Darwin’s injury time in Brazil

When the US football team lost to Belgium in the stadium in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, they could have consoled themselves with the reflection that Darwin didn’t altogether enjoy it either.   Bahia was the place where he first set foot on South American soil when HMS Beagle landed there in February 1832, but a knee injury (not believed to be football related) confined him mostly to the ship.  He had to wait until Botofogo Bay, near Rio de Janeiro, to make his first real expedition on land, but it was worth it:  the views were gorgeous, the forests glorious, and he delighted in their sublime solitude.  It was also at Rio that Darwin got his first letters from home – he had been away for four months.


Sugar Loaf, Rio, MS ADD 7983 5r, © Cambridge University Library

Sugar Loaf, Rio, MS ADD 7983 5r, © Cambridge University Library









Bahia was also Darwin’s last landfall in South America:  the Beagle was on a naval surveying expedition and the captain, worried about discrepancies in their earlier measurements of longitude off the coast of Brazil,  decided to recross the Atlantic in August 1836 when they should have been heading home.  Darwin was distraught:  “ I loathe, I abhor the sea, & all ships which sail on it” he wrote to his sister, “I little thought ever to have put my foot on a S. American coast again.— It has been almost painful to find how much, good enthusiasm has been evaporated during the last four years. I can now walk soberly through a Brazilian forest; not but what it is exquisitely beautiful, but now, instead of seeking for splendid contrasts; I compare the stately Mango trees with the Horse Chesnuts of England.”  Sentiments perhaps not shared by Roy Hodgson.


All of Darwin’s letters from the Beagle are available to read on this site.  Read more about the voyage and find links here and here, and see contemporary drawings from the voyage by the Beagle’s artist, Conrad Martens, together with extracts from Darwin’s letters, here.  High resolution images of Conrad Martens’ sketches and watercolours are also available through the Cambridge Digital Library.


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