This Thing of Darkness
by Thompson, Harry
pub. by Headline Book Pub., London - 2005     isbn 0-7553-0281-8
- 750p. - maps, extensive bibliography of non-fiction sources - historical fiction
A fictionalized biography of Robert Fitzroy, who commanded the Beagle and to a lesser extent of Charles Darwin. While this is a work of fiction it is very well researched. This book begins with the suicide of Captain Stokes, who was given the task of surveying in the Straits of Magellan. Fitzroy was given command of the Beagle and succeeded him in subsequent survey work. Fitzroy captures a 4 of the natives of Tierra del Fuego and brings them to England to introduce them to civilization and re-introduce them to Tierra del Fuego on a later survey trip to help pacify and civilize the natives. Jemmy Button, a historical character who actually was this person has his story told as a subtext in this book. There is a return to England, fitting out for the next survey work, and Charles Darwin joins the crew as Naturalist. Fitzroy and Darwin form an early friendship and commence with the business of surveying the Falkland Islands, the Straits of Magellan etc. Darwin explores ashore in Argentina and later Chile. The description of Argentina under General Rosas is chilling. Darwin also discovers large dinosaur skeletons and has them shipped back to England on a returning ship. As time progresses and Darwin does a natural history survey of Chile and the Andes he begins to believe that Genesis in the Bible is not to be taken literally. Here he begins to separate his way of thinking from Fitzroy, and their friendship is strained. By the end of the voyage, and after the friendship breaks down totally. The Beagle does its historic visit to the Galapagos in September 1835, sails on to New Zealand and back to England arriving in October 1836. The story does not end there.... It continues to the end of Fitzroys life detailing his frustrations with the end of his career sailing for the navy. It took him a very long time (years) to finish the charts of areas surveyed. In 1841 Fitzroy stood for election to parliament representing Durham and won the position. The description of the actual election with Conservative, Liberal and Radical candidates is quite revealing of the times. The election was wide-open, noisy and barely controlled. He became governor of New Zealand in 1844-45. His governorship failed because the resources he had at hand were not great enough to do the job, and the goals of the New Zealand Comany were at odds with the reality of the colony. He returned to England. In 1860 his work with the study of weather, creation of synoptic charts and weather prediction on the basis of telegraphed weather observations from wherever telegraph lines went (in Europe mostly). He was a correspondent and friend of Captain Matthew F. Maury of the US Navy Weather Forecasting Department. Government penny pinching and depression drove him to suicide in 1865. Fitzroys relationship to Darwin deteriorated more after the voyage of the Beagle and the publication of Darwins report being at some odds with Fitzroys. They became bitter enemies. This is an a great read, albeit a long one. In the postscript the author notes where he fictionalized the story to make it flow better, leaving one to believe that the historical facts covered in the rest of the story are correct.
~ 2009 ~

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