Will a new HMS Beagle set sail in 2013?
One of the most significant sea voyages in history began 180 years ago under something of a cloud. The ship had been due to sail on 26 December, but as one of its passengers wrote: "A beautiful day, & an excellent one for sailing, — the opportunity has been lost owing to the drunkedness and absence of nearly the whole crew. — the ship has been all day in state of anarchy."
The ship was HMS Beagle, her passenger the young, undistinguished but well-connected Charles Darwin. The purpose of the voyage, Beagle's second, was to survey the coastlines of South America and make a series of measurements to fix longitudes around the globe for chart making and navigation. They made it out of port on 27 December, but it was an inauspicious start to a famous journey.
Two remarkable books would arise from it, Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle and On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. But it was Origin that contained the dynamite of Darwin's theory of natural selection and the supporting evidence.
Despite the ensuing controversy, evolution is mentioned only once, at the end of a wonderful concluding paragraph: "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."
So many events might have conspired to stop Darwin slinging his hammock above the table in Beagle's stern cabin. The ship's previous commander, Pringle Stokes, might not have shot himself, a tragedy that led to Robert FitzRoy assuming command. FitzRoy might not have kidnapped several Fuegians from Patagonia for conversion to Christianity in London. After near financial ruin refitting the ship to return them home as missionaries, he decided to recruit a companion to stave off melancholy and attend to scientific matters.
Read more at The Guardian