Naturalist Wanted

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Naturalist Wanted

The H.M.S. Beagle in Sydney Harbor,

 January 12, 1836


During the summer of 1831 Capt. FitzRoy foresaw that the next Beagle voyage would present an ideal opportunity for collecting specimens of natural history. In his narrative of the Beagle voyage FitzRoy wrote:

"Anxious that no opprotunity of collecting useful information, during the voyage, should be lost; I proposed to the Hydrographer [Captain Francis Beaufort] that some well-educated and scientific person should be sought for who would willingly share such accommodations as I had to offer, in order to profit by the opprotunity of visiting distant countries yet little known.
-- Capt. Robert FitzRoy


It is likely that Capt. FitzRoy proposed the idea of a naturalist to Captain Francis Beaufort in July of 1831. Apparently Beaufort was at a loss as to who to suggest, so he sought the advice of his old Cambridge friend, George Peacock. In a letter dated 6 August 1831, Peacock wrote to John Stevens Henslow, Professor of botany at Cambridge, seeking his advice on the matter 

In the letter he informed Henslow about Capt. FitzRoy's plans to survey the South American coastline, and that the Captain was seeking a well educated naturalist as a companion during the voyage. Peacock suggested that Revd. Leonard Jenyns may be a good choice and would bring back many good specimens for the museums. However, if he could not go, he wished to know if Henslow could recommend someone else. It turned out that Revd. Jenyns was quite busy with his parish duties and declined the offer, but Henslow and he recommended a young and promising naturalist named Charles Darwin.

Charles Darwin 

So Charles Darwin had been invited to be a naturalist aboard H.M.S. Beagle on its two year survey of South America (later extended to five years) and was set to sail on 25 September. Darwin immediately accepted the offer, but his father and sisters were totally against him going. They saw it as a continuation of Darwin's long line of idle pursuits. Worst of all, such a journey would get in the way of him going into the clergy. However, his father's refusal was not absolute, assuring Darwin that if he could find a man with common sense who thought it was a good idea then he would allow him to go.

The reasons why his father objected to him going on the voyage were as follows:

- Such a voyage would reflect badly on his future prospects as a member of the clergy.
- The entire plan seemed adventurous and wild.
- Why was a naturalist still being considered so close to the start of the voyage?
- Given the above, other people must have been considered. Why had they refused the offer?
- Going on the voyage would prevent Charles from settling down to a real life.
- The accommodations on the ship would be very poor.
- The voyage would offer Charles another excuse to change his focus in life.
- It would be a complete waste of his time.

The next day Darwin wrote to Revd. Henslow that his father would not allow him to go on the voyage . At the same time Darwin's father wrote a letter to his brother-in-law, Josiah Wedgwood II (son of the Wedgwood Pottery Works founder), about the offer Darwin had been given, listing all the reasons why Darwin should not go on the voyage . Later that afternoon Darwin rode out to Maer Hall (home of the Wedgwood's), his father's letter in hand, for the start of the bird shooting season on 1 September. Upon arriving at Maer Hall Darwin spoke to his uncle Josiah about the voyage, and presented his father's objections to it. After much discussion Josiah sent a letter off to Darwin's father, answering all of the objections in Darwin's favor .

Darwin woke up early the next day and while out shooting pheasants on the Wedgwood estate he received word that his uncle Josiah wanted the two of them to return to Shrewsbury at once. Upon arriving at The Mount (Darwin's home), he found that his uncle's letter had done the trick and his father allowed him to go on the voyage, and would support him in any way necessary.

Early in the morning of 2 September Darwin rode out to Cambridge to speak with Revd. Henslow about his change of fortune. When he arrived Darwin learned that Capt. FitzRoy may have already selected another person as naturalist for the voyage.

Over the next few days Darwin was engaged in shopping around London for scientific instruments and discussing the details of the voyage with FitzRoy. It was agreed that Darwin would share the Captain's table for meals and pay his own way during the voyage, about £500. It was also agreed that he would be allowed to retire from the voyage whenever he liked.

On 16 October Darwin left London for Plymouth to prepare for the start of the voyage. He arrived on 24 October with a huge assortment of equipment. A few of the items he brought with him included:

12 shirts
1 carpet bag
1 pair slippers
1 pair of light walking shoes
1 microscope (a single lens model by Bancks & Son, London)
1 geological compass
1 plain compass
2 pistols (with spare parts)
1 rifle (with spare parts)
1 telescope
1 pencil case
1 geological hammer
5 simisometers
3 mountain barometers
1 clinometer
1 camera obscura
1 hygrometer (belonged to FitzRoy)
1 taxidermy book
2-3 Spanish language books
14 other books, including Humboldt's "Personal Narrative" and Lyell's "Principles of Geology Vol. 1"
1 coin purse (Fanny Owen's gift)
1 pin with a lock of Sarah Owen's hair (Fanny's sister)

He took up lodgings at 4 Clarence Baths in Devonport. Delays follow more delays, and the weather turned bad. It was during this time that Darwin started his Beagle Diary.

Darwin's Quarters on the HMS Beagle


Cross Section of the HMS Beagle