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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

Robert Fitz-Roy

page 98

Robert Fitz-Roy

From 1826 to 1830, the Beagle, a barque of 235 tons which was on her first voyage, surveyed the southern end of South America and Tierra del Fuego. The surveying expedition authorized by the Admiralty had two ships: the Adventure under Captain Philip Parker King, the Commander of the Expedition, and the Beagle under Captain Pringle Stokes. After Captain Stokes' death in 1828, Captain Robert Fitz-Roy was appointed to the command of the Beagle, and he remained with her until the voyage was over.

The Admiralty recommissioned the Beagle for a second voyage to continue the survey in South America and Captain Fitz-Roy was retained for the command. Anxious that no opportunity to collect useful information should be lost, Fitz-Roy sent out an invitation for some well-educated and scientific person to accompany the expedition. A Cambridge professor recommended Charles Darwin, the grandson of the poet, as a young man of promising ability, fond of geology and the natural sciences. Thereupon, Darwin was invited to be the captain's guest on board, and he accepted with the provisions that he be at liberty to leave the Beagle and retire from the expedition when he thought proper and that he pay a fair share of the expenses of the captain's table. Permission was obtained for his embarkation and an order given by the Admiralty that he be borne on the ship's books for provisions. Thus Charles Darwin embarked on a voyage which was to render the Beagle and himself famous.

1831 to 1836

The Beagle sailed on December 27, 1831, and until October of 1835, worked along the South American coast on her survey assignment. She then visited the Galapagos Islands, whence she sailed for Tahiti to test her chronometers at Point Venus, On November 9, 1835, she reached Honden Island (Pukapuka) and passed through the Tuamotus. Two islands were seen on November 13 which Fitz-Roy learned were named Tairo (Taiaro) and Cavahi (Kauehi) by the natives, but he did not have time to make a close examination. The same islands were examined more closely by the Wilkes' Expedition and named King and Vincennes respectively. The Beagle passed between Elizabeth (Toau) and Wittgenstein (Fakarava) and reached Tahiti on November 15.

At Tahiti, Captain Fitz-Roy had the unpleasant task of reminding Queen Pomare that her agreement to pay 2,853 dollars for the capture and robbery of the English whaling ship Truro in the Tuamotus had not been met. The Queen and chiefs promised to raise the money but pointed out that it was unfair that they should be forced to pay a fine while acts of atrocity by foreigners went unchecked.

After leaving Tahiti, the Beagle passed Whylootackee (Aitutaki, Cook Islands) on December 3, and anchored in the Bay of Islands on December 21. page 99Fitz-Roy and Darwin visited various places, but the ship left for Port Jackson at the end of the month. She left Port Jackson on January 30, 1836, called at Hobart, King George Sound, Keeling (or Cocos) Islands in the Indian Ocean, and the Cape of Good Hope. She reached Falmouth on October 2, 1836.

The expedition, in addition to its prescribed work, resulted in the discovery of two islands in the Tuamotus and some observations by Darwin on the Tahitians and the Maoris of New Zealand. Darwin, on his short visit, did not form a very high opinion of the Maoris, but their subsequent history has proved that even a great mind like Darwin's could make mistakes.