Figurehead of the imagination?

Marquardt bookI'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.

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks
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1 thought on “Figurehead of the imagination?

  1. Good Morning Sir from Darwin,Australia
    In a book I read called ‘Mariners are Warned’, it’s Author, Marsden Horden writes that HMS Beagle’s figurehead was that of a Beagle & doesn’t comment on any doubt regarding this.
    This book,although briefly mentioning Beagle’s earlier voyages, concentrates on its 2 circumnavigations around Australia & to me is a top read & holds a great deal of good information, especially as it contains Helpman’s journals from his time aboard.
    Anyway, good luck with all (excuse the pun) Endevours

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