A series of six letters from Thomas Burgess, Royal Marine, to his father Israel Burgess.
A series of six letters from Thomas Burgess, Royal Marine, to his father Israel Burgess at Lancashire Hill, near Stockport, Cheshire.

Various places: during the voyage of the Beagle and on earlier passages, 1831-1835.

Six autograph letters and a seventh printed document completed in manuscript, various sizes (see full catalogue). Housed in a custom made case.

New perspective on the Beagle voyage: unrecorded letters by a private in the Marines sailing with Darwin

A superb unpublished group of original letters, three of which represent the only known letters by any crew-member of HMS Beagle during Darwin's circumnavigation, written by a literate and observant private in the Royal Marines. Included are particularly fine letters from Rio, Montevideo and Valparaiso. A willing volunteer, Burgess was bursting with pride about his adventures – "I have been in three quarters of the globe already" – and described taking the appointment through a combination of a spirit of adventure, the good money on offer and the hope that "if ever I do live to Come home I will be able to Sit Down and tell a good Story."

A superb unpublished group of original letters, three of which represent the only known letters by any crew-member of HMS Beagle during Darwin's circumnavigation, written by a literate and observant private in the Royal Marines. Included are particularly fine letters from Rio, Montevideo and Valparaiso. A willing volunteer, Burgess was bursting with pride about his adventures – "I have been in three quarters of the globe already" – and described taking the appointment through a combination of a spirit of adventure, the good money on offer and the hope that "if ever I do live to Come home I will be able to Sit Down and tell a good Story."

Any original manuscripts dating from the Beagle voyage are highly prized and keenly sought after, but Burgess's letters are doubly significant for the insight they give into the feelings and motivations of the otherwise overlooked and rather anonymous crew. Equally importantly, they provide remarkable details of the life of the "only member of the crew who left a record of his regard for Darwin in a series of letters written in 1875" (Darwin Online). Darwin was so fond of his old companion on the Beagle that he later sent him gifts of a carte-de-visite photographic portrait and a copy of one of his books (surely his account of the voyage, although it has not yet been discovered). Burgess and Darwin were almost exact contemporaries, which undoubtedly played a part in the understanding they shared, and it is also telling that neither showed even a glimmer of interest in going back to sea after their return.

A separate full catalogue of this important correspondence can be seen at {LINK}.

Burgess (1810—1882) enlisted in the Marines in mid-1829 and was something of an old South American hand when the Beagle arrived in Rio in April 1832. He was snapped up by Commander Fitzroy very quickly (the cannier captains of survey vessels were very prompt to find and poach well-regarded sailors) and went on to make the entire voyage of discovery proper (1832—1836). Although never mentioned by name in any of the published texts (in accounts from this era crew are usually mentioned by their role, not their name), Burgess became one of the mainstays of the small troop of Marines on board, no sinecure on the sorts of remote coasts they would visit. Burgess was clearly well-regarded, not only by Darwin but also implicitly by FitzRoy, who is known to have paid particular attention to every aspect of his outfitting. As the commander would write in his own account of the voyage, the crew muster was always complete despite many mid-voyage changes – and indeed deaths – during the expedition, a task that was made easier because he always enjoyed the luxury of "a choice of volunteers to fill vacant places" (FitzRoy, Narrative, p. 21).

All six of the letters are addressed to Burgess's "dear father and mother" with whom he was very close, and all are perfectly clear and legible despite his charmingly erratic spelling. The group begins with his announcement of his first commission on HMS Tyne in mid-1830 and concludes with his 1837-dated letter of discharge from the Marines, and therefore takes in the entire span of his sea service. In the earlier letters Burgess memorably describes his appointment and voyage out, the adventure of his first crossing-the-line ceremony, his time on the South American flagship Warspite and then on the small tender Adelaide (a captured slave ship) which was sent to salvage bullion from the wreck of HMS Thetis, all leading up to his proud acceptance of a position on board the Beagle.

The early letters therefore provide an important introduction to the three shipboard letters sent from the Beagle, which amply record the excitement and the rigours of the expedition. It is clear that Burgess grappled with some of the scenes he witnessed and which he hastened to describe for his family at home: the different languages and confused interactions with the local people; the hardships of their work in Bahía Blanco and other parts of the survey; the forbidding coastline of Tierra del Fuego; the rough life of the Patagonians who come alongside in their canoes, their faces painted in red, black and white making them look – in his unusual simile – like so many "merry andrews"; or the devastation of parts of the Pacific coast by the earthquake of 1835. Burgess took enough of an interest in the remarkable scenes playing out before him that he has since been proven to have been the otherwise unnamed "sentry" who woke Darwin and brought him on deck to witness a volcano erupting while they were at anchor on a cold night off Osorno in January 1835 (Darwin Correspondence Project).

Indeed, one of the more striking aspects of the burgeoning research into the broader history of Darwin and the Beagle voyage is how little can truly be seen of the crew's perspective: the letters prove that Burgess, at least, was fully alive to the extraordinary scenes he was witnessing. This must also be why he treasured a piece of whale-tooth scrimshaw carved by one of his fellow Marines on the voyage, which featured scenes including one depicting four Fuegians in a canoe (now held by the Wardlaw Museum of the University of St. Andrew's).

It is also attractive to note that in order for Burgess to be eligible for the soldier's concession postal rate of one-penny for each piece – far cheaper than standard post – he had to prepay (at a time when payment on receipt was standard), explaining at one point that he cannot write to his sister as he literally does not have a second penny to hand. To qualify for the rate letters had to be authorised by a senior officer on board, meaning that they have the additional appeal of having been countersigned by officers on board, one by Bartholomew James Sulivan and two by the very long-serving John Clements Wickham.

When taken together with those in the Darwin papers, the letters form the backbone of a substantial biography of Burgess, itself a major contribution to the history of the Beagle. Their rediscovery not only restores a forgotten voice but gives shape to the experiences of the small and select group of Marines who protected the ship during its arduous circumnavigation. They provide an extremely uncommon insight into the forgotten men who made the voyage with Fitzroy and Darwin, and a rare glimpse of the real feelings of any British sailors (as opposed to officers or civilians) on such remote service in the Age of Sail.

A full catalogue and transcript of the letters is available on request.

References

Charles Darwin, Narrative of the Surveying Voyages… Vol. III (1839); Darwin Correspondence Project (online); Darwin Online; Life and Letters of the late Admiral Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan (1896); Robert FitzRoy, Narrative of the Surveying Voyages … Adventure and Beagle (1839); R.W. James, A Short History of the Cheshire Constabulary 1857—1957 (2005); R.D. Keynes, Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary (2001); Museum of Policing in Cheshire (online); Wilfrid Palmer & Mrs. Carne, The Story of Rainow (1974); Keith Thomson, 'H.M.S. Beagle, 1820—1870,' Scientific American (2014).

Biography

Thomas Burgess was born on 8 October 1810 in Heaton Norris, a small village near Stockport, on the south-eastern outskirts of Manchester, the son of Israel and Hannah, local shopkeepers (later in life Israel referred to himself slightly more grandly as a "provision dealer"). The family had lived in the area since at least the 1730s and were non-conformists (evidently Unitarians given that Thomas was baptised in Gee Cross Unitarian Chapel on 1 November 1810). Family history records suggest that Burgess was one of ten children although it is unknown how many of his siblings reached adulthood: three, at least, given that in his letters he mentions sending his respects to "Sister Harriet and to My two Brothers." His early life is not particularly well-recorded, but he must have had more than a rudimentary education at the Stockport Sunday School he is recorded as attending from 1815—1822, because he was evidently not only literate but wrote a good hand by the time he enlisted in the 24th Company of the Royal Marines (at Portsmouth) on 20 August 1829, when he was almost 19 years old. He was a tall heavy-set man with a "fresh complexion," brown hair and hazel eyes.

As a private in the Marines, he is rarely mentioned in the contemporary paperwork, even on board the much-studied Beagle where little is known about him or his colleagues. As a result, one of the attractive aspects of the present archive is that they include letters from the first part of his career which help understand both his experiences but also his reasoning for signing on with the Beagle.

In June 1830 Burgess joined HMS Tyne for a cruise across the Atlantic, an important ship in a South American context. As Burgess himself writes, they were initially sent to "haverdegrass [Le Havre] in france for to take in an english Ambas soder," not named but known to be the Hon. Henry Stephen Fox, an old crony of Byron's, appointed plenipotentiary to Buenos Aires. The Tyne was safely in Rio by mid-year, the voyage out described very neatly by Burgess in his second letter, which also confirms that this was his first ever time at sea (not only does he ruefully comment that the stories of life at ocean he has been told at home by an old seafaring uncle are true, but he is shaved and ducked crossing the line). At Rio, the letter also records, he transferred to the local flagship of Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Baker, HMS Warspite and then to the smaller tender HMS Adelaide, where he is "very comfortable … altho we are almost always at sea," but this transfer did mean that he missed some letters from home which had been directed on board the flag ship. His third letter includes an excellent description of how the Adelaide was involved in the work salvaging bullion by diving bell from the 1830 wreck of HMS Thetis, a major and highly contentious event in this era. The letter also very clearly reveals that Burgess found himself at something of a loose end, pondering returning to England when the Warspite sailed.

Clearly his love of adventure overcame him, because the next letter in the group from June 1832 is written on board the Beagle, proving by context that Fitzroy must have taken him on board straight after his own arrival in Rio. Burgess had clearly been on board when the ship ran up to Bahia and back in May to check longitude measurements and as a sort of proving voyage for the still relatively new crew; FitzRoy does not say as much, but it is easy to believe that he kept Burgess on board because of the death of three of the original crew on this run. This timing is also the only possible explanation for Burgess's letter having reached England by late August, as is confirmed by the postmarks.

Burgess's pride in the appointment is very clear (even if, in his enthusiasm, he initially writes the name as "Beadle"):

"I am now on board HMS Ship Beadle Surveying vessel and She is going going for A voyage Round they world and Instead of me g being home verry Soon it perhaps will be 4 or 5 Year before I See England again and I am Very happy that I have met with So good a Ship for if ever I do live to Come home I will be able to Sit Down and tell a good Story and Come home with my pocket well Lineed[.] You may tell George that I have thrown My Red Gacket Away and turned Sailor in Stead of Soldier[.]"

The letter also includes a striking account of his visit to what he calls "Sober Island," which is most likely his idiosyncratic spelling for part of the local 'Abrolhos' group noted by FitzRoy during this voyage. Given that he was a serving Marine, this passage is significant in terms of how he felt slightly overwhelmed at where he found himself: "when I wrote these few lines to you I was on Sober Island and Siting Down among A lot of black men and portugues and they was jabling So that I Scarcely new what I did write."

The fifth letter was written almost a year later from Montevideo "after a five months cruze" and shows Burgess being increasingly aware of the wonders he was witnessing. Given the privations of these survey expeditions it is not surprise to discover that, in the first instance, he is led by his stomach, his approval of the eastern coast (they had been surveying parts of modern Uruguay and Argentina) being chiefly based on the cheapness of provisions, not only in Montevideo but more particularly in "Baio Blanco" (Bahía Blanca), where "you will get beef almost for carrying away", let alone deer, ostrich and horse meat, the latter a particular delicacy among the Patagonians. The question of hunger nicely settled, he becomes more thoughtful about his impending return to Tierra del Fuego, leading him to perhaps the longest and most important reverie of the entire correspondence:

"I must now of go to Terre Del Fuego wich is they most frightfull coa coast I every saw for they verry high [land] and they top is covered with Snow and they verry high la heavy winds wich make it terrible to Ships and they inhabitants are they most miserable beings in existance I belive for they have got neither house house nor habitation but a poor miserable place made out of Bushes wich is neither wind tite nor water tite and their food is cheifly fish and as to their Clotheing they have got none with they aception of a peice of Seal Skin or guanaco Skin and they only part of their body that they seem to care about being covered is just between their Shoulders for they will cover that when all they rest of their body is naked and they will come along side of your Ship in a canoe made out of they bark of trees and they have got some kind of black and Red and White Daub that they daud their faces with wich make them apear like So many merry andrews and what bit of clotheing they have got they will give it up for a button and from there we went to they faulkland Islands and we got a plentiful supply of wild geese and there is a great number of Wild cattle and Horsees and pigs on they Islands."

There is a keen observer here, not only of the "frightfull" coast but also his watchful comments on the peoples they had met: few have matched Burgess's economy in describing the moment when the local canoes first glided alongside and his shock at their attire and face-painting, looking like "so many merry andrews" (the painted clowns that entertained county fairs). There is an echo of this in Darwin's own highly coloured account of the Fuegians bartering, in which he wrote "the more Fuegians the merrier; and very merry work it was" (Narrative, p. 241). Burgess's letter concludes with his comment that he would "verry Soon be out of they reach of Lett[ers] alltogether for I shall be Down on they [ ] Peru and Mexico and Down among [ ] South Sea Islands."

The last letter in the group, and indeed likely the last letter he sent home, was written at Valparaiso on the Pacific coast in June 1835. He has clearly had his share of risks (he comments that he is in good health, "thank God for it") and has been a long time without any mail from home, perhaps because his letters have been lost with the wreck of HMS Challenger, sunk off Chile that May. He has been busy, he writes, "surveying on the west coast of America," and is about to head across the Pacific to New South Wales, where he expects to arrive shortly after Christmas; he was not far off in the event, as they reached Sydney on 12 January 1836.

The centrepiece of this letter is his striking description of the devastation of Valdivia (Chile) by earthquake, the same event which also greatly troubled Darwin. Burgess writes of visiting the low-lying area of Concepción in the days after the strike and the horrors of the scene: "that City was Shook completely down to the grand[.] I was there a few days afterwards and it was A Shocking Sight to see numbers of poor famileys without a place to put their heads in but under a bush and where they houses were not shook down they Sea rose about its level so much above its level that it swept houses and every thing away before it[.]" Darwin had been equally moved, describing the coast as looking "as if a thousand great ships had wrecked" and the towns further inland as a "miserable and fearful scene" (Narrative, pp. 370—373).

The Valparaiso letter is the last of the group. One of the curious ironies of researching longer naval voyages is that the final stints at sea are both the most likely time for tensions to flare but also the least likely to be described in letters home (as the participants will likely outpace the letters in reaching home). Burgess explicitly says this is the case for him, commenting that "Directly I arive I will write" and that "when I come home I will give you all particulars respectin my Voyage." One would like to have read what he made of the Pacific.

Burgess duly made the voyage home and arrived in good health in October 1836, but he clearly had seen enough of the sea (another echo of Darwin!) and is known to have asked his father to help him out by sending the £20 necessary to buy his early discharge from the Marines. By early in the new year he had been officially released, the last document in the present group being his official discharge from the Admiralty after 7 years, 5 months, 4 weeks and 1 days service. He was, it is noted at the bottom, of "good character."

It is believed that after his release in 1837 he went straight back to Stockport in Cheshire – his "native place" as he would later write to Darwin – and was appointed an officer of the Cheshire Constabulary by the good offices of Admiral Sir Salisbury Davenport, no insignificant patron. Davenport was a local landowner particularly associated with Bramhall Hall, only a few miles from Heaton Norris where the Burgess family lived. This appointment may have been brought about in part through the help of another friend mentioned twice in the letters and clearly a close comrade, one Abraham Longson (c.1810—1878), of another old Heaton Norris family. Longson also became a Cheshire Constable of long standing. By 1838 Burgess was well enough established in his career that he married a woman called Hannah Fletcher (1813—1886), who had been born in Peak Forest, Derbyshire. The service took place in Cheadle (again, quite close by Stockport) on 26 February 1838. He and Hannah are recorded as having seven children together, although Burgess's early married life was shaken by him being charged on 6 March 1839 by the Overseers of the Poor in Heaton Norris for the maintenance of a child born to Mary Ann Hadley, who lived just a few doors down from Burgess's father.

Once commissioned as a Police Constable Burgess spent his entire working career in different postings between Manchester and Macclesfield. As a serving Constable his name does pop up in newspaper reports of the day, not least an April 1842 account of the death of a young man called Samuel Perry killed in an "up-and-down fight" for a small purse in nearby Norbury, a prize fight which Burgess had tried to pre-empt (see The Times, 5 October 1841). The broad dimensions of both his family and career are sketched in by the recurring census in England and his own police records. They show that in 1841 he was at the small town of "Boden", Hazel Grove, Stockport before moving to the small village of East Poynton, where two of his and Hannah's infant children were buried in the parish church. In 1848 he moved a little to the west, living at Swan Street, Bolin Fee (Wilmslow) for five years before being posted to Hurdsfield. The records from this period are a little indistinct, but it does seem that he was still serving at Hurdsfield when, in 1857, when he was fined for being drunk on duty and that he was still there when he was again cautioned three years later for being in a public house while on duty. In 1861 he took his final posting to Rainow, on the edge of the Peak District. The family lived at Hawkins Lane, his wife Hannah noted as the local "toll bar collector", across the road from the Rising Sun inn and, unusually, was enforced by a chain across the road rather than an actual bar (The Story of Rainow, p. 42). The house in Rainow is still standing, a two-storey brick building on the Macclesfield Road. At this time they still had five children at home of whom three, Thomas (14), Alice (13) and Arthur (10), were working as silk piecers. It was at Rainow that he got in trouble with his superiors one last time, allowing a prisoner to escape payment of arrears for an illegitimate child in November 1863, being ordered to pay all costs.

Over these three decades Burgess served during a time of some significant unrest. His service began under the fairly informal system of High and Petty Constables but he was clearly one of the better-regarded officers who also flourished in the more modern service established after the County and Borough Police Act of 1856. He would have witnessed the Chartist movement at its fullest measure (his friend and colleague Abraham Longson testified in one of the more significant cases), the devastating upheavals during the rinderpest outbreak of 1865—1866, the ripples caused by the reputed Fenian plot against the Chester garrison (the 'Chester Castle Plot') of 1867 and was still serving amid the general industrial unrest of 1868. By the time of the 1871 census Burgess was still living in the house in Hawkins Lane but was now listed as a "Superannuated Police Officer." Given he is known to have retired on 20 April 1870 and that he would tell Darwin that he had served in Cheshire for 32 years, his service must have begun the same year as his marriage, 1838. His pension was 32 pounds p.a.

Burgess therefore found himself at a loose end while still a relatively young man of 60 and at a time when Darwin's celebrity after the publication of On the Origin of Species (1859) was well established. It was presumably this which led him finally, in 1875, to write to his former shipmate, goaded into doing so by an unnamed friend who apparently did not believe some of his wilder tales – apparently Burgess had, as he had always promised, been telling stories of his time in the South Seas (see the Darwin Correspondence Project). Burgess's letter of 26 March 1875 shows that he was not only a little reticent to approach Darwin, but worried he would simply not be remembered, so helpfully reminds him of several occasions they were together on the voyage, such as when they walked 11 miles up the River Santa Cruz in April 1834 and lost their compass, and how he had given Darwin water on their return (see Darwin, Narrative, pp. 213—226); or the time when Burgess was on duty off Osorno on the night of 19 January 1835 when the volcano erupted and how he had hurried below to wake Darwin to witness it, "and you Exclaimed, O my God, what a sight, I shall never forget." This certainly occurred, Burgess's letter proving that he was the unnamed sentry mentioned in Darwin's book (see Darwin, Narrative, p. 356).

Significantly, what these later letters prove is that in his retirement Burgess was haunted by his memories of the voyage: "I can at times picture to myself very clear," he wrote pensively, "some of the sights whe had in the Beagle, for instance, the coast of Patagonia and Terra del Fuego Falkland Islands, Straits of Magallan with Port Famine and Wigwam Cove and Otahite with Dolphin Bay, and Point Venus. I fancy at times I can see them." Perhaps it was this sense of being overwhelmed by his memories that struck a chord with Darwin. Certainly, there was no-one else to whom Burgess felt he could turn because, as he commented, "I have not seen one of the crew since I was paid off."

Darwin's answer is not extant, but he wrote within days and clearly with some enthusiasm, for he not only included his photographic portrait as Burgess had requested, but was warm enough that Burgess felt encouraged to send his own follow-up within the fortnight (13 April 1875) "acknowledging the kindness I received from you." Burgess commented that he definitely recognised Darwin from the portrait and – remarkably – sent his own "Likness" in return, although the whereabouts of this is not currently recorded. It was also in this letter that Burgess commented that he had "never had the pleasure of Reading one of your Works" and hoping that Darwin might condescend to send him one. Again, Darwin was prompt and must have sent the requested book immediately, Burgess's reply of a week later (21 April 1875) thanking him effusively: "I shall whilst I live Prize the Book and when Dead have Ordered it to given to one of my gransons who is named after me." Again, the fate of this book is not known, although it is assumed to have been a copy of the narrative of the Beagle voyage, which would be the most logical present given the recipient. It is hard not to speculate as to the fate of the volume and, indeed, whether Burgess did read it. He certainly would have ample time to do so; Thomas Burgess died on 20 March 1882, still resident in Rainow. He was buried at Poynton in the churchyard of St. George's alongside the two children he had buried in the 1840s, as well as his boy Thomas Jnr., who had died in 1867. His wife Hannah died four years later on 6 June 1886 and was also buried at St. George's.

The Letters

All of the letters were technically sent to his father, but begin with greetings to both of his parents and were clearly meant to be seen by the whole family and – Burgess's much reused phrase – all "enquiring friends."

The spelling is idiosyncratic ("they" for "the"; "ham" for "am"; etc.) and there are not a few redundancies in his language, but each is clear and legible.

Most have clear postal marks and directions, including the franking authorisation of various senior officers (to ensure he was eligible for the soldier's concession rate and could send letters in England for a penny), therefore including signatures of some of the serving officers on board the Beagle.

The catalogue here includes detailed notes on condition; in short, the letters show signs of usage but are intact and generally very attractive.

Full transcripts of all six letters are available for inspection.

1. [Portsmouth, 1831]

Two-page ALS dated "1830" in error for 1831, on wove paper, 22.2 x 18 cm., stamps for Portsmouth (11 January 1831) and "F Paid" (12 January 1831), marked one penny paid in red ink; some light foxing, old folds and some old repairs, very good.

By the time he was writing Burgess had already served almost 18 months in the Royal Marines, apparently at Portsmouth, but this letter records his excitement at being sent on board HMS Tyne on duty for the West Indies and South America: it is therefore brief but meaningful, as he writes home to announce that his real work is about to begin and that he will be incommunicado for the foreseeable future.

2. [April 1831, Brazil]

Two-page ALS on wove paper watermarked "Bath 1828", the letter intact but the second leaf with address panel torn and nearly lost, retaining only fragments of the address and the Falmouth postal stamp (24 June 1831).

An important letter sent home immediately after his arrival in Brazil. It recounts his voyage to Le Havre where they picked up the English Ambassador (Byron's friend the Hon. Henry Stephen Fox), then sailing via the islands of Madeira, Tenerife and Cape Verde ("St Jagoes") before crossing to Rio. The letter includes a good description of his first crossing of the line and of his first bout of seasickness in the Channel (much like Darwin would experience on the Beagle, the Tyne was caught by gales and forced back to port). The experience was just as bad, he writes, as his old uncle Thomas had led him to expect.

It is in this letter that Burgess also first mentions his old friend, Abraham Longson (c.1810—1878), implying that both of them had formerly served together in some capacity (perhaps in the Army or Militia, given that Burgess asks "how my old companions are all getting on"). Like Burgess, Longson also became a Cheshire Constable (see the March 1843 trial of the Chartist Feargus O'Connor).

3. [December 1831, Brazil]

Two-page ALS on laid paper with indistinct watermark, 30.8 x 21 cm., no visible postal markings; good and clear, the paper quite stained and damaged along the old folds.

The first of the letters to really detail Burgess's service in South America, this was sent home from Rio at the end of 1831 (although he writes "1830" in error). He is relieved to have finally received letters from the family at home despite the sad news they brought – an aunt and uncle had died – and has had several months hard work while serving on HMS Adelaide, a small tender that was part of the fleet attached to HMS Warspite, working on bringing up the bullion from the then infamous wreck of HMS Thetis "by means of a ships iron tank made into a diveing bell."

The letter concludes with another mention of his friend Longson and his family at home, but is perhaps most significant for showing Burgess on the brink of quitting South America to return to England on the Warspite, but still in two-minds about his future.

4. [June 1832, Brazil]

Three-page ALS on wove paper, 23.5 x 19 cm., postal stamps for Portsmouth (30 August 1832) and "Paid" (31 August 1832), hand-signed frank of J.C. Wickham, red wax seal, marked one penny paid in red ink; damaged and worn, a few small tears and some old repairs, missing part of the second leaf (but not substantially affecting the manuscript), generally good and sound.

On the Beagle at last, on the brink of sailing for Montevideo and due to make a voyage round the world which he thinks will last four or five years (a pretty accurate guess): "I am Very happy that I have met with So good a Ship for if ever I do live to Come home I will be able to Sit Down and tell a good Story and Come home with my pocket well Lineed."

As this letter makes very clear, Burgess was thrilled to be taken on board and had – by context – already been part of the ship when FitzRoy took a short run north from Rio to Bahia to check local longitude. The letter includes a remarkable passage by Burgess on his first experience of sitting down on what he calls "Sober Island" (perhaps part of the Abrolhos group out of Rio) and records with great satisfaction that his address for the foreseeable future will be "HM Ship Beagle South America."

The letter is boldly countersigned by the later commander of the vessel, John Clements Wickham (his signature was necessary to frank that Burgess was due the one-penny postal rate).

5. [May 1833, Uruguay]

Three-page ALS on wove paper, 25.2 x 19.8 cm., smudged red postal stamp (indistinct), marked one penny paid in red ink, endorsed by Lt. Bartholomew James Sulivan; some foxing and damage to the old folds, very good.

Burgess's description of the coasts south of Montevideo and down to the "Terre Del Fuego" and of his experiences during his first year on the Beagle. It is striking to report that one of his fondest memories of their gruelling work was the cheapness of the beef, venison and ostrich-meat he had purchased, although he appears to have drawn the line at eating horse despite the local "Patagonians" having a taste for it, "wich I thout rather curious."

Burgess also writes at length about his experiences on the "frightfull" coasts of Tierra del Fuego, where the higher ground is covered in snow and the heavy winds make conditions "terrible to ships." He also gives a startling first-hand account of the people of this "miserable" land, including his description of how they come alongside the Beagle in rough canoes, their faces painted with a black, red and white "daub" which makes them "apear like So many merry andrews and what bit of clotheing they have got they will give it up for a button." The letter concludes with his expectation that they will soon be through the Straits of Magellan and into the Pacific, and "out of they reach of Lett[ers] altogether."

With the penny-post soldier's concession rate endorsement signature of Lieut. Bartholomew James Sulivan (1810—1890), a lesser-known figure in terms of the history of the Beagle voyage but a lifelong proponent of hydrography who made Admiral and whose published letters are an important primary source.

6. [June 1835, Chile]

Two-page ALS on laid paper watermarked "J. Green 1831", 32.5 x 20.2 cm., postal stamps for Portsmouth (15 October 1835) and "F Paid" (16 October 1835), marked one penny paid in red ink; very good and legible, quite damaged at old folds with some insignificant loss.

The last of the group: with admirable concision Burgess writes that he has been "busily employed Surveying on they Coast west Coast of America and by they time you get this letter I shall have visited they Coast of Peru and on my pasage across they Pacifick and visiting the South Sea Island and Shortly after Christmas I shall lie at New South Wales." The letter clearly shows that the rigour of his duties was wearing on Burgess, but is also testament to his empathetic reaction to the conditions on the Pacific coast of South America, most notably his arresting account of the impact of the earthquake which so powerfully affected Darwin and the rest of the crew as well.

Provenance: By descent in the Burgess family; most recently in the collection of Gerald Ellott MNZM, postal historian.

Condition Report: Some signs of wear and tear with a couple of paper repairs and paper loss but generally good and attractive.

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