[Cross-posted from the Beagle Project blog]
On 22nd May, 1826, His Majesty’s Ship Beagle set sail from Plymouth on a surveying voyage to South America.
Neither Darwin nor FitzRoy were on board. This was Beagle’s first voyage. Her more famous second voyage was to begin five years later.
But her first voyage was not without incident: hardship; scurvy; several deaths; the suicide of Beagle’s captain, Pringle Stokes; his temporary replacement by Lieutenant Skyring; his official replacement by the 23-year-old Robert FitzRoy, who joined the ship at Montevideo; surveying; the discovery and naming of the Beagle Channel; the abduction of four young Fuegian natives.
The first Beagle voyage was to establish Robert FitzRoy as an able and talented ship’s captain, making him the logical choice to fulfil the same role on what was to become her far more famous second voyage. The need to return the young Fuegians to their homeland was surely a factor in FitzRoy’s acceptance of the commission; Stokes’s suicide a key factor in FitzRoy’s decision to take a gentleman companion on the voyage.
In other words, were it not for the events of the first Beagle voyage, history might have been very different.