28 June 2009

'An aweful & solemn sound'

It wasn't all plain sailing on Darwin and FitzRoy's Beagle voyage. The ship frequently sailed into unknown territory. Her crew were on their own, many days from help.

One-hundred and seventy-five years ago today, Beagle's crew buried one of their colleagues at sea. Darwin recorded the event in his Beagle diary:

On the 27th [June, 1834] the purser of the Beagle, Mr Rowlett expired; he had been for some time gradually sinking under a complication of diseases; the fatal termination of which were only a little hastened by the bad weather of the Southern countries. Mr Rowlett was in his 38th year; the oldest officer on board; he had been on the former voyage in the Adventure; & was in consequence an old friend to many in this ship; by whom & everyone else he was warmly respected. — On the following day the funeral service was read on the quarter-deck, & his body lowered into the sea; it is an aweful & solemn sound, that splash of the waters over the body of an old ship-mate.

It seems incredible that the oldest officer on board Beagle was just 37 years old. Great responsibility was placed on young shoulders in those days. I suppose it still is.

175 years after his untimely death, I sit at my computer screen and raise a glass to poor George Rowlett (1797–1834).

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