Posted by: Rob Viens | December 27, 2012

Darwin’s Crazy Christmas

As of today, December 27th, 1832, Darwin had been on his voyage for exactly one year.  If you recall, the captain actually tried to leave on the 26th, but so many of the sailors had gotten drunk from Christmas revelries that they had to spend another day in port to sober up. (And many a sailor suffered the captain’s wrath for their conduct.)

But this year was different. Christmas was the one day that sailors of the Royal Navy were typically given off, and the crew planned to relax and feast.  Darwin notes:

“This being Christmas day, all duty is suspended, the seamen look forward to it as a great gala day; & from this reason we remained at anchor.” (Dec 25)

But Darwin was not planning to remain idle – heck no.  He gathered up his friends – who had the day off – and decided to “bag a peak” to celebrate:

“Wigwam Cove is in Hermit Island; its situation is pointed out by Katers Peak, a steep conical mountain 1700 feet high which arises by the side of, & overlooks the bay: — Sulivan Hamond & myself started after breakfast to ascend it: —the sides were very steep so [as] to make the climbing very fatiguing, & parts were thick with the Antarctic Beech. From the summit a good geographical idea might be obtained of the surrounding isles & distant main land. — These islands would appear to be the termination of the chain of the Andes; the mountain tops only being raised above the ocean. — Whilst looking round on this inhospitable region we could scarcely credit that man existed in it. — On our return on board, we were told we had been seen from the ship: this we knew to be impossible, as the Beagle is anchored at the mouth of the harbor & close under a lofty peak, behind which is Katers. As it was certain men had been seen crawling over the rock on this hill, they must have been Fuegians.” (Dec 25)

I am particularly impressed at how Darwin makes the connection with the islands being the “tips” of the southern end of the Andes – and observation that is more or less correct.

My favorite part of the day is when Darwin and his buddies go a little crazy…shooting guns, yelling, and rolling rocks. Yes – some things never really change, but it is particularly amusing to picture young Darwin whoopin’ it up on the mountainside. Of course, part of going crazy for Darwin was “geologizing”:

“From their position, all our parties were in view. — & what must have been their feelings of astonishment — the whole of wigwam cove resounded with guns fired in the Caverns at the Wild fowl; we three also screaming to find out echos, Sulivan amusing himself by rolling down the precipes huge stones, & I impetuously hammering with my geological tools the rocks. They must have thought us the powers of darkness; or whatever else, fear has kept them concealed.” (Dec 25)

One of the Darwin Christmas Cards for sale from the British Humanist Association
Darwin Christmas Card

Luckily, the party of explorers returned to sea level by nightfall because a storm started to roll in…

“The sky looked ominous at sunset & in the middle of the night the hands were turned up to let go another anchor, for it blew a tremendous gale.” (Dec 25)

It would be the first of many storms that the Beagle would endure in the coming weeks.

Merry Christmas to all from “Lands End”!



  1. You get down, Chuck!

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