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Charles Darwin and the Voyage of HMS Beagle

Report of the lecture given by James Taylor MA FRSA on September 23rd 2009

James Taylor introduced us to Darwin's family and others who importantly contributed to our appreciation of Darwin's work. Born to a wealthy family in 1809, and later married into another wealthy family, Darwin was intended for a career in the Church, but his father felt driven to tell him that he would be a disgrace to his family because of his interest in rats, animals and hunting. Fortunately, Wedgwood, his future father-in-law, induced in Darwin Snr a change of mind that led to him agreeing to fund Charles's passage on the second voyage of HMS "Beagle" lasting from 1831 to 1836, which eventually took him to South America, Cape Horn, Tahiti and as far as New Zealand and Australia before coming home.

The commander of "Beagle" was Robert Fitzroy. He wanted very much to return to Tierra del Fuego, near Cape Horn, some Fuegans who had been brought to England as curiosities by a previous expedition to the Cape Horn area. However, Francis Beaufort, the Admiralty Hydrographer, insisted that the voyage should have a scientific objective as well as the objective of mapping parts of the coast of South America. Darwin's Cambridge College nominated him to carry out the scientific aspects, and Fitzroy was happy to have Darwin as his gentleman companion. Fitzroy was greatly interested in art and he also took on board firstly, Augustus Earle, and on his departure from "Beagle", Conrad Martens, both very able artists, who by their drawings and paintings created vibrant pictures of the scenery, places visited by Darwin with "Beagle" and the wildlife he saw. Darwin always regretted his inability to draw well but still contributed to the pictorial record of his journey. The drawings and pictures we saw gave us a fuller picture of the Darwin story.

We also saw pictures of his study and home at Down House. Darwin was not a well man. James Taylor was not able to tell us his ailments. But happily his wife Emma (Wedgwood) was a very capable person who managed the family's affairs leaving Darwin to his writing. He died in 1882.

A very interesting lecture.

Brian Pistorius

James Taylor willingly gives his time for lively individual post-lecture questioning