Posted by: Rob Viens | October 3, 2012

Survivor: Darwin

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When we left out heroes they were stranded on the shores of Bahia Blanca with little food, rough surf, bad weather and only the whaleboats for shelter. October 3rd didn’t look much better:

“At day-break things wore a very bad appearance.— The sky looked dirty & it blew a gale of wind; a heavy surf was roaring on the beach; & what was the worst of all the men thought this weather would last.— The Beagle was pitching very deeply & we thought it not impossible she would be forced to slip cable & run out to sea.— We afterwards heard she rode it out well, but that some of the seas went right over her, although having 120 fathoms of cable out.— It was now time to look after our provisions: we breakfasted on some small birds & two gulls, & a large hawk which was found dead on the beach.— Our dinner was not much better, as it consisted in a fish left by the tide & the bones of the meat, which we were determined to keep for the next day.— In the evening however to our great joy & surprise the wind lulled & the Captain in his boat was able to come within some hundred yards of the coast; he then threw over a cask with provisions which some of the men swam out to & secured.— This was all very well; but against the cold at night there was no remedy.— Nothing would break the wind, which was so cold that there was snow in the morning on the Sierra de Ventana.— I never knew how painful cold could be. I was unable to sleep even for a minute from my body shivering so much. The men also who swam for the provisions suffered extremely, from not being able to get warm again.” (Oct 3)

The descriptions of the bitter cold are vivid – I can almost feel the chill myself. And I can only image how the men who were wet suffered.  Don’t forget, this was almost 200 years ago – this could have easily resulted in their death. I’m sort of surprised that they were not able to start a fire. Was it too wet?  No wood?  Or just too windy?

(I may have to make a list of all the things Darwin has eaten on this trip – today adds “dead hawk found on beach” and “fished washed up on shore” to the list :))

Lastly, I particularly admire that when the going gets rough, the captain steps up to the plate.  It was FitzRoy himself who delivered the cast of provisions to the stranded crew.  He could have sent others, but I don’t think that thought ever crossed his mind.  FitzRoy took care of his crew. Here is his (modest) account of the situation:

“While some officers and men were on shore there, building a sea-mark on the mount, and otherwise employed for the survey, a gale of wind came on from S.E., which soon sent so heavy a sea into the roadstead near the mount, that the Beagle was obliged to strike topmasts and veer a long scope of cable upon two anchors, besides having another under foot. Unluckily, our party on shore had only one day’s provisions, so while the gale lasted their situation was sufficiently disagreeable; the keen air and hard exercise sharpening their appetites, while they had nothing to eat after the first day; and having no guns, they had no prospect of procuring anything. Mr. Darwin was also on shore, having been searching for fossils, and he found this trial of hunger quite long enough to satisfy even his love of adventure. Directly it was possible to put a boat on the water, one was sent, with provisions secured in a cask which was thrown overboard at the back of the surf, and soon drifted ashore to the famishing party. This gale lasted several days, and proved to us not only how heavy a sea is thrown into this bight (rincon, Sp.), by a south-east gale; but also, that the holding-ground is sufficiently good to enable a ship to withstand its effects.” (FitzRoy’s Narratives)

So who would be the first one voted off the island? What sort of “beach-kill” would the crew eat tomorrow? You’ll have to wait to tomorrow to hear the end of the story…

PS – Did Darwin have his diary with him? Or was he writing these entries days later?  In the past when we wrote several days worth of entries at once he put them all under the same heading.  This entry was written over three separate days, so it looks like he had it with him.  No food, no blankets, no shelter….but he had his diary! Always the scientist….


  1. This is better than any TV program…

  2. […] several crewman (including Darwin) had recently been stranded (see Stranded, Cold and Hungry and Survivor: Darwin), hence the name he gives the […]

  3. […] near Bahia Blanca for several days with no food or supplies (see Stranded, Cold and Hungry and Survivor: Darwin). (Good news – they were […]

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