Posted by: Rob Viens | January 21, 2014

Survivor: Darwin – Season 2

survivor Darwin logo

Every now and then Darwin’s adventures sound a bit like a modern-day reality show – granted with all the danger and none of the prize money. One of the best examples so far happened in 1832, when Darwin and part of the crew were stranded on a beach near Bahia Blanca for several days with no food or supplies (see Stranded, Cold and Hungry and Survivor: Darwin). (Good news – they were rescued!)

This time it was lack of water that created difficulties. The adventure started on the 10th with the need to overcome some rough terrain:

“Went up to the head of the Harbor. — the boat being aground on a mud-bank, we were all obliged to lounch for a half mile through mud & water & did not reach the vessel till late at night & very cold we all were. — In the dark we were puzzled by seeing another ship. — it turned out to be a French whaler, which in the morning came over the bar neck or nothing. The French Government gives a great bounty to all Whalers, I suppose to encourage a breed of good seamen; but from what we have seen of them, it  will be a difficult task. — all the officers are brought up in the English trade & it is curious to hear every word of command in their boats given in English.” (Jan 10)

“Reserva peninsula san julian” (from Google Earth by Markovacic)

San Julian Inlet

At least this time they made it back to the ship. On the 11th, the survey team was back at the head of the harbor – once again pushing the limits of their endurance:

“Again I started with the Captain to the head of the harbor. — it suddenly came on to blow hard. — so the Captain ran the boat on shore & we & four of the boats crew all armed proceeded on foot. — It turned out to [be] a very long walk; in the evening two of the party could not walk any further & we were all excessively tired. — It was caused by a most painful degree of thirst; & as we were only 11 hours without water, I am convinced it must be from the extreme dryness of the atmosphere.” (Jan 11)

While the rest of the team was too exhausted to continue, Darwin once again played the hero and set off in search of water.  His description of the adventure is brief:

“Earlier in the day we experienced a great mortification; a fine lake was seen from a hill; I & one of the men volunteered to walk there, & not till quite close did we discover that it was a field solid of snow-white salt. — the whole party left their arms with the two who were knocked up & returned to the boat. Fresh men were then sent off with some water, & we made a signal fire, so that by 11 oclock we were all collected & returned to the Ship.” (Jan 11)

More interesting (and telling about Darwin) is FitzRoy’s view Darwin’s solo journey to the “salinas”.  His version makes it sound a little more dangerous, and Darwin a bit more heroic:

“One day Mr Darwin and I undertook an excursion in search of fresh-water, to the head of the inlet, and towards a place marked in an old Spanish plan, “pozos de agua, dulce;” but after a very fatiguing walk not a drop of water could be found. I lay down on the top of a hill, too tired and thirsty to move farther, seeing two lakes of water, as we thought, about two miles off, but unable to reach them. Mr Darwin, more accustomed than the men, or myself, to long excursions on shore, thought he could get to the lakes, and went to try. We watched him anxiously from the top of the hill, named in the plan “Thirsty Hill”, saw him stoop down at the lake, but immediately leave it and go on to another, that also he quitted without delay, and we knew by his slow returning pace that the apparent lakes were “salinas”. We then had no alternative but to return, if we could, so descending to meet him at one side of the height, we all turned eastward and trudged along heavily enough. The day had been so hot that our little stock of water was soon exhausted, and we were all more or less laden with instruments, ammunition, or weapons. About dusk I could move no further, having foolishly carried a heavy double-barrelled gun all day besides instruments, so, choosing a place which could be found again, I sent a party on and lay down to sleep; one man, the most tired next to me, staying with me. A glass of water would have made me quite fresh, but it was not to be had. After some hours, two of my boat’s crew returned with water, and we very soon revived. Towards morning we all got on board, and no one suffered afterwards from the over-fatigue, except Mr Darwin, who had had no rest during the whole of that thirsty day—now a matter of amusement, but at the time a very serious affair.” (Captain FitzRoy’s Narratives)

Although Darwin made light of the adventure in his diary, the lack of water and strenuous hike had an adverse effect on him. For the next two days he was laid up in bed recovering:

“I was not much tired although I reached the boat in the first division; but the two next days was very feverish in bed.” (Jan 12-13)

It is clear from this adventure and Darwin’s many actions for the good of the crew over the past 2 years, that he had long since earned his position on the ship.  He may have been “extra baggage” at the beginning, and I’m sure the seamen did not think very highly of the “rich guy holed up in his cabin throwing up and eating raisons” for the first month of the trip.  But his actions over the past two years showed that Darwin was as worthy to serve on the HMS Beagle as any seasoned sailor… (RJV)

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