On 27th December, 1831, after much delay, a ship lifted anchor from Barn Pool,
near Davenport, England. Soon to become one of the most famous ships in history,
it was headed on a two year expedition to conduct a hydrographic survey of the
southern coasts of South America. Just before it set out, the captain of the ship, a
24-year old aristocrat, gave his companion, a 22-year old naturalist, a copy of a
recently published book. Little could he have imagined the profound impact that
this simple action would have on his companion’s life or on our understanding of
the natural world.
The ship was the HMS Beagle. It was commandeered by Captain Robert FitzRoy,
who was already making a name for himself as an able leader and a meticulous
surveyor. The young naturalist was Charles Darwin. Nearly rejected by FitzRoy
because the shape of his nose seemed to indicate a lack of determination, Darwin
seemed well-suited for this role in every other way. As the grandson of Erasmus
Darwin, a well-known philosopher, he fit FitzRoy’s criteria of being a ‘gentleman’.
Six feet tall, with a tendency to stoop, and an abiding interest in natural history,
Darwin nurtured a keen desire to visit the tropics once, before he became a parson. Continued in Editor's Desk...