of Darwin's Early Research:
1842 September 14
Darwin, Emma, and the children, move to Down House amid labor
riots in the streets of London.
1842 September 23
Mary Eleanor Darwin was born, but died on 18 October.
1842 October 14
Darwin began working on part two of his Geological Observations
series - "Volcanic Islands."
1842 Fall & Winter
About the next six months were spent making changes to Down
House. Some of the rooms had to be fixed up, garden walls were
built, and barrier trees planted. A nearby road (Luxted Road)
that passed by the house had to be made lower so passers by
would not be able to look inside the house. Darwin even had
a mirror put outside his study window so he could see when visitors
were coming to the house.
Now fancying himself a "country gentleman/naturalist," Darwin
started his General Aspects diary in which he described the
natural beauty of the area, describing local plants, animals,
and insects, and making notes on their changes in habits from
season to season.
Emma's father, Josiah Wedgwood II, died. Darwin and Emma attended
the funeral at Maer, and then visited The Mount at Shrewsbury.
1843 July 26
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.
1843 September 25
Darwin's health was finally starting to improve. Another daughter,
Henrietta Darwin, was born, and more good news, the Zoology
of the Beagle Voyage was completed!
The five volumes of the Zoology were -
Part 1: Fossils.
Part 2: Mammals.
Part 3: Birds.
Part 4: Fish.
Part 5: Reptiles.
Darwin gave a new friend of his, Joseph
Dalton Hooker, the opportunity to examine and catalogue
the plants he brought back from Tierra del Fuego. Hooker showed
great enthusiasm in his work with the plants and this did not
escape the attention of Darwin, who at this time was looking
for naturalists who may be sympathetic to his revolutionary
Impressed with Joseph Hooker's work on the Tierra del Fuego
plants, Darwin took a giant risk and confided in him about his
transmutation theories. Hooker's reaction was one of guarded
enthusiasm, but he was eager to hear more about it. Darwin was
At long last Darwin was free to discuss his transmutation theories
with a fellow naturalist, and in a short time he adopted Hooker
as a research assistant. Within a matter of weeks Hooker was
combing the libraries and museums of London, digging up obscure
botanical facts and recommending books for Darwin to read.
The rough transmutation sketch that Darwin worked on at Shrewsbury
was fleshed out some more and he sent the 189 page manuscript
to the local Downe schoolmaster for editing. By now his transmutation
theory had developed into a sort of self correcting feed-back
loop, in which animals and plants remain unmodified until the
environment changes. When changes took place the members of
a species with traits that gave them a slight advantage in the
new environment gained more reproductive success. Over eons
of time this process resulted in one species transmutating into
1844 July 5
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 £400 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.
Darwin started to write his book: "Geological Observations on
South America" which spelled out his theory of how the Andes
Mountains were pushed upwards by slow geological forces over
a very long period of time.
The edited copy of the transmutation sketch was sent back to
Darwin and it had grown to 231 pages. For the very first time
he showed the sketch to Emma, expecting the worst. Surprisingly,
her response to it was not as bad as he thought it would be.
She expressed concern about various assumptions he was making,
suggested a few corrections here and there, but for the most
part her reaction appeared to have been quite reserved.
"Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation" was published
by British naturalist, Robert
Chambers. This was the book that brought the notion of transmutation
out into the public arena. It attempted to described the entire
evolution of the universe, from planets to people, as being
driven by some kind of self developing force which acted according
to natural laws. The book was written more for the poor working
class of England, rather than the scientific elite, for it appealed
to their desire to "evolve" beyond their wretched economic circumstances.
Unfortunately, it received widespread criticism because it went
against the old scientific school of thought which said that
species can only be modified by the divine hand of god. Despite
the harsh criticism, Vestiges sold very well.
Darwin told his friend, Revd.
Leonard Jenyns, his basic ideas about transmutation, but
he received a poor response from him. Jenyns saw species as
static; there was no progress or change. Perhaps at this time
Darwin felt ready to send out feelers and see if any other naturalists
would come to his side. Little did he know that it would be
nearly nine years before another naturalist would join him.
Hooker was invited
to be a substitute professor of botany at Edinburgh University
for the upcoming spring term. Darwin had by now become very
dependent upon Hooker as an assistant so this news disheartened
him a great deal.
Darwin purchased a 325 acre farm in Lincolnshire as an investment
for about £12,500. It was called Beesby Farm, and was located
thirty miles directly east of Lincoln, about three miles north
from the village of Alford.
1845 July 9
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.
Hooker came to Down
House and Darwin picked his brains for data on plant distribution.
He became a regular visitor to the house, sometimes staying
up to a week at a time.
1846 January 12
Darwin rented a small parcel of land from his neighbor, John
Lubbock. On this 1.5 acre strip of land he created his famous
"Sandwalk" which was to become his thinking path during his
morning and afternoon strolls.
Joseph Dalton Hooker, now back in London from Edinburgh University,
became botanist for the Geological Survey at Charing Cross.
"Geological Observations on South America" was now complete.
Descriptions of the Beagle specimens are now complete, except
for one species of barnacle. Darwin was anxious to get back
to work on transmutation and figured he could put together a
description of this barnacle in short order. Little did he know
that the study of this barnacle would explode into perhaps the
most intensive research project of his life, spanning nearly
Darwin became consumed with barnacle research, and soon had
naturalists from all over the world sending him their collections
to examine. He toyed with the idea of publishing a grand work
on barnacles, as such a study was very much needed by the scientific
community. However, there were ulterior motives for publishing
such a treatise; Darwin felt that he needed to establish himself
as an expert on species variations before he published his transmutation
work, and the humble barnacle would do the trick.
1847 late January
Hooker read Darwin's
231 page essay on transmutation. He had difficulty accepting
the idea that new species were derived from previous ones. He
opted for a continual divine creation of new species as others
died out. Nevertheless, he pointed out sections of the essay
that needed clarification, and those parts that were not easy
After reading the essay Hooker informed Darwin that he was planning
a voyage to the tropics. Being more dependent on Hooker than
ever before, Darwin did not like this plan one bit.
1847 March to April
Darwin was by this time continuously ill.
1847 late June
Hooker attended the British Association for the Advancement
of Science meeting at Oxford. Darwin wanted to get as much feedback
as possible from Hooker before he left for the tropics, so he
went to Oxford with his essay in hand to asked Hooker more questions.
He again pointed out key areas of the essay where his theory
seemed to need work and gave general editorial advice.
1847 July 8
Another daughter, Elizabeth Darwin, was born.
1847 late August
Darwin's father, Dr. Robert Darwin, was now quite ill. Darwin
went to Shrewsbury to see his father, but while there his illness
flared up again and he spent most of his time resting on the
sofa in the living room.
1847 early November
Hooker left for the tropics.
Darwin shelved his transmutation essay because with Hooker away
there was no one to provide him with feedback and guidance.
Also, his barnacle research was still blooming out of control
and needed much attention.
1848 late March
Darwin discovered a very odd barnacle in which the female of
the species had microscopic male counterparts which acted as
parasites attached to the female. Darwin was fascinated by this
curious union. How did it come to be?
1848 August 16
Darwin and Emma had another son, Francis Darwin. Darwin spent
the entire summer on barnacle work. Stomach convulsions and
sickness took their toll as well.
1848 November 13
Dr. Robert Darwin died at The Mount, Shrewsbury. Darwin was
so ill at the time he could not attend his father's funeral.
1848 late in the year
Darwin's health was becoming much worse, with new symptoms showing
up. He was experiencing bouts of depression, dizziness, seeing
spots before his eyes, and twitching spells. He feared he was
going to die soon. Due to his increased illness the barnacle
research was proceeding at a snails pace.
1849 March 8
An old Beagle companion, Bartholomew Sulivan, recommended to
Darwin that he should try Dr. James Gully's Water Cure spa as
a treatment for his illness. The theory behind taking the water
cure was that the immersion of one's body in cold water drew
the blood away from the inflamed nerves of the stomach, thus
calming the nerves and eliminating any problems in that area.
Darwin studied up on the subject and thought it was pure nonsense,
but he went anyway.
The whole family packed their bags and moved up to Great Malvern
for a two month stay. They took rooms at The Lodge on Worcester
Road just outside of town. Darwin was put on a daily routine
that went as follows: get up early in the morning for a walk,
have breakfast, get scrubbed with a cold wet towel for a short
time, walk for twenty minutes and wear a cold wet towel compress
all day long. After a short afternoon dinner, take a nap, get
another cold water bath and scrubbing, and then go for another
walk, finishing off with supper at 6:00. He also took homeopathic
medicines, of which Darwin had no faith in what-so-ever.
1849 middle of April
The water cure seemed to have worked. Darwin was able to go
on long walks every day and was quite happy. Within a short
time he was eager to get back to his barnacle work.
1849 June 30
Having been pronounced nearly cured, Darwin returned to Down
House and immediately went back to his barnacles. During the
summer he had a water cure bath setup in the backyard. He would
sit under a forty gallon water tank and pull a cord which would
released freezing cold water through a pipe onto himself.
1849 all year
Darwin continued his barnacle work and determined that the barnacle
family was related to crabs and lobsters. By now he had received
so many specimens from naturalists around the world that he
was up to his ears in barnacles.
1850 January 15
Emma and Darwin had another son, Leonard Darwin. Darwin now
felt quite well, but he continued his water treatments in the
backyard, just to be on the safe side.
At around this time Annie started to complain of feeling sick.
Darwin worried that she may have inherited his illness. The
family took Annie on a trip to Ramsgate for sea bathing treatmnents,
and afterwards she took the water cure in the backyard. This
seems to have done much good for Annie. Work on barnacles continued
month after month.
1851 March 24
Annie's illness flared up again, and Darwin took his daughter
to stay at Gully's Water Cure spa in Great Malvern. They stayed
at Montreal House on Worcester Road. Initial treatment seemed
to do much good for her.
1851 April 17
Annie started to become more seriously ill.
1851 April 23
Annie Darwin died, and was buried at Great Malvern.
Darwin decided to no longer take the water cure in his backyard
1852 all year
The entire year was spent on examining barnacles.
Darwin met Thomas Huxley
at a meeting of the Geological Society in London. At the time
Huxley was out of a job, short on money and desperate for a
position in the scientific community. He was by now an accomplished
naturalist, having served on H.M.S. Rattlesnake as a surgeon
and naturalist from 1846 to 1850. Despite this experience, none
of the universities would hire him. During this time Huxley
became friends with Herbert
Spencer, and they spent many an hour discussing evolution
and its relation to man.
1853 November 30
Charles Darwin received the Royal Medal of the Royal Society,
the highest honor the society could bestow on a scientist. The
medal was awarded for his three volume work on the geology of
the Beagle voyage, and for his barnacle research currently in
progress. Darwin leaped for joy at this news and was very proud
that his peers had come to esteem his work so highly.
Bolstered by all the new talk of evolution and progress, Darwin
joined the Philosophical Club in London with the intention of
seeking out naturalists that may be sympathetic to his transmutation
theories. The club was being filled with a younger generation
of naturalists, many of whom had been writing papers on the
topic of evolution, but they were all conjectural. A comprehensive
explanation of how evolution worked was still entirely unknown.
The second edition of Barnacles was now in print.
1854 December 7
With his barnacle research out of the way, Darwin went back
to work on transmutation.
At last Darwin figured out how populations split off into separate
species. Using the industrial revolution as a metaphor, he saw
that populations of animals, like industry, expand and specialize
to fit into niches with competition acting as the driving force.
He saw nature as the ultimate "factory." However, Darwin preferred
not to make much of this metaphor because it seemed to depend
more on economic principles rather than pure science.
One of the mysteries Darwin thought a lot about was how species
spread to other land masses - particularly islands like the
Galapagos. One of the popular explanations at the time was the
"sunken land bridge" hypothesis of Edward
Forbes. Darwin had doubts about land bridges in the middle
of the ocean, and set out to show that plants and animals could
"float" their way to distant lands. He experimented with plant
seeds, soaking them in sea water for up to months at a time,
and then planted them. To the surprise of his fellow naturalists,
nearly all of them germinated! He then corresponded with inhabitants
of far off islands, asking them to examine the shoreline for
any seeds or plants not native to the island. He was surprised
to find that in some cases seed pods had floated thousands of
miles across the ocean to the shores of distant islands. Darwin
also recruited the help of British survey vessels - asking them
if they ever noticed floating "land rafts" with animals on them,
and this too was confirmed.
In order to get hands on experience with species variations,
Darwin became caught up in the extremely popular avocation of
breeding fancy pigeons. He studied their habits, experimented
with cross breeding and back breeding, and kept meticulous notes
on his observations.
1856 April 22 - 26
Darwin invited Thomas
Huxley (naturalist and lecturer at the London School of
Mines), Joseph Hooker
(botanical naturalist), John Lubbock (banker, politician, and
his next door neighbor) and Thomas Wollaston (a leading entomologist)
to Down House for a special meeting. After showing off his gardens
and fancy pigeons, Darwin interviewed each of his friends one
by one in his private study. He put forth his basic ideas on
transmutation and asked them several questions regarding their
views on the subject. Only Wollaston, it seems, disagreed with
Darwin. He held fast to the commonly held belief that species
were fixed in time. Darwin was testing the waters of the scientific
and political community in order to gauge how his transmutation
work, once published, would be viewed.
1856 late Spring
Charles Lyell received
a package from a young promising naturalist named Alfred
Russel Wallace who at the time was doing natural history
research at the Malay Archipelago. The package contained a twenty
page paper titled: "On the Law which has Regulated the Introduction
of New Species." Lyell was intrigued by this paper because it
contained ideas of transmutation that were similar to the ones
Darwin had been working on for the past twenty years. He showed
the paper to Darwin, but he was not too impressed with it.
1856 April 13
Lyell was invited to Down House, and Darwin gave him an update
on his transmutation work, telling him about his theory of natural
selection. Although he did not agree with transmutation in general,
(he feared the consequences if it was applied to humans); Lyell
urged Darwin to publish his work.
1856 May 14
Darwin started working on a short essay on his theory of natural
1856 December 6
Emma and Darwin had another son, Charles Waring Darwin.
1857 April 22
Darwin was exhausted from his work on natural selection and
needed a good rest. He spends two weeks at Dr. Edward Lane's
Hydropathic Establishment at Moor Park in Farnham, just west
1857 June 16
After a relapse, Darwin headed back to Dr. Lane's Hydropathic
Spa for another two weeks.
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.
1857 September 5
Darwin sent an outline of his theory of natural selection to
Asa Gray, professor
of natural history at Harvard University.
1857 December 22
Darwin replied to a letter that Wallace sent him on 27 September.
He praised Wallace for his dedication to natural science, and
for his work on the distribution of species. Darwin also told
Wallace he will
not discuss the topic of man's origins, even though it would
be of highest interest to naturalists. Darwin pointed out that
he had been working on the problem of species origins for twenty
years, but would not publish for a few years yet.
By this time the chapter on natural selection was about 65%
complete. The book had grown to ten chapters and Darwin feared
it may end up being a huge volume that no one would ever take
the time to read.
1858 April 20
Work on the natural selection book was wearing him down again,
so Darwin headed back to Dr. Lane's Spa for yet another two
1858 June 18
Darwin received a paper from Alfred
Russel Wallace, who was still at the Malay Archipelago.
The paper was titled: "On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart
Indefinitely from the Original Type." Darwin was shocked! Wallace
had come up with a theory of natural selection that was very
similar to his own. The paper contained concepts like "the struggle
for existence," and "the transmutation of species."
Upon further examination Darwin saw that Wallace had some ideas
about natural selection that he did not agree with. For one
thing, Wallace tried to mix social morality with natural selection,
proposing an upward evolution of human morals which would eventually
lead to a socialist utopia (Darwin's natural selection had no
goal). What's more, Wallace believed that cooperation in groups
aided in the progress of mankind (Darwin saw natural selection
as being influenced by competition). Finally, Wallace's natural
selection was guided by a higher spiritual power (there was
no divine intervention in Darwin's version).
1858 June 28
Darwin's son, Charles Waring Darwin, died.
1858 July 1
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 silence.
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.
1859 middle of March
Joseph Hooker spent
a great deal of time reading over Darwin's 1858 abstract on
natural selection, providing a lot of editorial advice.
1859 October 1
Darwin was finally finished with proofs of the abstract amid
great illness. John
Murray Publishers set a publication date of late November.
1859 early October
Wanting to get as far away from London as possible, Darwin went
off to Ilkley Spa in Yorkshire to "ride out the storm" that
his book would likely create, and to treat his ill health.
1859 November 2
While at Ilkley Spa Darwin received an early copy of his book,
"On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection."
The title for "Origins" went through a few changes while it
was being written:
-- An Abstract of an Essay on the Origin of Species and Varieties
through Natural Selection.
-- On the Origin of Species and Varieties by means of Natural
-- On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection.