HMS Beagle is the naval brig that took Charles Darwin to the Galapagos Islands and aboard which he made discoveries that contributed significantly to his revolutionary thinking on evolution. It is, most agree, the most important ship in scientific history.
Darwin’s landmark book, On the Origin of Species, is directly responsible for the extraordinary, life-saving progress that has been made in medicine and biology.
Which makes one wonder why the ship’s remains have been allowed to rot in a mudberth since it turned up at Paglesham, on the Roach, around 1845, to serve as a coastguard vessel watching for smugglers bringing contraband up from the Thames via the Havengore Creek.
In 2003, local waterman, the late Ron ‘King of the River’ Pipe, took a BBC crew out to the location – they were filming in connection with the ill-fated Beagle 2 expedition to Mars.
Some time after this, Ron Pipe told neighbour and local houseboat-dweller Nick Skeens that the BBC producer was singularly rude to him. Ron went on to describe how how he watched the team digging in the ‘wrong place’.
When asked how he knew it was the wrong place, he said, ‘I was told as a kid by the old watermen to tie up to Beagle’s stempost, which wasn’t where they were digging’.
He added that he didn’t tell them they were in the wrong place because he ‘doubted that they would have listened’ (his exact words were more colourful). He then described to Nick Skeens where the right location was, but, tragically, died on West Quay before he could show him exactly where.
The remains of the Beagle have not yet been positively identified.
The thought occurs that were the Beagle an American ship, it would have been fully restored by now. So the challenge remains.