I've just finished reading HMS Beagle: Survey Ship Extraordinary by Karl Heinz Marquardt. It really is one for the nerdy Darwin completist, but magnificent nevertheless.
I had hoped the book might settle a question that I have wondered about for a number of years: did HMS Beagle have a figurehead? Sadly, Marquardt is unable to answer the question categorically:
The question of the figurehead is another unresolved matter. One school of thought asserts that the utilitarian character of those small brigs, without real embellishment anywhere, warrants only a scroll whilst the other suggests a carved figurehead. Both opinions have their merits and can be documented with surviving models of the 18-gun Cruizer class brig. While C Martens' watercolours and pencil drawings are too sketchy to get a clear indication of a figurehead, the O Stanley watercolour of HMS Beagle in Sydney Harbour and P G King's longitudinal sketch suggest an animal, probably a dog.
It's strange that Marquardt doesn't go on to point out that, if the suggested figurehead were indeed a dog, it would almost certainly be a beagle. Although I'm probably reading far too much into this omission, it makes me suspect that Marquardt really might think the feature shown in the pictures looks like a dog, and that he isn't simply wishfully (and wistfully) imagining a dog, based on the ship's name. If so, the fact that the ship's name was Beagle would seem to corroborate Marquardt's guess at a dog—and lend support to those who say the ship would have had a figurehead!
But that's probably just wishful (and wistful) thinking on my behalf.