The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 71 of 188

Sir James Sulivan tells me that the chief fault in the outfit of the expedition was the want of a second smaller vessel to act as tender. This want was so much felt by Captain Fitz-Roy that he hired two decked boats to survey the coast of Patagonia, at a cost of 1100 pounds, a sum which he had to supply, although the boats saved several thousand pounds to the country. He afterwards bought a schooner to act as a tender, thus saving the country a further large amount. He was ultimately ordered to sell the schooner, and was compelled to bear the loss himself, and it was only after his death that some inadequate compensation was made for all the losses which he suffered through his zeal.

For want of a proper tender, much of the work had to be done in small open whale boats, which were sent away from the ship for weeks together, and this in a climate, where the crews were exposed to severe hardships from the almost constant rains, which sometimes continued for weeks together. The completeness of the equipment was also in other respects largely due to the public spirit of Captain Fitz-Roy. He provided at his own cost an artist, and a skilled instrument-maker to look after the chronometers. (Either one or both were on the books for victuals.) Captain Fitz-Roy’s wish was to take “some well-educated and scientific person” as his private guest, but this generous offer was only accepted by my father on condition of being allowed to pay a fair share of the expense of the Captain’s table; he was, moreover, on the ship’s books for victuals.

In a letter to his sister (July 1832) he writes contentedly of his manner of life at sea:–“I do not think I have ever given you an account of how the day passes. We breakfast at eight o’clock. The invariable maxim is to throw away all politeness–that is, never to wait for each other, and bolt off the minute one has done eating, etc. At sea, when the weather is calm, I work at marine animals, with which the whole ocean abounds. If there is any sea up I am either sick or contrive to read some voyage or travels. At one we dine. You shore-going people are lamentably mistaken about the manner of living on board. We have never yet (nor shall we) dined off salt meat. Rice and peas and calavanses are excellent vegetables, and, with good bread, who could want more? Judge Alderson could not be more temperate, as nothing but water comes on the table. At five we have tea. The midshipmen’s berth have all their meals an hour before us, and the gun-room an hour afterwards.”

The crew of the Beagle consisted of Captain Fitz-Roy, “Commander and Surveyor,” two lieutenants, one of whom (the first lieutenant) was the late Captain Wickham, Governor of Queensland; the present Admiral Sir James Sulivan, K.C.B., was the second lieutenant. Besides the master and two mates, there was an assistant-surveyor, the present Admiral Lort Stokes. There were also a surgeon, assistant-surgeon, two midshipmen, master’s mate, a volunteer (1st class), purser, carpenter, clerk, boatswain, eight marines, thirty-four seamen, and six boys.

There are not now (1882) many survivors of my father’s old ship-mates. Admiral Mellersh, Mr. Hammond, and Mr. Philip King, of the Legislative Council of Sydney, and Mr. Usborne, are among the number. Admiral Johnson died almost at the same time as my father.

He retained to the last a most pleasant recollection of the voyage of the Beagle, and of the friends he made on board her. To his children their names were familiar, from his many stories of the voyage, and we caught his feeling of friendship for many who were to us nothing more than names.

It is pleasant to know how affectionately his old companions remembered him.

Sir James Sulivan remained, throughout my father’s lifetime, one of his best and truest friends. He writes:–“I can confidently express my belief that during the five years in the Beagle, he was never known to be out of temper, or to say one unkind or hasty word of or to any one. You will therefore readily understand how this, combined with the admiration of his energy and ability, led to our giving him the name of ‘the dear old Philosopher.'” (His other nickname was “The Flycatcher.” I have heard my father tell how he overheard the boatswain of the Beagle showing another boatswain over the ship, and pointing out the officers: “That’s our first lieutenant; that’s our doctor; that’s our flycatcher.”) Admiral Mellersh writes to me:–“Your father is as vividly in my mind’s eye as if it was only a week ago that I was in the Beagle with him; his genial smile and conversation can never be forgotten by any who saw them and heard them. I was sent on two or three occasions away in a boat with him on some of his scientific excursions, and always looked forward to these trips with great pleasure, an anticipation that, unlike many others, was always realised. I think he was the only man I ever knew against whom I never heard a word said; and as people when shut up in a ship for five years are apt to get cross with each other, that is saying a good deal. Certainly we were always so hard at work, we had no time to quarrel, but if we had done so, I feel sure your father would have tried (and have been successful) to throw oil on the troubled waters.”

Admiral Stokes, Mr. King, Mr. Usborne, and Mr. Hamond, all speak of their friendship with him in the same warm-hearted way.

Of the life on board and on shore his letters give some idea. Captain Fitz-Roy was a strict officer, and made himself thoroughly respected both by officers and men. The occasional severity of his manner was borne with because every one on board knew that his first thought was his duty, and that he would sacrifice anything to the real welfare of the ship. My father writes, July 1834, “We all jog on very well together, there is no quarrelling on board, which is something to say. The Captain keeps all smooth by rowing every one in turn.” The best proof that Fitz-Roy was valued as a commander is given by the fact that many (‘Voyage of the “Adventure” and Beagle,’ vol. ii. page 21.) of the crew had sailed with him in the Beagle‘s former voyage, and there were a few officers as well as seamen and marines, who had served in the Adventure or Beagle during the whole of that expedition.

My father speaks of the officers as a fine determined set of men, and especially of Wickham, the first lieutenant, as a “glorious fellow.” The latter being responsible for the smartness and appearance of the ship strongly objected to his littering the decks, and spoke of specimens as “d–d beastly devilment,” and used to add, “If I were skipper, I would soon have you and all your d–d mess out of the place.”

A sort of halo of sanctity was given to my father by the fact of his dining in the Captain’s cabin, so that the midshipmen used at first to call him “Sir,” a formality, however, which did not prevent his becoming fast friends with the younger officers. He wrote about the year 1861 or 1862 to Mr. P.G. King, M.L.C., Sydney, who, as before stated, was a midshipman on board the Beagle:–“The remembrance of old days, when we used to sit and talk on the booms of the Beagle, will always, to the day of my death, make me glad to hear of your happiness and prosperity.” Mr. King describes the pleasure my father seemed to take “in pointing out to me as a youngster the delights of the tropical nights, with their balmy breezes eddying out of the sails above us, and the sea lighted up by the passage of the ship through the never-ending streams of phosphorescent animalculae.”

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