28 December 2011

New Beagle Project podcast

John Lort-StokesAfter something of a hiatus (ahem!), we have just published a new HMS Beagle Project podcast on the Beagle Channel.

David Lort-Phillips, co-founder and Executive Committee member of the HMS Beagle Project, talks about his relative, Admiral John Lort-Stokes, the last captain of HMS Beagle. The interview with BBC Radio Wales's Jamie Owen was recorded on 01-Aug-2011.

David-Lort-Phillips-Interview-2011-08-01.mp3 (9.9 kB).

27 December 2011


In his final "Setting sail" post, maritime historian and HMS Beagle expert Dr Gordon Chancellor marks the day in 1831 when FitzRoy and Darwin left England behind...

In our last post we left the HMS Beagle on Christmas Day, stuck in Plymouth by south-westerly gales. 26 December in contrast was ‘a beautiful day,’ and Captain FitzRoy’s Narrative indicates that there was ‘a dead calm’ with every prospect that soon there would be a breeze from the east. The whole day was wasted, however, because so many of the crew were in irons for getting plastered the day before!

FitzRoy’s easterly duly arrived 180 years ago, on 27 December 1831, and he resolved to strike south for Madeira. Darwin ‘took a farewell luncheon’ of mutton and champagne ashore with Sullivan. The two friends boarded at about 2pm ‘and immediately with every sail filled by a light breeze, we scudded away’ from England.

So, after months of preparations and false starts, one of the most important voyages of all time was under way. As FitzRoy so truly said, the voyage ‘though likely to be long, promised much that would interest, and excite, and perhaps reward....’

24 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

This festive take on Darwin's sketch - the Phylogenetic [Christmas] Tree - and other interesting musings about the natural world, astronomy and ideas generally can be found atAllison Banks's blog, look up - we encourage you to visit her, and hope she'll bring her creative view of science to bear on future HMS Beagle Project endeavours.

In the meantime, best of the holiday to you and yours, and here's to getting the new Beagle's keel laid in 2012!

An unpromising first Christmas aboard

Our third guest post from Dr Gordon Chancellor gives a snapshot of Darwin's first Christmas aboard HMS Beagle - anxious to get under way, suffering foul weather... and having far less fun than the crew, though the latter would pay dearly for their celebrations.

My last post saw HMS Beagle 180 years ago waiting what must have seemed an eternity for a north-easterly to carry her out of Plymouth and start her voyage around the world.

Slashing rain on 22 December added to Darwin’s misery, but on the 23rd he had some fun with shipmates Sullivan and Bynoe, pitting his marksmanship against theirs to see who would be buying the drinks in Madeira. That evening, he endured a ‘bad concert’ in town with Stokes.

Christmas Eve was 'a blank and idle day', but Christmas Day was better for Darwin, as he found an old Cambridge friend leading the church service he attended. Darwin dined with the officers that afternoon, but didn't enjoy the conversation which, in such formal circumstances, was 'entirely devoid of interest.'

Not such a great time for our young naturalist then, but the crew all got drunk, that 'sole and never failing pleasure to which a sailor always looks forward'!

20 December 2011

Fuegians and false starts on the run-up to Christmas

Here's the second in a series of guest posts by archivist and historian Dr Gordon Chancellor, who has spent 30 years getting to know the HMS Beagle...

16 December 1831 was the first day Darwin spent entirely on the Beagle. He was daily writing his ‘journal’ for the voyage around the world of HMS Beagle, even though the little ship was still anchored in Plymouth waiting for a north-easterly breeze to take her south towards Madeira.

That day Darwin decided to write a preface, in which he recounted the months before his daily entries began on 24 October. He especially looked back to two ‘very anxious and uncomfortable days’ at the end of August when, having been offered the place on the Beagle, he had had to turn it down because his father had not approved it. Poor Darwin had been desperate to go and we have his uncle Josiah Wedgwood to thank for changing Darwin’s father’s mind and letting the young naturalist go.

Darwin had gone immediately to stay in Cambridge with his mentor John Henslow for a few days, before seeing the Beagle, then returning home to Shrewsbury for the last time. From there he was in London for three weeks, then arrived aboard the survey ship on 24 October. He spent the next month or so learning about longitudes and dipping needles, as well as doing some geology in limestone quarries and on the granite tors of Dartmoor.

The Fuegian Indians were on board by mid-November [!], and the superb ship’s library was stocked within Darwin’s easy reach - once he had learnt how to get into his hammock. HMS Beagle sailed on 10 December and Darwin’s brother Erasmus made his farewells, but she was driven back by storms.

On the 11th, the date before the first of these posts, Darwin reflected that though he had been right to accept the position on the Beagle, he doubted ‘how far it will add to the happiness of one’s life’. On the 12th he set out his agenda for the voyage, the number one priority being to collect, observe and read ‘in all branches of Natural history that I possibly can manage.’

A suitable breeze followed the Beagle from her moorings on 20 December and Darwin retreated to his hammock for the night to escape sea-sickness. A gale brewing off the Lizard had, however, forced her back again to Plymouth on the 21st, where she was anchored this day, exactly 180 years ago.

19 December 2011

Get the inside story on Beagle happenings

Our first official e-bulletin goes out today to folks who've registered for updates at the HMS Beagle Project homepage.

If you'd like to get the latest news on ships, trips, and ways to participate, by all means sign on! We won't bombard you, and it's easy to subscribe or unsubscribe.

17 December 2011

A little Beagle for Christmas?

From the shameless commerce department:
Just a quick note to say that if you're stuck for gift-giving ideas and want to support the HMS Beagle Project, you can still order a gift through our Café Press shop this weekend and have it arrive in time for Christmas - or for the Dec 27th anniversary of the second voyage.

A portion of proceeds goes to our project work, and the shirts, mugs, totes etc are quite nice. I've got the 'Charles Darwin signature' field bag, and have had compliments. On the bag...

16 December 2011

Guest post by Captain Skellett: Future floating laboratory, prospectus of the HMS Beagle Project

This is a guest post by Aussie pirate scientist blogger extraordinaire Captain Skellet. Her introductory post can be found here.


Yesterday afternoon I went to a prospectus to the HMS Beagle Project while founder David Lort Phillips is in Adelaide.

It’s a CRAZY exciting project which plans to build a modern version of Darwin and FitzRoy’s tall ship the HMS Beagle, kitted out as a floating laboratory.

Marine biologists could benefit from getting much-needed ship time. As it’s a tall ship, it can get closer to land than large cruise vessels, giving it an extra bonus to people studying tidal areas. Groups into DNA barcoding might find it useful too, as it can be tricky to get high quality samples for DNA testing - most are set in formalin which ruins the info. More on DNA barcoding soon.

Climate research can be done from the boat, the connection between biodiversity and climate change could be exploited in the project. There’s a collaboration of the HMS Beagle with NASA, combining observations from space with water samples in the ocean.

Space shuttle before docking with space station.
Image by NASA
In 2009 the Brazilian tall ship Tocorime with the International Space Station, and they ran live hook-ups between scientists on the boat, an astronaut above, and school children in Paraty. Looks like Keven Zelnio from Deep Sea News was there! The students had questions written in English on paper which they screwed into a sweaty ball with excitement, according to Karen James, involved with the HMS Beagle Project.

Most interesting for me is the prospect of science communication on the high seas. We can take high-tech science to ports around the world, including remote areas that often miss out on science engagement events.

I’d like to see the online aspect of the beagle able to webcast and tweet from the deck, setting up chat sessions with classrooms and the public. Maybe people could watch the Beagle’s progress through the ocean, and be updated with the science we on the way. Oh, I gots ideas!

At the moment they have blueprints and some collaborations sorted out, but are still looking for funding to get it built and in the water. The first five years it would retrace the first voyage of the Beagle, including along the South American coast.

Chile are planning to build their own ship in connection to the project, possibly named after the Beagle support ship, the Adventure.

Darwin was 22 when he signed on with the Beagle, an amateur with an interest in science – mainly geology. What he saw from the ship and at port, particularly in the Galapagos Islands, lead him to a world-changing hypothesis.

Maybe the new Beagle will have the same effect on some young scientists. Good heavens, I just really hope they build this tall ship, and when they do, that I'm on it helping to share their discoveries online, in ports, worldwide.

This blog post first appeared on A Schooner of Science.

14 December 2011

In the news...

The Beagle Project has been (like the Beagle 160-odd years ago) in Australia. We made the news.

More on Antipodean developments later.

New guest blogger: Captain Skellett

This is the first of what we hope will be several guest posts by Aussie pirate scientist blogger extraordinaire Captain Skellet, who came to our attention in Adelaide two weeks ago during our visit there (more about that shortly).


Ahoy! Call me Captain Skellett. I’ve been running yonder blog, A Schooner of Science, for two and a half years. My interests include science, sailing and long walks on the beach with a compass and treasure map.

It’s exciting to be invited to guest post on the HMS Beagle Project blog, the greatest nautical science venture (adventure!) that I’ve heard tale of. Just the thought of a tall-ship following the voyage of Darwin, brimming with science reaching ports remote… well it gives me tingles!

We pirates are generalists by trade, so I write about anything that catches my fancy. My background in chemistry, biochemistry, molecular and drug design doesn’t stop me blogging on robots, stars and such suchness. Science art is particularly close to my heart. Here at the Beagle, I’ll keep it to topics that tie into the project, like the deep sea and evolution.

For those so inclined to follow, find me @CaptainSkellett on Twittarrr and on the book of faces. And so, me hearties, join me for a journey of guest posts on this here HMS Beagle Project blog.

12 December 2011

About to set sail...

Got a reminder this morning from palaeontologist, maritime historian and HMS Beagle aficionado Dr Gordon Chancellor, asking if we were going to mark the 180th anniversary of HMS Beagle's second voyage. He then kindly offered up the vignette below:

Monday December 12th 2011 is a good date on which to recall that exactly 180 years ago a certain HMS Beagle was lying off Plymouth, waiting for a favourable wind to set off round the world.

On board was a twenty-two year old naturalist who had finished his Cambridge degree that summer. His name was Charles Darwin and he had started to keep a journal of his expedition for his family to read in instalments.

He wrote, once ‘snug and quiet’ back in his small berth in the poop cabin, that there was a heavy swell that day and that he feared sea-sickness. He had been ashore and dined with Sir Manley Dixon, returning to the mother ship after a ‘long and rough pull’, presumably in the dark. Darwin’s day ended at eight bells (midnight) as he turned into his hammock.

More to come...