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HMS Beagle launched, 1820

Jan 12, 2018
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On 11th May 1820, at Woolwich dockyard in London, one of the most famous ships in history was launched. Costing £7,803, the ten-gun Cherokee-class brig-sloop carried the name HMS Beagle and entered service with the Royal Navy as a military vessel. In July of that year she took part in in the naval review to celebrate the coronation of King George IV, having the honour of being the first ship to sail fully-rigged under the new London Bridge. Surplus to requirement the Beagle was put in reserve: moored afloat but with no masks and rigging.

Five years later the Royal Navy found a use for the HMS Beagle. She returned to Woolwich where the shipwrights refitted her as a survey barque to explore the southern oceans. With four cannon removed and an extra mast added for added manoeuvrability she set off on the first voyage of discovery to South America captained by Commander Pringle Stokes on 22nd May 1826.

The Beagle returned in October 1830 with a new captain, Lieutenant Robert FitzRoy; her former captain having committed suicide due to depression two years earlier. FitzRoy commanded the second expedition, inviting a young naturalist called Charles Darwin to accompany him – an act which fixed the name HMS Beagle in history. Again the ship and crew set off to explore South America, leaving in December 1831 and returning in October 1836. In a grizzly repetition of history, FitzRoy also committed suicide following a bout of depression in 1865.

The final survey voyage of the Beagle took the ship to Australia. Under the captaincy of Commander John Clements Wickham, the mission lasted from 1837 to 1843 after which the Coast Guard took possession of the Beagle. In 1870 she was sold for scrap and probably broken up. Although in 2004 marine archaeologists found evidence of the final fate of the Beagle. You can read about what they discovered in Robin McKie’s article from the Guardian newspaper.

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