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Friday, June 08, 2007

Darwin's frustrated visit to Tenerife

Charles Darwin as a young man
Iberianature weblog tells us that "This month's Quercus [magazine] has an interesting article on Charles Darwin's abortive visit Tenerife." Darwin, apparently, had been inspired to visit Teide after reading Alexander von Humboldt's account of his ascent of El Teide. Naturalist and explorer, Humboldt, had stopped six days at Tenerife for the ascent of the Peak in June 1799.

However, when the second survey expedition of HMS Beagle, under captain Robert FitzRoy, which the student clergyman Charles Darwin had joined as the captain's gentleman companion, arrived at the port of Santa Cruz at Tenerife in early January 1832, they were prevented from going ashore due to a cholera outbreak in England that would have required them to be quarantined for 12 days.

Eager that no time would be lost on their primary mission, the captain gave orders for the ship to proceed to the Cape Verde Islands. Darwin was devastated at missing the chance to see the island of his dreams, and watched Tenerife fade off into the horizon.
"This was a great disappointment to Mr. Darwin, who had cherished a hope of visiting the Peak. To see it -- to anchor and be on the point of landing, yet be obliged to turn away without the slightest prospect of beholding Teneriffe again -- was indeed to him a real calamity." - Capt. Robert FitzRoy
One can understand why the Tenerife authorities were being cautionary, although cholera did eventually hit the islands.

A footnote in Richard F. Burton's "To the Gold Coast for Gold" reports, "The list of epidemics at Santa Cruz is rather formidable, e.g. 1621 and 1628, peste (plague); 1810 and 1862, yellow Jack; 1814, whooping cough, scarlatina, and measles; 1816-16, small-pox (2,000 victims); 1826, cough and scarlet ferer; 1847, fatal dysentery; and 1861-62, cholera (7,000 to 12,000 deaths)."

In 1851, a cholera epidemic broke out in Gran Canaria which would bring about six thousand deaths and the Medal of Charity, was awarded to Santa Cruz de Tenerife by Queen Regent María Cristina in 1893 during the cholera epidemic, in which the citizens behaved bravely.

This explains why Charles Darwin and the Beagle turned away from the eco-diversity of Tenerife, but Darwin had questions, "Why are there fewer endemic species on islands than on the mainland? Where did these species come from? Why are they so similar to mainland species if their natural surroundings are so different?", that undoubtedly he would have pondered here.

Darwin's frustrated visit to Tenerife

PS: Visitors to Tenerife, who for obvious reasons, seem to be really interested in what the weather is like in Tenerife, may also like to know that the Beagle's Captain, Robert FitzRoy was "a pioneering meteorologist who made accurate weather forecasting a reality." He also pioneered the printing of a daily weather forecast in newspapers.

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