The HMS Beagle was launched in 1820 at Woolwich Royal Dockyard on the Thames, the Beagle was a 90ft, 10-gun brig, a member of the Cherokee Class one of the commonest class of warships built by the Navy. They were known as ‘coffin brigs’ because out of the 115 built, 26 were lost at sea. 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 several years’ service, she was refitted as a hydrographic survey vessel and the captain, Commander Pringle Stokes, who shot himself in a fit of depression on August 1828 and the ship was subsequently placed under the command of Robert Fitzroy. Fitzroy invited the young naturalist Charles Darwin to accompany him. The Beagle set off on its great journey, with Darwin on board, in 1831 and for five years carried out detailed surveying of the tip of South America and in the Galapagos Islands.
After this she continued as a survey vessel until 1845, when she was transfered for coast guard duty. She was then known as ‘Beagle Watch Vessel’ (renamed W.V.7 in 1863). For her stationary duties her upper masts were dismantled and taken away. In September, a small caboose [a ship’s kitchen] was installed on deck.
She was broken up in 1879.
It had been previously suggested that the Beagle (after becoming a coast guard ship) had operated out of Southend-on-Sea, the team after examining documents from the period discounted this. However admiralty records from 1845 mention the ship as assigned to the coastguard at Southend. Though the Southend district covered Leigh-on Sea to the Blackwater. Some have postulated that she was based six miles east of Southend in Havengore Creek. But the Beagle could have served anywhere throughout this region accessible to a ship of her tonnage and 11ft draught. And the admiralty certainly seemed to believe she was moored in the Roach.
Length: 27.5 metres (90 feet 4 inches) Width: 7.5 metres (24 feet 6 inches) Burden: 235 tons Draught: 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 man complement as a ship-of-war. A total of 66 sailed on the Darwin voyage.