Charles Darwin's Diary of the Voyage of H.M.S. Analysis

Charles Darwin

Form and Content

Charles Darwin’s Diary of the Voyage of H.M.S. “Beagle” was edited by Nora Barlow, the daughter of Darwin’s son Horace, and is based on a copy her father made of the original manuscript. The first entry is for Monday, October 24, 1831, the day that Darwin arrived in Devonport, England, ready to board the Beagle, and the last is for November 7, 1836, when the Beagle docked in Woolwich. Midshipman Philip Gridley King’s cutaway diagram of the Beagle gives a good impression of the ship’s arrangements. The eight major inland expeditions into South America are mapped out, and a reproduction of Captain Robert Fitzroy’s track chart traces the entire voyage around the world.

The Beagle’s voyage took it from England to the Cape Verde Islands, on to the easternmost point of South America, down the coast to Tierra del Fuego, and back up to Buenos Aires. It then went back down to Tierra del Fuego and up the Chilean coast, finally going as far north as the Galápagos Islands before swinging west across the Pacific Ocean to Tahiti and to Sydney and Hobart, Australia. From there, the ship sailed northwest to Keeling Island off the Javan coast, back to the southwest to Mauritius, around the Cape of Good Hope, and across the Atlantic Ocean to Pernambuco on the Brazilian shore again. Finally, it struck northeast toward home.

The whole adventure, despite much seasickness, was a marvelous experience for the young Darwin. Indeed, his account is much like the traditional apprenticeship novel that chronicles a young person’s initiation into the ways of the world. Although he does record various observations in natural history (for example, his collection of specimens from the Galápagos Islands on September 26, 1835), the diary records mostly his observations of people and manners. Repeatedly, he remarks on the general degradation of life that he observed among many of the peoples with which he mingled. Despite the many hardships of weather and unpalatable food, however, it is abundantly clear that Darwin had a rousing good time.