Evolution's Captain: The Story of the Kidnapping That Led to Charles Darwin's Voyage Aboard the Beagle

Evolution's Captain: The Story of the Kidnapping That Led to Charles Darwin's Voyage Aboard the Beagle

Peter Nichols

Language: English

Pages: 352

ISBN: 0060088788

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This is the story of the man without whom the name Charles Darwin might be unknown to us today. That man was Captain Robert FitzRoy, who invited the 22-year-old Darwin to be his companion on board the Beagle .

This is the remarkable story of how a misguided decision by Robert FitzRoy, captain of HMS Beagle , precipitated his employment of a young naturalist named Charles Darwin, and how the clash between FitzRoy’s fundamentalist views and Darwin’s discoveries led to FitzRoy’s descent into the abyss.

One of the great ironies of history is that the famous journey—wherein Charles Darwin consolidated the earth-rattling ‘origin of the species’ discoveries—was conceived by another man: Robert FitzRoy. It was FitzRoy who chose Darwin for the journey—not because of Darwin’s scientific expertise, but because he seemed a suitable companion to help FitzRoy fight back the mental illness that had plagued his family for generations. Darwin did not give FitzRoy solace; indeed, the clash between the two men’s opposing views, together with the ramifications of Darwin’s revelations, provided FitzRoy with the final unendurable torment that forced him to end his own life.

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it without hesitation. The acquisition of Fuegia Basket marked a turning point. It was by then surely clear to him that hostage-taking was unlikely to produce the ransom of his missing whaleboat. Fuegian mothers, pretending to lead the crew toward their missing boat, had run away, effectively abandoning their children held aboard the Beagle, rather than complying with the Englishmen’s demands. No entreaty had come for Fuegia Basket, child of the “boat stealers’ family.” She was unclaimed

responsible for their comfort while away from, and for their safe return to their own country: and I have now to request that, as senior officer of the expedition, you will consider the possibility of some public advantage being derived from this circumstance; and of the propriety of offering them, with that view, to His Majesty’s Government. FitzRoy then gave a brief account of the Beagle’s stolen whaleboat and his attempt to secure hostages and interpreters for its return, and his eventual

under several surveying commanders, including Alexander Dalrymple, who had prepared a chart of descriptions of wind strengths, numbered 0 (“flat calm”) to 12 (“a hurricane such that no canvas could withstand”). Beaufort refined Dalrymple’s scale to give wind speeds in nautical miles per hour and accompanying descriptions of sea states for each “force” on the scale (for example, “Force 8; 34–40 n.m.p.h; Near Gale; Height of Sea in ft: 18; Deep sea criteria: High waves of increasing length, crests

as a man of enlarged curiosity, it affords him such an opportunity of seeing men and things as happens to few. You will bear in mind that I have had very little time for consideration & that you and Charles are the persons who must decide. Wedgwood sent the letter off early on September 1. He and Darwin then tried to distract themselves shooting partridge—it was the first day of the season, an opportunity neither could ignore—but their hearts weren’t in it and they made a poor bag. At 10

would also have lifted the vessel’s center of gravity, possibly increasing her tendency to roll, making her less stable, but nobody seems to have noticed or remarked on this.) FitzRoy was pleased with the alteration, which “proved to be of the greatest advantage to her as a sea-boat, besides adding so materially to the comfort of all on board,” he later wrote. Heading out across a world of storms, FitzRoy—a tireless follower of modern scientific developments—installed lightning conductors of a

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