Posted by: Rob Viens | April 7, 2014

Mr. Smith Goes to Berkeley Sound

After a few weeks off to wrap up another busy quarter, do a little traveling and lighten my brain a bit, I have taken a trip via the “wayback machine” to rejoin my companions on the Beagle.  During the time I have been away, Darwin spent a couple of weeks in the Falkland Islands, and as of today (April 7th), the ship weighed actor -heading back to the mainland. Fortunately, after the first few days in the Falklands it was also a relatively quiet time for Darwin’s diary. So I’ll spend a couple of entries getting caught up and pick up from there…

After traveling across the open ocean, the Beagle arrived in the Falklands on March 10th:

“Arrived in the middle of the day at Berkeley Sound, having made a short passage by scudding before a gale of wind. — Mr Smith, who is acting as Governor, came on board, & has related such complicated scenes of cold-blooded murder, robbery, plunder, suffering, such infamous conduct in almost every person who has breathed this atmosphere, as would take two or three sheets to describe. — With poor Brisbane, four others were butchered; the principal murderer, Antuco, has given himself up. — he says he knows he shall be hanged but he wishes some of the Englishmen, who were implicated, to suffer with him; pure thirst for blood seems to have incited him to this latter act. — Surrounded as Mr Smith [is] with such a set of villains, he appears to be getting on with all his schemes admirably well” (March 10)

Port Louis, East Faulklands. March 14 1834 by Conrad Martens

Conrad Martens Falklands painting

“Mr. Smith” is Lt. Henry Smith, who arrived in the Falkland Islands aboard the HMS Challenger in January.  He was charged with rounding up the criminals who committed the massacre back in August (chiefly Antonio Rivero, who Darwin calls “Antico” – see Rumors of Unrest in the Falklands) and restoring British authority to the islands.  He served as governor until 1838.

Darwin later writes of the governor, and the remote outpost at the bottom of the world in Voyage:

“The Englishman who was left in charge of the flag was consequently murdered. A British officer was next sent, unsupported by any power: and when we arrived, we found him in charge of a population, of which rather more than half were runaway rebels and murderers.

The theatre is worthy of the scenes acted on it. An undulating land, with a desolate and wretched aspect, is everywhere covered by a peaty soil and wiry grass, of one monotonous brown colour. Here and there a peak or ridge of grey quartz rock breaks through the smooth surface. Every one has heard of the climate of these regions; it may be compared to that which is experienced at the height of between one and two thousand feet, on the mountains of North Wales; having however less sunshine and less frost, but more wind and rain.” (Voyage of the Beagle)

Sounds, um, pleasant…

Settlement at Port Louis (after Martens, in FitzRoy’s Narrative)

Port Louis engraving based on Conrad Marten's sketch

Over the next few day’s Darwin prepared for a trip to the interior – an area that he had not had a chance to explore on the previous visit:

“The ship was moved to near the Town. The Adventure arrived, after an exceedingly prosperous voyage. They killed so many wild bulls, geese &c &c & caught so many fish, that they have not tasted salt meat; this with fine weather is the beau ideal of a sailors cruize. I went on shore, intending to start on a riding excursion round the island, but the weather was so bad I deferred it.” (March 11-14)

The weather may have improved by the time journey began on March 16th, but Darwin’s view of the Falklands did not change much.  You might notice a theme here – it was pretty clear when Darwin did not like a place very much. As he set out on his journey he wrote:

“Early in the morning I set out with 6 horses & two Gauchos. These were the only two Spaniards who were not directly concerned with the murder; but I am afraid my friends had a very good idea of what was going to take place. — However they had no temptation to murder me & turned out to be most excellent Gauchos, that is they were dexterous hands in all the requisites of making the camp-life comfortable. — The weather was very boisterous & cold, with heavy hail storms. We got on however pretty well; excepting some little geology nothing could be less interesting. — The country is uniformly the same, an undulating moorland; the surface covered with light brown withered grass, & some few very low shrubs all growing out of an elastic peaty soil. — There is one main range of quartz rock hills, whose broken barren crests gave us some trouble to cross. Few sorts of birds inhabit this miserable looking country: there are many small flocks of geese feeding in the valleys, & solitary snipes are common in all parts. — On the South side of the range of hills we came into the best country for the wild cattle; we did not however see very many, because the Murderers had by hunting them so much, driven them amongst the mountains. These men only killed the cows, & then took out the tongue & piece of meat from the breast, when this was finished they killed another. By their own account they must have killed more than 200 head, — We saw plenty of the half decayed carcases.” (March 16)

On any adventure it is important to “pack a lunch”, and this trip was no exception. In his diary, Darwin describes the process by which the gauchos captured a cow and prepared the meat for the journey:

“In the evening we came across a nice little herd. St Jago soon separated a fat cow, he threw his balls, they hit her legs, but did not entangle her: he dropped his hat to mark the place where the balls fell, uncoiled his lazo & again we commenced the chace; at last he caught her round the horns. — The other Gaucho had gone on with the horses, so that St Jago had some difficulty in killing the furious beast. The horses generally soon learn for their own safety to keep the lazo tight when their rider dismounts, when this is the case the man can easily hamstring & thus secure the beast. Here the horse would not stand still, & it was admirable to see with what dexterity St Jago dogged about the cow till he contrived to give the fatal touch to the main tendon of the hind leg. After which, driving his knife into the head of the spinal marrow the animal dropped as if struck by lightning. — St Jago cut off enough flesh with the skin, & without any bones, to last for our expedition. We then rode on to our sleeping place. Meat roasted with its skin (carne con cuero) is known over all these parts of S. America for its excellence. — it bears the same relation to common beef, which venison does to mutton. — I am sure if any worthy alderman was once to taste it; carne con cuero would soon be celebrated in London.” (March 16)

A modern version of asado con cuero  – large masses of beef still on the skin, cooked over a bbq (from AbsolutArgentina):

asado con cuero

Darwin’s carne con cuero (meet with leather/skin) appears to be what is now referred to as asado en el cuero (barbecue on the leather). It is still known as a signature dish throughout many parts of South America… (RJV)

PS – For more on the geology of the Falklands see Falkland Geology Part I: Ancient Shells and Glacial Remains and The Slow Boat from Africa (Falkland Geology Part II).


  1. Hey, Rob, I hope to see an update of the voyage soon!

  2. […] “O Sr. Smith, que está atuando como governador, subiu à bordo, e nos relatou cenas tão complicadas de assassinato à sangue frio, roubo, pilhagem, sofrimento, tal conduta tão infame em quase toda pessoa que tenha respirado essa atmosfera, que levaria duas ou três folhas para descrever. Com o pobre Brisbane, quatro outros foram massacrados; o principal assassino, Antuco, se entregou. – Ele diz que sabe que será enforcado, mas ele deseja que alguns dos ingleses, que estavam envolvidos, sofram com ele; pura sede de vingança parece tê-lo incitado a este último ato. Rodeado como está o Sr. Smith, com este conjunto de vilões, ele parece estar levando adiante seus esquemas admiravelmente bem“. (Diário de Bordo de Charles Darwin) […]

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