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Darwin Correspondence Project

Correspondents

Darwin exchanged letters with nearly 2000 people during his lifetime. These range from well known naturalists, thinkers, and public figures, to men and women who would be unknown today were it not for the letters they exchanged with Darwin.


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Robert FitzRoy
http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw115429/Robert-FitzRoy-Fitzroy-Fitz-Roy?
Robert FitzRoy (Fitzroy, Fitz-Roy) by London Stereoscopic & photographic Company albumen print on card mount, early-mid 1860s, NPG x128426
mw115429
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Robert FitzRoy

Robert FitzRoy was captain of HMS Beagle when Darwin was aboard. From 1831 to 1836 the two men lived in the closest proximity, their relationship revealed by the letters they exchanged while Darwin left the ship to explore the countries visited during the Beagle’s voyage round the world. FitzRoy and Darwin could not have been more different, but these differences were minimised by their shared interests during the voyage. Once back in England, however, their divergent views became more apparent, especially on religious matters and evolutionary theory.

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George Peacock
348.c.91.63
George Peacock taken from Alexander MacFarlane, 1916. 'Lectures on Ten British Mathematicians of the Nineteenth Century', London: Chapman & Hall, Ltd. Frontispiece
Cambridge University Library

George Peacock

George Peacock was born 9 April 1791 in Denton near Darlington in Yorkshire. He was the son of a clergyman, the Rev. Thomas Peacock, curate of Denton for 50 years and school master. George was educated at Sedbergh School, Cumbria and Richmond School in Yorkshire.

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Thomas Burgess

As well as its complement of sailors, the Beagle also carried a Royal Marine sergeant and seven marines, one of whom was Thomas Burgess. When the Beagle set sail he was twenty one, having been born in October 1810 to Israel and Hannah Burgess of Lancashire Hill in Heaton Norris, a village in Stockport outside Manchester (The National Archives RG4/422/37/74).

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Jemmy Button in 1833
CUL CCA.24.2
Jemmy Button in 1833 from 'Fuegians' in The narrative of the voyages of H.M. Ships Adventure and Beagle. Vol.2. FitzRoy, R. 1839. Proceedings of the second expedition, 1831-36. 'Fuegians' [plate] pp.324-325
Cambridge University Library

Jemmy Button (Orundellico)

Jemmy Button was known as Orundellico among the Yahgan, or canoe people of the southern part of Tierra del Fuego.  He was the fourth hostage taken by FitzRoy in 1830 following the theft of the small surveying boat. This fourteen-year old boy was called Jemmy Button by the Beagle crew because FitzRoy had given a large mother-of-pearl button to the man who was in the canoe with Orundellico.

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York Minster in 1832
CUL CCA.24.2
York Minster in 1832 from 'Fuegians' in The narrative of the voyages of H.M. Ships Adventure and Beagle. Vol.2. FitzRoy, R. 1839. Proceedings of the second expedition, 1831-36. 'Fuegians' [plate] pp.324-325
Cambridge University Library

York Minster (Elleparu)

York Minster was known as Elleparu among the Alakaluf, or canoe people from the western part of Tierra del Fuego. He was captured by FitzRoy in 1830 after one the small boats used for surveying the narrow inlets of the coast of Tierra del Fuego had been stolen. During a relentless hunt for the lost vessel, several Fuegians were taken hostage by FitzRoy, who promised their release on the return of the boat. In the end, he kept only one hostage, a young girl called Yokcushlu. During his search for the boat, FitzRoy realised the need to become better acquainted with the Fuegian language.

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Fuegia Basket in 1833
CUL CCA.24.2
Fuegia Basket 1833 from 'Fuegians' in The narrative of the voyages of H.M. Ships Adventure and Beagle. Vol.2. FitzRoy, R. 1839. Proceedings of the second expedition, 1831-36. 'Fuegians' [plate] pp.324-325
Cambridge University Library

Fuegia Basket (Yokcushlu)

Fuegia Basket was known as Yokcushlu among the Alakaluf, or canoe people from the western part of Tierra del Fuego. She was one of the hostages seized by Robert FitzRoy, after the small boat used for surveying the narrow inlets of the coast of Tierra del Fuego had been stolen in 1830. FitzRoy intended to release his captives on return of the boat, but all the hostages managed to escape except for three children. FitzRoy kept only nine-year-old Yokcushlu hostage because she seemed so happy and healthy, and he wished to teach her English.

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Boat Memory

Boat Memory was one of the indigenous people from Tierra del Fuego brought back to England by Robert FitzRoy in 1830, but he remains as ghostly a figure as his name. What he was called by his own people is unknown, but the name Boat Memory, chosen by FitzRoy, was doubly ominous. It recalls both the reason for his capture and his disappearance from the historical record following his sudden death from smallpox soon after his arrival in Plymouth.

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Richard Matthews

Richard Matthews was 21 years old when he stepped aboard the Beagle, destined for a lonely career as a missionary in Tierra del Fuego. The Church Missionary Society had arranged for him to accompany the three Fuegians (Fuegia Basket, Jemmy Button, and York Minster) whom Robert FitzRoy was returning to their homeland after a few months in England, where they had received some education and been taught the principles of Christianity.

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Charles Thomas Whitley

Born in Liverpool in 1808, Charles Thomas Whitley, like Darwin, attended Shrewsbury School and then Cambridge University where they were clearly very close, exchanging letters during the summer holidays. Whitley was a mathematician, a subject that held very little interest for the young Darwin; what they had in common was a taste for long country walks, which in later years Darwin often mentioned nostalgically. Whitley encouraged a taste for art in Darwin, sharing his own collection of engravings and encouraging visits to the Fitzwilliam Museum (Autobiography p. 61).

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Richard Henry Corfield

Richard Henry Corfield was in his final year at Shrewsbury School when Darwin started there. It’s hard to say how well they knew each other, but fifteen years later Corfield appeared again in Darwin’s life as a surprisingly familiar face on the other side of the world. For when Darwin arrived in Valparaiso, Chile, in 1834, Corfield was living there and working as a shipping merchant. Corfield originally had neither warehouse nor business partner in the United Kingdom, so he used agents to obtain British products to trade in South America (Llorca-Jaña pp. 68-9).

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