Charles Darwin was born in 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. His father, a doctor, had high hopes that his son would earn a medical degree at Edinburgh University in Scotland, where he enrolled at the age of sixteen. It turned out that Darwin was more interested in natural history than medicine—it was said that the sight of blood made him sick to his stomach. While he continued his studies in theology at Cambridge, it was his focus on natural history that became his passion. 

In 1831, Darwin embarked on a voyage aboard a ship of the British Royal Navy, the HMS Beagle, employed as a naturalist. The main purpose of the trip was to survey the coastline of South America and chart its harbors to make better maps of the region. The work that Darwin did was just an added bonus.

Darwin spent much of the trip on land collecting samples of plants, animals, rocks, and fossils. He explored regions in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and remote islands such as the Galápagos. He packed all of his specimens into crates and sent them back to England aboard other vessels. 

Upon his return to England in 1836, Darwin’s work continued. Studies of his samples and notes from the trip led to groundbreaking scientific discoveries. Fossils he collected were shared with paleontologists and geologists, leading to advances in the understanding of the processes that shape the Earth’s surface. Darwin’s analysis of the plants and animals he gathered led him to question how species form and change over time. This work convinced him of the insight that he is most famous for—natural selection. The theory of natural selection says that individuals of a species are more likely to survive in their environment and pass on their genes to the next generation when they inherit traits from their parents that are best suited for that specific environment. In this way, such traits become more widespread in the species and can lead eventually to the development of a new species.

In 1859, Darwin published his thoughts about evolution and natural selection in On the Origin of Species. It was as popular as it was controversial. The book convinced many people that species change over time—a lot of time—suggesting that the planet was much older than what was commonly believed at the time: six thousand years. 

Charles Darwin died in 1882 at the age of seventy-three. He is buried in Westminster Abbey in London, England.

 

Charles Darwin

British naturalist Charles Darwin is credited for the theory of natural selection. While he is indeed most famous, Alfred Wallace, simultaneously came to a similar conclusion and the two corresponded on the topic.

evolution
Noun

change in heritable traits of a population over time.

Noun

remnant, impression, or trace of an ancient organism.

geology
Noun

study of the physical history of the Earth, its composition, its structure, and the processes that form and change it.

inherit
Verb

to receive from ancestors.

natural history
Noun
study and description of living things, especially their origins, evolution, and relationships to one another. Natural history includes the sciences of zoology, biology, botany, geology, mineralogy, paleontology, and many other fields.
naturalist
Noun

person who studies the natural history or natural development of organisms and the environment.

Noun

process by which organisms that are better -adapted to their environments produce more offspring to transmit their genetic characteristics.

Noun

the study of fossils and life from early geologic periods.

species
Noun

group of similar organisms that can reproduce with each other.

theology
Noun

study of religion, faith, and spirituality.

trait
Noun

characteristic or aspect.