Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 11, 2013
HMS Beagle representation

HMS Beagle representation

May 11, 1820: HMS Beagle is launched. The 10-gun brig-sloop was a Cherokee class ship of the British Royal Navy. She was named for the dog. She was launched from Woolwich Dockyard on the River Thames and cost £7,803 to build. In July, she was the first ship to sail under the new London Bridge as part of the fleet review held to celebrate King George IV’s coronation. And then she was kept in reserve for five years, moored afloat but without masts and rigging. She was refitted as a survey barque and made three voyages.

It cost £5,913 to refit the ship, removing 4 cannons and adding a mizzen mast for greater maneuverability. Captain Pringle Stokes piloted the Beagle from Plymouth on May 26, 1826. They embarked with HMS Adventure on a hydrographic survey of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Two years and two months into the voyage, Captain Stokes committed suicide after locking himself in his cabin for weeks. The ship came under command of Flag Lieutenant Robert FitzRoy who did a remarkable job. They returned to England on October 14, 1830.

Another survey trip to South America was to be given to HMS Chanticleer, but she was not seaworthy and the Beagle, under now-Captain FitzRoy, set sail after extensive refitting. FitzRoy, concerned about Captain Stoke’s suicide, wanted to bring a friend on the long trip – someone to alleviate the boredom and loneliness of command. Charles Darwin was the friend FitzRoy chose. Scheduled to leave in October, the overhaul caused a delay and so they did not sail until December 27, 1831. Instead of simply surveying South America, the ship returned to England via New Zealand, Sydney, Cape Town, and many other stops, arriving home safely on October 2, 1836.

The plan envisioned by FitzRoy saw the navy personnel engaged in hydrogeography while his friend could provide expertise with mineralogy and geology. The log for such a journey required painstaking descriptions and accurate and detailed note taking. Darwin’s notes led him to the theory of natural selection. The scientist discussed his theory with other naturalists but did not publish his seminal work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection until 1859. The work did not meet with immediate success. It did, however, thrust HMS Beagle into the limelight, making her one of the most famous ships in history.

“Reading these two genomes side by side, it’s amazing to see the evolutionary changes that are occurring. I couldn’t imagine (naturalist Charles) Darwin looking for stronger confirmation of his theories.” – Robert Waterston

“How do you know that God didn’t speak to Charles Darwin?” – Jack Lemmon

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

“The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant was alone evidence enough to upset Darwin.” – Henry Brooks Adams

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Robert FitzRoy was born July 5, 1805 in Suffolk, England. He was aristocratic by birth, a descendant of King Charles II as well other illustrious titles in his family tree. He is best known for his sailing adventures and eventually reached the rank of Vice-Admiral. However, he was also the 2nd Governor of New Zealand, taking over that position from Captain William Hobson on December 26, 1843. During his two years of rule, he was to maintain order and protect the Maori while still allowing settlers to settle on the Maori’s land. His resources were meager (mostly from duties paid) and he had little military backing. The settlers were overzealous and were found at fault in the Wairau Massacre. FitzRoy was probably quite willing to relinquish the role in 1845 to Sir George Grey.

Also on this day Man Against Machine – In 1997 IBM’s Deep Blue became a chess champion.
Pullman – In 1894, a wildcat strike against Pullman Palace Car Co. began.
The Pill – In 1960, the first contraceptive pill was approved by the FDA.

2 Responses

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on May 11, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    In other words, they hijacked the ship to suit their personal goals, therebye wasting the money that the taxpayers had paid to build and then refit and then refit the ship again. They have laws in the UK and around the world nowadays, thanks to the hijackers of the HMS Beagle who showed us that piracy can happen in other forms..

  2. Sherry said, on May 13, 2014 at 4:15 am

    No – not “in other words”, Bobby Dias. The ship was the property of England and used as a Royal Navy vessel. The entry says NOTHING about her various captains going against orders. Her era was still one of exploration and British colonization, and the captains of surveying vessels probably had some latitude (no pun intended) in their primary mission.

    You don’t get to interpret history in any way you want, Bobby . . . not like FACTS have ever stopped you, however.

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