HMS Beagle was a Cherokee class 10-gun
brig-sloop of the Royal Navy. She was launched on 11 May 1820 from the
Dockyard on the
River Thames, at a cost of
£7,803. In July of that year
she took part in a fleet
review celebrating the coronation of King George IV of the United
Kingdom in which she was the first ship to sail under the new
After that there was no immediate need
for Beagle so she was "lay in
ordinary", moored afloat but without masts or
rigging. She was then
adapted as a survey barque and took part in
three expeditions. On
the second survey voyage the young naturalist Charles Darwin was on board, and his work
would eventually make the Beagle one of the most famous
ships in history.
On 27 September 1825 Beagle
docked at Woolwich for repairs
and fitted out for her new duties at a total cost of £5,913. Her
guns were reduced from ten cannons to six and a mizzen
mast was added to improve her manoeuvrability,
thereby changing her from a brig
to a bark
Beagle set sail from Plymouth on 22 May
1826 on her first voyage, under the command of Captain Pringle
Stokes. The mission was to accompany the larger ship
(380 tons) on a hydrographic
survey of Patagonia and Tierra del
Fuego, under the overall command of the Australian
Captain Phillip Parker King,
Commander and Surveyor.
the more difficult part of the survey in the desolate waters of
Fuego, Captain Pringle Stokes fell into a deep
depression. At Port Famine on the Strait of Magellan he locked himself in his cabin for 14 days, then
after getting over-excited and talking of preparing for the next
cruise, shot himself on 2 August 1828.
Following four days
of delirium Stokes recovered slightly, but then his condition
deteriorated and he died on 12 August 1828. Guardian review: Man on a suicide mission
Captain Parker King then replaced Stokes with the Executive Officer
, Lieutenant W.G. Skyring. They sailed to
Janeiro where on 15 December 1828 Rear Admiral Sir Robert Otway, commander in chief of the South
American station aboard , named as (temporary) Captain of the
Beagle his aide, Flag Lieutenant Robert FitzRoy.
The 23-year-old aristocrat FitzRoy proved an able commander and
meticulous surveyor. In one incident a group of Fuegians
stole a ship's boat, and FitzRoy took
their families on board as hostages. Eventually he held two men, a
girl and a boy, who was given the name of Jemmy Button
, and these four native Fuegians
were taken back with them when the Beagle
England on 14 October 1830.
this survey, the Beagle
Channel was identified and named after the
FitzRoy had been given reason to hope that the South American
Survey would be continued under his command, but when the Lords of
the Admiralty appeared to abandon the plan, he made alternative
arrangements to return the Fuegians. A kind uncle heard of this and
contacted the Admiralty. Soon afterwards FitzRoy heard that he was to
be appointed commander of HMS
Chanticleer to go to Tierra del Fuego, but due to her poor condition Beagle was
substituted for the voyage.
FitzRoy was re-appointed as
commander on 27 June 1831 and the Beagle
on 4 July 1831 under his
command, with Lieutenants John
Beagle was immediately taken into dock at Devonport for extensive rebuilding and refitting.
she required a new deck, FitzRoy had the upper-deck raised
considerably, by 8 inches (200 mm) aft and 12 inches
(300 mm) forward. The Cherokee
-class ships had the
reputation of being "coffin
handled badly and were prone to sinking; the raised deck gave the
better handling and made her less liable to become
top-heavy and capsize by helping the decks to drain more quickly so
that less water would collect in the gunwales
. Additional sheathing added to the hull
added about seven tons to her burthen
perhaps fifteen to her displacement, and the ship was one of the
first to be fitted with the lightning
invented by William
. FitzRoy spared no expense in her fitting out,
which included 22 chronometer
and five examples of the Sympiesometer
, a kind of mercury
patented by Alexander Adie
which was favoured by FitzRoy
as giving the accurate readings required by the Admiralty.
FitzRoy had found a need for expert advice on geology during the
first voyage, and had resolved that if on a similar expedition, he
would "endeavour to carry out a person qualified to examine the
land; while the officers, and myself, would attend to hydrography."
Command in that era could involve stress and loneliness, as shown
by the suicide of Captain Stokes, and FitzRoy's own uncle Viscount Castlereagh
suicide under stress of overwork. His attempts to get a friend to
accompany him fell through, and he asked his friend and superior,
Captain Francis Beaufort
, to seek a
self-financing passenger who would give him company during the
voyage. A sequence of inquiries led to Charles Darwin
, a young gentleman on his way
to becoming a rural clergyman, joining the voyage.
was originally scheduled to leave on 24 October
1831 but because of delays in her preparations the departure was
delayed until December. She attempted to depart on 10 December but
ran into bad weather. Finally, on the morning of 27 December, the
Beagle left her anchorage in the Barn Pool, under Mount
Edgecumbe on the west side of Plymouth Sound, on what was to become a ground breaking scientific
expedition. After completing extensive surveys in
South America she returned via
Zealand, Sydney, Hobart Town (6 February 1836), to Falmouth,
Cornwall, England on 2 October 1836.
Six months later, Beagle
set off in 1837 to survey large
parts of the coast of Australia
command of Commander John Clements
, who had been a Lieutenant on the second voyage, with
assistant surveyor Lieutenant John Lort
who had been a Midshipman on the first voyage of the
, then mate and assistant surveyor on the second
voyage (no relation to Pringle Stokes). They started with the
western coast between the Swan River (modern Perth, Australia) and the
River, Western Australia, then surveyed both shores of the Bass Strait at the southeast corner of the continent.
aid the Beagle
in her surveying operations in Bass’s
Strait, the Colonial cutter Vansittart
, of Van Diemen’s
Land, was most liberally lent by His Excellency Sir John Franklin,
and placed under the command of Mr Charles Codrington Forsyth, the
Senior Mate, assisted by Mr Pasco, another of her Mates.
1839 they sailed north to survey the shores of the Arafura Sea opposite Timor.
named the Beagle Gulf and Port Darwin,
which was first sighted by Stokes and which later gave its name to
the city of Darwin, Australia.
Wickham fell ill and resigned, the command was taken over in March
1841 by Lieutenant John Lort Stokes who continued the survey. The
third voyage was completed in 1843.
the Beagle was refitted as a static coastguard watch vessel and
transferred to Customs and Excise
to control smuggling on the Essex coast to the
north bank of the Thames
estuary. She was moored mid-river on the River Roach which forms part of a maze of waterways in the
marshes south of Burnham-on-Crouch.
In 1851 oyster
companies and traders petitioned for her to be removed as she was
obstructing the river, and the 1851 Navy
dated 25 May showed her renamed as Southend "W.V.
No. 7" at Paglesham
. In 1870, she was sold to
"Messrs Murray and Trainer" for breaking up.
Possible resting place
Investigations started in 2000 by a team led
by Dr Robert Prescott of the University of St Andrews found documents confirming that
was the Beagle
noted a vessel matching her size shown midstream on the 1847
hydrographic survey chart. A later chart showed a nearby
indentation to the north bank which could have been a dock for the
. Site investigations found an area of marshy
ground some 15 ft (5 m) deep matching
this chart position, with many fragments of pottery
of the correct period.
An atomic dielectric
survey carried out in November 2003 found traces of
timbers forming the size and shape of the lower hull, indicating a
substantial amount of timbers from below the waterline still in
place. An old anchor
of 1841 pattern was
excavated. It was also found that the 1871 census
recorded a new farmhouse
in the name of William Murray and Thomas
Rainer, leading to speculation that the merchant's name was a
misprint for T. Rainer. The farmhouse was demolished in the 1940s,
but a nearby boathouse incorporated timbers matching knee timbers
used in the Beagle
Further investigations are proposed.
Their investigations featured in a BBC Television
programme which showed how each watch
ship would have accommodated seven coastguard officers, drawn from
other areas to minimise collusion with the locals. Each officer had
about three rooms to house his family, forming a small community.
They would use small boats to intercept smugglers, and the
investigators found a causeway
access at low tide across the soft mud of the river bank.
Apparently the next coastguard station along was the
, a sister ship of the Beagle
There is currently a plan to create and launch a replica of HMS
in 2009. This £3.3m wooden barque is to be built as
part of a project to recreate Darwin's 1830s voyage which proved
crucial in the genesis and intellectual foundations of the theory
of natural selection. The vessel is to be built in Milford Haven.
When completed, the new Beagle
anticipated to be able to recreate the 1831-36 circumnavigation
with international crews of aspiring young scientists aboard,
following the same course and making similar landfalls to those
made by the original HMS Beagle
when Darwin was
Sources and references
- King was born on Norfolk Island and left for England in 1796.
Colonial Secretary Index, 1788-1825, In the New
South Wales State Records.
- "Replicas on the Blocks," Ships Monthly.
- HMS Beagle: Survey Ship "Extraordinary" / Karl Heinz
Marquardt (2007) ISBN 0851777031
- Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin (including
FitzRoy's commentary on refitting the Beagle from his
account of the voyage), Penguin Books, London 1989 ISBN
- Digitised copies of the original logs of HMS Beagle,
Atmospheric Data Centre/The National Archives as part of the CORRAL project
- Darwin Online - bibliography:
Proceedings of the first and second expeditions, and
Darwin's Journal (The Voyage of the Beagle).
- list includes The Voyage of the Beagle
- John Lort Stokes, Discoveries in Australia, Volume 1, Volume
- Robert FitzRoy, 1836, Sketch of the Surveying Voyages of his
Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle, 1825-1836. Commanded by Captains P. P. King, P. Stokes, and R. Fitz-Roy, Royal Navy. Journal of
the Geological Society of London 6: 311-343
- Visit and Testimony of Captain Fitz-Roy
- HMS Beagle - Port Cities
- The sympiesometer of Alexander Adie
- The Journal of Syms Covington - Chapter 1.
replica HMS Beagle project
- BBC News - Darwin's Beagle ship 'found'
- The Observer - Evolution of radar points to HMS
Beagle's resting place.
- BBC News - Plans to build HMS Beagle replica for 2009