In 1851, a young Charles Darwin (1809-1882) set out on a voyage that would eventually change forever the way humankind viewed the world. He was 22 years old, recently graduated from the University of Cambridge with a degree in theology, and undecided about his future.
Although Darwin was not trained as scientist, a college professor recommended him to a naval captain named Robert FritzRoy, who was leaving to explore and chart the areas around the coast of South America. FritzRoy wanted a naturalist aboard his ship as well as a gentleman of his class to keep him company.
Originally planned as a two year trip, the voyage stretched into five years. It took Darwin to many parts of South America as well as Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and many of the Atlantic and Pacific islands in between. The ship, named the M.H.S. Beagle, was a three-masted sailing vessel that was only 90 feet long and 25 feet wide. The crew was large for such a small ship and included 74 officers, sailors, and marines as well as nine noncommissioned members, including Darwin.
While others were surveying, Darwin would often go ashore and travel hundreds of miles on horseback collecting, observing, taking notes and sketching. Darwin shipped home numerous barrels, boxes and bottles filled with pressed plants, fossils, rocks, skins and skeletons. Many of the specimens in his collections were entirely new to British naturalists.
After returning to England, he married his first cousin Emma Wedgwood (famous pottery family) and lived the life of a country gentleman never to leave England again. On his estate, Darwin carried out a variety of research projects, wrote numerous science articles, and several books. His most famous book was entitled “The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,” which set out his theory of evolution. Despite its length and technical nature, it sold out on publication day in 1859 and by 1872 had been through six more editions. It is still a popular seller today.
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