The Life and Letters of Darwin, Vol. 1 HTML version

The Voyage
"There is a natural good-humoured energy in his letters just like himself."--From a letter
of Dr. R.W. Darwin's to Prof. Henslow.
[The object of the "Beagle" voyage is briefly described in my father's 'Journal of
Researches,' page 1, as being "to complete the Survey of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego,
commenced under Captain King in 1826 to 1830; to survey the shores of Chile, Peru, and
some island in the Pacific; and to carry a chain of chronometrical measurements round
the world."
The "Beagle" is described as a well-built little vessel, of 235 tons, rigged as a barque, and
carrying six guns. She belonged to the old class of ten-gun brigs, which were nicknamed
"coffins," from their liability to go down in severe weather. They were very "deep-
waisted," that is, their bulwarks were high in proportion to their size, so that a heavy sea
breaking over them might be highly dangerous. Nevertheless, she lived through the five
years' work, in the most stormy regions in the world, under Commanders Stokes and Fitz-
Roy, without a serious accident. When re- commissioned in 1831 for her second voyage,
she was found (as I learn from Admiral Sir James Sulivan) to be so rotten that she had
practically to be rebuilt, and it was this that caused the long delay in refitting. The upper
deck was raised, making her much safer in heavy weather, and giving her far more
comfortable accommodation below. By these alterations and by the strong sheathing
added to her bottom she was brought up to 242 tons burthen. It is a proof of the splendid
seamanship of Captain Fitz-Roy and his officers that she returned without having carried
away a spar, and that in only one of the heavy storms that she encountered was she in
great danger.
She was fitted out for the expedition with all possible care, being supplied with carefully
chosen spars and ropes, six boats, and a "dinghy;" lightning conductors, "invented by Mr.
Harris, were fixed in all the masts, the bowsprits, and even in the flying jib-boom." To
quote my father's description, written from Devonport, November 17, 1831: "Everybody,
who can judge, says it is one of the grandest voyages that has almost ever been sent out.
Everything is on a grand scale. Twenty-four chronometers. The whole ship is fitted up
with mahogany; she is the admiration of the whole place. In short, everything is as
prosperous as human means can make it."
Owing to the smallness of the vessel, every one on board was cramped for room, and my
father's accommodation seems to have been small enough: "I have just room to turn
round," he writes to Henslow, "and that is all." Admiral Sir James Sulivan writes to me:
"The narrow space at the end of the chart-table was his only accommodation for working,
dressing, and sleeping; the hammock being left hanging over his head by day, when the
sea was at all rough, that he might lie on it with a book in his hand when he could not any
longer sit at the table. His only stowage for clothes being several small drawers in the
corner, reaching from deck to deck; the top one being taken out when the hammock was