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Charles Darwin’s World Collecting Journey

We often see Darwin pictured as an elderly man distinguished by his long white beard and intelligent eyes, and know him as someone famous who made an important scientific discovery about evolution. But where did the inspiration for these ideas come from? How could he imagine a theory so bold as to change the way we see the world today? And how did his work affect the lives of people living across the world in a time of C19th empire?

Darwin’s laboratory was not a room filled with chemicals and test-tubes. It was the whole world he visited while on board HMS Beagle as a young man. He didn’t just observe the results of experiments, he observed the detail of everything he saw and experienced in the wider world. The people he met, the rocks he scrambled over, the birds he spied, the plants he brushed past, the insects buzzing around him, and the sea creatures he captured in his net.

Image courtesy of Cambridge University Herbarium

And in the days before cameras, film and photography, he collected many thousands of examples of what he saw and heard to bring them back to Britain for study. This collection was the founding body of data on which his later scientific ideas were based. Many specimens and associated works now reside in UK museums and international collections.

Take a virtual tour of Charles Darwin’s collecting journey on HMS Beagle and discover more about its impact on science, indigenous people and their ways of life in the C19/ C20th. If you are a teacher interested in using this resource for learning in the classroom, you can find further information here.

Our sincere thanks for their support goes to the British Museum; Cambridge University Herbarium; Cambridge University Library; Cambridge University Museum of Zoology; Kerry Stokes Collection; Mitchell Library, Sydney; the Natural History Museum, Tring; Oxford University Museum of Natural History; and the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, Cambridge. Research funded with the support of Newnham College Cambridge Gibbs Travelling Fellowship, the British Academy/ Leverhulme Trust and Royal Holloway University of London.

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