By Gordon Peckham
HMS Beagle sailed from Devonport
Darwin spent five years as naturalist and companion to Captain Fitzroy on board HMS Beagle during a circumnavigation of the world.
- Beagle sailed from Devonport on 27 December 1831 after having been twice driven back by heavy south-western gales.
- Beagle returned to Falmouth on 2 October 1836.
On his return, Darwin found himself to be a scientific celebrity. The experience set him speculating on the possibility that “one species does change into another” to explain the geographical distribution of living species and started him on his life’s work on evolution and natural selection.
Darwin visited Torquay in July and August 1861 for a holiday with his daughter Henrietta who had been ill with typhoid the previous year.
His visit is recorded by a blue plaque at 2 Hesketh Crescent. Whilst in Toquay he met William Pengelly.
Devon Archaeology, William Pengelly, and the Antiquity of Man
Archaeological finds in the caves of Devon were some of the first to establish the great antiquity of man.
|1825||John MacEnery found flint implements associated with the remains of extinct animals in Kents Cavern at Torquay.|
|1858–59||Devon archaeologist William Pengelly found pre-glacial stone scrapers in Windmill Hill Cave at Brixham.|
|1861||Charles Darwin met Pengelly during a visit to Torquay.|
|1865–80||Pengelly found hand axes in Kents Cavern which, at 450,000 years old, provide some of the oldest evidence of man’s occupation of Britain.|
|1927||A 31,000 year old homo sapiens jaw bone from Kents Cavern is the oldest bone from modern man found in Britain.|
During his visit to Torquay, Darwin was preparing his book The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects. He studied orchids in the fields around the town and their pollination by bees and other insects. He had been introduced to Philip Henry Gosse who gave a lecture at the Linneaen Society [London] in 1855. Darwin corresponded with Gosse, a well respected, if self-taught, marine zoologist. In 1857 Gosse retired to Babbacombe Bay, near Torquay. Although later in 1863, Darwin wrote to Gosse, a keen grower of orchids, about their pollination, I can find no record of them having met during Darwin’s 1861 visit to Torquay.
Philip Henry Gosse
Naturalist, popular author, Christian fundamentalist, Fellow of the Royal Society, friend and correspondent of Charles Darwin.
Widely travelled, self taught naturalist, in 1857 he settled in Torquay, living there until his death in 1888. Charles Kingsley wrote of him: “Here, too [in Torquay], the scientific succession is still maintained by Mr. Pengelly and Mr. Gosse, the latter of whom by his delightful and, happily, well-known books has done more for the study of marine zoology than any other living man.”
Darwin consulted him between 1855 and 1864 on a number of matters including his speciality, marine zoology, and the pollination of orchids which Gosse grew as a hobby (he is mentioned in Darwin’s book on the subject).
In 1857 Gosse published Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot in which he claimed that the earth was created with fossils already embedded in the rocks. The book was widely condemned, but this did not affect his friendly relationship with Darwin.
Devon-born novelist, social reformer and churchman, wrote to Darwin praising The Origin of Species: “All I have seen of it awes me; both with the heap of facts and the prestige of your name, and also with the clear intuition, that if you be right, I must give up much that I have believed and written. … I have long since, from watching the crossing of domesticated animals and plants, learnt to disbelieve the dogma of the permanence of species”. His views caused considerable controversy.
Kingsley was born in Holne in 1819. Although rector of Eversley in Hampshire from 1844 until his death in 1875, professor of Modern History at Cambridge from 1860–69 and canon of Westminster Abbey in 1873, he maintained his connections with Devon. His novel Westward Ho! is set around Bideford Bay and he became president of the Devonshire Association in 1871.
The second edition of Darwin’s The Origin of Species, published in 1860, contained the following endorsement later attributed to Kingsley:
A celebrated author and divine has written to me that “he has gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws.”
Toward the end of his life, Darwin took an interest in earthworms, carrying out extensive experiments and observations at his home, Down House. He observed how worms pulled leaves into their burrows and tried them with all sorts of leaves and even triangular strips of paper. They were apparently able to sense the shape, pulling them in by their narrower end. He speculated about what advantage the worms derive from plugging up the mouths of their burrows with leaves and corresponded with Edward Parfitt, librarian at the Devon and Exeter Institution about this. A comment in later editions of Darwin’s last book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould, through the Action of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits, reads:
“Mr.~E.~Parfitt has suggested to me that the mouths of the burrows are closed in order that the air within them may be kept thoroughly damp, and this seems the most probable explanation of the habit.”
The Voyage Around the World of H.M.S. Beagle by Charles Darwin.
The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin.
The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online http://darwin-online.org.uk/
Darwin by Adrian Desmond and James Moore.
Glimpses of the Wonderful: The Life of Paul Henry Gosse by Ann Thwaite.
Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments by Edmund Gosse. http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=2540