2009 marks the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth and the sesqui-centenary of his greatest work On the Origin of Species (1859). Special Collections, University of Otago Library, is celebrating these two occasions with this exhibition: 'Beetles, Barnacles, Orchids, and the Origin of Species. Charles Darwin and His Legacy'. It is selective, as it must be.
Darwin's patient observations while on board the Beagle (1831-36) led him to develop his evolutionary theory by means of natural selection. However, debate over the fundamentals of science had already begun. French naturalists Buffon and Cuvier had their theories; British geologists and scientists such as Charles Lyell and Robert Chambers advocated their own notions. Even Darwin's grandfather Erasmus was an early proponent of evolutionary thought.
The arrival of Alfred Russel Wallace's notes at Darwin's home at Down House in June 1858 almost derailed his work; it certainly forced him to publish his own 'Species' theory. And of course on publication, On the Origin of Species caused much controversy, promoted by supporters Thomas Huxley and Joseph Hooker, and denigrated as an immoral and godless book by detractors such as Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford, and scientist Richard Owen.
Darwin wrote many other books, and it is important to recognise the rest of his canon. Many, like his books on barnacles, and the geology of South America, established his reputation as a scientist even before the publication of Origin of Species. Others, such as his Orchid and Variation of Animals and Plant books, were complementary, providing supporting evidence towards his revolutionary theory.
Darwin also visited New Zealand in 1835. Throughout his life, he maintained an interest in the country, and made connections with many people living here. Men such as William Colenso, Julius Haast, and Frederick Hutton were antipodean advocates of evolution. His legacy continues.
Thanks to Bronwyn Mathews, Special Collections, University of Canterbury; Marg Walker, Canterbury Medical Library and the Cotter Medical History Trust; Georgia Prince, Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries; Anthony Tedeschi, Rare Books, Dunedin Public Library; Anne Jackman, Hocken Collections, University of Otago; Richard German and Catherine Robertson, Medical Library, University of Otago; Melanie Remy, Science Library, University of Otago; Dr David Galloway; Dr Ewan Fordyce; Dr John Stenhouse; and Mr Garry Tee, Mathematics Department, Auckland University.
Special thanks to Mr Lyulph Lubbock, England, for his kind permission to reproduce the sketch of Charles Darwin by Harriet Lubbock, 1855.