"I do not believe that anyone could have shown more zeal for the most holy cause than I did for shooting birds. . . How I did enjoy shooting . . . If there is bliss on earth, that is it." Charles Darwin, Autobiography and Letters
Much has been made about "Darwin's Finches" that he observed touring the Galapagos archipelago during his voyage on the Beagle, but little is said concerning a less fortunate flock of birds on St. Paul's Rocks. We have three accounts of this excursion made by Darwin and the Captain from the Beagle to St. Paul's Rocks between the Cape Verde Islands and the coast of Brazil.
First we shall read Darwin's version of the episode: "We found on St. Paul's only two kinds of birds-the booby and the noddy. The former is a species of Gannet, and the latter a tern. Both are of a tame and stupid disposition, and are so unaccustomed to visitors, that I could have killed any number of them with my geologic hammer." The Voyage of Charles Darwin, Charles Darwin, pp.10, The American Museum of Natural History, The Natural History Library, Anchor Books, Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City New York, 1962.
Browne mentioned the appalling incident in her biography of Darwin:
"Uninhabited except for dense flocks of seafowl, and previously unvisited by any scientific recorder, they were an alluring target for a restless naval man and an eager friend . . . Darwin and Fitzroy had a marvelous time of it, whooping and killing birds with abandon". Janet Browne, Charles Darwin, Alfred A. Knopf Pub., New York, 1995, pp.204. See also the original, Narrative of the Surveying Voyage of H.M.S. Adventure and Beagle, Vol. 2:56.
Fitzroy recorded the bloody scene in his personal narrative as well. According to him, one of the seamen asked if he could borrow Darwin's hammer to kill some of the birds with, to which Darwin replied, "No, no, you'll break the handle." Then, apparently struck by the novelty of this idea, Darwin himself picked up his hammer and began killing the peaceful birds in this manner, as Fitzroy related "away went the hammer, with all the force of his own right arm." Narrative of the Voyages of the Adventure and Beagle, by Admiral Fitzroy, 1839. See also Amabel Williams Ellis, "The Voyage of the Beagle, Adapted from the Narratives and letters of Charles Darwin and Captain Fitzroy, pp. 26, J.B. Lippencott Co., Philadelphia and London, 1931