'A cruize in these latitudes'

letter from sister
One of Catherine Darwin's letters to her brother, sent at the end of April 1832. CUL DAR 204, f.84

On 28 February 1832 the Beagle finally reached South America. For the next two years the ship and her crew beat up and down the long east coast, from the lush tropics of Brazil, past Patagonia – ‘like Cambridgeshire without the trees’ – as far south as Tierra del Fuego, across to the Falkland Islands, and round again, surveying and re-surveying. This was all dangerous country – the Beagle was fired on as a suspected cholera carrier, and her crew helped quell a revolt. Even so, Darwin made progressively longer and more independent excursions on land, exploring and collecting specimens, at first chiefly of insects. He was also taught how to lasso ostriches by the gauchos (the Spanish settlers), enjoyed the company of elegant signoritas, and finally collected his first fossil vertebrates. News from home was waiting at the major ports of Rio de Janeiro, Monte Video, and Buenos Aires: ‘no half famished wretch ever swallowed food more eagerly than I do letters’.