Charles Darwin and the Beagle Collections in the University of Cambridge
A Voyage Round the World
Cambridge University Library held the exhibition A Voyage Round the World at The Exhibition Centre, Cambridge University Library from Monday 6 July to Wednesday 23 December 2009.
left: Darwin’s geological map of South America. CUL MS DAR 44:13. Images provided by Cambridge University Library, who hold the copyright.
It has been described as ‘the most significant gap year in history’. In 1831 Charles Darwin left England aboard HMS Beagle as an able but untried Cambridge graduate. He returned from the voyage in 1836 as an eagerly awaited member of the scientific establishment. Cambridge played a vital role in this transformation. Darwin’s Cambridge connections secured his place on the Beagle; his Cambridge friends and teachers sent advice, encouragement and responses to his ideas, and arranged for his discoveries to be promoted and published; and it was to Cambridge that vast numbers of specimens were shipped in caskets, barrels, jars and pill-boxes.
Today, Cambridge University Library houses the world’s major archive of Darwin manuscripts, books and letters; elsewhere in the University are significant collections of his rocks, minerals, fossils, animals, birds and plants. As part of the celebrations marking the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth and the sesquicentenary of the publication of On the origin of species by means of natural selection, the Library is mounting an exhibition exploring the Beagle voyage as the pivotal experience in Darwin’s life.
The exhibition's title comes from an inscription inside one of the books Darwin took with him on the journey, a present from the Cambridge Professor of Botany: ‘J. S. Henslow to his friend C. Darwin on his departure from England upon a voyage round the World’.
The exhibition will be co-ordinated with temporary and permanent exhibitions elsewhere in the University, and together these will provide an unparalleled opportunity to explore Darwin’s life and work.
A Voyage Round the World was held at The Exhibition Centre, Cambridge University Library July-December 2009.
Caricature of Darwin as a student riding on the back of a beetle, done by a Cambridge friend of his, Albert Way. CUL MS DAR 204:29.
University of Cambridge Collections
- Charles Darwin (1809-1882): papers. The bulk of this collection was formally deposited with Cambridge University Library in 1942; includes correspondence, manuscripts and papers relating to publications; notes on the voyage of HMS Beagle, 1831-1836, and some plant specimens.
- J. S. Henslow (1796-1861): botanist and clergyman, one of Darwin's tutors at Cambridge, who is said to have inspired Darwin's interest in natural history. Henslow set up the Museum of the Cambridge Philosophical Society with Leonard Jenyns in 1819 (now part of the University Museum of Zoology Cambridge); this collection consists of Henslow's notes for lectures on botany
- Conrad Martens (1801-1878): landscape painter; in 1832 he joined Darwin as topographer on the Beagle, and made numerous sketches while on the voyage.
- Fishes Collection of Darwin: 300 pages of notes on the fish collected by Darwin on the Beagle, compiled by Leonard Jenyns (1800-1893), a clergyman and naturalist; Jenyns changed his name to Leonard Blomefield in 1871.
- Charles Babington (1808-1895): botanist and archaeologist; this collection includes a set of letters from Darwin to Babington.
- John Bowlby (1907-1990): psychiatrist; author of Charles Darwin: a biography, 1990.
- Sydney Smith (1911-1988): zoologist and Darwin specialist; helped establish the Darwin Letters Project (now the Darwin Correspondence Project), whose British base is at Cambridge University Library.
Cambridge also have Charles Darwin: Autobiography [GB 12 MS. Add.8853] Written in 1876, this manuscript was presented to Cambridge University Library in 1962. The full text of the autobiography is available online through Project Gutenberg.
- Wedgwood family: the Staffordshire family best known for their highly successful pottery business; Darwin's mother was Susannah Wedgwood (1765–1817); and Darwin married his first cousin Emma Wedgwood (1808–1896) in 1839.
Charles Thomas Whitley (1808-1895): mathematician and clergyman, and a close friend of Darwin; this collection includes a letter from Henslow about casks of specimens from Darwin.
William Mogg (1796-1875); naval clerk; collection includes notes on his voyage on the HMS Beagle with Darwin.
Edinburgh Plinian Society: learned society founded in 1823; Darwin was unanimously elected as member in 1826.
Lydia Becker (1827-1890): suffragist; founded the Manchester Ladies' Literary Society, which was a centre for scientific interests, and at the first meeting a paper written by Darwin for the event was read to the audience.
Charles Lyell (1797-1875): influential geologist with an interest in natural history; Lyell introduced Darwin to Wallace's 1855 essay on natural selection; this collection of Lyell's papers includes an address on Darwin
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903): philosopher, scientist, and economist, who attempted to apply the theory of evolution to all the sciences; Darwin borrowed the term ‘survival of the fittest’ from Spencer's 1866 book Principles of Biology; and rather than some notion of physical fitness, 'fittest' here means the best-suited to a particular environment - in other words, it means 'natural selection'.
David Lambert Lack (1910-1973): ornithologist who studied Galapagos finches; author of Evolutionary theory and Christian belief: the unresolved conflict, 1957.
Above right: Inscription inside the first volume of a copy of Alexander von Humboldt’s Personal Narrative, given to Darwin by John Stevens Henslow. Darwin Library, Cambridge University Library.
- Darwin Correspondence Project: founded in 1974 by an American scholar, Frederick Burkhardt, with the aid of Sydney Smith, a zoologist in the University of Cambridge
- Darwin Online: the complete works of Darwin online: the largest and most widely used Darwin resource
- Charles Darwin Foundation: founded in 1959 to research into conservation in the Galapagos islands
- Charles Darwin: 23 photographs, drawings, sculptures and paintings at the National Portrait Gallery, London
- Darwin at the Museum: about Darwin's collection at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Links are provided to records on Copac for these items. The Copac library catalogue gives free access to the merged online catalogues of major University, Specialist, and National Libraries in the UK and Ireland, including the British Library. For more information about accessing items see the FAQs on the Copac website.
- Charles Darwin. 2 vols. Janet Browne (1995-2003) Records on Copac
- Charles Darwin: a biography. John Bowlby (1990) Records on Copac
- Coral Reefs: Volcanic Islands, South American Geology. Charles Darwin (1910, first published 1842-1846) Records on Copac
- On the origin of the species by means of natural selection. Charles Darwin (1990, first published 1859) Records on Copac
- Origins: selected letters of Charles Darwin 1822-1859, Anniversary edition. edited by Frederick Burkhardt (2008) Records on Copac
- Evolution: selected letters of Charles Darwin 1860-1870. edited by Frederick Burkhardt, Samantha Evans and Alison Pearn; foreword by Sir David Attenborough (2008) Records on Copac
- The Beagle Letters. edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. (2008)
- The Causes of Evolution. J. B. S. Haldane (1993, originally published 1932) Records on Copac
- Religion in Evolution. F. B. Jevons (1906) Records on Copac
- The Coming of Evolution: the Story of a Great Evolution in Science. John W. Judd (1910) Records on Copac
- Evolutionary Theory and Christian Belief: the Unresolved Conflict. David Lack (1957) Records on Copac
- Evolutionary Writings. edited by James A. Secord (2008) Records on Copac
- The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. Richard Dawkins (1991) Records on Copac
- Annie's Box: Charles Darwin, His Daughter and Evolution. Randal Keynes (2001) Records on Copac (Keynes is a great-great grandson of Charles Darwin)
- The Young Darwin and his Cultural Circle: a study of influence which shaped the language and logic of the first drafts of the theory of natural selection. Edward Manier (1978) Records on Copac
- Evolution. Colin Patterson (2nd edition, 1999) Records on Copac
- 99% Ape: How evolution adds up. edited by Jonathan Silvertown (2008) Records on Copac
With thanks to John Wells and the team at Cambridge for producing this interesting and comprehensive feature for us.
July 2009: Charles Darwin and the Beagle Collections in the University of Cambridge .
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