Maritime Topics on Stamps :

            Darwins Voyage with the "Beagle"!

2009 is a "Darwin - Year"!
200 Years ago the British naturalist Charles Robert Darwin was born(* 12. Februar 1809; 19. April 1882). And 150 Years ago Darwin published his main work entitled "On The Origin of Species".

Darwin is recognized as one of the most important nature scientists of all times, easily matching Aristoteles, Kopernikus, Newton or Einstein, to name only a few very popular and influential scientists.
Like Kopernikus, whose research totally changed the way of looking at our solar system - not the sun but the earth is moving! - Darwins Theory of Evolution had far reaching consequences, not only on his home turf of nature science, but also in the fields of philosophy and theology.

And he provided such a massive and convincing base of data, that there was simply no way arguing his conclusions.

Data of the "Beagle":

Built by Woolwich Dockyard,
Launched 1820 as brigg,
1825 remodeled to a surveying vessel,
rigged as a barque,
Displacement 235 long tons,
L*B*T :   27,43 * 7,46 * 3,35 m,
10 cannons,
6 long boats for survey work in shallow waters,
60 - 64 men crew,
1870 sold to be wrecked.


From 1826 to 1843, the "Beagle" made several surveying voyages, mainly along the coast of South America and in Australian waters.
The voyage from 1831 to 1836 was commanded by captain Robert FitzRoy (stamp on the left).
He had taken command of the "Beagle" in Rio de Janeiro already in 1828, when the earlier commander committed suicide.
When there was an opening for a nature scientist to accompany the second voyage of the "Beagle", heading towards South America, Darwin got the post through mediation of botany professor. It was an voluntary position, for Darwin no salary paid!

Beagle The stamp of the Coco Islands shows an umbrella coral in the foreground.
The "Beagle" had lightning rods on all three masts and the bowsprit. The cannons were made from bronze, to not interfere with the magnetic compass. This was of course important for surveying work. To that end there were 24 chronometers on board the ship.
Darwin occupied a little shed inside the captain's quarters.
On the poop deck there was a small deckhouse to do the mapping work of their data. On the leg over to South America it hosted a missionary and three baptized South Americans.
These were the Reverend Richard Matthews and three patagonians, whom FitzRoy brought with him on his first voyage to the UK, and who had been educated in England.

Earlier Darwin had begun to study medicine, which did not really excite him. His father urged him to study theology.
During this time Darwin also attended Botany lectures and involved himself in geology.
He read books by Alexander von Humboldt, planned a trip to Teneriffa and learnt Spanisch.
In 1831 he was asked to take part in the voyage of the "Beagle", and he agreed upon enthusiastically.

The "Beagle" set sail on the 27. of December, 1831. Darwin became seasick. Nevertheless he began with his studies. He used a small-meshed trawl net, to capture little plancton organisms and examined them with his microscope.
The voyage led them via Teneriffa and the Cape Verde island Santiago to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil.
While the "Beagle" went after her surveyence work along the South American coast, Darwin stayed on land.
Starting from Rio he made geological and botanical investigations into the interior.

Darwin recorded and documented all his discoveries and investigations in many notebooks.
He set up notebooks on the voyage, the geological and zoological discoveries, his excursions on land.
And he listed all of his collected samples tediously numbered and dated in additional notebooks.
From Montevideo he sent his first geological samples back to England (1832). In the next years more shipments of specimens of plants, animals, fossiles and geological pieces followed.

On these three stamps there are shown Darwin's "tools": Microscope, Telescope and a surveyor's hammer.
On board the ship Darwin soon became nicknamed "Flyes catcher" or "philosopher".

In Brazil Darwin was also confronted with slavery. He was an vehement opponent of slavery and soon got into arguments with commander FitzRoy.

In Tierra del Fuego a mission was built for Reverend Richard Matthews and his three Patagonians, the ones who FitzRoy had brought to England and who were educated there.
When the "Beagle" returned to the mission a year later, it was destroyed. Nevertheless they were able to free the Reverend. However, the attempt to christianize Tierra del Fuego had faltered.

Beagle canal
During her five years long voyage the "Beagle" needed repair and maintenance work several times.
Here is a stamp showing her on the banks of the Santa Cruz river in Patagonia. On her surveyance work the "Beagle" rounded Cape Hoorn, she sailed into a channel which was named after her the Beagle Canal(the right hand picture) and she reached the Pacific ocean via the Magellan Straits.

In September 1835 they dropped anchor at the Galapagos Islands. Darwin involved himself intensely with its plants and.
He went ashore on all ten islands. He watched the amphibians, Turtles and the birds. He collected, shot, stuffed, drew, wrote and filled his notebooks.
Here Darwin found proof on his preposition, that every thing on earth is continously subject to change and development.
The, geologically speaking, pretty young volcanoes Galapagos Islands, together with the small variety of their animal world provided room for creation of new living species.

While still on the Galapagos islands, Darwin paid little attention to small birds. Only many years later, he found in his recodings and notes fourteen different varieties of finks living on the islands.
He was puzzled by the variety of their different beaks. They were sharp pointed, or plump, or bowed, or long, or short: evolution had formed the most suited beak for every method of nutrition collection.

In Oktober 1835 the "Beagle" left the Galapagos Islands. November saw them in Tahiti and they kept going towards New Zealand.
On this leg Darwin completed his theory on the origin of coral reefs. Corals attach themselves to dead volcano tops and begin growing, such that soon atolls develop and reach the surface.

On the 21. of December 1835 they arrived at New Zealand, on the 12. of January 1836 Sydney.
The "Beagle" continued to the Cocos Islands, to Mauritius and then on to Simons Town near Capetown (31. May 1836).
Further on stays followed at St. Helena, Ascension and again a side trip to Brazil. After a last stop at the Azores Island of Terceira the "Beagle" finally entered the port of Falmouth at 2nd october 1836. The whole voyage took four years and ten months.
When Darwin left the "Beagle" his collections filled 12 catalogues. This included 1,529 species conserved in alcohole and 3,907 skins, furs, bones, plants etc. His notes took 24 diaries. Thereof 368 pages on zoology, 1,383 pages on geology and 770 pages documenting the voyage.

Darwin continued his research and wrote many books. He married his cousin Emma Wedgwood. Their combined property allowed him an independent life as private scholar. However he suffered from various illnesses.

Darwin published his main, famous book "On the Origin of Species" 23 years after his voyage on the "Beagle". It was not because it took him 23 years to write it, but another scientist came up with a book on the same subject.
In total Darwin wrote 20 books, among others also "The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex".
He was convinced, that mankind is not a special creation separate from other living beings, but a product of evolution like millions of others. This position made him many foes, particularly inside the church. There were cartoons, showing Darwin as an ape. Today his evolution theory is accepted everywhere - he was right!

Wikipedia encyclopedia:
Evolution is the change of hereditary marks of a population of living species from generation to generation. These marks are encoded with genes, which are copied during its reproduction and handed down to the next generation. Mutations create different variations of the genes, which may or may not change the marks and signs

Captain Robert FitzRoy was an excellent sailor. The way, how he took the relatively plumb "Beagle" through unknown waters with reefs, through storms and against sea currents safely around the world, was definitely a master piece.
1859 he became Chief meteorologist at the Britain Admiralty. Upon his proposal the English captains began writing up diaries on the weather.
FitzRoy did statistics of the prevailing wind directions and wind forces around the British islands. He developed a storm glass, which is essentially a barometer, which measures air pressure.
He also wrote up two volumeous weather books for practical meteorology. He provided daily weather forecasts, which were even published in the "Times".
However, when some of his predictions were wrong, people began making fun of him and the "Times" discontinued printing his forecasts and he committed suicide.

There were plans, to build a copy of the "Beagle" until the year 2009. However so far she could not be launched as plannned. All there is today, is the project study.
For more infos I suggest to look under

Finally, here is a hint to help finding Cape Hoorn, the Magellan Strait and the Beagle Kanal on the southern tip of South America.

Sources :

Dietrich Ecklebe, Darwin Doppeljubiläum, Briefmarkenspiegel 2/2009
Hermann Falk, 1 Grad Süd - 90 West, Ueberreuter Verlag, 1971
Wikipedia Internet Enzyklopädie
Svante Domizlaff, Das verkannte Genie, Kapitän FitzRoy, die Yacht, 04/2009

© Bjoern Moritz, all rights reserved.

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