12 June 1834 to 10 April 1835

Survey of South America, Part 4:

Into the Pacific Ocean
1st Andes Expedition
FitzRoy Resigns
Chiloe Island Survey
Earthquake at Valdivia
2nd Andes Expedition

On June 12th the Beagle arrived at the island of Chiloe off the coast of Chile. A short while later Packet Ship arrived with mail. H.M.S. Beagle and Adventure surveyed up the west coast to the island of Chiloe, Chile.

The next day the Beagle left the island of Chiloe, having gathered provisions (mainly pigs and potatoes). Darwin hated the place because it never stopped raining!

Mr. George Rowlett, the Purser, died on June 27th after a long illness and was buried at sea. He was 38 years old.

The Beagle and Adventure arrived on the evening of July 23rd at the city of Valparaiso, Chile. Darwin was very glad to be in a warmer climate and his stomach was happier to be in calmer seas. He enjoyed the pretty sight of the town, the blue skies, dry air, and attractive hills. Both ships stayed at Valparaiso for a few weeks to be refitted for the Pacific Ocean crossing. While in town Darwin met an old Shrewsbury classmate, Mr. Richard Corfield, who owned a house in town and he let Darwin stay with him. Over the next several days Darwin went on several long walks in the countryside, collecting specimens, but he was not very impressed with the local flora and fauna.

Some time around July 24th, Darwin received two letters from Revd. John Henslow in Cambridge. He gave all sorts of praise to Darwin for the fine specimens he had been sending back, but also advised him to pack the specimens more carefully, as several of the ones he received either decomposed or fell apart.

While the ships were out surveying the nearby coastline, Darwin went off exploring towards the Andes Mountains.

Darwin's first inland expedition is difficult to chronicle on a website. I have decided to describe it with a day-by-day outline of events below, along with maps to make the trek more clear to the reader. The names of places Darwin visited are spelled with many variations in his journal and also on various maps of the time, so it is unknown if all places are spelled accurately.


August 14 1843 to September 27 1843

Aug 14 - Headed north along the coast and on the way examined some raised shell formations. It was at this time that Darwin found support for his idea that the western side of South America was slowly raising above sea level. Darwin spent the night at the Hacienda de Quintero.

Aug 15 - Returned to the valley of Quillota, crossed the ridge of Chilecauquen, then to Hacienda de San Isidoro at the foot of Bell Mountain.

Aug 16 - In the morning Darwin climbed Bell or Campana Mountain (about 6,400 feet high and marked with the yellow "X" above). Camped at Aqua de Guanaco near some bamboo bushes.

Aug 17 - Continued climbing the mountain, and spent the night on the summit. Darwin enjoyed a fantastic view of the coast and the Andes Mountains.

Aug 18 - Darwin hiked down the mountain and then back to Hacienda de San Isidoro where he and the guide stayed the night.

Aug 19 - Traveled up the valley to the town of Quillota then to San Felipe.

Aug 20 - Reached the copper mines of Jajuel east of San Felipe and stayed 5 days (marked with a yellow "X" below). The mines were run by a gentleman from Cornwall, England.

Aug 21 to 25 - Darwin spent these days scrambling about the mountains collecting specimens, and making observations.

Aug 26 - Left Jajuel and crossed the base of San Felipe. Now on the road to Santiago, and crossed through Cerro del Talguen.

Aug 27 - Entered the plain of Guitron, and reached Santiago by late evening. Darwin stayed here about one week and spent his time going on day trips across the plains, and dinning with English merchants by night.

Sep 05 - Crossed the Maypo River, just south of Santiago.

Sep 06 - Proceeded due south and spent the night at Rancagua.

Sep 07 - Turned up the valley of Cachapual, a place famous for their hot baths. Arrived in the evening and stayed five days. On one day Darwin rode up the valley to the east where the Cachapual splits into two deep ravines.

Sep 13 - Left the baths of Cachapual, joined the main road and slept at the Rio Claro. Next day went to San Fernando, then headed towards the coast.

Sep 14 - Rode to some of the gold mines in the area and enjoyed a view of Lake Tagua-tagua on the way. Here Darwin described the harsh life of miners. Later in the day he visited some old Indian ruins. Stayed at the mines until September 18th.

Sep 19 - Left the mines and followed the valley where the Rio Tinderidica flows up to the open plains.

Sep 20 - Traveled along the open rolling plains, and became sick.

Sep 21 - Arrived at village of Navidad near the coast.

Sep 22 - Stayed at Navidad, but was not well. Explored the local area a little bit.

Sep 24 - Now headed towards Valparaiso under great difficulty due to his illness.

Sep 27 - Darwin finally arrived at Valparaiso, but he was by now very ill. He stayed in bed until late October at Mr. Cornfield's house.

While sick in bed, Darwin wrote a letter home describing his adventures in the mountains. He wrote a letter to his sisters and mentioned how sick he was with fever, which he would later regret.

In late October, Darwin sent another shipment of specimens to Revd. Henslow. This one included many bird skins, insects, seeds, water and gas samples from some hot baths in the Andes Mountains, and some plants.

While recovering from his illness, Darwin learned that Capt. FitzRoy had suffered a nervous breakdown. Apparently, the massive amount of charting that had been done, as well as refitting the Adventure, had worn him down. His survey work was also continuously being interrupted by the captains of passing ships. To make matters worse, news arrived that the Admiralty was quite upset with him for buying the Adventure without their permission.

Capt. FitzRoy, in a fit of rage, sold the Adventure and resigned his command of the Beagle, putting Lieutenant John Wickham in charge. He ordered Wickham to finish the survey of the southern coastline, sail back around Cape Horn and then sail directly back to England. Wickham refused the promotion, pleaded with Capt. FitzRoy not to relinquish command, and stated that there was no way on earth he was going to risk sailing around Cape Horn again. Wickham's refusal to sail back around the Cape may have been a direct violation of orders given by the Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty --

"In the event of any unfortunate accident happening to yourself [Capt. FitzRoy], the officer on whom the command of the Beagle may in consequence devolve, is hereby required and directed to complete, as far as in him lies, that part of the survey on which the vessel may then be engaged, but not to proceed to a next step in the voyage [i.e. - continuing further north along the coast]; as, for instance, if at that time carrying on the coast survey on the western side of South America, he is not to cross the Pacific, but to return to England by Rio de Janeiro and the Atlantic." [FBN:23]

Capt. FitzRoy was eventually convinced that nothing would be gained by his resignation, so he withdrew it and took back command of the Beagle.

These events of late October 1834 had the potential to radically alter history as we know it today.

If FitzRoy had not resumed command of the Beagle and Wickham followed orders, Charles Darwin would never have visited the Galapagos Islands, an event that had a profound impact on the theory of evolution he would later develop. What would Darwin have done if FitzRoy did not resume command of the Beagle? Well, Darwin wrote in a letter to his sister, Catherine, (CCD:1, page 417, on 8 Nov 1834) that he made plans to set off on his own. He would explore the Cordilleras Range during the coming summer, then travel north along the coast to Lima, Peru - stopping at various places along the way to explore. Once in Lima he would work his way south again to Valparaiso, cross the Cordilleras to Buenos Aires and from there gain passage on a ship back to England. Fortunately this series of events never took place.

In early November Capt. FitzRoy sent his survey charts of Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands back to England.

H.M.S. Beagle picked up Darwin (now in much better health) at Valparaiso on November 10th and headed south to survey the Chronos Archipelago and the sea around Chiloe Island as far south as the Tres Montes Peninsula.

Beagle anchored on the 21st in the bay of San Carlos, the capital of Chiloe Island. Darwin described the island as being covered with evergreen forests, subject to much rain and heavy winds, and populated by Indians who lived a very poor and sparse lifestyle.

On November 24th the yawl and a whaleboat were sent out under the command of Mr. Sullivan to survey the eastern coast of Chiloe and the islands in the Gulf of Ancud. Messers, Darwin, Usborne, Stewart, Kent, Douglas and ten men went with Sullivan. They were to meet up with the Beagle at the southern tip of Chiloe island at San Pedro Island at which time the Beagle would survey along the western shore. Darwin wanted to explore the interior of the island, hoping to do some geology, but he was not very impressed. He hired some horses and rode to the town of Chacao at the northern tip where he met up with the survey boat crew setting up camp.

During the next day there were buckets of rain pouring down. Darwin went with the yawl and whaleboat down as far as Huapilenou.

The sky finally cleared up on the 26th, and the crew had a great view of Mount Osorno in the Andes Mountains which was billowing out smoke at the time. They arrived in the evening at a beautiful little cove just north of Caucahue Island.

Over the next few days they had very fine weather and reached the island of Quinchao where they set up camp on the beach.

Darwin and the others reached the town of Castro, the capital of Chiloe, on the 30th. Darwin described the town as nearly deserted with sheep grazing in the main plaza.

The Beagle anchored at NE point of Socorro, at the very southern end of Lemuy Island, on December 2nd. Next day they went on a zip-zag route to Huafo.

The two survey boats reached Caylen Island on December 6th. In the morning they stopped at a house at the northern end of Laylec Island. In the evening the boats reached the island of San Pedro Chiloe Island where the Beagle was at anchor in the harbor.

A few days later FitzRoy, Darwin and a few others tried to climb Mount San Pedro (also spelled Huamblin). The trees and vegetation were so thick that they hardly ever touched the ground with their feet. The crew eventually gave up in despair. The Beagle stayed three days in this harbor.

On December 11th Sullivan, along with a group of men, headed out in the smaller boats for more survey work. The Beagle sailed to the Chronos Archipelago to survey the maze of islands.

Stokes and a few others left in a whale-boat on the 18th to survey north and meet with the Beagle at Port Low.

H.M.S. Beagle surveyed off Cape Tres Montes around the 20th, then to went San Andres Bay. The next day they anchored at Cone Creek at Christmas Cove at Port Estevan.

While anchored at Port Estevan, the crew saw a man on shore waving a shirt. He turned out to be one of several American crewmen stranded there fifteen months ago after abandoning their Whaling ship, the Frances Henrietta. A boat was immediately sent ashore to rescue the stranded American sailors. It seems these poor souls tried to make for the coast of South America at Valdivia, but had damaged their boat in the escape and got stranded here on Chiloe Island. There were six men in total, one who died in a fall off a cliff.

The Beagle surveyed towards Cape Taytao on the 29th, then anchored at Yuche Island, just north of the Tres Montes peninsula. The next day was spent hunting goats on the island.

The Beagle moved on to Port Refuge on January 4th.

The Beagle sailed up the coast of Chiloe island on the 7th and was now at the northern tip of the Chronos Archipelago at Port Low. Mr. Stokes, who had been surveying on a smaller boat, came back on board, having arrived there the week before. The crew stayed here a week. Darwin commented at length in his journal on the native potatoes, speculating that they may be the ancestors of modern day specimens common in Europe. Unfortunately for Darwin the zoology of the archipelago was very poor.

The next few days were spent gathering fish, oysters, ducks, and geese.

The Beagle left Port Low on the 15th and sailed to Huafo Island. Darwin spent the next day or two examining the geology of this island. Two days later the Beagle sailed to Point Arena in San Carlos harbor. Mr. Sullivan and the others on the smaller survey boats came back on board.

FitzRoy surveyed English Bank near Point Arena on the 19th. Mount Orsono erupted again late in the evening.

On January 22nd Darwin and Mr. King went ashore and traveled by hired horses to Castro, then to Capella de Cucao on the West coast. They reached Castro the next day at 2:00pm, then continued south along the coast. They passed through the village of Vilepilli, then Chonchi. On the 26th they rode to Point Huantamo a little to the north and then arrived at Castro in the evening.

The Beagle left Chiloe Island from Point Arena on February 5th, but was forced back to English harbor due to poor weather. The next day they sailed to the South American coastline and from here surveyed north to Valdivia, where they arrived on the 8th.

While Darwin was in the town of Valdivia a massive earthquake hit around at around 11:30 on the morning of the 20th. It lasted three minutes and the devastation was horrible - nearly every building in the area was destroyed.

Darwin returned to the Beagle on the 22nd which sailed from the ruined town of Valdivia to the city of Concepcion.

Late in the evening of the 24th the Beagle arrived at Mocha Island. The next seven days were spent surveying between the island and the mainland.

Darwin's Discovery:

On March 4th the Beagle entered the Harbor of Talcuhano near Concepcion. As at Valdivia, nearly every house around the harbor was destroyed. While the Beagle tried to make anchorage in Talcuhano Harbor, Darwin was dropped off at the island of Quiriquina. Here he explored around the coastline of the island and found several expanses of fresh marine rock that had risen a few feet above sea level due to the earthquake. Darwin also noticed raised shell beds on the cliffs above and became very excited about this find, as it was direct evidence that the Andes mountains, and indeed all of South America, may be very slowly raising above the ocean. These discoveries added much weight to Charles Lyell's theory that land masses rose up in tiny increments over extremely long periods of time. Given this fact, Darwin accepted the idea that the earth must be extremely old. The next day Darwin went by ship to Talcuhano Harbor where a tidal wave had destroyed nearly everything, and from the shore he rode by horse to the town of Concepcion to meet up with Capt. FitzRoy.

The Beagle left the ruined city of Concepcion after three days and sailed for Valparaiso where they arrived on the 11th to buy replacement anchors (they had just one left by this time). They arrived at Valpairso on the 11th, bought anchors, and the next day sailed back to Conception to study the damage done by the earthquake along the coast.

Darwin planed out another Andes expedition while in the town of Santiago. Mr. Caldcleugh assisted him in preparations for the expedition.

On March 18th at 4:00 in the morning Darwin started out on his second Andes expedition with a Spanish speaking guide named Mariano Gonzales, ten mules to carry provisions and an old mare horse. Darwin had doubts about making it to the top of the Andes due to snow blocking the mountain passes. He headed towards St. Iago and then to Portillo Pass - one of the two passable routes to the Andes during this time of the year. They spent the day along the Maypo River, then to the broad valley to the first Cordillo mountains towards Portillo Pass.

Darwin started to ascend Portillo Pass up the Peuquenes valley on March 21st and began to have difficulty breathing due to the elevation gain. There was very little vegetation, no birds, animals or insects in the area. Darwin found some fossil shells at this great height and quickly forgot about the hard time breathing, he was so excited! Once at the top of Portillo Pass (19,000 feet) they found themselves in the clouds and all good views were obstructed.

Two days later Darwin descended the eastern slope of the Andes Mountains on the way to the town of Mendoza. Clouds down below blocked their views. They camped at an area called Los Arenales, in the clouds. Plants and animals were the same as those in Patagonia, but not at all like those in Chile.

The weather cleared up two days later and Darwin climbed a nearby mountain and finally had a great view looking east over the Pampas, but it was not as spectacular as he hoped it would be. Later in the day they crossed the Luxan River and spent the night a short distance south of Mendoza.

They traveled to estacado, and then crossed the Luxan River on the 26th which was of a good size and camped at a small village 15 miles south of Mendoza. During the night Darwin was bitten by an ugly blood sucking insect call the Benchuca Bug (today known as the Vinchuca Bug, possibly "Triatoma infestans"). He kept one of them as a pet and observed it for a few months to see how long a blood meal lasted it. At around this time some officers aboard the Beagle we playing with one of these insects, and one gentleman allowed the insect to take a blood meal from him.

On March 28th they arrived at the town of Mendoza, Argentina, but Darwin stayed for just one day and then headed back west with two guides over the Andes.

Darwin's Discovery:

Darwin head back, on March 29th, to Chile via the Uspallata Pass, just north of Mendoza. He spent the next few days at Villa Vicencio and explored the geology of the area. He was shocked to find that the local mountains were mainly composed of submarine lava flows, and these at 6,000 feet above sea level and 700 miles from the coastline! Eleven trees had been fossilized and 30-40 had turned into calcareous spar. Most of the trees were a few feet tall and snapped off at the top and 3-5 feet in circumference, and were coniferous. To make matters even more confusing for Darwin, he also found huge numbers of petrified trees in the same area. His mind was reeling with questions: how long ago was this land under the ocean, how did the trees end up under water so they would become petrified? Darwin spent the next few days thinking about how Charles Lyell would interpret what he was seeing and also began developing some geological theories of his own.

On April 1st Darwin continued through the Uspallata range and spent the evening at a customs house. The next few days were engaged in crossing the Uspallata mountain range of the Andes. By the 8th they left valley of Aconcagua, by which they had descended from the mountains, and stayed at a house near Villa de St Rosa.

Darwin finally made it back to the coast on April 10th and stayed in Santiago with an Englishman named Mr. Caldcleugh for a few days. Some days later he returned to Valparaiso and stayed at Mr. Corfield's house where he planned out another expedition north along the coast.