- Events sorted by day of the month:
On this date Charles Darwin first went public about his views
on the evolution of species. The papers of Darwin and Wallace
were read at a meeting of the Linnean Society in London. The
following were read at the Society meeting: (1) Extracts from
two sections of Darwin's 1839 manuscript on species variation,
titled "The Variation of Organic Beings under Domestication
and in their Natural State," and "On the Variation
of Organic Beings in the State of Nature; on the Natural Means
of Selection; on the Comparison of Domestic Races and true
Species". (2) An abstract from a letter Darwin wrote
to Professor Asa Gray of Harvard in September 1857 that again
stated his views on species variation. (3) The essay that
Wallace wrote at Ternate Island in the Malay Archipelago in
February 1858, titled - "On the Tendency of Varieties
to Depart indefinitely from the Original Type". The reaction
to this meeting was a mixture of shock, excitement, and stunned
Perhaps fearing poor health would get the better of him, Darwin
wrote an "In the event of my sudden death" letter
to his wife, Emma. He requested that she put ú400 towards
the publication of his essay and promote its publication.
The essay was to be given to a capable person, along with
all his books and notes on the subject. As far as an editor
was concern, Darwin felt that Lyell would by far be the best
choice, seeing how he was both a geologist and naturalist.
Other candidates included Edward Forbes, Professor of Botany
at King's College in London, or his old friend Revd. John
Stevens Henslow at Cambridge.
H.M.S. Beagle arrived at St. Helena Island where they remained
for five days. Darwin found the island to be a desolate place,
essentially a giant mountain of rocky lava rock, except inland
where the scenery was more akin to the landscape of Wales.
He spent most of his time here exploring the geology of the
Another daughter, Elizabeth Darwin, was born.
Another son, George Darwin, was born. Darwin started working
on a revised edition of his Journal of Researches. This edition
included a new section in which he commented on the disgusting
and reprehensible nature of slavery.
Emma's father, Josiah Wedgwood II, died. Darwin and Emma attended
the funeral at Maer, and then visited The Mount at Shrewsbury.
Darwin's mother, Susannah, died when he was eight years old.
Darwin left Scotland in good health and high spirits and paid
a visit back home at Shrewsbury. He told his father about
the transmutation theories he had been working on. He also
brought up the subject of marrying his cousin, Emma Wedgwood.
His father reminded him that the Wedgwoods were far more religious
than the Darwins, especially the women. If he was going to
marry Emma Wedgwood, it would be prudent to keep his non-religious
opinions to himself. While Darwin was at The Mount he started
his "D" and "M" Notebooks. The D Notebook
focused on species reproduction and the origin of adaptation,
while the M Notebook continued with the origin of adaptation,
and then went on to the origin of man, and the expression
More mail arrived and the third load of specimens was sent
to Revd. Henslow. This shipment consisted of about eighty
species of birds, twenty quadrupeds, four barrels of skins
and plants, geological specimens, and some fish. By this time
Darwin was getting tired of this side of South America and
wanted to see the Andes Mountains on the west coast.
Still not feeling better, Darwin returned to London and rewrote
his rough sketch, expanding it a little. His spare time was
used up in house hunting.
H.M.S. Beagle arrived at Lima, Peru. Darwin looked around
the city and was shocked at the state of decay all around
him. The next few weeks were spent taking on provisions for
the trip across the Pacific ocean.
They stayed at Ascencion Island, which was inhabited entirely
by British marines and a few liberated Africans from slave
ships, for four days. The entire crew was now very anxious
to get back to England.
The Darwin family went on holiday to the Island of Wight.
Seeing that his book had grown to huge proportions, Darwin
started writing a shorter abstract of it.
At last he located a suitable house in Kent. It was called
Down House, and he purchased it (rather, his father did) for
about ú2,000. It was just a mile or two south of the
village of Downe, Kent with a population of about 450 people.
The two ships arrived at Valparaiso, Chile near the city of
Santiago. Darwin was very glad to be in a warmer climate and
his stomach was happier to be in calmer seas. Both ships stayed
here for a few weeks to be refitted for the Pacific ocean
crossing. Darwin met up with an old Shrewsbury classmate,
Richard Corfield, who owned a house in town and let him stay
there. He was not very impressed with the surrounding landscape.
Capt. FitzRoy was concern that he may have taken faulty measurements
at Salvador so he ordered the Beagle on a detour back to South
In a letter to George Waterhouse Darwin hinted at his belief
in transmutation. He was replying to Waterhouse's questions
on animal classification methods. In a very bold move, Darwin
stated in no uncertain terms that the classification of species
should be done according to their genealogical relationship
based upon common descent.
Darwin rode out to the Wedgwood estate to see Emma. They spent
much time together, engaged in intimate conversation, but
he did not bring up the topic of marriage. He did, however,
do exactly what his father told him not to do - he expressed
his religious views to Emma. In brief, he told her he believed
that nature was not influenced by divine intervention, but
rather, nature worked according to specific natural laws.
some time during this month:
Darwin began his "B" Notebook in which he put down
his thoughts on the subject of transmutation. In this notebook
Darwin examined four general questions --- what was the evidence
for species transmutation?- how did species adapt to a changing
environment?- how were new species formed?- how one could
account for the similarities between different species? One
of the highlights of the B Notebook was his analogy of a branching
tree to represent common descent of all species.
Darwin was still working on his essay, and just finished with
the chapter on species variation. The "short essay"
was quickly turning into a proper book.
Darwin took a break from writing his book on animal domestication
and went on holiday with his daughter, Henrietta, to Torquay
on the Devon coast. While there he spent many an hour examining
the way insects pollinate orchids in the fields around the
town. He noticed that only certain insects pollinate one particular
orchid variety. When he returned to Down House he immediately
switched from breeding pigeons to raising orchids. During
the Victorian era, orchids were all the rage, and as soon
as word got out that Darwin was raising them he found himself
being flooded with specimens from all over the country. What
he set out to do was study how orchids used intricate petal
designs to attract bees and moths to their pollen. How did
such a relationship evolve? The subject fascinated him! Writing
a book on the subject was too much for Darwin to resist.
"Insectivorous Plants" was published and sold faster
and better than "Origin of Species".
"Different Forms of Flowers on Plants" was completed.
Darwin spent the summer working as an assistant in his father's
Darwin finished his first year of medical school and spent
the summer hiking in the Welsh hills near his home in Shrewsbury.
During this time Darwin read Revd. Gilbert White's, "The
Natural History of Selborne" and he came away from this
book with a much greater appreciation for wildlife. Darwin
started making detailed observations of birds and kept a notebook
of their habits.
Darwin started to take an interest in one of his sisters best
friends, Fanny Owen; daughter of William Owen of Woodhouse.
They spent much time riding horses together, shooting birds,
playing billiards, and engaging in mild flirtations.
Darwin spent the first part of summer at home in Shrewsbury.
In June he went to the Welsh coast at Cardigan Bay, taking
a math tutor with him so he could bone up on algebra, a subject
he found very difficult to grasp. The tutoring only lasted
a few weeks, at which time Darwin got back to serious business
- collected beetles and fly fishing. He also went on a reading
tour at Barmouth with his Cambridge friends, John Herbert
and Thomas Butler. During this tour Darwin confided with Herbert
that he had serious doubts about entering the clergy. Towards
the end of summer he spent some time with Fanny Owen at her
Darwin spent the summer at home, visiting Fanny at Woodhouse,
and hunting pheasants at Maer Hall (the estate of his uncle,
Josiah Wedgwood II). During this time his brother, Erasmus,
decided not to pursue a medical practice and his father put
him up with a generous pension.
The next few months were spent deep in thought about transmutation.
Darwin started trying to figure out how plants and animals
crossed from mainland continents to islands far out in the
ocean. During this time he only spoke to his brother about
his transmutation ideas.
Being quite ill all summer and confined to bed, Darwin got
very little work done on his book writing projects or his
By this time Darwin saw the need to get out of London and
into the clean open countryside. His father agreed to buy
him a house. The summer was spent looking for a new place
out in the country, but still close enough to London so he
would be able to visit his fellow naturalists.
Darwin spent the summer quietly working with his orchids,
seeds, dissecting animals, and examining their skeletons.
Orchids now became his passion and during the summer he had
a greenhouse built at the house for his growing collection.
Charles Darwin, his life's work now complete, was bored due
to there being nothing left to challenge him. His wife, Emma,
took him on holiday to the Lake District to cheer him up.
It did no good.
By now Darwin's theory of evolution was established in most