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Darwin Correspondence Project

The Beagle voyage

Some of the crew, passengers and other people that Darwin encountered on the voyage of HMS Beagle (1831–36), including the friends he wrote to back home and the people who described the specimens that Darwin collected on the voyage.


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John Maurice Herbert
Q900.c.100.3
J.M. Herbert from The Red Dragon. The National Magazine of Wales. ed. Charles Wilkins. Vol. III January to June 1883. opp. p. 1.
Cambridge University Library

John Maurice Herbert

John Maurice Herbert was a close friend of Darwin’s at Cambridge University. He was affectionately called ‘Cherbury’ by Darwin, a reference to the seventeenth-century philosopher Edward Herbert, Baron Cherbury, who, like John Herbert, hailed from Montgomeryshire in Wales. Darwin must have used this nickname so consistently that when addressing a letter to Herbert in October 1828, he had to confess ‘I cannot recollect your Christian name, so I shall Christen you G’.

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George Robert Waterhouse
http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw197094/George-Robert-Waterhouse?
George Robert Waterhouse by Thomas Herbert Maguire, printed by M & N Hanhart lithograph, 1851, NPG D37883
mw197094
© National Portrait Gallery, London

George Robert Waterhouse

George Waterhouse was born on 6 March 1810 in Somers Town, North London. His father was a solicitor’s clerk and an amateur lepidopterist. George was educated from 1821-24 at Koekelberg near Brussels. On his return he worked for a time as an apprentice to an architect, but his self-taught knowledge in natural history won out.

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George Keen
George Keen. Oil on canvas. Mid 19th century. Museo Saavedra, Buenos Aires. MHS. 15269.
MHS. 15269.
Reproduced with permission of the Museo Saavedra, Buenos Aires.

George Keen

George Keen (1794–1884) was born in England. He had arrived in Buenos Aires by 1820, making him one of the earliest settlers from Britain. In 1821 he married Mary Yates (1802/3–72), the sister of John, William and Elizabeth Yates, another family of early settlers from England. In 1825 Elizabeth Yates married Edward Lumb, with whom Darwin stayed in Buenos Aires in 1833.

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Syms Covington
Syms Covington from Ferguson, B. J. (compiler). Syms Covington of Pambula, assistant to Charles Darwin on the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, 1831-1836. Merimbula, N.S.W. The Society, 1988. Second edition, revised and enlarged.
Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society Inc.

Syms Covington

When Charles Darwin embarked on the Beagle in 1831 Syms Covington was ‘fiddler & boy to Poop-cabin’. Covington died in 1861 reportedly 47 years old, so he would have been 17; although if he was the Simon Covington born in Bedford on 30 January 1809, recorded in the birth register of the Old Meeting House there, he was CD’s contemporary rather than his junior. By May 1833 CD resolved to employ Covington as his servant: he had taught him to shoot and skin birds and it would suit to pay him for personal service too.

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Edward Lumb in 1862
Edward Lumb from a miniature painted in 1862
Macdonell 1913, opposite p. 17

Edward Lumb

Edward Lumb was born in Yorkshire. According to the memoirs of his daughter Anne, Lady Macdonell, he travelled to Buenos Aires aged sixteen with his merchant uncle, Charles Poynton, and after some fortunate enterprises set up in business there. In 1833 while voyaging on the Beagle Charles Darwin stayed with Edward Lumb, and he wrote to his sister Caroline that it was strange to sit in an English merchant’s house and watch a lady making tea amid English furnishings.

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Philip Gidley King
http://digital.sl.nsw.gov.au/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=FL3153269&embedded=true&toolbar=false
Philip Gidley King 1817–1904
PXA 915/2-53
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Philip Gidley King

King was born in Parramatta, New South Wales on 31 October 1817, son of Captain Phillip Parker King and Harriett (Lethbridge). His grandfather, also named Philip Gidley King, had been governor of New South Wales. As a child, King travelled to England with his father and in 1824-5 attended school near Deptford in London. From 1826 to1830 he sailed under his father’s captaincy aboard MS Adventure, on a voyage to survey the coast of South America. The ship was accompanied by a smaller vessel, HMS Beagle, on her first voyage.

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Alexander Burns Usborne

Alexander Burns Usborne was born in Kendal, Westmorland, in 1808, the son of Alexander and Margaret Usborne; his father died in 1818 and in his will was described as the purser on HMS Hannibal. His son joined the navy in 1825 aged 16 as a second-class volunteer; by 1831 he was a master’s assistant. Later that year he was appointed to the Beagle, becoming assistant surveyor in 1833; Mount Usborne, the highest point in the Falkland Islands, was named after him. During the voyage he commanded a small schooner, the Constitucion, to survey the coast of Peru, 1835–6.

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Captain John Lort Stokes c.1841
http://www.portrait.gov.au/portraits/2013.24.1/ca
Captain John Lort Stokes c.1841, by unknown, watercolour on ivory, Purchased 2013
2013.24.1
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

John Lort Stokes

John Lort Stokes, naval officer, was Charles Darwin’s cabinmate on the Beagle voyage – not always an enviable position.  After Darwin’s death, Stokes penned a description of their evenings spent working at the large table at the centre, Stokes at his navigation charts and Darwin at his microscope:

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Arthur Mellersh

Arthur Mellersh was a midshipman (promoted to mate during the voyage) serving on the Beagle at the time when Darwin was travelling around the world. One account suggests an inauspicious start to their friendship; apparently Mellersh introduced himself saying ‘I’m Arthur Mellersh of Midhurst, and I have read Lord Byron, and I don’t care a damn for anyone!’ (Mellersh 1968 p. 72). Despite this notable beginning, Darwin and Mellersh seem to have got on well and remained in contact almost to the end of Darwin’s life.

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Benjamin James Sullivan
Bartholomew James Sulivan 1810–1890
Sulivan, Henry Norton, ed. 1896. Life and letters of the late Admiral Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan, KCB, 1810–1890. London: John Murray.

Bartholomew James Sulivan

On Christmas Day 1866, Bartholomew Sulivan sat down to write a typically long and chatty letter to his old friend, Charles Darwin, commiserating on shared ill-health, glorying in the achievements of their children, offering to collect plant specimens, and reminiscing about their time together on board HMS Beagle:

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