Darwin’s frustrated visit to Tenerife

This month’s Quercus has an interesting article on Charles Darwin’s abortive visit Tenerife. Darwin had been inspired to visit El Teide after reading Alexander von Humboldt’s acoount of his ascent of El Teide. This helped fire Charles Darwin with a desire to travel leading him eventually to accept the invitation in 1831 to sail as expedition naturalist aboard the Beagle. The first stage of the Beagle’s voyage was to be stopover for several days at the Canary Islands. Unfortunately, just as they dropped anchor, a boat from the island’s authorities rowed out and informed Captain FitzRoy that they were prevented from going ashore due to a cholera outbreak in England. They were told they would have to wait 12 days in quarantine To Darwin’s dismay Captain FitzRoy gave orders to set sail for the Cape Verde Islands. ” Oh misery, misery we were just preparing to drop our anchor within a mile of Santa Cruz when a boat came alongside bringing with it our death-warrant…..And we have left perhaps one of the most interesting places in the world, just at the moment when we were near enough for every object to create, without satisfying, our utmost curiosityDarwin’s full description here


View of the Peak of Teide”. Histoire naturelle des a les Canaries. Les Miscellanes Canariennes. Planches. Webb, P. Barker et Berthelot, Sabin. 1839

6 Responses to “Darwin’s frustrated visit to Tenerife”

  1. nick says:

    No problem Peter,

    confirmed we are talking about shearwaters

  2. Peter Lightbown says:

    Thank’s Nick, that seem’s to solve the mystery the only previous info on names was “Ghost Bird” from a local, you have made it so much more flesh and blood so to speak thank you for your help.
    Peter L

  3. nick says:

    Hi Peter,

    Your white birds sound like Cory’s shearwater – Pardela Cenicienta (Calonectris diomedea borealis) There is a colony on Los Gigantes.

    The nest is on open ground or among rocks or less often in a burrow where one white egg is laid, and is only visited at night to minimise predation from large gulls. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cory's_Shearwater

    The eagle sounds like an ospey.

    Cheers Nick
    I’ve also posted this on the forum here so people can add their piece and correct me if I’m wrong http://www.iberianatureforum.com/index.php/topic,719.0.html

  4. Peter Lightbown says:

    On visiting Teneriefe for the past few years (Los Gigantes) I have observed a number of white birds that only seem to fly at night very high and call like a punch and judy show, could you give me any info on the species and why fly at night?
    This year I also took a picture of an Eagle type bird, when I got home and enlarged the picture there seemed to be a rather large fish in it’s tallons, the bird was circling round the cliff’s maybe gaininmg height.
    I hope this is thr correct place to seek help as I am struggling to find a site which can help.
    Best regards Peter L

  5. nick says:

    Good point. Steve T on the iberianture forum was of a similar mind. http://www.iberianatureforum.com/index.php/topic,393.0.html

    “I don’t think it has been mentioned that not getting onto Tenerrife, could have speeded up Darwin’s theory and cut short his journey by years!!!! All the evidence he saw on the Galapagos, were there on the Canaries….ie Canary specific animals and inter island specific animals eg skinks and lizards( Hierro Lizard for example)….pigeons like Bol’s pigeon ( those are the ones I know, there must loads of others)…and Canary and inter island specific plants. I haven’t read this months Quercus but it probably mentions this …… I’m being a little light hearted here, because he almost certainly had a embryonic theory before he left ……however the unique fauna and flora of Canaries, should he have visited them, would not have been lost on him…..

    I once went to Gomera from Tenerrife …… as exotic an island as any you can imagine in the Pacific ….definately worth the trip…you really get a feel of what island ecology is with its isolated indiginous forest and how precarious it all is…. you know you are on a huge volcanic bit of rock piercing the oceans surface … quite an awe inspiring place….


    …Actually Quercus doesn’t mention a “what if scenario” but does talk about how the scientific accounts of the Canaries by Humboldt and others fired his imagination. His mind was well prepared when he began his voyage on the Beagle to find “great and constant laws” Nick

  6. Darwin?s frustrated visit to Tenerife

    Teide itself is already noted for a large number of endemic plants, Tenerife has the greatest number of endemic species per square kilometer in Europe, so one cannot help but wonder how much more he would have been able to discover, if Darwin had bee…

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