Printed Heading ‘By Francis Mason, Esq C.B.Commodore and Senior Officer of His Majest’s Ships and Vessels in the Pacific.
A Fine Manuscript, Autograph Letter to Edward Harene, Signed with instructions by Mason.
‘Lieutenant William McCan, Second Lieutenant of this Ship having been discharged to Sick Quarters on shore.
You are hereby required and directed forthwith to take upon yourself the Charge and Command of Lieutenant on board His Majesty’s Ship Blonde, and to Act in the Station on board her accordingly until further Order – Her Officers and Company subordinate to you being hereby required, and Commanded, to behave themselves jointly and severally to their respective employments, with all due Respect and obedience, unto you their said Lieutenant; and you are as strictly charged, to observe and execute, as well the General Printed Instructions, as what Orders and directions you may from time to time receive from me, or any other Your Superior Officer for His Majestys Service.
Hereof, nor you nor any of you may fail as you will answer to the Contrary at your peril. And for so doing his shall being your Authority Given under my hand on board HM Ship Blonde at Valparaiso this 20th day of June 1835.
On June 14th, 1835 the Beagle returned from Valparaiso, Chile. Darwin being on his inland excursions, There Fitzroy discovered that HMS Challenger, missing since May 19th, had been wrecked in a storm south of Conception and the crew were stranded inland by the Leubu River. Fitzroy proposed taking HMS Blonde to rescue, and after disagreeing, Mason eventually consented.
On the day after this document was dispatched, Mason in HMS Blonde set off with Lt. Harene and Captain Fitzroy as Pilot. They anchored at the nearest port, Fitzroy taking a party and provisions to camp. Meanwhile Mason hired a smaller boat the Carmen that might navigate the river, but it overshot the camp, was dismantled in a storm and was eventually towed back to Valparaiso by HMS Blonde. Fitzroy navigated the Blonde into the river. but the weather conditions were so poor that the Challenger crew were not taken off the island until 5th July.
This from Darwin’s Letters:
‘Darwin’s next letter brings out another side of FitzRoy’s character. In this episode his rapid decision and rapid action were the means of saving his friend Captain Seymour and the crew of the wrecked Challenger from off the coast of Chile. FitzRoy had a desperate ride through many miles of hostile Araucanian Indian country to locate the camp of the wrecked crew, and after his return piloted the Blonde, a frigate under Commodore Mason, to the spot and carried through the rescue only just in time, for disease, starvation and menacing Indians were all threatening the safety of the encampment. We can read between the lines in FitzRoy’s own account and get the impression of a splendid and almost ferocious determination to save his friend, all obstacles being hewn away.
Darwin’s letter home tells of the stir the event caused.
‘ Lima, July, 1835.’
‘. . . When I reached the Port of Copiapò, I found the Beagle there but with Wickham as temporary Captain. Shortly after the Beagle got into Valparaiso, news arrived that H.M.S. Challenger was lost at Arauco, and that Captain Seymour and crew were badly off among the Indians. The old Commodore in the Blonde was very slack in his motions—in short afraid of getting on that lee-shore in the Winter; so Captain FitzRoy had to bully him, and at last offered to go as Pilot. We hear that they have succeeded in saving nearly all hands, but that the Captain and Commodore have had a tremendous quarrel; the former having hinted something about a Court Martial for his slowness. We suspect that such a taught-hand as the Captain is, has opened the eyes of everyone, fore and aft, in the Blonde to a surprising degree. We expect the Blonde will arrive here in a very few days, and all are very curious to hear the news; no change in state politicks ever caused in its circle more conversation than this wonderful quarrel between the Captain and the Commodore has with us.’