Letter to Admiralty Secretary John Wilson Croker.

Phillip Parker King

HMS Surveying Vessel Adventure at Monte Video
September 8th 1828

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When I last had the honor of reporting to you, for the information § of His Royal Highness the Lord High Admiral, the progress of the expedition under my command (No. 25. 29th June 1828)† I had every reason to anticipate, by a speedy cessation of the rigors of the season, being able to resume the survey, and in a short period to make up for lost time. It is however with much regret that I find myself under the necessity of informing you of my return‡ to this port, with the Beagle and Adelaide, and of the circumstances which have occassioned so sudden a change in the plans I had previously arranged for our mode of proceeding.

§ “Lieut's joining.§§ State of Ships. Ordered home. Conditional delay.” written over King's text. King's letter was picked up by the Adeona as it departed for the Falkland Islands.

§§ Possibly a reference to an unidentified lieutenant joining the ship, as mentioned on p. 14.

† “Duplicate forwarded herewith” in left margin; probably referring to King's previous letter.

‡ “D??? Ordered home. Cond'l delay.” written over King's text.

Up to the period of my closing the letter above referred to, the ship's company had been generally speaking very healthy; and, with the §

§ “Ordered home. Cond'l delay.” in lower right margin of page.

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exception of the few cases previously reported, I hoped the winter would pass by without our suffering any farther hinderance from sickness: these hopes, however, were soon afterwards damped by the appearance of scurvy amongst the younger and most active of our people, and the almost daily addition of fresh cases to the sick list induced me to employ the Adelaide by sending her to the northern part of the Strait to procure Guanacoe meat from the Patagonian Indians, as the only means of checking this formidable disease. The Adelaide left us in the middle of July under orders to return by the 1st of August with as much meat as could be obtained.

§ The following text is written 90° counter-clockwise over this page:

5 Jan'y

Send orders for the Adventure & Beagle to return to England direct on the receipt of this order ⋀notwithstanding letter of ??? ⋁ unless Captain King shall at the time be engaged in completing any portion of the Survey which he desires of finishing previous to returning in which case he is at liberty to delay his return for such purpose.

Capt. Parry

The sudden appearance of this disease can only have been caused by the more than probably unusually inclement state of the

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season; for although we possessed no means of comparing this with the temperature of any preceeding winter in these straits, yet the extraordinary depression and subsequent rise of the mercury in the Barometer that occurred between the 14th of June and the 4th of July, from 28•20 to 30•50 (a range of 2•30) §, was sufficient proof that the season was either not an ordinary one, or that it is the most inclement climate that has yet been experienced, perhaps, in the world. The weather then became wet and tempestuous, with an almost constant Northerly wind, which we have ever found the most oppresive and unwholesome wind that blows: The ground was constantly covered with snow of 12 or 14 inches thick, and sometimes as deep as 2½ feet; the greater part of which would frequently disappear by dissolving during the day, but was again renewed

§ “inches” written above each • symbol.

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during the night, either in rain or snow according to the temperature which during the month of July averages 31°½ Farhenheit [sic, Fahrenheit], but the minimum temperature for the month was 12°¾.

The appearance of the scurvy began to show itself immediately after this change of the weather, and, as I have before said, continued to extend from day to day both in the number of those attacked as well as the violence of the symptoms.

Some exertions were now made to find the Celery, which was at last effected; and as much as the ships company could use was daily collected by them. Two issues of preserved meats and vegetables to all hands were at first given and this was afterwards extended to 3 issues per week, whilst the sick were not allowed to use salt provisions in any way. Unfortunately we could take no fish, and even the birds had deserted us; so that

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nothing could be procured, excepting the wild celery beyond our own resources. The disease was also in some measure increased by a general despondency that seemed to pervade all the people seeing that all who were taken ill got worse and worse and many were confined to their beds in a perfectly helpless state. Finding this to be the case I began to make preparations for sea, the first intimation of which inspired amongst the ships company feelings of delight not easily described. At this time, however, my intentions were to go round the Horn to refresh at Chiloe but the absence of the Beagle now hourly expected prevented my taking for the present any decisive step.§

§ Something isn't quite right here. The Adventure arrived at Port Famine on June 17 and waited here for the arrival of the Beagle. The straight-line distance to Cape Horn was some 200+ miles southeast—many more via ship, and a long and unnecessary detour on a course to Chiloé. A far easier route would have been through the Magdalena and Cockburn Channels, or the Strait of Magellan, into the Pacific and then north to Chiloé. In any case, the death of Captain Stokes caused a change of plan, and the Beagle eventually returned to Montevideo.

On the 27th July to the delight of all hands the Beagle hove in sight and at night anchored near us.

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Lieutenant Skyring (the Senior Lieutenant and Assistant Surveyor) waited upon and informed me of Captain ⋀Pringle⋁ Stoke's being unwell § but in so mysterious a manner that I feared his (Captain Stokes) intellects were [sic, intellect was(?)] deranged. He had not been out of his cabin for many weeks although he had still carried on all the duties and regulated her movements as usual.

§ “Case of illness & death” written in right margin.

The Beagle had been in the Strait and within two days sail of us for more than a fortnight but had been delayed without any apparent reason until her provisions were absolutely expended so that when she joined [us] not an ounce of flour or bread was on board. — a fact (of which I was quite aware and therefore felt considerable anxiety for her safety) that confirmed the suspicions I had been lead to entertain.

I went on board the Beagle in the evening and found Captain Stokes, after the first two or three minutes perfectly collected and communicative of all the events of

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his cruize: nor did I detect any thing in his manner or conduct to make one think his case so bad as it was. Had however I been made acquainted with one tenth part of what ⋀had⋁ occurred during his absence from me I should have been led to expect the sad event that ensued, and probably, for the time, might have averted it. For three days afterwards I saw him daily during which he resumed all his duties with increased energy and superintended the vessel's repairs and refitting.

On the second day the Adelaide returned from the northward and Mr. Tarn, the Adventure's Surgeon, who had been absent in her, rejoined, upon which I conferred with him, and, informing him of my suspicions relative to Captain Stokes's health, desired him to obtain from Mr.

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Bynoe ⋀Act. Surgeon of the Beagle⋁ a report that would confirm or allay the fears I had so much reason to entertain.

The following day Mr. Tarn sent for Mr. Bynoe who entered very fully into every thing that has occurred and was of opinion that, at one period, the officers were in daily expectation that he would commit some serious deed, particularly as he had expressed himself to be weary of life and wished to meet his death; but that latterly, and particularly within the last few days, he was so much recovered that he hoped the malady was for the present averted.

Whilst Mr. Bynoe was giving the information, the surgeons were sent for and I was informed that Captain Stokes had made an attempt upon his life by shooting himself with

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a small pocket pistol. __ the ball, as it afterwards proved, entered the brain, but notwithstanding he lived for 12 days, during 3 days of which he was perfectly collected and conversed with me for hours at a time. This interval enabled me to arrange for him his private affairs, § but his public accounts and documents were in so confused and scattered a condition and so imperfect that I despaired of putting them into any order. __ His writing cases and drawers were full of Certificates and orders unsigned, and many of his papers were scribbled over and destroyed in⋀during⋁ his temporary fits of abstraction.

§ Perhaps including Stokes' will, seen below.

I find that the papers and account of the Purser and Master are in consequence very much behind, for want of his signature; an act which he could never be

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persuaded to perform; so that these officers' accounts are in that respect sadly deficient. Captain Stokes expressed himself ⋀to me⋁ ready to sign them but they were so numerous that the surgeons very properly suggested the impropriety of permitting it.

Captain Stokes assured me that he knew of no paper that had been presented to him that was not to have been signed by him.

His journals and observations relating to the survey are also equally deficient, and every thing that I know of what the Beagle has surveyed is from § Lieutenant ⋀W. G.⋁ Skyring, the Assistant Surveyor, whom I have appointed to the command of the Beagle agreeable to the tenor of my instructions from the late Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.

§ “Acting Comm'r” written over King's text.

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It is with much regret that I find myself obliged to state that Captain Stokes acknowledged to me that one of the principal causes which produced his unhappy malady was his being unequal to the situation he has filled, and that one day or other his defects would come to light. Every chart, plan and calculation which he from time to time supplied me with bore his signature but that the two former were entirely the work of Lieutenant Skyring and the calculations mere copies of that officer's work.

I have to request your pardon for digressing so long upon so sad a subject but I have considered it my duty to afford you for the information of His Royal Higness: the Lord High Admiral the particulars of this truly distressing event.

By the Adelaide's arrival we were most opportunely supplied

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with 2000 lbs weight of Guanacoe meat which had been obtained from the Patagonian Indians for a very trifling present. This enabled me to issue seven days allowance to to [sic] every person in the expedition and to retain a sufficient quantity for the sick for 14 days.

During the Adelaide's absence our sick list had assumed a very formidable appearance having 17 cases of scurvy, the greater number of which were of very serious nature and from which it was the opinion of the surgeons there was no chance of recovery without an instant change of climate and food. The fresh meat however checked the disease so much that many got better and there were but few additions to it, but the worst cases were only suspended and would certainly get worse when

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the meat failed. Upon these considerations I deemed it most advisable to return to Monte Video and having made every preparation, we left Port Famine on the 16 August, but did not clear the entrance of the Strait until the 25th, having been detained by adverse winds and the heaviest gale I ever experienced. We again communicated with the Patagonian Indians from whom we obtained about 1600 pounds of meat which has afforded all hands several meals and supplied the surgeon with sufficient for the use of the sick even to our arrival at this place, which took place on the 7th instant, but I regret to say that some, particularly 2 cases of scurvy

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got worse, so much so that some fears were entertained ⋀for⋁ the event.

On my arrival at this place I heard with regret that all my communications and letters for the Admiralty had been sent round to meet me at Valparaiso as had also the Lieutenant appointed to this ship; consequently I am still ignorant of any communication that may have been made to me since the date of 29 Aug'st 1827.

The Beagle has many defects and requires a very general refit, and, were it possible, repair. She has been ashore on rocks and sands several times and there is reason to fear her bottom (keel and

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false keel and bilge pieces) has received damage, but to what amount we have ⋀been⋁ unable yet to ascertain __ She has been in very bad weather, was thrown nearly on her beam ends, and for some hours water logged; during a gale on the west coast off the Island of Madre Dios. __ She has also lost one of her large boats.

I am happy to inform you that the Adventure is in the most effective state and merely requires slight repairs and a few small stores which I hope to be able to purchase here. She is however very unfit for the survey of such a coast from her being a dull sailor and, from our being burthened with provisions, very heavy to work and certainly not a very wealthy ship. — From all I can gather

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from the officers of the Beagle, and from Captain Stokes' account of the nature of the coast beween the Straits and Chiloe, it would be running too great a risk, unless for an object of the highest importance and of temporary emergency to trust her near the land upon which the wind blows dead on the shore & the swell rolls with inconceivable violence. The Beagle, active and excellent as she is, was several times all but dashed upon the beach and rocks without the possibility of escaping but by the intervention of providential means seconded by the unwearied attention and skillfull judgement of her Master Mr. Samuel Flinn § who on several occasions extricated her from situations of impending danger into which her Commander

§ “Praise” written in right margin.

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had unwarily and rashly rushed without any regard to the lives of so many people under his protection, or the benefit of the service entrusted to his performance. So great has been this meritorious officer's conduct during the whole period of his service in the Beagle (a fact which Captain Stokes has frequently spoken to ⋀me⋁ upon and assured me how much the service was indebted to him) that I should not be doing justice to the individual or satisy my own mind were I to be silent on the occasion.

The state of Captain Stokes' mind drove him at times to such desperate acts, as regarded the conduct of the ship, in which he would be controlled by no one, but (when the case arrived at a pitch of extreme danger) by

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the Master Mr. Flinn, that the officers and I believe every person aboard consider their lives being saved only to [sic, by?] his praiseworthy and seaman-like conduct.

So bad however, did Captain Stokes repay this service that Mr. Flinn ⋀in consequence of ill treatment⋁ applied to me on the Beagle's return to Port Famine to join this ship, which I was, for my own sake, glad to assent to, for Lt. Wickham § had been ill for 4 months, quite incapable of attending to his duty, and the whole devolved upon me, which my own state prevented me from attending. I therefore appointed him to this ship and gave an order to Mr. Alex'r Miller [Millar in Adventure crewlist in Narrative, vol. I] § Master's Assistant of this ship to act as Master of the Beagle until

§ “Acting as Master” written in right margin.

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the pleasure of the Commander in Chief should be known. The application for the appointment of Mr. Flinn to this ship appears to have been the cause of the temporary insanity that drove Captain Stokes to the commission of the deed—but he had contemplated it long ago. __ he had stabbed himself 7 or 8 times in the breast, of which no one knew until it appeared from the examination of his body after death, which wounds were nearly healed.§

§ Again, something isn't quite right here. If Stokes had inflicted multiple wounds to his chest, surely there would have been blood stains on his clothing, and these would have atttracted the attention of those who attended him during his final days. Yet the claim is that his wounds escaped notice until after his death—an unlikely scenario at best.

__ He also left a written document, and signed all his quarterly bills; and, at last, condescended to request the officers, individually, never to mention any thing that ⋀had⋁ occurred, and which he was not satisfied with obtaining without extracting from them a pledge that what had transpired should never appear

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to his prejudice. Captain Stokes himself told me that one great exciting cause of the distress he endured was, that by some means or other I should become acquainted with his inability and the manner in which he had treated his officers which he acknowledged was very bad.

I fear, Sir, you will think that I have dilated too much upon such a subject, but a desire that His Royal Highness should be in full possession of every thing that has transpired has induced me to enter into a fuller detail than was necessary rather than say too little.

Since my letter to you of the 29 June No. 25 the Adelaide, having been employed in providing us with Guanacoe meat, has not surveyed any more of the Strait, excepting

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a plan of Pecketts Harbour at the northern part of the strait (north of Elizabeth Island), the examination of which has very much facilitated the difficulties in a very dangerous part of the Strait, Viz. the passage between Elizabeth Island and the small islets of Sta. Martha and St. Magdelen.

The Strait of Magalhanes may now be considered as completely surveyed for all the purposes of navigation. The tempestuous state of the weather prevented the examination of the Magdalen Channel, and of the Sea-ward part of the Barbara Channel; — and the eastern and Southern coast of the Tierra del Fuego has not yet been seen by us. The Beagle has examined the western coast to the Southward of Cape Tres Montes

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but in the intervening space between that Cape and the western entrance of the Strait, there are many parts which were not seen in consequence of the bad weather that was experienced by her. The Gulf of Penas possesses a very fine, and accessible harbour, between the cape and St. Quentins Sound, which was named Port Otway, in compliment to the Commander in Chief of this station, and offers a shelter to any vessel in distress or on a lee shore that is extremely valuable.

Port Santa Barbara was also examined — there Captain Stokes found the main beam of a vessel of 3 or 4 hundred tons burthen that was probably the scattered remains of the Wager, which ship was undoubtedly wrecked upon one of the Guayneco Islands.§ The beam was very old and worm-eaten, and

§ Guaianeco Islands in King's Narrative, Chapter X.

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at one end was cut off with an axe; which is in fact almost confirmatory of it having been a part of the Wager for her decks were cut through on one side to get at the provisions and this was evidently one of her hatchway beams.

The western side of the supposed Island Campana was examined but there seems to be no connection with the sea around to insulate it. The entrance of the Gulf of Trinidad was found to be very erroneously laid down in latitude; so much so as to make Captain Stokes think that he was in the opening that is laid down upon the chart to the Southward of it, where he found a very good and secure harbour.

The journals and documents relating to this survey are in so unconnected a state that as yet I have scarcely seen any

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thing but the charts (in the rough). Acting Commander Skyring is however arranging the detail and bringing up the charts; and by an early opportunity I hope to be able to transmit all that has been done.

I have on my arrival here found Captain ⋀Henry⋁ Foster ⋀(???)⋁ in the Chanticleer; a circumstance which will enable me to afford him much useful information with respect to his present plans. It is a most satisfactory thing to find my chronometrical results agree so nearly with his more powerful means, particularly with respect to the longitude of Rio de Janeiro, differing as it does from the determinations of other observers. Captain Foster being about to vist the Cape of Good Hope will

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now be enabled to connect those links of this chronometric chain to that observatory, and render unnecessary the concluding part of my letter of the 29th June above referred to.

Our collectons of Natural History have been carefully attended to, and I have received every assistance from all the officers of the expedition at present in it. I hope to render this part of my voyage of much importance and value. I have a variety of drawings and sketches that, from my time being so fully taken up, are in an unfinished state but sufficiently intelligable for every purpose excepting that of transmission which I trust His Royal Highness will for the present excuse.

The daily expected arrival of the packet obliges me to conclude this communication without adverting for the present to any arrangement

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regarding my future plans, which must depend so much upon the state of our sick. Already I am glad to ⋀say⋁ there is an appearance of improvement. We shall however be obliged to invalid some few when they are sufficiently recovered to be sent away.

I have the honor to be


Your most obedient
humble Servant

Phillip P. King, Comm'r

Last Will of Pringle Stokes

The above image appears as part of p. 113 of a multi-page document at the National Archives in Kew; it is preceeded and followed by the Last Wills of others, all written in the same secretarial hand, and is therefore thought to be a transcription of Stokes' original will, whose location is now unknown.

In the Name of God Amen


This is the last will and Testament of Pringle Stokes a Commander of His Most Britannic Majesty's Royal Navy and now Commanding H. M. Sloop Beagle. Whereas:

I Pringle Stokes as aforesaid being of sound mind and body and in the present uncertain state of my existence wishing to dispose of all my worldly possessions for the whole and sole use of my mother Elizabeth Stokes do hereby constitute and appoint my dear Sister Harriet Anne Ross widow of the late John Wilfors Ross Esq. formerly Judge of the Provincial Court at ??? in Bengal and now or lately residing at ??? in Devonshire my Executrix for this disposal of my property as follows; namely that after the payment of all my just debts to dispose of the residue of my property real and personal as well as whatever may accrue to me as regards my pay profit or advantage of any sort at any future time to dispose of it as aforesaid for the whole and sole use of my dear mother Elizabeth Stokes in whatever way she, Harriet Anne Ross as aforesaid, may think most beneficial for and more conducive to the advantage of my dear mother's comfort. And in the event of my mother's death I further will the above property or whatever remains to my dear sister Harriet Anne Ross and at her death to her daugher my dear niece Mary Isabella Ross and I further declare this to be my last will and testament and have hereunto set my hand and seal in the presence of the attesting witnesses. Pringle Stokes [his initials], Port Famine in the Strait of Magellan this 4th ⋀day of⋁ August 1828. Phillip P. King Commander R. N., Wm. George Skyring Lieut. H.M.S. Beagle witnesses to the opposite signature.

Proved at London 5th February 1831 before the Judge by the Oath of Harriet Anne Ross widow the sister and sole Executrix to whom administration was granted having been first sworn by Commission rules to administer.

An account appearing in a ca. 1830 Memoirs of Hydrography (p. 116). The younger person with the same name is unknown, unless this refers to last name only; in which case there are: