The Voyage of the Beagle is a title commonly given to the book written by Charles Darwin and published in 1839 as his Journal and Remarks, bringing him considerable fame and respect. The title refers to the second survey expedition of the ship HMS Beagle, which set sail from Plymouth Sound on 27 December 1831 under the command of Captain Robert FitzRoy, R.N. (see yesterday’s post on the Falkland Islands).
While the expedition was originally planned to last two years, it lasted almost five—the Beagle did not return until 2 October 1836. Darwin spent most of this time exploring on land (three years and three months on land; 18 months at sea).
The book, also known as Darwin’s Journal of Researches, is a vivid and exciting travel memoir as well as a detailed scientific field journal covering biology, geology, and anthropology that demonstrates Darwin’s keen powers of observation, written at a time when Western Europeans were exploring and charting the whole world.
Although Darwin revisited some areas during the expedition, for clarity the chapters of the book are ordered by reference to places and locations rather than by date. Darwin’s notes made during the voyage include comments illustrating his changing views at a time when he was developing his theory of evolution by natural selection and includes some suggestions of his ideas, particularly in the second edition of 1845.
Publication of FitzRoy’s narrative and Darwin’s Book
Darwin was invited by FitzRoy to contribute the natural history section to the captain’s account of the Beagle‘s voyage, and using his field notes and the journal, which he had been sending home for his family to read, completed this section by September 1837. FitzRoy had to edit the notes of the previous captain of the Beagle, as well as write his own account of the voyage and the previous expeditions of two ships. The account was completed and published in May 1838 as the Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and Beagle in four volumes. Volume one covers the first voyage under Commander Phillip Parker King, volume two is FitzRoy’s account of the second voyage. Darwin’s Journal and Remarks, 1832—1835 forms the third volume, and the fourth volume was a lengthy appendix. FitzRoy’s account includes Remarks with reference to the Deluge in which he recanted his earlier interest in the geological writings of Charles Lyell and his remarks to Darwin during the expedition that sedimentary features they saw “could never have been effected by a forty days’ flood,” asserting his renewed commitment to a literal reading of the Bible. He had married on the ship’s return, and his wife was very religious.
Darwin’s contribution proved remarkably popular and the publisher, Henry Colburn of London, took it upon himself to reissue Darwin’s text in August with a new title page as Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the various countries visited by H.M.S. Beagle apparently without seeking Darwin’s permission or paying him a fee.
Later Editions: Changing Ideas on Evolution
The book went through many editions, and was subsequently published under several different titles. The best known was the second edition of 1845 which incorporated extensive revisions made in the light of interpretation of the field collections and developing ideas on evolution. This edition was commissioned by the publisher John Murray, who actually paid Darwin a fee.
In the first edition, Darwin remarks in regard to the similarity of Galápagos wildlife to that on the South American continent, “The circumstance would be explained, according to the views of some authors, by saying that the creative power had acted according to the same law over a wide area.” (This was written in a reference to Charles Lyell’s ideas of “centres of creation.”) Darwin notes the gradations in size of the beaks of species of finches, suspects that species “are confined to different islands,” “But there is not space in this work, to enter into this curious subject.”
Later editions hint at his new ideas on evolution:
Considering the small size of these islands, we feel the more astonished at the number of their aboriginal beings, and at their confined range… within a period geologically recent the unbroken ocean was here spread out. Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact – that mystery of mysteries – the first appearance of new beings on this earth.”
Speaking of the finches with their gradations in size of beaks, he writes “one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends.”
Contents – Where Darwin Traveled:
For readability, the chapters of the book are arranged geographically rather than in an exact chronological sequence of places Darwin visited or revisited. The main headings (and in some cases subheadings) of each chapter give a good idea of where he went, but not the exact sequence. See Second Voyage of HMS Beagle for a detailed synopsis of Darwin’s travels. The contents list in the book also notes topics discussed in each chapter, not shown here for simplicity. Names and spellings are those used by Darwin. The list below is based on the Journal and Remarks of 1839.
Chapter I: St. Jago–Cape de Verde Islands (St. Paul’s Rocks, Fernando Noronha, 20 Feb.., Bahia, or San Salvador, Brazil, 29 Feb..)
Chapter II: Rio de Janeiro
Chapter III: Maldonado
Chapter IV: Río Negro to Bahía Blanca
Chapter V: Bahía Blanca
Chapter VI: Bahía Blanca to Buenos Ayres
Chapter VII: Buenos Ayres to St. Fe
Chapter VIII: Banda Oriental
Chapter IX: Patagonia
Chapter X: Santa Cruz–Patagonia
Chapter XI: Tierra del Fuego
Chapter XII: The Falkland Islands
Chapter XIII: Strait of Magellan
Chapter XIV: Central Chile
Chapter XV: Chiloe and Chonos Islands
Chapter XVI: Chiloe and Concepcion
Chapter XVII: Passage of Cordillera
Chapter XVIII: Northern Chile and Peru
Chapter XIX: Galapagos Archipelago
Chapter XX: Tahiti and New Zealand
Chapter XXI: Australia (Van Diemen’s Land)
Chapter XXII: Coral Formations (Keeling or Cocos Islands)
Chapter XXIII: Mauritius to England
In the second edition, the Journal of Researches of 1845, chapters VIII and IX were merged into a new chapter VIII on “Banda Oriental and Patagonia,” and chapter IX now included “Santa Cruz, Patagonia and The Falkland Islands.” After chapter X on Tierra del Fuego, chapter XI had the revised heading “Strait of Magellan–Climate of the Southern Coasts.”
The following chapters were renumbered accordingly. Chapter XIV was given the revised heading “Chiloe and Concepcion: Great Earthquake,” and chapter XX had the heading “Keeling Island:–Coral Formations,” with the concluding chapter XXI keeping the heading “Mauritius to England.”