Visit and Testimony of Captain Fitz-Roy

By Captain Christian de Bonnafos
Active member of the Chilean Section of A.I.C.H.

HMS Beagle at Cape Horn: The Visit and Monument of Captain Fitz-Roy

The Spanish and Portugese empires collapsed during the Napoleonic Wars.  This created a power-vacuum in South America and led to the emancipation of their colonies.

Realizing the commercial advantages that this situation represented, the British Government gave considerable help to public and private British investments in mining companies and other industries in the emerging republics.

There already existed a merchant fleet of 250 ships carrying manufactured articles to the ex-colonies and returned with raw materials.  Realizing the necessity of increasing the British naval presence in South America, Admiralty navigational charts were needed to support the growing commerce.

To accomplish this expansion the Admiralty sent additional ships and supplies to the headquarters of the commander-in-chief of the South American Naval Station in Rio de Janeiro.  To perform the hydrography, an expedition composed of the HMS ADVENTURE (380 tons) and the HMS BEAGLE (235 tons) was sent.

These two ships, under the command of the Captain Philip Parker-King, would accomplish the titanic task that would take more than ten years, between 1826 and 1836.  The smaller ship BEAGLE and its Captain had the longer and more difficult part of the mission.Until August of 1828, the Captain of the BEAGLE was Pringle Stokes, who was affected by deep depression.  This was, a product of the difficulties of mapping such a desolate coast, and when faced with the prospect of another trip to the south of Tierra del Fuego he committed suicide with a pistol. He is buried in Punta Santa Ana, near Punta Arenas.

Captain Parker King immediately replaced Stokes with the Executive Officer of the Beagle, Lieutenant W.G. Skyring. Upon arriving in Rio de Janeiro, Admiral Ottway, commander - in - chief of the Naval Station named as the Captain of the Beagle his own aide, Flag Lieutenant Robert Fitz-Roy, who was then twenty three years old.

There is no doubt that the young Fitz-Roy must have impressed Admiral Ottway. Lieutenant Skyring as well as other more senior officers in Rio de Janeiro had the experience, necessary abilities, and were older than he was.The challenge of commanding a ship that had the frustrated candidate on aboard, where the previous captain had committed suicide, navigating the most desolate and inhospitable regions of the world - would demand the maximum efforts of Fitz-Roy.

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Brief Biography of Robert Fitz-Roy