I read in The Times this morning, 11th May 2020, that HMS Beagle has been located in the Essex mudflats after she had spent a period patrolling the coast on behalf of HM Customs & Excise. A letter hoped that its Captain, Robert Fitzroy, would also be featured in the proposed visitor information.
What's the local historical connection with this ship? Well it was the Beagle that carried Charles Darwin, naturalist and companion of its captain Robert Fitzroy, grandson of Mount Stewart's 1st Marquess of Londonderry, commissioned to survey South America and complete a world voyage. The ship, only 242 tons, half the tonnage, length and beam of the Strangford Ferry, Beagle was built in 1820 at Woolwich Dockyard.
She had the honour of being the first ship to sail under the new London Bridge as part of the celebrations of the coronation of George IV that same year. Although she had room for 120 wartime crew, for the surveying voyage there were only around 70 people on board, but her miniscule cabins were so confined that the chronically seasick Darwin had to remove a drawer so that he could stretch out.
Scientists traced the outline of the ship in the mudflats and the site has now been designated as a protected monument. Visitors will be able to view the area from an observation platform and if they know the story of her famous voyage can imagine themselves visiting exotic and far away places like Tahiti, Tierra del Fuego and the Galapagos.
Fitzroy, born in Trafalgar year 1805, was governor of New Zealand, coined the term "weather forecast" and invented a rather elegant stick shaped barometer. And don't forget the dolphin, a National Park, mountain, and island, named for him, as well as an avenue in Belfast and a protected Alerce tree, or Fitzroya Cupressoides, a specimen of which was presented to Mount Stewart by the Met Office to celebrate Fitzroy's bicentenary in 2005. They also had a Fitzroy exhibition in the house that year. The weather area Fitzroy references him, the only one named for a person. He too was generous with other people's names and so we find Londonderry Island and Stewart Island in southern Chile. A blue plaque on the wall of his residence at 38 Onslow Square, London reads Admiral Robert Fitzroy, Hydrographer and Meterologist, 1805-1865, Lived Here.
HMS Beagle is celebrated by the Beagle Channel where the southern most town in the world, Ushuaia, has a little maritime museum featuring a replica of the ship, shown below.