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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > January 2016 > Great Adventures: The Voyage of the Beagle

Great Adventures: The Voyage of the Beagle

Pat Kinsella joins the father of modern biology on a boat trip that would forever transform the way we see the world…
TRAVEL BROADENS THE MIND The Beagle sails off from the coast of Brazil, with a young Charles Darwin – influential ideas forming in his head – on board
SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY X1, TOPFOTO X1. ISTOCK X1

THE VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE

“It never occurred to me,that the productions of islands only a few miles apart, and placed under the same physical conditions, would be dissimilar” Darwin nearly misses his biggest discovery on the Galápagos

When HMS Beagle set sail from Plymouth Sound on 27 December 1831, under the command of Robert FitzRoy, its captain and crew - including recent arts graduate Charles Darwin - expected their voyage to last 24 months. Five years later, the brig returned. Thee ship had circumnavigated the planet, while Darwin collected specimens and began developing a theory that would revolutionise everything our species knew about the world.

Darwin’s findings questioned and then eclipsed prevailing notions of creationism pedalled by religious establishments, but when he boarded the Beagle, the 22-year-old didn’t mean to rock the boat. He was preparing to embark on a career as a country clergyman, and appeared destined for life as a parson with a passionate interest in nature. Instead, this epic adventure set him on a path that led to a place in the pantheon of science.

FULL SAIL HMS Beagle, on which Darwin saw the world, gathered samples and took notes that would be vital to his groundbreaking theories
ILLUSTRATION: SUE GENT, ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY X1, ALAMY X3, GETTY X1, PA X1, TOPFOTO X1, SUPERSTOCK X1

73

The number of men aboard the Beagle when it left Plymouth in December 1831

THE BEAGLE BUNCH

Built in 1820 as a Cherokee-class, tengun brigsloop, the Beagle was later refitted as a survey barque. At that time, the British had a keen eye on South America, where several nations had recently won independence from Spain and, in 1826, the Beagle embarked on a hydrographical survey of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, initially under the captainship of a Pringle Stokes. When Stokes took his own life in Tierra del Fuego, he was ultimately replaced by former flag lieutenant Robert FitzRoy – a 23-year-old who’d been in the Navy since the age of 13.

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The January 2016 issue of History Revealed
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