Robert Fitz-Roy, Captain of the HMS Beagle
Captain Robert Fitz-Roy (1805-1865, also spelled Fitz Roy, FitzRoy, and Fitzroy; the name means “son of the king” and had been passed down from an aristocratic ancestor, an illegitimate son of Charles II, who could not receive the king’s actual family name)
Captain Fitz-Roy, of the Royal Navy, was only only 26 years old at the time he commanded the survey ship HMS Beagle on its famous voyage. When the ship returned to England after its five-year circumnavigation of the earth he put together a massive four-volume account of all aspects of this and a previous voyage.
The original publication in 1839 of Fitz-Roy’s Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and Beagle, between the Years 1826 and 1836, describing their Examination of the Southern Shores of South America, and the Beagle’s Circumnavigation of the Globe was a significant accomplishment but did not sell well. Fitz-Roy never revised this work, so this 1839 text remains the definitive (and only) version.
The ship’s log books that assisted his compilation are also available (those from the Galapagos Islands can be read at the wonderful website “Human and Cartographic History of the Galápagos Islands” www.galapgos.to) but provide little more than standard technical information such as the ship’s longitude and latitude at specific times.
Captain Fitz-Roy included much more in his Narrative. His comments were not limited to meteorology (his growing scientific interest) or to charting the landforms and currents of interest to navigation (his primary mission). His interest in the terrestrial aspect of his travels was evident in his frequent careful descriptions of the natural world he encountered. He often provided more information about the landscapes and animals of the islands than did Darwin himself.
Read Excerpts from Fitz-Roy’s Narrative:
Charles Island [Santa Maria/Floreana]
Albemarle Island [Isabela]