‘We all jog on very well together, there is no quarrelling on board, which is something to say:— The Captain keeps all smooth by rowing every one in turn, which of course he has as much right to do, as a gamekeeper to shoot Partridges on the first of September.’ Darwin writes to his sister Catherine, 20-9 July 1834
Many of the crew had served for at least part HMS Beagle’s first voyage (and went on to join the third voyage). Darwin found the gunroom officers to be a
fine set of fellows.
Initially ‘fiddler and boy to the poop cabin’, Syms Covington became Darwin’s servant and assistant, paid for by his father. Following Covington’s formal appointment Darwin wrote to his family:
‘I shall now make a fine collection, in birds and quadrupeds, which before took up far too much time’
Darwin taught Covington how to shoot and skin birds and to preserve and pack specimens. Covington accompanied Darwin and prepared food for him on expeditions throughout the voyage. He remained in Darwin’s employ until 1839 when he left for New South Wales, from where he continued to assist Darwin by sending specimens, including a box of barnacles in 1850, leading Darwin to remark:
‘I see that you are one of those very rare few who will work as hard for a friend when several thousand miles apart as when close at hand.’
Darwin’s closest friendship during the voyage was with Lieutenant Bartholomew Sulivan, whom he described as a
real good rattling fellow. Sulivan had a good sense of humour and enjoyed practical jokes. He also spoke fluent Spanish, which helped ease communication. Darwin and Sulivan were most united by their love of natural history, with Sulivan assisting Darwin where possible on the voyage. As Sulivan’s naval career progressed he, like others, sent Darwin specimens from subsequent voyages. Sulivan was an integral part of the lifelong network formed by members of the crew (‘the Beagles’) and organised a reunion at Darwin’s home, Down House, in 1862.
All those on board HMS Beagle had a specific role except for three captive native Fuegian people who were being returned home. They had been taken hostage by Captain FitzRoy during the first Beagle voyage, following the theft of a small surveying boat. After capture, FitzRoy had decided to educate his hostages in England and to teach them Christian religion with a view to them becoming moral exemplars to their own people and useful interpreters for passing ships.
Four hostages were taken, Boat Memory (named by FitzRoy but whose actual name is not known) died from small pox shortly after reaching Plymouth. The three remaining young people, Orundellico (Jemmy Button), Yokcushlu (Fuegia Basket), and Elleparu (York Minster), had been taken to London where the boys were housed with FitzRoy and Yokcushlu with a local family. During their enforced time in England, they attended school, church and were introduced to selected members of society. They were returned to their homeland on HMS Beagle’s second voyage.