Charles Darwin in Galapagos

September 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

Today in 1835 marks the arrival of the HMS Beagle to the Galapagos Islands, aboard the Beagle was a young naturalist Charles Darwin.

Darwin and the Beagle under the command of Captain Robert Fitzroy left England in 1831 for a five year journey around the world charting the
coasts. Darwin’s role as ship naturalist had him investigating geology and making natural history collection of what he found along the way. While at sea
Darwin kept notes of what he observed and his speculations.

The Beagle spent 5 weeks in Galapagos and surprisingly only visited four of the islands while there. He first arrived to San Cristobal (Chatham Island) which did not impress him. Darwin wrote in his diary;

‘The black rocks heated by the rays of the vertical sun like a stove, give to the air a close & sultry feeling. The plants also smell unpleasantly. The country was compared to what we might imagine the cultivated parts of the Infernal regions to be.’ The marine iguanas that were common along the shores of all the islands were ‘hideous-looking creatures, of a dirty black colour, stupid and sluggish in their movements’, but in the water they swam ‘with perfect ease and swiftness’. 

Quickly Darwin learned how tame the Galapagos Wildlife is and he wrote  ‘I pushed off a branch with the end of my gun, a large hawk’.

From San Cristobal Darwin and the Beagle went to Floreana (Charles Island) where Darwin met the English Governor, Nicholas Lawson, who claimed
that he could ‘pronounce with certainty from which island any tortoise had been brought’ from the shape of its shell. This remark did not impress Darwin until
much later. During his visit to Galapagos Darwin failed to collect any of the tortoise carapaces in the islands he visited. Like other ships that visited
Galapagos at the time, the crew of the Beagle regarded the tortoises simply as an inexhaustible source of food.

The Beagle left Floreana and set sail for Isabela (Albemarle Island). On Isabela Darwin noted the land iguanas ‘are hideous animals, but are considered good
food.’

The final island that Darwin would visit on his journey was Santiago (James Island) where he and a small party would camp at Buccaneer Cove for 9 days. During those final days Darwin explored the highlands, saw many tortoises, and collected a variety of birds. On 18 October, having completed the survey of Isabela, the Beagle picked up some members of the crew who had been surveying Abingdon (Pinta) Island, and sailed away northwards bound for Tahiti.

Though while in the Galapagos Darwin’s notes appear as if he was not overly impressed with what he saw. It was after his return to England when
he was studying what he collected while in the islands that he began to appreciate what he saw and in time Darwin developed the Theory of Evolution.

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