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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Robert FitzRoy   16 November 1837

Chester Street 31.

16th. Novr. 1837

My dear Darwin

Your letter—written this morning—speaks the language of your own heart—

Most sincerely do I wish you had listened to the dictates of that heart only in some of our correspondence—for, had such been the case, we should both have been spared very much anxiety and pain.—

I will now tell you frankly my ideas upon the subject of prefaces to any of yours works immediately resulting from the Beagle’s voyage.

Most people (who know anything of the subject) are aware that your going in the Beagle was a consequence of my original idea and suggestion—and of my offer to give up part of my own accommodations—small as they were—to a scientific gentleman who would do justice to the opportunities so afforded.— Those persons also know how much the Officers furthered your views—and gave you the preference upon all occasions—(especially Sulivan—Usborne—Bynoe and Stokes)—and think—with me—that a plain acknowledgment—without a word of flattery—or fulsome praise—is a slight return due from you to those who held the ladder by which you mounted to a position where your industry—enterprise—and talent could be thoroughly demonstrated—and become useful to our countrymen—and—I may truly say—to the world.

The sentence by which I was specially struck in your letter of Monday last—and for noticing which—to my astonishment—I was almost derided by a person I had thought your friend—and to whom therefore I went in the hope that he would suggest some change which I could not so well do being personally concerned—was this— “By the wish of Captain FitzRoy, and through the kindness of the Hydrographer— Captain Beaufort &c”—

I was also astonished at the total omission of any notice of the officers— either particular—or general.— My memory is rather tenacious respecting a variety of transactions in which you were concerned with them; and others in the Beagle.1 Perhaps you are not aware that the ship which carried us safely was the first employed in exploring and surveying whose Officers were not ordered to collect—and were therefore at liberty to keep the best of all—nay, all their specimens for themselves. To their honour—they gave you the preference.

Some time ago—it occurred to me that you had consulted with some person, not aware of the whole state of the case, who looked at the subject in a peculiar point of view—and I was informed yesterday, by a conversation with Mr. Lyell—that my conjecture was well founded.

He does not seem to consider that the connection of your volume with mine—and mine with Captain King’s—is one of feeling and fidelity—not of expediency.

Believe me Darwin—I esteem you far too highly to break off from you willingly— I shall always be glad to see you—and if there is any question to be discussed let us talk it over here—or in your room—before referring it to the partial views and perhaps selfish feelings of persons who neither know, nor feel for, you—or for me—as your Father would feel for either of us.

Pray believe me | Very sincerely your’s | Robt. FitzRoy

P.S. | Respecting your three questions—

1st.— I am not sure about His—or Her—but will Enquire, and let you know.—

2d. I see no reason for inserting ‘Robert’.

3d. The Beagle was commissioned in July 1831.2

I will take care to see those persons with whom I have conversed on this subject and will endeavour to remove from their minds any impression which you might not wish should remain. | R F.

Charles Darwin Esqr. Gt. Marlbro’ Stt.


The published preface to Zoology (p. i) reads as follows: In consequence of Captain FitzRoy having expressed a desire that some scientific person should be on board, and having offered to give up part of his own accommodations, I volunteered my services; and through the kindness of the hydrographer, Captain Beaufort, my appointment received the sanction of the Admiralty. I must here, as on all other occasions, take the opportunity of publicly acknowledging with gratitude, the obligation under which I lie to Captain FitzRoy, and to all the Officers on board the Beagle, for their constant assistance in my scientific pursuits, and for their uniform kindness to me throughout the voyage. Substantially the same acknowledgment, but rather more fulsomely expressed, appears in the preface to Journal and remarks, pp. vii–viii, which was not published until 1839.
The answers appear in the preface to Zoology. The first question apparently had to do with whether the Beagle should be referred to as ‘His’ or ‘Her Majesty’s Ship’.


Zoology: The zoology of the voyage of HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. Edited and superintended by Charles Darwin. 5 pts. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1838–43.


CD’s response [missing] comes from the heart. RF explains that CD’s preface [to Journal and remarks, vol. 3 of Narrative] offended him in not acknowledging the part RF and the other officers had in helping CD. Beagle voyage was the first on which officers could have kept any specimens they collected, but they gave preference to CD.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert FitzRoy
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Chester St, 31
Source of text
DAR 164: 133
Physical description
ALS 10pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 387,” accessed on 16 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 2