27 December 2011


In his final "Setting sail" post, maritime historian and HMS Beagle expert Dr Gordon Chancellor marks the day in 1831 when FitzRoy and Darwin left England behind...

In our last post we left the HMS Beagle on Christmas Day, stuck in Plymouth by south-westerly gales. 26 December in contrast was ‘a beautiful day,’ and Captain FitzRoy’s Narrative indicates that there was ‘a dead calm’ with every prospect that soon there would be a breeze from the east. The whole day was wasted, however, because so many of the crew were in irons for getting plastered the day before!

FitzRoy’s easterly duly arrived 180 years ago, on 27 December 1831, and he resolved to strike south for Madeira. Darwin ‘took a farewell luncheon’ of mutton and champagne ashore with Sullivan. The two friends boarded at about 2pm ‘and immediately with every sail filled by a light breeze, we scudded away’ from England.

So, after months of preparations and false starts, one of the most important voyages of all time was under way. As FitzRoy so truly said, the voyage ‘though likely to be long, promised much that would interest, and excite, and perhaps reward....’

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