Imagining Darwin 3


Darwin was 22 years old and Captain Fitzroy was 26 when the Beagle set sail on its five-year mission. Pause and consider those ages for a moment. A hot-tempered 26-year-old, prone to depression and fits of rage, had command of a British naval vessel that was going to circumnavigate the globe and carry out surveying in some of the most inhospitable places on Earth. And a naive, unexperienced 22-year-old of a completely different temperament, who suffered from seasickness, was going along with him.

“The story goes that part of the reason Robert FitzRoy asked Darwin to come on the trip was for companionship.  Fitzroy gained command of the Beagle on its first voyage after the previous captain, Pringle Stokes, became depressed and committed suicide.  Knowing that he was also prone to depression, others encouraged FitzRoy to bring someone along who was his equal (in social terms). Protocol required that the captain not befriend anyone below him on the ship, which on a military ship was everyone.  Fitzroy wanted someone on board he could dine with and talk to as an equal – someone to keep him company on a long trip.  Darwin fit that bill.” – from

From Darwin’s Autobiography: “Fitz-Roy’s temper was a most unfortunate one. This was shown not only by passion but by fits of long-continued moroseness against those who had offended him. His temper was usually worst in the early morning, and with his eagle eye he could generally detect something amiss about the ship, and was then unsparing in his blame. The junior officers when they relieved each other in the forenoon used to ask “whether much hot coffee had been served out this morning,—” which meant how was the Captain’s temper?”

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