The voyage of the ‘Beagle’ has been by far the most important event in my life, and has determined my whole career… 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…”
— Charles Darwin
The Voyage of the Beagle, 1839
Nobody sees things the same way. Those who see better are the ones who know more or who, naturally, get to know new things. Charles Darwin was one of the people who best knew how to see the world, partly because he learned so well what to search for, and partly because nothing escaped his eyes.
Darwin was a crew member of the royal English His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and Beagle H. M. S. Beagle for five years. He was invited to the voyage by Captain Robert FitzRoy, who wished to have a naturalist on board. The ship was commissioned in July 1831, with the purpose of completing and expanding a previous hydrography study of South America made between 1825 and 1830, and to subsequently circumnavigate the globe.
About the “Beagle”
The “HMS Beagle” was built in the Woolwich Naval Dockyard and set sail for the first time on May, 11, 1820, at service of The Royal English Navy. Having a deck of 98 feet , 3 masts, and 24 sails, it moved around 240 tons.
The 19th century is marked by Europe’s economic interest in the discovery of noble metals, tropical fauna and flora. The ships, most of them English, were in charge of recording the cartography of the region, drawing up nautical charts which would provide the detail of the coast and ensure the safety of the European shipping. By then, it was commonplace to have a naturalist on board, whose main task was to collect exotic specimens for European museums and botanical gardens.
Robert FitzRoy – Captain of the ship
Captain Beaufort – Surveyor
Charles Darwin – Naturalist
Augustus Earle – Artist (later replaced by Conrad Martens)
Robert McCormick – Surgeon
Benjamin Bynoe – Assistant Surgeon
On its second voyage, the ship carried a crew of seventy-four people: Captain FitzRoy, twenty-four officers and thirty-four sailors. There were nine other passengers besides them, known as supernumeraries, a name given to those who did not receive wages and were not under the responsibility of the Admiralty: Charles Darwin, naturalist, Augustus Earle, artist, George James Stebbing, an instrument maker, responsible for the chronometers intended to accurately determine the longitudes of the places visited, Richard Matthews, a missionary, three natives from “Tierra del Fuego”, an assistant of the captain and another one, Syms, that helped Darwin.