27-Dec-1831: HMS Beagle sets sail

After having been twice driven back by heavy southwestern gales, Her Majesty’s ship Beagle, a ten-gun brig, under the command of Captain Fitz Roy, R. N., sailed from Devonport on the 27th of December, 1831.

As opening lines of classic adventure stories go, it’s one of the best—even though, when she set sail, Beagle was still His Majesty’s Ship .

The story of HMS Beagle’s second voyage, with a young Charles Darwin on board, is a story of exploration, adventure, science, discovery, friendships, fallings-out, bravery, death, earthquakes, volcanos, mountains, islands, vast open expanses, and the return of alien abductees. But, unlike many other tales of nautical derring-do, it also happens to be entirely true. In later years, Darwin described the Beagle voyage as by far the most important event in his life—one that had determined his whole career.

Why would anyone want to read novels, when real history is so much more exciting?

HMS Beagle
HMS Beagle in the Straits of Magellan

Richard Carter, FCD

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteNewsletterMastodonetc…


  1. I find it somewhat surprising that no one, as far as I am aware, has pointed out that even though it is one of the best opening lines, it is sadly flawed. Surely, it should be HIS Majesty's ship Beagle. The Monarch in 1831 was William IV.

    1. You are quite correct. I suspect Darwin referred to Beagle as Her Majesty’s ship because Victoria has since come to the throne (i.e. before Darwin published his account of the voyage), so the ship was now Her Majesty’s. In my current work in progress, I refer to the ship as His Majesty’s.

      You might be amused to hear I pointed out a similar apparent discrepancy in the Beagle voyage and Queen Victoria timelines in my light-hearted review of the animated film ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists’ (in which I also noted that the word ‘scientist’ had not been coined at that time).

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