Charles Darwin's Scaly-throated earthcreeper
This earthcreeper was one of thousands of specimens collected during a voyage that Charles Darwin joined on HMS Beagle.
Scaly-throated earthcreeper fact file
Scaly-throated earthcreeper, Upucerthia dumetaria
Charles Robert Darwin (1809 – 1882),
Syms Covington (1816 – 1861)
Discoveries gallery, Level 1 at the National Museum of Scotland
Did you know?
Charles Darwin's lodgings whilst studying in Edinburgh were in a tenement on the site of the National Museum of Scotland.
... in these fertile climates, teeming with life, the attractions are so numerous, that he is scarcely able to walk at all.
- Page 36. Chapter II, Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin in Scotland
Charles Robert Darwin (1809 – 1882) was born in England on 12 February 1809.
Between 1825 and 1827, Darwin studied medicine in Edinburgh. His lodgings were in a tenement on the site of the National Museum of Scotland.
Bored by his medical studies, he took the opportunity to develop his interests in natural history. The extensive natural history collections of the University of Edinburgh, part of which is now held in National Museums Scotland collection, provided a unique resource for an aspiring naturalist.
Darwin learned how to observe, dissect and prepare specimens. He took private lessons in taxidermy from John Edmonstone, a freed slave, who also sold specimens to the University Museum.
Woodblock depicting Charles Darwin, from a collection used by W. & R. Chambers Ltd. On display in the Discoveries gallery at then National Museum of Scotland.
All that we can do, is to keep steadily in mind that each organic being is striving to increase at a geometrical ratio; that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life, and to suffer great destruction. When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full belief, that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.
- Chapter 3, Struggle for Existence, On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
Darwin's voyage on HMS Beagle
Throughout his career, Darwin collected and studied thousands of animals and plants. However, there is no surviving ornithology collection that pre-dates Darwin's round-the-world voyage aboard HMS Beagle.
HMS Beagle set sail on 27 December 1831, and returned on 2 October 1836. This earthcreeper specimen was collected in Coquimbo, Chile in 1835.
April 27th. I set out on a journey to Coquimbo, and thence Guasco to Copiapo, where Captain Fitz Roy kindly offered to pick me up in the Beagle. The distance in a straight line along the shore is only 420 miles; but my mode of transport made it a very long journey.
- Page 401. Chapter XVI, Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin exchanged many specimens with his second cousin William Darwin Fox, including a water beetle specimen, collected by Darwin near Cambridge in 1831. Fox recorded it in his book, with the abbreviation ‘Dn 1831’ next to the specimen name, Hydaticus cinereus. Other specimens from Darwin are indicated by ‘Dn’.
- Six Longhorn beetles, Pogonocherus hispidus, collected by Darwin.
The mind cannot possibly grasp the full meaning of the term of a hundred million years; it cannot add up and perceive the full effects of many slight variations, accumulated during an almost infinite number of generations.
- Conclusion, On the Origins of Species, Charles Darwin
On the Origin of Species
On 24 November 1859 Darwin published an edition of 1250 copies of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection: Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin. Darwin’s book was a surprise bestseller. A second edition of 3000 copies was rushed out to meet demand in January 1860 and by the end of the year this had sold out too. This work by Darwin changed the way people think about the origin of life on Earth.
A second edition of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, published by John Murray, London, 1860. This is display in our Discoveries gallery at the National Museum of Scotland.
In considering the Origin of Species, it is quite conceivable that a naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, on their embryological relations, their geographical distribution, geological succession, and other facts, might come to the conclusion that each species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties, from other species.
- Introduction, On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
Impact of ornithological collections
The specimens that were collected during the voyage on HMS Beagle were a major stimulus to the development of his ideas on natural selection. However, the extent to which the ornithological collections contributed to these theories remains questionable. As discussed in this research paper by Frank D. Steinheimer in 2004:
therefore this paper remains with the simple conclusion that birds were not Darwin’s first love, and that the ornithological knowledge gained on the ‘‘Beagle’’ voyage do not seem to have been indispensable for his evolution theory.
- page 316, Charles Darwin’s bird collection and ornithological knowledge during the voyage of H.M.S. ‘‘Beagle’’, 1831–1836, Frank D. Steinheimer