HMS Beagle was a ‘Cherokee Class’ 10 gun brig-sloop built at a cost of £7,803 and launched on the 11th May 1820. Beagle was extensively fitted as a hydrographic survey ship and her guns reduced to 6. For this type of survey work her complement would also be reduced from 120 as a war ship to 65 plus 9 ‘supernumeraries’. The Beagle undertook three expeditionary voyages and in 1831 she left on the second (and most famous voyage) to undertake a survey of the South American coast. It was on this voyage that the young Charles Darwin travelled as Captain’s companion.
Beagle was under the command of Captain Robert Fitzroy – an equally young man of aristocratic background. The position of Captain was very lonely – being unable to socialise with either his subordinate officers or the crew and having no family on board, and when his attempts to get a ‘companion’ fell through he sought help from a Captain Francis Beaufort to seek a ‘gentleman passenger’. This led to Charles Darwin joining the voyage. The Captain amiably referred to Darwin as ‘Darwin Philos’ – ship’s philosopher as suitably respectful nickname.
Darwin spent much of his time on land exploring the local geology, plants and animals and it was his detailed observations that ultimately led to his theories being developed. HMS Beagle returned to England in October 1836.
A replica HMS Beagle is being planned to commemorate the 2009 anniversary.