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THE remains of the 19th Century resting place for the HMS Beagle is now officially protected as a nationally important site – in a landmark move to protect its heritage.
The submerged mud berth on the River Roach near Paglesham, in the Rochford district, was built to house the ship when it was serving as a coastguard watch vessel. The submerged mud berth on the River Roach near Paglesham, in the Rochford district, was built to house the ship when it was serving as a coastguard watch vessel.
Because of the discovery it has been designated as a scheduled monument by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.
HMS Beagle was first launched in May 1820 from Woolwich Dockyard on the River Thames and is most famous for being the vessel on which Charles Darwin made the observations necessary to develop his theory of natural selection.
Following three, far-flung exploratory voyages the Beagle was refitted as a static watch vessel for the Essex Coastguard in 1845, serving to curb smuggling until it was sold for scrap in 1870.
In 2019, Historic England commissioned Wessex Archaeology to investigate the Paglesham mudflats in Rochford.
It has long been thought that the mudflats had been the last resting place of the Beagle, but it has now been confirmed ahead of the 200th anniversary of the launch of the ship .The Rochford mud dock – a specifically cut mooring place in which a vessel rests on the bottom at low tide – was constructed sometime after 1847.
Its outline, location and size matches the indentation of the riverbank recorded on early Ordnance Survey maps.
Despite what was probably once a common feature on England’s major waterways, particularly in the absence of designed dockyards, the locations of purpose built mud docks are not well known.
Only five mud docks are recorded across England, making this a rare and important discovery.
Nigel Huddleston, heritage minister, said: “The voyages of HMS Beagle had a transformative impact on the world and they began here on our shores two hundred years ago.
“As 2020 marks a special anniversary in the Beagle’s past, it is fitting that the significant site of its last days will be protected for the future.”
A mud dock of the same type can be seen in John Constable’s 1815 painting “Boat-Building near Flatford Mill” on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
Mud berths included the need for shoring to stabilise the sides, and wooden stocks to support the ship.
The sloped brick hard extended alongside the dock and ship’s side allowing people access down the foreshore to low water.
Duncan Wilson, Historic England chief executive, said: “This is a fascinating example of a rare piece of maritime history, linked to one of the world’s most famous ships.
FitzRoy had found a need for expert advice on geology during the first voyage, and had resolved that if on a similar expedition, he would "endeavour to carry out a person qualified to examine the land; while the officers, and myself, would attend to hydrography." Command in that era could involve stress and loneliness, as shown by the suicide of Captain Stokes, and FitzRoy's own uncle Viscount Castlereagh had committed suicide under stress of overwork. His attempts to get a friend to accompany him fell through, and he asked his friend and superior, Captain Francis Beaufort, to seek a gentleman naturalist as a self-financing passenger who would give him company during the voyage. A sequence of inquiries led to Charles Darwin, a young gentleman on his way to becoming a rural clergyman, joining the voyage. Fitzroy was influenced by the physiognomy of Lavater, and Darwin recounted in his autobiography that he was nearly "rejected, on account of the shape of my nose! He was an ardent disciple of Lavater, & was convinced that he could judge a man's character by the outline of his features; & he doubted whether anyone with my nose could possess sufficient energy & determination for the voyage."
Admiralty Chart of the Galapagos Islands, one of the charts resulting from Fitzroy's hydrographic surveys
Beagle was originally scheduled to leave on 24 October 1831 but because of delays in her preparations the departure was delayed until December. Setting forth on what was to become a ground-breaking scientific expedition she departed from Devonport on 10 December. Due to bad weather her first stop was just a few miles ahead, at Barn Pool, on the west side of Plymouth Sound. Beagle left anchorage from Barn Pool on 27 December, passing the nearby town of Plymouth. After completing extensive surveys in South America she returned via New Zealand, Sydney, Hobart Town (6 February 1836), to Falmouth, Cornwall, England, on 2 October 1836.
Darwin had kept a diary of his experiences, and rewrote this as the book titled Journal and Remarks, published in 1839 as the third volume of the official account of the expedition. This travelogue and scientific journal was widely popular, and was reprinted many times with various titles, becoming known as The Voyage of the Beagle. This diary is where Darwin drew most of the ideas for his publications. Darwin attributes his first real training in natural history to his voyage on the Beagle.