The lost anchors of Charles Darwin’s HMS Beagle – expedition undertaken in Australia

Monday, November 18, 2019


  • An expedition has been underway on the remote northern coast of Australia to find the lost anchors of the HMS Beagle.
  • The Beagle ended her career at Paglesham, in the Rochford District, as a watch vessel for the Coastguard and archaeologists have been searching for her remains in this location.
  • A FREE entry event, ‘Discover 2020: 200 years of HMS Beagle,’ will be held in the Rochford District on May 30 and 31 next year, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the ship’s launch.


A ground-breaking expedition has been underway in Australia, as a team of experts seek to recover the two large anchors lost from the scientific exploration vessel, the HMS Beagle, in 1839.


This prestigious ship is best known for its links to Charles Darwin, its most famous passenger, who was onboard as he carried out the work central to the formulation of his ‘Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.’


After completing its sojourn at the Galapagos Islands Charles Darwin returned to England while the Beagle was sent to survey the largely unknown northern coast of Australia. She surveyed what is now the bustling, tropical town of Darwin, named after the absent shipmate, then sailed west to the Victoria River.     


She then ended her career as a watch vessel for the Coastguard at Paglesham, in the Rochford District, where archaeologists have been searching for her remains in the run up to the 200th anniversary of her first launch in 1820. 


On the other side of the globe, the ‘Darwin Beagle Anchor Project’ has been focusing on the remote northern coast of Australia in a hunt for her missing anchors.


The team returned from their second expedition on November 9 to survey the Victoria River, where last year they discovered one of the two anchors lost from HMS Beagle in 1839 having located precisely where the crew marked it as lost in 1839.


Several days scanning and sounding the riverbed revealed that the highly mobile sandbars we identified in 2018 had since covered the anchor and likely also obscured the second undiscovered anchor.


A drone magnetometer survey was also completed, designed to further confirm the 2018 anchor and hopefully identify the location of the second anchor. Results are pending.

A metal detector was used to survey land abreast of the 1839 anchorage, where the Beagle recorded it had dug two water wells. Five handmade copper nails and a musket ball were unearthed.


The nails and the musket ball, once verified, may be the only known objects left behind by HMS Beagle in its survey of the northern coast of Australia.

While it was hoped the anchors would be visible in the scanning sonar images, the information collected on the riverbed and the mobile sandbars will provide invaluable information for the eventual excavation and recovery of these globally significant maritime archaeological objects.


Expedition leader and geologist John Canaris said: “In 1839, the Beagle’s lead surveyor and hydrologist, John Lort Stokes, described having to abandon the two anchors after they became lost to ‘quicksand’.

“The highly mobile sand bars identified would have covered the anchors and provide for the first time an explanation as to how the anchors became stuck and were abandoned.”


The anchors once recovered, conserved and restored, will be put on display in the town of Darwin providing an indelible link to the HMS Beagle and its important role in the discovery of Australia.


During the Summer, a team from Wessex Archaeology were commissioned by Historic England to investigate the area thought to be the last resting place of the HMS Beagle at Paglesham. They were able to locate the original mud dock where the ship, using a drone fitted with a specialist camera, and are now interrogating the results of various surveys.


A celebratory event, ‘Discover 2020: 200 years of HMS Beagle,’ will be held in the Rochford District to mark the 200th anniversary of the ship’s launch.

This FREE ENTRY event will be held on May 30 and 31, more information will be made available at in the lead up to the event.

Rochford District Council’s Strategic Director, Angela Hutchings, said: “It’s incredible to think that the remains of the HMS Beagle could have been lying in the mudflats at Paglesham, in the Rochford District, while her lost anchors were hidden across the other side of the globe on the northern coast of Australia waiting to be discovered.

“These archaeological searches and expeditions are such an exciting build-up to our event next year, ‘Discover 2020: 200 years of HMS Beagle’ which will charter the history of this ground-breaking vessel, who lead the way in so many discoveries in the world of natural sciences, and helped shape everything we know about the world today.”


Follow our Discover 2020 social media channels

Facebook - discover2020​

Twitter-  @Discover_2020​

Instagram -  discover2020festival​