Natural History Handiworks
Aftermath Waterton Links Links - General Book Shelf
Overtown Miscellany - Charles Waterton
 site search by freefind  
Waterton's Wanderings.
The Wanderings - Main Page
Waterton's Wanderings

• 1 - First Wandering 1812 • 2 - Second Wandering 1816 • 3 - Third Wandering 1820 • 4 - Fourth Wandering 1824 • 5 - Curare • 6 - On Preserving Birds

Charles Waterton - Wanderings in South AmericaOne of the many editions of the Wanderings produced over the years. This one was published by Blackie & Son Ltd., London.


Charles Waterton wrote about his travels in North and South America in his book Wanderings in South America, The North-West of the United States, and The Antilles in the Years 1812, 1816, 1820 & 1824. The Wanderings have been published in many editions over the years and remain to this day a fascinating account of his travels in the Americas.

His journeys are described on this web site in the Squire's own words. You can download a complete version of the Wanderings by following this link: The Project Gutenberg eBook of Wanderings In South America, by Charles Waterton.

His first journey in 1812 took him from Stabroek (now Georgetown in Guyana) through the wilds of Demerara and Essequibo in South America. His intentions were to collect a quantity of the wourali poison (curare) and to reach the inland frontier-fort of Portuguese Guiana (now Brazil).

His second journey in 1816 saw him visiting the Pernambuco area of Brazil - then a Portuguese colony. Later he travels through Cayenne, Suriname and British Guiana, where he eventually retires for a while to the forests above Georgetown. He was working on a study into the "state of religion among the Indians" that was intended for the Pope.

Capturing the caiman.On his third journey in 1820, Waterton once more set sail for Demerara.
It was on the Third Wandering that he had his famous encounter with the cayman on the River Essequibo.

The fourth journey in 1824 was to the United States and the Antilles. It was to be his last journey outside Europe, save for a brief visit to Madeira.

Wood's Preface to the Wanderings
The Rev. J.G. Wood wrote in his preface to the Wanderings:
Many years ago, while barely in my "teens", I had the good fortune to fall in with Waterton's Wanderings, then newly placed in the school library. The book fascinated me. Week after week, I took it out of the library, and really think that I could have repeated it verbatim from beginning to end.

It was a glimpse into an unknown world, where I longed to follow the Wanderer, little thinking that I should ever have the privilege of visiting him in his wonderful Yorkshire home. I looked upon Waterton much as the pagans of old regarded their demi-gods, and not even Sinbad the Sailor was so interesting a personage to me as Waterton the Wanderer.

Rev. J.G. Wood, Preface to Charles Waterton's Wanderings in South America, The North-West of the United States, and The Antilles in the Years 1812, 1816, 1820 & 1824. (New Edition 1880)

by Waterton

I offer this book of "Wanderings" with a hesitating hand. It has little merit, and must make its way through the world as well as it can. It will receive many a jostle as it goes along, and perhaps is destined to add one more to the number of slain in the field of modern criticism. But if it fall, it may still, in death, be useful to me; for should some accidental rover take it up and, in turning over its pages, imbibe the idea of going out to explore Guiana in order to give the world an enlarged description of that noble country, I shall say, "fortem ad fortia misi," and demand the armour; that is, I shall lay claim to a certain portion of the honours he will receive, upon the plea that I was the first mover of his discoveries; for, as Ulysses sent Achilles to Troy, so I sent him to Guiana.

I intended to have written much more at length; but days and months and years have passed away, and nothing has been done. Thinking it very probable that I shall never have patience enough to sit down and write a full account of all I saw and examined in those remote wilds, I give up the intention of doing so, and send forth this account of my "Wanderings" just as it was written at the time. If critics are displeased with it in its present form, I beg to observe that it is not totally devoid of interest, and that it contains something useful.

Several of the unfortunate gentlemen who went out to explore the Congo were thankful for the instructions they found in it; and Sir Joseph Banks, on sending back the journal, said in his letter: "I return your journal with abundant thanks for the very instructive lesson you have favoured us with this morning, which far excelled, in real utility, everything I have hitherto seen." And in another letter he says: "I hear with particular pleasure your intention of resuming your interesting travels, to which natural history has already been so much indebted."

And again: "I am sorry you did not deposit some part of your last harvest of birds in the British Museum, that your name might become familiar to naturalists and your unrivalled skill in preserving birds be made known to the public."

And again: "You certainly have talents to set forth a book which will improve and extend materially the bounds of natural science."

Sir Joseph never read the third adventure. Whilst I was engaged in it, death robbed England of one of her most valuable subjects and deprived the Royal Society of its brightest ornament.
Charles Waterton

Wandering in America - but not in Africa (1)

"Early in the year 1817, an expedition was formed to explore the river Congo, in Africa. I went to London and requested Sir Joseph Banks to allow me to accompany it as a volunteer. He acceded to my wishes. One day, whilst I was in his room, there came a letter to inform him that the steam-vessel appointed for the expedition did not answer expectations; for its powers were not considered adequate to make way against the downward stream of the Congo. 'Then,' exclaimed Sir Joseph, with great emphasis, 'the intended expedition will be a total failure;' and putting his hand upon my shoulder, 'My friend,' said he, 'you shall not go to Africa. There will be nothing but disappointment and misfortune, now that the plan of proceeding by steam cannot be put into execution to the extent which I deem absolutely necessary for the success of the enterprise.' He then requested me to prolong my stay in London, and to meet the scientific gentlemen who formed the expedition for a day or two at his house, in order to impart certain instructions to them. I did so; and showed them many things which, I think, could not fail to prove useful* to them in their preparation of specimens for the benefit of Natural History. Above all things, I tried to impress upon their minds the absolute necessity of temperance; and I warned them particularly never to sleep in their wet clothes."

(* "My Dear Sir, I return your manuscript, with abundant thanks
for the very instructive lesson you favoured us with this morning,
which far excelled in real utility every thing I have hitherto seen.
Your obliged and faithful, Joseph Banks, Soho Square, Saturday evening.")

■ See also a reference to the Congo expedition in the Third Wandering.

Madagascar and the Sechelle Islands (Seychelles) (2)

In 1813, Lord Bathurst (3) was preparing an expedition to Madagascar and the Sechelle Islands, Waterton was offered a commission that 'was a star of the first magnitude. It appeared after a long night of political darkness, which had prevented the family from journeying onwards for the space of nearly three centuries'. Unfortunately, he was still suffering from the ague from his 1812 expedition, and he declined. '.. the star went down below the horizon, to appear no more'.

Click to enlarge. Sir Joseph Banks, (1743 - 1820), engraving after portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1772-3.

Banks was an intrepid explorer and a great naturalist. For many years he was the president of the Royal Society, and championed the cause of science.
Sir Joseph Banks accompanied Captain James Cook on his voyage around the world on HMS Endeavour. This voyage included the naming of Botany Bay in Australia, where they landed in 1770. He was closely associated with the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Click to enlarge. Bronze portrait bust of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), wearing star of Order of the Bath.
Made by: Hon Mrs Anne Seymour Damer. Through Banks' enthusiasm and entrepreneurial skills other botanical collectors were greatly encouraged to discover new species and bring them to the Royal Botanic Gardens. His pioneering vision helped to greatly increase the number of recorded plant species that are now known.
Carl Linneas named the Australian genus Banksia after him in recognition of his significant contribution to the world of plant collecting.

Books about Walton, Charles Waterton, Guyana, and more!
See a selection of
books about Walton,
Charles Waterton,
Guyana and more.
• click here •
(Offered for sale by

1. Essays on Natural History by Charles Waterton, edited with a Life of the Author by Norman Moore, London, Frederick Warne & Co., 1871. Page 43.
2. ibid. p. 41.
3. Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl Bathurst KG PC (22 May 1762 – 27 July 1834).
He served as President of the Board of Trade, as Foreign Secretary, as Secretary of State for War and the Colonies and as Lord President of the Council.
He gave his name to Bathurst, the capital of The Gambia, now called Banjul, and also the Australian town of Bathurst, the first inland city in the country.
Try your local library or see Wikipedia and elsewhere on the internet for more information. (Wikipedia accessed 02 Sep 2016.)

 Visit the Bookshelf.

OVERTOWN MISCELLANY (overtown.org.uk)  
© John S. Sargent, 1997 - 2021.  All rights reserved.  
• About this site  • Contact  
Squire Charles Waterton