La Biblia, ó el Antiguo y Nuevo Testamento, Traducidos en Espanol.
HMS BEAGLE. ; STOKES John Lort. (1825.)
A BIBLE ON THE BEAGLE
8vo. Contemporary blindstamped calf, worn but holding, ownership inscription to front free endpaper, some minor dampstaining and spotting. 585, , [iv], 188pp. London, Samuel Bagster,
A wonderful survival from the most important scientific voyage of the nineteenth century. John Lort Stokes' Spanish bible, taken on the Beagle while conducting a survey of South American waters.
If anyone might be considered a veteran of the Beagle, it is Stokes. Commencing as a fourteen-year-old midshipman and finishing as Commander, he served every level of his profession on this one ship. "In October 1825 he was sent to the Beagle, then fitting out under Commander Pringle Stokes, for surveys in South American waters, in company with the Adventure, commanded by Captain Philip Parker King. On the death of Commander King in November 1828, Robert FitzRoy was promoted, and Stokes served with him until the return of the Beagle to England in 1830, and again, when the Beagle was recommissioned, from 1831 to 1836, during which period Charles Darwin was naturalist on board" (ODNB). In 1841, Stokes succeeded Wickham as her commander. He remained on board the Beagle until 1843, an astonishing eighteen years.
The first voyage of the Beagle (1826-30) carried "particular instructions to check longitudes as far as Montevideo, and then to survey from Cape San Antonio to the south, including the Río de la Plata, Tierra del Fuego and along western coast as far as Isla de Chiloé" (Howgego, K13). The second voyage (1831-1836), the circumnavigation on which Charles Darwin also sailed, commenced with a continuation of of the South American survey before crossing the Pacific. As assistant surveyor, Stokes would have expected to speak Spanish with government officials as well as local sailors he encountered on the voyage. He clearly intended to improve his language skills via reading a familiar text such as the Bible.
There was, of course, another reason for Stokes to have specifically taken a Spanish-language bible. In his excellent book Mariners Be Warned!, Marsden Hordern notes that Stokes' attitude toward Christianity was similar "to many service officers, explorers and civil administrators. As agents of Pax Brittania they felt it a duty - indeed a divine right - to promote the spread of Christian knowledge, seeing themselves as servants of God whose interests seemed at times closely identified with those of the Colonial Office. This evangelical zeal was not often deflected by doubts as to whether the heathen might have something to teach as well as learn ..." But this is too blunt a depiction of Stokes, whose Christianity was both committed and sympathetic, rather than a mere instrument of Empire.
Stokes was surely pleased when, after the dreadful suicide of Pringle Stokes (no relation) at Port Famine, command of the Beagle was given to Robert FitzRoy, a dedicated Christian. There was even a faint missionary aspect to the second voyage: one of their instructions while in South America was to return "the three native Fuegians brought back from [the] previous voyage and educated in England and, with the aid of a British missionary, ... develop an outpost in Tierra del Fuego" (Howgego, F10).
All of which establishes a remarkable context for the fact that, on this second voyage, Stokes shared a cabin with Charles Darwin. It was, of course, by investigating the New World that Darwin developed his theory of evolution.
On the five-year voyage, the two men got to know each other well. A sense of the warm relationship between Stokes and Darwin can be gleaned from Stokes' remarks in the Morning Post just days after Darwin's death: "Perhaps no one can better testify to his early and most trying labours than myself. We worked together for several years at the same table in the poop cabin of the Beagle during her celebrated voyage, he with his microscope and myself at the charts. It was often a very lively end of the little craft, and distressingly so to my old friend, who suffered greatly from sea-sickness. After, perhaps an hour's work he would say to me, 'Old fellow, I must take the horizontal for it,' that being the best relief position from ship motion; a stretch out on one side of the table for some time would enable him to resume his labours for a while, when he again had to lie down."
They maintained a friendship and correspondence after Darwin left the Beagle. Indeed, in 1839 while surveying the coast of northern Australia, Stokes named Darwin in his old cabin-mate's honour. Darwin read the proofs of Stokes' Discoveries in Australia (London, 1846).
Of all the relics from the Beagle, this is surely one of the most evocative. The results of this voyage, and Darwin's theory of evolution which sprang from it, completed the scientific journey commenced by Copernicus three hundred years prior.
In the 1820s, S. Bagster published a series of bibles in different languages including Italian, German, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Spanish. The series was called "Biblia Polyglotta."
Hordern, M., Mariners are Warned! John Lort Stokes and HMS Beagle in Australia 1837-1843 (Melbourne, 1989), p.115; Howgego II, F10 & K13.
Stock Code: 233850