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Darwin Correspondence Project

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. In 1837 he was appointed acting master for the Beagle’s next voyage to survey Australia, and the following year confirmed as master; an island off the north-west coast of Australia is named after him. However in May 1839 he was so badly injured when a musket ball passed through his body that he was invalided home, and after his recovery worked in the Hydrographic Office; in the 1841 census he was living in Devonport, Plymouth, with his mother and his older sister Ann Amelia. In 1842 he returned to surveying around the British coast. In 1851 his sister was living in Plymstock, a suburb of Plymouth, and in later censuses Alexander was also living there with her, both unmarried, in Whitestock Villa, West Hooe. He retired from the navy in 1867 with the rank of captain; he subsequently managed steam ferries, one called Beagle, in Plymouth harbour, until 1881. He died in 1885, aged 76. His sister outlived him, dying later that year at the age of 81.



BMD (Death index)

Census returns of England and Wales 1841 (The National Archives: Public Record Office HO107/276/2/21/36), 1851 (HO107/1877/160/2), 1861 (RG 9/1428/56/38), 1871 (RG10/2106/42/4), 1881 (RG11/2185/145/41)

L. S. Dawson. 1885. Memoirs of hydrography ... Eastbourne: Henry W. Keay. 2: 122

Narrative 2: 482–3

England, select births and christenings, 1538–1975 (, accessed 21 April 2017);

Prerogative Court of Canterbury will registers (The National Archives: Public Record Office PROB 11/1603)

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