As Darwin discovered during his first year away from home, travel can be a dangerous and frightening endeavor (see Sick and Tired in Brazil). Most of the time, the nearest doctor was the ship’s surgeon (though that is not even true on the trail). The next best medical facility could easily have been 1000’s of miles (and many days or weeks) away. So getting injured or sick was a big deal.
On March 4th, tragedy struck the Beagle crew for the second time in their 5-year journey. The first tragedy (about a year ago) resulted in the death of two men and one boy who contracted malaria (see “Bad Air” on the Beagle). This time it was the captain’s clerk – Edward. Hellyer – who wandered off on his own and got himself in a bad predicament. Darwin describes the accident:
“A grievous accident happened this afternoon in the death of Mr Hellyer.— One of the residents brought the news that he had found some clothes & a gun on the sea coast.— We made all haste to the place & in a short time discovered the body, not many yards from the shore, but so entangled in the Kelp, that it was with difficulty it was disengaged.— It was quite evident he had shot a bird & whilst swimming for it, the strong stalks of the sea weed had caught his legs & thus caused his death.” (Mar 4)
I can’t find much about Edward Hellyer – alas. One genealogical source suggests that he was born in about 1810, making him about 23 when he died. If others have information, please do share, as it would be nice to leave a little more of a legacy of the Beagle’s clerk.
In the Royal Navy, the captain’s clerk was the crewman who was responsible for keeping records and correspondence for the captain. Typically, this would be a young man (equivlent to a midshipman), who was working his way towards the position of ship’s purser (the crewmen responsible of the ships finances). Today, the title is no longer in use.
FitzRoy was upset by his clerk’s death, and in character, he blamed himself for the loss of a man who he felt was his responsibility:
“To me this was as severe a blow as to his own messmates; for Mr. Hellyer had been much with me, both as my clerk and because I liked his company, being a gentlemanly, sensible young man. I also felt that the motive which urged him to strip and swim after the bird he had shot, was probably a desire to get it for my collection. Being alone and finding the water cold, he may have become alarmed, then accidentally entangling his legs in the sea-weed, lost his presence of mind, and by struggling hastily was only more confused. The rising tide must have considerably augmented his distress, and hastened the fatal result.” (FitzRoy’s Narratives)
Johnson Harbor in 2007 – Eward Hellyer’s final resting place (from Wikipedia Commons)
Hellyer was buried on the shores of Johnson Cove (see Johnson Harbor located just east of Port Louis on the Falkland map). Darwin describes the somber occasion:
“Mr Hellyer was buried on a lonely & dreary headland.— The procession was a melancholy one: in front a Union jack half mast high was carried, & over the coffin the British ensign was thrown; the funeral, from its simplicity was the more solemn, & suited all the circumstances.” (Mar 5)
Rest in peace Edward Hellyer. (RJV)