7th November 1836

She moved down to Woolwich.
(Darwin's final Diary entry)

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
After the chronometer rates were ascertained, the Beagle dropped down to Woolwich.
(Fitzroy's final Journal entry)

Syms Covington Journal
Also were towed to Woolwich.
(Covington's final Journal entry)

As perhaps is fitting, the final words in our adventure with HMS Beagle, should be from Captain Fitzroy. More or less everything available to me has now been posted on this site, however, I will be leaving it for research purposes for the forseeable future. Comments on individual entries are, of course, still very welcome. I will seek to answer questions within a day or so.

Greenwich was the last station at which observations were made; and, singularly enough, Mr. Usborne and his companions came on board as we anchored there. Independent of the gratification of meeting them again, after so wide a separation, it may be supposed how my mind was relieved by his safe return from a very successful expedition, in which he had surveyed the whole coast of Peru, from Atacama to Guayaquil, without loss or accident. Although his own life was seriously risked on two or three occasions, by shots fired under misapprehension; I must not omit to mention that hostilities were suspended for a whole day, at Arica, between the land-forces and an attacking squadron, in order that Mr. Usborne might carry on his operations. Throughout the survey of the Peruvian coast, the cordial assistance of Mr. Wilson, Charge d'affaires at Lima, was found to be of paramount consequence.

I would now speak of the steady support and unvarying help which I received from the officers of the Beagle: but where all did so much, and all contributed so materially to the gatherings of the voyage, it is unnecessary to particularise, farther than by saying that Mr. Stokes's services hold the first place in my own estimation.

In this long voyage, rather exceeding that of Vancouver, fatal disease was unknown, except in the lamented case of the purser, and in that mentioned at Rio de Janeiro; neither of which had the least reference to the particular service on which the Beagle was employed: and it is perhaps remarkable, that while the Beagle was in commission, between February 1829 and November 1836, no serious illness, brought on or contracted while on service, happened on board; neither did any accident of consequence occur in the ship; nor did any man ever fall overboard during all that time.

The freedom from illness must be attributed, under Providence, to active employment, good clothing, and wholesome food, in healthy, though sometimes disagreeable climates: and our immunity from accident during exposure to a variety of risks, especially in boats, I attribute, referring to visible causes, to the care, attention, and vigilance of the excellent officers whose able assistance was not valued by me more than their sincere friendship.

The Beagle was paid off on the 17th of November. The Beagle was put into commission on the 4th of July 1831; thus having completed the unusually long period of five years and one hundred and thirty six days.


28th October 1836

Got up the river to Greenwich on the 28th.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
On the 28th our anchor was let go at Greenwich.

Syms Covington Journal
The following morning were towed to Greenwich the 28th.

26th October 1836

Syms Covington Journal
Anchored off The Nore near to Chatham.  Anchored off Gravesend, was towed by steamer the same evening FOR about an hour and a half.

24th October 1836

Syms Covington Journal
Visitors came to see the ship the following morning. Sailed about 12 o'clock the same day, and came to our anchor about three or four hours afterwards. When near the flats, we were obliged to bring too in consequence of thick weather.

23rd October 1836

Syms Covington Journal
Anchored off Deal.

22nd October 1836

Syms Covington Journal
Anchored off Dungeness.

21st October 1836

Syms Covington Journal
Sailed from Dover the 21st 11 o'clock am

20th October 1836

Syms Covington Journal
Aanchored 20th 8 o'clock Dover

18th October 1836

Plymouth to Greenwich
Sailed for the Thames, calling on her way at Portsmouth & Deal….

Catching Up

[Barn Pool, where the Beagle lay before sailing.  One of the safest anchorages in the Hamoze, it lies across the Tamar opposite the King William Yard, Devonport]

As I am sure many will realise, with our daily dose of Darwin (Plus Fitzroy and Covington) now nearly come to its inevitable end I am missing their wonderful descriptions of the world of 1831-36.  But all is not lost.  The whole thing will remain here for new readers to 'catch up'... and I have decided myself to wind back to October 1832, with the Beagle in South America, and follow again their exploits day-by-day.

Additionally, for those who want to accompany me, James Cook's Endeavour voyage has now been running for a couple of months (click on the link  on the top right of this page).  With Cook, we are certainly in another age.... 63 years before the start of the Darwin voyage, the Endeavour having left Plymouth Sound in 1768 (Darwin 1831).

6th October 1836

Shrewsbury, Thursday, October 6, 1836.

My dear Henslow,

I am sure you will congratulate me on the delight of once again being home. The "Beagle" arrived at Falmouth on Sunday evening, and I reached Shrewsbury yesterday morning. I am exceedingly anxious to see you, and as it will be necessary in four or five days to return to London to get my goods and chattels out of the "Beagle", it appears to me my best plan to pass through Cambridge. I want your advice on many points; indeed I am in the clouds, and neither know what to do or where to go. My chief puzzle is about the geological specimens -- who will have the charity to help me in describing their mineralogical nature? Will you be kind enough to write to me one line by RETURN OF POST, saying whether you are now at Cambridge? I am doubtful till I hear from Captain Fitz-Roy whether I shall not be obliged to start before the answer can arrive, but pray try the chance. My dear Henslow, I do long to see you; you have been the kindest friend to me that ever man possessed. I can write no more, for I am giddy with joy and confusion.

Farewell for the present,
Yours most truly obliged,


Shrewsbury, Thursday morning, October 6, 1836.

My dear Fitz-Roy,

I arrived here yesterday morning at breakfast time, and, thank God, found all my dear good sisters and father quite well. My father appears more cheerful and very little older than when I left. My sisters assure me I do not look the least different, and I am able to return the compliment. Indeed, all England appears changed excepting the good old town of Shrewsbury and its inhabitants, which, for all I can see to the contrary, may go on as they now are to Doomsday. I wish with all my heart I was writing to you amongst your friends instead of at that horrid Plymouth. But the day will soon come, and you will be as happy as I now am. I do assure you I am a very great man at home; the five years' voyage has certainly raised me a hundred per cent. I fear such greatness must experience a fall.

I am thoroughly ashamed of myself in what a dead-and-half-alive state I spent the few last days on board; my only excuse is that certainly I was not quite well. The first day in the mail tired me, but as I drew nearer to Shrewsbury everything looked more beautiful and cheerful. In passing Gloucestershire and Worcestershire I wished much for you to admire the fields, woods, and orchards. The stupid people on the coach did not seem to think the fields one bit greener than usual; but I am sure we should have thoroughly agreed that the wide world does not contain so happy a prospect as the rich cultivated land of England.

I hope you will not forget to send me a note telling me how you go on. I do indeed hope all your vexations and trouble with respect to our voyage, which we now know HAS an end, have come to a close. If you do not receive much satisfaction for all the mental and bodily energy you have expended in His Majesty's service, you will be most hardly treated. I put my radical sisters into an uproar at some of the prudent (if they were not honest Whigs, I would say shabby) proceedings of our Government. By the way, I must tell you for the honour and glory of the family that my father has a large engraving of King George IV. put up in his sitting-room. But I am no renegade, and by the time we meet my politics will be as firmly fixed and as wisely founded as ever they were.

I thought when I began this letter I would convince you what a steady and sober frame of mind I was in. But I find I am writing most precious nonsense. Two or three of our labourers yesterday immediately set to work and got most excessively drunk in honour of the arrival of Master Charles. Who then shall gainsay if Master Charles himself chooses to make himself a fool. Good-bye. God bless you! I hope you are as happy, but much wiser, than your most sincere but unworthy philosopher,


5th October 1836

[Shrewsbury, October 5th, 1836.]

My dear Uncle
The "Beagle" arrived at Falmouth on Sunday evening, and I reached home late last night. My head is quite confused with so much delight, but I cannot allow my sisters to tell you first how happy I am to see all my dear friends again. I am obliged to return in three or four days to London, where the "Beagle" will be paid off, and then I shall pay Shrewsbury a longer visit. I am most anxious once again to see Maer, and all its inhabitants, so that in the course of two or three weeks, I hope in person to thank you, as being my first Lord of the Admiralty.


3rd October 1836

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
From Falmouth we went to Plymouth.

Syms Covington Journal
Left Falmouth October 3rd pm, anchored in Plymouth.

2nd October 1836

After a tolerably short passage, but with some very heavy weather, we came to an anchor at Falmouth. To my surprise and shame I confess the first sight of the shores of England inspired me with no warmer feelings, than if it had been a miserable Portugeese settlement. The same night (and a dreadfully stormy one it was) I started by the Mail for Shrewsbury.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
Anchored at Falmouth, on the 2d of October, after an absence of four years and nine months from England.

Syms Covington Journal
Anchored in Falmouth pm Sunday October 1st, 1838.

[Today... in 1836 of course, Darwin's journey is complete. As you will see, he immediately left the Beagle and travelled up to Shrewsbury; but I will continue following the Beagle until the records cease. However, for us intrepid travellers, James Cook's Circumnavigation Journal may be followed each day -- click on the link on the top right of this page. We are just a month or so into our voyage with the Endeavour in 1768.]

1st October 1836

[Tonight... in 1838 of course, Darwin's journey is complete.  As you will see, he immediately leaves the Beagle and travels up to Shrewsbury; but I will continue following the Beagle until the records cease.  However, for us intrepid travellers, James Cook's Circumnavigation Journal may be followed each day -- click on the link on the top right of this page. We are just a month or so into our voyage with the Endeavour in 1768  It is interesting that is this penultimate diary entry, Darwin is thinking of... Captain James Cook!]

Azores to Falmouth
From seeing the present state, it is impossible not to look forward with high expectation to the future progress of nearly an entire hemisphere. The march of improvement, consequent on the introduction of Christianity through the South Sea, probably stands by itself on the records of the world. It is the more striking when we remember that but seventy years since, Cook, whose most excellent judgment none will dispute, could foresee no prospect of such change. Yet these changes have now been effected by the philanthropic spirit of the English nation.

In the same quarter of the globe Australia is rising, or indeed may be said to have risen, into a grand centre of civilization, which, at some not very remote period, will rule the empress of the Southern hemisphere. It is impossible for an Englishman to behold these distant colonies, without a high pride and satisfaction. To hoist the British flag seems to draw as a certain consequence wealth, prosperity and civilization.

In conclusion, — it appears to me that nothing can be more improving to a young naturalist, than a journey in distant countries. It both sharpens and partly also allays that want and craving, which as Sir J. Herschel remarks, a man experiences, although every corporeal sense is fully satisfied. The excitement from the novelty of objects, and the chance of success stimulates him on to activity. Moreover as a number of isolated facts soon become uninteresting, the habit of comparison leads to generalization; on the other hand, as the traveller stays but a short space of time in each place, his description must generally consist of mere sketches instead of detailed observation. Hence arises, as I have found to my cost, a constant tendency to fill up the wide gaps of knowledge by inaccurate & superficial hypotheses.

But I have too deeply enjoyed the voyage not to recommend to any naturalist to take all chances, and to start on travels by land if possible, if otherwise on a long voyage. He may feel assured he will meet with no difficulties or dangers (excepting in rare cases) nearly so bad as he before hand imagined. — In a moral point of view, the effect ought to be, to teach him good humoured patience, unselfishness, the habit of acting for himself, and of making the best of everything, or contentment: in short, he should partake of the characteristic qualities of the greater number of sailors. — Travelling ought also to teach him to distrust others; but at the same time he will discover how many truly good natured people there are, with whom he never before had, nor ever again will have any further communication, yet who are ready to offer him the most disinterested assistance.

30th September 1836

Azores to Falmouth
Amongst the other most remarkable spectacles, which we have beheld, may be ranked, — the stars of the Southern hemisphere, the water-spout — the glacier leading its blue stream of ice in a bold precipice overhanging the sea — a lagoon island, raised by the coral forming animalcule — an active volcano — the overwhelming effects of a violent earthquake. — These latter phenomena perhaps possess for me a higher interest, from their intimate connection with the geological structure of the world. The earthquake must however be to everyone a most impressive event; the solid earth, considered from our earliest childhood as the very type of solidity, has oscillated like a thin crust beneath our feet; and in seeing the most beautiful and laboured works of man in a moment overthrown, we feel the insignificance of his boasted power.

It has been said that the love of the chase is an inherent delight in man, — a relic of an instinctive passion. If so, I am sure the pleasure of living in the open air, with the sky for a roof, and the ground for a table, is part of the same feeling. It is the savage returning to his wild and native habits. I always look back to our boat cruizes & my land journeys, when through unfrequented countries, with a kind of extreme delight, which no scenes of civilization could create. I do not doubt every traveller must remember the glowing sense of happiness, from the simple consciousness of breathing in a foreign clime, where the civilized man has seldom or never trod.

There are several other sources of enjoyment in a long voyage, which are perhaps of a more reasonable nature. The map of the world ceases to be a blank; it becomes a picture full of the most varied and animated figures. Each part assumes its true dimensions: large continents are not looked at in the light of islands, or islands considered as mere specks, which in truth are larger than many kingdoms of Europe. Africa, or North & South America, are well-sounding names and easily pronounced, but it is not till having sailed for some weeks along small portions of their coasts, that one is thoroughly astonished.

29th September 1836

Azores to Falmouth
Among the scenes which are deeply impressed on my mind, none exceed in sublimity the primeval forests, undefaced by the hand of man, whether those of Brazil, where the powers of life are predominant, or those of Tierra del Fuego, where death & decay prevail. Both are temples filled with the varied productions of the God of Nature: — No one can stand unmoved in these solitudes, without feeling that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body. — In calling up images of the past, I find the plains of Patagonia most frequently cross before my eyes. Yet these plains are pronounced by all most wretched & useless. They are only characterized by negative possessions; — without habitations, without water, without trees, without mountains, they support merely a few dwarf plants. Why then, and the case is not peculiar to myself, do these arid wastes take so firm possession of the memory? Why have not the still more level, greener & fertile Pampas, which are serviceable to mankind, produced an equal impression? I can scarcely analyse these feelings. — But it must be partly owing to the free scope given to the imagination. They are boundless, for they are scarcely practicable & hence unknown: they bear the stamp of having thus lasted for ages, & there appears no limit to their duration through future time. If, as the ancients supposed, the flat earth was surrounded by an impassable breadth of water, or by deserts heated to an intolerable excess, who would not look at these last boundaries to man's knowledge with deep, but ill defined sensations. — Lastly of natural scenery, the views from lofty mountains, though certainly in one sense not beautiful, are very memorable. I remember looking down from the crest of the highest Cordillera; the mind, undisturbed by minute details, was filled by the stupendous dimensions of the surrounding masses.

Of individual objects, perhaps no one is more sure to create astonishment, than the first sight, in his native haunt, of a real barbarian, — of man in his lowest and most savage state. One's mind hurries back over past centuries, & then asks could our progenitors be such as these? Men, — whose very signs & expressions are less intelligible to us than those of the domesticated animals; who do not possess the instinct of those animals, nor yet appear to boast of human reason, or at least of arts consequent on that reason. I do not believe it is possible to describe or paint the difference of savage and civilized man. It is the difference between a wild and tame animal: and part of the interest in beholding a savage is the same which would lead every one to desire to see the lion in his desert, the tiger tearing his prey in the jungle, the rhinoceros on the wide plain, or the hippopotamus wallowing in the mud of some African river.

Syms Covington Journal
The ship ran at times ten knots and six tenths. The following morning it blew a heavy gale, so that the ship was hove too under a close reefed maintopsail and storm staysail at same time. We were about 500 miles from the Lands End. The sea went down greatly in course of the day.

28th September 1836

Azores to Falmouth
Let us now look at the brighter side of the past time. The pleasure derived from beholding the scenery and general aspect of the various countries we have visited, has decidedly been the most constant and highest source of enjoyment. It is probable that the picturesque beauty of many parts of Europe far exceeds anything we have beheld. But there is a growing pleasure in comparing the character of scenery in different countries, which to a certain degree is distinct from merely admiring their beauty. It more depends on an acquaintance with the individual parts of each view: I am strongly induced to believe that as in Music, the person who understands every note will, if he also has true taste, more thoroughily enjoy the whole; so he who examines each part of [a] fine view may also thoroughily comprehend the full and combined effect. Hence a traveller should be a botanist, for in all views plants form the chief embellishment. Group masses of naked rocks, even in the wildest forms; for a time they may afford a sublime spectacle, but they will soon grow monotomous; paint them with bright and varied colours, they will become fantastick; clothe them with vegetation, they must form, at least a decent, if not a most beautiful picture.

When I said that the scenery of Europe was probably superior to anything which we have beheld, I must except, as a class by itself, that of the intertropical regions. The two can not be compared together; but I have already too often enlarged on the grandeur of these latter climates. As the force of impression frequently depends on preconceived ideas, I may add that all mine were taken from the vivid descriptions in the Personal Narrative which far exceed in merit anything I have ever read on the subject. Yet with these high wrought ideas, my feelings were very remote from partaking of a tinge of disappointment on first landing on the coast of Brazil.

27th September 1836

Azores to Falmouth
If a person suffers much from sea sickness, let him weigh it heavily in the balance: I speak from experience, it is no trifling evil cured in a week. If he takes pleasure in naval tactics, it will afford him full scope for his taste; but even the greater number of sailors, as it appears to me, have little real liking for the sea itself.  It must be borne in mind how large a proportion of the time during a long voyage is spent on the water, as compared to the days in harbour. And what are the boasted glories of the illimitable ocean? A tedious waste, a desert of water as the Arabian calls it. No doubt there are some delightful scenes; a moonlight night, with the clear heavens, the dark glittering sea, the white sails filled by the soft air of a gently blowing trade wind, a dead calm, the heaving surface polished like a mirror, and all quite still excepting the occasional flapping of the sails.

It is well once to behold a squall, with its rising arch, and coming fury, or the heavy gale and mountainous waves. I confess however my imagination had painted something more grand, more terrific in the full grown storm. It is a finer sight on the canvass of Vandervelde, and infinitely finer when beheld on shore, when the waving trees, the wild flight of the birds, the dark shadows & bright lights, the rushing torrents all proclaim the strife of the unloosed elements. At sea, the albatross and petrel fly as if the storm was their proper sphere, the water rises and sinks as if performing its usual task, the ship alone and its inhabitants seem the object of wrath. On a forlorn & weather-beaten coast the scene is indeed different, but the feelings partake more of horror than of wild delight.

26th September 1836

Azores to Falmouth
Our voyage having come to an end, I will take a short retrospect of the advantages and disadvantages the pain & pleasure of our five years' wandering. If a person should ask my advice before undertaking a long voyage, my answer would depend upon his possessing a decided taste for some branch of knowledge, which could by such means be acquired. No doubt it is a high satisfaction to behold various countries, and the many races of Mankind, but the pleasures gained at the time do not counterbalance the evils. It is necessary to look forward to a harvest, however distant it may be, when some fruit will be reaped, some good effected. Many of the losses which must be experienced are obvious, such as that of the society of all old friends, and of the sight of those places with which every dearest remembrance is so intimately connected. These losses however, are at the time partly relieved by the exhaustless delight of anticipating the long wished for day of return. If, as poets say, life is a dream, I am sure in a long voyage these are the visions which best pass away the long night. Other losses, although not at first felt, after a period tell heavily, those are the want of room, of seclusion, of rest — the jading feeling of constant hurry — the privation of small luxuries, the comforts of civilization, domestic society, and lastly even of music & the other pleasures of imagination. When such trifles are mentioned, it is evident that the real grievances (excepting from accidents) of a sea life are at an end. The short space of sixty years has made a most astonishing difference in the facility of distant navigation. Even in the time of Cook, a man who left his comfortable fire side for such expeditions, did undergo privations: a yatch with every luxury of life might now circumnavigate the globe. Besides the vast improvements in ships & naval resources, the whole Western shores of America are thrown open; and Australia is become a metropolis of a rising continent. How different are the circumstances to a man shipwrecked at the present day in the Pacific, to what they would have been in the time of Cook: since his voyage a hemisphere has been added to the civilized world.

25th September 1836

St. Michael's Island, Azores
By the following morning, we were off the city, & a boat was sent on shore.— The Isld of St Michaels is considerably larger & three times more populous & enjoys a more extensive trade than Terceira. — The chief export is the fruit, for which a fleet of vessels annually arrives. Although several hundred vessels are loaded with oranges, these trees on neither island appear in any great numbers. No one would guess that this was the great market for the numberless oranges imposed into England. St Michaels has much the same open, semi-green, cultivated patchwork appearance as Terceira. The town is more scatted; the houses & churches there & throughout the country are white washed & look from a distance neat and pretty. The land behind the town is less elevated than at Terceira, but yet rises considerably; it is thickly studded or rather made up of small mammiformed hills, each of which has sometime been an active Volcano. — In an hours time the boat returned without any letters, and then getting a good offing from the land, we steered, thanks to God, a direct course for England.

24th September 1836

Terceira, Azores
In the morning, we were off the Western end of St Michaels; to the capital of which we were bound in quest of letters. A contrary wind detained us the whole day,

Syms Covington Journal
Sent a boat ashore, to the island of St. Michael; during which time the ship kept in the offing. This island, like the latter, is well cultivated, and thickly studded with houses.

23rd September 1836

Terceira, Azores
Another day I set out early in the morning to visit the town of Praya seated on the NE and of the island. — The distance is about fifteen miles; the road ran the great part of the way not far from the coast. The country is all cultivated & scattered with houses & small villages. I noticed in several places, from the long traffic of the bullock waggons, that the solid lava, which formed in parts the road, was worn into ruts of the depth of twelve inches. This circumstance has been noticed with surprise, in the ancient pavement of Pompeii, as not occurring in any of the present towns of Italy. At this place the wheels have a tire surmounted by singularly large iron knobs, perhaps the old Roman wheels were thus furnished. The country during our morning's ride, was not interesting, excepting always the pleasant sight of a happy peasantry. The harvest was lately over, & near to the houses the fine yellow heads of Indian corn, were bound, for the sake of drying, in large bundles to the stems of the poplar trees. These seen from a distance, appeared weighed down by some beautiful fruit,—the very emblem of fertility.—One part of the road crossed a broad stream of lava, which from its rocky & black surface, showed itself to be of comparatively recent origin; indeed the crater whence it had flowed could be distinguished. The industrious inhabitants, have turned this space into vineyards, but for this purpose it was necessary to clear away the loose fragments & pile them into a multitude of walls, which enclosed little patches of ground a few yards square; thus covering the country with a network of black lines.

The town of Praya is a quiet forlorn little place; Many years since a large city was here overwhelmed by an earthquake. It is asserted the land subsided, and a wall of a convent now bathed by the sea is shown as a proof: the fact is probable, but the proof not convincing. I returned home by another road, which first leads along the Northern shore, & then crosses the central part of the Island.— This North Eastern extremity is particularly well cultivated, & produces a large quantity of fine what. The square, open fields, & small villages with white washed churches, gave to the view as seen from the heights, an aspect resembling the less picturesque parts of central England. — We soon reached the region of clouds, which during our whole visit have hung very low & concealed the tops of the mountains. For a couple of hours we crossed the elevated central part, which is not inhabited & bears a desolate appearance. When we descended from the clouds to the city, I heard the good news that observations had been obtained, & that we should go to sea the same evening.

The anchorage is exposed to the whole swell of the Southern ocean, & hence during the present boisterous time of year is very disagreeable & far from safe.

22nd September 1836

Terceira, Azores
I staid the greater part of the day on board.

21st September 1836

Terceira, Azores
The next day the Consul kindly lent me his horse & furnished me with guides to proceed to a spot, in the centre of the island, which was described as an active crater. — Ascending in deep lanes, bordered on each side by high stone walls, for the three first miles, we passed many houses and gardens. We then entered on a very irregular plain country, consisting of more recent streams of hummocky basaltic lava. The rocks are covered in some parts by a thick brushwood about three feet high, and in others by heath, fern, & short pasture: a few broken down old stone walls completed the resemblance with the mountains of Wales. I saw, moreover, some old English friends amongst the insects, and of birds, the starling, water wagtail, chaffinch and blackbird. There are no houses in this elevated and central part, and the ground is only used for the pasture of cattle and goats. On every side, besides the ridges of more ancient lavas, there were cones of various dimensions, which yet partly retained their crater-formed summits, and where broken down showed a pile of cinders such as those from an iron foundry. — When we reached the so called crater, I found it a slight depression, or rather a short valley abutting against a higher range, and without any exit. The bottom was traversed by several large fissures, out of which, in nearly a dozen places, small jets of steam issued, as from the cracks in the boiler of a steam engine.

The steam close to the irregular orifices, is far too hot for the hand to endure it; — it has but little smell, yet from everything made of iron being blackened, and from a peculiar rough sensation communicated to the skin, the vapour cannot be pure, and I imagine it contains some muriatic add gas. — The effect on the surrounding trachytic lavas is singular, the solid stone being entirely converted either into pure, snow white, porcelain clay, or into a kind of bright red or the two colours marbled together: the steam issued through the moist and hot clay. This phenomenon has thus gone on for many years; it is said that flames once issued from the cracks. During rain, the water from each bank, must flow into these cracks; & it is probable that this same water, trickling down to the neighbourhood of some heated subterranean lava, causes this phenomenon. — Throughout the island, the powers below have been unusually active during the last year; several small earthquakes have been caused, and during a few days a jet of steam issued from a bold precipice overhanging the sea, not far from the town of Angra.

I enjoyed my day's ride, though I did not see much worth seeing: it was pleasant to meet such a number of fine peasantry; I do not recollect ever having beheld a set of handsomer young men, with more good humoured pleasant expressions.1 The men and boys are all dressed in a plain jacket & trowsers, without shoes or stockings; their heads are barely covered by a little blue cloth cap with two ears and a border of red; this they lift in the most courteous manner to each passing stranger. Their clothes although very ragged, appeared singularly clean, as well as their persons; I am told, that in almost every cottage, a visitor will sleep in snow white sheets & will dine off a clean napkin. Each man carries in his hand a walking staff about six feet high; by fixing a large knife at each extremity, they can make this into a formidable weapon. — Their ruddy complexions, bright eyes & erect gait, made them a picture of a fine peasantry: how different from the Portugeese of Brazil! — The greater number, which we this day met, were employed in the mountains gathering sticks for fire-wood. — A whole family, from the father to the least boy, might be seen, each carrying his bundle on his head to sell in the town. Their burthens were very heavy; this hard labour & the ragged state of their clothes too plainly bespoke poverty, yet I am told, it is not the want of food, but of all luxuries, a case parallel to that of Chiloe. — Hence, although the whole land is not cultivated, at the present time numbers emigrate to Brazil, where the contract to which they are bound, differs but little from slavery. It seems a great pity that so fine a population should be compelled [to] leave a land of plenty, where every article of food, meat, vegetables & fruit, — is exceedingly cheap & most abundant, but the labourer finds his labour of proportionally little value.–

20th September 1836

Terceira, Azores
In the morning we were off the East end of the Island of Terceira, and a little after noon reached the town of Angra. The island is moderately lofty & has a rounded outline with detached conical hills evidently of volcanic origin. The land is well cultivated, & is divided into a multitude of rectangular fields by stone walls, extending from the water's edge to high upon the central hills. There are few or no trees, & the yellow stubble land at this time of year gives a burnt up and unpleasant character to the scenery. Small hamlets & single white-washed houses are scattered in all parts. In the evening a party went on shore; — We found the city a very clean & tidy little place, containing about 10,000 inhabitants, which includes nearly the fourth part of the total number on the island. There are no good shops, & little signs of activity, excepting the intolerable creaking of an occasional bullock waggon. The churches are very respectable, & there were formerly a good many convents: but Dom Pedro destroyed several; he levelled three nunneries to the ground, & gave permission to the nuns to marry, which, excepting by some of the very old ones, was gladly received. — Angra was formerly the capital of the whole archipelago, but it has now only one division of the islands under its government, and its glory has departed. The city is defended by a strong castle & line of batteries which encircle the base of Mount Brazil, an extinct volcano with sloping sides, which overlooks the town. — Terceira was the first place that received Dom Pedro, & from this beginning he conquered the other islands & finally Portugal. A loan was scraped together in this one island of no less than 400,000 dollars, of which sum not one farthing has ever been paid to these first supporters of the present right royal & honourable family.

Syms Covington Journal
Anchored in the Roads of Angra, at the island of Terceira, subject to the Portuguese. This island is not so high as the latter, but IS thickly populated, and all parts of the island seen from the ship were cultivated. fruits and vegetables are very cheap. The Road is open for shipping, AND pretty well fortified.

9th September 1836

Atlantic Ocean
Crossed the Tropic of Cancer.

With the Beagle now virtually in sight of the completion of her voyage, why not join us for the next few years on board the Endeavour and sail with Captain Cook and Joseph Banks around the world.  Currently (in 1768, 70 years before the voyage of the Beagle) she has just left Plymouth on her way to Madeira... link above right (Roger R)

4th September 1836

Cape Verde Islands
We were all very glad in the evening of the 4th to wish farewell to the irregular mountains of St Jago, as they disappeared in the evening shades. I confess, I feel some good will to the Island; I should be ungrateful if it was otherwise; for I shall never forget the delight of first standing in a certain lava cavern & looking at the swell of the Atlantic lashing the rugged shores.

31st August to 4th September 1838

Cape Verde Islands
After a most excellent passage, we came to an anchor early in the morning at Porto Praya. We found lying there, as commonly is the case, some slaving vessels. The weather, during our short stay of four days was very fine, but as this was the beginning of the unhealthy season, I confined my walks to short distances.

I have nothing to say about the place; as some rain had fallen, a most faint tinge of green was just distinguishable. Our old friend the great Baobab tree was clothed with a thick green foilage, which much altered its appearance. As might be expected, I was not so much delighted with St Jago, as during our former visit; but even this time I found much in its Natural History very interesting. It would indeed be strange if the first view of desert volcanic plains, (a kind of country so utterly different from anything in England) and the first sensations on entering an ardent climate, did not excite the most vivid impressions in the mind of every one, who takes pleasure in beholding the face of nature.

21st August 1836

Mid Atlantic
We crossed the Equator.

Syms Covington Journal
Crossed the Equatorial Line, at a quarter after 10 o'clock, Sunday the 21st with a fine breeze from the Southward and Eastward, which we have had since or from Pernambuco.

17th August 1836

Pernambuco, Brazil
I was delighted on the 17th to get on board the ship & in the afternoon to leave the shores of Brazil. We lie close hauled to the wind, & therefore there is a considerable pitching motion; I suffer very much from sea-sickness. — But it is on the road to England; in truth some such comfort is necessary to support the tedious misery of loss of time, health & comfort.

16th August 1836

Pernambuco, Brazil
With respect to the origin of the reef, I believe, a bar composed of sand & pebbles formerly existed beneath the water, when the low land on which the town now stands was occupied by a large bay; & that this bar was first consolidated, & then elevated. These two distinct processes are of so common occurrence in S. America, that I now feel none of that surprise, with which such facts would formerly have startled me. There is another & slightly different explanation, which possesses equal probability, namely that a long spit of sand like some that now exist on the neighbouring coast, had its central part consolidated, & then by a slight change in the set of currents the loose matter was removed, the hard nucleus alone remaining. Although the swell of the open ocean breaks heavily on the outer side of the narrow & insignificant line of reef, yet there is no record of its decay. This durability is the most curious circumstance connected with its existence: it appears to be owing to a layer of calcareous matter, formed by the successive growth of several kinds of organic bodies, chiefly serpulae, balani, corallinae, but no true corals. It is a process strictly analogous to the formation of peat, & like that substance, its effects are to preserve from degradations the matter on which it rests. — In true coral reefs, when the upper extremities of the living mass are killed by the rays of the sun, they become enveloped & protected by a nearly similar process. It is probable that if a Breakwater such as that of Plymouth, was built in these tropical seas, it would be imperishable, that is, as imperishable as any part of the solid land, which all, some day, must suffer decay & renovation.

Note: The reef, which can be traced more or less distinctly along the Brazilian seaboard for several hundred miles, rises at Pernambuco into a perfectly straight artificial-looking wall, 31 miles long, with even sides and a smooth and almost level top from 30 to 60 yards in width. It is of a hard pale-coloured sandstone, breaking with a very smooth fracture ; and a tough layer of calcareous matter, generally several inches thick, produced by the successive growth and death of the small shells of Serpuhe with some few barnacles and nullipores, proves so effectual a protection of the outer surface that though it is exposed to the full force of the waves of the open Atlantic the oldest pilots know of no tradition of change in its appearance. The belt of water within the reef is about a mile in width and forms a safe but rather shallow harbour ; vessels drawing 191 feet can enter, and there is abundant room for mooring along the shore.

[Image: A modern photo of the reef at low tide]

15th August 1836

Pernambuco, Brazil
The most curious thing which I saw in the neighbourhood of Pernambuco, is the reef that forms the harbor. It runs for a length of several miles in a perfectly straight line, parallel to & not far distant from the shore; it varies in width from thirty to sixty yards; it is quite dry at low water, has a level smooth surface, & is composed of obscurely stratified hard sandstone: hence at the first sight it is difficult to credit that it is the work of nature & not of art. Its utility is great; close within the inner water, there is a good depth of water, & ships lie moored to old guns, which are fixed in holes on the summit. — A light-house stands on one extremity, & around it the sea breaks heavily. In entering the harbor, a ship passes within thirty yards round this point, & amidst the foam of the breakers; close by, on the other hand, are other breakers, which thus form a narrow gateway: it is almost fearful to behold a ship running, as it appears, headlong into such dangers.

The modern name for the port (also used in Darwin's time) is Recife, literally, "the Reef" (Roger R.)

13th August 1836

Pernambuco, Brazil
The flat swampy land is surrounded at the distance of a few miles by a semicircle of low hills, or rather by the edge of a country elevated perhaps two hundred feet above the sea. The old city of Olinda stands on one extremity of this range. One day I took a canoe & proceeded up one of the channels to visit it; I found the old town from its situation both sweeter & cleaner than that of Pernambuco. — I must commemorate, as being the first time during the four & a half years we have been wandering about, that I met with a want of politeness amongst any class of people; I was refused in a sullen manner at two different houses, & obtained with difficulty from a third permission to pass through their gardens to an uncultivated hill for the purpose of taking a view of the country. I feel quite glad this happened in the land of the "Brava Gente"; for I bear them no good will. — A Spaniard would have been ashamed at the very thought of refusing such a request, or of behaving to any one with rudeness. — The channel by which we came to & returned from Olinda is bordered on each side by Mangroves which spring like a miniature forest out of the greasy mud banks. the bright green color of these bushes always reminds me of the rank grass in a Church-yard: both are nourished by putrid exhalations; the one speaks of death past, the other too often of death to come.

Syms Covington Journal
On 13th pm unmoored ship and went in THE Roads again. As the neap tides were coming, and THERE WAS barely water sufficient at this time. AS WE WERE on the sand bank at high water thirteen feet, AND our ship drawing nearly 13 feet, WE had a pilot to take the ship in and also out. The reef, which is coral, appears inside like a wall; with guns placed all along as posts, for shipping to make fast their hawsers. The lighthouse (revolving light) stands AT THE extremity of THE reef and close to it a small fort! The other extremity of THE reef reaches to the mainland, inside of which runs a large river. This reef forms a complete breakwater, and of course the water inside very smooth. The reef runs North and South, WITH the lighthouse on THE North side. In the Roads, there is a great deal of motion.

12th August, 1836

Bahia to Pernambuco, Brazil
The weather having been unfavourable, we altered course & ran for Pernambuco. We anchored outside; but in a short time a pilot came on board & took us into the inner harbor, where we lay close to the town. Pernambuco is built on some narrow, low, sand banks, which are separated from each other by shoal channels of salt water. The three parts of the town are connected together by two long bridges, built on wooden piles. The town is in all parts disgusting, the streets narrow, ill-paved, filthy, the houses very tall & gloomy. The number of white people, which during the morning may be met with in the streets, appears to be about in the proportion of foreigners in any other nation; all the rest are black or of a dusky colour. The latter as well as the Brazilians are far from prepossessing in their appearance: the poor negroes, wherever they may be, are cheerful, talkative & boisterous. There was nothing in the sight, smell or sounds within this large town, which conveyed to me any pleasing impressions. The season of heavy rains scarcely had come to an end & hence the surrounding country, which is scarcely elevated about the level of the sea, was flooded with water. I failed in all my attempts to take any long walks. — I was however enabled to observe that many of the country houses in the outskirts were like those of Bahia, of a gay appearance which harmonized well with the luxuriant character of the tropical vegetation.

Syms Covington Journal
Anchored in the Roads of Pernambuco August 12th pm The same afternoon, went inside reef, or place where shipping lie, in fourteen feet of water.

6th August 1836

Bahia, Brazil
In the afternoon weighed anchor & stood out to sea.

5th August 1836

Bahia, Brazil
In the last walk I took, I stopped again and again to gaze on such beauties, & tried to fix for ever in my mind, an impression which at the time I knew must sooner or later fade away. The forms of the Orange tree, the Cocoa nut, the Palms, the Mango, the Banana, will remain clear & separate, but the thousand beauties which unite them all into one perfect scene, must perish: yet they will leave, like a tale heard in childhood, a picture full of indistinct, but most beautiful figures.

4th August 1836

Bahia, Brazil
Then the dense splendid foliage of the Mango hides the ground with its darkest shade, whilst its upper branches are rendered the more brilliant by the profusion of light. In the temperate zones, as it appears to me, the case is different, the colours there are not so dark, or rich, & hence the declining sun, which casts forth red, purple or yellow rays, is best adapted to add beauties to the scenery of those climes.

When quietly walking along the shady pathways & admiring each successive view, one wishes to find language to express ones ideas: epithet after epithet is found too weak to convey to those who have not had an opportunity of experiencing these sensations, a true picture of the mind.  I have said the plants in a hot-house fail to communicate a just idea of the vegetation, Yet I must recur to it: the land is one great wild, untidy, luxuriant hot house, which nature made for her menagerie, but man has taken possession of it, & has studded it with gay houses & formal gardens. How great would be the desire in every admirer of nature to behold, if such was possible, another planet; yet at the distance of a few degrees from his native country, it may be truly said, the glories of another world are open to him.

Bahia, Brazil, August 4 [1836].

My dear Susan,

I will just write a few lines to explain the cause of this letter being dated on the coast of South America. Some singular disagreements in the longitudes made Captain Fitz-Roy anxious to complete the circle in the southern hemisphere, and then retrace our steps by our first line to England. This zigzag manner of proceeding is very grievous; it has put the finishing stroke to my feelings. I loathe, I abhor the sea and all ships which sail on it. But I yet believe we shall reach England in the latter half of October. At Ascension I received Catherine's letter of October, and yours of November; the letter at the Cape was of a later date, but letters of all sorts are inestimable treasures, and I thank you both for them. The desert, volcanic rocks, and wild sea of Ascension, as soon as I knew there was news from home, suddenly wore a pleasing aspect, and I set to work with a good-will at my old work of Geology. You would be surprised to know how entirely the pleasure in arriving at a new place depends on letters. We only stayed four days at Ascension, and then made a very good passage to Bahia.

I little thought to have put my foot on South American coast again. It has been almost painful to find how much good enthusiasm has been evaporated during the last four years. I can now walk soberly through a Brazilian forest; not but what it is exquisitely beautiful, but now, instead of seeking for splendid contrasts, I compare the stately mango trees with the horse-chestnuts of England. Although this zigzag has lost us at least a fortnight, in some respects I am glad of it. I think I shall be able to carry away one vivid picture of inter-tropical scenery. We go from hence to the Cape de Verds; that is, if the winds or the Equatorial calms will allow us. I have some faint hopes that a steady foul wind might induce the Captain to proceed direct to the Azores. For which most untoward event I heartily pray.

Both your letters were full of good news; especially the expressions which you tell me Professor Sedgwick used about my collections. I confess they are deeply gratifying--I trust one part at least will turn out true, and that I shall act as I now think--as a man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life. Professor Sedgwick mentioning my name at all gives me hopes that he will assist me with his advice, of which, in my geological questions, I stand much in need. It is useless to tell you from the shameful state of this scribble that I am writing against time, having been out all morning, and now there are some strangers on board to whom I must go down and talk civility. Moreover, as this letter goes by a foreign ship, it is doubtful whether it will ever arrive. Farewell, my very dear Susan and all of you. Good-bye.


3rd August 1836

Bahia, Brazil
Learned naturalists describe these scenes of the Tropics by naming a multitude of objects & mentioning some characteristic feature of each. To a learned traveller, this possibly may communicate some definite ideas; but who else from seeing a plant in an herbarium can imagine its appearance when growing in its native soil? Who, from seeing choice plants in a hot house, can multiply some into the dimensions of forest trees, or crowd others into an entangled mass? Who, when examining in a cabinet the gay butterflies, or singular Cicadas, will associate with these objects the ceaseless harsh music of the latter, or the lazy flight of the former — the sure accompaniments of the still glowing noon day of the Tropics — It is at these times, when the sun has attained its greatest height, that such views should be beheld.

2nd August 1836

Bahia, Brazil
I was glad to find my enjoyment of tropical scenery, from the loss of novelty, had not decreased even in the slightest degree. The elements of the scenery are so simple, that they are worth mentioning as a proof on what trifling circumstances exquisite natural beauty depends. The country may be described as a quite level plain of about three hundred feet elevation which has been in every part worn into flat-bottomed valleys. This structure is remarkable in a granitic land, but it is nearly universal in all those softer formations, of which plains usually are composed. The whole surface is covered by various kinds of stately trees, interspersed with patches of cultivated ground, amidst which stand houses, convents & Chapels. — It must be remembered that within the tropics, the wild luxuriance of nature is not lost, even in the vicinity of large cities; the natural vegetation of the hedges & hill sides overpowers in picturesque effect, the artificial labor of man. Hence in but few parts, the bright red soil affords a strong contrast to the universal clothing of green. From the edges of the plain there are distant glimpses either of the ocean or of the great bay, bordered by low wooded shores, & on the surface of which numerous boats & canoes show their white sails. Excepting from these points, the range of vision is very limited; following the level pathways, on each hand alternate peeps into the wooded valleys below can alone be obtained. Lastly I must add, that the houses & especially the sacred edifices are built in a peculiar & rather fantastic style of architecture. They are all white-washed, so that when eliminated by the brilliant sun of midday & as seen against the pale blue sky of the horizon, they stand out more like shadows than substantial buildings. Such are the elements, but to paint their effects is an hopeless endeavour.

Syms Covington Journal
Between the island of Ascension (Africa) and Bahía (Brazil) we find a wide difference, viz. the former which is solely lava, the latter of a rich and most luxurient herbage, with hill and dale, and birds of a most beautiful plumage. I went into the country four days during our stay here.

1st August, 1836

Bahia, Brazil
Anchored in Bahia de los Santos. The first aspect of the city & its outskirts, with the beauties of which we were formerly so much delighted, had lost part of its charms. The novelty & surprise were gone, & perhaps our memories had, in the long interval, exaggerated the colours of the scenery. There existed, however, as we afterwards discovered, a more true reason, in the loss of some of the finest Mango trees, which during the late disturbances of the negroes had been cut down. We staid here four days, in which time I took several long walks.

Syms Covington Journal
Sailed from Ascension July 23rd and after a good passage (a distance of 1400 miles), anchored in Bahía, Brazil, August 1st am, the third time of our coming here. Bahía is nearly due West from Ascension. On our arrival here the first news was that the natives had taken a 1000 miles of coast towards the North from the Portuguese some time since, which they still retained.

23rd July 1836

In the afternoon put to sea. — When in the offing, the Ships head was directed in W.S.W. course — a sore discomfiture & surprise to those on board who were most anxious to reach England. I did not think again to see the coast of S. America; but I am glad our fate has directed us to Bahia in Brazil.

21st & 22nd July 1836

On the two succeeding days I took long walks & examined some rather curious points in the mineralogical composition of some of the Volcanic rocks, to which I was guided by the kindness of Lieut. Evans. One day I walked to the SW extremity of the Isld: the day was clear & hot, & I saw the Island not smiling with beauty, but staring with naked hideousness. — The lava streams are covered with hummocks, & are rugged to a degree which geologically speaking is not of easy explanation. The intervening spaces are concealed with layers of pumice, ashes, & volcanic sandstone. In some parts, rounded volcanic bombs, which must have assumed this form when projected red hot from the crater, lie strewed on the surface. When passing this end of the Isld at sea, I could not imagine the cause of the white patches, with which the whole plain was mottled: I now found out it was owing to the number of seafowl, which sleep in such full confidence, as even in midday to allow a man to walk up to & seize hold of them. These birds were the only living creatures I this day saw. On the beach a great sea, although the breeze was light, was tumbling over the broken lava rocks. — The ocean is a raging monster, insult him a thousand miles distant, & his great carcase is stirred with anger through half an hemisphere.

20th July 1836

The next morning I ascended Green Hill, 2,840 ft high, & walked from thence across the Isd to the windward point. — A good cart road leads from the coast settlement to the houses, gardens & fields placed near the summit of the central mountain. On the road side are milestones & cisterns, where each thirsty passer by can drink some good water. Similar care is displayed in each part of the establishment, & especially in the management of the Springs, so that a single drop of water shall not be lost. Indeed the whole Isld may be compared to [a] huge Ship kept in first rate order. I could not help, when admiring the active industry which has created such effects out of such means, at the same time regretting that it was wasted on so poor & trifling an end. — M. Lesson has remarked with justice that the English nation alone would ever have thought of making the Isd of Ascension a productive spot; any other people would have held it, without any further views, as a mere fortress in the ocean.

Near the coast, nothing grows, a little inland, an occasional green Castor oil plant & a few grasshoppers, true friends of the desert, may be met with. On the central elevated parts, some grass is scattered over the surface, much resembling the worse parts of the Welsh mountains. But scanty as it appears, about six hundred sheep, many goats, a few cows & horses, all thrive well. Of native animals, rats, mice, land-crabs are abundant: — of Birds the guinea-fowl imported from the C. Verd's, swarm in great numbers. — The Isd is entirely destitute of trees, in which & in every other respect it is very far inferior to St Helena. Mr Dring tells me that the witty people of the latter place say "We know we live on a rock, but the poor people at Ascension live on a cinder": the distinction is in truth very just.

19th July 1836

Reached the anchorage in the afternoon, & received some letters. This alone with such a surrounding scene, was capable of producing pleasant sensations. Those who have beheld a volcanic Island, situated within an arid climate, will be able at once to picture to themselves the aspect of Ascension. They will imagine smooth conical hills of a bright red colour, with their summits generally truncated, rising distinct out of a level surface of black horrid lava. —  A principal mound in the centre of the Island seems the father of the lesser cones. It is called Green Hill, its name is taken from the faintest tinge of that colour, which at this time was barely perceptible from the anchorage. To complete this desolate scene, the black rocks on the coast are lashed by a wild turbulent sea. The settlement is near the beach, it consists of several houses & barracks, placed irregularly but well built of white freestone. The only inhabitants are Marines & some negroes liberated from slave ships, who are paid & victualled by government: there is not a private person on the island. Many of the Marines appeared well contented with their situation: they think it better to serve their one & twenty years on shore, let it be what it may, than in a Ship. — With which choice, if I was a Marine, I should most heartily agree.

14th July 1836

St. Helena
I so much enjoyed my rambles amongst the rocks & mountains, that I almost felt sorry on the morning of the 14th, to descend to the town.  Before noon I was on board, & the Beagle made sail for Ascension.