The C. Warren Irvin, Jr., Collection
of Charles Darwin and Darwiniana

Overview | Warren Irvin on Collecting Darwin | Boyhood and Edinburgh | Cambridge | The Voyage of the Beagle | Zoology and Botany | Geology | Vestiges and Lamarckianism | Marine Biology and the 1850s | The Origin of Species | After the Origin | After Darwin

The Voyage of the Beagle

The commander's account of a naval exploration
Robert Fitzroy, 1805-1865, ed.
Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's ships Adventure and Beagle, between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe. 3 vols. London: Henry Colburn, 1839.

Since Sir Joseph Banks accompanied Captain Cook on his Australian explorations in the late 18th century, the survey ships of the British navy had played a large role in enabling British scientists to explore the globe. This sumptuously-produced account of two separate expeditions edited, and largely written, by the Beagle's commander, Captain Fitzroy, was only the latest in a string of such accounts, and it is a sign of the interest they excited that South Carolina College bought a set for its library.

The Captain of H.M.S. Beagle

This profile by Francis Lane shows Captain Fitzroy later in his career, after his promotion to Vice-Admiral. At the time of Darwin's voyage, Fitzroy was still a young man.

H.M.S. Beagle in Sydney harbour

The ship which Darwin joined as naturalist for the exploration of the South American coast in 1831-1836. From an 1841 watercolour by Owen Stanley.

Side-elevation of H.M.S. Beagle

The Beagle was a small ship, only 90 foot long, but carrying seventy-four people. Darwin took his meals with the captain, Robert Fitzroy.

Where Darwin went with the Beagle
Map of the Beagle's voyage, 1831-36
from Fitzroy, Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's ships Adventure and Beagle, between the years 1826 and 1836.London: Henry Colburn, 1839. Vol. II appendix.

The initial plan had been for a two-year voyage round the world, but Fitzroy's scrupulous survey of the complex South American coastline extended the expedition over nearly five years.

H.M.S. Beagle in Murray Narrow, the Beagle Channel

From a watercolour by Conrad Martens. Much of the Beagle's survey work was in sparsely-populated and remote parts of the South American coast.

Meeting other races: Fitzroy and the Christian converts of Tierra del Fuego
Robert Fitzroy, ed.,
Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's ships Adventure and Beagle. London: Henry Colburn, 1839.

Among the initial tasks of the Beagle on reaching southern South America was to return to their homeland three Fuegian converts who had been brought to England from a previous voyage and educated as missionaries. The project was dear to Fitzroy's heart, but it resulted only in the immediate reassimilation of the Fuegians to their previous life-style. Differences of opinion on racial issues, both in South America and Australia, became a major source of friction between Fitzroy and the more liberal Darwin, who had been appalled both by the primitive conditions in which the Fuegians lived and the treatment meted out to other races by Europeans.

Darwin's own account of the Beaglevoyage, 1
Charles Darwin, 
The Journal of A Voyage in H.M.S.Beagle.
Guildford: Genesis Publications, 1979.

Darwin's manuscript journal of the Beagle voyage, now in the Royal College of Surgeons, preserves a day-by-day record of his experiences and discoveries.  Along with his manuscript notebooks recording his reading and scientific speculations, the journal shows in fascinating detail the steps through which he recognized the fundamental concepts of evolutionary theory.

Darwin's own account of the Beaglevoyage, 2
Darwin, Charles, 1809-1882
Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by H. M. S. Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, R. N., from 1832 to 1836.
London: Henry Colburn, 1839.

While the College owned Fitzroy's Narrative, it either never bought or soon lost the final volume in the set, Darwin's published account of his scientific explorations based on his journal. This had been ready for some months before Fitzroy's volumes went to press, and it was simultaneously issued as a separate volume for scientific readers. Happily, the Irvin Collection includes this separate issue, which is among the most readable of Darwin's books.

The young Charles Darwin

From the 1840 watercolour by George Richmond.


Darwin's first sketch of the Origin of Species
Charles Darwin,
The foundations of the Origin of Species, a sketch written in 1842, edited by Francis Darwin. Cambridge, printed at the University Press, 1909.

Though his book On the Origin of Species would not appear till 1859, Darwin had begun keeping extensive notebooks on the question soon after his return from theBeagle's voyage.  By 1842, he had drawn up a substantial sketch of his theory, but he delayed publication because he was anxious to provide a sufficient breadth of empirical research in its support.  The sketch itself remained in manuscript until it was published by his son for the Darwin centenary.  The copy shown here was presented by the editor to another of Darwin's relatives.

The early reports on Darwin's discoveries
John Gould on the Galapagos finches,
from Proceedings of the Zoological Society, part V (1837): 4-8.

Even during the five years of the Beagle's expedition, Darwin had sent home to Henslow descriptions and specimens of what he was discovering. By the time Darwin returned with the major specimen shipment, in October 1837, there was considerable anticipation among naturalists. The initial reports were made orally at scientific meetings. In this account from January 1837, the ornithologist and artist John Gould described Darwin's various finch specimens, providing a list of distinct species from the different Galapagos islands. At later meetings, Darwin himself attended and commented on Gould's presentations, and Gould prepared the ornithology volume for Darwin's series of reports on The Zoology of the H.M.S. Beagle (1841).

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