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Charles Darwin in the archives (1809 - 1882)

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Charles Darwin in the archives (1809 - 1882)

Catalogue reference: COPY 1/56

Catalogue reference: COPY 1/56

With the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth celebrated this month, The National Archives looks at some of the documents and resources held on the pioneering naturalist.

The event that was to change Darwin's life, and the course of scientific theory forever, was his five-year voyage around the world aboard HMS Beagle - the Admiralty surveying ship under the command of Robert Fitzroy.

The observations and collections made on his voyage, particularly of the different species found in the Galapagos Islands, led Darwin to develop his theory of evolution by natural selection. His ground-breaking and controversial work, On the Origin of Species, was published in 1859, following over twenty years of research and development.


Listen to our podcast: Darwin's voyage: HMS Beagle 1831-6 as the Past Masters team look at Charles Darwin's extraordinary 'gap year' aboard HMS Beagle. Using the original ship's logs, they try to understand the influence of the voyage on Darwin and its enormous effect on the history of science.


See the many catalogue references of documents held on HMS Beagle, listed by visitors to the archives on our wiki, Your Archives. ADM 1/4541 features Darwin's letter of 1831 from Records of the Navy Board and the Board of Admiralty.

Volume RM 4/3 includes 40 letters to Botanist George Bentham from Darwin, from around 1868 to 1880.  In many of the letters Darwin requests the assistance of Bentham's botanical knowledge.

Darwin, a resident of the Kent village of Downe, held the post of treasurer of the Downe Friendly Society for approximately thirty years. Records concerning the rules and amendments of the society are held under document reference FS 1/232, bundle 643. Documents include Darwin's signature from 20 July 1877 and Darwin's handwritten letter dated 11 February 1876.

Census records

Darwin appears in census records available to view at - Darwin is found in the 1851 census visiting his brother, Erasmus Alvey Darwin, in London. He is later found to be living at Down House, Kent with his family and extensive household in the 1881 census.

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An image of Darwin can be found online to print or download for free at our image library. Another portrait of Darwin held by The National Archives can be viewed here.

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