Room 2
Human Prehistory: An Exhibition

CHARLES DARWIN

Charles DarwinDarwin Caricature


Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was an an English naturalist whose theory of evolution is one of the greatest contributions ever made to science. Darwin stated this theory in his book The Origin of Species (1859). In another book called The Descent of Man (1871 ) he applied his theory to the evolution of man from a primitive monkey-like animal. Both books aroused world-wide controversy. Many considered them to be offensive, atheistic, blasphemous and Darwin's caricatures were published in magazines. Although later research has modified or disproved some of Darwin's findings, scientists still accept his basic ideas.

Darwin was born in Shrewsbury and his father was a physician. As a youth Darwin was interested in all living things. He read all the books on geology and biology he could find and collected plant and animal specimens, including fossils. In 1825 he began medical studies at the University of Edinburgh but gave them up after two years. In 1828 he entered Cambridge University to study theology getting a degree in 1831. He eventually obtained a post as unpaid naturalist aboard the surveying ship H.M.S. Beagle.

In 1831 the Beagle left on a five-year voyage to South American and Australian waters. During this time Darwin observed and studied in many remote regions of the world. He collected great numbers of plant and animal specimens. From detailed notes of his observations he began to develop the theory that was to make him famous. When he returned to England Darwin began studying and investigating nature. In 1844 Darwin began to compile his greatest contribution, Origin of Species, in which he proposed his theory of natural selection. All life, he said, is a continuous struggle in which only the fittest can survive. In this period Darwin discovered that the idea of natural selection was not exclusively his. Alfred Russel Wallace ( 1823-1913 ), a young naturalist, had developed similar ideas in an essay called "On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Independently from the Original Type." Wallace sent this paper to Darwin for an opinion. Darwin took Wallace's manuscript to a friend, Sir Charles Lyell, who decided that both Wallace's and Darwin's ideas should be presented at the same time. On July 1,1858, both papers were read at a meeting of the Linnaean Society of London.

After publication of Origin of Species in 1859, Darwin continued to write on botany, geology, and zoology until his death in 1882. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

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D. I. Loizos, 1996-2003