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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Henslow   [5 September 1831]

[17 Spring Gardens] London


My dear Sir,

Gloria in excelsis is the most moderate beginning I can think of.— Things are more prosperous than I should have thought possible.— Cap. Fitzroy is every thing that is delightful, if I was to praise half so much as I feel inclined, you would say it was absurd, only once seeing him.— I think he really wishes to have me.—1 He offers me to mess with him & he will take care I have such room as is possible.— But about the cases he says I must limit myself: but then he thinks like a sailor about size: Cap. Beaufort says I shall be upon the boards & then it will only cost me like other officers.— Ship sails 10th of October: spends a week at Madeira islands: & then Rio de Janeiro.— They all think most extremely probable, home by the Indian Archipelago: but till that is decided, I will not be so.—

What has induced Cap. Fitzroy to take a better view of the case is; that Mr. Chester,2 who was going as a friend, cannot go: so that I shall have his place in every respect.— Cap Fitzroy has good stock of books,3 many of which were in my list, & rifles &c So that the outfit will be much less expensive than I supposed.— The vessel will be out 3 years I do not object, so that my Father does not.— On Wednesday I have another interview with Cap. Beaufort, & on Sunday most likely go with Cap. Fitzroy to Plymouth.— So I hope you will keep on thinking on the subject, & just keep memoranda of what may strike you.— I will call most probably on Mr Burchill4 & introduce myself.— I am in Lodgings at 17, Spring Gardens.—

You cannot imagine anything more pleasant, kind & open than Cap. Fitzroys manners were to me.— I am sure it will be my fault, if we do not suit.—

What changes I have had: till one to day I was building castles in the air about hunting Foxes in Shropshire, now Lamas in S America.— There is indeed a tide in the affairs of men.— If you see Mr Wood, remember me most kindly to him.—

Good bye, my dear Henslow | Yours most sincere friend | Chas Darwin

Excuse this letter in such a hurry.


The same evening Robert FitzRoy wrote his impressions of CD to Francis Beaufort: I have seen a good deal of Mr. Darwin, to-day having had nearly two hours’ conversation in the morning and having since dined with him. I like what I see and hear of him, much, and I now request that you will apply for him to accompany me as a Naturalist. I can and will make him comfortable on board, more so perhaps than you or he would expect, and I will contrive to stow away his goods and chattels of all kinds and give him a place for a workshop. Upon consideration, I feel confident that he will have a much wider field for his exertions than I was inclined to anticipate on Friday last; and should we even be disappointed, by giving me the means of discharging him from the Books, he might at any time return to England or follow his own inclinations in South America or elsewhere. (The original of this letter, once in the Hydrographer’s Office of the Admiralty, has been lost. The letter is quoted in F. Darwin 1912, p. 547.)
See letter to Susan Darwin, [5 September 1831], n. 1. H. F. Burstyn has suggested that the friend was Harry Chester, novelist and youngest son of Sir Robert Chester, who in 1831 was a clerk in the Privy Council Office (Burstyn 1975, p. 66). An inscription in volume one of a copy of Kirby and Spence 1828 in the possession of David Kohn tends to confirm this |mns15| conjecture. It reads: ‘Harry Chester | From his valued friend Robert FitzRoy’.
See Appendix IV.
William John Burchell. CD undoubtedly wanted to see him because Burchell had explored and collected in Brazil from 1825 to 1830. See Journal of researches, p. 101.


Burstyn, H. L. 1975. If Darwin wasn’t the Beagle’s naturalist, why was he on board? British Journal for the History of Science 8: 62–9.

Darwin, Francis. 1912. FitzRoy and Darwin, 1831–36. Nature 88: 547–8.

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.


Has met FitzRoy, who has now offered him the post of naturalist on board the Beagle. Other details about the voyage arrangements – mess, CD’s status, route, books.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Stevens Henslow
Sent from
London, Spring Gardens, 17
C.H 5 SE 1831 X
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Henslow letters: 4 DAR/1/1/4)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 118,” accessed on 24 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 1