September 11, 1831 (a Sunday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

On this date, Charles Darwin and Captain Robert FitzRoy began their trip from London to Plymouth to inspect HMS Beagle. Concerned about Darwin’s sea-worthiness, FitzRoy decided they would go by ship rather than by coach, even though it would have been much faster. Apparently, Darwin handled the three day trip very well and FitzRoy was impressed that a land-lover could take to the sea so quickly. This was Darwin’s first sight of the ship on which he would sail a voyage of discovery leading to his famous theory of evolution. However, when Darwin saw the Beagle his heart sank into his stomach. The ship was in tatters! She had no masts, half of the deck had been torn away, and the water-tightness of the hull appeared dubious. FitzRoy assured Darwin that she would be sea-worthy in short order — no expense would be spared in her refitting. As Darwin later wrote in his Autobiography:

When recommissioned in 1831 for her second voyage, she was found (as I learned from the late Admiral Sir James Sulivan) to be so rotten that she had practically to be rebuilt, and it was this that caused the long delay in refitting.

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