27th September 1834

Here I remained in bed till the end of October.

In a letter to Caroline Darwin CD wrote: 'I have been unwell & in bed for the last fortnight, & am now only able to sit up for a short time. As I want occupation I will try & fill this letter. — Returning from my excursion into the country I staid a few days at some Goldmines & whilst there I drank some Chichi a very weak, sour new made wine, this half poisoned me, I staid till I thought I was well; but my first days ride, which was a long one again disordered my stomach, & afterwards I could not get well; I quite lost my appetite & became very weak. I had a long distance to travel & suffered very much; at last I arrived here quite exhausted. It was a grievous loss of time, as I had hoped to have collected many animals.

26th September 1834

I sent to Valparaiso for a carriage & so reached the next day Mr Corfields house.

25th September 1834

Necessity made me push on & I contrived to reach Casa Blanca. it was wretched work. To be ill in a bed is almost a pleasure compared to it.

24th September 1834

Our course now lay directly to Valparaiso, still passing over the same plains. At night I was exceedingly exhausted; but had the uncommon luck of obtaining some clean straw for my bed. I was amused afterwards by reflecting how truly comparative all comfort is. If I had been in England & very unwell, clean straw & stinking horse cloths would have been thought a very miserable bed.

23rd September 1834

I staid here the whole ensuing day, & although very unwell managed to collect many marine remains from beds of the tertiary formation of which these plains consist.

The presence there of beds of early Tertiary rocks 800 feet thick containing fossil shells that could only have lived in shallow water provided useful proof for Darwin's theory that at such places there must have been a slow subsidence of the sea-bottom in a previous era.

22nd September 1834

Continued crossing green plains without a tree, which almost resembled the Pampas, till we arrived at the village of Navedad, South of the mouth of the R. Rapel. We passed during the day immense flocks of sheep, which appear to thrive better than the cattle. We found a rich Haciendero, who received us in his house close to the sea.

21st September 1834

Rode but a short distance & obliged to rest.

20th September 1834

We followed this vally till it expanded into a great plain which reaches from the sea to the mountains West of Rancagua. We shortly lost all trees & even bushes; the inhabitants are nearly as badly off for fire-wood as in the Pampas. Never having heard of these plains, I was quite astonished to meet with such a country in Chill. These plains are traversed by numerous great valleys, & there is more than one set of plains, all of which plainly bespeaks the residence & retreat of the ocean. In the steep sides of these valleys, there are some large caves; one of which is celebrated as having been consecrated: Formerly the Indians must have buried their dead in it, as various remains have been found. I felt during the day very unwell, & from this time to the end of October did not recover.

19th September 1834

We took leave of Yaquil & followed the flat valley, formed like Quillota, in which the R. Tinderidica flows. — The climate even this little way South of St Jago is much damper: in consequence there were fine tracks of pasture ground which were not irrigated.

17th September 1834

In Mr Nixons house a German collector Renous was staying. I was amused by a conversation which ensued between Renous (who is taken for a Chilian) & an old Spanish lawyer. Renous asked him what he thought of the King of England sending out me to their country to collect Lizards & beetles & to break rocks. The old Gentleman thought for some time & said, "it is not well, hay un gato encerrado aqui" "there is a cat shut up here"; no man is so rich as to send persons to pick up such rubbish; I do not like it; if one of us was to go & do such things in England, the King would very soon send us out of the country". And this old gentleman, from his profession is of course one of the more intelligent classes! Renous himself, two or three years ago, left some Caterpillars in a house in S. Fernando under charge of a girl to turn into Butterflies. This was talked about in the town, at last the Padres & the Governor consulted together & agreed it must be some Heresy, & accordingly Renous when he returned was arrested.

16th September 1834

One of the rules of this mine sounds very harsh, but answers pretty well. The method of stealing gold is to secrete pieces of the metal & take them out as occasion may offer. Whenever the Major-domo finds a lump of ore thus hidden, its full value is stopped out of the wages of all the men, who thus are obliged to keep watch on each other. The ore is sent down to the mills on mules. I was curious to enquire about the load which each mule carries: on a level road the regular cargo weighs 416 pounds. In a troop there is a muleteer to every six mules. Yet to carry this enormous weight, what delicate slim limbs they have; the bulk of muscle seems to bear no proportion to its power. The mule always strikes me as a most surprising animal: that a Hybrid should possess far more reason, memory, obstinacy, powers of digestion & muscular endurance, than either of its parents. One fancys art has here out-mastered Nature.

When the ore is brought to the Mill it is ground into an impalpable powder; the process of washing takes away the lighter particles & amalgamation at last secures all the gold dust. The washing when described sounds a very simple process: but it is at the same time beautiful to see how the exact adaptation of the current of water to the Specific Gravity of the gold so easily separates it from its matrix. It is curious how the minute particles of gold become scattered about, & not corroding, at last accumulate even in the least likely spots. Some men asked permission to sweep the ground round the house & mill; they washed the earth & obtained 30 dollars worth of gold.

15th September 1834

When we arrived at the mine, I was struck by the pale appearance of many of the men, & enquired from Mr Nixon respecting their state. The mine is altogether 450 feet deep, each man brings up on his back a quintal or 104lbs weight of stone. With this load they have to climb up the alternate notches cut in a trunks of trees placed obliquely in the shaft. Even beardless young men of 18 & 20 years with little muscular development of their bodies (they are quite naked excepting drawers) carry this great load from nearly the same depth. — A strong man, who is not accustomed to this sort of exercise perspires most profusely with merely carrying their own bodies up. — With this very severe labor they are allowed only beans & bread; they would prefer living entirely upon the latter; but with this they cannot work so hard, so that their masters, treating them like horses, make them eat the beans. — Their pay is 25 or 30s per month. — They only leave the mine once in three weeks, when they remain with their families two days. — This treatment, bad as it sounds, is gladly accepted; the state of the labouring Agriculturist is much worse, many of them eat nothing but beans & have still less money. — This must be chiefly owing to the miserable feudal-like system by which the land is tilled. The land-owner gives so much land to a man, which he may cultivate & build on, & in return has his services (or a proxy) for every day for his life gratis. Till a father has a grown up son to pay his rent by his labor, of course there is no one to take care of the patch of ground. Hence poverty is very common with all the labouring classes.

14th September 1834

From this place we rode on to the town of S. Fernando. — Before arriving there, the inland basin expands into a great plain, which to the South is so extensive that the snowy summits of the distant Andes were seen as over the horizon of the sea. — S. Fernando was my furthest point to the South, it is 40 leagues from St Jago. From this point I turned at right angles to seaward. — We slept at the gold mines of Yaquil near Rancagua, in the possession of Mr Nixon, an American gentleman. — I staid at this place four days, during two of which I was unwell. — Where Mr Nixon lives the Trapiche or grinding mill is erected; the mine itself is at the distance of some leagues & nearly at the summit of [a] high hill. On the road we passed through some large woods of the Roble or Chilian oak; this tree from its ruggedness & shape of leaf & manner of growth deserves its name. (Note in margin: The Roble of Chili is different from the Roble of Chiloe.) This is its furthest limit to the North. I was glad to see anything which so strongly reminded me of England. — To the South there was a fine view of the Andes including the Descabezado described by Molina. — To the North I saw part of the lake of Taguatagua, with its floating islands: these islands are composed of various dead plants; with living vegetation on the surface, they float about 4 feet above the surface: as the wind blows they pass over the lake, carrying with them cattle & horses.

13th September 1834

We escaped from our foodless prison, & rejoining the main road slept at the village of Rio Claro.

11th September 1834

During my stay at this place, I had observed that there were very few Condors to be seen; yet one morning there were at least twenty wheeling at a great height over a particular spot: I asked a Guasso what was the cause, he said that probably a Lion had killed a cow or that one was dying; if the Condors alight & then suddenly all fly up; the cry is then "a Lion" & all hurry to the chace. — Capt Head states that a Gaucho exclaimed "a Lion" upon merely seeing one wheeling in the air. — I do not see how this is possible. The Lion after killing an animal & eating of it, covers the carcase up with large bushes & lies down at a few yards distance to watch it. If the Condors alight, he springs out & drives them away, & by this means commonly discovers himself. There is a reward of Colts & Cows. — I am assured that if a Lion has once been hunted, he never again watches the carcase, but eating his fill, wanders far away. They describe the Lion in these hunts as very crafty; he will run in a straight line & then suddenly return close to his former track & thus allow the dogs to pass by & completely puzzle them. The Guasso's possess a particular breed of small dogs, which by instinct (like pointers set) know how to spring at the Lions throat & will very commonly kill him single-handed. The man at the baths had one. I never saw a more miserable creature to attempt fighting with so large an animal as the Puma. — From the uneven nature of the country nearly all these animals must be killed with dogs. — It is rather singular that the Lions on this side of the Cordilleras, appear to be much more dangerous than on the other. At Jajuel I heard of a man being killed & here of a woman & child; now this never happens in the Pampas. There being no deer or ostriches in Chili obliges them to kill a far greater number of Cattle; by this means perhaps they learn to attack a man. — It would also appear that the Lion is here more noisy, roaring when hungry & when breeding.

9th September 1834

I rode one day to the last house in the valley; shortly above, the Cachapual divides into 2 deep tremendous ravines which penetrate right into the great range. I scrambled up one very high peaked mountain, the height of which could not be much less than 6000 feet; here, as indeed everywhere else scenes presented themselves of the highest interest. — It was by one of these ravines (valle del Yeso) that Pinchero entered & ravaged Chili. — This is the same man whose attack on an Estancia at R. Negro I have described. — He was a Renegade Spaniard, who collected a great body of Indians together, & established himself by a stream in the Pampas, which none of the forces sent after him could ever find.— From this point he sallied forth, & crossing the Cordilleras by unknown passes, ravaged Chili & drove the flocks of cattle to his own recret rendezvous. — This man was a capital horseman, & he made all round him equally good, for he invariably shot any person who even hesitated to follow him. It was against this man & other wandering tribes of true Indians, that Rosas waged the war of exterminations. — I have since heard from B. Ayres, that this was not so completely effected as it was supposed. The Indians had decamped 8 or 10 hundred miles & were hovering in great numbers about the borders of Cordova.

7th September 1834

Left the great road to the South, turned up the valley of the R. Cachapol to the hot-baths of Cauquenes, long celebrated for medicinal properties. We were obliged to cross the above river; it is very disagreeable crossing these torrents; the bed is composed of very large stones, they are shallow & broad, but foaming with the rapidity with which they run. When in the middle it is almost difficult to tell whether your horse is moving or standing still; the water rushes by so quick that it quite confuses the head. — In summer these torrents are of course quite impassable, the scene of violence which their beds show at this time of year may give one some idea of their strength & fury. Generally the Suspension bridges which are necessary for the Summer, are taken down during the winter & this was the case in the present instance.

The buildings attached to these Hot Springs consist of a square of hovels, each with a table & stool. The situation is in a narrow deep valley not far from the Andes, there are only one or two houses higher up. — It is a solitary quiet spot with a good deal of beauty. — I staid here five days, being detained a prisoner during the last two by heavy rain; & this has been the last rain which has fallen this summer in Chili.

6th September 1934

Rode on to Rancagua, never leaving the level plain. — the country here is divided by mud walls & hedges, like England & of course well irrigated.

5th September 1834

I had arrived here by a circuit to the North, & I determined to return to Valparaiso by a longer circuit to the South. By the middle of the day we crossed one of the famous suspension bridges of Hide. — They are miserable affairs & much out of order. — the road is not level as at the Menai, but follows the curvature of the suspending ropes. — the road part is made of bundles of sticks & full of holes; the bridge oscillates rather fearfully with the weight of a man leading a horse. — In the evening we reached a very nice Hacienda; where there were several very pretty Signoritas; they turned up their charming eyes in pious horror at my having entered a Church to look about me; they asked me, why I did not become a Christian, "for our religion is certain"; I assured them I was a sort of Christian; they would not hear of it, appealing to my own words, "Do not your padres, your very bishops, marry" The absurdity of a Bishop having a wife particularly struck them, they scarcely knew whether to be most amused or horrified at such an atrocity.

1st September 1834

[Two modern views of, and from, St. Lucia]
I stayed a week in Santiago, and enjoyed myself very much. In the morning I rode to various places on the plain, and in the evening dined with several of the English merchants, whose hospitality at this place is well known. A never-failing source of pleasure was to ascend the little hillock of rock (St. Lucia) which projects in the middle of the city. The scenery certainly is most striking, and, as I have said, very peculiar. I am informed that this same character is common to the cities on the great Mexican platform. Of the town I have nothing to say in detail: it is not so fine or so large as Buenos Ayres, but is built after the same model. I arrived here by a circuit to the north; so I resolved to return to Valparaiso by a rather longer excursion to the south of the direct road.
From “The Voyage of the Beagle”