'Images from another world'

Darwin's hand-coloured geological map of part of South America, showing the Beagle Channel. CUL DAR 44, f. 13

Darwin was profoundly moved by his encounters with native peoples in Patagonia, Tahiti and Australia. But it was the Yahgan people of the storm-buffeted shores of Tierra del Fuego who most gripped his imagination, and inspired descriptions worthy of gothic fiction: ‘an untamed savage is I really think one of the most extraordinary spectacles in the world’.

Narrowly escaping shipwreck, the Beagle crew went ashore in Tierra del Fuego twice on a mission to repatriate three natives FitzRoy had taken back to Britain on a previous voyage. Images of their second visit were captured by FitzRoy’s new artist, Conrad Martens, who had joined the Beagle in Monte Video in July 1833. His delightful sketches belie the Admiralty orders that drawings used to complement surveys should be ‘plain distinct roughs’, rather than highly finished pieces ‘where accuracy is often sacrificed to beauty’.