Two-Fisted Tales of Evolutionary Biology!

On a whim, I decided to skim a few pages of Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, and if discovering evolution through the process of natural selection weren’t enough, the stories of his adventures on the HMS Beagle are rich with exotic detail and are an engrossing read. The story reads like a precursor to pulp tales of daring explorers visiting strange lands, encountering wild natives and speciating island finches.

In the course of an hour we arrived at Ribeira Grande, and were surprised at the sight of a large ruined fort and cathedral. This little town, before its harbour was filled up, was the principal place in the island: it now presents a melancholy, but very picturesque appearance. Having procured a black Padre for a guide, and a Spaniard who had served in the Peninsular war as an interpreter, we visited a collection of buildings, of which an ancient church formed the principal part. It is here the governors and captain-generals of the islands have been buried. Some of the tombstones recorded dates of the sixteenth century.

My head is swimming with all the possibilities of adventure awaiting our heros, the Spanish war veteran, the mysterious black priest, and Charles Darwin as they explore the picturesque but ominous “Fort of Ribeira Grande!”

But that isn’t the end of it. There are so many great passages, I can’t leave it at just one.

The inhabitants had sufficient notice to drive all the cattle and horses into the “corral” [1] which surrounded the house, and likewise to mount some small cannon. The Indians were Araucanians from the south of Chile; several hundreds in number, and highly disciplined. They first appeared in two bodies on a neighbouring hill; having there dismounted, and taken off their fur mantles, they advanced naked to the charge. The only weapon of an Indian is a very long bamboo or chuzo, ornamented with ostrich feathers, and pointed by a sharp spearhead. My informer seemed to remember with the greatest horror the quivering of these chuzos as they approached near.

And even a little topical humor:

In the evening we reached a comfortable farm-house, where there were several very pretty senoritas. They were much horrified at my having entered one of their churches out of mere curiosity. They asked me, “Why do you not become a Christian — for our religion
is certain?” I assured them I was a sort of Christian; but they would not hear of it…

A “sort of” Christian. Charlie knew how to tell a coy joke that only gets better with age.

By Tim

An animator, video producer, Lego artist, and author—I am moderately skilled at a lot of different things.