October 3, 1833 — Charles Darwin, whose 1859 book, On The Origin of Species, changed forever our understanding of evolution and natural selection, was passionately interested in geology and botany. That was why in 1831 he set sail from England on a five-year voyage aboard HMS Beagle, a naval survey ship, to collect plant and animal specimens from the countries and islands that the ship visited.
One of the places that his travels took him was Santa Fe, Argentina, where, on this day, he recorded in his diary incidents, events and observations which, to modern ears, range from quaint to barbaric.
He wrote: "I was confined for these two days to my bed by a headache. A good-natured old woman, who attended me, wished me to try many old remedies.
"A common practice is to bind an orange leaf or a bit of black plaster [medical dressing] to each temple; and a still more general plan is to split a bean into halves, moisten them, and place one on each temple, where they will easily adhere.
"It is not thought proper ever to remove the beans or plaster, but to allow them to drop off; and sometimes if a man with patches on his head is asked what is the matter, he will answer, 'I had a headache the day before yesterday.'
"Many of the remedies used by the people of the country are ludicrously strange, but too disgusting to be mentioned. One of the least nasty is to kill and cut open two puppies and bind them on each side of a broken limb. Little hairless dogs are in great request to sleep at the feet of invalids."
Darwin then goes on to record his observations about the town where he is staying and its ruler:
"Santa Fe is a quiet little town, and is kept clean and in good order. The governor, López, was a common soldier at the time of the revolution, but has now been seventeen years in power.
"This stability of government is owing to his tyrannical habits, for tyranny seems as yet better adapted to these countries than republicanism.
"The governor's favourite occupation is hunting Indians; a short time since he slaughtered forty-eight and sold the children at the rate of three or four pounds apiece."
Published: September 28, 2018