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The HMS Beagle was a Cherokee class 10-hun brigade that belonged to the Royal Navy and was named after the dog breed. On May 11, 1820 she was launched to sea from the Woolwich Dockyard in the River Thames. Her total cost was 7,803 pounds. In July 1820, she was part of a fleet that was celebrating the coronation of King George IV from the United Kingdom and she was the first ship to sail under the brand new London Bridge. She was then kept in reserve for the next five years and was moored afloat without masts or rigging. After that she was adapted as a survey vessel and took a part in tree expeditions. On the second voyage, Charles Darwin was on board and his work is what made the Beagle one of the most famous ships in history.
The first voyage was on May 1826, under the command of Captain Pringle Stokes. She was to accompany the larger HMS Adventure on her hydro graphic survey of the Australian Captain Philip Parker King. Captain Pringle was faced with the more difficult part of the survey and as a result fell into a depression. When he was at Port Famine on the Strait of Magellan, he locked himself inside his cabin for 14 days and on August 2, 1828 shot himself and then died from delirium twelve days later. He was replaced by Captain Parker King and Lieutenant W.G. Skyring. The Beagle then sailed to Rio de Janeiro and on December 15, 1828 and was under temporary command of Flag Lieutenant Robert FitzRoy.
The second voyage was not meant to be made by the Beagle. The Chanticleer was supposed to make the second voyage to the second South American Survey, but she was in poor condition and so the Beagle went instead. She was commissioned on June 25, 1831 once again under command of Captain Robert FitzRoy with Bartholomew James Sulivan and John Clements Wickham. She was first taken to dock to receive repairs and refitting. She needed a new deck and so FitzRoy had the upper deck raised by 8 inches aft and 12 inches forward. The Cherokee ships have been known to be “coffin brigs” that were handled badly and sank easily. The Beagles newly raised deck gave her better handling and made it less likely that she would fill with water and capsize. Her hull also received extra sheathing. FitzRoy was not concerned about how much money it would take to restore the Beagle and added 22 chronometers and five examples of the Sympiesometer, which was a mercury-free barometer. The new barometer was patented by Alexander Adie and was FitzRoy’s favorite and gave the most accurate readings. FitzRoy was concerned about being lonely on the ship after hearing about Stokes suicide and tried to get a friend to come on the ship with him. He found no friends to accompany him, but he did find Charles Darwin.
She departed for her voyage on December 27th, 1831. She left for Plymouth harbor on what would be forever known as history’s most famous scientific expedition. She completed many surveys in South America with Darwin aboard and returned by route of New Zealand to Falmouth, Cornwall, England on October 2, 1836.
Six months later the Beagle set off on her third voyage. It was 1837 and she sailed to survey large parts of the Australian coast while being under command of Commander John Clements Wickham. The voyage began with the western coast between Swan River and Fitzroy River in Western Australia. After that she surveyed the shores of the Bass Strait at the southeast corner of Australia. In May of 1838, she sailed to the north to survey the shores of the Arafura Sea opposite Timor. The gulf was named Beagle Gulf and the port was called Darwin Port, both named by Wickham. He also named the city Darwin, Australia. Wickham became ill and resigned and the command was taken over by Lieutenant John Lort Stokes in March 1841. He continued the survey and the third voyage was over in 1843.
The Beagles final years began in 1845 when she was being refitted as a static coastguard watch vessel and was transferred to Customs and Excise in order to control smuggling on the Essex coast at the north bank of the Thames estuary. She was then moored in the middle of the river on the River Roach. In 1851, the oyster companied ordered that she be removed because she was ruining the river canals and the 1851 Navy List showed that she was renamed to Southend “W.V. No. 7” at Palgesham on May 25. In 1870, Murray and Trainer bought her for scrap metal.
In 2000 an investigation led by Dr. Robert Prescott from University of St. Andrews found documentation that confirmed that the “W.V. No.7” was in fact the Beagle. Other documents showed that she was on the 1847 hydrographic survey chart and a later chart showed where the Beagle was docked. In November 2003, atomic dielectric resonance survey showed traces of timbers that formed the shape and size of the lower hull and indicated that a lot of the timber from below the waterline was still in tact. An anchor from 1841 was found.