RN (1805 - 1866)
Captain of HMS Beagle
FitzRoy was a rising officer in the Royal Navy when he was
appointed by the Admiralty to conduct a survey of the coast of
South America in HMS Beagle. He wanted a naturalist to
accompany the voyage, and also somebody who would function as a
gentleman's companion for himself. Darwin's professor at
Cambridge, John Stevens Henslow, recommended him for the
post. Darwin and FitzRoy shared a small cabin at sea for five
years. Darwin's nickname aboard ship was "Philosopher." FitzRoy was
noted for his qualities as a naval officer and commander, but
also for his temper. When coming on watch, the relieving
officers were accustomed to ask "If much hot coffee had been served?"
FitzRoy was an advocate of the civilizing
effects of slavery. In one incident, he described to Darwin how
the owner of a great plantation had called his slaves around
him, and asked if they wished to be free: they replied No.
Darwin demanded of FitzRoy ("perhaps
with a sneer") if the Captain thought the word of a
slave in the presence of his master was worth anything.
Affronted, FitzRoy ordered Darwin to leave his cabin, but
shortly thereafter invited him back.
later achieved prominence by developing the first weather
forecasting service for the Royal Navy, but his naval career was
hampered by his Tory politics. He became increasingly religious in
his later years, and an ardent opponent of the idea of evolution,
which he believed ran counter to the Bible. He came to regret his
role in the development of Darwin's theory. Meetings between the
two men became painful. FitzRoy eventually took his own life.
Years after, Darwin wrote, "I never cease
wondering at his character, so full of good & generous
traits but spoiled by such an unlucky temper. Some part of his
brain wants mending: nothing else will account for his manner of