Historians believe they have found the wreck of HMS Beagle, the ship on which Charles Darwin circumnavigated the globe more than 170 years ago and whose namesake is to make another journey of discovery in space.
They are to use sensors to locate the remains of the ship at an undisclosed site in the Essex marshes. The Beagle, a converted 10-gun, 90ft brig, carried Darwin around South America, the Galapagos Islands and Australia, inspiring him to write The Origin of Species.
Robert Prescott, of the University of St Andrews, has traced the last known sighting of the brig to 1870, when it was being used as a watch ship patrolling against smugglers on the Essex marshes. It was then sold by the Admiralty in Essex for £525.
"A pair of local likely lads may have purchased the ship, breaking her up where she sat or possibly towing her to a nearby site," Mr Prescott said.
"Just how and where this was carried out is still under investigation.
"While we have found the scattered remains of some superstructure and two of her boats, a full excavation would be required to reveal any remaining timbers.
"After the marvels of Patagonia, it seems the ship led a humdrum life in a backwater before falling asleep on a muddy riverbank.
"It is paradoxical that after surveying some of the most remote locations in the world, the Beagle's final years, just a day's ride from London, are the most obscure."
Dr Prescott, who founded the Scottish Institute of Maritime Studies, began hunting for the wreck in 2000 after being approached by Professor Colin Pillinger.
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