Funds for Charles Darwin exhibition reduced after concerns over ship’s anchor

Funds earmarked to resite an anchor believed to be from the ship Charles Darwin sailed on to formulate his theory of evolution have been questioned by councillors.

The anchor from HMS Beagle has already been transferred to a plinth behind the mission hall in Paglesham at a cost of £750 that had come from Essex County Council’s locality fund.

Paglesham Parish Council wants further funds it had hoped to be forthcoming from Rochford District Council to complete the project with an interpretation board, steel edging lighting, signage and an exhibition for visitors.

But the district council has now resolved the money awarded to the parish council should be less than the £13,755 originally proposed with the balance redistributed to other projects in the district.

The parish council says it has been confirmed by university experts that that anchor is that from the famous ship that Darwin sailed on during his expedition that formed the basis of his theory of evolution.

But the district council heard of concerns about the way the project had been progressed even though it has not yet been completed.

Councillor Andy Williams (Cons, Roche South) told the Rochford District Council’s overview and scrutiny committee: “I did go out there and I have to say I was less than impressed the way this project has been taken forward. I am not happy with what I saw.”

Councillor Adrian Eves (Rochford District Residents Group, Hockley) said: “I have had concerns about the whole project right from the start over provenance.

“I don’t wish to dis any of the work that has been put into this which has been vast but I have to say that on the recommendation that is here for spending up to nearly £14,000 on resiting an anchor that may or may not be from the Beagle seems extremely excessive and I would suggest there are far better projects that this money could go to promote tourism in the area.”

Chariman of Paglesham Parish Council, Cllr David Whittingham said he did not want to comment while the project was still unfinished.

HMS Beagle was a Royal Navy ship, famed for taking English naturalist Charles Darwin on his first expedition around the world in 1831–36.

Beagle was launched at Woolwich Dockyard, London, in 1820. She was originally a 10-gun brig sloop, but as there was no immediate active use for her, she was refitted and allocated as a surveying vessel, under the command of Captain Robert FitzRoy.

Her most famous passenger was the English naturalist Charles Darwin, who wrote about his five-year expedition aboard her in his travel memoir, The Voyage of the Beagle the findings from played a pivotal role in the formation of his scientific theories on evolution and natural selection.

Beagle’s first voyage of exploration was to South America, surveying Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego between 1826–30. The second voyage (1831–36) took her to South America and then around the world. Darwin was on board during this voyage, which became one of the most famous and important voyages of exploration ever made. Beagle’s third and final voyage (1837–43) surveyed large parts of the Australian coast.

She was transferred to the coastguard in 1845 and moored on the River Roach in Essex. She was renamed WV7 – Watch Vessel 7 – in 1859. In 1870 she was sold off to be broken up.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter