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Darwin Correspondence Project

Syms Covington

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Syms Covington
Syms Covington from Ferguson, B. J. (compiler). Syms Covington of Pambula, assistant to Charles Darwin on the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, 1831-1836. Merimbula, N.S.W. The Society, 1988. Second edition, revised and enlarged.
Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society Inc.

When Charles Darwin embarked on the Beagle in 1831 Syms Covington was ‘fiddler & boy to Poop-cabin’. Covington died in 1861 reportedly 47 years old, so he would have been 17; although if he was the Simon Covington born in Bedford on 30 January 1809, recorded in the birth register of the Old Meeting House there, he was CD’s contemporary rather than his junior. By May 1833 CD resolved to employ Covington as his servant: he had taught him to shoot and skin birds and it would suit to pay him for personal service too. On the Beagle’s return to England in 1836, CD kept Covington in his employ, paying him extra for secretarial duties. In January 1839 CD married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood, and the following month CD recorded in his accounts ‘Present to Covington on leaving me £2’(25 February). However, he was paid wages until 22 May; at the end of that month CD wrote letters of recommendation for him, explaining that Covington intended to work his passage to Sydney, Australia.

It is not known when he arrived in Australia, or what he first did there, but in 1841 he married Eliza Twyford at Stroud, New South Wales, 130 miles north of Sydney, where there were cattle and horse studs managed by the Australian Agricultural Company. This business was run by Phillip Parker King, whom CD had met in Australia in 1836 and to whom he had also written a letter of recommendation; in 1843 Covington was working as a clerk in the company’s coal depot in Sydney. CD took considerable interest in Covington’s welfare, even so far removed. He had commented on Covington’s deafness in one of the letters of recommendation and in 1843 he dispatched a new ear-trumpet for him from London, and again in 1860. Covington still assisted CD in his work: in 1850 he sent a box of barnacles to London, some collected in Twofold Bay, not far from Pambula, 280 miles south of Sydney, where he then lived. In 1852 CD had asked about the gold rush and in 1853 he thanked Covington for his account of his visit to the gold fields, and regretted he had not found a gold nugget. Covington was appointed second postmaster at Pambula in 1854; later he built a property there not just for his family but also providing guest accommodation, a post office, and possibly a general store. CD’s last letter was enclosed with a booklet from a London man who claimed to cure deafness, but CD reckoned it was ‘advertising Humbug’. Covington died in Pambula on 19 February 1861, and was buried in the local cemetery.

 

References:

Australia, Death Index, 1787–1985 (Ancestry.com, accessed 2 May 2017)

Australia, Marriage Index, 1788–1950 (Ancestry.com, accessed 2 May 2017)

‘Beagle’ diary, p. 81

The National Archives: Public Record Office RG4/272 f. 18v

Nicholas, F. W. and Nicholas, J. M. 2008: 176–86