How the H.M.S. Beagle got Her Name

I have received many e-mails from people wanting to know how the Beagle got her name, and what "H.M.S." stands for. Let's get the easy part out of the way first -

H = His/Her
M = Majesty's
S = Ship

Now for the name "Beagle". It may seem strange to name a ship after a dog, but naming ships after animals was common practice for the British Royal Navy. Something interesting to keep in mind is that the H.M.S. Beagle that Darwin sailed on was not the first ship to bear that name (a list of all Beagles is provided below). The British Royal Navy assigns names to ships on a circulating basis. In other words, when one ship is “retired” or lost at sea, or whatever, the name of that ship is put back on the available "names list" for new ships being built. Thus, the H.M.S. Beagle which Darwin sailed on was the third ship to bear that name. As to why the name Beagle was selected for Darwin’s ship, I do not know, but it is likely that the name Beagle just happened to be the next name available on the list when the ship was completed. The names for survey ships in particular do seem to lean towards animals. Thus, we find names such as H.M.S. Barracouta, Rattlesnake, Scorpion, Mastiff, Starling, Raven, and (I kid you not) even H.M.S. Squirrel !

The H.M.S. Beagle was a 235 ton brig sloop with ten guns, designed in 1807, of the Cherokee class. She was the 45th of more than 100 built in this class. Thirty-one of the Cherokee class ships were made into packet ships (used to deliver mail and goods to the colonies), ten as ship tenders, six into the survey service, and the rest were cruisers.

The Beagle was the 2nd survey ship launched, while the H.M.S. Barracouta was the 1st and was the Beagle's sister ship. The Chanticleer, Fairy, Saracen and Scorpion were the other four survey ships.

According to the book: "H.M.S. Beagle, The Story of Darwin's Ship", there were in total nine ships to bear the name Beagle. These are as follows:

H.M.S. Beagle #1
An 8-gun gallivat. Built around 1766 by Bombay Marine shipbuilders.

H.M.S. Beagle #2
An 18-gun brig-sloop of the Cruiser Class, built in 1808 by Perry, Wells, and Green. 383 tons. Served with distinction during the Napoleonic Wars at Basque Roads and San Sebastian. Sold in 1814.

H.M.S. Beagle #3
H.M.S. Beagle, of Cherokee Class 1-gun brig-sloop. 235 tons. [this is Darwin's Beagle]

H.M.S. Beagle #4
A screw-driven steam vessel of 477 tons. 160 feet long and 25 feet beam with four guns and two 68 pound mortars. Launched in 1854 and served in the Crimean War of 1854. Sold in 1863 to the Japanese army as a training vessel. Renamed the Kanko in 1865. Broken up in 1889.

H.M.S. Beagle #5
120 ton schooner with one gun. Built at Sydney Australia in 1872. Sold in 1883 at Sydney.

H.M.S. Beagle #6
Large sloop of 1,170 tons, 195 feet long. Built at Portsmouth in 1889. Had eight guns, and driven by two screws. Sold in 1905.

H.M.S. Beagle #7
A destroyer of 950 tons, 269 feet long. Two torpedo tubes, a four inch gun, two 12 pound guns. Built in 1909, sold in 1921. Served with distinction at the Dardanelles.

H.M.S. Beagle #8
A destroyer of 1,360 tons, 312 feet long. Four 4.7 inch guns, eight torpedo tubes. Built in 1930, sold in 1946. Served with distinction at Norway, Atlantic Ocean, North Africa, Artic Ocean, English Channel and Normandy.

H.M.S. Beagle #9
A survey vessel of 1,050 tons, built in 1967.

and finally, I've added this one as an extra...

H.M.S. Beagle #10
Mars probe to be launched in 2003/04.


Keith Stewart Thomson, H.M.S. Beagle, The Story of Darwin's Ship.
W.W. Norton, New York, London, 1995 Pages 285-6.

The Admiralty Chart: British Naval Hydrography in the Nineteenth Century.
Rear Admiral G.S. Ritchie, C.B., D.S.C. (Hydrographer of the Navy 1966-1971)
The Pentland Press, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Durham, USA 1995 (reprint of the 1967 edition)

The Sailing Navy List: All the Ships of the Royal Navy, Built, Purchased and Captured 1688-1860.
David Lyon, Conway Maritime Press, 1993.

From Sails to Satellites: The Origin and Development of Navigational Science
J.E.D. Williams, Oxford University Press, Oxford. 1992

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