Hunt for Darwin’s HMS Beagle reveals dock outline

Monday, October 28, 2019


  • Historic England’s hunt for HMS Beagle in Paglesham, Essex reveals outline of the dock where the ship was dismantled
  • Summer exploratory work by Wessex Archaeology will be shown on BBC One Inside Out East Monday 28 October 2019, 19:30
  • 2020 will see the 200th anniversary of the launch of the HMS Beagle, which will be marked by celebrations across the Rochford District


 ​Historic England’s hunt for the remains of the illustrious HMS Beagle which transported Charles Darwin to South America and circumnavigated the globe twice has identified the outline of the dock where the ship was likely dismantled.


Historic England commissioned Wessex Archaeology to investigate the area thought to be the last resting place of the Beagle ahead of the bicentenary of the vessel’s launch in May 2020. Results from fieldwork carried out earlier in the summer are coming to light, while the hunt will feature on BBC One Inside Out East Monday 28 October.


Experts from Wessex Archaeology are interrogating the results of surveys undertaken on the mud flats of the River Roach, off Paglesham, Essex where the Beagle spent her final days. The team employed three main techniques: magnetometry, ground penetrating radar and an aerial survey by drone. This investigation builds on previous work undertaken by a team led by the late Dr Robert Prescott from the University of St Andrews in 2003, and more recent work by the University of Southampton.


Archaeologists have been able to confirm the location of the original mud dock where HMS Beagle was most likely dismantled, a key objective of the project. The clear outline was produced thanks to the use of a drone fitted with a specialist camera which captures red, green, infrared, 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 cropmarks are formed in dry weather.


HMS Beagle was first launched in 1820 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 exploratory voyages the Beagle was refitted as a static watch vessel for the Coastguard in 1845 serving to curb smuggling until sold in 1870.



Dr Dan Atkinson, Director of Coastal & 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. ​For me, it’s a welcome return, having worked on the site previously with Dr Prescott.

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

Mark Dunkley, Maritime Archaeologist at Historic England, said: “The mud, channels of water and vegetation presented a unique and complicated environment to work in, but building on previous research and using state-of-the-art technology we’re beginning to understand what’s under the surface and whether elements of the Beagle’s hull still lies within the mud dock we’ve identified.

“We’re delighted to be working with Rochford District Council to help commemorate the bicentenary of the launch of the Beagle and encourage more visitors to this important site.”

Cllr Simon Wootton, Rochford District Council’s Portfolio Holder for Enterprise, said: “This is a very exciting time for Rochford District as Historic England and Wessex Archaeology share their expertise and findings with us about one of the most prestigious ships in the world, whose name is synonymous with discovery in the fields of science, meteorology and even space exploration.

“I eagerly await next year’s ‘Discover 2020’ Festival celebrations, when we will mark 200 years since the launch of HMS Beagle, along with a series of other important anniversaries in our local history. This unique festival will commemorate the spirit of adventure, in a voyage around Rochford District’s rich heritage.”

Discover 2020

Rochford District Council is hosting the Discover 2020 Festival - For more information go to

Follow our Discover 2020 social media channels for the latest vlogs about the hunt for the HMS Beagle. Just connect with us on the following channels, and please share your stories about our local connection to the HMS Beagle.​

Facebook - discover2020​

Twitter @Discover_2020​

Instagram discover2020festival​


About Historic England

We are Historic England, the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England’s spectacular historic environment, from beaches and battlefields to parks and pie shops. We protect, champion and save the places that define who we are where we’ve come from as a nation. We care passionately about the stories they tell, the ideas they represent and the people who live, work and play among them. Working with communities and specialists we share our passion, knowledge and skills to inspire interest, care and conservation, so everyone can keep enjoying and looking after the history that surrounds us all.​


About Wessex Archaeology

Wessex Archaeology is the UK’s leading archaeology and heritage practice and educational charity, seeking to enrich communities through heritage. Celebrating 40 years, Wessex Archaeology offers an unrivalled range of services above ground, below ground and underwater, delivered by industry experts from an international network of offices. We work in partnership with planners, designers, developers and property managers to deliver practical solutions. For more information please visit