Robert FitzRoy Born 5 July 1805 at Ampton Hall, Ampton, Suffolk Died 30 April 1865 by his own hand Captain of the H.M.S. Beagle during Charles Darwin’s voyage on it (1831 – 1836). Second Governor of New Zealand (1843 – 1845) Became a noted meteorologist who placed weather forecasting on a scientific basis Became a Vice-Admiral in the English Navy
Robert FitzRoy was born into an aristocratic family, son of General Lord Charles FitzRoy. He was descended from one of the illegitimate children (over a dozen, by numerous mistresses) of the “merrie king” Charles II of England (whence the name FitzRoy, “son of the king”). The FitzRoys were the children of Barbara Villiers Palmer, one of them an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales. • His half-uncle was the controversial Robert Stewart (1769 – 1822), better known as Viscount Castlereagh and the 2nd Marquess of Londonderry. Stewart, who appears to have gone mad (from syphilis?) and committed suicide by slitting his throat, was buried in Westminster Abbey, and Lord Byron wrote of his grave: • Posterity will ne'er survey • A nobler grave than this: • Here lie the bones of Castlereagh: • Stop, traveller, and piss.
Robert FitzRoy’s Career Entered the Royal Naval College, Portsmouth in February 1818, at the age of 12. Entered the Royal Navy in 1819. Had a brilliant academic career, becoming lieutenant in 1824 (still a teenager) with an unprecedented 100% score on the examination. Served during the next few years on the HMS Thetis and the HMS Ganges, where his talents were quite evident.
The HMS Beagle The HMS Beagle was a 10-gun two-masted brig-sloop belonging to the Royal Navy, launched in 1820. It was part of the celebration of the coronation of King George IV of England in July, 1820, becoming the first ship to sail under the new London Bridge. It was not used again until 1826. In 1825 four guns were removed and a mizzen mast added, making it a 3-masted 6-gun bark.
The First Voyage of the HMS Beagle On 22 May 1826 the HMS Beagle set sail under Captain Pringle Stokes as part of a survey expedition on the east coast of South America led by Captain Philip Parker King on the much larger HMS Adventure. The focus of the survey was Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. When Captain Stokes became depressed and shot himself in August 1828, Rear Admiral Richard Otway on the HMS Ganges placed his assistant, 23-year-old Robert FitzRoy, in charge of the Beagle.
The Beagle under Captain FitzRoy Captain FitzRoy was in charge of the rest of the first voyage of the Beagle, from December 15, 1828 until its return to England on October 14, 1830. One night a boat used by some crew members who went ashore was stolen by some of the native Fuegians. In the process of unsuccessfully trying to recover the boat, FitzRoy took four hostages, three males and one young female, whom he eventually decided to take back to England and transform into civilized Christians.
Tierra del Fuego Archipelago at the southern tip of South America
Fuegians Fuegians drawn on voyage of the Beagle.
Characteristics of the Fuegians Fuegians were the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego. There were several different tribes speaking several different languages, some of them isolates unrelated to any other languages. Fuegians were nomadic hunter-gatherers who ate fish, seals, sea birds, even whales at times. They did not have permanent shelters; they carried their belongings with them, making temporary huts out of stakes, dry sticks, and leather. They traveled on sea by canoes. They were normally naked during warm weather and wore skins when it was colder. The Fuegians disappeared as European colonists brought them new diseases, destroyed their food supplies of seals and whales, and hunted them into extinction in the late 19th century. The last full-blooded native Fuegian died in 1999.
One Fuegian taken by Robert FitzRoy died en route to England. FitzRoy drew these sketches of the three Fuegians he brought back to England. Top: Jemmy Button and Fuegia Basket. Bottom: Front and side views of York Minster.
FitzRoy’s Fuegians in England In England, the three Fuegians were taught English, given western clothing to wear, taught dinner table and other manners, taught to use English silverware, and made into good Anglicans. They were also placed in school, which was not completely successful. York Minster was much older and larger than the other first-graders in his school, and not very happy with his situation. York Minster always had his eye out for Fuegia Basket, whom he desperately wanted to make his girlfriend, wife, lover – whatever. Something happened that soured FitzRoy on this experiment. Probably York Minster did make Fuegia Basket his lover, and maybe even raped her. At any rate, FitzRoy decided he should return them to Tierra del Fuego, and he sought an opportunity to do so.
Second Voyage of the HMS Beagle Departure: 27 December 1831 Return: 2 October 1836, nearly five years later Purposes: By the Admiralty, to continue making surveys, mainly of South America – this part was successful. By FitzRoy, to return the Fuegians, whose experience in England had not worked out well, to their native lands with a missionary (Richard Matthews) who would begin the conversion of the natives – this part was wildly unsuccessful.
How Charles Darwin came to be on the HMS Beagle Robert FitzRoy worried about the fact that the first captain of the HMS Beagle had committed suicide, that his half-uncle, Viscount Castlereagh, had committed suicide, and he himself sometimes felt depressed. So he decided he wanted a gentleman naturalist aboard as a companion, one who paid his own way (customary in those days). First he approached a friend, Harry Chester, who turned him down. Then he asked his superior, Captain Francis Beaufort, for help finding a companion.
Sir Francis Beaufort Born in 1774. Died in 1857.
Sir Francis Beaufort (1774 – 1857) Descended from French Huguenots who fled France after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572. Joined the Royal Navy and distinguished himself as a captain and surveyor (South America, Anatolia) interested in charting, meteorology (he created the Beaufort Wind Force Scale), and hydrology. At age 55 became head of the Hydrographic Office of the British Admiralty, where he worked 25 years. Also ran the Greenwich and Cape Hope Astronomical Observatories. Knighted in 1848, at age of 74.
Darwin’s Geology Trip with Adam Sedgwick In July 1831, after graduating from Cambridge University, Darwin – still not eager to start a working career as a clergyman – went with Adam Sedgwick, geology professor at Cambridge, on a geology tour of North Wales. Darwin had been turned off on geology by Jameson’s lectures at Edinburgh and he had not studied it at Cambridge, despite Sedgwick’s good reputation as a teacher. But in 1831 he had again become interested in geology, and Henslow had urged him to go with Sedgwick. Darwin saw how carefully Sedgwick took notes on this trip – probably a good lesson for his Beagle voyage. Darwin cut the tour short to make it back for the start of hunting season on September 1.
Darwin gets his chance to voyage on the HMS Beagle Beaufort asked George Peacock at the University of Cambridge to suggest a naturalist, and Peacock asked two established naturalists, the clergymen Leonard Jenyns and Professor John Stevens Henslow, botanist at Cambridge. Both Jenyns and Henslow turned down the offer, but both suggested the 22-year-old Charles Darwin as a good choice. “On returning home from my short geological tour in North Wales, I found a letter from Henslow, informing me that Captain Fitz-Roy was willing to give up part of his own cabin to any young man who would volunteer to go with him without pay as naturalist to the Voyage of the ‘Beagle.’ …I was instantly eager to accept the offer, but my father strongly objected, adding the words, fortunate for me, ‘If you can find any man of common sense who advises you to go I will give my consent.’ So I wrote that evening and refused the offer.” – Autobiography
A second opinion … “On the next morning I went to Maer to be ready for September 1st[start of the shooting season], and, whilst out shooting, my uncle [Josiah Wedgwood, later Darwin’s father-in-law] sent for me, offering to drive me over to Shrewsbury and talk with my father, as my uncle thought it would be wise in me to accept the offer. My father always maintained that he was one of the most sensible men in the world, and he at once consented in the kindest manner. I had been rather extravagant at Cambridge, and to console my father, said, ‘that I should be deuced clever to spend more than my allowance whilst on board the Beagle;’ but he answered with a smile, ‘But they tell me you are very clever.’ ” – Autobiography
Almost defeated by a nose … “Next day I started for Cambridge to see Henslow, and thence to London to see Fitz-Roy, and all was soon arranged. Afterwards, on becoming very intimate with Fitz-Roy, I heard that I had run a very narrow risk of being rejected, on account of the shape of my nose! He was an ardent disciple of Lavater, and was convinced that he could judge of a man's character by the outline of his features; and he doubted whether any one with my nose could possess sufficient energy and determination for the voyage. But I think he was afterwards well satisfied that my nose had spoken falsely.” – Autobiography Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741 – 1801) was a Swiss clergyman and physiognomist.
The importance of Darwin’s voyage “The voyage of the ‘Beagle’ has been by far the most important event in my life, and has determined my whole career; yet it depended on so small a circumstance as my uncle offering to drive me thirty miles to Shrewsbury, which few uncles would have done, and on such a trifle as the shape of my nose. I have always felt that I owe to the voyage the first real training or education of my mind; I was led to attend closely to several branches of natural history, and thus my powers of observation were improved, though they were always fairly developed.” – Autobiography
Importance of Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle Darwin visited Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest before logging began, and discovered the incredible diversity of its flora and fauna, which differed greatly from Great Britain’s. In Argentina he found fossils of extinct mammals and discovered that they were different from living species but often closely resembled them. He discovered that animals in different parts of South America resembled each other, but not completely – they exhibited distinct differences. In the Galapágos Islands he discovered that animals like birds and turtles differed slightly from one island to another.
FitzRoy’s initial objections to Darwin were that his politics might be wrong (the Darwins were Whigs, and thus more liberal than FitzRoy, a Tory), and that the shape of his nose indicated that he might not have sufficient determination. However, he basically liked Darwin and so it was agreed that Darwin would accompany FitzRoy, sharing his quarters. Beaufort consented to Darwin, and Darwin’s father agreed to pay his way on the ship. In later years, FitzRoy, a very religious man married to a very religious wife, bitterly regretted having provided Charles Darwin with the opportunity that led him to develop the theory of evolution.
Darwin’s Books Since the ship was going to be crowded, Darwin could not bring many books along. They included John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Alexander von Humboldt’s Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent, or at least part of it, the latter a gift from Henslow. In addition, the first volume of Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology appeared in 1830, the year before the voyage of the HMS Beagle began, and Captain FitzRoy bought a copy for Darwin and gave it to him. These three books were apparently well-read by Darwin. Whenever he took an excursion inland in South America, Darwin carried Paradise Lost along. He presumably read Humboldt carefully, since it dealt with travels in the Western Hemisphere from 1799 to 1804. Lyell’s book also taught him a lot of new geology that Darwin tried – successfully – to use to explain the geological features he saw on the voyage.
John Milton (1606 – 1674) Most learned of all English poets. Born a Catholic, became a Protestant, but noted for his heretical religious views (e.g., rejected the Trinity and regarded Jesus as not divine); probably closest to Quakers or Unitarians. Had radical, republican political views and always championed liberty. Samuel Johnson called him “acrimonious and surly.”
Alexander von Humboldt (1769 – 1859) German naturalist, explorer and writer 1806 1843
Humboldt, who was born in Berlin but lived mainly in Paris, and the French naturalist Aimé Bonpland made a Latin American expedition from 1799 to 1804, visiting the Canary Islands, Venezuela, the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Cuba, Mexico, and the United States. Humboldt wrote a multi-volume work on this expedition, his Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent (written in French), considered a classic that laid the foundation for the discipline of biogeography. He worked on this for 21 years and never actually completed it.
Darwin on Humboldt: Darwin thought very highly of Humboldt, writing “He was the greatest travelling scientist who ever lived.” and “I have always admired him; now I worship him.” In 1845, Darwin wrote to Joseph Hooker: “I never forget that my whole course of life is due to having read and re-read as a youth Humboldt’s Personal Narrative.” The two eventually became acquainted and Humboldt thought very highly of Darwin, too, based on his report on the voyage of the HMS Beagle.
Bible reading on the HMS Beagle (by Augustus Earle); there were 74 on board.
1831, December 27 – The H.M.S. Beagle departs 1832, January 16 – The Beagle reaches the Cape Verde Islands. 1832, February – 1834, May – The Beagle is on the east coast of South America. 1834, June – 1835, September – The Beagle is on the west coast of South America. 1835, September 15 – October 20 – At the Galapagos Islands. 1835, November 15 – 26 – The Beagle is at Tahiti. 1835, December 21 – 1836, March 14 – The Beagle is in New Zealand, Australia, and Tasmania. 1836, March to October – The Beagle is in the Indian Ocean, then the Cape of Good Hope, the South Atlantic Ocean, Bahia (Brazil), the Azores, and back in Plymouth on October 2, 1836.
Departure of the HMS Beagle Originally, the voyage was planned to last two years (fall 1831 to fall 1833); actually, it lasted nearly five years (late December 1831 to early October 1836). This voyage was initially intended for the HMS Chanticleer, but it was in bad shape, and the HMS Beagle was used instead, completely refurbished in 1831, mostly at FitzRoy’s expense. Planned departure date was October 24, 1831, but this was delayed until December 10. The ship immediately encountered such bad weather that it returned and did not make its real departure until December 27, from Plymouth, England.
Darwin on FitzRoy “Fitz-Roy's character was a singular one, with very many noble features: he was devoted to his duty, generous to a fault, bold, determined, and indomitably energetic, and an ardent friend to all under his sway. He would undertake any sort of trouble to assist those whom he thought deserved assistance. He was a handsome man, strikingly like a gentleman, with highly courteous manners. … “Fitz-Roy's temper was a most unfortunate one. It was usually worst in the early morning, and with his eagle eye he could generally detect something amiss about the ship, and was then unsparing in his blame. He was very kind to me, but was a man very difficult to live with on the intimate terms which necessarily followed from our messing by ourselves in the same cabin. We had several quarrels.” – Autobiography
December 1831 to March 1832: England to Brazil Darwin immediately became very seasick, and both he and FitzRoy thought it likely that he would want to leave the ship as soon as possible. The first stop was supposed to be at Madeira, according to FitzRoy’s orders, but it was skipped because of rough seas. The next stop was supposed to be Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, and that would have made a good place for Darwin to disembark.
1832, January 6 – The Beagle arrived at Tenerife, but the authorities would not allow the English to come ashore for fear they might bring cholera, which was a problem in several British cities at the time. On the way to the Cape Verde Islands, the seas were much better and Darwin’s seasickness temporarily disappeared, so he soldiered on, staying on the ship. 1832, January 16 – The Beagle arrives at the Cape Verde Islands and Darwin went ashore and began exploring its zoology, botany, and geology. “I had brought with me the first volume of Lyell's ‘Principles of Geology' which I studied attentively; and the book was of the highest service to me in many ways. The very first place which I examined, namely St. Jago in the Cape de Verde islands, showed me clearly the wonderful superiority of Lyell's manner of treating geology, compared with that of any other author, whose works I had with me or ever afterwards read.” – Autobiography
St. Paul’s Rocks On February 16 the ship reached the island of St. Paul’s, a cluster of rocks only ¾ of a mile in circumference and only 50 feet above sea level at its highest point. “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 geological hammer. The booby lays her eggs on the bare rock, but the tern makes a very simple nest with seaweed. By the side of many of these nests a small flying fish was placed, which, I suppose, had been brought by the male bird for its partner. … Not a single plant, not even a lichen, grows on this islet; yet it is inhabited by several insects and spiders.” Darwin also found a fly, a tick, a small brown moth, a beetle, and a woodlouse.
On February 29, 1832, the HMS Beagle reached the coast of South America, arriving at Bahia, Brazil. The ship remained on the east coast over two years, until May 1834. “The day has passed delightfully. Delight itself, however, is a weak term to express the feelings of a naturalist who, for the first time, has wandered by himself in a Brazilian forest. The elegance of the grasses, the novelty of the parasitical plants, the beauty of the flowers, the glossy green of the foliage, but above all the general luxuriance of the vegetation, filled me with admiration. A most paradoxical mixture of sound and silence pervades the shady parts of the wood. The noise from the insects is so loud, that it may be heard even in a vessel anchored several hundred yards from the shore; yet within the recesses of the forest a universal silence appears to reign. To a person fond of natural history, such a day as this brings with it a deeper pleasure than he can ever hope to experience again.”
Darwin, with strong anti-slavery sentiments like all the Darwins and Wedgwoods, was aghast at seeing the treatment of slaves in Brazil, but FitzRoy felt differently. “He defended and praised slavery, which I abominated, and told me that he had just visited a great slave-owner, who had called up many of his slaves and asked them whether they were happy, and whether they wished to be free, and all answered ‘No.’ I then asked him, perhaps with a sneer, whether he thought that the answer of slaves in the presence of their master was worth anything? This made him excessively angry, and he said that as I doubted his word we could not live any longer together. …
“I thought that I should have been compelled to leave the ship; but as soon as the news spread, which it did quickly, as the captain sent for the first lieutenant to assuage his anger by abusing me, I was deeply gratified by receiving an invitation from all the gun-room officers to mess with them. But after a few hours Fitz-Roy showed his usual magnanimity by sending an officer to me with an apology and a request that I would continue to live with him.” Darwin and FitzRoy maintained cordial but somewhat strained relations the rest of their lives.
April – July 1832: Rio de Janeiro and environs, Brazil. Note: this was fall and winter. Darwin went ashore and traveled considerably, visiting tropical rain forests, as well as some Brazilian estates, and collecting many insects.
July 1832: Uruguay Darwin spent time ashore visiting towns and countryside, studying the zoology, and procuring many kinds of fresh meat for the ship (deer, ostriches, agouti (a rodent), and armadillos.
While FitzRoy explored the coast for several months, Darwin collected, labeled, and prepared for shipment (to Henslow) many fossils and specimens from the area, occasionally rejoining the ship as it moved to a different area. During this time Darwin’s health appeared to be excellent. Darwin was startled by the fact that the fossil remains demonstrated of South America “wide and repeated exterminations of its inhabitants.” He wondered why these occurred, rejecting the explanation of catastrophism because the geology seemed to indicate only slow and gradual changes such as uniformitarian geologists believed in.
December 16, 1832 On this day Darwin for the first time saw Tierra de Fuegians in their native land. He referred to them as “Indians.” While he thought them capable of becoming civilized (he was thinking of the ones FitzRoy had brought back to England, who had even learned to speak English), he was astonished at their wild and savage state of life, so different from that of Englishmen. In January 1833 the ship arrived at the district Jemmy Button came from, and he was reunited with his mother ad brothers. The Fuegians and the missionary Richard Matthews were left ashore, but all their belongings were quickly plundered, and Matthews stayed only nine days.
Falkland Islands On March 15, 1833 the Beagle visited the Falkland Islands off the southern coast of Argentina; they had, two months earlier, been claimed as British by two naval vessels sent there. “After the possession of these miserable islands had been contested by France, Spain, and England, they were left uninhabited. The government of Buenos Aires then sold them to a private individual, but likewise used them, as old Spain had done before, for a penal settlement. England claimed her right and seized them. The Englishman who was left in charge of the flag was consequently murdered. A British officer was next sent, unsupported by any power: and when we arrived, we found him in charge of a population, of which rather more than half were runaway rebels and murderers.” – Darwin in Voyage of the Beagle.
May 1, 1833 The Beagle returned to Montevideo, Uruguay, dropping Darwin off at Maldonado. He took a 12-day trip to the interior with two gauchos (cowboys) and a team of horses. Upon returning to Montevideo he wrote to his sister asking if his father could provide him with £60 a year to hire a manservant, Syms Covington, who was on the Beagle doing odd jobs. During the rest of the year Darwin went on other expeditions from Uruguay and Argentina, finding some large fossils he couldn’t identify.
Extermination of Indians In his travels with the Spanish in South America, Darwin witnessed many battles with Indians, whom the Spanish generally killed (except for children, whom they enslaved). “Every one here is fully convinced that this is the most just war, because it is against barbarians. Who would believe in this age that such atrocities could be committed in a Christian civilized country?” Early 1834 During the first part of 1834 the Beagle surveyed Tierra del Fuego and paid another visit to the Falkland Islands. In April and May Darwin and FitzRoy took a trip inland along the River Santa Cruz.
June 1834 through September 1835 During these 15 months the HMS Beagle was on the west coast of South America (mostly Chile). On 20 February 1835, about 11:30 in the morning local time, there was a great earthquake in Chile which Darwin experienced near the town of Valdivia, but which affected many towns and villages along the coast.
“February 20th. – This day has been memorable in the annals of Valdivia, for the most severe earthquake experienced by the oldest inhabitant. I happened to be on shore, and was lying down in the wood to rest myself. It came on suddenly, and lasted two minutes, but the time appeared much longer. The rocking of the ground was very sensible. The undulations appeared to my companion and myself to come from due east, whilst others thought they proceeded from south-west: this shows how difficult it sometimes is to perceive the directions of the vibrations. There was no difficulty in standing upright, but the motion made me almost giddy: it was something like the movement of a vessel in a little cross-ripple, or still more like that felt by a person skating over thin ice, which bends under the weight of his body.” – Voyage of the Beagle, Chapter XIV.
“A bad earthquake at once destroys our oldest associations: the earth, the very emblem of solidity, has moved beneath our feet like a thin crust over a fluid; – one second of time has created in the mind a strange idea of insecurity, which hours of reflection would not have produced. In the forest, as a breeze moved the trees, I felt only the earth tremble, but saw no other effect. Captain Fitz Roy and some officers were at the town during the shock, and there the scene was more striking; for although the houses, from being built of wood, did not fall, they were violently shaken, and the boards creaked and rattled together. The people rushed out of doors in the greatest alarm. …
“It is these accompaniments that create that perfect horror of earthquakes, experienced by all who have thus seen, as well as felt, their effects. Within the forest it was a deeply interesting, but by no means an awe-exciting phenomenon. The tides were very curiously affected. The great shock took place at the time of low water; and an old woman who was on the beach told me that the water flowed very quickly, but not in great waves, to high- water mark, and then as quickly returned to its proper level; this was also evident by the line of wet sand. The same kind of quick but quiet movement in the tide happened a few years since at Chiloe, during a slight earthquake, and created much causeless alarm. In the course of the evening there were many weaker shocks, which seemed to produce in the harbour the most complicated currents, and some of great strength.”
“The next day I landed at Talcahuano, and afterwards rode to Concepcion. Both towns presented the most awful yet interesting spectacle I ever beheld. To a person who had formerly known them, it possibly might have been still more impressive; for the ruins were so mingled together, and the whole scene possessed so little the air of a habitable place, that it was scarcely possible to imagine its former condition. The earthquake commenced at half-past eleven o'clock in the forenoon. If it had happened in the middle of the night, the greater number of the inhabitants (which in this one province must amount to many thousands) must have perished, instead of less than a hundred: as it was, the invariable practice of running out of doors at the first trembling of the ground, alone saved them. In Concepcion each house, or row of houses, stood by itself, a heap or line of ruins; but in Talcahuano, owing to the great wave, little more than one layer of bricks, tiles, and timber with here and there part of a wall left standing, could be distinguished. From this circumstance Concepcion, although not so completely desolated, was a more terrible, and if I may so call it, picturesque sight.”