This Folio Life: Picture research for The Voyage of HMS Beagle

Faye Cheung, picture researcher within Folio’s editorial team, on sourcing some contemporary records of Darwin’s great voyage.

In 1833 Conrad Martens joined the crew of HMS Beagle in Montevideo, Uruguay. Having trained as a landscape artist he was employed by Captain FitzRoy as the expedition’s draughtsman. Martens’s sketches and watercolours serve as important records of the voyage of HMS Beagle, and are a pleasure to view.

'Montevideo harbour from the North-west' Beagle Watercolours 1878 - Conrand Martens.

Montevideo Harbour, Uruguay, from the north-west and a detail from the south-east. Watercolour of a drawing by Conrad Martens dated 1833. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

After Martens joined the expedition at Montevideo Harbour, the Beagle sailed on to Patagonia. They arrived at Port Desire on 23 December 1833. During the voyage Martens became friends with Darwin, and indeed Martens features in The Voyage of HMS Beagle itself, where Darwin describes how Martens shot an ostrich at Port Desire which turned out to be an unusually small species, later named after Darwin:

Mr. Martens shot an ostrich; and I looked at it, forgetting at the moment, in the most unaccountable manner, the whole subject of the Petises, and thought it was a not full-grown bird of the common sort. It was cooked and eaten before my memory returned. Fortunately, the head, neck, legs, wings, many of the larger feathers, and a large part of the skin, had been preserved; and from these a very nearly perfect specimen has been put together, and is now exhibited in the museum of the Zoological Society. Mr. Gould, in describing this new species, has done me the honour of calling it after my name.

Ostrich (Rhea Darwinii). Coloured lithograph from Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S Beagle, 1841

Ostrich (Rhea Darwinii). Coloured lithograph from Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S Beagle, 1841. Part III (Bids), plate 47. Reproduced by permission of Historic England Archive

For our 2017 edition of The Voyage of HMS Beagle we commissioned new photography of some of the artworks by Conrad Martens held at the National Maritime Museum.  As well as landscapes by Martens, our edition is also illustrated with coloured lithographs from Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S Beagle and from Narrative of the surveying Voyages of the H.M.S Adventure and Beagle, showing the numerous species discovered during the voyage.

The National Maritime Museum photo studio photographing one of Conrad Martens’s artworks for our 2017 edition of The Voyage of HMS Beagle © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

The National Maritime Museum photo studio photographing one of Conrad Martens’s artworks for our 2017 edition of The Voyage of HMS Beagle © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London www.images.rmg.co.uk

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