Posted by: Rob Viens | November 29, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere and not a Beer to Drink

On the 26th the big day had finally arrived – the Beagle was ready to leave Montevideo for points south. But weather conditions were such that the voyage would be delayed by one more day.  Darwin took the opportunity to describe the weather and to use his new-found skills with a barometer to make some forecasts of his own:

“The ship got under weigh at noon, but we anchored at night without leaving M: Video.— The occasion of this delay caused a painful scene on board.— During the morning the heat on shore was excessive, & far more intolerable than that of the Tropics. I fully felt the truth of what Mr Daniell has ascertained to be the fact; namely that the difference between the heat of the suns rays & temperature of the atmosphere increases as the latitude becomes higher & in a greater ratio than the Temp. decreases. Hence it happens that the thermometer would actually rise higher when exposed to the sun in London than under the Equator; also it proves how completely all the effects of climate depend on mean temperature.— The day had been beautiful; but the barometer foretold a change, so that in a calm we anchored & struck our top gallant masts.— It was not in vain, a little after 10 oclock the squall struck us & it blew heavily all night.” (Nov 26)

Clearly Darwin had learned a thing or two about using a barometer from his friend the Captain (see Barometric Musings).

On the 27th, the Beagle put to sea. Darwin’s entry is brief:

“The morning was dirty, but the afternoon was fair & we ran up the river about 30 miles in order to pump in fresh water.— Anchored off the cliffs called Santa Maria.” (Nov 27)

A Royal Navy water cask (photo (and cask itself) are available at

Royal Navy cask

It is worth a reminder here about the importance of stocking up on fresh water for a sea voyage in 1832. In particular, carrying enough to provide drinking water for a crew of nearly 100 men was not a simple matter. Ships had to devote significant storage space to carrying large casks of water. When surveying the coast, it would probably be relatively easy to refill periodically, but crossing the Atlantic (or the Pacific) was another story entirely.  If you ran out of water you would be in real trouble. Even if you did not “run dry”, long voyages could lead to pretty nasty tasting water.  This was one of the reasons why beer, wine and rum were consumed – alcohol didn’t “go bad”, it contained nutrients, and could be added to water to cover its rancid taste.  (We won’t get into the fact that alcohol dehydrates and being drunk is not a smart idea if you are assigned to work the top sails, but those problems did not seem to significantly hamper the Beagle.)

Sketch of the interior of the Beagle by Philip Gidley King – notice the large area of the lower holds filled with casks of water and alcohol.

Sketch of Beagle Interior

FitzRoy adds his own description of the departure on Montevideo. He not only comments on the acquisition of water, but also on stocking several other supplies, including 8 months worth of food:

“27th Nov. Our arrangements and observations being satisfactorily completed, a sufficient quantity of provision on board to last eight months, at full allowance, and an extra supply of iron and coals for the forge, in case of any serious accident, the Beagle sailed from Monte Video; and, after filling water near Cape Jesu Maria, hastened to look after her little assistants, left near Bahia Blanco.” (Narrative, FitzRoy)

I can’t imaging what that food was going to taste like come next June… hopefully there will be some rum left… (RJV)


  1. Dear Rob, great posts again, I just love travelling with Charles.In between I’ve found this:
    you might like it 😉

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