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Wednesday 6th August 2003

In Search of 'The Beagle'

The whereabouts of HMS Beagle, the ship Darwin sailed around the world in formulating his theory of evolution, has been unknown since 1870 when it was sold to ship-breakers in Essex.

But now experts have a new lead, after an advert in a genealogy magazine came up with a possible descendent of those who bought the ship. Professor Colin Pillinger (lead scientist in the Beagle 2 Mars Probe Project) and Marine Archaeologist Dr Robert Prescott are joining together is an attempt to track down the remains of the Beagle, which played a unique role in British and world history.

It's likely HMS Beagle was broken up for wood and parts when it reached the end of its usefulness as a seafaring vessel. It's thought its pieces were probably distributed locally, but the lower parts of the ship wouldn't have been much use and could have been dumped in the spot the ship was broken up. One site in the Essex marshes has already been identified as a possible resting site for the Beagle, with the search team hoping to conduct more extensive survey work soon.

Meanwhile only one known piece of the vessel remains. An Inscribed box made from wood from the Beagle (c.1835) is on display at the National Maritime Museum in London.

The 21st Century Beagle.

The plight of HMS beagle has not only captured the imagination of historians, but also those on the forefront of the latest attempts to search out the origins of life - The Beagle 2 Mars probe project.

A British led effort, the Beagle 2 team are attempting to land their Beagle on Mars, as part of the European Space Agency's Mars Express Mission launched in June this year. Routine checks on the probe have continued as it speeds towards the Red Planet (a 400-million-kilometre journey).

The Appeal.

Nearly a year ago, Professor Pillinger placed an advert in an international genealogy magazine asking if anyone knew of two people called Murray and Trainer who lived in Essex in the 1870s when the ship was sold. In the last few weeks, he finally received a response ... from Australia.

A woman wrote that her Great Grandfather - Joseph Murray - left England in the 1880s and his parents were named Mr Murray and Ms Margaret Trainer. Promisingly, they were also said to have a background in shipping.

Now amateur genealogists in the area (or indeed anyone who feels they have information that may be valuable) are being urged to get in touch with Professor Pillinger or Dr Prescott so that they can continue to search for one of science's most famous ships.

CLICK HERE to email Professor Colin Pillinger, or click on the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute link, located in the "links" list, on the right-hand side of this page.

As the Beagle 2 rockets towards Mars, perhaps the mystery of its namesake's final resting place will be solved.

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