08-Sep-1832: Darwin encounters bolas

From Darwin's Beagle Diary, 8th September 1832:

…The Gauchos were very civil & 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 at all times & as they travel get their food; already they had killed a Puma or Lion; 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. — They showed us the manner of throwing it; holding one ball in their hands, by degrees they whirl the other round & round, & then with great force send them both revolving in the air towards any object. — Of course the instant it strikes an animals legs it fairly ties them together.

Darwin later had a go at throwing bolas himself. He described his attempt in chapter 3 of The Voyage of the Beagle:

One day, as I was amusing myself by galloping and whirling the balls round my head, by accident the free one struck a bush, and its revolving motion being thus destroyed, it immediately fell to the ground, and, like magic, caught one hind leg of my horse; the other ball was then jerked out of my hand, and the horse fairly secured. Luckily he was an old practised animal, and knew what it meant; otherwise he would probably have kicked till he had thrown himself down. The Gauchos roared with laughter; they cried out that they had seen every sort of animal caught, but had never before seen a man caught by himself.

Darwin brought his bolas home with him. They can still be seen on display at Down House.

Throwing the Bolas

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks
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