The Torygraph has published a jocular painting and the story behind it: it’s apparently the only depiction of the young Charles Darwin on his five-year H. M. S. Beagle voyage beginning in 1831. It was created by the official Beagle artist.
Hannah Furness, the art correspondent, gives the tale. But first, the painting and its title:
The watercolour, entitled “Quarter Deck of a Man of War on Diskivery [sic] of interesting Scenes on an Interesting Voyage”, is now known to be by Augustus Earle, the Beagle’s first official shipboard artist tasked with recording the botany, fossils and other specimens en route.
You won’t be able to read everything that’s going on, so I’ll put an enlargement below of Uncle Chuck and transcription of the words spoken. First some backstory:
The picture, which experts confirm depicts Darwin himself, reveals how the squabbled over the fossils and botanic specimens beloved by the scientist, with one irate officer complaining the “cursed” items were clogging up the deck.
The watercolour, a cartoon painting by the ship’s official artist, is the first pictorial evidence of the sometimes fractious relationships on board, with Darwin’s daughter previously recalling Wickham had been known to threaten to throw specimens overboard.
. . . The cartoon is believed to have been painted as a joke to entertain the Beagle shipmates, and was never published in the official records of the expedition.
It disappeared from public view straight away, possibly via the ship’s captain Robert FitzRoy, and has been held in private art collections as a 19th century art curiosity until this year.
Darwin is the one in the top hat and tails, here enlarged (but without the balloon). The identification of the people and and words they spoke are in the long caption below; I’ve bolded the bit about Darwin:
The estimate from Sotheby’s is between 50,000 and 70,000 pounds, but I bet it goes for more. I wonder if Richard Dawkins will bid. A bit more information:
This [picture] is now known to have been painted off the coast of Argentina on September 24, 1832, when the fossils depicted are known to have been brought onto the ship.
Dialogue painting in by the artist shows one member of the crew recounting his exciting adventures with local flora and fauna, claiming he had shot a “flying monkey” and been nearly “yaffled” by a bear.
Another rushes to show specimens to the captain, while a third slopes off with a bottle of rum.
One man, believed to be 1st Lieutenant John Clements Wickham, says: “There is no such thing as walking the deck for all these cursed specimens,”
Biographies of Darwin published previously refer to Henrietta Darwin, his daughter, recalling tales of how Wickham would mutter: “If I had my way, all your d–d mess would be chucked overboard, & you after it old Flycatcher.”