Charles Darwin Biography: Life

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury in England on the 12th of February, 1809. His father was a wealthy doctor and financier, Robert Darwin and his mother was Susannah Darwin. Although Robert Darwin was a freethinker, Charles was baptized in the Anglican Church in keeping with his mother’s religious beliefs. Charles had 5 siblings and they attended the day school run by the preacher of a Unitarian Chapel.


In 1837, Charles visited his maternal cousins. That was where he first met Emma Wedgwood. She was nine months older to him.

During 1938, he kept on falling ill on and off. It was during this time, that he began to contemplate marriage. He wanted to marry Emma, but kept putting it off. He even visited her once in July 1838, but did not propose.

He returned to Maer Hall in November and finally proposed to Emma. She accepted. They were married in January 1839.

Charles and Emma had 10 children of which 2 died in infancy and his daughter Anne died when she was 10 years old. Charles was quite an attentive and devoted father.

Whenever any of his children fell ill, he greatly feared that his children may have inherited weaknesses. This was because Emma was his cousin and he studied the effects of inbreeding among the species as a matter of course.

The death of Anne left him devastated and destroyed any feeling he had within himself about a benevolent God.

Charles Darwin’s life and career as a Naturalist

Robert Darwin wanted his son to become a doctor, and even sent him to University of Edinburgh to study medicine. But seeing the brutality of surgery, Charles neglected his studies. He pursued his interests in taxidermy, natural history, marine biology, botany and zoology. He joined the Plinian Society which was a student group interested in natural history.

He also became a pupil of Robert Edmund Grant who followed Lamarck’s theory of evolution by advanced characteristics. He also attended Robert Jameson’s natural history course and learnt geology and plant classification.

His father recognized his son’s lack of interest in medicine and enrolled him into the Bachelor of Arts program at Christ College. This way he thought that his son would become a clergyman and get a good income. But Charles was just not interested.

He studied botany with the Reverend John Stevens Henslow. He was also enthusiastic about William Paley’s writings about the divine design in Nature. When his exams were due, Charles managed to pass them.

Charles then joined the geology course of Reverend Adam Sedgwick.

Reverend Henslow then sent a letter to Robert FitzRoy, who was the caption of the HMS Beagle, recommending Charles as his gentleman companion on his voyage to chart the coastline of South America.

The voyage lasted 5 years. Darwin spent a majority of that time on land and collected a variety of fossils and specimens of living organisms, studied many a geological features and made extensive notes. These were later published as ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’.

Since that voyage, Charles suffered from frequent bouts of fever.

Charles observed in this voyage, that the landmasses were rising with the passage of time. He concluded this by observing the geological strata, marine and plant life, fossils and observing the variety of birds present on the islands of South America.

Studying the mockingbirds and tortoises in the area, the theory of the origin of the species began to take root in his mind. Meanwhile Charles kept sending back specimens and letters describing his findings, which became greatly admired.

In 1836, when he returned from his voyage, he was already quite famous. He had proved himself as a competent naturalist. Upon his return, Henslow also advised him to find naturalists to describe and catalog his collections, while Henslow took his botanical specimens.

Through Charles Lyell, Darwin met Richard Owen and began to analyze the various fossils that he had found on his voyage. The results were astounding. The fossils contained bones of huge sloths and the extinct Glyptodon.

In 1837 he presented his paper on the rising landmasses to the Geological Society of London and presented his mammal and bird specimens to the Zoological Society. He also moved to London and interacted with several prominent members of the scientific society, including Charles Babbage and John Herschel. He also received a grant of 1000 Pounds for his book ‘Zoology of the Voyage of the HMS Beagle’.

Darwin’s health began to suffer. He was under a lot of pressure to complete his book. He began to have heart palpitations and went to Maer Hall to visit his maternal cousins and to relax. It was also then that he studied earthworms. He used this information to deliver a paper to the Geological Society about the process of soil formation and the role of the earthworms. This was when he met Emma Wedgwood.

In 1838, Darwin became the secretary of the Geological Society. Meanwhile he continued with his studies of transmutation of the species.

At that time, Darwin read Malthus’ ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’ which proved to be an inspiration to his theory of natural selection.

Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgwood married in 1939.

Charles Darwin and The Theory of Evolution

Throughout this time Charles was working on his theory of natural selection. 


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