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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Henslow    15 [November 1831]



My dear Henslow

The orders are come down from the Admiralty & every thing is finally settled.— We positively sail the last day of this month & I think before that time the Vessel will be ready.— She looks most beautiful, even a landsman must admire her. we all think her the most perfect vessel ever turned out of the Dock yard.— one thing is certain no vessel has been fitted out so expensively & with so much care.— Everything that can be made so is of Mahogany, & nothing can exceed the neatness & beauty of all the accomodations.—1 The instructions2 are very general & leave a great deal to the Captains discretion & judgement, thus paying a substantial, as well as many verbal compliments to him.— I will now give you an outline of the plans. 1st. to Madeira or Canary (perhaps only the latter) Cape Verd, Fernando Noronha, Rio de Janeiro, Monte Video, then set to work at Patagonia Terra del, Falkland Islands, so as to consume about year & half. After this is completed to work our way Northward on W coast of S America, as far as Captain chooses, leaving time to take a good stretch across Pacific ocean—(taking some new course) New S. Wales, Van Diemens land.— Some of E Indian Island, Cape of good hope, So home.— I grieve to say time is unlimited, but yet I hope we shall not exceed the 4 years.— No vessel ever left England with such a set of Chronometers,3 viz 24, all very good ones.— In short everything is well, & I have only now to pray for the sickness to moderate its fierceness, & I shall do very well.— Yet I should not call it one of the very best opportunities for Nat Hist. that has ever occurred.— The absolute want of room is an evil, that nothing can surmount.— I think L Jenyns did very wisely in not coming:, that is, judging from my own feelings, for I am sure if I had left College some few years, or been those years older, I never could have endured it.— The officers (excepting the Captain) are like the freshest freshmen— that is in their manners: in every thing else widely different.— Remember me most kindly to him, & tell him if ever he dreams in the night of Palm trees he may in the morning comfort himself with the assurance that the voyage would not have suited him.— I am much obliged for your advice, de Mathematicis. I suspect when I am struggling with a triangle I shall often wish myself in your room, & as for those wicked sulky surds, I do not know what I shall do without you to conjure them.—4 My time passes away very pleasantly. I know one or two pleasant people, foremost of whom is Mr. Thunder & Lightning Harris, whom I daresay you have heard of. My chief employment is to go on board the Beagle & try to look as much like a sailor as ever I can.— I have no evidence of having taken in man, woman or child.— I am going to ask you to do one more commission & I trust it will be the last. When I was in Cambridge, I wrote to Mr. Ash, asking to send my college account to my Father after having subtracted about 30£ for my furniture This he has forgotten to do, & my Father has paid the bill, & I want to have the Furniture money transmitted to my Father. Perhaps you would be kind enough to speak to Mr. Ash. I have cost my Father so much money.— I am quite ashamed of myself.—

I will write once again before sailing & perhaps you will write to me before then. Remember me to Prof Sedgwick & Mr Peacock.

Believe me Yours affectionately | Chas. Darwin


The modifications ordered by Robert FitzRoy are described in Narrative 2: 17–18. For discussion of the reconstruction of the Beagle as equipped for surveying work, see Darling 1978, J. A. Sulivan 1979, and Stanbury 1979; for a history of her active service, see Thomson 1975.
The Admiralty instructions, in a memorandum by Captain Beaufort, are reproduced in Narrative 2: 24–40.
The chronometers (twenty-two, not twenty-four as CD says) and the measurements taken with them on the voyage are described in Narrative Appendix, pp. 325–31. To superintend and repair the instruments, FitzRoy engaged, on a private basis, George James Stebbing, son of a mathematical instrument maker at Portsmouth (Narrative 2: 19 and Appendix, p. 327).
In his reminiscences of the Barmouth reading tour of 1828, John Maurice Herbert wrote to Francis Darwin: ‘He had, I imagine, no natural turn for mathematics, for he gave up his mathematical reading before he had mastered the 1st. part of Algebra, having had a special quarrel with Surds and the Binomial Theorem’ (DAR 112 (ser. 2): 62).


Darling, L. 1978. HMS Beagle: further research, or twenty years a-Beagling. Mariner’s Mirror 64: 315–25.

Narrative: Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s ships Adventure and Beagle, between the years 1826 and 1836. [Edited by Robert FitzRoy.] 3 vols. and appendix. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

Stanbury, David. 1979. Notes–HMS Beagle. Mariner’s Mirror 65: 355–7.

Sulivan, J. A. 1979. Notes–HMS Beagle. Mariner’s Mirror 65: 76.

Thomson, Keith Stewart. 1975. HMS Beagle, 1820–1870. American Scientist 63: 664- -72. [Vols. 1,6]


Sailing date fixed for end of month. Beagle is beautiful. Details of instructions and route. Hopes voyage will not exceed four years. Quarters very confined. Considers Jenyns did wisely in not coming. If CD were longer out of college and some years older he never could have endured it.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Stevens Henslow
Sent from
NO 15 1831
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Henslow letters: 10 DAR/1/1/10)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 147,” accessed on 4 December 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 1