Born on 12th February 1809 into a wealthy family, Charles Robert Darwin had a pretty ordinary childhood. He didn’t enjoy or do well at school but he had, from an early age, a passion for nature – both collecting it and shooting it.
Childhood – 1809 to 1825
Charles Robert Darwin was born in the town of Shrewsbury, England on February 12th 1809 and this picturesque, well-maintained medieval town is much the same today as it would have been in Darwin’s time. The portion of Shrewsbury known as “Old Town” is almost completely surrounded by a horseshoe-shaped bend in the River Severn, as shown in this aerial view of the town below. The English Bridge is to the lower right and the Kingsland Bridge is to the left while the Welsh Bridge is at the center-top of this photograph. In addition there are foot bridges across the river at several points.
The only home that Charles Darwin knew from the time he was born until he returned from his five-year trip around the world on the Beagle at the age of 29, was his family home right here in Shrewsbury. In chronological order, here are the places in Shrewsbury that were important in Darwin’s life. We will visit each of these buildings in greater detail below. Darwin was born in the family home, known as The Mount or Mount House, on February 12 th, 1809.
The home was built by his father, on a bluff overlooking the River Severn, and is located at the top, center-left On November the 15th, 1809, in the same year as he was born, Charles was baptized in Saint Chad’s Anglican Church. However his mother, the former Susannah Wedgwood, who was a Unitarian, took him as a young child with her to the Unitarian Church on High Street, near the center of town .
Reverend Case was the minister of the church and also ran an elementary School at 13 Claremont Hill which is close to St. Chad’s Church. At the age of eight, Charles was enrolled in Rev. Case’s school by his mother but attended this school for only one year. Unfortunately during this year his mother died and he was enrolled at Doctor Samuel Butler’s school also known as the Shrewsbury School.
It has often been repeated that, as a young boy, Charles Darwin was not a good student or that he was lazy. However, it is apparent that he had a natural inclination towards science and showed an enthusiastic willingness to devote time and effort to it at an early age. In his autobiography he recalls a situation when he was only eight years old and a student at Rev. Case’s School that suggests this orientation.
When he was nine years old Darwin was enrolled in Dr. Butler’s Shrewsbury school where he was required to take ‘the classics’ — ancient history and Greek, which he found rather uninteresting and consequently received poor grades. On the other hand, he enjoyed reading Shakespeare’s historical plays and poems by Byron, Scott, Thomson, and the Odes of Horace. Nevertheless, his main interest was in the natural sciences, which was encouraged only informally outside the classroom. Evidence of this was seen while on vacations with his family in North Wales, when he would collect insects, sea shells, minerals, and geological specimens with enthusiasm.
When Charles was just 13 years old his brother Erasmus had set up a small chemistry lab in the garden shed which was in the kitchen garden some distance from the main house in the side yard Charles recalled this experience with his brother in the following quote in his autobiography.
While it is true that Charles did not perform well at Reverend Butler’s school and his grades were not remarkable, perhaps we should realize from his own words about his experience at the school that “nothing could have been worse for my mind,” that he understood his own mind when it came to determining what he was best suited to do with his life, and was rather mature for his age. In fact, throughout his life he seemed to have an uncanny idea about what his contribution would be, in spite of what others said about his academic performance. A particularly prescient statement in this regard was in a letter of acceptance to Fitz Roy just before they left England on the Beagle, the day of the Beagle’s departure would be glorious. My second life will begin and it shall be as a birthday for the rest of my life.
In addition, consider how Darwin took advantage of the many opportunities to advance his interest in science throughout his college years when he had an opportunity to learn informally from others. For instance, Charles made a number of friends among the faculty, staff, and students at both Edinburgh and Cambridge, from whom he learned a great deal.
Perhaps the most important friendship that he developed at Edinburgh was with a young professor of comparative anatomy and zoology, Robert Grant. The two of them would walk down to Leith Harbour or along the Firth of Forth to collect marine animals such as oysters and sponges, and Grant taught him how to dissect these difficult specimens under seawater using a single-lens microscope, a technique he would use for the rest of his life.
Grant also informally taught him about the development of invertebrates that eventually became important to Darwins theory of evolution. One of the reasons the friendship became so rewarding was that Grant was interested in the topic of transmutation and was familiar with the work of Charles’ grandfather Erasmus Darwin published in Zoonomia, as well as the views of Lamarck and Cuvier on the topic. Grant discussed his views with Charles, and while Charles was astonished by them he did not recall that they made an impression on his mind. Nevertheless it would seem that this informal education became very important to Darwin’s approach to his research on evolution. It is fair to say that Grant’s influence led to Darwin’s first presentation of a scientific paper before the Plinian Society at Edinburgh on March 27, 1827. There were also several other scientific communications and papers that resulted from this special yet informal relationship between these two men.
Darwin’s interest in entomology was first stimulated by his cousin William Darwin Fox, a fellow student at Cambridge who was interested in beetles. The two of them would go for walks in the countryside and collect beetles with great seriousness and enthusiasm. Although Charles was at Cambridge to study to become a member of the clergy, he did not show great intest in it and often missed classes. From this informal activity with Fox, collecting beetles and naming them, by going to reference books by Lamarck, Curtis, and Samouelle that Darwin would eventually note, it is quite absurd how interested I am getting about the science.
It was this close friendship with Fox that brought out the best in Charles while they both were at Cambridge, and it contributed much to his future. Collecting beetles became a passion for both of them and Darwin subscribed to an entomological journal, published by James Stephens in London. At one point Charles sent thirty-four beetles and a moth he had captured to Stephens, and Stephens rewarded him by mentioning his name in his publication. One can appreciate Darwin’s enthusiasm from the following quote, “No pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for I did not dissect them and rarely compared the external characteristics with published descriptions, but I got them named anyhow …. No poet ever felt more delighted at seeing his first poem published than I did at seeing in Stephens’ Illustrations of British Insects the magic words, ‘Captured by C. Darwin, Esq.’ In a letter to Fox, he bragged, ” you will see my name in Stephens’ last number.
Two professors at Cambridge also became particularly important to his informal educationand to his future career. Of these, certainly John Stevens Henslow was the most important. Henslow was professor of botany but had also been professor of mineralology. Charles’ brother Erasmus had attended Henslow’s mineralology lectures and described him as “the man who knows every branch of science. Charles established an informal friendship with Henslow, one that would prove to be excedingly important, he would eventually say of Henslow that he “influenced my career more than any other.
The most important aspects of this relationship came during Darwin’s last terms at Cambridge when he came to know Henslow very well and often joined the family for dinner. They would take long walks together and became close friends while retaining a relationship of student and teacher. It is reasonable to suggest that it was this informal knowledge of Darwin’s abilities that lead Henslow to recommend him to FizRoy for the position of naturalist aboard the Beagle, a recommendation that would open the door to Darwin’s future.
The other Cambridge professor who contributed substantially to Darwin’s informal education was Adam Sedgwick, professor of geology. Henslow had suggested to Darwin that he take Sedgwick’s course in geology but more importantly, he also asked Sedgwick to consider taking Charles on part of his field excursion to north Wales during the summer vacation of 1831.. During this informal trip Darwin learned a great deal about geology at the practical level and how to record the data they were gathering. This information came none to soo, for it was at the end ot this field trip that Charles recieved that all-important-letter from Henslow informing him of the possibility that he could be chosen as the unpaid naturalist to sail on the Beagle!
Charles Darwin Research
Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni Lonesome George at the Charles Darwin Research Station, photo taken in December 2011, Scientists estimate he was about 100 years old. He died on the 24th of June, 2012
The Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) is a biological research station operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation. It is located in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands, with satellite offices on Isabela and San Cristóbal islands.
In Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Ecuadorian and foreign scientists work constantly on research and projects for conservation of the Galapagos terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The Charles Darwin Research Station, established in 1964, has a Natural History Interpretation Centre and also carries out educational projects in support of conservation of the Galápagos Islands.
Objectives and work
Tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station
Marine Iguanas at Charles Darwin Center.
The objectives of the CDRS are to conduct scientific research and environmental education for conservation. The Station has a team of over a hundred scientists, educators, volunteers, research students and support staff from all over the world.
Scientific research and monitoring projects are conducted at the CDRS in conjunction and cooperation with its chief partner, the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS), which functions as the principal government authority in charge of conservation and natural resource issues in the Galapagos.
The work of the CDRS has as its main objectives:
- To promote, facilitate, design, and implement the scientific investigation necessary for the understanding of biological principles, better understanding of ecosystems, and adequate management of the islands’ natural resources.
- To advise the Ecuadorian authorities on the subject of conservation and management of natural resources in the Galapagos Islands.
- To collaborate with Ecuadorian institutions on the implementation of programs involved in scientific investigation and education on the islands.
- To contribute to the development of scientific and technical personnel from Ecuador who are specialized in natural sciences and natural resource management.
- To contribute and collaborate on educational programs related to the conservation of the islands.
- To compile the results of the scientific investigations and the other activities of the organization and to disseminate this information regionally, nationally, and internationally.
Darwin established the theory of natural selection (evolution). On the Galapagos Islands he was fairly free to walk among animals previously unexposed to humans, thus seeing him as no threat. He observed: more offspring were produced than would survive based on the available resources (food, water, space), the offspring varied in form and had a range of characteristics, the offspring would compete for the available resources.
Darwin concluded that the creatures that were best suited to a particular environment would survive long enough to reproduce and pass their characteristics to a new generation. This is evolution. Survival of the fittest is actually shortened from the phrase, survival of the fittest in a particular environment.
Individual creatures don’t evolve. Species evolve. A species is a group of organisms capable of breeding and producing offspring. Evolution drives the creation of new species.
No organism is more or less evolved than another. One organism may be more suited to survive in a particular environment.