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Charles Darwin’s Collecting Journey in Tierra del Fuego

Charles Darwin made three excursions into the waters of Tierra del Fuego and the Magellan Strait on HMS Beagle.

In the Antarctic summer of 1832-3, the ship’s company surveyed the southern-most islands of this archipelago, while also returning three local people to their homelands. These three, o’rundel’lico (Jemmy Button), el’leparu (York Minster) and yok’cushly (Fuegia Basket), had been taken hostage by the captain of the Beagle, Robert Fitzroy, on a previous voyage and taken to England.

In the winter of 1833-4, the Beagle party navigated the Magellan Strait as far as Port Famine. Returning briefly into the Atlantic, they sailed south to the Beagle Channel and Ponsonby Sound, visiting o’rundel’lico for the last time.

In June 1834, they sailed back through the Magellan Strait and into the Pacific Ocean as they continued their circumnavigation of the globe. Darwin (and other members of the crew) collected natural history specimens and occasionally cultural artefacts as part of their scientific mission.

Page Images: Wulaia Bay, Tierra del Fuego 2016 &
Mount Tarn looking across from Port Famine, on the Magellan Strait 2016

Myself and fellow researcher, Sue Kelly, travelled in 2016 to these ‘theatres of collecting’, with the support of the British Academy/ Leverhulme Trust Small Research Grant Scheme, and the University of Cambridge Newnham College Gibbs Travelling Research Fellowship.

Our own journey gave us the opportunity to reflect on Darwin’s collecting experience, and connect with the echoes of people and place entangled in this story.

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