HMS Beagle

A beautiful day, & an excellent one for sailing, —the opportunity has been lost owing to the drunkedness & absence of nearly the whole crew. — the ship has been all day in state of anarchy. One days holiday has caused all this mischief; such a scene proves how absolutely necessary strict discipline is amongst such thoughtless beings as Sailors.

Charles Darwin’s diary of the HMS Beagle’s voyage, December 26, 1831.

In which the entirety of the crew gets dunk on Christmas and nobody is fit for duty the day after and the undocumented account of FitzRoy having a mental breakdown.

Charles Darwin

In 1831, Charles Darwin received an astounding invitation: to join the HMS Beagle as ship’s naturalist for a trip around the world. For most of the next five years, the Beagle surveyed the coast of South America, leaving Darwin free to explore the continent and islands, including the Galápagos. 

He filled dozens of notebooks with careful observations on animals, plants and geology, and collected thousands of specimens, which he crated and sent home for further study. Darwin later called the Beagle voyage “by far the most important event in my life,” saying it “determined my whole career.” Learn more about this historic voyage and naturalist.

We have crossed the Equator, & I have undergone the disagreeable operation of being shaved. About 9 oclock this morning we poor “griffins”, two & thirty in number, were put altogether on the lower deck. — The hatchways were battened down, so we were in the dark & very hot. — Presently four of Neptunes constables came to us, & one by one led us up on deck. — I was the first & escaped easily: I nevertheless found this watery ordeal sufficiently disagreeable. — Before coming up, the constable blindfolded me & thus lead along, buckets of water were thundered all around; I was then placed on a plank, which could be easily tilted up into a large bath of water. — They then lathered my face & mouth with pitch and paint, & scraped some of it off with a piece of roughened iron hoop. —a signal being given I was tilted head over heels into the water, where two men received me & ducked me. —at last, glad enough, I escaped. — most of the others were treated much worse, dirty mixtures being put in their mouths & rubbed on their faces. — The whole ship was a shower bath: & water was flying about in every direction: of course not one person, even the Captain, got clear of being wet through.
—  Charles Darwin’s Diary of the HMS Beagle’s voyage, February 17th, 1832. Darwin retells his account of ‘crossing the line’.

It is widely speculated that Robert FitzRoy suffered from manic depression. He was the captain of the HMS Beagle during it’s famous voyage with Charles Darwin aboard. FitzRoy invited Darwin aboard the Beagle out of friendship, and also out of loneliness. He had few friends, and as a captain of a ship, it was near impossible for him to make friends. Due to FitzRoy’s bouts of depression and bouts of mania, the friendship between himself and Darwin was strained, and ultimately FitzRoy lived in the shadow of Darwin. FitzRoy was a very influential scientific figure. Many of his discoveries in South America attributed to furthering meteorology and navigation, he even helped chart the seas of otherwise untouched corners of the Earth. Not to mention he made the first scientific weather forecast using data sent by telegraph from faraway weather stations. In 1843 Robert FitzRoy would become the Governor of New Zealand.

He was married twice. First to Mary Henrietta O'Brien in 1836, with whom he had four children. Mary died and in 1854 he married again to Maria Isabella Smyth with whom he had one daughter.

FitzRoy’s strong religious beliefs and Darwin’s theory of evolution clashed, until their friendship fell apart and the two resided on opposite ends of the spectrum. Eventually FitzRoy would be demonized for firmly opposing Darwin’s theories and eventually his own discoveries would be forgotten.

On April 30, 1865 after many long years of suffering from uncontrollable mood swings, Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy was found dead in his bathtub. He had committed suicide after 59 years of amazing scientific discoveries, leadership, and depression.


The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle … during the years 1832-1836.

By Darwin, Charles, Bell, Thomas, Gould, Elizabeth, Gould, John, Owen, Richard, Waterhouse, G. R.

Publication info London,Smith, Elder & Co.,1838

BHL Collections: Charles Darwin’s Library

MBLWHOI Library, Woods Hole

Natural History Museum Library, London

Caption:  “Charles Darwin, aged 45 in 1854, by then working towards publication of On the Origin of Species ” (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

I just started “Voyage of the Beagle”, Darwin’s account of his EPIC journey of discovery 1831-1836.    Being in Darwin’s head as he describes his discoveries and thought processes is amazing!

So my latest historical obsession appears to be the HMS Beagle? (weirdly, as I didn’t think I enjoyed This Thing of Darkness that much?)  After @fossthecat mentioned The Voyage of Charles Darwin (a BBC miniseries from the 70s), I thought I’d check out the first couple of episodes, and ugh, it’s so good. Love love love love their perfect Captain FitzRoy; the’ve absolutely captured the energy, the charisma, the sense that he demands a lot from those around him but from himself just as much, and the boyish enthusiasm.  That is someone the crew would follow anywhere and do anything for.  (also, he is so kind to Darwin in all sorts of tiny ways, so very much out to make him feel at ease on the ship, and it’s really adorable.)  Their Darwin, too, is beautifully characterised, with a lovely gentleness and curiosity and sense of wonder. (and the nature footage is astounding. the leafcutter ants!  the BUTTERFLY CAMOUFLAGE I’m never going to be over how perfectly they blend in with so many different surroundings.)

It’s interesting to consider how it would be different if it were made now — I think you’d lose the detail and the leisurely pacing (I say leisurely but knowing the story you can see how much they’re cutting/compressing), however you might get more of a sense of both the Wedgwood sisters and, most importantly, the Fuegians as individuals, instead of background to the drama of straight white men.  I wonder also what a modern version might do with FitzRoy’s bipolar disorder (from where I think both his reserve and perfectionism come, because to a Victorian it would have seemed an inexplicable, shameful weakness, though it’s obviously nothing of the kind).  It’s shown up very briefly in this version so far, always explained away as something else - e.g. “oh, he has an unpredictable temper”, or “if he’s morose and silent at times it’s because the responsibility for the crew’s welfare weighs heavily upon him” - but the episode descriptions suggest they include the part of the story where he has a period of depression and tries to resign command of the ship, so we’ll see how they treat it.

At any rate, it’s quite a timely obsession, because apparently Disney are making an “adventure movie” about Darwin’s life?  If you’ve ever read Julian Comstock - and you should, especially if you’re interested in futuristic culture and myth-making à la Station Eleven, because it’s sweet and lovely and funny and makes the great point that even post-apocalypse, life can still go on and people can still be happy - it’s really hard not to imagine something like the musical in that, with Darwin battling pirates and fighting Samuel Wilberforce for Emma’s hand on those well-known clifftops above Oxford, and a giraffe thrown in because why not.

I suspect everyone who commented on this article had a similar idea, because their suggestions for what the movie should be like are absolute fucking gold.  (I have to admit, a lot of the time I read them and thought “…..I know you’re being sarcastic, but I would honestly watch that film!”)  Frankly, if it doesn’t turn out to be an animated musical called something like Charles and Robert’s Excellent Adventure or The Beagle Boys, and featuring talking Galapagos turtles as comedy sidekicks, I am going to be so disappointed. :D

Captain Robert FitzRoy was one of the people responsible for one of the greatest discoveries in science and history–and absolutely hated it.

FitzRoy was the Captain of the HSM Beagle during it’s second voyage. As many know, the HMS Beagle also carried another person on it whose job it was to record the “natural history” of the islands they came across, including the Galapagos: Charles Darwin. FitzRoy had decided to bring Darwin aboard because he craved companionship and he wanted Darwin to find evidence for the Biblical version of history.

FitzRoy had a violent temper and often went into rages. Later in life, he published several books on sailing, weather systems, and storm warnings; ironically, he even debunked a “lunar forecasting method” as pseudoscience.

However, when Darwin finally decided to publish On the Origins of Man and the 1860 Oxford debate was held showing both his and Alfred Russell Wallace’s evidence, FitzRoy showed up and apparently raised a Bible over his head, telling the crowd to believe in God over man.

In 1865, like the captain of the HMS Beagle before him, FitzRoy committed suicide.

(Source: Wikipedia article on Robert FitzRoy, Second voyage of the HMS Beagle, and 1850 Oxford evolution debate.)

(Image source: Wikipedia.)


Letter from Robert FitzRoy to Fanny, his sister.

HMS Beagle
6th November, 1843

My dearest Fanny,

I am surrounded with troubles and difficulties of every kind that I can only send a short and very stupid letter…

Robert FitzRoy, the captain of the HMS Beagle during its voyage with Chales Darwin, was struggling to comply with Admiralty orders and with his own depression. At this point in time, he came close to resigning his commission.

So apparently we looked over specimen slides made by Darwin for over a hundred and fifty years because they weren't labeled in the formal specimen register?

They’ve been moved like four times, too. I think that’s what surprises me since I feel like people would’ve looked a little closer and see Darwin’s signature every time they were moved. 

Now I just need to find where this online collection is later on today so I can see what they are.


No doubt the extraordinary manner in which tattooing is here practised gives a disagreeable expression to their countenances. The complicated but symmetrical figures covering the whole face, puzzle & mislead an unaccustomed eye; it is moreover probable that the deep incisions, by destroying the play of the superficial muscles, would give an air of rigid inflexibility. — But besides all this, there is a twinkling in the eye which cannot indicate anything but cunning & ferocity.

from Charles Darwin’s diary of the HMS Beagle’s voyage, December 22, 1835. Darwin comments on Ta Moko, the tattooing practice, of the New Zealand Maori people.

Wow Darwin, check yourself before you wreck yourself.