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Who Named Beagle Gulf?: A Cautionary Tale

Journal of Northern Territory History
Issue 22 (2011)

Abstract: The Cambridge Dictionary of Australian Places describes Beagle Gulf, accurately enough, as: the body of water into which Port Darwin opens .On the west it opens into the Timor Sea and on the east Clarence Strait separates it from Van Diemen Gulf. Bathurst Island bounds it to the north.[It is] about 100 kms long and 50 kms wide This publication goes on to claim that "it was named in 1836 by Robert Fitzroy, commander of HMS Beagle, after his ship. The Beagle charted the area with Charles Darwin aboard as naturalist." Alas, that claim is wildly inaccurate. It is easy enough to see how such an error might have arisen. Beagle, on her homeward voyage from the South American survey, did call at Sydney, Hobart and King George's Sound (Western Australia) in 1836; and Charles Darwin was indeed aboard her. It's a short step from there to the assumption that Beagle's captain, Fitzroy, must also have seen and named Beagle Gulf; but only if the authors of that statement had not read Darwin's Beagle journal, Fitzroy's account of the voyage or any of the plethora of secondary sources about it. From King George's Sound, Beagle sailed directly to the Cocos-Keeling Islands, off the south coast of Java, thence to Capetown and home to England. Neither Fitzroy nor Darwin ever came within three thousand sea miles of Beagle Gulf or knew of its existence.

To cite this article: Powell, Alan. Who Named Beagle Gulf?: A Cautionary Tale [online]. Journal of Northern Territory History, No. 22, 2011: 104-108. Availability: <;dn=118146966172132;res=IELHSS> ISSN: 1034-7488. [cited 22 Jul 17].

Personal Author: Powell, Alan; Source: Journal of Northern Territory History, No. 22, 2011: 104-108 DOI: Document Type: Journal Article ISSN: 1034-7488 Subject: Marine parks and reserves; Discoveries in geography; Shipwrecks; History; Names, Geographical; Identifier: Beagle Gulf Peer Reviewed: Yes

Database: Humanities & Social Sciences Collection