The Long Riders' Guild

An Instinctive Passion


Charles Darwin

In contemplating the brilliant intellectual achievements of the past, Charles Darwin's name is often mentioned. Whether you agree with his famous "Theory of Evolution" or not, Darwin's impact on the course of modern events cannot be denied. His was a life whose resonance is still being felt around the globe. It goes against the grain of common perception to think of this scientific titan galloping over the pampas of Argentina, exploring volcanic islands on horseback, and lying down to rest on the bosom of the earth with his horse nearby. Yet Darwin's diaries tell the story of not just a naturalist exploring the world searching for answers, they also reveal the inner man, the Long Rider who reveled in the freedom of riding on three continents, South America, Australia, and Africa. For as these varied diary entries explain, Charles Darwin the Scientist, soon discovered that when you are a Long Rider you often find astonishing acts of kindness awaiting you out on the long gray road to adventure.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

April 6th, 1832

The day has been frittered away in obtaining the passports for my expedition into the interior. It is never very pleasant to submit to the insolence of men in office. But the prospect of visiting wild forests tenanted by beautiful birds, monkeys, sloths, and alligators will make any Naturalist lick the dust even from the foot of a Brazilian.

April 8th, 1832

At 9 o’clock I joined my party at Praia Grande, a village on the opposite side of the Bay. We were six in number and consisted of Mr. Patrick Lennon, a regular Irishman, who when the Brazils were first opened to the English made a large fortune by selling spectacles. About eight years since he purchased a tract of forest country on the Macae river and put an English agent over it. Communication is so difficult that from that time to the present he has been unable to obtain any remittances. After many delays Mr. Patrick resolved in person to visit his estate. It was easily arranged that I should be a companion and in many respects it will be an excellent opportunity for seeing the country and its inhabitants. Mr. Lennon has resided in Brazil 20 years and was in consequence well qualified to obtain information.

He was accompanied by his nephew, a sharp youngster, following the steps of his Uncle and making money. Thirdly came Mr. Laurie, a well informed clever Scotchman, a selfish unprincipled man, by trade partly Slave-merchant, partly swindler. He brought a friend, a Mr. Gosling, an apprentice to a Druggist. A black boy as guide and myself completed the party, and the wilds of Brazil have seldom seen a more extraordinary and quixotic set of adventurers.

Our first stage was very interesting; the day was powerfully hot and as we passed through the woods, everything was still, excepting the large and brilliant butterflies, which lazily fluttered about. The view seen when crossing the hills behind Praia Grande is most sublime and picturesque. The colours were intense and the prevailing tint a dark blue; the sky and calm waters of the bay vied with each other in splendour. After passing through some cultivated country we entered a forest which in the grandeur of all its parts could not be exceeded. I was utterly at a loss how sufficiently to admire this scene.

We continued riding for some hours; for the last miles the road was intricate, it passed through a desert waste of marshes and lagoons. The scene by the dimmed light of the moon was most desolate; a few fire-flies flitted by us and the solitary snipe as it rose uttered its plaintive cry; and the distant and sullen roar of the sea scarcely broke the stillness of the night. We arrived at the Venda and were very glad to lie down on the straw mats.

April 9th, 1832

Having been 10 hours on horseback, I never cease to wonder at the amount of labour which these horses are capable of enduring.  

April 11th, 1832

Travelled on till it was dark, felt miserably faint and exhausted; I often thought I should have fallen off my horse.  

April 12th, 1832

The next morning I cured myself by eating cinnamon and drinking port wine.

April 14th, 1832

Started at midday for Mr. Lennon’s estate. The road passed through a vast extant of forest in which we saw many beautiful birds. We slept in a Fazenda a league from our journey’s end. The agent received us hospitably and was the only Brazilian I had seen with a good expression. The slaves appeared miserably overworked and badly clothed.

April 15th, 1832

We were obliged to have a black man clear the way with a sword. The woods in this neighbourhood contain several forms of vegetation which I had not seen before, some elegant tree ferns and a grass like papyrus.

When we arrived at the estate there was a most violent and disagreeable quarrel between Mr. Lennon and his agent, Mr. Cowper. During Mr. Lennon’s quarrel with his agent, he threatened to sell at the public auction an illegitimate child to whom Mr. Cowper was much attached. Also, he put into execution taking all the women and children from their husbands and selling them separately at the market in Rio. How strange and inexplicable is the effect of habit and interest. Against such facts how weak are the arguments of those who maintain that slavery is a tolerable evil.

April 20th, 1832

Returned by the old route to Campos Novos. The ride was very tiresome, passing over a heavy and scorching sand. Whilst swimming our horses over the St. Joao river, we had some danger and difficulty. The animals became exhausted and we had to contend with two drunken mulattos in a boat. We arrived back at Rio in the evening and were obliged to sleep on a bed of Indian corn.

Baia Blanca, Argentina

September 7th, 1832

There were several of the wild Gaucho cavalry waiting to see us land. They formed by far the most savage, picturesque group I ever beheld. I should have fancied myself I the middle of Turkey by their dresses. Round their waists they had bright coloured shawls forming a petticoat, beneath which were fringed drawers. Their boots were very singular. They are made from the hide of the hock joint of horses’ hind legs, so that it is a tube with a bend in it. This they put on fresh and thus drying on their legs is never again removed. Their spurs are enormous, the rowels being one to two inches long. They all wore the Poncho, which is a large shawl with a hole in the middle for the head. Thus equipped with sabres and short muskets, they were mounted on powerful horses.

"I cannot agree with the man who spoke of the ten thousand beauties of the Pampas.  But I grant that the rapid galloping and the feeding on beef and water is exhilarating to the highest pitch."  Charles Darwin

The men themselves were far more remarkable than their dresses. The greater were half Spaniard and Indian, some of each pureblood and some black.  The Indians, whilst gnawing bones of beef, looked as though they were half-recalled wild beasts.  No painter ever imagined so wild a set of expressions.  As the evening was closing in, it was determined not to return to the vessel.  So we all mounted behind the gauchos and started a hand gallop for the fort.  This place has been attacked several times by large bodies of Indians.  The war is carried on in the most barbarous manner.  The Indians torture all their prisoners, and the Spaniards shoot theirs.  The Commandante’s son was taken some time since by the Indians.  After being bound, the Indian children prepared to kill him with nails and small knives, a refinement in cruelty I never heard of.  A Cacique Indian then said that the next day more people would be present and there would be more sport, so the execution was deferred and in the night he escaped. 

September 8th, 1832

The Gauchos were very civil and took us to the only spot where there was any chance of water.  It was interesting seeing these hardy people fully equipped for an expedition.  They sleep on the bare ground, and as they travel get their food.  Already they had killed a puma, the tongue of which was the only part they kept;  also an ostrich, these they catch by two heavy balls fastened to the ends of a long thong.  Having given our friends some dollars they left us in high good humour and assured us that they would someday bring us a live lion.  We then returned on board.

Page 2