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Dock where Darwin’s ship HMS Beagle spent final days given protected status

UK News | Published:

The submerged mud berth near Paglesham in Essex has been designated as a scheduled monument on the advice of Historic England.

Charles Darwin's ship HMS Beagle

The dock where Charles Darwin’s ship HMS Beagle spent its final days has been given protected status to help preserve it for the future.

Darwin made the discoveries that led to the formulation of his theory of evolution while aboard the vessel.

It is thought to have been dismantled at a dock on the River Roach near Paglesham in Essex, and Historic England said experts had identified its outline on the mud flats.

HMS Beagle
The site of the dock near Paglesham (Historic England/PA)

The submerged mud berth has now been designated as a scheduled monument by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.

Monuments are not graded but all are, by definition, considered to be of national importance.

Once a monument is scheduled, any works to it, with few exceptions, require scheduled monument consent from the Secretary of State.

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.

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“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.”

Archaeologists working previously at the site in Essex
Archaeologists working previously at the site in Essex (Historic England/PA)

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

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 for scrap in 1870.

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

Maritime archaeologists confirmed the location of the mud dock and a brick slope or “hard” using geophysical surveys and an aerial survey by drone.

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.

Charles Darwin
Naturalist Charles Darwin (PA)

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 in England, Historic England said.

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.

“We are glad to see this site in a quiet corner of Essex given national protection.”

​Rochford District Council plans to build an observation platform at the RSPB Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project, overlooking the River Roach where the ship was moored, to commemorate it.

Visitors to the site will be able to immerse themselves in a CGI tour of the HMS Beagle on their smartphone, thanks to a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant.

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