Posted by: Rob Viens | November 3, 2012

Mad Sailors and Bloody Matadors

Early November found the Beagle sailing towards Buenos Aires, and ultimately making landfall on Friday, November 2nd.  The journey was uneventful, unlike the last visit to the city where the Beagle was fired upon by an overzealous guard ship (see A Good Man Goes to War…sort of).  Clearly the HMS Druid “put them in their place” for the offense. Darwin writes:

“A calm delightful day.— I know not the reason why such days always lead the mind to think of England and home.— It would seem as if the serenity of the air allowed the thoughts with greater ease to pass & repass the long interval.” (Nov 1)

“Passing the Guard-ship (who this time treated us with greater respect) we anchored at noon in the outer roads.— The boats were lowered & a large party of officers went on shore … We immediately went out riding: there is no way of enjoying the shore so throughily as on horseback: after being for some months in a ship, the mere prospect of living on dry land is very pleasant, & we were all accordingly in high spirits.— It is from this cause, I suppose, that most Foreigners believe that English sailors are all more or less mad.” (Nov 2)

Aerial view of Buenos Aires with the Rio de la Plata in the background (from Wikipedia Commons)

Buenos Aires

On this quiet Saturday night, I’ll leave most of the descriptions to Darwin as he wandered around Buenos Aires.  First he highlights the city:

“The city of Buenos Ayres is large, & I should think one of the most regular in the world.— Every street is at right angles to the one it crosses; so that all the houses are collected into solid squares called “quadras”.— On the other hand the houses themselves ate like our squares, all the rooms opening into a neat little court.— They are generally only one story high, with flat roofs; which are fitted with seats & are much frequented by the inhabitants in Summer. In centre of the town is the Plaza, where all the public offices, Fortress, Cathedral &c are.— It was here that the old Viceroys lived, before the revolution.— The general assemblage of buildings possesses considerable architectural beauty, although none individually do so.” (Nov 3)

Modern cattle drive in Argentina (from

cattle drive

He then heads off on horseback with Robert Hamond to explore a little further outside of town. After a few complaints about the condition of the roads (“in England any one would pronounce the roads quite impassible”) he comes across the a large public cattle slaughter site.  Even Darwin, the naturalist who is not afraid to hunt and kill in the name of science, is taken aback by the intensity of it all. He describes the scene is vivid detail:

“For some miles round the town the country is enclosed by ditches & hedges of Agave or Aloes with Fennel.— One ride is sufficient to account for the horror which the few English gentlemen who reside here express for Buenos Ayres.— In our ride we passed the public place for slaughtering the cattle: the beasts were all lassoed in the Corral; so that there was no skill shown, the only thing which surprised me is the wonderful strength of horses compared to bullocks. After being caught round the horns, one horse dragged them to any distance; the poor beast after vainly in its efforts ploughing up the ground to resist the force, would dash at full speed to one side; the horse immediately turns to receive the shock, & stands so firmly as almost to throw the bullock down when he comes to the end of the Lasso.— When brought to the spot for killing, the matador with great caution cuts the hamstrings & then being disabled sticks them; it is a horrible sight: the ground is made of bones, & the men, horses & mud are stained by blood.” (Nov 3)

The next few days find Darwin exploring the capital of Argentina. More to come… (RJV)

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