The Voyage of the Beagle Summary

Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

~'The Voyage of the Beagle,~' made up of the notes and letters Charles Darwin collected on his five-year voyage to South America, Australia, and Africa, shows us how the famed naturalist developed the ideas that would change the face of science forever.

The Voyage of the Beagle

The Voyage of the Beagle is a book published by Charles Darwin in 1845. It is the revised edition of his 1839 work, Journals and Remarks. The Voyage of the Beagle is both a travel log and field journal of the work Darwin did during the voyage from 1831-1836.

Part 1: Preparing the Trip

Charles Darwin's advisor, John Henslow, offered him a position on the ship the Beagle on August 30, 1831. The purpose of the journey was to explore the coastline of South America. The captain of the Beagle was Robert FitzRoy, who had been to South America the year before. FitzRoy wanted a well-known naturalist, so he contacted Henslow who was unable to go, so he passed the job on to Darwin.

To be allowed to sail, Darwin would have to get the blessing of his father. Robert Darwin who was against the idea. Charles appealed to his uncle, who convinced Robert that it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Charles prepared for the journey, and the ship sailed on December 27, after several false starts.

Part 2: Exploring South America

Darwin was very seasick at first, but it soon passed. The first stop was supposed to be the Canary Islands, but they headed for St. Jago, one of the Cape Verde Islands instead. There, Darwin saw his first jungle and hiked around the volcanoes. The Beagle left St. Jago on February 8, and headed for South America.

They arrived in Bahia, South America on February 28th, and then headed to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where Darwin received his first letters from home. He left the boat and rented a cottage near the jungle. Here, his research began in earnest. Darwin filled his journals with notes about all he saw. He spent a few months collecting samples, including 80 different birds and an extinct giant sloth, some of which he sent back to Henslow in England.

The Beagle left for Tiera Del Fuego, Argentina, on December 18th. When they reached the southern tip of South America, Darwin met the native Fuegians. He was fascinated by the differences between them and the Europeans he knew.

Illustrations of the Fuegians by Darwin
Illustrations of the Fuegians by Darwin

Two Fuegians, who FitzRoy had taken captive during his previous trip to South America, and a missionary were passengers on the ship and the crew dropped them off at this point in the voyage. However, after nine days among the Fuegians, the missionary changed his mind and came back on board. Darwin observed that the Fuegians who had been captives in England quickly cast off the mannerisms of the Europeans and returned to native behaviors.

The Beagle stopped in the Falkland Islands and explored the coast of Argentina, and then headed south in December of 1833. Darwin made two attempts to reach the Andes Mountains, but only made it to the foothills.

The ship continued to explore the coasts of South America. In February, 1835, there was a huge earthquake that left all the local towns in ruins, and in March of 1835, Darwin finally made it to the Andes.

The Andes
The Andes Mountains

In July of 1835, the ship docked in Lima, Peru. Because of the dangerous political situation in the city, the men were ordered to stay in the port. Two months later, the ship sailed west and Darwin saw the Galapagos Islands for the first time.

Part 3: The Galapagos and the South Pacific

The Galapagos Islands changed the course of history for Darwin. The landscape was nothing like he had ever seen before, and it is described extensively in The Voyage of the Beagle. Darwin wrote about the stark volcanic landscape, the huge tortoises and iguanas, crabs, birds, and lizards. He collected many specimens during his short time in the Galapagos.

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