Charles Robert Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. His father, Robert Darwin, was a wealthy doctor and financier and his mother, Susannah Darwin, was the daughter of the famous pottery entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood.
| Date of Birth | February 12, 1809 | Place of Birth | Shrewsbury, England | Parents | Robert Darwin (Father), Susannah Darwin (Mother) | Siblings | Erasmus Darwin (Brother), Emily Catherine Darwin (Sister)
Darwin came from a long line of scientists – his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a renowned botanist and physician. As a child, Darwin had a keen interest in nature and enjoyed collecting minerals, insects, and other specimens.
At age 16, Darwin enrolled at Edinburgh University to study medicine, but soon became disenchanted. In 1828, he dropped out of medical school and enrolled at Christ’s College, Cambridge to become an Anglican parson. At Cambridge, Darwin developed a strong interest in natural science.
Voyage Aboard The Beagle
After earning his degree in 1831, Darwin set sail on a scientific expedition aboard the HMS Beagle. He served as an unpaid naturalist and gentleman companion to the captain, Robert FitzRoy.
The voyage would last almost 5 years, taking Darwin around the world and exposing him to a diversity of ecosystems and organisms. Darwin collected an enormous number of specimens and made detailed observations and field notes – these would later inform his theories on evolution.
Key Locations Visited
|Cape Verde Islands
|Finches and turtles that differed among islands
|Marsupials like kangaroos
Developing the Theory of Evolution
Upon returning to England in 1836, Darwin began recording his findings and theories about the geographical distribution of organisms and the possibility that species change over time.
After learning that another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, had developed a strikingly similar theory, the two made a joint announcement of their discovery in 1858. The following year, Darwin published his pivotal work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
Some key components of Darwin’s theory of evolution include:
The principle that organisms with traits best suited to their environment have better survival and reproduction rates. Over time, adaptations that are advantageous become more prevalent through successive generations.
All organisms descended and diversified from common ancestors. Evidence from fossils and homologies (similarities) in early embryonic development, anatomy, and biochemistry supports this.
Evolution occurs slowly over long periods of time through subtle changes. Given enough time, small changes can result in speciation – when populations evolve to become distinct species.
Later Scientific Work
Darwin would continue his research and publish works supporting evolutionary theory and expanding knowledge particularly in regards to emotions, movement, and reproductive fitness in biology.
Some other key publications include:
- 1871 – The Descent of Man – Explored human evolution and sexual selection
- 1872 – The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals – Compared human and animal emotional expression
- 1876 – The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilization in the Vegetable Kingdom – Studied plant reproductive fitness
Towards the end of this life, Darwin focused more on botanical research at his home. He died on April 19, 1882 at the age of 73 and was buried at Westminster Abbey.
Charles Darwin left an immense legacy as one of the most influential scientists in history. His curious spirit, meticulous observations, and reasoned arguments forever changed biology and shaped our understanding of life on Earth.
By proposing a mechanism for how evolution occurs, Darwin gave order to nature’s diversity. He showed that all organisms – from the highest mountains to the deepest oceans – are connected through common descent.
Today, the principles Darwin defined form the very foundation of modern biology. His intellectual courage to put forth a radical new theory on the origin of species, even in the face of controversy, demonstrated the self-correcting nature of science. Over 150 years since his pioneering work, Darwin’s ideas continue to be supported and expanded upon by genetics, paleontology, molecular biology, and countless scientific fields.
While the man has passed, Darwin’s contributions remain timeless. His legacy as the father of evolutionary biology will persist so long as there are species struggling and adapting for survival on our dynamic planet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Did Charles Darwin have any children?
Yes, Charles Darwin had 10 children with his wife and first cousin Emma Wedgwood. Of their 10 children, three died before reaching adulthood. Their last child, Charles Waring Darwin, was born when Emma was 48 years old.
Was Charles Darwin a doctor?
No. Although Darwin attended Edinburgh University with the intention of becoming a physician like his father, he soon became disenchanted and left medical school in his second year. He later completed a Bachelor of Arts degree focused on natural science while at Christ’s College, Cambridge.
What religion was Charles Darwin?
Originally Darwin studied to become an Anglican parson at Cambridge. Though he was never atheist, Darwin gradually became more agnostic in regards to religion later in his life. His own scientific findings made him skeptical of scripture, though he still believed in some higher spiritual power behind nature.
Did Charles Darwin visit the Galapagos Islands?
Yes. While traveling aboard the survey ship HMS Beagle for 5 years, Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in 1835. It was there that he observed variations of wildlife on different islands, like finches adapted to different food sources. These observations were critical to his later theory of natural selection.
Was Charles Darwin the first person to propose evolution?
No. Darwin built upon earlier ideas about organisms changing slowly over time. Transmutation of species was discussed decades earlier by Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin. What set Charles Darwin apart was proposing a convincing, science-based mechanism – natural selection – to explain precisely how evolution occurred.
What island did Darwin study finches on?
While visiting the Galapagos Archipelago in 1835, Darwin studied an array of finches on the islands of San Cristóbal, Floreana, Isabela, and Santiago. He observed differences in their beaks and feeding behaviors and collected specimen samples for further study back in England.
When was Charles Darwin born and when did he die?
Charles Robert Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. He died on April 19, 1882 at the age of 73.
Where did Charles Darwin go to school?
Darwin attended Edinburgh University as a medical student from age 16 to 18. He later dropped out of medical school and completed his Bachelor of Arts degree at Christ’s College, Cambridge.
What was the name of Charles Darwin’s ship?
The ship Darwin sailed on for his five-year scientific expedition was called the H.M.S. Beagle. He served as an unpaid naturalist to the captain, Robert FitzRoy.
Where did Darwin travel to on his expedition?
Some key places Darwin visited included: the Cape Verde Islands, Brazil, Patagonia, the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, and Australia. He circumnavigated the globe, traveling across a variety of ecosystems.
What is Darwin best known for?
Darwin is best known for developing the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection. In 1859, he published his seminal book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.