“If a person suffer 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.” – Charles Darwin.
History has made Charles Darwin as synonymous with the “Beagle” as Neil Armstrong with the Moon. An invitation from Captain Robert Fitzroy, Master of the Beagle, to join a two year trip along the east coast of South America, turned into an epic five year round the World expedition, the results of which are still felt today. It was a brave undertaking by Darwin, prone to sea-sickness and averse as he was, to travel by sea. It was as well for his health that Darwin spent just 533 days of the five year voyage on board the Beagle.
HMS Beagle slipped anchor and set sail from Plymouth, England, on a cold and overcast December morning in 1831. After brief visits to the Cape Verde Islands, Darwin rented a cottage in Rio de Janeiro where he remained for three months, observing and recording the local customs, flora and fauna.
Having rejoined the Beagle, from April 1832 until July 1835, Darwin travelled up and down the entire west coast of South America, venturing as far south as the Falkland Islands. Darwin made numerous forays inland, most notably a 700 mile trek from Bahia Blanca, via Buenos Aires, to Santa Fe.
He dedicated an entire year exploring Chiloe, Valparaiso and Lima. From Valparaiso, he journeyed into the Andes mountain range, continuing all the way to Mendoza in Argentina. He experienced an earthquake in Concepcion and witnessed revolutions in Montevideo and Lima.
The Galapagos Islands
Darwin is best remembered for his time on the Galapagos Islands in September and October 1835, but he also travelled to Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania. On the journey back to England, the Beagle stopped at the Cocos Islands near Indonesia, Mauritius, Cape Town, St Helena and Ascencion Island. Everywhere he went, Darwin observed, recorded and collected examples of the local flora and fauna.
But Darwin also questioned everything he saw – and he continued to question his observations long after he was back on dry land. Herein lies the continuing importance of his observations and collections. His subsequent study of his voyage diaries led to his realisation of the mutability of species, the survival of the fittest and ultimately to his theory of evolution.
Darwin also made extensive geological recordings wherever he travelled. He was particularly interested in the fossils he discovered in the Andes. Although lesser known for this aspect of his work, the study of fossils impressed upon Darwin their relationship to living animals. He deduced that extinction was a natural process, the very end of the life cycle itself.
The Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle
Darwin shared his collections and observations with the entire scientific world, working with the pre-eminent and most renowned specialists in their field at the time. The results of this collaboration were published as “The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle” edited by Charles Darwin.
Darwin wrote in his own book, “The Voyage of the Beagle,” “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 that may be, when some fruit will be reaped, some good effected.”
Darwin’s hopes are still being realised today. His legacy continues to inspire scientists into the 21st Century.
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