HMS Beagle                                                           
In 1807 Sir Henry Peake, surveyor of the Navy [1806-22] designed a 235 ton Brig Sloop, armed with ten cannons, eight short-range and two long range guns. More than one hundred were built to this design during the course of the next thirty years of which the Beagle became the forty fifth. Their main roles in life were for coastal defence, anti-piracy or smuggling duties, surveying, intelligence gathering and communications work.  In 1817 The Beagle was ordered as one of a group of twelve to be built.  Her keel was laid at Woolwich Dockyard in June 1818.  Her measurements were 90 ft.
          Model of HMS Beagle
long x 24 ft.6 ins. beam with a draught of 12 ft. She was launched in on May 11th 1820 and cost £7,803. The Beagle took part in the Review of the Fleet on the coronation of George IV in 1820 and had the distinction of being the first man-of-war to sail under the Old London Bridge.  
At this time The Hydrographic Office, with it’s survey ships and personnel, had the task of providing up to date information on tides, reefs, inlets, depth of ocean floors, and new coast lines etc, as safe sailing instructions for guardians of the British Empire, the Royal Navy and British merchant ships.

1825, FIRST COMMISSION: Under Commander Pringel Stokes.  Docked at Woolwich for repairs and fitted out for her new duties. Reduced her guns from ten cannons to six, deck raised by 18 inches and her rig changed from Brig.sloop to Barque by the addition of a mizzen mast. The mizzen made her easier to handle under sail and the raised deck increased the space below.
Orders came from the Admiralty as follows: “An accurate survey is to be made of the Southern Coasts of South America, from the southern entrance of the Rio de la Plata round to Chiloe Island, and of Tierra del Fuego in such manner as the season may induce you to adopt”.  This survey took nearly three and half years. On  August 1st 1828 the exhausted and depressed captain, Cmdr. Pringle Stokes, committed suicide by shooting himself.  He was buried at Port Famine.  First Lieutent Skyring took interim command.

1828, SECOND COMMISSION:  Commander-in-chief of the South American Station, Admiral Sir Robert Otway, commissioned Commander Robert FitzRoy to take charge of the Beagle for a new survey. The Beagle carried a total of seven boats, a 26ft yawl, and a 23ft cutter. These were shipped on deck, one on top of the other midships between mainmast and foremast, two 28ft whalers which were upside down on skid beams between mizzen and mainmast, two 25ft whalers hung in davits adjacent to the mizzen, and finally a jollyboat [dinghy] in horn davits astern. These boats were the eyes and ears, the essential tools, of a survey ship and did most of the inshore work. Returned to Plymouth. 27th Oct. 1830.

1831, THIRD COMMISSION: Commander Robert FitzRoy was re-appointed and partly paid for a refit.  It was standard naval practice to combine hydrographic work with general scientific observations on land and to collect rare or unknown flora, fauna and geological species for the betterment of scientific knowledge.  
After returning from his first command  FitzRoy made a pledge: …”if I ever left England again on a similar expedition, I would endeavour to take a person qualified to examine the land, while the officers and myself attend to hydrography.”

On September 5th 1831 Charles Darwin met Robert FitzRoy and was accepted by the latter as an unpaid naturalist. This twenty two year old Bachelor of Arts with studies in medicine and religion and an intense interest
in natural history would embark on a journey to study the natural history of all countries visited. This journey took in most of South America, the Falkland Islands, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, Bay of Islands, near New Zealand, the southern coastline of Australia, Cocos Islands, Mauritius, Simons Bay, near the Cape of Good Hope, St.Helena, the Ascension Islands, then back across the Atlantic to Bahia in Brazil and finally the Cape Verde Islands. 76 personnel were aboard her 90 foot hull when she sailed for South America.

After a voyage around the world lasting four and three-quarter years, HMS Beagle arrived again in England on October  2nd 1836 and anchored at Falmouth. During the following weeks The Beagle travelled to Plymouth and Portsmouth, arriving at Greenwich, on October 28th.

1837, FOURTH COMMISSION: Commander John Clement Wickham, and the FIFTH COMMISSION: Commander John Lort Stokes took the Beagle to Australia for the next five and a half years, in which time by tedious work the officers and men eradicated all the blank spots from Australia’s coastline not filled in by previous explorers.
After more than six years of absence she arrived at Spithead on 30th Sept.1843.
Paid off at Woolwich Dockyard on Oct 14th.  The captain, Commander John Lort Stokes, left HMS Beagle at the same place he had first stepped on to the ship’s deck as a young midshipman eighteen years before.

October 20th 1843 Beagle sent to Sheerness Dockyard where after eighteen months she was sold to the coastguard authority and fitted out as a watch vessel i.e. floating police stations.

11th July 1845. Left Sheerness for Paglesham on the River Roach to be stationed at the mouth of the river.  For her stationary duties her upper masts were dismantled and taken away. In 1850 she was removed from the mouth of the river and moored at Paglesham. Where she spent the last twenty years of her life and remained a watch vessel at least until 1863. In 1870 she was sold to Murray & Trainer for the sum of £525 to be broken up.