September 5, 1831 (a Monday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

On this date, after having spent the weekend in Cambridge, Charles Darwin rode to London and went to the Whitehall Admiralty building to speak with Robert FitzRoy. FitzRoy told Darwin that the person to whom he had offered the position of naturalist on board HMS Beagle had just turned it down five minutes ago (this might have been Harry Chester, a close friend of FitzRoy, and at the time a clerk in the Privy Council office across the street). He wanted to know if Darwin was still interested in the position. Interestingly, Darwin wrote in his autobiography:

Afterwards on becoming very intimate with Fitz-Roy, I heard that I had run a very narrow risk of being rejected, on account of the shape of my nose! He was an ardent disciple of Lavater, and was convinced that he could judge a man’s character by the outline of his features; and he doubted whether anyone with my nose could possess sufficient energy and determination for the voyage. But I think he was afterwards well-satisfied that my nose had spoken falsely.

Of course, Charles enthusiastically accepted the offer and both men spent the next few hours going over the details of the voyage. Darwin learned that the sail date had been postponed until October 10, and that the voyage might extend longer than two years. Later that afternoon, Darwin took up lodgings at 17 Spring Gardens, just around the corner from Whitehall.

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