Coastguard Watch Vesels on the Rivers Crouch and Roach

Coastguard Watch Boats - Darwin's connection to Burnham-on-Crouch

HMS Beagle, HMS Chanticleer, HMS Kangaroo, HMS Frolic and HMS Lucifer

The Beagle

HMS Beagle was a Cherokee Class 10 gun brig built at Woolwich Dockyard  in 1820 for the Royal Navy.

Beagle was 90 feet in length and weighed 235 tons with an 11 foot draught.

Sadly for the Beagle the Navy she was built 5 years after the defeat of the French at Waterloo and at a time of peace and a shrinking Navy she was mothballed for 5 years

In 1826 The Navy fitted out the Beagle as a survey ship by adding another mast and fitting 6 extra guns which changed her class from brig to barque rigged sloop. Under the commander Robert Fitzroy she then voyaged to the pacific napping the Coast of Southern America returning in 1830.

The survey was regarded as a success and a further survey was agreed this time by HMS Chanticleer. However a survey of Chanticleer revealed her to be in a poor state of repair and after yet another refit Beagle was once again readied for the voyage. Mindful of the long voyage and lack of company Captain Fitzroy agreed to take a gentleman companion on the voyage. That companion was amateur naturalist Charles Darwin. The historic voyage to the Galapagos and Patagonia started in December 1831 and was completed in October 1836.

Beagle made one further long voyage in the following year to map Australia . Place names chosen by the map makers of the Beagle  to mark the previous cruise included the Fitzroy River , Port Darwin and the Beagle Coast.

By the time Beagle returned from this cruise the boat was in a poor condition and in 1845 she was transferred to the Coastguard Service for use as a watch vessel and became known as watch vessel 7.

As part of a chain of watch vessels on the Essex Coast Beagle was moored mid River in the River Roach which was at the time much used by smugglers as a connection between the Rivers Thames and Crouch. Once again history conspired against the Beagle as her mooring was at the time of peak trade of Burnham Oysters in the Rivers Crouch and Roach and in 1851 the Burnham Oyster men petitioned the navy to have Beagle moved as she was making their passage of the River difficult especially at times of lower tides.

A mud berth was constructed at the side of the River and she lost her name to be called  Watch Vessel 7.

By 1870 she had deteriorated so much that she was sold for scrap  to local farmers William Murray and Thomas Rainer. This was not without controversy as the First Lord of the Admiralty was castigated for waste of public purse in accepting such a low bid. The copper on the keel alone was worth more than this sum.

History then lost all trace of the Beagle until a survey of the site by Dr Robert Prescott of the University of St Andrews used advanced radar to pinpoint a wooden structure the shape of the Beagle at a depth of 5 feet and a quantity of Victorian pottery and debris in the immediate area. This appears to be the remains of the Beagle.

Ann Boulter has written an excellent book about the Beagle and its final resting spot called Watch Vessel no 7.

The Chanticleer

A Cherokee class 10 gun brig that was a sister ship to the Beagle built in 1808 and like the Beagle converted to use as a survey ship.

Chanticleer was initially based at Yarmouth and immediately saw action in the Baltic being involved in a battle with three Danish warships from which she narrowly escaped.

Life then consisted of escorts and cruised off the European coast, During 1813 she took three prizes of Heligoland.

The Chanticleer was sent on a Pacific expedition in 1828 under the command of Captain Henry Foster but sadly he was drowned off Panama and so the Chanticleer commanded by the First Lieutenant completed only part of the journey. The voyage visited River Plate, Staten island, Cape Horn, New Zealand, South Georgia, Cape of Good Hope and Trinidad before returning to Falmouth in 1830.

She was designated to be used for Darwin's expedition but was considered in too poor condition needing repairs which freed the Beagle to make the voyages to the Galapagos and Australia.

Chanticleer was then used as a hospital ship in London before being towed to Burnham in 1845 for use in the River Crouch as a watch ship although its poor condition meant that it was replaced by the Kangaroo in 1872.

The Kangaroo

A 12 gun sailing brig that was a sister ship to the Beagle built at Chatham in 1850 laid down as HMS Dove and later renamed Kangaroo.

During the Crimea war she had seen service as a hospital ship but after the war she was considered suitable to be transferred to the Coastguard service as a watch boat.

In 1872  which was renamed the Kangaroo and was based on a mud berth at Burnham on Crouch on the site of the current Royal Corinthian Yacht Club where it remained until a 1890's  it was scrapped in 1897.

James Rogers seems to have won the contract to break up and sell the Kangaroo as he held an auctions on 25 September 1897 at Burnham Cricket Field  for 250 tons of planks, a 40 ft mast, 5 anchors and 200 fathoms of mooring chain from the breaking up of the Kangaroo.

In 1893 along with the Lucifer a steamship called Carron with a large crane moved the Kangaroo a few yards to a more secure mooring.

By 1895 the Kangaroo was referred to in a report as doomed and applications were made for onshore premises.

The Coastguards were then based on the Quay in a boathouse with launching ramp for their two boats .

A row of houses in Silver Road were provided for family quarters. The houses still stand although they are in private hands. coastguard station with two coastguards seen in the foreground in about 1928- The Eastern Yacht Club is beyond


Coastguard's and the Families residing on the Coastguard Hulk Kangaroo moored at Burnham on Crouch in 1881

The Frolic

A 4 gun steamship of 592 tonnes, which was built in 1872 and was the most modern of the entire Coastguard Watch Vessel fleet.

Frolic was commissioned at Sheerness in 1873 and then sailed to Hong Kong where it patrolled the coast of China until 1880 when it returned to Sheerness.

In 1883 it sailed to West Africa where it remained until 1885 when it moved the South East America.

In 1887 when it was scheduled to return to West Africa an examination condemned the ship as unfit and so in 1888 it was towed to the Port of London where it became the drill ship for the Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers.

In 1892 it was towed to Sheerness where it was converted for use as a Coastguard watch Vessel and towed across the Thames to the River Roach where it was stationed for use as watch Vessel in the River Roach to replace the Luicifer and the Beagle.

Frolic was renamed Watch vessel 30 in September 1893 and renamed Watch Vessel 41 in 1897.

 The Lucifer

The Lucifer was a wooden gun vessel of 380 tons built in 1837 as a paddle steamer that began life as the Comet in the service of the Post Office but was transferred to the Navy and renamed Lucifer.

In 1840 it was under the command of Commander Frazer surveying the East Coast of Ireland and its sandbanks that were dangerous to shipping. His work was considered of sufficient value to be commended in the 1846 Journal of the Royal Geographic Society of London.

By 1875 the Lucifer was in poor repair and was transferred to the Coastguard Service at watch vessel 41 in the River Roach until it was replaced by Frolic.

In 1893 the moorings were poor and the steamship Carron with large crane was able to re-moor the Lucifer. This may well have damaged Lucifer as she was to be replaced by Frolic a year later.

In December 1893 the Lucifer was listed for sale by tender.

The Falcon

The Falcon replaced the Lucifer as the watch vessel for the River Roach.

The Dove

The Dove was stationed in the Roach

The Russwarp

The russwarp was watch vessel no 6 stationed in the River Crouch near Foulness Island.

The boat was put up for sale by tender in 1881.

 Essex Family History has a number of pages about the Coastguard in the Dengie Hundred  relating to their history as well as their genealogy.

 Coastguard Employees 1821

Coastguard Employees on River Blackwater 1881

Coastguard Employees on River Crouch 1881

Coastguard History

Coastguard Watch Vessels on River Blackwater

Coastguard Watch Vessels on River Crouch and River Roach

Smugglers v Revenue Men