To say that there are ship captains who have had an impact on Pitcairn is like saying that there is dishonesty in politics. All through the years there have been captains who in various ways have left their mark on Pitcairn, both good and bad. For the final Hall of Fame induction this year Dem Tull wishes to pay tribute to one of the early captains to visit the Pitcairn community, Frederick William Beechey.
Frederick William Beechey was born in London on February 17th, 1796. He was the son of Sir William Beechey, an accomplished portrait painter among whose successes was as the portrait painter to Queen Charlotte. His mother was Phyllis Ann Jessup.
The young Beechey learned artistry from his family at a young age, but at the age of ten he joined the Royal Navy and was soon a midshipman. He was already a good artist, and in the navy he became a talented draftsman. Of note in his career was his participation in the attack on New Orleans in January, 1815 against the Americans, after which he was promoted to lieutenant.
In 1818, Beechey was appointed as second-in-command and chief draughtsman on the brig Trent under Lieutenant John Franklin in their attempts to locate the elusive Northwest Passage. Eventually (in 1843) his narrative of this trip, A voyage of discovery towards the North Pole was printed. Following this there were more missions in the interest of exploration and cartography, and on one of these missions, on January 25th, 1822 he was promoted to the rank of commander.
Beechey was appointed commander of the H.M.S. Blossom in 1825, the purpose of which was primarily exploration, mostly in the Pacific Ocean. Also on the voyage, in the capacity of midshipman was his younger brother, Richard. Soon after entering the Pacific, Beechey came across Ducie Island, then following that, Henderson Island, and finally at 1 o’clock in the afternoon of December 4th, 1825, they sighted Pitcairn Island.
What followed the arrival on Pitcairn was a visit whose memory lasted for many years to come. Beechey and his crew mingled with the Pitcairners, which still included the venerable mutineer John Adams, who willingly spoke of the history of the Bounty and Pitcairn to Beechey as well as several others who have written accounts. Beechey also had the island mapped for the first time since Carteret, which was a definite improvement. This map was still in use on most ships until the latter years of the 20th century, and is still in use by some. What followed from the visit was a wealth of written information on Pitcairn Island, its culture, its history and its people. Not just from Beechey, but from many other members of his crew. His brother Richard contributed by painting several paintings of Pitcairn which are still around today. After a long visit of over a fortnight, the Blossom weighed anchor on December 21st and sailed off towards Polynesia.
After briefly stopping at Oeno, the Blossom continued on her voyage. During this voyage, Beechey was finally promoted to the rank of captain. The expedition finally concluded when they reached England in September, 1828. Beechey’s published account, Narrative of a voyage to the Pacific and Beering’s Strait was printed in 1831 and was a success. He also married his fiancée, Charlotte Stapleton in December, 1828, with whom he eventually had five daughters.
In the following years, Beechey conducted more surveys and in 1854 he was promoted to Rear-Admiral. In 1855 he was elected President of the Royal Geographical Society. Frederick William Beechey passed away on November 29th, 1856 in London. He was sixty years old.
Beechey contributed a great deal to the knowledge of the world at large with the various expeditions he was on, but with regards to Pitcairn his contribution to the preservation of much history and information on the early community on the island is what many will primarily remember him for. Although a great deal of the Blossoms crew also share in this credit, it was under Beechey’s leadership that this visit came about, and his book, which included a sizeable portion dedicated to Pitcairn influenced and inspired many future generations, including this particular author.
Primarily I wish to give credit to Beechey’s impressive book “Narrative of a Voyage to the Pacific and Beerings Strait, to co-operate with the polar expeditions performed in His Majesty’s ship Blossom, under the command of Captain F.W. Beechey, R.N., F.R.S. &c. in the years 1825, 26, 27, 28.”
Another good resource is the account by Lieutenant George Peard of the Blossom, “To the Pacific and Arctic with Beechey, the journal of Lieutenant George Peard of H.M.S. Blossom 1825-1828.” There are other accounts by various members of the crew, some of them unpublished (at least to my knowledge).
For some of the background information on Beechey not included in the beginning of Peards book, I used from: http://biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?id_nbr=3773.