Darwin, a naturalist's voyage around the world


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Le voyage de Darwin


28 February - 5 July 1832
Bahia, Brazilian rainforest, slaves, Rio

As soon as Darwin arrived in Bahia, he was immediately captivated by the luxuriance of the Brazilian rainforest. The insects were so noisy that he could hear them from the boat even though it was anchored several hundred meters off the coast. Darwin took advantage of the two-week stopover to explore the surroundings. The geology of the area intrigued him, especially the granitic rocks. Surprisingly, the materials they were made of suggested a marine origin. He was also greatly amused by a balloonfish caught near the shore. This astonishing fish was able to inflate itself and change into a sort of balloon! When Darwin touched its belly, it secreted a crimson-colored substance, and he wondered what it could be. However, he was considerably less amused by the conditions of the black slaves he came across in the city, unlike Captain FitzRoy who enthusiastically supported slavery. This difference of opinion led to a lively argument between the two men. FitzRoy was furious, and banned Darwin from sharing his table in the future. But FitzRoy, whose outbursts of anger were frequent but short-lived, was aware that he had gone too far and was quick to lift the ban.

On March 18, the Beagle left Bahia and headed for Rio de Janeiro. On the way, the ship sailed past the Abrolhos Islands, where the ocean took on an unusual reddish brown color. When Darwin studied a sample of this odd-looking water through a magnifying glass, he was able to observe cylinder-shaped masses of small seedlings. Known as sea-sawdust to sailors, this was what caused the sea to have such a characteristic color over distances of up to several kilometers.

At the beginning of April, the Beagle dropped anchor at Rio de Janeiro. Darwin set off to explore the surroundings on horseback with some other members of the crew. In stifling heat that alternated with torrential downpours, he collected a huge variety of plants, insects and other animals. In the forest, they sometimes needed an axe to hack their way through the undergrowth. Along the way, accommodation was usually fairly rough-and-ready. There were frequently no knives, forks and spoons, and the explorers were sometimes forced to use stones to kill the hens that were to provide their supper! During this short journey, some members of the crew decided to go off on their own to explore the area of Macacu. Three of them were to die a little later, probably victims of malaria. Once back in Rio de Janeiro, Darwin stayed in a cottage situated on the magnificent bay of Botofogo. He took advantage of his stay there to study the surrounding fauna: planarian flatworms, singing frogs, luminous fireflies, 'running' butterflies, spiders, ants, etc. He noticed that the relationships between certain plants and certain insects were similar to those found in England, even though the species were different.
On July 5, the ship set sail for Montevideo, in Uruguay.

CNRS    sagascience