A grievous accident happened this afternoon in the death of Mr Hellyer [Captain's Clerk]. One of the residents brought the news that he had found some clothes & a gun on the sea coast. We made all haste to the place & in a short time discovered the body, not many yards from the shore, but so entangled in the Kelp, that it was with difficulty it was disengaged. It was quite evident he had shot a bird & whilst swimming for it, the strong stalks of the sea weed had caught his legs & thus caused his death.
"How is this?" said I, in astonishment, to Mr. Brisbane; "I thought Mr. Vernet's colony was a thriving and happy settlement. Where are the inhabitants? the place seems deserted as well as ruined." "Indeed, Sir, it was flourishing," said he, "but the Lexington ruined it: Captain Duncan's men did such harm to the houses and gardens. I was myself treated as a pirate — rowed stern foremost on board the Lexington — abused on her quarter-deck most violently by Captain Duncan — treated by him more like a wild beast than a human being — and from that time guarded as a felon, until I was released by order of Commodore Rogers." "But," I said, "where are the rest of the settlers? I see but half a dozen, of whom two are old black women; where are the gauchos who kill the cattle?" "Sir, they are all in the country. They have been so much alarmed by what has occurred, and they dread the appearance of a ship of war so much, that they keep out of the way till they know what she is going to do." I afterwards interrogated an old German, while Brisbane was out of sight, and after him a young native of Buenos Ayres, who both corroborated Brisbane's account.*
At my return on board, I was shocked by the sad information that Mr. Hellyer was drowned. He had walked about a mile along the shore of a creek near the ship, with one of the Frenchmen, who then left him† (having recollected that he would be wanted for a particular purpose). Mr. Hellyer, anxious to shoot some ducks of a kind he had not before seen, walked on with his gun, saying he would return in half an hour.
About an hour after this, the capataz of the gauchos, Jean Simon by name, riding towards the French tents to learn the news, saw clothes, a gun, and a watch, lying by the water side; but, as no person was in sight, he thought they must have belonged to some one in the boats which were surveying, so rode on quietly; and not until another hour had elapsed, did he even casually mention to the Frenchmen what he had seen. They, of course, were instantly alarmed and hastened to the spot, with those of our party who were within reach. Some rode or ran along the shore, while others pulled in whale-boats to the fatal spot, and there, after much searching, the body was discovered under water, but so entangled by kelp that it could not be extricated without cutting away the weed. Mr. Bynoe was one of those who found it, and every means that he and the French surgeon could devise for restoring animation was tried in vain. A duck was found dead in the kelp not far from the body, and his gun was lying on the beach, discharged, with which the bird had been shot.
To me this was as severe a blow as to his own messmates; for Mr. Hellyer had been much with me, both as my clerk and because I liked his company, being a gentlemanly, sensible young man. I also felt that the motive which urged him to strip and swim after the bird he had shot, was probably a desire to get it for my collection. Being alone and finding the water cold, he may have become alarmed, then accidentally entangling his legs in the sea-weed, lost his presence of mind, and by struggling hastily was only more confused. The rising tide must have considerably augmented his distress, and hastened the fatal result.
* The German told me, among other things, that he had collected rabbit-skins at his leisure hours, and had made, at different times, above two hundred dollars by them.
† It was a positive order on board the Beagle, that no one should make any excursion, in such places, alone.