HMS Beagle

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HMS Beagle was a Cherokee-class 10-gun brig-sloop of the Royal Navy. She was launched on 11 May 1820 from the Woolwich Dockyard on the River Thames, at a cost of £7,803. In July of that year she took part in a fleet review celebrating the coronation of King George IV of the United Kingdom in which she was the first ship to sail under the new London Bridge. After that there was no immediate need for Beagle so she "lay in ordinary", moored afloat but without masts or rigging. She was then adapted as a survey barque and took part in three expeditions. On the second survey voyage the young naturalist Charles Darwin was on board, and his work would eventually make the Beagle one of the most famous ships in history.

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First voyage

On 27 September 1825 Beagle docked at Woolwich for repairs and fitted out for her new duties at a total cost of £5,913. Her guns were reduced from ten cannons to six and a mizzen mast was added to improve her manoeuvrability, thereby changing her from a brig to a bark (or barque).

Beagle set sail from Plymouth on 22 May 1826 on her first voyage, under the command of Captain Pringle Stokes. The mission was to accompany the larger ship HMS Adventure (380 tons) on a hydrographic survey of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, under the overall command of the Australian Captain Phillip Parker King, Commander and Surveyor.[2][3]

Faced with the more difficult part of the survey in the desolate waters of Tierra del Fuego, Captain Pringle Stokes fell into a deep depression. At Port Famine on the Strait of Magellan he locked himself in his cabin for 14 days, then after getting over-excited and talking of preparing for the next cruise, shot himself on 2 August 1828. Following four days of delirium Stokes recovered slightly, but then his condition deteriorated and he died on 12 August 1828.[4] Captain Parker King then replaced Stokes with the First Lieutenant of the Beagle, Lieutenant W.G. Skyring. They sailed to Rio de Janeiro where on 15 December 1828 Rear Admiral Sir Robert Otway, commander in chief of the South American station aboard HMS Ganges, named as (temporary) Captain of the Beagle his aide, Flag Lieutenant Robert FitzRoy.

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