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The BEAGLE with the Yagan canoe Indians
in the Murray Narrows looking North
from Ponsonby Sound close to Wulaia

Background shows the Beagle Channel and across the bay,
the area where Ushuaia now lies at the foot of the mountains
on Tierra Del Fuego island (Eastern Darwin Mountains)

Click drawing for plans and information on the HMS BEAGLE

                    HMS Beagle history

he role of the Royal Navy changed when the Napoleonic wars came
to an end. After 25 years of almost continuous warfare the Navy
found itself without an enemy. A period of comparative maritime
tranquillity followed the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and little
serious construction for the Royal Navy was undertaken until the
revival of the French navy during the reign of Napoleon III.
Charles Darwin circumnavigated the world aboard a small warship,
HMS Beagle, during this relatively peaceful time at sea.

After the peace settlement of 1815 the Navy did not need powerful
men-of-war such as HMS VICTORY with her 104 guns and crew of 850
men. However, the wartime British fleet had included large
numbers of smaller ships. They were used for coastal defence,
anti-piracy duties, intelligence gathering and communications
work. One such class of ship was known as the 10-gun brig. These
ships were 90 feet long, 24 foot in beam, 12 foot in draft and
were armed with eight short-range and two long-range guns. The
10-gun brig was, in effect, a cross between a merchantman and a
small warship. The first of the class, HMS Achates, was launched
in 1808 and she showed that the class was useful in both peace
and war. More than 100 10-gun brigs were built during the course
of the next 30 years.  

The 10-gun brig HMS Beagle was launched
in 1820. She never saw active service. Her career as a survey
ship began in 1826 with a voyage to Patagonia and Tierra del
Fuego under the command of Captain Parker King. She returned to
Plymouth in 1830. At the end of 1831 she again sailed for South
America under the command of Captain Robert FitzRoy and she
returned in 1836 after circumnavigating the world. Charles Darwin
was aboard for the whole of this voyage as expedition naturalist.
Her third and final voyage took place between 1837 and 1843 under
Commander John Wickham and First Lieutenant John Stokes. During
these years she made the first charts of large parts of the
coasts of Australia. Both Wickham and Stokes had served aboard
the Beagle during her previous voyage.

he Beagle was very thoroughly prepared for her survey work.
Before her second voyage her deck was raised by 18 inches and her
rig was converted from brig to barque by the addition of a mizzen
mast. The mizzen made her more handy under sail and the raised
deck increased the space below. Nevertheless, her crew lived
under extremely cramped conditions. No fewer than 76 people were
aboard her 90 foot hull when she sailed for South America in

An interesting account of the career of HMS Beagle
has been published by
Keith Thomson.

Thompson, Kieth , Stewart. HMS BEAGLE,
The story of Darwin's Ship.
W.W. Norton & Co., NY, NY 1995

ISBN 0-393-03778-9

Captain of the Beagle, Robert Fitzroy

orn at Ampton Hall, Euston, Suffolk on July 5, 1805, Robert
FitzRoy was a fourth great grandson of Charles II. Graduating
with great distinction from the Royal Naval College at
Portsmouth, he entered the Royal Navy on 19 October 1819 and was
commissioned on 7 September 1824. On the voyage of 1826 to
South America he was given command of the Beagle on the suicide
of its captain, completed the surveying mission and returned to England. 

His request for a second surveying mission to the region was
eventually granted in 1831 by the Navel Hydrographer, Francis
Beaufort, who used his connections to obtain a companion for
FitzRoy on the voyage, Charles Darwin.

The Beagle was heavily instrumented for the voyage, including
several chronometers. The ship also carried barometers which
FitzRoy used it to good effect in short term weather
forecasting.  It was the first voyage with sailing orders that
wind observations should be taken using the Beaufort wind scale.

he voyage, completed in October 1836 after a global
circumnavigation, was highly successful for its surveying.  Look
on a map for the Beagle Channel and FitzRoy Range.  Darwin's
findings are well known, but eventually gave FitzRoy great
distress as he was a creationist.

He served as a Member of Parliament for Durham in 1841, and
Governor General of New Zealand. In 1854 he was appointed to head
a new department that became the British Meteorological Office.
Its initial mandate was to compile statistics on wind to assist
the efficiency of navigation.  He enlarged on that role promoting
weather observations, establishing barometer stations,
telegraphic reporting and, in 1861, the first storm warnings.
These he soon extended to routine weather forecasts.

In 1862 he published "The Weather Book"

The prediction techniques used were not up to the standard needed
to establish credibility. He was criticized in Parliament,
newspapers and by other scientists, including Matthew Maury. His
role in assisting Darwin also greatly troubled him, and on April
30th 1865 he took his life at his home at Upper Norwood, outside
London. The inquest attributed his action to overwork.

FitzRoy was a perfectionist, demanding no less of himself than of
others. His work in surveying gained him election as Fellow of
the Royal Society. Many would say that his humanitarian and
creationist convictions got in the way of better judgement.  



Captain Fitzroy retired from active service in 1850; he was made
Rear-Admiral in 1857, Vice-Admiral in 1863 and he died in 1865.
He was a man of many talents and energies, but his consuming passion
was the weather. M.P. for Durham, Governor of New Zealand,
Meteorological Officer to the Board of Trade, he was also an associate
of Darwin in his work on HMS Beagle and published his Weather Book
in 1863. He was a great innovator. He set up weather stations to communicate
with the Meteorological Office, produced weather charts and weather forecasts.
His whole approach was that of a scientist - a scientist with imagination.
He was concerned not only to observe but to interpret.

Admiral Fitzroy is commonly remembered because of a most
distinctive type of barometer to which he gave his name.

In 1864 he was able to claim the preservation of life and property resulting
from the widespread use of his barometer. 'Explanatory manuals and blank
forms for diagrams have been extensively circulated among the coasters
and fishermen, who are all now much influenced by and very thankful for
the benefits of this act of their Government'.

oday the Fitzroy Barometer is a useful Barometer, one that can still be 'read'
as well as having considerable decorative charm, and as Admiral Fitzroy himself
commented, is one of the most valuable instruments ever contrived for
investigating the nature and laws of the wonderful ocean of air in which we live.

Fitzroy a later age 

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