RECORD: King, Philip Gidley. 1892. 'Reminiscences of Mr Darwin' [during the voyage of the Beagle]. MLS-FM4.6900. Edited by John van Wyhe (Darwin Online,

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Kees Rookmaaker, corrected and edited by John van Wyhe 4-6.2014. RN1

NOTE: See record in the Darwin Online manuscript catalogue, enter its Identifier here.

Introduction by John van Wyhe

Philip Gidley King (1817-1904), was a Midshipman on the Beagle and become one of Darwin's closest companions during the voyage. These recollections were written at the request of (Alexander Henry) Hallam Murray (1854-1934), a partner at the publisher John Murray, as a possible supplement to the new illustrated edition of Darwin's voyage of the Beagle as the copyright had expired in 1890 and several publishers were about to compete with new illustrated editions. The Murray 1890 edition included an unattributed cross-section sketch of the Beagle by King. See here.

This document in the Mitchell Library is marked "Lent for copying by Mr W.B. Gidley King, Tamworth, N.S.W. 1978 and subsequently purchased by the Library". A complete copy, in another hand, is in CUL-DAR107.11-18. Parts of this document were published in Richard Keynes, Fossils, finches and Fuegians (2002).


Reminiscences of Mr Darwin.

Oct. 1892

The Beagle's voyage is destined to be for many years a celebrated one in the Annals of the Surveying Service of England as well as in Scientific circles. Firstly on account of the splendid work performed by her commander (Captain Beaufort Hyd. M.S.) afterwards Admiral Fitzroy and also that she was the home for five years of Mr Charles Darwin of whom nothing that can be said can add one iota to his fame in the realms of thought and meditation.

Within the last few years Mr Darwin's eminently industrious and useful life has come to a close, and although we have left to us his Life & History as well as all his own most interesting publications there is something that may yet be recorded by me, who enjoyed his friendship when afloat and in after years his kindest remembrance.

It is the purport of the writer to give this something in the shape of a few recollections of his intercourse with Mr Darwin: these recollections are those of a young midshipman on the Beagle's books for whom Mr Darwin gave evidence of more than ordinary interest.

It is quite understood without an elaborate description of the Beagle that she was one of His Majesty's Ships or Brigs rigged as a Barque so as to give more room for surveying purposes from a poop overhanging the quarter deck. She was classed as a ten gun Brig and known with all her sister vessels as a coffin in half tide rock, her officers were cramped and cribbed within the narrowest spaces which dockyard ingenuity could devise whilst that portion of the vessel which was dedicated to Mr Darwin's use by day and night except when at meals with the Captain in his Cabin, was limited to certainly not exceeding 9 feet long by 5 broad and 6 deep, within this space he worked at his microscopes & journals and slept by night in a cot suspended within 2 feet of the deck above his head. When it is considered that half this space overhung the vessels stern part one can get an idea of the suffering and inconvenience rendered by Mr Darwin during the Beagle's voyage.

That the vessel was an excellent sea boat and handled with a seaman's skill she gave many unmistakable proofs, first when as the consort of H.M. Adventure she took her place in the expedition to the Straits of Magellan under the chief command of Captain afterwards Admiral Phillip P. King, F.R.S. In this commission she was commanded by Captain Pringle Stokes, the strain upon whose mind was so great that after encountering the severest weather cruizing off the western entrance to the Straits, and surveying the coast to the northward and returning to rejoin his senior officer


at Port Famine with his ship and crew back in safety, he let go his anchor alongside the Adventure and then returning to his cabin put an end to his existence with a pistol shot.

Under the exercise of Captain Fitzroy's seamanship in the second commission, and indeed in the latter part of the first for he succeeded to the vacancy caused by Captain Stokes' death the little vessel proved herself capable to encounter the severest gales that the Antarctic circle could supply or that Cape Horn could have been witness to. On one occasion it is thought that only the buoyancy of headway which was always preserved if possible alone prevented her from foundering.

The circumstances under which Mr Darwin came to entrust himself to the little vessel and to place himself under Captain Fitzroy's care are so well related that nothing further can be said on the subject but the one convincing circumstance that determined him to join the expedition was that Capt. King had determined to send his son with it and thus it was that Mr Darwin embarked in the Beagle as naturalist, just as Pigafetter went with Magellan through the Straits that bear that name, as Sir Joseph Banks with Capt. Cook in his first voyage to the South Seas, as Peron with La Perouse, Robt. Browne with Flinders, Sir Joseph Hooker with Sir James Clark, Ross Huseley with Owen Stanley and Jukes with Capt. Blackwood.

On Mr Darwin's return to England in 1836 he published as is well known his Journal making it the 3rd volume of a series of which the 1st was Capt. King's account of the first expedition of the Adventure & Beagle and the 2nd was Captn. Fitzroy's account of the Beagle voyage from 1831 to 1836. Mr Darwins work was received by the literary & scientific world with marked attention - critics at once placed it on a level with Humboldts narratives - several editions were produced. The work is now a standard one in all libraries.

Mr Darwin has related his landing on St Paul's Rock near the Equator, but he makes no mention of the amusing incidents usually observed in crossing the Line, too trivial of course for his pen but they never could be effaced from his memory. On approaching Neptune's whereabouts as usually looked for by seamen the Ships Company became up to any and every sort of devilments and the usual liberty to indulge in the ceremonial observance was accorded discipline for the nonce being partially dispensed with. Father Neptune must have his tribute and it was freely given him. The story has been often told but the effect produced on a young naturalists


mind was unmistakably remarkable. His first experience was the ships crew from Captain downwards had gone off their heads "what fools these sailors make of themselves" he said as he descended the companion ladder to wait below till he was wanted. -

The Captain received his Godship and Amphititre his wife with becoming solemnity. Neptune was surrounded by a set of the most ultra-demoniacal looking beings that could be well imagined, stripped to the waist, their naked arms and legs bedaubed with every conceivable colour which the ship's stores could turn out, the orbits of their eyes exaggerated with broad circles of red and yellow pigments. Those demons danced a sort of nautical war dance exulting on the fate awaiting their victims below.

Putting his head down the after companion the captain called out "Darwin, look up here!" Up came the young naturalist in wonderment but yet prepared for any extravagance in the world that seamen could produce. A gaze for a moment at the scene on deck was sufficient, he was convinced he was amongst madmen, and giving one yell, disappeared again down the ladder. He was of course the first to be called by the official secretary, and Neptune received him with grace and courtesy, observing that in deference to his high standing on board as a friend and messmate of the Captain his person would be held sacred from the ordinary rites observed in the locality. Of course Mr Darwin was readily entered into the fun and submitted to a few buckets of water thrown over him and the Captain as they sat together by one of the youngsters as if by accident.

At Rio Janeiro Mr Darwin thoroughly enjoyed the new life in a tropical climate. Hiring a cottage at Bota-fogo, a lovely land-locked bay with a sandy beach of a dazzling whiteness, Mr Darwin took for his shore companions the writer, who from having been in the former voyage with his father although then of tender years was able to remember and recount to the so far inexperienced philosopher his own adventures. "Come King" he would say "you have been round Cape Horn and I have not yet done so, but do not come your traveller's yarns on me." One of these was that he had seen whales jump out of water all but their tails, another that he had seen ostriches swimming in salt water. For disbelieving these statements however, Mr Darwin afterwards made ample reparation. The first was verified one fine afternoon on the East coast of Tierra del Fuego.* A large number of whales were around the ship, the Captain, the Philosopher and the Surveyors were on the poop, presently Mr Darwin's arm was seized as a gigantic beast rose three fourths of his huge body out of the water. "Look Sir look! Will you believe me now?" was the exclamation of the hitherto discredited youth. "Yes! anything you tell me

* At p. 236. of the new Edition published by John Murray Albemarle Street in 1890 in a footnote referring to this incident. It does not occur in the earlier Edition. [This is not correct, the footnote first appeared in the second edition in 1845 on p. 223. JvW]


in future" was the quick reply of the kind-hearted naturalist.

Though Mr Darwin knew little or nothing of nautical matters, he one day volunteered his services to the First Lieutenant. The occasion was when the ship first entered Rio de Janeiro. It was decided to make a display of smartness in shortening sail before the numerous men-of-war at the anchorage under the flags of all nations. The ship entered the harbour under every yard of canvass which could be spread upon her yards including studding sails aloft on both sides, the lively sea breeze which brought her in being right aft. Mr Darwin was told to hold to a main royal sheet in each hand and a top mast studding sail tack in his teeth. At the order "Shorten sail" he was to let go and clap on to any rope he saw was short-handed - this he did and enjoyed the fun of it, afterwards remarking "the feat could not have been performed without him."

Mr. Darwins journey from San Carlos de Chiloe to Castro and the neighbouring coast on which occasion the writer was allowed to accompany him is so well told by him in his Journal that no addition can be made to the narrative but the writer has the most vivid recollection of the lonely night he has described and amongst the incidents the welcome given by the lay & clerical authorities at Castro. It was on this occasion that Mr Darwin remarked upon the great hospitality shown by parsons to visitors from whom they expect no return and with whom they may never again have any intercourse. The following event is still fresh as ever in the memory of the writer. - It was necessary to erect a beacon as a guide to vessels making for Bahia Blanca South of the Entrance to the River Plata - the Beagle anchored some distance from that bar bound Bay on the open coast line about a mile from the shore. Three Boats crews were sent away and effected a landing through the surf; a day's provision had been supplied to them supposing they would return in the evening. A gale from South East however sprung suddenly up making a dead lee shore from which their little vessel could for two days be seen holding on to her two anchors pitching bows under. Mr Darwin & the writer were of the shore party which turned the boats bottom up on the beach for shelter for the night they passed without more food than they had saved from their first supper with the addition of a dead hawk picked up on the shore.

The scene to Mr. Darwin & to others was a novel one and the probability that the ship might drag her anchors or part her cables was present to many minds - however the gale moderated and a boat was seen to leave the Beagle the Captain


himself in it with a cask of Provisions which was thrown into the surf just outside the Breakers. Several splendid looking men soon stripped and went to land the cask. The danger being that it might be dashed to pieces on the Rocks. The head of the Cask was soon knocked in and Mr Darwin and the party stood round it to receive each his share. Some record of this may be amongst Mr Darwins notes at any rate the foregoing is one amongst many of his experiences. On shore we all admired the pluck & thorough confidence the Captain had in his well proved "holding gear" as shewn by his remaining in our sight instead of beating the ship off the lee shore as he might have done. -

May be continued

Sent to [W All] Hallam Murray Oct 17. 1892. -

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