Posted by: Rob Viens | November 10, 2012

Of Diplomats and Mutineers

The Beagle‘s departure from Argentina was delayed by the weather, so the next few days found Darwin socializing in the city of “Good Air” – Buenos Aires. Many of the people he refers to over the next three days, unfortunately, appear to be difficult for me to track down with my research methods.  I’ll share the little I know, but let Darwin do most of the talking tonight.

On the 7th it was off to have dinner with the English Ambassador – “Mr. Gore”:

“We expected to have gone on board to day, but from bad weather & other causes the sailing of the Beagle has been deferred for a few days.— In the evening Capt. FitzRoy & myself dined at Mr Gores, the English Charge d’affaires. We had a very pleasant evening: we met there Colonel Harcourt Vernon, one of the most rare instances of a tourist leaving the beaten tracks of Europe.— He has already travelled in Agypt & having a strong wish to see Tropical scenery came to Rio de Janeiro. And as he says, one walk amidst the glories of Brazil well repays the trouble of crossing the Atlantic.— Colonel Vernon is now going to undertake a most laborious journey, namely to cross the Pampas to Lima, from whence to Mexico & so home.” (Nov 7)

The charge d’affaires is a type of diplomat  – typically one step down from a full ambassador (see Who’s Who Guide to 19th Century European Diplomats).  This particular “Mr. Gore” was Philip Yorke Gore – listed as Her Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador to the Argentine Republic from 1832 to 1834. Mr. Gore was the 4th Earl of Arran from Ireland.  He had previously served as a diplomat in Stockholm, Paris and Lisbon.

Coast of Arms for the Earl of Arran (from Wikipedia Commons):

Earl of Arran Coat of Arms

“Harcourt Vernon” is more difficult to track down as it appears to be a more common name (there are several politicians with this name alive at the time).  The most likely candidate seems to be Francis Venables-Vernon-Harcourt, who would have been about 30 years old at the time.  In any case, I can’t find any evidence of a Harcourt Vernon who “crossed South America”.

November 8th found Darwin at the theatre. Though it is an interesting description of the experience, it is not known what Darwin saw:

“In the evening went to the Theatre; I did not understand one word; yet, & which I should think was different from other languages, it sounded most distinct & energetic.— We saw here the universal custom amongst the Spaniards of separating the women from the men.— In the boxes they are together, but the pit is full of men & the gallery of women. The price for the boxes is about 14 pence or two paper dollars; for the rest of the house it is only one, or seven pence: of English money.” (Nov 8)

On Friday night FitzRoy and Darwin visit a Mrs. Clarke – a woman with a checkered past:

“Called with Capt. FitzRoy on Donna Clara or Mrs Clarke.— The history of this woman is most strange.— She was originally a handsome young woman, transported for some atrocious crime.— On board the convict ship on its passage outwards, she lived with the Captain: some time before coming to the Latitude of Buenos Ayres she planned with the rest of the convict women to murder all on board excepting a few sailors.— She with her own hands killed the Captain, & by the help of a few sailors brought the ship into Buenos Ayres.— After this she married a man of considerable property & now inherits it.— Everybody seems to have forgotten her crimes, from the extraordinary labours she underwent in nursing our soldiers after the disastrous attempt (our flags are now in the Cathedral) to take this city.— Mrs Clarke is now an old decrepid woman: with a masculine face, & evidently even yet a most ferocious mind.— Her commonest expressions are “I would hang them all Sir”, “I would kill him Sir,” for smaller offences, “I would cut their fingers off”.— The worthy old lady looks as if she would rather do it, than say so.” (Nov 9)

It took me a while to track down this story as the there are a lot of references to “Donna Clara” from the 20th century. But I was able to trace Darwin’s mystery woman to Mary Clarke – one of several women who committed mutiny while being transported to a penal colony at Botany Bay, Australia.  The follow quote, from, tells the story of Mary Clarke and the mutiny on the convict ship the Lady Shore:

“The keystone of this story is the mutiny aboard the convict transport ship Lady Shore off the coast of Brazil in 1797. This ship was carrying 66 female convicts and 2 male convicts from England to Botany Bay. Following the mutiny the convicts, crew and soldiers first arrived at Montevideo and then 50 convict women were landed in Buenos Aires, the capital of the Viceroyalty of the Rio del la Plata, none of the convict women were recaptured and one in particular, a convict named Mary Clarke later in her life through marriages and business acumen became prominent in the local society.”

Further details of the mutiny can be found in the Lady Shore Wikipedia Page and Georgian Gentleman Blog.

Mutiny on the Lady Shore (from the Georgian Gentleman Blog above)

mutiny on the Lady Shore

On Saturday, Darwin got up for one last breakfast in Buenos Aires with the charge d’affaires.  By nightfall the Beagle was on its way back to Montevideo.

“Breakfasted with Mr Gore & at noon went on board: in the evening made sail for Monte Video; but as the night was dirty came to an anchor.” (Nov 10)

It would be 1833 before he returned to the capital of Argentina. (RJV)

PS – Aren’t I embarrassed – I have been referring to Darwin’s “Mr. Hammond” as “George”.  In reality this is the mate Robert Hamond (spelled with one “m”). What makes this truly embarrassing is that George Hammond was a character on Stargate SG-1.  How is that for faulty wiring in my brain :).  Anyway, I have gone back and tried to fix this mistake in earlier posts.  Sorry for any historical confusion!


  1. […] The president was Fructuoso Rivera, who held the office from 1830 to 1834, then again in 1838/43 and 1853/54. Although well-respected at the time for his military career (he helped oust Brazil from Uruguay), he appears to have been a poor politician (see Reds, Whites and the Slaughter of Salsupuedes Creek). In any case, I like Darwin’s description of the theatre where the party took place .  It seems to be similar to his impressions earlier this month of the theatre in Buenos Aires (see Of Diplomats and Mutineers). […]

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