HMS Beagle: Lost and Found?

Dr Prescott with anchor that may have been used on the Beagle in its later life.

I was interested to read a three-year-old news item that suggested that the remains of Darwin’s ship, HMS Beagle, had been found: “A team led by Dr Robert Prescott of the University of St Andrews has located what they believe are the remains of HMS Beagle beneath an Essex marsh.

The intriguing thing from my perspective was the link between the
Beagle and Mars exploration: to ascertain whether the remains really were those of the Beagle, a Professor Colin Pillinger was using techniques and equipment used to survey the Martian surface on a space probe named by him, appropriately enough, Beagle 2. The reason I find it so fascinating is that it resonates with some of the concluding material in Looking for Darwin, which I completed writing not so long ago. In the latter, I find myself at Cape Canaveral grappling with the limits of Darwin’s theory. Darwin’s concept of Natural Selection seems to do a damn fine job of explaining the evolution of life on Earth, but then we seem to hit a brick wall – or maybe that should be blank wall – when it comes to explaining, not the origins of life on one little planet, but the origins of the Universe itself.

I’m very much on Pillinger’s side when it comes to being a huge supporter of space exploration: it is the new frontier, the new world waiting to be explored by a new Darwin – one who will hopefully bring back evidence and theories that could help answer those remaining big questions about where we came from. The remnants of the
Beagle may or may not be lying under five metres of mud but, in a sense, it matters not. Like Darwin, himself, lying in Westminster Abbey, it’s not where the Beagle ended up that made it so great, it is what it left in its wake.
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