Charles Darwin's notebooks from the voyage of the Beagle

'Beautiful oranges': an introduction to the Valparaiso Notebook

The Valparaiso Notebook takes its name from the port city of Valparaiso (Valle Paraíso 'Paradise Valley') in central Chile. It is the first of six of the more or less square-shaped Type 5 notebooks which Darwin used in the field during the latter stages of the Beagle voyage. It contains about 5,000 words, making it the fifth shortest notebook in terms of content, with only a few diagrams.

The notebook was the first used exclusively on the west side of South America and therefore the first never to have been used in the first half of the voyage. Its use began in Valparaiso, covering the trek up the coast to Quintero, then via Quillota up the Aconcagua valley and a night camped on Bell Mountain, to San Felipe. Darwin then spent five days at the copper mine at Jajuel [Jahuel], thence, via the plain of Guitro, to St Jago, where Darwin stayed for five days and the notebook ends. It thus covers the first half of Darwin's first inland expedition on the west coast and is mainly concerned with his study of the geology of the coast ranges of the Andes.

The first three months or so of 1834 saw Darwin make his spectacular discovery of the fossil Macrauchenia in Patagonia, followed by the Beagle's final lengthy spell of surveying around Tierra del Fuego, and her second visit to the Falklands. This is all covered in the Port Desire Notebook. April to June, that is the Autumn, saw the Santa Cruz river expedition (the Banda Oriental and B. Blanca Notebooks) and the sail up the west coast for the first visit to Chiloé, whence the Beagle left for Valparaiso where she arrived on 22 July. There is no notebook coverage for about two months, from early June to the start of the Valparaiso Notebook.

The Valparaiso Notebook is unusual in only covering one time period, namely Darwin's expedition of 14 to 30 August 1834, after which it was replaced almost immediately by the Santiago Notebook. All the other notebooks were used for longer periods of time, although two were used for periods of about one month (the Coquimbo and Copiapò Notebooks, for roughly May and June 1835 respectively). Most notebooks were also used for more than one expedition.

The Valparaiso Notebook has an interesting relationship to the Santiago Notebook which seems to have been first opened in early September, directly after the Valparaiso Notebook.1 The Santiago Notebook had a very different subsequent history, however, being used over one of the longest periods of any of Darwin's notebooks from the Beagle period or later. The Santiago Notebook also differed from the Valparaiso Notebook in becoming less and less of a field notebook and more and more of a 'theoretical' notebook as the voyage entered its later stages. The Valparaiso Notebook on the other hand is a typical field notebook.

Valparaiso to Jahuel to St Jago, August 1834

Darwin took up residence with his old school friend Richard Corfield in Valparaiso on 2 August, and Darwin obviously thought highly of the 'society' there. He recorded in his Beagle diary that in the first week in Valparaiso he took 'several long walks in the country' and that he immediately found evidence of dramatic elevation of the coast. He was struck by the low diversity of animals and he conjectured that this was 'owing to none having been created since [the] country was raised from the sea'. So in August 1834 it seems he still held a Lyellian view of 'the birth of species'.

Unusually, the first entry in the notebook is a precise literature reference, on the inside front cover, to Vargas y Ponce's 1788 account of his 'Ultima Viage al Estrecho de Magellanes'. This could well be the book Darwin told FitzRoy to expect to receive, via Alexander Caldcleugh, in Darwin's last known voyage letter to FitzRoy of 28 August 1834 (Correspondence vol. 1, p. 407). The notebook entry itself is impossible to date with certainty.

On p. 1a Darwin wrote the first date, 14 [August 1834] and recorded that he and his guide, most probably Mariano Gonzales (see introduction to the St. Fe Notebook), after a 'very picturesque' ride, arrived 'benighted' and spent the night at the Hacienda de Quintero, formerly owned by the British sailor Lord Thomas Cochrane (1775-1860). Cochrane was a great local hero, having been Commander of the Chilean Navy from 1818 to 1822, before moving to command the Brazilian Navy.

The next day Darwin wrote that the Tapacolas (that is, Tapaculo birds, see introduction to the Port Desire Notebook) 'are very numerous and active', and he immediately noted that the granite of the coast range was giving way to greenstone, a lightly metamorphosed basic igneous rock which he described in South America, pp. 162, 169-75).2 He found the Quillota valley to be 'A delightful smiling pastoral count[r]y', p. 7a, and 'the picture of fertility; all the land irrigated, beautiful oranges'. He slept at 'a most perfect' hacienda and noted how the 'very tame & abundant rat, lives chiefly in hedges, curls its tail', p. 9a.

On 16 August he thought the country was 'like Wales' and he was disappointed by the Chilean version of gauchos (guassos) who 'do not look as if born on a horse' like their Pampas counterparts, p. 13a. Darwin was now beginning to get his first close look at the Andes as he climbed the Bell or Campana Mountain at 4,000 ft (c. 1,300m), now part of the Parque Nacional la Campana. There were 'magnificent views' and Darwin states in his Beagle diary that from the summit Chile was 'as in a Map'. That evening he noted the 'Setting sun, ruby's points against red, sun, black valleys!' and he spent the night on the summit: 'oh for the camp', p. 15a.

The next day Darwin recorded the detailed section and noted that the 'Night jar emits shrill plaintive cry', p. 22a. The greenstone was in places 'extraordinarily shattered' and 'appear as just broken; the ruins on the greatest scale & evidently the effect of Earthquakes', p. 24a, to the extent that Darwin recorded in his Beagle diary that he 'was inclined to hurry from beneath every pile of the loose masses'. He 'Staid whole day up mountain, very pleasant, understand Cordilleras…most interesting are such views, when connected with the reflection how formed', p. 30a.

On 18 August they descended back to Quillota and there are pages of detailed geological notes, including the remarkable observation that heat has 'different action on different layers of sedimentary rocks', p. 37a, and the dramatic conclusion that if 'the gneiss [was] the lowest & most affected rock' the entire range 'has all been once covered!', p. 39a. Darwin referred to the Bell of Quillota in a note alongside a diagram of the Cordillera on p. 150 of his Red Notebook (Herbert 1980).

On 19 August they started up the Aconcagua valley to San Felipe. There were 'peace-blossom, orange trees & date palms', p. 41a, and Darwin 'Saw large Kingfisher – long-billed Furnarius – a black Icterus, with orange head.', p. 43a. The next day they crossed the San Felipe valley to the copper mine 'superintended by Englishman', p. 46a, at Jajuel, where they stayed five days before heading south for St Jago. Darwin thought it fair to make fun of the 'simple Cornish miner', in his Beagle diary, where he related that on being told that George IV ('George Rex') was dead, the miner asked Darwin 'how many of the family of Rexes were yet alive'. Darwin rather tartly added in his Beagle diary, that 'this Rex certainly is a relation of Finis who wrote all the books'.

Darwin was shocked to see the conditions under which the miners slaved all day for '5 dollars a month', p. 46a. He gave a full account in his Beagle diary and explained that the ore was shipped to Swansea for smelting. He noted that lions (pumas) sometimes 'kill men' and the Tapaculo was 'well adapted tail erect, hop, very fast, large one most ridiculous', pp. 47a-48a.

On 22 August Darwin measured a large cactus before recording the geology, of which there are many pages. On p. 59a there is a circled note 'like fragments Cape Town' which is almost certainly a later insertion. Darwin was becoming convinced that the valleys had been under the sea: 'The mist well represents the sea in the basin & showed probability', p. 61a. He recounted that 'It is said Lion if he covers his prey returns, if not, not.', p. 63a, and that concerning a lake in the mountains the locals 'say it is arm of sea'. Darwin noted that 'Biscatcha shrill repeated noise Stony place connected with habit of collecting sticks and stones', p. 64a.1

The next day Darwin described a snake, then drew a remarkable geological diagram, pp. 66a-67a, which as he explained on pp. 68a-72a depicts a dyke cutting across 'jaspery rocks and breccia-conglomerate' and also apparently cutting across a complex of smaller dykes or veins. Darwin often spelled the word 'breccia' with only one 'c' in this notebook. On p. 73a he noted how the locals obtain huge quantities of sap by carefully felling a palm tree. On the 24th his geologizing was restricted by snow and on the 25th after making a list of representative rock specimens he 'got into a waste of snow – up horses belly – difficulty of returning, clouds threatening day began to snow heavily should have been shut up'. The traveling was probably very unpleasant.

They left Jajuel the next day to cross the Cerro de Talguen. The clear air and the fresh snow created a 'Most magnificently splendid' view of Aconcagua, which, at 6960m, is the highest mountain outside the Himalayas. The rocks dipped dramatically 40º to the southwest, indicating great upheaval. They slept at a 'small Rancho', where the servant was 'very humble' and would not eat with Darwin. On the 27th they reached the Llanos of Guitròn, where Darwin found 'immense quantity of petrified wood'. There were sandstones and limestones, as well as the usual porphyries, and Darwin noted the acacias and mimosas growing in the 'beautiful' valley on the approach to St Jago. Darwin thought the entrance to the city was 'very splendid', p. 85a.

Darwin stayed in St Jago until 5 September, before setting off southwards to complete a circuit back to Valparaiso. While in St Jago he recorded the geology around what is now the old part of the City, including the Cerro of St Lucía, at the foot of which Pedro de Valdivia founded St Jago on Darwin's birth date in 1541. These notes eventually formed the basis of the description in South America, p. 59. On pp. 92a-93a Darwin declared that 'The general form of country convinced me that these hills & places have all been formed by water.'

On 30 August Darwin rode to the 'half leather & chain' bridge over the Maypo, p. 96a, but it seems from his Beagle diary that he may not have actually crossed this 'miserable affair' until 5 September, which is covered in the Santiago Notebook.

There are a few notes at the back of the notebook, including what seems to be a list of the Indian or Spanish names of mammals such as 'Guanque' against 'Mus cyanus', but sadly the top of the list has been torn off, p. 1b, and pp. 3-4b are excised. There are two more pages listing rocks which allow a tentative dating of the notes to 18 or 19 August as Darwin's last comment is that they 'correspond to what I saw yesterday'.

Gordon Chancellor and John van Wyhe

August 2008

'Valparaiso up Aconcagua to St Jago' (8.1834). Text EH1.15 [English Heritage 88202335]

1 We disagree with Sulloway 1983 who dated the first use of the Santiago Notebook to about 16 August on the basis of a mention of the noises made by Biscaches, as this note could just as easily have been made in September, at the start of which month we know the Santiago Notebook was in use. Sulloway's point was that there is a reference to the noises made by these animals in the Beagle diary for 16 August, but this has its origin in an almost identical notebook entry for 23 August on p. 64a of the Valparaiso Notebook.

2 Greenstone is defined by Keynes 2003, p. 243, as 'any low-grade igneous rock rich in iron, magnesium and chlorite whose original structure has been reorganised by pressure or temperature'.



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