The first scientific mapping of the Straits of Magellan, and the first voyage of Charles Darwin

Captains Phillip Parker King and Robert Fitz Roy / J. & C. Walker Sculpt., The STRAIT of MAGALHAENS commonly called MAGELLAN Surveyed In His Majesty’s Ships ADVENTURE AND BEAGLE BY Captain Phillip Parker King, R.N.F.R.S. & c, AND Captain Robert Fitz Roy R.N. 1826-30, 1832-34. London: Hydrographical Office of the Admiralty, May 2nd, 1832 [but 1836-37].
Engraving, 24”h x 36 ½”w plus margins, uncolored.
On Approval

An unrecorded early state of the extremely rare chart of the first detailed and scientific survey of the Strait of Magellan, undertaken in expeditions by Captains Philip Parker King and Robert Fitz Roy between 1826 and 1836.   Also an important artifact of “Darwiniana,” being the only original cartographic record of the first overseas voyage of Charles Darwin.

The first surveying voyage to Tierra del Fuego
Identifying a safe passage around the southern tip of South America was one of the great challenges of early-19th century navigation. Rounding Cape Horn was perilous, and while the Strait of Magellan held out the promise of a more sheltered route, its complex geography and hydrography were poorly understood.

In 1826, the Royal Navy dispatched the HMS Adventure and its smaller companion, the HMS Beagle, to survey the coast of southern Patagonia, and the Strait of Magellan in particular. Overall command of the expedition fell to Captain Phillip Parker King aboard the Adventure. The relatively nimble Beagle, under Captain Pringle Stokes, was charged the circumnavigation of Tierra del Fuego. After Stokes’ suicide Lieutenant Robert Fitz Roy—already at 23 an energetic leader and competent surveyor—assumed command of the Beagle. In the course of the voyage Fitz Roy discovered the Beagle Channel, the interoceanic passage between Tierra del Fuego and Navarino Island.

Upon the Beagle and Adventure’s return to England a chart was published depicting the survey’s findings. It was announced in The Nautical Magazine for June 1832:

“The Strait Of Magalhaens, commonly called Magellan. Surveyed in His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and Beagle. By Captain Phillip Parker King, R.N. F.R. S. 1826—1830. Price 6s. Size, Double Elephant. Admiralty.


“This is the first chart published of the South American coast, surveyed by Captain King. It contains the whole navigation of this extraordinary, and, we may add, dangerous Strait. Hitherto no chart has appeared, on which a ship could depend, nor a set of directions to consult; and thus have the dangers of this Strait remained as formidable as they were to the first navigators. Numerous channels and inlets have been discovered by Captain King, that are now distinctly defined, among which are the Otway and Skyring waters, places abounding in seals and sea elephants. To vessels employed in hunting these animals, the present chart will be most valuable, as well as the directions by which it is accompanied, and geographers will at length obtain a correct delineation of the southern parts of the South American continent, as well as the heights of the principal mountains. The southern limits of this chart extend to Lat. 55° 9’ S.” (page 203)

The second surveying voyage to Tierra del Fuego, including Darwin
While the results of King and Fitz Roy’s expedition were well received, the survey of the Strait of Magellan was far from complete. At Fitz Roy’s behest, the Beagle was fitted for a second voyage with the most advanced scientific and navigational instruments. Through an unlikely chain of inquiries Charles Darwin, a brilliant but obscure amateur naturalist on track to becoming a rural clergyman, was selected to conduct a scientific appraisal of the landmasses on the Beagle’s route.

The second surveying voyage of the Beagle departed England in December 1831. Over the next two years Fitz Roy and crew fulfilled their surveying mandate, while Darwin combed the landscape gathering samples and developing insights that eventually coalesced into his theory of natural selection. Prefiguring the insights that would later make him famous, Darwin made important observations with respect to the natural history of the mysterious landscape and its inhabitants. Once the surveying was complete, the Beagle crossed the Pacific, giving Darwin his first exposure to the unique flora and fauna of New Zealand and Australia. The expedition returned to England in October 1836.

The present chart was published upon the Beagle’s return. Presumably Fitz Roy compiled it by revising extensively the 1832 chart based on the results of the second voyage. It is a masterpiece of scientific surveying, conducted in a geographically complex and physically dangerous region under difficult circumstances. The contributions of Charles Darwin are memorialized by “Darwin Sound,” as well as “Mt. Darwin” towering some 7000 feet above the south coast of Tierra del Fuego. While the chart is an extreme rarity, its influence was profound, as it appeared in numerous editions into the 1870s and became the basis for many subsequent charts of one of the world’s most important shipping lanes. In 1837, FitzRoy was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society for his achievements.

Another outcome of the expedition was the “Journal & Remarks,” written by Charles Darwin at FitzRoy’s request as the third volume of the Narrative of the surveying voyages of his Majesty’s ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836 (1839), which was subsequently popularized as the Voyage of the Beagle. Darwin’s account became a best seller and established his celebrity as a naturalist. Volume I of this work contains a much-reduced version of the chart offered here.

Editions and rarity
As noted above, the first edition of this chart was advertised for sale in June 1832, pre-dating Fitz Roy’s discoveries of 1832-1834.  Another edition, heavily revised to reflect the findings of the second voyage, was published in the early months of 1837.  The present chart, still dated May 2nd 1832 in the imprint, would seem to be an unrecorded intermediate state of the map, preceding the 1837 edition and thus the first to incorporate the findings of the second voyage. The most obvious difference between the two is the addition on the 1837 chart of several lines of text below the title.

The significance and utility of the King-Fitz Roy chart was such that it was issued numerous times over more than three decades. Beyond those just discussed, between COPAC and OCLC I find London editions of 1838, 1861, 1865, 1868, 1869 and 1874; Paris editions of 1838, 1864 and 1874; and a Madrid edition of 1871. To this list I can add an 1871 London edition that I owned in partnership with Barry Ruderman Antique Maps some years ago. All editions appear to be very rare, recorded in just a handful of copies.


Some soiling, largely confined to margins. Margins with some minor mends, reinforced and extended in places.