Posted by: Rob Viens | July 5, 2012

To Glory We Steer

On July 5th the Beagle weighed anchor and slipped the bounds of Guanabara Bay, leaving Rio de Janeiro behind.  As Darwin describes, they did not leave quietly – there was some fanfare:

“A little after 9 oclock we tripped our anchor, & with a gentle breeze stood out of the bay.— Capts Talbot & Harding accompanied us beyond Santa Cruz.— As we sailed past the Warspite & Samarang (our old Bahia friend) they manned the rigging & gave us a true sailor-like farewell, with three cheers.— The band at the same time striking up “To glory you steer”.” (July 5)

The song Darwin refers to is actually called “Heart of Oak”.  It is the official march of the Royal Navy. Have a listen to what Darwin heard that day as he sailed out of port:

The anthem was composed by 18th-century Englishman William Boyce (who composed several symphonies and anthems during his career).  The lyrics were written by 18th-century actor and playwright David Garrick.  It was written in the late 1750’s and refers to a period of time when the Royal Navy had won several important naval battles, and the folks “back home” were riding the wave of victory.  Hence it made a perfect march for the Royal Navy, and is still used today.

William Boyce and David Garrick (from Wikipedia Commons):

Composer William BoyceActor David Garrick

Although written as a war song, the first verse of Heart of Oak fits the Beagle‘s mission quite well:

Come, cheer up, my lads, ’tis to glory we steer,
To add something more to this wonderful year;
To honour we call you, as freemen not slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?

This sentiment is reflected in FitzRoy’s description of the departure with some insightful (and proud) additions to Darwin’s comments:

“On the 5th of July we sailed from Rio de Janeiro, honoured by a salute, not of guns, but of hearty cheers from H.M.S. Warspite. Strict etiquette might have been offended at such a compliment to a little ten-gun brig, or, indeed, to any vessel unless she were going out to meet an enemy, or were returning into port victorious: but although not about to encounter a foe, our lonely vessel was going to undertake a task laborious, and often dangerous, to the zealous execution of which the encouragement of our brother-seamen was no trifling inducement. ” (FitzRoy’s Narratives)

No one pays much attention these days to FitzRoy’s narrative of the voyage, but I have to say, even if he had not taken a famous passenger on board, I suspect FitzRoy’s writings would still be read today. They are a little drier than Darwin’s writings, and frequently spend a lot of time on naval details or weather observations.  However, there are some literary gems hidden within the pages.  FitzRoy is proud of his work and the work of his crew, and likes to share that pride (as in the quote above).  And some of his descriptions, such as the detailed account of the Wreck of the HMS Thetis are downright riveting.

In the letter written to his sister on this day, shortly before departure, Darwin refers to the attempt to visit the site of the Thetis wreck (if you recall a large amount of money sank with the ship):

“If the wind is not directly against us, we shall touch at Cape Frio, the celebrated scene of diving for the Thetis wreck.— They have fished up 900000 dollars.” (Correspondence to Catherine Darwin, 5 July 1832)

But as we see from the rest of his diary entry today, that was not to be so.  I’m sure the captain was sorely disappointed, as he had a soft spot for the Thetis and her crew.

“The Captain had intended touching at Cape Frio, but as the lightning did so.— we made a direct course for the South.— Near to the Isle de Raza the wind lulled, & we are now becalmed & shall probably remain so during the night: The moon is now shining brightly on the glassy water.—every one is in high spirits at again being at sea & a little more wind is all that is wanted.— The still & quiet regularity of the ship is delightful; at no time is “the busy hum of men” so strongly perceived as when leaving it for the open ocean.” (July 5)

With that, we’ll leave Darwin on the eve of the next main leg of his journey – to perform a “task laborious, and often dangerous”, but oh, so much fun. (RJV)

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