In 1840, when George Richmond painted this portrait of Charles Robert Darwin, the naturalist was 31. By this time, Darwin had attended Edinburgh University, to study medicine, and Cambridge University, towards a possible vocation as a clergyman. He had spent five years on the Beagle (1831-36) and had written up and published his researches. He had also just married his first cousin Emma Wedgwood (January 1839). Importantly, at this time, his scientific reputation was well established, almost 20 years before the publication of The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859).
Charles Darwin at 31. Portrait by George Richmond, 1840
With support from John Henslow, his uncle, Josiah Wedgwood, and eventual agreement from his own father, Darwin was appointed 'unofficial' naturalist on board the Beagle, a converted 10-gun brig, only 90 feet long. Captain Robert FitzRoy was commanded to continue the 'South American' survey started by Phillip Parker King. It lasted five years; the Beagle left England on 27 December 1831, and Darwin disembarked at Falmouth on 2 October 1836. As he later recalled: 'The voyage of the Beagle has been by far the most important event in my life and has determined my whole career.'
Robert FitzRoy, 'Appendix to Vol. II' of Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle. London: Henry Colburn, 1839. Hocken Collection KU Fit
In 1833, at Montevideo, Conrad Martens (1801-1878), replaced Augustus Earle as artist on board the Beagle. His tenure was short; he left the ship at Valparaiso in October 1834, but not without producing some striking images such as the Beagle in the channels of Tierra del Fuego.
Conrad Martens, 'H. M. S Beagle in the seaways of Tierra del Fuego, during the voyage of the Beagle (1831-1836).'
Even those dedicated to science were subject to the rituals of crossing the equator. This image of the dunking on board the Beagle was executed by the artist Augustus Earle.
Darwin's 'Journals and Remarks', now known popularly as The Voyage of the Beagle, appeared in 1839. It not only contained a 'great mass of facts in natural science', but also Darwin's postulations on species variation, natural selection, and the likelihood that evolution had taken place. To him, fossil remains such as edentates ('toothless' mammals), llamas, and the toxodon (an extinct prehistoric mammal) demonstrated the 'local modification of a single species' and 'confirmation of the law that existing animals have a close relation in form with extinct species.' This first edition copy is from Dr Hocken's collection.
Charles Darwin, 'Journal and Remarks. 1832-1836', Vol. III of Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle. London: Henry Colburn, 1839. Hocken Collection KU Fit
In April 1834, the vessel was beached to undergo repairs.
Conrad Martens, 'The Beagle along the Santa Cruz River', Argentina.
The Beagle is known as the birthplace of evolutionary biology. While visiting the Galápagos Islands, Darwin collected a number of birds and yet did not recognize their true significance. The ornithologist John Gould later established that the mixture of blackbirds, 'gros-beaks', and finches, were, in fact, twelve separate species of finches. With Henslow's support, Darwin gained a Treasury grant of £1,000 towards the publication of Zoology of the Voyage of H. M. S. Beagle, a colourful end-result of his zoological researches.
____ (editor), The Zoology of the Voyage of the H. M. S. Beagle during the years 1832-1836. Vol. II, Part III Birds. Wellington: Nova Pacifica facsimile, 1980. Special Collections QL 5 Z1875
On the Beagle Darwin wrote: 'I look forward to the Galàápagos with more interest than any other part of the voyage.' The archipelago was reached on 17 September 1835, and his observations and subsequent documentation, even though incomplete, raised the nagging question: 'if life varied on the individual islands of an archipelago subjected to the same climatic conditions, what determined this variation?' By following true Baconian principles, Darwin collected facts about everything seen. The answer came slowly to him.
____, Journal of Researches. London: John Murray, 1876. Leith Storage DU D
While on the Beagle Darwin read John Herschel's A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1831) and the first volume of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology (1831); the second reached him at Montevideo in November 1832. Another influential work was Alexander von Humboldt's Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America, which detailed geological phenomena as well as descriptions of flora and fauna. Humboldt's work was a useful model for Darwin's own Naturalist's Voyage around the World. At one point he wrote: 'I am at present fit only to read Humboldt; he like another sun illumines everything I behold.'
Alexander von Humboldt, Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America. Vol. I. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1852. Leith Storage AK 34 H