HMS Beagle

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PSM V57 D097 Hms beagle in the straits of magellan.png
HMS Beagle in the Straits of Magellan at Monte Sarmiento, reproduction of R. T. Pritchett's frontispiece from the 1890 illustrated edition of The Voyage of the Beagle.
Royal Navy EnsignUnited Kingdom
Ordered: 16 February 1817
Laid down: June 1818
Launched: 11 May 1820
Commissioned: 1820
Decommissioned: 1845, transferred to Coastguard
Fate: Sold and broken up 1870
General characteristics
Class & type: Cherokee-class brig-sloop
Tons burthen: 235 bm; 242 for second voyage[1]
Length: 90.3 ft (27.5 m)
Beam: 24.5 ft (7.5 m)
Draught: 12.5 ft (3.8 m)
Sail plan: Brig (barque from 1825)
Complement: 120 as a ship-of-war, 65 plus 9 supernumeraries on second voyage
Armament: 10 guns, reduced to 6 guns for first survey voyage, changed to 7 guns during second survey voyage

HMS Beagle was a Cherokee-class 10-gun brig-sloop of the Royal Navy, one of more than 100 ships of this class. The vessel, constructed at a cost of £7,803, was launched on 11 May 1820 from the Woolwich Dockyard on the River Thames. In July of that year she took part in a fleet review celebrating the coronation of King George IV of the United Kingdom, and for that occasion is said to have been the first ship to sail completely under the old London Bridge.[2][3] There was no immediate need for Beagle so she "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 made Beagle one of the most famous ships in history.[4]

Design and construction

The Cherokee-class of 10-gun brig-sloops was designed by Sir Henry Peake in 1807, and eventually over 100 were constructed. The working drawings for HMS Beagle and HMS Barracouta were issued to the Woolwich Dockyard on 16 February 1817, and amended in coloured ink on 16 July 1817 with modifications to increase the height of the bulwarks (the sides of the ship extended above the upper deck) by an amount varying from 6 inches (150 mm) at the stem to 4 inches (100 mm) at the stern. The Beagle's keel was laid in June 1818, construction cost £7,803, and the ship was launched on 11 May 1820. There was no immediate need for Beagle so she was placed "in ordinary", moored afloat but without masts or rigging. In July of that year she took part in a fleet review on the River Thames, celebrating the coronation of King George IV of the United Kingdom.[2]

First voyage (1826–1830)

Captain Pringle Stokes was appointed captain of Beagle on 7 September 1825, and the ship was allocated to the surveying section of the Hydrographic Office. On 27 September 1825 Beagle docked at Woolwich to be repaired and fitted out for her new duties. Her guns were reduced from ten cannon to six and a mizzen mast was added to improve her handling, thereby changing her from a brig to a bark (or barque).[5]

Beagle set sail from Plymouth on 22 May 1826 on her first voyage, under the command of Captain Stokes. The mission was to accompany the larger ship HMS Adventure (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.[6][7]

Faced with the more difficult part of the survey in the desolate waters of Tierra del Fuego, Captain 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.[8] Captain Parker King then replaced Stokes with the First Lieutenant of the Beagle, Lieutenant W.G. Skyring as commander, and both ships sailed to Montevideo. On 13 October King sailed the Adventure to Rio de Janeiro for refitting and provisions. During this work Rear Admiral Sir Robert Otway, commander in chief of the South American station, arrived aboard HMS Ganges and announced his decision that the Beagle was also to be brought to Montevideo for repairs, and that he intended to supersede Skyring. When the Beagle arrived, Otway put the ship under the command of his aide, Flag Lieutenant Robert FitzRoy.[9]

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 returned to England on 14 October 1830.

During this survey, the Beagle Channel was identified and named after the ship.[10]

The log book from the first voyage, in Captain FitzRoy's handwriting, was acquired at auction at Sotheby's by the Museo Naval de la Nación (under the administration of the Argentine Navy) located in Tigre, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, where it is now preserved.[11]

Second voyage (1831–1836)

Beagle being hailed by native Fuegians during the survey of Tierra del Fuego, painted by Conrad Martens who became ship's artist in 1833.

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 was commissioned on 4 July 1831 under his command, with Lieutenants John Clements Wickham and Bartholomew James Sulivan.[12]

Longitudinal section of HMS Beagle as of 1832

Beagle was immediately taken into dock at Devonport for extensive rebuilding and refitting. As 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" brigs, which handled badly and were prone to sinking; the raised deck gave the Beagle 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 and perhaps fifteen to her displacement.[1][13]

The ship was one of the first to be fitted with the lightning conductor invented by William Snow Harris. FitzRoy spared no expense in her fitting out, which included 22 chronometers,[1][14] and five examples of the Sympiesometer, a kind of mercury-free barometer patented by Alexander Adie which was favoured by FitzRoy as giving the accurate readings required by the Admiralty.[15] To reduce magnetic interference with the navigational instruments, FitzRoy proposed replacing the iron guns with brass guns, but the Admiralty turned this request down. (When the ship reached Rio de Janeiro in April 1832, he used his own funds for replacements: the ship now had a "six-pound boat-carronade" on a turntable on the forecastle, two brass six-pound guns before the main-mast, and aft of it another four brass guns; two of these were nine-pound, and the other two six-pound.)[16][17]

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."[18] Command in that era could involve stress and loneliness, as shown by the suicide of Captain Stokes, and FitzRoy's own uncle Viscount Castlereagh had committed suicide under stress of overwork.[19] His attempts to get a friend to accompany him fell through, and he asked his friend and superior, Captain Francis Beaufort, to seek a gentleman naturalist as 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.[20]

The Beagle Laid Ashore drawn by Conrad Martens (1834) and engraved by Thomas Landseer (1838)

Beagle was originally scheduled to leave on 24 October 1831 but because of delays in her preparations the departure was delayed until December. Setting forth on what was to become a ground-breaking scientific expedition she departed from Devonport on 10 December. Due to bad weather her first stop was just a few miles ahead, at Barn Pool, on the west side of Plymouth Sound,.[21] The Beagle left anchorage from Barn Pool on 27 December, passing the nearby town of Plymouth. After completing extensive surveys in South America she returned via New Zealand, Sydney, Hobart Town (6 February 1836), to Falmouth, Cornwall, England on 2 October 1836.[22]

Darwin had kept a diary of his experiences, and rewrote this as the book titled Journal and Remarks, published in 1839 as the third volume of the official account of the expedition. This travelogue and scientific journal was widely popular, and was reprinted many times with various titles, becoming known as The Voyage of the Beagle.[23] This diary is where Darwin drew most of the ideas for his publications.[24] Darwin attributes his first real training in natural history to his voyage on the Beagle.[25]

Third voyage (1837–1843)

In 1837 HMS Beagle set off on a survey of Australia, and is shown here in an 1841 watercolour by captain Owen Stanley of Beagle's sister ship Britomart.
1846 "General Chart of Australia", showing coasts examined by Beagle during the third voyage in red, from John Lort Stokes' Discoveries in Australia

In the six months after returning from the second voyage, some light repairs were made and Beagle was commissioned to survey large parts of the coast of Australia under the command of Commander John Clements Wickham, who had been a Lieutenant on the second voyage, with assistant surveyor Lieutenant John Lort Stokes who had been a Midshipman on the first voyage of Beagle, then mate and assistant surveyor on the second voyage (no relation to Pringle Stokes). They left Woolwich on 9 June 1837, towed by H.M. Steamer Boxer, and after reaching Plymouth spent the remainder of the month adjusting their instruments.[26] They set off from Plymouth Sound on the morning of 5 July 1837, and sailed south with stops for obsevations at Teneriffe, Bahia and Cape Town.[27]

They reached the Swan River (modern Perth, Australia) on 15 November 1837.[28] Their survey started with the western coast between there and the Fitzroy River, Western Australia, then surveyed both shores of the Bass Strait at the southeast corner of the continent. To aid Beagle in her surveying operations in Bass 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. In May 1839 they sailed north to survey the shores of the Arafura Sea opposite Timor. When 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.

Numerous places around the coast were named by Wickham, and subsequently by Stokes when he became captain, often honouring eminent people or the members of the crew. On 9 October 1839 Wickham named Port Darwin, which was first sighted by Stokes, in honour of their former shipmate Charles Darwin. They were reminded of him (and his "geologising") by the discovery there of a new fine-grained sandstone.[29] A settlement there became the town of Palmerston in 1869, and was renamed Darwin in 1911.[30]

During this survey, the Beagle Gulf was named after the ship.[31]

Nicotiana benthamiana, a species of tobacco being used as a platform for the production of recombinant pharmaceutical proteins, was first collected for scientific study on the north coast of Australia by Benjamin Bynoe during this voyage.[32]

Final years

In 1845 Beagle was refitted as a static coastguard watch vessel like many similar watch ships stationed in rivers and harbours throughout the nation. She was transferred to HM Customs and Excise to control smuggling on the Essex coast in the navigable waterways beyond the north bank of the Thames Estuary. She was moored mid-river in the River Roach which forms part of an extensive maze of waterways and marshes known as The River Crouch and River Roach Tidal River System, located around and to the south and west of Burnham-on-Crouch. This large maritime area has a tidal coastline of 243 km (151 mi), part of Essex's 565 km (351 mi) of coastline - the largest coastline in the United Kingdom. In 1851, oyster companies and traders who cultivated and harvested the "Walflete" or "Walfleet" oyster Ostrea edulis, petitioned for the Customs and Excise watch vessel WV-7 (ex HMS Beagle) to be removed as she was obstructing the river and its oyster-beds. In the 1851 Navy List dated 25 May, it showed her renamed Southend "W.V. No. 7" at Paglesham. In 1870, she was sold to "Messrs Murray and Trainer" to be broken 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 "W.V. 7" was Beagle, and noted a vessel matching her size shown midstream on the River Roach (in Paglesham Reach) on the 1847 hydrographic survey chart. A later chart showed a nearby indentation to the north bank of Paglesham Reach near the Eastend Wharf and near Waterside Farm. This could have been a dock for W.V. 7 - Beagle. Site investigations found an area of marshy ground some 15 ft (4.6 m) deep on the tidal river-bank, about 150 metres west of the boat-house. This discovery matched the chart position and many fragments of pottery of the correct period were found in the same area.[33]

An atomic dielectric resonance[34] 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 Beagle. Two more large anchors similar to the one excavated from the ship's present location are known to have been found in neighbouring villages. It is believed that there were four anchors in the ship.

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 giving access at low tide across the soft mud of the river bank. Apparently the next coastguard station along was Kangaroo, a sister ship of Beagle.


On 31 December 2011 the Nao Victoria Museum in Punta Arenas announced the building of the first full-scale replica of HMS Beagle.[35][36] Construction began on 1 November 2012, using Nothofagus dombeyi timber from the local rainforest.[37][38] In 2013 the Chilean national press started to take an interest in the work in progress.[39]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 FitzRoy 1839, pp. 17–18.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Taylor 2008, pp. 22–24, 36
  3. "HMS 'Beagle' (1820-70)". Royal Museums Greenwich.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. HMS Beagle - Port Cities, London, Royal Museum Greenwich, retrieved 3 February 2013, the story about sailing full-rigged under London Bridge appears on page 332 of William Howitt's 1865 The history of discovery in Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand, Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, London.
  5. Taylor 2008, pp. 33, 36–37
  6. King 1839, p. xi - xix.
  7. King was born on Norfolk Island and left for England in 1796. Colonial Secretary Index, 1788-1825, In the New South Wales State Records.
  8. Guardian review: Man on a suicide mission
    King 1839, pp. 150–153
  9. King 1839, p. 188
  10. Herbert, Sandra (1999). "An 1830s View from Outside Switzerland: Charles Darwin on the "Beryl Blue" Glaciers of Tierra del Fuego". Eclogae Geologicae Helvetiae. pp. 92: 339–346. Retrieved 22 December 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. e-mail message dated 16 January 2014 from Pablo Pereyra, museólogo, Museo Naval de la Nación, to Kenneth Wills
  12. FitzRoy 1839, pp. 13–17
  13. Stokes 1846, Volume 1, Chapter 1
  14. "HMS Beagle - Port of science and discovery - Port Cities". Retrieved 30 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "The sympiesometer designed by Alexander Adie". Retrieved 30 November 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Taylor 2008, pp. 24, 35
  17. FitzRoy 1839, p. 82
  18. King 1839, p. 385
  19. Desmond & Moore 1991, p. 104
  20. Browne & Neve 1989, pp. 4–7
  21. FitzRoy 1839, p. 42.
  22. FitzRoy 1839, p. 638.
  23. R. B. Freeman (1977). "Darwin Online: Journal of Researches". Bibliographical introduction. Retrieved 6 June 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Darwin, Charles. The voyage of the Beagle. Hayes Barton Press, 1989.
  25. Darwin, Charles. The Voyage of the Beagle. Hayes Barton Press: Hayes Barton Press, 1950. (accessed 17 February 2014).
  26. Stokes 1846, Vol. 1, Chapter 1.
  27. Stokes 1846, Vol. 1, Chapter 2.
  28. Stokes 1846, Vol. 1, Chapter 3.
  29. "The Discovery and Exploration of Australia". Retrieved 24 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "Darwin - Northern Territory - Australia - Travel -". The Sydney Morning Herald. 8 February 2004. Retrieved 22 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Armstrong, Patrick; All Things Darwin: A-I, Greenwood Publishing Group 2007: "Captain Wickham named the Beagle Gulf, and Port Darwin in what is now Australia's Northern Territory (see Darwin, City of)."
  32. Patton, J. How Owensboro tobacco grew a possible miracle drug to treat Ebola 9 August 2014.
  33. "Hunting the lost Beagle" BBC News 9 January 2009
  34. "Wikibin Atomic dielectric resonance"
  35. "Full size replicas of Schooner Ancud and HMS Beagle will be built" (in Spanish). La Prensa Austral. 2012. Retrieved 16 November 2012. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. "Midship frame installed on the keel of HMS Beagle replica in Punta Arenas, Chile" (in Spanish). Radio Polar Punta Arenas. 2013. Retrieved 16 January 2013. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. "Full size replicas construction of HMS Beagle started in Punta Arenas Chile" (in Spanish). Radio Polar Punta Arenas. 2012. Retrieved 16 November 2012. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. "Official site of the construction of the HMS Beagle replica". Museo Nao Victoria. 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. "Primera plana en El Mercurio" (in Spanish). 2013. Retrieved 7 February 2013. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Sources and references

External links

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