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Archaeologists uncover ‘dock where Darwin’s ship HMS Beagle was dismantled’

Experts commissioned by Historic England say they have identified the outline of he dock on mud flats in Essex.

Drawing of HMS Beagle in the Magellan Straits by RT Pritchett (Historic England/PA)
Drawing of HMS Beagle in the Magellan Straits by RT Pritchett (Historic England/PA)

By Sam Russell, PA

The ship on which Charles Darwin made the discoveries that led to the formulation of his theory of evolution was probably dismantled at a dock which archaeologists believe they have located in Essex, it has been claimed.

A team of experts, commissioned by Historic England, say they have identified the outline of the dock on the mud flats of the River Roach, off Paglesham, where HMS Beagle spent her final days.

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The location of the original mud dock where HMS Beagle was likely dismantled (Historic England/PA)

The clear outline was produced thanks to the use of a drone fitted with a specialist camera which captures red, green, infrared and near-infrared light.

This looks at the health of plant life to build a picture of any buried remains, using the principle of differential growth – buried features affect vegetation growth above ground, much like the way crop marks are formed in dry weather.

HMS Beagle was first launched in 1820 and was the vessel on which Darwin made the observations necessary to develop his theory of natural selection.​

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Experts from Wessex Archaeology working at the site at Essex (Historic England/PA)

After circumnavigating the globe, the Beagle was refitted as a static watch vessel for the Coastguard in 1845, serving to curb smuggling until it was sold in 1870.

It is believed it may have been dismantled by whoever bought it.

Dr Dan Atkinson, director of coastal and marine at Wessex Archaeology, said: “It has been hugely exciting to work on this project, which is starting to shed some light on the famous ship that carried one of science’s most renowned individuals.

“No evidence has yet been found of the Beagle itself.

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Experts (Historic England/PA)

“It was likely dismantled at the dock, and lots of the material would have been taken and repurposed elsewhere.

“But we know from previous surveys that there are the remains of potentially substantial material in the dock – this could be the remains of the dock itself, another vessel possibly associated with the local oyster fishery, or the Beagle – we can’t say for sure.

“Further analysis of data from the previous survey results, and our recent survey may tell us more.”

PA

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