diary entries and some that were pretty short.  So over the next few days I may bounce around a little between the several days of entries. For today, I’ll just add a few of Darwin’s initial impressions of the scenery.

“Our first stage was very interesting, the day was powerfully hot [104°F according to his other notebook] & as we passed through the woods, every thing was still, excepting the large & brilliant butterflies, which lazily fluttered about.” (Apr 8)

“The view seen when crossing the hills behind Praia Grande is most sublime & picturesque. — The colours were intense & the prevailing tint a dark blue, the sky & calm waters of the bay vied with each other in splendor. — After passing through some cultivated country we entered a Forest, which in the grandeur of all its parts could not be exceeded.” (Apr 8)

“As it grew dark we passed under one of the massive bare & steep hills of granite which are so common in this country.” (Apr 8)

“We continued riding for some hours; for the few last miles the road was intricate, it passed through a desert waste of marshes & lagoons. — The scene by the dimmed light of the moon was most desolate; a few fire-flies flitted by us & the solitary snipe as it rose uttered its plaintive cry. — the distant & sullen roar of the sea scarcely broke the stillness of the night.” (Apr 8)

That night they stayed on straw mats at a Venda (an Inn, I believe) in the vicinity of one of the large coastal lagoons – Lagoa de Maricá. We’ll rejoin the merry band tomorrow as they continue eastward toward Cape Frio. (RJV)


  1. And here I expected the correct spelling to be Mr. Lawry, of seasoned salt and steakhouse fame! Any chance Rio is where the spices were first discovered and blended?

  2. Interesting – I have no idea (and didn’t heven know the restaurant till today :)). A quick search reveals nothing of their history, but I suspect it is not an uncommon name. Of course, if he got in the cattle business in Brazil…

    I also have a connection with the name “Lennon” – aunt, uncle, cousins on my mom’s side of the family…Hello, Lennon families!

  3. […] the people they met.  Darwin arranged a backcountry trip just a day after arriving in Rio (see Strangers on a Trail) and now FitzRoy was buying boats and taking on additional men from a schooner captain he met a […]

  4. I am a brazilian, live in Rio, and I think I might be a descendant of the brother of Mr. Lawrie. There was a scottish doctor, who lived at the time of Darwin’s voyage, in the region of Macaé, called George Lawrie Reid. He married the daughter of a land owner. I don’t know her exact name, but her descendants were named “De Figueiredo Reid”. Darwin mispellt her name, I think, as Figuireda, which doesn’t exist in Brazil. George also had children with at least one slave woman, which happens to be my great great great grand mother.

    In Macaé and surrounding cities, like Conceição de Macabu and Casimiro de Abreu, this family is known as the Reid family. It’s very well known family in the region and a lot of public places were named after George Lawrie Reid or one of his descendants. The best known public school in the area is named after one of George’s children, Luiz Reid. There is even a member of the family in the brazilian house of representatives. The name Lawrie was not passed along to most of the members of the family.

    Take a look at this genealogy tree (, created by a distant relative. It shows both the descendants of the De Figueiredo daughter as well as the descendants of my Couto da Cunha ancestor (Manuel Reid Couto da Cunha). It seems that George Lawrie Reid had other wives too.

    It came to me as a surprise, reading on the internet about Darwin’s voyage, that one of my ancestors might have had met and hosted him. I hope though that he was not also a swindle as Darwin called the other Mr. Lawrie.

    • Wow – this is a great personal connection with Darwin! Thanks for sharing – it is hearing these kind of stories that makes blogging so interesting. Since I have never been to the area, I also appreciate the clarifications, correct spellings and additional insights you have added to Darwin’s visit to this part of Brazil.

      You may have already seen this, but a few days later Darwin includes a fairly detailed description of the Figueiredo (Figuireda) fazenda – I quoted part of the description in A Tale of Two Fazendas (the full description can be found in the April 13, 1832 entry in Darwin’s Beagle Diary). He seems to have had a rather favorable view of the Figueiredo’s. Could this have been the estate where George Lawrie Reid was living?

      Thanks! – Rob

  5. It’s an interesting experience indeed, to start reading a book and look for more information about it on the internet, and then discover that one of the people mentioned in the book was your ancestor. I just discovered, in another blog, that Mr. Lawry’s bother’s wife was called “Maria” and George Lawrie Reid’s first wife was also called Maria, Maria Isabel de Figueiredo. Based on so many similarities, it’s almost certain to say Mr. Lawry and my ancestor were the same person. Sad to learn that his brother was a swindler and a slave trader though.

  6. […] Alas no record of Don Francisco or Morante that I can find.  But if anyone from the area knows a connection to a historical figure or local family, please let me know. I was thrilled in March when a descendant of one of Darwin’s traveling companions wrote in with a comment to the site.  What a cool personal touch (see the comments in Strangers on a Trail). […]

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