31st Dec 1831

Devonport to Canary Islands
In the morning very uncomfortable; got up about noon and enjoyed some few moments of comparative ease. A shoal of porpoises dashing round the vessel and a stormy petrel skimming over the waves were the first objects of interest I have seen. I spent a very pleasant afternoon lying on the sofa, either talking to the Captain or reading Humboldt glowing accounts of tropical scenery. Nothing could be better adapted for cheering the heart of a sea-sick man.

30th Dec 1831

Devonport to Canary Islands

At noon Lat. 43. South of Cape Finisterre and across the famous Bay of Biscay: wretchedly out of spirits and very sick. I often said before starting, that I had no doubt I should frequently repent of the whole undertaking, little did I think with what fervour I should do so. I can scarcely conceive any more miserable state, than when such dark and gloomy thoughts are haunting the mind as have to day pursued me.

I staggered for a few minutes on deck and was much struck by the appearance of the sea. The as deep water differs as much from that near shore, as an inland lake does from a little pool. It is not only the darkness of the blue, but the brilliancy of its tint when contrasted with the white curling tip that gives such a novel beauty to the scene. I have seen paintings that give a faithful idea of it.

29th Dec 1831

Devonport to Canary Islands
At noon we were 380 miles from Plymouth the remaining distance to Madeira being 800 miles. We are in the Bay of Biscay and there is a good deal of swell on the sea. I have felt a good deal nausea several times in the day. There is one great difference between my former sea sickness and the present; absence of giddiness: using my eyes is not unpleasant: indeed it is rather amusing, whilst lying in my hammock to watch the moon or stars performing their small revolutions in their new apparent orbits.

I will now give all the dear bought experience I have gained about sea-sickness. In first place the misery is excessive and far exceeds what a person would suppose who had never been at sea more than a few days. I found the only relief to be in a horizontal position: but that it must never be forgotten the more you combat with the enemy the sooner will he yield. I found in the only thing my stomach would bear was biscuit and raisins: but of this as I became more exhausted I soon grew tired and then the sovereign remedy is Sago, with wine and spice and made very hot. But the only sure thing is lying down, and if in a hammock so much the better.

The evenings already are perceptibly longer and weather much milder.

28th Dec 1831

Devonport to Canary Islands
Waked in the morning with an eight knot per hour wind, and soon became sick and remained so during the whole day.

My thoughts most unpleasantly occupied with the flogging of several men for offences brought on by the indulgence granted them on Christmas day. I am doubtful whether this makes their crime drunkedness and consequent insolence more or less excusable.

27th Dec 1831

[The plaque on the wall at Devil's Point, opposite Barn Pool]

Devonport to the Channel
I am now on the 5th of Jan.y writing the memoranda of my misery for the last week. A beautiful day, accompanied by the long wished for E wind. Weighed anchor at 11 oclock and with difficulty tacked out. The Commissioner Capt Ross sailed with us in his Yatch.
The Capt Sullivan and myself took a farewell luncheon on mutton chops and champagne, which may I hope excuse the total absence of sentiment which I experienced on leaving England.
We joined the Beagle about 2 oclock outside the Breakwater, and immediately with every sail filled by a light breeze we scudded away at the rate of 7 or 8 knots an hour.
I was not sick that evening but went to bed early.

Notes on the departure of HMS Beagle
Length: 27.5 metres (90 feet 4 inches)
Width: 7.5 metres (24 feet 6 inches)
Burden: 235 tons
Draugth: 3.8 metres (12 feet 6inches)

Beagle had two masts originally, but had a third added when converted for exploration. She carried 10 guns as a ship-of-war but this was reduced to 6 when converted. The total cost of refitting for exploration for the first voyage was £5,913. She would have carried a complement of 120 men as a ship-of-war; however, a total of 66 sailed on the Darwin voyage (the Beagle’s second voyage of exploration).

26th Dec 1831

A beautiful day, and an excellent one for sailing, the opportunity has been lost owing to the drunkedness and absence of nearly the whole crew. The ship has been all day in state of anarchy. One days holiday has caused all this mischief; such a scene proves how absolutely necessary strict discipline is amongst such thoughtless beings as Sailors are. Several have paid the penalty for insolence, by sitting for eight or nine hours in heavy chains. Whilst in this state, their conduct was like children, abusing every body and thing but themselves, and the next moment nearly crying. It is an unfortunate beginning, being obliged so early to punish so many of our best men there was however no choice left as to the necessity of doing it.

In the evening Dined in gun-room and had a pleasant evening.

Christmas Day 1831

Christmas day, in morning went to Church and found preaching there an old Cambridge friend Hoare.

Dined at 4 oclock with Gunroom officers, it does me good occasionally dining there, for it makes me properly grateful for my good luck in living with the Captain. The officers are all good friends yet there is a want of intimacy, owing I suppose to gradation of rank, which much destroys all pleasure in their society. The probability of quarrelling and the misery on ship board consequent on it produces an effect contrary to what one would suppose. Instead of each one endeavouring to encourage habits of friendship, it seems a generally received maxim that the best friends soon turn out the greatest enemies. It is a wonder to me that this independence one from another, which is so essential a part of a sailors character, does not produce extreme selfishness. I do not think it has this effect, and very likely answers their end in lessening the number of quarrels which always must necessarily arise in men so closely united. Let the cause be what it may, it is quite surprising that the conversation of active intelligent men who have seen so much and whose characters are so early and decidedly brought out should be so entirely devoid of interest.

Christmas day is one of great importance to the men: the whole of it has been given up to revelry, at present there is not a sober man in the ship: King is obliged to perform duty of sentry, the last one sentinel came staggering below declaring he would no longer stand sentinel on duty, whereupon he is now in irons getting sober as fast as he can.

Wherever they may be, they claim Christmas day for themselves, and this they exclusively give up to drunkedness — that sole and never failing pleasure to which a sailor always looks forward to.

24th Dec 1831

A blank and idle day.

23rd Dec 1831

In the morning Sullivan, Bynoes and myself shot matches with the rifle for sundry bottles of wine to be paid for and drunk at the Madeira islands. In the evening went with Stokes to a bad concert.

Although I am continually lamenting in the bitterness of my heart against all the long delays and vexations that we have endured, I really believe they have been much to my advantage, for I have thus become broken in to sea habits without having at the same time to combat with the miseries of sickness.

22nd Dec 1831

I have not felt at all comfortable all this day; took a long walk with Stokes and Bynoe, during the whole time torrents of rain were pouring down.

By some mischance in dropping the anchor it got twisted with the chain: they were hard at work for eight hours in getting all clear.

In the evening double allowance was served out to the men. Several vessels which sailed with us have all been likewise forced to put back.

21st Dec 1831

(Drakes Island)
The morning was very calm and the sun shone red through the mist: every thing gave us hopes of a steady NE wind, and a prosperous voyage. But here we are yet to remain alternately praying to and abusing the SW gales. From weighing to again letting down our anchor everything was unfortunate.

We started at 11 oclock with a light breeze from NW and whilst tacking round Drakes Island, our ill luck first commenced. It was spring tide and at the time lowest ebb; this was forgotten, and we steered right upon a rock that lies off the corner. There was very little wind or swell on the sea so that, although the vessel stuck fast for about half an hour, she was not injured. Every maeneuvre was tried to get her off; the one that succeeded best was making every person on board run to different parts of the deck, by this means giving to the vessel a swinging motion. At last we got clear and sailed out of harbour not a jot the worse from our little accident. When we were on the open sea I soon became sick: at 4 oclock I went down to the Captains cabin and there slept till 8 oclock, after that I retreated to my hammock and enjoyed a most comfortable sleep till morning.

As soon as it was light Stokes and myself looked at a pocket compass, which we agreed was bewitched, for it pointed to NE instead of to where we were sailing W by S. Our doubts were cleared up by Wickham putting his head in and telling us we should be in Plymouth Sound in the course of an hour. During the middle watch the wind began to change its direction and at 4 oclock, when we were only 11 miles from the Lizard, it blew a gale from SW. Upon this the Captain wared the ship and we returned to our old home at the rate of eleven knots an hour.

20th Dec 1831

(Plymouth Sound)
The rain fell in torrents and the South W wind blew all the morning; but now the moon is shining bright on the sea, which looks so calm, that one would think it never would again be troubled by a storm. Nothing can be more beautiful than the view from our present anchorage, on such a clear night as this is: the Sound looks like a lake. May these not turn out false signs, for that our disappointment to be the more bitter. The sailors declare there is somebody on shore keeping a black cat under a tub, which it stands to reason must keep us in harbour.

19th Dec 1831

A fine calm day with a gentle breeze from the North. There is every probability of sailing tomorrow morning. The weighing of our anchor will be hailed with universal joy.

18th Dec 1831

(Whitsand Bay on a calm day)
Dined at 12 oclock with the Midshipmen, and then with Bynoe and Stokes walked to Whitson (Whitsand) bay: the sea here presented a most glorious and sublime appearance. For nearly quarter of a mile it was a confused mass of breakers and from the white covering of foam looked like so much snow. Each wave as it dashed against the rocks threw its spray high on the hill and wetted our faces. To perfect the scene a single man was watched from a rock to spy out any chance wreck.

17th Dec 1831

(A Cawsand Street)
Walked with Sullivan and King to the coast near the Ramhead (Rame Head) and there saw a wild stormy sea breaking on the rocks. We passed through a village of the name of Corsan (Cawsand) one of the most curiously built places I ever saw. None of the streets are for thirty yards in the same straight line, and all so narrow that a cart certainly could not pass up them. It is situated in a very pretty little bay, which shelters numerous fishing and smugling boats from the sea.

Our old enemy the SW Gale is whistling through the rigging: today it drove back a Brig which left Plymouth three weeks ago, so that we ought to be instead of being discontented, most thankful for remaining in our present snug anchorage.

The novelty of finding myself at home on board a ship is not as yet worn away, nor have I ceased to wonder at my extraordinary good fortune in obtaining what in the wildest castles in the air I never had even imagined. If it is desirable to see the world, what a rare and excellent opportunity this is.

It is necessary to have gone through the preparations for sea to be throughily aware what an arduous undertaking it is. It has fully explained to me the reasons so few people leave the beaten path of travellers.
Posted by Picasa

16th Dec 1831

This day is come to its close much in same way as yesterday. I am now sitting in my own corner feeling most comfortably at home. This is the first time that I have not left the vessel during the whole day.

The wind with torrents of rain is sweeping down upon us in heavy gusts.

15th Dec 1831

The wind continues in the old point SW, which independently of detaining us appears invariably to bring bad [weather] with it.

The ship is full of grumblers and growlers, and I with sea-sickness staring me in the face am as bad as the worst.

The time however passes away very pleasantly, but instead of working, the whole day is lost between arranging all my nick-nackiries and reading at a little of Basil Halls (*) fragments.

(*) Basil Hall (1788-1844) published “Fragments of Voyages and Travels” in three series of 3 volumes each. The first series appeared in 1831, followed by a second series (1832) and a third series (1833).

14th Dec 1831

A beautiful day giving great hopes of a fair wind. Took my usual and delightful walk in the beautiful country around Mount Edgcombe.

Everything connected with dressing and sleeping have hitherto been my greatest drawbacks to comfort. But even these difficulties are wearing away. My hammock after endless alterations has been made flat and I have trained myself to a regular method in dressing and undressing.

Orders are issued for sailing tomorrow morning.

13th Dec 1831

An idle day; dined for the first time in Captains cabin & felt quite at home. Of all the luxuries the Captain has given me, none will be so essential as that of having my meals with him.

I am often afraid I shall be quite overwhelmed with the numbers of subjects which I ought to take into hand. It is difficult to mark out any plan & without method on ship-board I am sure little will be done. The principal objects are 1st collecting observing & reading in all branches of natural history that I possibly can manage. Observations in Meteorology — French & Spanish, Mathematics, & a little Classics, perhaps not more than Greek Testament on Sundays. I hope generally to have some one English book in hand for my amusement, exclusive of the above mentioned branches.

If I have not energy enough to make myself steadily industrious during the voyage, how great & uncommon an opportunity of improving myself shall I throw away.

May this never for one moment escape my mind, & then perhaps I may have the same opportunity of drilling my mind that I threw away whilst at Cambridge.

12th Dec 1831

Boisterous weather, the ship rolled a good deal; & I actually felt rather uncomfortable: I look forward to sea-sickness with utter dismay, not so much as regards the misery of a fortnight or three weeks, as the being incapacitated for a much longer time from any active employment. — In middle of day walked to Corsan (Cawsand) bay & there enjoyed the sight of the sea lashing itself & foaming on the rocks. — There is no pleasure, equal to that which fine scenery & exercise creates. It is to this I look forward to with more enthusiasm than any other part of our voyage.

Dined with Sir Manley Dixon, a pleasant quiet party, or rather to speak more truly, I suspect very dull to every body but the Captain & myself, for the Beagle was the chief subject of conversation, & it is now the only one that at all interests me. — It is no easy matter at any time, but now a most painful one to make conversation at a regular party.

We have had a long & rough pull to the vessel, but I am now seated in my own corner, snug & am listening to the wind roaring through the rigging with same sort of feeling that I often have when sitting round a Christmas fire.

Eight bells have struck, or it is 12 oclock, so I will turn into my hammock.