In the night it blew very hard & another anchor was let go. The leaden sky, the water white with foam, brings one back to reason after all the fine weather. Dear Tierra del has recollected her old winning ways. The ship is now starting & surging with her gentle breath. Oh the charming country.
I walked or rather crawled to the tops of some of the hills; the rock is not slate, & in consequence there are but few trees; the hills are very much broken & of fantastic shapes.
Whilst going on shore, we pulled alongside a canoe with 6 Fuegians. I never saw more miserable creatures; stunted in their growth, their hideous faces bedaubed with white paint & quite naked. — One full aged woman absolutely so, the rain & spray were dripping from her body; their red skins filthy & greasy, their hair entangled, their voices discordant, their gesticulation violent & without any dignity.
Viewing such men, one can hardly make oneself believe that they are fellow creatures placed in the same world. I can scarcely imagine that there is any spectacle more interesting & worthy of reflection, than one of these unbroken savages. It is a common subject of conjecture; what pleasure in life some of the less gifted animals can enjoy? How much more reasonably it may be asked with respect to these men. To look at the Wigwam; any little depression in the soil is chosen, over this a few rotten trunks of trees are placed & to windward some tufts of grass. Here 5 or 6 human beings, naked & uncovered from the wind, rain & snow in this tempestuous climate sleep on the wet ground, coiled up like animals. In the morning they rise to pick shell fish at low water; & the women winter & summer dive to collect sea eggs; such miserable food is eked out by tasteless berries & Fungi. Jerking out little fish out of the Beds of Kelp.
They are surrounded by hostile tribes speaking different dialects; & the cause of their warfare would appear to be the means of subsistence. Their country is a broken mass of wild rocks, lofty hills & useless forests, & these are viewed through mists & endless storms. In search of food they move from spot to spot, & so steep is the coast, this must be done in wretched canoes.
They cannot know the feeling of having a home & still less that of domestic affection; without, indeed, that of a master to an abject laborious slave can be called so. How little can the higher powers of the mind come into play: what is there for imagination to paint, for reason to compare, for judgement to decide upon, to knock a limpet from the rock does not even require cunning, that lowest power of the mind. Their skill, like the instinct of animals is not improved by experience; the canoe, their most ingenious work, poor as it may be, we know has remained the same for the last 300 years. Although essentially the same creature, how little must the mind of one of these beings resemble that of an educated man. What a scale of improvement is comprehended between the faculties of a Fuegian savage & a Sir Isaac Newton. Whence have these people come? Have they remained in the same state since the creation of the world? What could have tempted a tribe of men leaving the fine regions of the North to travel down the Cordilleras the backbone of America, to invent & build canoes, & then to enter upon one of the most inhospitable countries in the world. Such & many other reflections, must occupy the mind of every one who views one of these poor Savages. At the same time, however, he may be aware that some of them are erroneous. There can be no reason for supposing the race of Fuegians are decreasing, we may therefore be sure that he enjoys a sufficient share of happiness (whatever its kind may be) to render life worth having. Nature, by making habit omnipotent, has fitted the Fuegian to the climate & productions of his country.
What a great useless animal a ship is, without wind; here the swell was setting us right on shore & in the morning we found ourselves at the East end of the island about 30 miles further from our destination, than on the day before. Staten land is one of the most desolate places; it is the mere backbone of a mountain forming a ridge in the ocean. Its outline is peaked, castellated & most rugged.
... passed through the Straits le Maire. Here the ship plunged and would not answer her helm for a short time, caused by the meeting of the currents etc. or the tide meeting the swell of the Cape. Ship looked the appearence as if going down.
The second (and final) posting during the current hiatus... back to Darwin's Diary on the 22nd.
THE SHARED WEB of experience forms a common blessing. A voice on the radio catches my full attention, for it is mentioning the glasshouses at Kew. Some folk take short breaks during winter in tropic lands afar.
Hearing this, I am back to weekends with a botanist friend in Cambridge, and he is lending me his privileged “Sunday key” to the Botanic Gardens just down the road, and soon I am wandering through those beloved 40 acres of plants, and, not much later, taking shelter from the famous February chill of Cambridge with the glasshouse collections.
Oh, that scented assault of warm air, as I take a single step from near zero into a rainforest, a sultry orchid kingdom, a damp paradise flourishing only a window-frame away from the fenny humours, as they were called in George Herbert’s day!
I think of the Revd John Henslow, who recreated the Cambridge Botanic Garden, and in a sense was guilty, if that is the word, of recreating or diverting Christian certainty. He was a scientist who became the Vicar of Hitcham, a run-down Suffolk village, where he infuriated the farmers by building a school and robbing them of child labour.
Not less upsetting was his instructing his parishioners about plants, and in 1854, as soon as the railway had been finished, putting all 287 of them on the train to show them his amazing Cambridge garden.
They arrived at Cambridge Station, then just four years old, and processed to the Hills Road gate, the one which I unlocked with the Sunday key, “and passed the spot where the greenhouses and stoves are being directed, to contain plants from hot countries”. And weaklings from chilly East Anglia.
Luxuriating in the humid atmosphere, I would praise Parson Henslow, and then recall his unwitting part in re-routeing, or in some cases destroying, belief. He was 63 when Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species. The two of them, the modest Professor Henslow and the undergraduate who was vaguely seeking ordination after being shocked and revolted by medicine, went on nature walks.
Not that Darwin was a problem to himself or to Cambridge, where he was blissfully happy, attending evensong at King’s College and shooting, and being taught natural history on the hoof, as it were, by Henslow. They looked at rocks in Wales, and wild flowers in the Cam meadows, and birds and fish in the marshes; and Darwin became known in Cambridge as “the man who walks with Henslow”.
Then came the Pauline change of direction. Henslow heard of a ship named The Beagle which required an unpaid naturalist for a voyage to survey South America. “I think you are the very man they are in search of,” said Henslow. Darwin went. He was 21.
Charles Darwin was a kind man. He withheld publishing The Origin of Species for as long as possible, because he knew it would upset people -- particularly his Christian wife. But by 1859, he knew others would publish the material unless he did. And so it was that a kind man became something of a monster to many.
As the people who built on his work came to be called evolutionists, those most opposed to it came to be called creationists. In brief, evolutionists say your great-grandfather was a turnip, whereas creationists hold to the view that the world was made about two weeks ago. The choice is yours.
Richard Dawkins and Charles Darwin on television. Dawkins’s evangelical atheism fills his face with a light similar to that of a saint; which will not please him. Darwin is beetle-browed, his eyes filled with the suffering caused by infant death, as one by one his beloved children slipped into what he believed was oblivion, and what Mrs Darwin believed was heaven.
In his Autobiography (1873), Darwin wrote of his old friend Henslow, “His judgment was excellent and his whole mind well-balanced, but I do not suppose that anyone would say that he possessed much original genius.” … as a recent Director of the Cambridge Botanic Garden rightly observed, “Without Henslows there are no Darwins.”
Ronald Blythe – Word from Wormingford
(From next month, I will be posting here some of Darwin’s letters to his friend and mentor John Henslow, the first written from the Falkland Islands in 1834).
ONE of the facts not widely reported during this celebration of the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth is that, from 1867 until his death in 1882, Darwin made an annual subscription to the funds of an Anglican missionary society.
The donations were in recognition of the society’s work among the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego. During the Beagle’s famous voyage, Darwin embarked upon a lifelong friendship with Second Lieutenant B. J. Sulivan. As the naturalist’s career developed, his friend became Admiral Sir James Sulivan, a dedicated supporter of Christian mission. The two men followed different paths, but were in regular correspondence.
In the southernmost latitudes of the Beagle’s journey, Darwin had been shocked by the appearance, language (“scarcely deserves to be called articulate”), and customs of the Fuegians. He dismissed them in A Naturalist’s Voyage: “I believe in this extreme part of South America man exists in a lower state of improvement than in any other part of the world.”
At about the same time, another sailor, Captain Allen Gardiner, had the vision of taking the Christian gospel to the Fuegians. Mr Gardiner left the Royal Navy and founded the South American Missionary Society in 1844, becoming its earliest pioneer. He died on the islands, but the ministry of Waite Stirling, Thomas Bridges, and other pioneers led to the setting up of a church among the Fuegians, together with schools and training in farming and useful crafts.
Stirling, who was consecrated Bishop of the Falkland Islands in 1869, was the first outsider to live alone among them, while Bridges’s many and varied achievements included the compilation of a 321,000-entry dictionary of Yahgan, the main language. (Clearly, the Fuegians were rather more articulate than Darwin had estimated.) Both men corresponded with Darwin, gladly satisfying his appetite for information about the people.
Darwin was impressed by the work of the Society. Sulivan later recalled in a letter to the Daily News of 4 April 1885: “Mr Darwin had often expressed to me his conviction that it was utterly useless to send Missionaries to such a set of savages as the Fuegians, probably the very lowest of the human race".
“I had always replied that I did not believe any human beings existed too low to comprehend the simple message of the Gospel of Christ. After many years... he wrote to me that recent accounts of the Mission proved to him that he had been wrong and I right in our estimates of the native character and the possibility of doing them good through Missionaries; and he requested me to forward to the Society an enclosed cheque for £5, as a testimony of the interest he took in their good work.”
This was the first of Darwin’s subscriptions; and in 1870 he wrote to Sulivan: “The success of the Tierra del Fuego Mission is most wonderful, and charms me, as I had always prophesied utter failure". He added: “I shall feel proud if your Committee think fit to elect me an honorary member of your society”.
On his death, the Society’s journal asserted that “a great man has gone from amongst us . . . of most unblemished character, of the highest intellectual power . . . a sincere and persevering searcher into truth . . . never prone to dogmatise or force his conclusion on others with a view to assail their convictions or to attack existing systems.”
Two years later, The Spectator (26 April 1884) called Darwin’s attitude to the Society “as emphatic an answer to the detractors of missions as can well be imagined”.
The Henry Scriven (Mission Director ~ SAMS)
Straits of Magellan
During this week a complete survey has been made of the East coast of Tierra del Fuego. We landed only once, which was at the mouth of what was formerly supposed to be St Sebastian’s Channel, it now turns out only to be a large wild bay. The country here is part of Patagonia, open & without trees; further to the South, we have the same sort of transition of the two countries which is to be observed in the Straits of Magellan. The scenery has in consequence a pretty, broken & park-like appearance. In St Sebastian bay, there was a curious spectacle of very many Spermaceti Whales, some of which were jumping straight up out of the water; every part of the body was visible excepting the fin of the tail. As they fell sideways into the age water, the noise was as loud as a distant great gun. By the middle of the day we were, after very fortunate weather, at anchor in Thetis Bay, between C St Vincent & Diego.
Upon going on shore, we found a party of Fuegians; or the foot Patagonians, fine tall men with Guanaco mantle. The wigwam was also covered with the skin of the same animal. It is a complete puzzle to every-one, how these men with nothing more than their slight arrows, manage to kill such strong wary animals.
Early in the morning we paid the Indians a visit in hopes of being able to obtain some Guanaco meat. They were as usual very civil: there is now married & living amongst them a native of Montevideo (by birth I should think 2/3 of Northern Indian blood) who has been four years with them. He tells us that they will remain here all the winter & then proceed up the Cordilleras; hunting for ostrich eggs; but that Guanaco meat never fails them in these parts. The Captain is thinking of exploring the R. Santa Cruz, & this man gave us some good news, viz that there are very few Indians in that part & that the river is so deep, that horses can nowhere ford it. In the R. Chupat, much further North, there are very many Indians; enemies to this tribe. But that all the Southern Indians 900 in number are friends. At this present time there were two boat Indians paying the Patagonians a visit (the men whom I have called foot Patagonians); they do not speak the same language; but one of this tribe has learnt their dialect. These Indians appear to have a facility in learning languages: most of them speak a little Spanish & English, which will greatly contribute to their civilization or demoralisation: as these two steps seem to go hand in hand. At mid-day we passed out of the first Narrows, & began to survey the coast. There are many & dangerous banks, on one of which we ran a very good chance of sticking; to escape it was necessary to get in three Fathom water.
Conrad Martens' Sketchbooks:
The left-hand figure is possibly resting his arms on a surface, or (as in the case of the right-hand figure) on his legs folded beneath him as he sits on the ground. The clothing consists of a grass skirt coloured purplish-grey. The skin is brown, the hair long, straight and black. His pale thin headband has a dark decoration, which is dotted across the forehead, and then continuous over and behind the ears.
With very baffling winds we anchored late in the evening in Gregory Bay, where our friends the Indians anxiously seemed to desire our presence. During the day we passed close to Elizabeth Island, on North end of which there was a party of Fuegians with their canoe &c. They were tall men & clothed in mantles; & belong probably to the East Coast; the same set of men we saw in Good Success Bay; they clearly are different from the Fuegians, & ought to be called foot Patagonians. Jemmy Button had a great horror of these men, under the name of "Ohens men". "When the leaf is red, he used to say, Ohens men come over the hill & fight very much."
The next day we were almost becalmed. It is a most extraordinary contrast with the last season. A sealing Schooner in the course of the day sent a boat on board; which brought lamentable news from the Falkland Islands.
The Gauchos had risen & murdered poor Brisbane & Dixon & the head Gaucho Simon, & it is feared several others. Some English sailors managed to escape & are now in the West Island. Since this the Challenger has been there & left the Governor with six (!) marines; a Governor with no subjects except some desperate gauchos who are living in the middle of the island. Of course they have taken all the half-wild cattle & horses: in my opinion the Falkland islands are ruined. This second desperate murder will give the place so bad a name that no Spanish Gauchos will come there, & without them to catch the wild cattle, the island is worth nothing.
This Sealer has been this summer at anchor for six weeks under the Diego Ramiroz islands; & without a gale of wind! The very time during which last year we had a gale of a month. He was last year at these same islands. during the gale of the 13th his deck was fairly swept, he lost all his boats &c &c. At this time two of his men were on one of the Diego rocks, where they were left miserably to perish, as he was obliged to run for the Falkland Id.
Next day (11th), they stood towards the bay again, the wind increasing fast, till it blew a gale from W.S.W., which being against a flood-tide stream, running at the rate of four knots through the entrance, raised a short hollow sea, dangerous for small craft. Battening down the hatches securely, and close-reefing, the little vessels worked through gallantly, though frequently obliged to lower their sails in squalls, or as they dived into a sea heavier than usual. The tide soon swept them beyond the narrow part, and then they were comparatively in safety.
Part of the west shores of New Bay seemed to be fit for cultivation, being covered with a fine dark soil; and there is abundance of fire-wood. Some small ponds of excellent water were found, over a clayey bed, in which were tracks of cattle. A guanaco shot here was superior to any killed elsewhere, as to condition. Many thousand seals were seen on the rocks, which did not take to the water as soon as disturbed—therefore they could not have been much molested by man.
February 11th pm anchored Gregory Bay. Sailed the following morning.
As soon as observations were obtained, we made sail in order to leave the Straits & survey the East coast of Tierra del Fuego.
After dusk, on the 10th, while endeavouring to enter New Bay, with a fresh wind and strong flood-tide, the Liebre got into a 'race,' and was hustled within a fathom of a rock, over which the tide was boiling furiously. Fortunately, the Paz saw the Liebre alter course and make more sail, and by immediately following her example, avoided the danger. They then hauled off, and passed the night at sea.
The left foreground contains a sloping contour running from the left-hand edge of the middle of the picture into the centre, coloured darkish purple. Behind this slope a rockier outline in paler purple is visible, behind which Mount Sarmiento itself rises abruptly and jaggedly to two peaks, coloured white, with grey shading indicating the shadowed surfaces to the right. The sun is shining from the left perpendicular to the line of sight. In the background the sky is painted faint purplish-blue, with some indication of cumulo-cirrus cloud from the top left-hand corner to the centre above the white peaks.
The day has been splendidly clear; Sarmiento, appearing like a solid mass of snow, came quite close to us. If Tierra del could boast one such day a week, she would not be so throughily detested, as she is by all who know her. I made the most of it & enjoyed a pleasant stroll with Mr Rowlett & Martens. There is little fear of Indians, we found however a wigwam which was not very old & the marks of a horse. There can be little inducement for the Patagonians to come here, as they cannot leave the beach; it is one of the few spots where the Fuegian & Patagonian can meet. Many of the trees are of a large size. I saw several near the Sedger river, 13 feet in circumference & there is one 18.9 inches. I saw a Winters bark 4'.6" in circumference.
From the left corner into the centre, the immediate foreground is occupied by a flat sandy-coloured foreshore, which from the centre to the right-hand edge of the picture is darkened by very dense shadow cast by a large, squat, loosely diamond-shaped boulder, which fills the centre right of the foreground. The boulder is coloured dark grey and purplish grey on its shadowed surfaces, and white on its right-facing flat surface, which is reflecting the sun, as it shines from the right of Martens' vantage point (ie from roughly the north, if the annotation indicates a compass bearing, implying approximately midday). Further back in the foreground, to the right of the boulder, flat sand or muddy ground, coloured purplish brown, leads to the high tide line behind the water's edge, while immediately to the left of the boulder, behind its dark shade, lies what may be a small rockpool. Beyond this, from the centre to the left of the picture, the foreground behind the immediate flat surface gives way to an uneven rocky surface with three loose rocks in a mix of darkish browns and purples, behind which at the back of the foreground, what seems to be a pair of enormous fallen white tree trunks and branches form the high tide line. The surface rises steeply at the left-hand edge of the picture, where a large tree branches near ground level into three substantial dark greyish-brown trunks; the tree is seen to its full height, and its foliage is coloured dark grey. Directly to the right of the tree, the moored Beagle is visible, shown side-on facing right. Behind and to the right of the boat, the far shore appears in pale greyish purple (the Lomas Range), stretching from the left centre to the right centre, and casting a dark blue shadow-line on the relatively calm water. In the right background, shown in white and less distinctly, there are more distant mountains, at the left-hand end of which Mount Sarmiento is recognisable by its twin peaks. The sky is blank except at the horizon behind the hills, where distant cirrus clouds are indicated, and possibly denser clouds behind Mount Sarmiento itself.
I left the ship at four o’clock in the morning to ascend Mount Tarn; this is the highest land in this neighbourhead being 2600 feet above the sea. For the two first hours I never expected to reach the summit. It is necessary always to have recourse to the compass: it is barely possible to see the sky & every other landmark which might serve as a guide is totally shut out. In the deep ravines the death-like scene of desolation exceeds all description. It was blowing a gale of wind, but not a breath stirred the leaves of the highest trees; everything was dripping with water; even the very Fungi could not flourish. In the bottom of the valleys it is impossible to travel, they are barricaded & crossed in every direction by great mouldering trunks: when using one of these as a bridge, your course will often be arrested by sinking fairly up to the knee in the rotten wood; in the same manner it is startling to rest against a thick tree & find a mass of decayed matter is ready to fall with the slightest blow. I at last found myself amongst the stunted trees & soon reached the bare ridge which conducted me to the summit. Here was a true Tierra del Fuego view; irregular chains of hills, mottled with patches of snow; deep yellowish-green valleys; & arms of the sea running in all directions; the atmosphere was not however clear, & indeed the strong wind was so piercingly cold, that it would prevent much enjoyment under any circumstances. I had the good luck to find some shells in the rocks near the summit. Our return was much easier as the weight of the body will force a passage through the underwood; & all the slips & falls are in the right direction.
We are now within a wet circle, in consequence every morning there has been torrents of rain; in the evening I managed to have some walks along the beach; which is the only place where it is possible to proceed in any way but scrambling.
Conrad Martens' Sketchbooks:
So in the morning got under weigh to run to Port Famine; The wind fell light; so the Captain sent the ship back to her anchorage & proceeded in a boat to the head of Shoal Harbor. During the last voyage the Captain discovered a large inland sea (Skyring water), 50 miles long; From the end of Shoal harbor we walked 5 miles across the country in hopes of being able to see it; the distance turned out to be greater than was expected & we were disappointed, if it had been nearer, the Captain had intended to have put a whale-boat on wheels & dragged it across, which would have saved much time in the survey of this Water. As soon as we came on board, the anchor was weighed & with a light air stood down for Port Famine.
The country, in this neighbourhead, may be called an intermixture of Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego; here we have many plants of the two countries; the nature of the climate being intermediate: a few miles to the South the rounded Slate hills & forests of evergreen beeches commence. — The country is however throughily uninteresting.