MEDIA RELEASE – STATE LIBRARY OF NEW SOUTH WALES
”How fatal shot stoked scientific history
The State Library of NSW’s exciting and most recent acquisition, the journal of the
HMS Beagle’s little-known first captain, Pringle Stokes, will go on public display from
TODAY [Friday 3 July 2009].
The HMS Beagle’s epic second voyage led to Charles Darwin’s controversial theory
on natural selection. However, little is known about the ship’s failed first captain.
Pringle Stokes shot himself four months into the Beagle voyage around South
America and died 12 days later on 12 August 1828.
According to the State Library’s Senior Curator, Paul Brunton: “Had it not been for
this unfortunate incident Charles Darwin would not have been invited to join the
Beagle on its epic voyage around the world, which included his landmark trip to
When Robert FitzRoy was appointed the Beagle’s new captain, he recalled Stokes’
fate and his family’s own history of depression, and requested a young gentleman
accompany him to keep his spirits up. That man was Charles Darwin.
“FitzRoy stipulated that his companion had to be a gentleman, interested in natural
history, pay his own way and provide stimulating dinner conversation – Darwin fitted
the bill, albeit third choice!” says Mr Brunton.
The State Library recently purchased the Stokes journal at auction for $200,000. The
118 pages of hand-written, daily notes concludes with Stokes’ last journal entry on
12 July 1828: Calm, fine, frosty weather. Shortly after daylight we had a visit from the
His journal will be displayed in the Library’s Mitchell Vestibule, as part of the
Library’s popular Charles Darwin Down Under, 1836 exhibition (on show until 26
In this Charles Darwin anniversary year celebrating 150 years since the publication
of On the origin of species, the journal is a timely purchase for the State Library.
The Pringle Stokes journal will join the State Library’s unrivalled collections relating
to colonial history.”