HMS Beagle in Galapagos (1835)   1 comment

ENTRY: September 18, 1835

Weighed and stood alongside until noon, when we anchored close to a low rugged point, near the north-east end of the island: employed two boats in examining the shore, and landed a party to look for terrapin: Mr. Darwin and Mr. Stokes went to the top of a neighboring hill. Throughout this day it blew so fresh a breeze, that double-reefed topsails were as much as could be carried: but I think this strength of wind only prevailed under the lee of the island, where the wind rushed down in squalls, after having been intercepted and checked by the high land. All the hills appear to have been the craters of volcanoes: some are of sandy mud, others are lava. There is plenty of wood hereabouts, though stunted and dry. On no part of this shore is there a chance of finding water; all is stony, without any soil which could either collect or carry if off.

Our party brought eighteen terrapin on board. In size they were not remarkable, none exceeding eighty pounds. This animal appears to be well defended by nature; but, in truth, it is rather helpless, and easily injured. The shell is slight, and becomes weaker (in proportion to the animal’s size), as the tortoise grows older.


The Entire Survey of the Galapagos Islands

How accurate are these maps?

Beagle Survey Route Lines (in red) –

These route lines are fairly accurate, as FitzRoy provided plenty of survey information in his personal journal. This, combined with the narrative in Darwin’s Beagle Diary at the Galapagos Islands, make figuring out where the Beagle went fairly easy. The only section that I am not sure about is to the north where the “strong currents” existed near Abingdon Island. Here I assume the Beagle was not able to sail directly to other islands, but rather took a very erratic route as is hinted at in FitzRoy’s narrative.

Small Boat Survey Route Lines (in yellow) –

There is hardly any information regarding the specific routes of the smaller survey boats used at the Galapagos Islands. The text I studied just states that an island was surveyed by smaller boats, and no other detail is provided. Since I do not have access to the original survey maps drawn by the crew, I have relied only upon FitzRoy’s Journal.

I have made a few assumptions about the routes of the smaller boats. First of all, FitzRoy was a very patient, detail oriented, and meticulous captain. I am assuming, when ordering the survey of an island, he would expect a very complete one. The routes I have indicated, therefore, explore every large cove and shelter along the coastline of islands, and also circumnavigate each of the islands FitzRoy ordered to be surveyed.

Topography of the Islands –

On all these maps the graphics used to show the topography of the islands makes them appear far more mountainous than they actually are. This representation is just a side effect of the graphics program I used to create the islands.

Now, onto the adventures in the Galapagos! In the afternoon of September 15th a tiny point of land was seen on the horizon. This was the first sighting of the Galapagos Archipelago by the Beagle, and it turned out to be Mount Pitt, a large hill on the north-east end of Chatham Island.

“… we were anxiously looking out for land, when what appeared to be an islet was seen from the mast-head. This seeming islet turned out to be the summit of Mount Pitt, a remarkable hill at the north-east end of Chatham Island.” — Capt. Robert FitzRoy’s Journal.

The very next day H.M.S. Beagle reached Hood Island, shown above. Early in the morning Edward Chaffers (Master) and Arthur Mellersh (Midshipman) set out on a boat to survey the island’s shoreline.

By noon another boat was launched to survey the central islands of the archipelago. Later in the afternoon H.M.S. Beagle reached Chatham Island. Darwin was intrigued by the rocky shore of black lava, and the raw hostile environment.

H.M.S. Beagle arrived at Chatham Island on the 17th, sailing north along the western shoreline and surveyed several bays along the coast and spotted an American Whaler in Stephen’s Harbor. The next day the Beagle arrived at the north-east end of Chatham. Capt. FitzRoy and others went on a short inland excursion. Darwin, Covington, and John Stokes (assistant surveyor) were also put on shore to explore on their own. It was a very, very hot day, about seventy degrees over the water, but much hotter on the island due to radiating heat off the lava rock. Darwin examined the huge tortoises here and collected about ten plants, most of which he thought were unimpressive little things. Eighteen tortoises are brought on board the Beagle as food.

Over the next few days the Beagle sailed around to the eastern side of Chatham and then surveyed southward along the coast. A fresh source of water was located on the south-east part of the island at a place later to be called Bahia de Aqua Dulce. The crew took on a water supply and continue to the southern end of Chatham Island where Chaffers and Mellersh came back on board.

Capt. FitzRoy finished up the survey of Chatham Island by September 22nd, and more tortoises were brought on board for food. The next day the Beagle sailed out towards Barrington Island and spent the night between Hood and Charles Islands.

The next day was spent surveying the waters around Charles Island which was populated by a small colony of about 250 political prisoners from the Republic of Equator (established in 1829). Darwin went on shore with Covington to collect plants and birds and climbed the highest hill – about 1,800 feet above sea level. He also examined a few curious lava chimneys. During his stay on the island Darwin was informed by Mr. Nicholas Lawson, an Englishman in charge of the prison colony, that one can tell which island a tortoise came from by looking at it’s shell, (at the time Darwin did not grasp the significance of this news!). Another small boat, under the command of Edward Chaffers, was launched to survey the little islands off the south-east coast of Charles Island. In the afternoon the Beagle anchored at Post Office Bay.

On the 25th Mr. Lawson came on board the Beagle. Later in the day he took Capt. FitzRoy and others on a tour of the prison colony on Charles Island. Chaffers returned to the Beagle the next day after surveying the southern end of Charles Island.

The next day was spent exploring the interior of Charles Island.

“I industriously collected all the animals, plants, insects & reptiles from this Island. [on Charles Island] It will be very interesting to find from future comparison to what district or ‘center of creation’ the organized beings of this archipelago must be attached.” Charles Darwin’s Beagle Diary, September 26/27, 1835.

On September 28 H.M.S. Beagle set sail for Albermarle Island, shown above, and in the evening anchored off the south-west shore.

Over the next few days survey work was done along the south-west tip of Albermarle Island. Arthus Mellersh and Philip King (midshipman) were let off on a boat to survey Elizabeth Bay. The crew was astonished at the sight of huge swarmsof ugly lizards (marine iguanas), 3-4 feet in length, all along the coastline.

“The black Lava rocks on the beach are frequented by large (2-3 ft) most disgusting, clumsy Lizards. They are as black as the porous rocks over which they crawl & seek their prey from the Sea.” Charles Darwin’s Beagle Diary, September 17, 1835.

There was a good breeze on the 3rd in the morning and the Beagle set sail for Banks Cove near the northern tip of Albermarle Island. Along the way the Beagle was nearly stuck between Albermarle and Narborough Islands due to extremely calm winds. They eventually passed through Canal Bolivar between Narborough and Albermarle Islands and anchored at Banks Cove.

A small party explored inland on October 1st to look for fresh water, but they only located a few small watery holes in the rocks. All Darwin found was an elliptical crater near a small cove that had a small salty lake with an island in middle. Due to the shortage of potable water, rationing was started on the ship today. Darwin described land iguanas on the island in some detail. Many giant iguana were caught and killed for food. The next day was passed at Banks Cove.

H.M.S. Beagle sailed around the northern tip of Albermarle on the 3rd, and anchored off Punta Flores. In the morning the Beagle sailed towards Abingdon Island, but due to very strong and erratic currents they ended up forty miles off course to the west.

A few days were spent trying to get back on course but the currents were very irregular in the area and caused much delay. More strong currents prevented the Beagle from reaching Abingdon Island, so Capt. FitzRoy ordered a course change towards the northern shore of James Island. Along the way the Beagle passed near Tower Island in the morning and Bindloe Island at sunset.

H.M.S. Beagle anchored at the northern tip of James Island on October 8th. Some of the crew went on shore and met up with a party of Spanish settlers salting fish and extracting oil from tortoises.

Edward Chaffers, Charles Johnson (midshipman) and six others set off on a boat to survey Bindloe, Abingdon and Tower Islands.

Darwin’s Discovery:

Some of the specimens Darwin collected from the Galapagos:

One buzzard, two owls, three flycatchers, one Sylvicola, three species of mockingbirds, one species of finch, one swallow, one dove, 13 species of finches (Darwin remarked how fascinated he was by the beak gradations, but the variation of finches confused Darwin a great deal), one turtle, one tortoise, four lizards (sea and land iguanas and two other types), four snakes, and very few insects.

Charles Darwin was very anxious to go exploring so he, Syms Covington (Darwin’s servant), Benjamin Bynoe (acting surgeon) and H. Fuller (Bynoe’s servant) stayed behind on James Island. They went with the Spaniards to a circular salt lake to collect salt. Darwin commented that all the plants and animals had rather dull coloration, and were not particularly beautiful. The Beagle set sail for Chatham to get fresh water but the currents slowed them down.

“Amongst other things, I collected every plant, which I could see in flower, & as it was flowering season I hope my collection may be of some interest to you. – I shall be very curious to know whether the Flora belongs to America, or is particular. I paid also much attention to the Birds, which I suspect are very curious.” Charles Darwin, Letter to Revd. John Henslow January 1836.

By the evening of the 9th H.M.S. Beagle was back at the southeast corner of Chatham Island and the next morning a party went on shore to get fresh water. A few days were spent at this island taking on more fresh water, cutting fire wood and hunting tortoises. FitzRoy noted how much cooler and wetter it was on this side of the archipelago compared to the western side where it was dry and hot.

While on James Island Darwin commented on tortoises hissing and dropping like a rock when passed, and on him riding them and not being able to keep balance. He described the variations of lizards, but Darwin did not hint at why variations should exist in these species. He did field tests with one iguana by tossing it in a pool of water in some lava rocks, noting that it returned directly to where he stood every time. He theorized that the lizard knows dry land is a safe place to be, and that water was dangerous. As for insects, Darwin was sadly disappointed at how few there were. He remarked on the odd fact that nearly all the birds have dull coloration (the flycatcher being the only bright one). He was also told that there are certain trees and plants that are found on one island but not at any of the others – a very strange curiosity! Darwin said it never occurred to him that islands so close together could have dissimilar plants and animals. He simple did consider it to be an important point at the time. This was why he did not label each animal to the island it was found on, especially the Galapagos finches. He also commented on the extreme tameness of the birds. Two small tortoises were brought on board as pets today.

The Beagle left Chatham Island on the 13th and after fighting heavy winds in the morning and nearly crashing into the cliffs, the Beagle set sail for Hood Island. On the way to Hood they almost got stuck on some dangerous shoals. A small boat was set down to pin point the exact location of these dangerous shoals. The next day the Beagle anchored at Hood Island and after surveying until noon they headed for the southern tip of Charles Island. By sunset they were anchored at the western end of Charles Island.

The Beagle later sailed to Post Office Bay and some crew members went on shore to locate salt deposits. Some more of the crew went onshore – this time to gather fire wood, dig up potatoes and hunt pigs. In the afternoon, a schooner arrived at Charles Island and dropped off a bag of letters from England. H.M.S. Beagle left Charles Island in the evening and headed for Albermarle Island.

“All the small birds that live on these lava-covered islands have short beaks, very thick at the base, like that of a bullfinch. This appears to be one of those admirable provisions of Infinite Wisdom by which each created thing is adapted to the place for which it was intended.” — Capt. Robert FitzRoy’s Journal.

They arrived on the 17th and the Beagle surveyed north along the eastern shore of the island. At noon the Beagle took a detour to Punta Cordova and picked up Darwin and the others left on James Island the week before. Darwin brought aboard quite a large haul of plants, animals, rocks and insects. In the afternoon the Beagle returned to Albermarle Island and spent the night sailing north along the coast.

The Beagle continued surveying the eastern side of Albermarle Island and in the afternoon of the 18th set sail for Abingdon Island to pick up Chaffers, Johnson and the other six crew members who had been surveying the area.

They continued sailing towards Abingdon Island and while the currents were still elusive, they were not as strong as they were before. After picking up the smaller survey boats on the 19th, the Beagle sailed to Wenman and Culpepper Islands to the north.

October 20th was spent surveying Wenman and Culpepper Islands. In the evening the crew raised all sails and under a good strong wind steered for the Island of Tahiti, 3,200 miles away.

“Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends.” Charles Darwin, Journal of Researches, 2 edition, page 380.

Posted September 18, 2009 by sangay in GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

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One response to “HMS Beagle in Galapagos (1835)

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  1. I don’t know If I said it already but …Excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read….

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