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John Lort Stokes

1812 – 1885

John Lort Stokes (1812–1885), explorer, naval officer and surveyor, joined the navy at age twelve and age thirteen was assigned to HMS Beagle as a midshipman. Between 1826 and 1830, the Beagle was engaged alongside HMS Adventure in Phillip Parker King’s surveying voyage to South America. Stokes was promoted to assistant surveyor on his return and embarked again on the Beagle in 1831, when the vessel was commissioned for a five-year-long surveying expedition to South America, the Pacific and Australia – a voyage now famous for the participation of Charles Darwin as naturalist. On the expedition’s return in 1837, Stokes was promoted to lieutenant and again appointed to the Beagle under commander John Wickham, who was tasked with surveying Australasian waters. During this third voyage, Stokes charted much of what is now the coast of the Northern Territory; and Darwin is named in honour of his erstwhile shipmate. Stokes also surveyed the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Arafura Sea, the Torres Strait, the coast of Western Australia, and Bass Strait. During three months in Sydney in 1838, while the Beagle underwent repairs, Stokes met Fanny Jane Marlay (1819–1848),the second-eldest daughter of military officer, Edward Marlay (1792–1839). A veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, Marlay came to Australia with his family around 1825, and by the time of Stokes’s visit was the barrack master-general in Sydney. Stokes and Fanny Jane Marlay married in Sydney in January 1841. Later the same year, Stokes succeeded Wickham to the command of the Beagle. Their daughter, Fanny Anne, was born in 1842 at The Vineyard, Parramatta, (the home of Phillip Parker King’s brother-in-law), where Fanny Jane was living while the Beagle continued its survey of the Australian coast. Back in England between 1843 and 1847, Stokes – whose 18 years on the Beagle had made him its longest-serving officer – published his two-volume account of its third voyage, Discoveries in Australia (1846). Promoted to captain and appointed to the command of the Acheron in 1847, Stokes sailed south again to undertake the first full hydrographical survey of New Zealand. Fanny Jane died in South Africa while en route to Sydney with Stokes in 1848. Stokes returned to England in 1851; between 1859 and 1863, he was employed in surveys of the River Tamar and the coasts of the English Channel. He was promoted to rear-admiral in 1864, vice-admiral in 1871, and admiral in 1877. He died at his home, Scotchwell, in Pembrokeshire, in June 1885, survived by his second wife, Louisa, whom he’d married in 1856, and by his daughter from his marriage to Fanny Jane Marlay.

Updated 2018
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