Posted by: Rob Viens | August 6, 2012

Mission Accomplished! – Montevideo 1832 and Mars 2012

As dawn rose on August 7th in Montevideo, it appeared that the immediate crisis was averted and the Beagle crew had helped to maintain the peace.  Darwin concludes the saga today in his diary:

“The boats have returned.— Affairs in the city now more decidedly show a party spirit, & as the black troops are enclosed in the citadel by double the number of armed citizens, Capt FitzRoy deemed it advisable to withdraw his force.— It is probable in a very short time the two adverse sides will come to an encounter: under such circumstances, Capt FitzRoy being in possession of the central fort, would have found it very difficult to have preserved his character of neutrality.” (Aug 7)

Darwin takes a certain pride in the accomplishments of the crew and his role in it.  Maybe it is the 23 year-old speaking, but he is even a little excited by the prospect of his role in the endeavor.  He writes:

“There certainly is a great deal of pleasure in the excitement of this sort of work.—quite sufficient to explain the reckless gayety with which sailors undertake even the most hazardous attacks.— Yet as time flies, it is an evil to waste so much in empty parade.” (Aug 7)

FitzRoy is even more proud of his men and their role in preventing bloodshed, as he writes in his own Narratives:

“I was also requested by the Consul-general to afford the British residents any protection in my power; and understanding that their lives, as well as property, were endangered by the turbulent mutineers, who were more than a match for the few well-disposed soldiers left in the town, I landed with fifty well-armed men, and remained on shore, garrisoning the principal fort, and thus holding the mutineers in check, until more troops were brought in from the neighbouring country, by whom they were surrounded and reduced to subordination. The Beagle’s crew were not on shore more than twenty-four hours, and were not called upon to act in any way; but I was told by the principal persons whose lives and properties were threatened, that the presence of these seamen certainly prevented bloodshed.” (Narratives, FitzRoy)

Although civil unrest would continue to escalate in Uruguay, I don’t believe Darwin would be quite so personally involved again (though I have yet to see what next year brings).

On a completely unrelated note…

Darwin thought the Pampas was flat, dry and lacked interesting vegetation – what would he have thought about Mars.  I could not resist posting one of the first pictures returned by the Mars Curiosity Rover that landed on Mars last night. The image is looking toward the center of Gale Crater, at the large mountain that forms the crater’s central peak (from NASA, 7 Aug 2012).

Mount Sharp in Gale Crater

I’ve said it before, but in some ways, the exploration of Mars gives us modern folks a chance to explore an unknown world in a manner similar to Darwin (though still remotely).  And remember, Darwin’s greatest interest during the voyage was in geology, so I would have loved to hear what he would have had to say if he was given the chance to explore another planet! (RJV)

PS – Also see Darwin in Space: Mars and Beyond for a look a the crater on Mars named after Darwin.


  1. Very nice Rob. I thought of you as I was watching the landing on the NASA Channel.

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