Notes from the Field No. 4: Darwin’s Remedy


Painting of Botafogo Bay, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by Augustus Earle (c. 1783 – 1838).  Earle was an artist specializing in exotic scenes captured during his travels.  He was briefly a part of the HMS Beagle crew alongside Darwin.  Image credit:

Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) landed in Rio de Janeiro in the spring of 1832 during the first year of the HMS Beagle voyage.  Traveling by boat made Darwin horribly seasick, but the tropical jungles were full of potential health dangers — yet another source of anxiety.  Throughout his adult life, Darwin’s health was a complicated flux of chronic symptoms with perhaps even a tendency towards hypochondria.   Despite these difficulties, he still kept his eye on the natural world and recorded his observations.

11 April 1832

Passed through several leagues of forest. very impervious trees not large: I here first began to feel feverish shivering & sickness. much exhausted: could eat nothing at one oclock which was the first time I got anything. — travelled till dark: miserably faint & trouble with faintness.

At night we slept 2 miles S of Marica: felt very ill in the course of day I thought I should have dropt off the horse: horrors of illness in foreign country: during the morning C Frio appearing from refraction like inverted tumblers. Gneiss dipping to the South (& then the north).

12 April 1832

Started in the morning & doubted whether I could proceed. — Cinnamon & port wine cured me


Life-size figure of a young Darwin on display in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  Honestly, he still looks pretty queasy.  He could also be completely bummed out because upon arriving in Rio de Janeiro, he received letters informing him that his sweetheart married another man just days after Darwin left England.  Image credit: Rodrigo Barbassa via The Dispersal of Darwin.


Quotation Source

The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online: Rio notebook.  John van Wyhe, editor.  2002.



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