30th March 1833

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
In 1834, while surveying the sea-coast of these islands, in the Adventure, Lieutenant Wickham, Mr. Low, and Mr. Johnson (midshipman) had many a bull hunt; but though there was as much or more risk in their encounters, being on foot, with rifles, assisted only by a good dog, their adventures were individually rather than generally interesting. They used to land in unfrequented harbours, very near herds of wild cattle or horses, creep quietly along behind tussac or bushes, till they got within rifle-shot, take good aim at the fattest, and after firing, do their best to kill the animal, in general only wounded by a first shot. They had an excellent dog, who always seized the creatures by the lower lip, and diverted their attention from Mr. Johnson or Low, who otherwise might have lost their lives, on more than two occasions.

29th March 1833

East Falkland Island
The English Schooner will not conveniently carry all the Frenchmen of the wreck; The Captain offered to carry some, & today three of her officers came on board.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
Speaking to Simon myself one day about the indiscriminate slaughter of cattle which I had heard took place occasionally, he told me that the gauchos used sometimes to kill them for their tongues only, and, perhaps, a steak or two, for 'asado' (meat roasted on a stick), without taking the trouble to skin them; being too great epicures in their way to feast twice upon the same animal.

28th March 1833

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
About this time one of the officers went to see some wild cattle taken. After riding far beyond the hills seen from Port Louis, a black speck was discerned in the distance—instantly the three gauchos stopped, adjusted their saddle-gear, lassoes, and balls, and then cantered off in different directions. While stopping, my shipmate saw that the black spot moved and doubled its size. Directly afterwards, he perceived five other black things, and taking it for granted they were cattle, asked no questions of his taciturn, though eager, companions, but watched their movements and galloped on with the capataz (Jean Simon), the other two making a d├ętour round some hills. Having got down wind of the herd, Simon slackened his pace, and, lying along his horse's back, gradually ascended a slight eminence, beyond which the cattle were feeding. For a moment he stopped to look round:—there was a monstrous bull within a hundred yards of him; three hundred yards further, were about twenty cows; and in a valley beyond, was a large herd of wild cattle. Just then the heads of the other two men were seen a quarter of a mile on one side, also to leeward of the cattle, which were still feeding unsuspiciously. With a sudden dash onwards, such as those horses are trained to make, Simon was within twenty yards of the overgrown, but far from unwieldy brute, before he could 'get way on.' Whirling the balls around his head, Simon hurled them so truly at the bull's fore-legs, that down he came, with a blow that made the earth tremble, and rolled over and over. Away went Simon at full gallop after a fine cow; and at the same time, each of the other men were in full chase of their animals. The herd galloped off almost as fast as horses; but in a few moments, another bull was bellowing in impotent rage, and two cows were held tightly by lassoes—one being caught by Simon alone, and the other by his two companions. One of the men jumped off, and fastened his cow's legs together so securely, that she could only limp along a few inches at a time; his horse meanwhile keeping the second lasso tight, as effectually as if his master had been on his back. Both lassoes were then shaken off, and one thrown over Simon's cow, which had been trying in all kinds of ways to escape from or gore her active enemy, who—go which way she would—always kept the lasso tight; and often, by checking her suddenly, half overset and thoroughly frightened her. Leaving his horse as soon as the cow was secure, Simon hamstrung the bulls, and left them where they fell, roaring with pain and rage. He then remounted, and all four cantered back towards the 'estancia' (or farm), where the tame cattle are kept. Simon was asked to kill the poor brutes before he left them; but he shook his head, with a sneer, and remarked, that their hides would come off easier next day! At daybreak, the following morning, half-a-dozen tame cattle were driven out to the place of slaughter, and with them the frightened and already half-tamed cows (which had been left tied in a place where they had nothing to eat), were easily driven in to the farm. The two bulls were at last killed, skinned, cut up, and the best parts of their carcases carried to the settlement. The hides of those two animals weighed seventy-three and eighty-one pounds.

26th March 1833

East Falkland Island
A short time after our arrival here, a small American Sealing vessel came in; Capt. FitzRoy entered into terms for buying it, on condition of its return by the 25th. As the vessel did not keep her appointment, we supposed she had failed to find her consort, & the Captain therefore purchased Low's Schooner. She is a fine vessel of 170 tuns, drawing 10 feet of water, and an excellent sea-boat. If the Admiralty sanction the provisioning & payment of men, this day will be an important one in the history of the Beagle. Perhaps it may shorten our cruize, anyhow it will double the work done; & when at sea, it is always pleasant to be sailing in company; the consort affords an object of attention to break the monotonous horizon of the ocean.

25th March 1833

East Falkland Island
On Friday a sealing vessel arrived commanded by Capt. Lowe; a notorious & singular man, who has frequented these seas for many years & been the terror to all small vessels. — It is commonly said, that a Sealer, Slaver & Pirate are all of a trade; they all certainly require bold energetic men; amongst Sealers there are frequently engagements for the best "rookerys". & in these affrays Capt Lowe has gained his celebrity. — In their manners habits &c I should think these men strikingly resembled the old Buccaneers. Capt Lowe brought with him the people belonging to a vessel which was wrecked on the SW coast of Tierra del by the great gale of the 13th of Jan. — Thus we already know of the loss of two vessels & a third which was got off shore. — Capt Lowe considers this Summer to have been the most boisterous he has ever seen. It is satisfactory to have felt the very worst weather, in one of the most notorious places in the world, & that in a class of vessel, which is generally thought unfit to double the Horn. — Few vessels would have weathered it better than our little "diving duck".

24th March 1833

East Falkland Island
We have never before stayed so long at a place & with so little for the Journal. For the sake of the fossil shells, I paid a visit of three days to the town. In a long ride I found the country no ways different from what it is in the neighbourhead of the Ship. The same entire absence of trees & the same universal covering of brown wiry grass growing on a peat soil. The inhabitants are a curious mixed race; their habitations are in a miserable condition & deficient in almost every accomodation. The place bespeaks what it has been, viz a bone of contention between different nations.

15th March 1833

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
Although the climate is so much colder than that of Buenos Ayres, the gauchos sleep in the open air, when in the interior, under their saddles, just as they do in the latitude of 35°. While idling at the settlement they gamble, quarrel, and fight with long knives, giving each other severe wounds. With their loose ponchos, slouched hats, long hair, dark complexions, and Indian eyes, they are characters fitter for the pencil of an artist than for the quiet hearth of an industrious settler. Besides these gauchos, we saw five Indians, who had been taken by the Buenos Ayrean troops, or their allies, and allowed to leave prison on condition of going with Mr. Vernet to the Falklands. Including the crews of some thirty whale-ships, hovering about or at anchor among the islands; the men of several American vessels, all armed with rifles; the English sealers with their clubs, if not also provided with rifles; these cut-throat looking gauchos; the discontented, downcast Indian prisoners, and the crews of several French whalers—who could not or would not see why they had not as good a right to the islands as Englishmen—there was no lack of the elements of discord; and it was with a heavy heart and gloomy forebodings that I looked forward to the months which might elapse without the presence of a man-of-war, or the semblance of any regular authority.

14th March 1833

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
My own employment obliged me to remain near the ship, but some of the officers made excursions into the interior, and to them and Mr. Brisbane I am indebted for most of the following notices of these islands.


Some very large bones were seen a long way from the sea-shore, and some hundred feet above the level of high water, near St. Salvador Bay. How they got there had often puzzled Mr. Vernet, and Brisbane also, who had examined them with attention; Brisbane told me they were whale's bones. The rocky summits of all the hills are amazingly broken up, like those of far higher elevations in Tierra del Fuego, and the fragments—some very large—have rolled down the nearest ravines, so that they look like the beds of dried-up torrents. The sand-stone, which is abundant, offers beautifully perfect impressions of shells, many of which were brought to England. In these fossils the minutest portions of delicate shells are preserved, as in a plaster of Paris cast, though the stone is now very hard. There are fine stalactites in some large caverns, but they are known only to a few sealers. The large muscles produce pearls of considerable size, though inferior quality, perhaps; Mr. Brisbane had a small bottle full. In one of the cottages I saw a heap of good whalebone, and was informed that some hundred pounds worth had been picked up on the coasts, and sold to whalers for a tenth part of its European value, in exchange for clothes, spirits, ammunition, and biscuit. On West Falkland there are beautiful pebbles, and on the heights fine crystals have been found.

13th March 1833

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
The shattered state of most summits of mountains in these regions* has often struck me, many of them being mere heaps of rocks and stones, over which it is extremely difficult to climb. Mount Skyring may be cited as one remarkable instance; there, the stones gave out a very sulphureous smell when struck together, and were strongly magnetic. Lightning, electricity, and magnetism being intimately related, one is led to think that, if the above conjecture is incorrect, there may be some connexion between these sudden glimpses of faint light and the transmission of the electric fluid. This much I am certain of, that they were not lights made by man, and that they were different from the will-o'-the-wisp, or ignis fatuus.

* Falklands and Tierra del Fuego.

12th March 1833

Over the next 10 days or so, there will be fewer postings to this Blog... due to, in Charles Darwin's phrase in his next Journal entry on the 24th March, "We have never before stayed so long at a place & with so little for the Journal." But stay with me... or, as I am always doing, re-read Darwin's early entries.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
While walking the deck after dark, I sometimes saw flashes of light on the distant hills, which it was difficult to account for as 'ignes fatui,' because they were seen only on the heights, and momentarily, long intervals intervening between each faint flash. I once remarked similar instantaneous glimpses of feeble light, like the flashing of a distant pistol, near Pecket Harbour, in Magalhaens Strait, during a rainy night, but on the hills, at the south side of Berkeley Sound, I witnessed such lights repeatedly. They were never bright or lasting—merely a faint sudden glimmer—exactly as I have said, like the flash of a pistol, fired at a great distance. It has since occurred to me, that the phosphoric light spoken of by Bougainville may be of a nature similar to that which I saw, and that those momentary flashes might have been caused by the occasional fall of stones among ravines, near the summits of hills.

10th to 17th March 1833

East Falkland Island
This is one of the quietest places we have ever been to. Nearly all the Ships are gone; & no one event has happened during the whole week: The boats are employed in surveying. I walked one day to the town, which consists in half a dozen houses pitched at random in different places. In the time of the old Spaniards, when it was a Botany Bay for Buenos Ayres, it was in a much more flourishing condition. The whole aspect of the Falkland Islands, were however changed to my eyes from that walk; for I found a rock abounding with shells; & these of the most interesting geological era.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
During the month we remained in Berkeley Sound, I had much trouble with the crews of whaling or small sealing vessels, as well as with the settlers, who all seemed to fancy that because the British flag was re-hoisted on the Falklands, they were at liberty to do what they pleased with Mr. Vernet's private property, as well as with the wild cattle and horses. The gauchos wished to leave the place, and return to the Plata, but as they were the only useful labourers on the islands, in fact, the only people on whom any dependence could be placed for a regular supply of fresh beef, I interested myself as much as possible to induce them to remain, and with partial success, for seven stayed out of twelve.

10th March 1833

East Falkland Island
In the evening it blew a tremendous gale of wind. I should never have imagined it possible for such a sea to get up in so few minutes. The Barometer had given most excellent warning that something uncommon was coming: in the middle of the day it looked like a clear; but at dinner the Captain said the glass says we have not had the worst: about an hour afterwards it reached us in all its fury: The French Brig let go four anchors; the English schooner drove; & a little more would have added another wreck. At night our Yawl was swamped at her moorings; she did not sink, but was towed on shore & emptied, some of her gear & sails are lost.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
... at six in the evening of a stormy day, the wind increased suddenly from the strength of a fresh gale to that of a hurricane, and in a few minutes the Beagle brought both anchors ahead, and was pitching her forecastle into the sea. Topgallant-masts were on deck, and yards braced sharp up all day; but we were obliged to let go a third anchor, and even then had some anxiety for the result. Till this squall came, the water had been smooth, though of course covered with white crests ('horses'); but it was then changed into a short sea, such as I should have been slow to believe wind could have raised in that confined cove. The yawl, an excellent sea-boat, and quite light, was swamped at her moorings; but I think that the chief cause of her filling was a quantity of kelp which drifted athwart hawse and hindered her rising easily to the sea.

9th March 1833

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
A sealing schooner, the Unicorn, arrived, Mr. William Low being sealing master and part owner; and, although considered to be the most enterprizing and intelligent sealer on those shores, perhaps anywhere, the weather had been so much against him that he returned from his six months' cruise a ruined man, with an empty ship. All his means had been employed to forward the purchase and outfit of the fine vessel in which he sailed; but having had, as he assured me, a continued succession of gales during sixty-seven days, and, taking it altogether, the worst season he had known during twenty years' experience, he had been prevented from taking seal, and was ruined. Passengers with him were the master and crew of a North American sealing schooner, the Transport, which had been wrecked on the south-west coast of Tierra del Fuego, in Hope Harbour; and he told me of two other wrecks, all occasioned by the gale of January 12-13th.


At this time I had become more fully convinced than ever that the Beagle could not execute her allotted task before she, and those in her, would be so much in need of repair and rest, that the most interesting part of her voyage—the carrying a chain of meridian distances around the globe—must eventually be sacrificed to the tedious, although not less useful, details of coast surveying.

Our working ground lay so far from ports at which supplies could be obtained, that we were obliged to occupy whole months in making passages merely to get provisions, and then overload our little vessel to a most inconvenient degree, as may be supposed, when I say that eight months' provisions was our usual stock at starting, and that we sailed twice with ten months' supply on board.*

I had often anxiously longed for a consort, adapted for carrying cargoes, rigged so as to be easily worked with few hands, and able to keep company with the Beagle; but when I saw the Unicorn, and heard how well she had behaved as a sea-boat, my wish to purchase her was unconquerable. A fitter vessel I could hardly have met with, one hundred and seventy tons burthen, oak built, and copper fastened throughout, very roomy, a good sailer, extremely handy, and a first-rate sea-boat; her only deficiencies were such as I could supply, namely, a few sheets of copper, and an outfit of canvas and rope. A few days elapsed, in which she was surveyed very carefully by Mr. May, and my mind fully made up, before I decided to buy her, and I then agreed to give six thousand dollars (nearly £1,300) for immediate possession. Being part owner, and authorized by the other owners to do as he thought best with the vessel in case of failure, Mr. Low sold her to me, payment to be made into his partners' hands at Monte Video. Some of his crew being 'upon the lay,' that is, having agreed to be paid for their work by a small proportion of the cargo obtained, preferred remaining at the Falklands to seek for employment in other vessels, others procured a passage in the Rapid, and a few were engaged by me to serve in their own vessel which, to keep up old associations, I named 'Adventure.' Mr. Chaffers and others immediately volunteered to go in her temporarily (for I intended to place Mr. Wickham in her if he should be willing to undertake the responsibility), and no time was lost in cleaning her out thoroughly, loading her with stores purchased by me from M. le Dilly and from Mr. Bray (lately master of the Transport), and despatching her to Maldonado, to be prepared for her future employment.

* Excepting water, of which we only carried six weeks.

This schooner was built at Rochester as a yacht for Mr. Perkins, and, as I have reason to believe, cost at least six thousand pounds in building and first outfit. Soon afterwards, she was armed and used by Lord Cochrane in the Mediterranean; then she was fitted out by a merchant to break the blockade of Buenos Ayres; but, taken by a Brazilian man-of-war, and carried into Monte Video, she was condemned as a prize and sold to Mr. Hood, the British Consul, who went to England and back again in her with his family; after which, she was fitted out for the sealing expedition I have mentioned. At the time of my purchase she was in want of a thorough refit, and her internal arrangements required alteration; but it happened that Mr. Bray and M. le Dilly had each saved enough from their respective vessels to enable me to load the Adventure on the spot with all that she would require; from the former I bought anchors, cables, and other stores, amounting to £216: and from M. le Dilly rope, canvas, and small spars, for which £187 were paid. Those who were conversant in such matters, the master, boatswain, and carpenter of the Beagle, as well as others, assured me that these articles were thus obtained for less than a third of their market prices in frequented ports.

While the Beagle lay in Johnson Cove, we witnessed a memorable instance of the strength with which squalls sometimes sweep across the Falklands. Our ship was moored with a cable each way in a land-locked cove, not a mile across, and to the south-westward of her, three cables' length distant, was a point of land which, under ordinary circumstances, would have protected her from sea, if not from wind. Our largest boat, the yawl, was moored near our eastern anchor, with a long scope of small chain... (to be continued tomorrow)...

Syms Covington’s Journal:
Here our Captain BOUGHT a schooner of Mr. Low, a sealer, called the Unicorn, which was changed for that of the New Adventure.

This schooner greatly forwarded our surveying, and helped the Beagle in taking the crew of the Megellan to Monte Video, which men and officers together amounted to about thirty.

6th to 9th March 1833

East Falkland Island
Several ships have arrived; we are now five sail in the harbor: An English schooner has agreed to carry the Frenchman & all his stores (which we could not have done) to Monte Video & to receive 20 per cent at the auction. — During these days I have been wandering about the country, breaking rocks, shooting snipes, & picking up the few living productions which this Island has to boast of. — It is quite lamentable to see so many casks & pieces of wreck in every cove & corner: we know of four large ships in this one harbor. One of these was the L'Uranie a French discovery ship who had been round the world. — The weather generally has been cold & very boisterous.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
An agreement was brought about, and witnessed by me, between M. le Dilly and the master of the Rapid schooner, by which the latter bound himself to convey to Monte Video those of the Magellan's crew whom the Beagle could not carry: and next day another French whaler arrived (the fourth we had lately seen), belonging to the owners of the Magellan, so there was no longer any want of help for M. le Dilly.

5th March 1833

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East Falkland Island
Mr Hellyer was buried on a lonely & dreary headland. The procession was a melancholy one: in front a Union Jack half mast high was carried & over the coffin the British ensign was thrown; the funeral, from its simplicity was the more solemn, & suited all the circumstances.
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Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
This day we buried the body of our lamented young friend, on a rising ground near Johnson Cove, in sight of our ship. All the French attended the melancholy ceremony, as well as all our own party, excepting the very few who were obliged to stay on board.

4th March 1833

East Falkland Island
A grievous accident happened this afternoon in the death of Mr Hellyer [Captain's Clerk]. One of the residents brought the news that he had found some clothes & a gun on the sea coast. We made all haste to the place & in a short time discovered the body, not many yards from the shore, but so entangled in the Kelp, that it was with difficulty it was disengaged. It was quite evident he had shot a bird & whilst swimming for it, the strong stalks of the sea weed had caught his legs & thus caused his death.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
No sooner had Mr. Brisbane landed than the master and crew of the Rapid hastened to make themselves drunk, as an indemnification for the fatigues of their exceedingly long and hazardous voyage: and in that state they were found by the Beagle's officer. Next morning Brisbane came on board with his papers, and I was quite satisfied with their tenor, and the explanation which he gave me of his business. Some misapprehension having since arisen about his being authorized by Vernet to act in his stead, I may here mention again (though no longer of any material consequence), that Brisbane's instructions from Vernet authorized him to act as his private agent only, to look after the remains of his private property, and that they had not the slightest reference to civil or military authority. This settled, I went to Port Louis, but was indeed disappointed. Instead of the cheerful little village I once anticipated finding — a few half-ruined stone cottages; some straggling huts built of turf; two or three stove boats; some broken ground where gardens had been, and where a few cabbages or potatoes still grew; some sheep and goats; a few long-legged pigs; some horses and cows; with here and there a miserable-looking human being, —were scattered over the fore-ground of a view which had dark clouds, ragged-topped hills, and a wild waste of moorland to fill up the distance.

"How is this?" said I, in astonishment, to Mr. Brisbane; "I thought Mr. Vernet's colony was a thriving and happy settlement. Where are the inhabitants? the place seems deserted as well as ruined." "Indeed, Sir, it was flourishing," said he, "but the Lexington ruined it: Captain Duncan's men did such harm to the houses and gardens. I was myself treated as a pirate — rowed stern foremost on board the Lexington — abused on her quarter-deck most violently by Captain Duncan — treated by him more like a wild beast than a human being — and from that time guarded as a felon, until I was released by order of Commodore Rogers." "But," I said, "where are the rest of the settlers? I see but half a dozen, of whom two are old black women; where are the gauchos who kill the cattle?" "Sir, they are all in the country. They have been so much alarmed by what has occurred, and they dread the appearance of a ship of war so much, that they keep out of the way till they know what she is going to do." I afterwards interrogated an old German, while Brisbane was out of sight, and after him a young native of Buenos Ayres, who both corroborated Brisbane's account.*

At my return on board, I was shocked by the sad information that Mr. Hellyer was drowned. He had walked about a mile along the shore of a creek near the ship, with one of the Frenchmen, who then left him† (having recollected that he would be wanted for a particular purpose). Mr. Hellyer, anxious to shoot some ducks of a kind he had not before seen, walked on with his gun, saying he would return in half an hour.

About an hour after this, the capataz of the gauchos, Jean Simon by name, riding towards the French tents to learn the news, saw clothes, a gun, and a watch, lying by the water side; but, as no person was in sight, he thought they must have belonged to some one in the boats which were surveying, so rode on quietly; and not until another hour had elapsed, did he even casually mention to the Frenchmen what he had seen. They, of course, were instantly alarmed and hastened to the spot, with those of our party who were within reach. Some rode or ran along the shore, while others pulled in whale-boats to the fatal spot, and there, after much searching, the body was discovered under water, but so entangled by kelp that it could not be extricated without cutting away the weed. Mr. Bynoe was one of those who found it, and every means that he and the French surgeon could devise for restoring animation was tried in vain. A duck was found dead in the kelp not far from the body, and his gun was lying on the beach, discharged, with which the bird had been shot.

To me this was as severe a blow as to his own messmates; for Mr. Hellyer had been much with me, both as my clerk and because I liked his company, being a gentlemanly, sensible young man. I also felt that the motive which urged him to strip and swim after the bird he had shot, was probably a desire to get it for my collection. Being alone and finding the water cold, he may have become alarmed, then accidentally entangling his legs in the sea-weed, lost his presence of mind, and by struggling hastily was only more confused. The rising tide must have considerably augmented his distress, and hastened the fatal result.

* The German told me, among other things, that he had collected rabbit-skins at his leisure hours, and had made, at different times, above two hundred dollars by them.

† It was a positive order on board the Beagle, that no one should make any excursion, in such places, alone.

3rd March 1833

East Falkland Island
Took a long walk; this side of the Island is very dreary: the land is low & undulating with stony peaks & bare ridges; it is universally covered by a brown, wiry grass, which grows on the peat. In this tract, very few plants are found, & excepting snipes & rabbits scarcely any animals. The whole landscape from the uniformity of the brown colour, has an air of extreme desolation.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
We got on board all the new rope, bread, salt meat, and small stores, which the Frenchmen had saved and wished us to embark for the benefit of their owners. Meanwhile, surveying operations were begun, and an officer despatched to the settlement, who informed me of the arrival of a merchant schooner (Rapid), fourteen days from Buenos Ayres, with Mr. Brisbane on board (as Vernet's agent as well as partner), who was delighted to meet our officer, finding in him one of those who helped to save his life when wrecked in the Saxe Cobourg in 1827.

2nd March 1833

East Falkland Island
Mr Dixon, the English resident, came on board. What a strange solitary life his must be: it is surprising to see how Englishmen find their way to every corner of the globe. I do not suppose there is an inhabited & civilized place where they are not to be found.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
Weighed and shifted our berth to Johnson Cove.