The HMS Beagle, with a young Charles Darwin on board, only spent about five weeks in the Galapagos Islands, which seems short when you consider the importance the visit would have for Darwin, the Islands, and science in general. Darwin kept a journal, which he later expanded into a book, The Voyage of the Beagle, first published in 1837-1839.

In his book, Darwin writes at length about his stay in the islands and the interesting flora and fauna he observed, but he does not mention many specific days.

One day he does mention was September 29, 1835. The day before, they had turned the south-west corner of Albemarle (Isabela) Island and gone into the straight that separates Albemarle from Narborough (Fernandina), where they were becalmed for a time.

Darwin and his shipmates remarked on the black lava flows that covered both islands and noted that one of the volcanoes on Isabela was active, letting off a thin plume of smoke. They anchored in the sheltered Bank’s Bay, on the northwest corner of Isabela.

The next day, he went ashore on Isabela. He climbed one of the tuff cones and noticed a clear blue lake in the crater with a small island in the middle. “The day was overpoweringly hot, and the lake looked clear and blue: I hurried down the cindery slope, and, choked with dust, eagerly tasted the water-but, to my sorrow, I found it salt as brine.” This is now known as Beagle Lake.

Darwin was fascinated by the reptiles he saw: “The rocks on the coast abounded with great black lizards, between three and four feet long; and on the hills, an ugly yellowish-brown species was equally common.” It was not his first encounter with marine and land iguanas, but their sheer number and size made quite an impression. His observations of both iguana species were quite accurate.

After dissecting several marine iguanas, he was able to determine that they feed on algae that grow underwater. He also studied their behavior, attempting to chase one into the water, to see if it would swim when endangered. Interestingly enough, he could not get one to go into the water to escape, leading him to deduce that even though they fed underwater, there were more predators there than on land.

Although he does not mention it in his entry for September 29, it is entirely probable that he collected samples of birds, reptiles and plants. He took home boxes of samples from the islands, including several species of mockingbird (which interested him the most at the time) and the finches which would later prove to be more interesting than the mockingbirds. The rest is history.

In the evening of September 29, it is probable that Darwin dined with Captain FitzRoy and the other officers on the Beagle. He generally dined with them when he wasn’t too seasick to eat, so it is probable that in the relatively calm Galapagos waters he was able to join them and trade stories about the day’s activities. Captain FitzRoy, an amateur naturalist himself, may have also collected birds that day.

Ironically, years later, it turned out that FitzRoy had been more diligent about correctly labeling his samples than Darwin! Darwin himself would certainly have gone to bed looking forward to another island visit the next day.

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