A Case of Natural Selection

Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise had been using the hulked ship as a station to monitor smuggling operations along the Essex coast. A little community of seven Coast Guard officers and their families called it home. Few of the residents however, knew anything about their home beyond the fact that it was one of the “Coffin Brigs” that were infamous for disappearing at sea. It wasn’t even recognizable from its former self; all of its original accoutrements had been removed, including its guns and masts.

None of the oystermen on the River Roach knew anything about the ship’s history either. All they knew was that it was in their way, and they wanted it moved. So, in 1851, “Watch Station Number Seven” was unceremoniously dragged onto the marshy beach where it sat for almost 20 more years.

None of the workmen for Murray and Trainer Scrapworks knew the history of the boat as they stripped its forecastle, wheelhouse, and decks of the still-solid timber that was to be used to build a farmhouse on the north bank.

None of the children of Burnham-on-Crouch knew anything about the half-submerged hull as they played Buccaneers of the Spanish Main on its remaining planks.

But there was one man living not so far away in Kent that knew a lot about the Cherokee class, 10-gun, brig-sloop. He knew that it was the first ship to pass under the new London Bridge in 1820 during the coronation of King George IV. He knew that it had traveled around the world three times, surveying the coasts of Australia, New Zealand, and South America on the way.

Charles Darwin knew the HMS Beagle inside and out. He even wrote about it in his little book that was to cause quite a stir on November 24th, 1859.

1 comment:

cyurkanin said...

Image "HMS Beagle Approaching Sydney Cove 1838” gratefully used with permission from marine artist, Ron Scobie, Australian Society of Marine Artists.