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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. D. Fox   19 [September 1831]

17 Spring Gardens (& here I shall remain till I start)

Monday 19th

My dear Fox

I returned from my expedition to see the Beagle at Plymouth on Saturday & found your most welcome letter on my table.— It is quite ridiculous what a very long period these last 20 days have appeared to me, certainly much more than as many weeks on ordinary occasions.— this will account for my not recollecting how much I told you of my plans, therefore I will begin a novo.— The expedition, under the command of Cap FitzRoy is fitted out principally for completing a survey of the S. parts of S America: The western shores of these parts have been well done by Cap King, under whom Fitzroy went out second in command.1 We accordingly shall principally work on the Eastern coast of Patagonia from Rio de Plata to Sts of Magellan.— The second object is to ascertain the longitudes of several places, more accurately than they are at present, & to carry a series of them round the world.— The expedition is entirely a government affair.

My appointment is not a very regular affair, as the only thing the Admiralty have done is putting me on the books for Victuals, value 40£ per annum.— I have some thoughts of having it taken off again. I should certainly do so, if I thought it would give me a more absolute disposal of my collection, when I return to England.—2 But on the whole it is a grand & fortunate opportunity; there will be so many things to interest me.— fine scenery & an endless occupation & amusement in the different branches of Nat: History: then again navigation & metereology will amuse me on the voyage, joined to the grand requisite of there being a pleasant set of officers, & as far as I can judge this is certain.— On the other hand there is very considerable risk to ones life & health, & the leaving for so very long a time so many people whom I dearly love, is oftentimes a feeling so painful, that it requires all my resolution to overcome it— But every thing is now settled & before the 20th of Octr I trust to be on the broad sea.— My objection to the vessel is its smallness, which cramps one so for room for packing my own body & all my cases &c &c.— As to its safety I hope the Admiralty are the best judges; to a landsmans eye she looks very small.— She is a 10 gun 3 masted brig.— but I believe an excellent vessel.—

So much for my future plans, & now for my present.— I go tonight by the mail to Cambridge, & from thence after settling my affairs proceed to Shrewsbury (most likely on Friday 23d or perhaps before): there I shall stay a few days & be in London by the 1st of October, & start for Plymouth on the 9th.— And now for the principal part of my letter.— I do not know how to tell you how very kind I feel your offer of coming to see me before I leave England.— Indeed I should like it very much; but I must tell you decidedly that I shall have very little time to spare, & that little time will be almost spoilt by my having so much to think about: & 2nd I can hardly think it worth your while to leave your Parish for such a cause.— But I shall never forget such generous kindness.— Now I know you will act, just as you think right, but do not come up for my sake. Any time is the same for me.— I think from this letter you will know as much of my plans as I do myself, & will judge accordingly the where & when to write to me.—

Every now & then I have moments of glorious enthusiasm, when I think of the date & cocoa trees, the palms & ferns so lofty & beautiful—every thing new everything sublime. And if I live to see years in after life how grand must such recollections be.— Do you know Humboldt? (if you dont, do so directly) with what intense pleasure he appears always to look back on the days spent in the tropical countries: I hope, when you next write to Osmaston, tell them my scheme, & give them my kindest regards & farewells.—

Good bye my dear Fox. Yours ever sincerely | Chas Darwin


See letter from George Peacock, [c. 26 August 1831], n. 1.
On 15 September 1831, Robert FitzRoy had written to Francis Beaufort (F. Darwin 1912, p. 547): ‘He [Darwin], Captain King and I now think that it would be better in many respects, that he should not be on the Books, but that he should go out in a strictly private capacity. I am, however, equally ready to receive him in either manner, and I have recommended his asking which plan meets your approbation. P.S.—He has seen his future dwelling and is satisfied with it.’ In the end, CD apparently decided not to remove himself from the books. During the voyage, it is true, CD refers to paying FitzRoy for his mess (see letter to Caroline Darwin, [24 October – 24 November 1832] and letter to Catherine Darwin, 8 November 1834) but these statements refer to payments beyond the victuals supplied by the Admiralty. In his letter to J. S. Henslow, [5 September 1831] CD writes: ‘Cap. Beaufort says I shall be upon the boards & then it will only cost me like other officers.—’ In his letter to Susan Darwin, [5 September 1831] he says: ‘I shall pay to mess the same as Captain does himself 30£ per annum’, and FitzRoy was certainly on the books. This is further borne out by FitzRoy’s statement that ‘an offer was made to Mr. Darwin to be my guest on board, which he accepted conditionally; permission was obtained for his embarkation, and an order given by the Admiralty that he should be borne on the ship’s books for provisions. The conditions asked by Mr. Darwin were, that he should be at liberty to leave the Beagle and retire from the Expedition when he thought proper, and that he should pay a fair share of the expenses of my table.’ (Narrative 2: 19). Although this was written after the voyage was over, it is unlikely that FitzRoy would forget CD’s having removed himself from the books.


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

Narrative: Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s ships Adventure and Beagle, between the years 1826 and 1836. [Edited by Robert FitzRoy.] 3 vols. and appendix. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.


Describes his appointment, the Beagle, his companions, and the objectives of the voyage. Gives his schedule before departure.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
London, Spring Gardens, 17
19 SE 1831 
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 44)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 132,” accessed on 23 May 2022,

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