An Instinctive Passion
In contemplating the brilliant intellectual achievements of the past, Charles Darwin's name is often mentioned. Whether you agree with his famous "Theory of Evolution" or not, Darwin's impact on the course of modern events cannot be denied. His was a life whose resonance is still being felt around the globe. It goes against the grain of common perception to think of this scientific titan galloping over the pampas of Argentina, exploring volcanic islands on horseback, and lying down to rest on the bosom of the earth with his horse nearby. Yet Darwin's diaries tell the story of not just a naturalist exploring the world searching for answers, they also reveal the inner man, the Long Rider who revelled in the freedom of riding on three continents, South America, Australia, and Africa. For as these varied diary entries explain, Charles Darwin the Scientist, soon discovered that when you are a Long Rider you often find astonishing acts of kindness awaiting you out on the long grey road to adventure.
de Janeiro, Brazil
day has been frittered away in obtaining the passports for my expedition into
the interior. It is never very pleasant to submit to the insolence of men in
office. But the prospect of visiting wild forests tenanted by beautiful birds,
monkeys, sloths, and alligators will make any Naturalist lick the dust even from
the foot of a Brazilian.
9 o’clock I joined my party at Praia Grande, a village on the opposite side of
the Bay. We were six in number and consisted of Mr. Patrick Lennon, a regular
Irishman, who when the Brazils were first opened to the English made a large
fortune by selling spectacles. About eight years since he purchased a tract of
forest country on the Macae river and put an English agent over it.
Communication is so difficult that from that time to the present he has been
unable to obtain any remittances. After many delays Mr. Patrick resolved in
person to visit his estate. It was easily arranged that I should be a companion
and in many respects it will be an excellent opportunity for seeing the country
and its inhabitants. Mr. Lennon has resided in Brazil 20 years and was in
consequence well qualified to obtain information.
was accompanied by his nephew, a sharp youngster, following the steps of his
Uncle and making money. Thirdly came Mr. Laurie, a well informed clever
Scotchman, a selfish unprincipled man, by trade partly Slave-merchant, partly
swindler. He brought a friend, a Mr. Gosling, an apprentice to a Druggist. A
black boy as guide and myself completed the party, and the wilds of Brazil have
seldom seen a more extraordinary and quixotic set of adventurers.
first stage was very interesting; the day was powerfully hot and as we passed
through the woods, everything was still, excepting the large and brilliant
butterflies, which lazily fluttered about. The view seen when crossing the hills
behind Praia Grande is most sublime and picturesque. The colours were intense
and the prevailing tint a dark blue; the sky and calm waters of the bay vied
with each other in splendour. After passing through some cultivated country we
entered a forest which in the grandeur of all its parts could not be exceeded. I
was utterly at a loss how sufficiently to admire this scene.
continued riding for some hours; for the last miles the road was intricate, it
passed through a desert waste of marshes and lagoons. The scene by the dimmed
light of the moon was most desolate; a few fire-flies flitted by us and the
solitary snipe as it rose uttered its plaintive cry; and the distant and sullen
roar of the sea scarcely broke the stillness of the night. We arrived at the
Venda and were very glad to lie down on the straw mats.
been 10 hours on horseback, I never cease to wonder at the amount of labour
which these horses are capable of enduring.
on till it was dark, felt miserably faint and exhausted; I often thought I
should have fallen off my horse.
next morning I cured myself by eating cinnamon and drinking port wine.
at midday for Mr. Lennon’s estate. The road passed through a vast extant of
forest in which we saw many beautiful birds. We slept in a Fazenda a league from
our journey’s end. The agent received us hospitably and was the only Brazilian
I had seen with a good expression. The slaves appeared miserably overworked and
were obliged to have a black man clear the way with a sword. The woods in this
neighbourhood contain several forms of vegetation which I had not seen before,
some elegant tree ferns and a grass like papyrus.
we arrived at the estate there was a most violent and disagreeable quarrel
between Mr. Lennon and his agent, Mr. Cowper. During Mr. Lennon’s quarrel with
his agent, he threatened to sell at the public auction an illegitimate child to
whom Mr. Cowper was much attached. Also, he put into execution taking all the
women and children from their husbands and selling them separately at the market
in Rio. How strange and inexplicable is the effect of habit and interest.
Against such facts how weak are the arguments of those who maintain that slavery
is a tolerable evil.
by the old route to Campos Novos. The ride was very tiresome, passing over a
heavy and scorching sand. Whilst swimming our horses over the St. Joao river, we
had some danger and difficulty. The animals became exhausted and we had to
contend with two drunken mulattos in a boat. We arrived back at Rio in the
evening and were obliged to sleep on a bed of Indian corn.
There were several of the wild Gaucho cavalry waiting to see us land. They formed by far the most savage, picturesque group I ever beheld. I should have fancied myself I the middle of Turkey by their dresses. Round their waists they had bright coloured shawls forming a petticoat, beneath which were fringed drawers. Their boots were very singular. They are made from the hide of the hock joint of horses’ hind legs, so that it is a tube with a bend in it. This they put on fresh and thus drying on their legs is never again removed. Their spurs are enormous, the rowels being one to two inches long. They all wore the Poncho, which is a large shawl with a hole in the middle for the head. Thus equipped with sabres and short muskets, they were mounted on powerful horses.
||"I cannot agree with the man who spoke of the ten thousand beauties of the Pampas. But I grant that the rapid galloping and the feeding on beef and water is exhilarating to the highest pitch." Charles Darwin|
men themselves were far more remarkable than their dresses. The greater were
half Spaniard and Indian, some of each pureblood and some black.
The Indians, whilst gnawing bones of beef, looked as though they were
half-recalled wild beasts. No painter ever imagined so wild a set of expressions.
As the evening was closing in, it was determined not to return to the
vessel. So we all mounted behind
the gauchos and started a hand gallop for the fort.
This place has been attacked several times by large bodies of Indians.
The war is carried on in the most barbarous manner.
The Indians torture all their prisoners, and the Spaniards shoot theirs.
The Commandante’s son was taken some time since by the Indians.
After being bound, the Indian children prepared to kill him with nails
and small knives, a refinement in cruelty I never heard of.
A Cacique Indian then said that the next day more people would be present
and there would be more sport, so the execution was deferred and in the night he
The Gauchos were very civil and took us to the only spot where there was any chance of water. It was interesting seeing these hardy people fully equipped for an expedition. They sleep on the bare ground, and as they travel get their food. Already they had killed a puma, the tongue of which was the only part they kept; also an ostrich, these they catch by two heavy balls fastened to the ends of a long thong. Having given our friends some dollars they left us in high good humour and assured us that they would someday bring us a live lion. We then returned on board.
started early in the morning, but owing to some horses being stolen, we were
obliged to travel slowly. Shortly
after passing the first spring, we came in sight of the famous tree which the
Indians reverence as the altar of their God, Walleechu. It is situated on a high part of the plain, and hence is a
landmark visible at a great distance. Being
winter, the tree had no leaves, but in their place were countless threads by
which various offerings had been suspended.
Cigars, bread, meat, pieces of cloth etc.
To complete the scene, the tree was surrounded by the bleached bones of
horses slaughtered as sacrifices. All
Indians of every age and sex make their offerings;
they then think that their horses will not tire and that they shall be
two leagues from this very curious tree we halted for the night.
At this instant, an unfortunate cow was spied by the lynx-eyed Gauchos.
Off we set in chase, and in a few minutes she was dragged in by the lazo
and slaughtered. Here we had
the four necessaries for life “en el campo,” pasture for the horses, water
(only a muddy puddle), meat and firewood. The
Gauchos were in high spirits at finding all these luxuries, and we soon set to
work at the poor cow. There s high
enjoyment in the independence of the Gauchos’ life:
to be able at any moment to pull up your horse and say, “Here we will
pass the night.”
death-like stillness of the plain, the dogs keeping watch, the gypsy group of
Gauchos making their beds around the fire, has left in my mind a strongly-marked
picture of this night which will not soon be forgotten.
felt during the day very unwell and from this time to the end of October did not
recover. Rode but a short distance and was then obliged to rest. Our course now
lay directly to Valparaiso, Chile. We found a rich Haciendero, who received us
in his house close to the sea. At night I was exceedingly exhausted but had the
uncommon luck of obtaining some clean straw for my bed. I was amused afterwards
by reflecting how truly comparative all comfort is. If I had been in England and
very unwell, clean straw and stinking horse blankets would have been thought a
very miserable bed.
for 12 hours without stopping, till we reached the Hacienda of Potrero Seco. I
was heartily glad. The whole journey is a source of anxiety to see how fast you
can cross the Traversia desert. To all appearances however the horses were quite
fresh and no one could have told they had not eaten for the last 55 hours.
hired a man and two horses to take me to Bathurst, a village about hundred and
twenty miles in the interior. By this means I hoped to get a general appearance
of the country. The first stage took us through Paramatta, a small country town.
The roads were excellent and were much frequented by carriages. I also met two
stage coaches. In all these respects there was a most close resemblance to
England, perhaps the number of Ale-houses was here in excess. The parties of
convicts, who have committed some trifling offence in this country, appeared the
least like England. They were dressed in yellow and grey clothes and were
working in irons under the charge of sentrys with loaded guns.
sunset by good fortune a party of a score of the Aboriginal Blacks passed by,
each carrying, in their accustomed manner, a bundle of spears and other weapons.
Their countenances were good humoured and pleasant.
day we had an instance of the sirocco-like wind of Australia which comes from
the parched deserts of the interior. While riding I was not fully aware how
exceedingly high the temperature was. Later I heard the thermometer out of doors
stood at 119 degrees and in a room in a closed house at 96 degrees. It was
during that late afternoon that we came into view of the town of Bathurst.
The officers all seemed very weary of this place and I am not surprised at all, as it must be to them a place of exile.
do not doubt every traveller must remember the glowing sense of happiness,
from the simple consciousness of breathing in a foreign clime, where the
civilized man has seldom or never trod." Charles Darwin
Click on picture to enlarge
hired a couple of horses and a young Hottentot groom to accompany me as a guide.
He spoke English very well and was most tidily dressed. He wore a long
coat, beaver hat and white gloves.
first day’s ride was to the village of Paarl, situated forty miles from the
Cape Town. Even at this short distance from the coast there were several very
pretty little birds. If a person could not find amusement in observing the
animals and plants, there was very little else during the day to interest him.
crossed the Tropic of Cancer and in the morning we were off the island of
Terceira. The island is moderately lofty and has a rounded outline with hills
evidently of volcanic origin. The land is well cultivated and small hamlets are
scattered in all parts.
next day the Consul kindly lent me his horse and furnished me with guides to a
spot in the centre of the island, which was described as an active volcano.
we reached the crater the bottom was traversed by several large fissures out of
which small jets of steam issued as from the cracks in a the boiler of a steam
engine. It is said that flames once issued from the cracks.
a tolerably short passage, but with some heavy weather, we came to an anchor at
Falmouth. To my surprise and shame I confess the first sight of the shores of
England inspired me with no warmer feelings than if it had been a miserable
Portuguese settlement. The same night, and a dreadful stormy one it was, I took
the stage for Shrewsbury.
conclusion, I am sure the pleasure of living in the open air, with the sky for a
roof, and the ground for a table, is part of an instinctive passion. It is the
savage returning to his wild and native habits. I do not doubt every traveller
must remember the glowing sense of happiness, from the simple consciousness of
breathing in a foreign clime, where the civilized man has seldom or never trod.
appears to me that nothing can be more improving to a young naturalist than a
journey in distant countries. The excitement from the novelty of objects, and
the chance of success, stimulates him on to activity.
ought to teach him that he will discover how many truly good natured people
there are with whom he never before had, nor ever again will have any further
communication, yet who are ready to offer him the most disinterested assistance.