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When the "Beagle's first captain committed suicide while at sea in 1828, he was replaced by a young naval officer of a new mold. Robert FitzRoy was the most brilliant and scientific sea captain of his age. He used the "Beagle, a survey vessel, as a laboratory for the new field of the natural sciences. But his plan to bring four "savages" home to England to civilize them as Christian gentlefolk backfired when scandal loomed over their sexual misbehavior at the Walthamstow Infants School. FitzRoy needed to get them out of England fast, and thus was born the second and most famous voyage of the "Beagle.
FitzRoy feared the loneliness of another long voyage -- with madness in his own family, he was haunted by the fate of the "Beagle's previous captain -- so for company he took with him the young amateur naturalist Charles Darwin. Like FitzRoy, Darwin believed, at the beginning of the voyage, in the absolute word of the Bible and the story of man's creation. The two men spent five years circling the globe together, but by the end of their voyage they had reached startlingly different conclusions about the origins of the natural world.
In navalterms, the voyage was a stunning scientific success. But FitzRoy, a fanatical Christian, was horrified by the heretical theories Darwin began to develop. As these began to influence the profoundest levels of religious and scientific thinking in the nineteenth century, FitzRoy's knowledge that he had provided Darwin with the vehicle for his sacrilegious ideas propelled him down an irrevocable path to suicide.
This true story -- part biography, part sea drama, and a subtle study of one of the defining moments in the history of science -- reads like the finest historical fiction. It is a chronicle of the remarkable chain of events without which Darwin would most likely have lived and died an obscure English country parson with a fondness for collecting beetles.
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