Posts Tagged ‘Captain FitzRoy’
Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a prominent and wealthy English physician. As a physician in Lichfield from 1756 to 1781, he acquired a reputation for being a great healer. He was so successful that King George III asked him to be his doctor, but Erasmus Darwin refused the appointment.
Erasmus was a noted naturalist, writer, poet, inventor, and founding member of the infamous Lunar Society. Lunar members were of influence, becoming the engine-driving force of the British Industrial Revolution.
As a writer, Erasmus authored several important works of poetry and science. His most important published work was a book entitled Zoönomia, Latin for “law of life,” published in 1794. In Zoönomia, Erasmus endorsed the basic emerging tenets of evolution, asking the question in the affirmative –
Would it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament… continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down these improvements by generation
After a flurry of studying, in January of 1831, at the age of twenty-one, Charles Darwin passed his examination for the Bachelor of Arts in theology, Euclid, and the classics from the University of Cambridge—finishing tenth out of a field of 178.
Remaining at Cambridge for two more terms after passing the final examination, Darwin became obsessed with the desire to travel. As a stroke of fate, after returning from a geological surveying tour in Wales was a letter from Professor John Henslow, with the offer of a lifetime. Darwin wrote,
“On returning home from my short geological tour in N. Wales, I found a letter from Henslow, informing me that Captain Fitz-Roy was looking for any young man who would volunteer to go with him without pay as naturalist to the voyage of the Beagle.”
The voyage was a planned two-year expedition to chart the coastline of South America in December. When Darwin shared the letter, his father said, “If you can find any man of common sense who advises you to go I will give my consent.” Not knowing who to ask, on August 31, 1831, Darwin wrote a letter to Henslow reluctantly turning down the offer.
By pure coincidence on the next day, Josiah Wedgwood II, Darwin’s uncle, arrived to visit Darwin’s father. Since Josiah was considered “one of the most sensible men in the world” by his father, Darwin discussed the situation with Josiah, who immediately made the case for the expedition.
Sealing the deal, Josiah offered to pay Darwin’s cost for the planned two-year expedition—an expedition that would eventually stretch to nearly five years. The next day Darwin quickly left for Cambridge to meet with Henslow to intercept the letter he had just sent.
On September 5, 1831, Henslow introduced Darwin to FitzRoy in London. FitzRoy was a wealthy nobleman, a descendant of the Duke of Grafton, and the Marquis of Londonderry. He was widely admired for his tight reign on his men, but as Darwin was soon to discover, his commanding was accompanied by a fiery temper.
At the age of twenty-six, FitzRoy, not much older than Darwin was at first, FitzRoy was not impressed with Darwin. FitzRoy thought the shape of Darwin’s nose was too weak to take a lengthy sea voyage. Eventually, Captain FitzRoy was persuaded—Henslow’s recommendation was accepted.
Darwin was appointed to be a “gentleman’s naturalist” and assist the “official” naturalist, surgeon Robert McKormick. As a paying passenger, Darwin was granted full use all the onboard facilities to perform research as a naturalist. Darwin was set to begin his life-long dream—exploring the tropics.
FitzRoy outlined the details of the voyage, including the impending sail date, October 10. Not wasting any time, Darwin took up residence at 17 Spring Gardens in London and began shopping and discussing the details of the voyage with FitzRoy; a dynamic relationship had just been launched.
Convinced “that he would find scientific proof that Genesis was literally true,” FitzRoy wanted a like-minded naturalist on board the Beagle to find the evidence. Darwin’s interest in William Paley’s perspective on nature made Darwin the perfect applicant. Paley’s book, Evidences of Christianity, espoused a divine design in nature.
Ironically, prior to leaving England, FitzRoy gave Darwin a copy of the just-released first volume of Charles Lyell’s new theory in the book entitled Principles of Geology, which argues in favor of only slight, successive changes in the earth. Lyell championed geological uniformitarianism. The tenet of uniformitarianism is that all the events over the history of the Earth are the same as today—catastrophic events on Earth, like The Flood and plate tetonics never happened.
Little did FitzRoy know that Principles of Geology would influence the impressions of Darwin to challenge rather than support the Genesis account. Although Darwin struggled to understand how the massive land movements along western coast of South America aligned with uniformitarianism, Darwin never abandoned Lyell’s theory.
The offer of a lifetime lead to the development of a lifetime pattern for Darwin—theory development contradicted by the evidence. Or as Charles Darwin’s brother, Erasmus, put it in a letter to Charles on November 23,1859, one day before the publication of The Origin of Species – “if the facts won’t fit, why so much the worse for the facts, in my feeling.”