On December 27, 1831, HMS Beagle set sail from Plymouth, England, on an around-the-world voyage to survey the coast of South America. The purpose of the expedition was to collect hydrographic information, such as ocean depths, currents, temperature, reefs, and sandbars. It was the Beagle’s second voyage of exploration.

The Beagle’s captain, Robert FitzRoy, regretted not having a geologist onboard the Beagle’s first voyage, and actively recruited “a person qualified to examine the land; while the officers, and myself, would attend to hydrography.” This naturalist would not be a member of the crew—he would have to pay his own way—but would have unrestricted access to the exotic flora and fauna of South America, as well as shipboard privileges such as his own cabin.

Charles Darwin, 22 years old, was not FitzRoy’s first choice as the Beagle’s naturalist. But the young scholar was affable, available, and took advantage of the opportunity to rewrite modern science.

Noun

edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

Noun

steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.

exotic
Adjective

foreign or strange.

expedition
Noun

journey with a specific purpose, such as exploration.

fauna
Noun

animals associated with an area or time period.

flora
Noun

plants associated with an area or time period.

geologist
Noun

person who studies the physical formations of the Earth.

hydrography
Noun

measurement and study of the surface waters of the Earth.

naturalist
Noun

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

privilege
Noun

benefit or special right.

recruit
Verb

to work to supply a group with new members.

Noun

a ridge of rocks, coral, or sand rising from the ocean floor all the way to or near the ocean's surface.

sandbar
Noun

mound of sand created by water currents.

scholar
Noun

educated person.

survey
Noun

a study or analysis of characteristics of an area or a population.

Noun

degree of hotness or coldness measured by a thermometer with a numerical scale.

voyage
Noun

long journey or trip.