Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Darwin Letter Friday

I love this letter. It’s a very cool peek into colonial Australia (Tasmania, really) through the eyes of Charles Darwin, of all people.

Darwin is amazed that the level of social refinement in Hobart Town. There are fancy balls, all attended to by convicts. Beautiful furnishings, stately homes — it’s the perfect place, Darwin says, for a poor English gentleman to emigrate.

To Catherine Darwin 14 February 1836

Hobart Town. Van Diemen’s Land
February 14th.— 1836.

My dear Catherine

I am determined to begin a letter to you, although I am sadly puzzled, as you may see by the length of the date, to know what to write about. I presume you will have received, some few days before this, my letter from Sydney.— We arrived here after a six days passage, & have now been here 10.— Tomorrow morning we Sail for King George Sound.—1800 miles of most Stormy Sea.— Heaven protect & fortify my poor Stomach.—All on board like this place better than Sydney— the uncultivated parts here have the same aspect as there; but from the climate being damper, the Gardens, full of luxuriant vegetables & fine corn fields, delightfully resemble England.—

To a person not particularly attached to any particular kind, (such as literary, scientific &c,) of society, & bringing out his family, it is a most admirable place of emigration. With care & a very small capital, he is sure soon to gain a competence, & may, if he likes, die Wealthy.— No doubt in New S. Wales, a man will sooner be possessed of an income of thousands per annum. But I do not think he would be a gainer in comfort.— There is a better class of Society. Here, there are no Convicts driving in their carriages, & revelling in Wealth.— Really the system of emigration is excellent for poor Gentleman.— You would be astonished to know what pleasant society there is here. I dined yesterday at the Attorneys General, where, amongst a small party of his most intimate friends he got up an excellent concert of first rate Italian Music. The house large, beautifully furnished; dinner most elegant with respectable! (although of course all Convicts) Servants.— A Short time before, they gave a fancy Ball,at which 113 people were present..— At another very pleasant house, where I dined, they told me, at their last dancing party, 96 was the number.— Is not this astonishing in so remote a part of the world?—

It is necessary to leave England, & see distant Colonies, of various nations, to know what wonderful people the English are.— It is rather an interesting feature in our Voyage, seeing so many of the distant English Colonies.— Falklands Island, (the lowest in the scale), 3 parts of Australia: Isd of France, the Cape.—St Helena, & Ascencion— My reason tells me, I ought to enjoy all this; but I confess I never see a Merchant vessel start for England, without a most dangerous inclination to bolt.— It is a most true & grievous fact, that the last four months appear to me as long, as the two previous years, at which rate I have yet to remain out four years longer.— There never was a Ship, so full of home-sick heroes, as the Beagle.— We ought all to be ashamed of ourselves: What is five years, compared to the Soldier’s & Civilian’s, whom I most heartily pity, life in India?— If a person is obliged to leave friends & country, he had much better come out to these countries & turn farmer. He will not then return home, on half pay, & with a pallid face.—Several of our Officers are seriously considering the all important subject, which sounds from one end of the Colony to the other, of Wool. My Father will be glad to hear, that my prophetic warning in my last letter, has turned out false.— Not making any expedition, I have not required any money.—

Give my love to my dear Father I often think of his kindness to me in allowing me to come this voyage—indeed, in what part of my life can I think otherwise.—

Good bye my dear Katty. I have nothing worth writing about, as you may see,— Thank Heaven, it is an unquestioned fact that months weeks & days will pass away, although they may travel like most arrant Sluggards. If we all live, we shall meet in Autumn. | Your affectionate Brother | Charles Darwin.—

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