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HMS 'Beagle' (1820-70)

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Charles Darwin's ship
Known for

HMS Beagle
View full size imageHMS Beagle. © NMM
HMS Beagle was the ship in which the naturalist, Charles Darwin, sailed around the world between 1831 and 1836. The Beagle visited sites like the Galapagos Islands and the Great Barrier Reef.  The rich variety of animal and plant species that Darwin saw on the voyage led him to develop his theory of evolution.

Beagle made three voyages of exploration.  During the first to South America between 1826 and 1830, the captain, Commander Pringle Stokes, shot himself in a fit of depression and was replaced by Robert Fitzroy.  He was also given command for the second voyage to South America and then around the world. Fitzroy invited the young naturalist Charles Darwin to accompany him. The voyage lasted nearly five years and became one of the most famous and important voyages of exploration ever made – although Darwin suffered badly from seasickness the whole time.  After the Beagle’s third voyage, which was a survey of Australia, the ship became a Coast Guard watch vessel.  She was moored permanently in the River Roach in Essex until 1870 when she was sold for scrap.


Port Connection
HMS Beagle was not built for exploration, but was adapted from one of the Cherokee Class of 10-gun sailing ships, known in the Royal Navy as ‘coffin brigs’.  They got this nickname because out of the 107 built, 26 were lost at sea.  Beagle was built in 1820 at Woolwich Dockyard. It had the honour of being the first ship to sail under the new London Bridge as part of the celebrations of the coronation of George IV in 1820.  After that distinguished start, Beagle ‘lay in ordinary’ (moored afloat, but unmanned) for 5 years.
Length: 27.5 metres (90 feet 4 inches)
Width: 7.5 metres (24 feet 6 inches)
Burden: 235 tons
Draugth: 3.8 metres (12 feet 6inches)
Had two masts originally, but had a third added when converted for exploration
Carried 10 guns as a ship-of-war but this was reduced to 6 when converted
Total cost of refitting for exploration for the first voyage was £5,913
120 men complement as a ship-of-war.  A total of 66 sailed on the Darwin voyage.
Life Story
1820 HMS 'Beagle' launched at Woolwich Dockyard, 11 May. In July takes part in naval review to celebrate George IV’s coronation
1825 Beagle re-rigged as a bark for a voyage of exploration
1826-30 Leaves Plymouth on 22 May for first surveying voyage to Tierra del Fuego. Robert Fitzroy takes over command 15 December 1828 on death of Captain Stokes
1831-36 Second surveying voyage to Tierra del Fuego and round the world under command of Robert Fitzroy. Darwin sails as naturalist
1837-43 Third surveying voyage to Australia under command of John Wickham. John Lort Stokes takes over when Wickham resigns due to ill health in 1840
1845 Transferred to the Coast Guard Service as 'Beagle Watch Vessel' and moored permanently on River Roach, Essex
1870 Sold for scrap
2003 Marine archaeologists believe they may have found remains of 'Beagle'

Find out more
StoriesDeptford and Woolwich: London's Royal Dockyards
The rise and decline of Henry VIII's Dockyards
GalleriesWoolwich Royal Dockyard collection
Further images from Woolwich Dockyard
Related Resources
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National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory Greenwich New Opportunities Fund  
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