Posted by: Rob Viens | July 24, 2012

The Crew of the HMS Beagle

July 24th and the Beagle continued to slowly move up the Río de la Plata.  Darwin complained about the cold:

“The wind yet continues dead on end against us, & as there is a strong current setting out we make scarcely any progress.— The same line of low & green coast is to be seen as yesterday, only not quite so near.— It is quite curious, how much I have suffered from the cold.— The thermometer stands above 50°, & I am loaded with clothes; yet judging from my feelings I should have thought it a very cold English winter day.— Others in the vessel have not experienced this so strongly, so that I presume my constitution in a shorter time becomes habituated to a warm climate.— & therefore on leaving it more strongly feels the contrary extreme.” (July 24th)

It was a notable day in Darwin’s diary as he took the opportunity (the only one I am aware of) to copy the “watch bill” into his notes.  The watch bill is a list of all the crew members and officers on board, grouped by the time of their “watch”. In other words, it is a 24-hour work schedule for running the ship.

Almost everyone has heard of Charles Darwin. Some recognize the name FitzRoy and a few have heard of Wickham, Earle or King.  But virtually no knows the officer’s cook, the sail maker or the carpenter on the Beagle.  Yet each of them had a role to play and the voyage would not have been successful without everyone on board.  These are the forgotten men who helped shape history. Many of them are difficult to find and reference to without a detailed search of family histories, but as I continue this blog I will try to devote some space to each man I can find information on. (I have already covered several of the officers – you can search on a name to find any former posts that discuss them.)

I’m including the list in two formats. First is the text from Darwin’s diary, which frankly is a bit hard to follow.  After that you can see a bulleted list with the same information, organized in an easier to read format.  The second list makes more sense to me, but I wanted to include Darwin’s original, too.

“I procured this evening a Watch-bill & as most likely our crew will for rest of the voyage remain the same.— I will copy it.— Boatswains mates, J. Smith & W. Williams:— Quarter-Masters, J. Peterson, White, Bennett, Henderson:— Forecastle Men, J. Davis; Heard: Bosworthick (Ropemaker); Tanner; Harper (sailmaker); Wills (armourer);— Foretopmen, Evans; Rensfrey; Door; Wright; Robson; MacCurdy; Hare; Clarke;— Main top-men Phipps; J. Blight; Moore; Hughes; Johns B.; Sloane; Chadwick; Johns; Williams; Blight, B.; Childs;— Carpenters crew, Rogers; Rowe; J. May; James; Idlers, Stebbing (instrument mender); Ash gunroom steward; Fuller, Captains do; R Davis, boy do; Matthews, missionary; E Davis, Officers cook; G Phillips, ships cook; Lester, cooper; Covington, fiddler & boy to Poop-cabin; Billet, gunroom boy; Royal Marines.— Beazeley, sergeant; Williams, Jones, Burgess, Bute, Doyle, Martin, Middleton, Prior (midshipmens steward); — Boatswain, Mr Sorrell; Carpenter, Mr May; Midshipmen, Mrss Stewart, Usborne, Johnson, Stokes, Mellersh, King, Forsyth.— Hellyar, Captains clerk.— Mr Bino, acting surgeon— Mr Rowlett, purser.— Mr Chaffers, Master.— Mr Sulivan, 2d Lieutenant; Mr Wickham, 1st Lieutenant; R. FitzRoy, Commander.— There are (including Earl, the Fuegians & myself) 76 souls on board the Beagle.” (July 24)

Midshipman’s Quarters on Board a Ship of War by Augustus Earle (not the Beagle)
Midshipman’s Quarters on Board a Ship of War

  • Boatswains mates: J. Smith & W. Williams
  • Quarter-Masters: J. Peterson, White, Bennett, & Henderson
  • Forecastle Men: J. Davis, Heard, Bosworthick (Ropemaker), Tanner, Harper (sailmaker), Wills (armourer)
  • Foretopmen: Evans, Rensfrey, Door, Wright, Robson, MacCurdy, Hare, & Clarke
  • Main top-men: Phipps, J. Blight, Moore, Hughes, Johns B., Sloane, Chadwick, Johns, Williams, Blight, B., & Childs
  • Carpenters crew: Rogers, Rowe, J. May, & James
  • Idlers: Stebbing (instrument mender), Ash (gunroom steward), Fuller (Captains Stewad), R Davis(Captain’s boy), Matthews (missionary), E Davis (Officers cook), G Phillips (ships cook), Lester (cooper), Covington (fiddler & boy to Poop-cabin), & Billet (gunroom boy)
  • Royal Marines: Beazeley (sergeant), Williams, Jones, Burgess, Bute, Doyle, Martin, Middleton
  • Midshipmens steward: Prior
  • Boatswain: Mr Sorrell
  • Carpenter: Mr May
  • Midshipmen: Mrss Stewart, Usborne, Johnson, Stokes, Mellersh, King, Forsyth
  • Captains clerk: Hellyar
  • Acting Surgeon: Mr Bino
  • Purser: Mr Rowlett
  • Master: Mr Chaffers
  • 2d Lieutenant: Mr Sulivan
  • 1st Lieutenant: Mr Wickham
  • Commander: R. FitzRoy
  • Artist: A. Earle
  • Fuegians: Fuegia Basket, Jemmy Button, & Minster York
  • Charles Darwin

Keep in mind that a few crew members have already left the Beagle:

  • Robert McCormick (Surgeon) & Alexander Derbishire (Mate) – Departed the Beagle in Rio (April 1832) – see My Friend the Doctor is an Ass
  • Morgan (seaman), Jones (boy) and Charles Musters (Voulunteer 1st Class) – died of Malaria in Brazil (May 1832) – see Bad Air on the Beagle

And still others would join the voyage in the future.

John Woram has put together an excellent page on the various sources used to make the crew list which includes a great visual illustrating the length of time each member was on board.. (RJV)



  1. This should be an interesting story…Not unlike today, many of us have an interest in the workings of a crew in such tight quarters. Was there any privacy? What did the crew eat and drink? How often did they get mail?

  2. Thanks Jim – I look forward to some of these questions, too. I suspect there was very little privacy – except for maybe the guys who worked in the top sails. Even Darwin shared his small accommodations with at least 2-3 others, and he had more space then anyone except for the captain.

    Mail was few and far between. Their first mail call came on April 5th – more than 3 months into the trip. I think they received some additional mail during the long stay in Rio, but then it was several months before the mail caught up with them again in Montevideo. I’m surprised it all made it at all, considering how much they moved around.

  3. I am a descendant of one of the Johns ( Top sali man ); I thought his first name was John, but it has to be either the B Johns or D johns. His daughter Louisa was my Great Grandmother.

    • My name is Frank V Shepherd. My Great Great Grandfather was John Johns, main top man and able seaman on HMS Beagle. After an extended naval career he became a senior Customs official, lately based in Rhyl. John John’s daughter, Louisa, was my great Grandmother married to Alfred Shepherd. I am part of a family group all related to Alfred and Louisa.

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