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Last Updated: Friday, 30 May, 2003, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Scientists search for Darwin's Beagle
The final resting place of HMS Beagle, the ship on which Charles Darwin made early discoveries about evolution, could soon be uncovered.

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin circumnavigated the world on the HMS Beagle
St Andrews University's Dr Robert Prescott, who has led the team retracing the ship's final fate, said sensor equipment was to be used at an undisclosed site in the Essex marshes this summer.

"Once we get a clearer picture from that, the next step would be a full excavation, where we are expecting to find substantial remains of the lower part of the vessel's hull," he said.

Darwin, who published On the Origin Of Species By Means Of Natural Selection in 1859, was on the Beagle as it circumnavigated the globe under Captain Robert Fitzroy between 1831 and 1836.

'Most significant ship'

Dr Prescott said: "Darwin's experiences during that expedition critically influenced the development of his ideas about evolution, ultimately revolutionising the way science regards the story of life.

"The Beagle surely qualifies as one of the most significant ships in scientific history. Yet she has been forgotten for almost a century."

Launched in 1820 from the Woolwich Royal Dockyard on the Thames the 235-tonne vessel was refitted three years later as a hydrographic survey vessel.

It then embarked on its famous career as a survey and scientific exploration ship, circumnavigating the globe twice.

The 90-foot sloop was eventually laid up at Woolwich in 1840.

It was later used by the coastguard service for anti-smuggling duties along the south-east coast of England until it was auctioned for 525 in 1870.

HMS Beagle
HMS Beagle was launched in 1820
After this its fate remains unclear.

Dr Prescott set up the Beagle Ship Research Group in 2000 after being approached by Professor Colin Pillinger who is leading the UK-based project to land on Mars with the Beagle 2.

After examining documentary evidence, the team ruled out previous suggestions that the vessel had operated from Southend or nearby Havengore Creek.

Dr Prescott said he believed the ship had been broken up either where she sat, or nearby, but the lower part of the hull was unlikely to have been moved far.

"It seems a pair of local likely lads may have purchased the ship, breaking her up where she sat or possibly towing her to a nearby site," he said.

The day Beagle almost died
30 May 03  |  Science/Nature
'Lost' Darwin letter rediscovered
27 Feb 03  |  England
Darwin's letters return to their roots
27 Aug 02  |  Science/Nature


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