BOOK REVIEW: The Adventures of Piratess Tilly

My kids and I have enjoyed a new children’s book that combines adventure, the natural world, and poetry, with a little Darwin thrown in.


The Adventures of Piratess Tilly (Newburyport, MA: White Wave Press, 2014, 32 pp), by Elizabeth Lorayne with beautiful watercolor illustrations by Karen Watson, follows Tilly aboard the ship Foster, with her crew of sailors and a rescued koala named Yuki, on adventures across the globe. Tilly patches her own clothes, reads books for inspiration, and examines and sketches natural history specimens. Yuki navigates while the crew handles the ship. In these pages, their destination is the Galapagos Islands, but they come across pirates kidnapping baby tortoises and must intervene!

The text of the story is given as descriptive and action-filled haiku, one per page, and feels to me like what a group of children playing might conjure up with their imaginations. It’s fun, visually appealing, and charming. And, much to the book’s benefit, Darwin is given a nod in two of the haiku – “Staterooms full of books / Darwin and Potter inspire / Lofty dreams unfold” & “Many days passing / Best used for examining / What would Darwin think?” – and a portrait on the cabin wall. Darwin would think, how cool to have a female-led adventure! Will Tilly’s adventures continue? I hope so.

Check out the book’s website for lots of info, and an active Facebook page.

The HMS Beagle Project still needs your support!

From Peter:

We are working flat out to see that the country that gave the world HMS Beagle and all the discoveries that flowed from her decks and crew has a sailing replica of this great ship too. We know times are tight, but if you have £5 million to spare there is little better you could do to help lighten the nationally austere mood than by helping us build and launch a sailing replica of the ship that changed the world.

If you have not donated what you can to this cause, go here. If you happen to know someone with a spare £5 million, go here.

HMS Beagle made from two Darwins (photo by A. Faherty)

HMS Beagle made from two Darwins (photo by A. Faherty)

“HMS Beagle in the Galápagos” by John Chancellor. © Dr Gordon Chancellor and reproduced with his kind permission.

“HMS Beagle in the Galápagos” by John Chancellor. © Dr Gordon Chancellor and reproduced with his kind permission.

About the painting see p. 49-60 of this special issue of the Linnean, “Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Darwin-Wallace theory of evolution” (3.7Mb PDF):

BOOK REVIEW: Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

I received this book from the publisher last year, so I am now finally able to put up my review. But I also had to read it for my current graduate class on historical writing, taught by Michael Reidy (my advisor and the author of the book!). And the review:

Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

Tides of History: Ocean Science and Her Majesty’s Navy. By Michael S. Reidy. Chicago, London: Chicago University Press, 2008. xiv + 389 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $40.00 (cloth).

In an essay in William K. Story’s edited volume Scientific Aspects of European Expansion (Varorium, 1996), historian Alan Frost shows how science conducted in the Pacific during European exploration of the late eighteenth century was essentially political in nature. Scientists acted with their respective nations in mind. Michael S. Reidy extends the notion of science for political purposes into the nineteenth century with Tides of History. But while the book’s subtitle, Ocean Science and Her Majesty’s Navy, underscores the connection between advancements in science and the imperial reach of maritime nations (predominantly Britain), Reidy aims for much more than just showing how the British used science to rule the waves. He has other interests in mind, and it is unfortunate that the title of his book misleads the reader of its primary content. Although Reidy does discuss the Admiralty and how tidal science was crucial to military matters, he is more interested in the scientist himself and his role – in particular one giant of science (William Whewell) and plenty of rather unknowns. Even larger still is Reidy’s contribution to a growing field of ocean history, a fresh understanding of history understood through looking at the spaces in between the land that most histories are focused with.

Much of Tides of History details the history of tidal science – of the data collection itself, and the theoretical understanding of the tides (whether or not it was based on data). The narrative of Reidy’s story, told through scientific publications, letters, and the use images (tables and graphs), almost mirrors the flux and reflux of the tides themselves, the ebb and flow of the seas across the globe. Tidal science, and the reasons for studying it, have shifted in importance to various parties through the centuries. Reidy outlines what has gone before, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, before focusing on the nineteenth century, the highest period of Britain’s imperial expansion, and the regional and global tide experiments in the mid-1830s.

Reidy is fond of metaphors, and they abound in Tides of History. For example, Whewell “helped transform the spatial scope of science while simultaneously expanding the terrain of the scientist” (p. 240). This spatiality is important to Reidy in showing how Whewell transformed the study of tides into a Humboldtian research program, rather than the temporal nature of previous studies. In contrast to earlier and recent works on Whewell, Reidy shows how this evaluator of science in Britain was much more than just a man interested in the work of scientists, but a premier scientist himself. The study of tides, which held Whewell’s interest for more than two decades, also influenced Whewell’s philosophical contributions to science – how science should be done and who should do it. Despite Whewell’s insistence that only certain persons could be scientists – those who strived for theoretical understanding of phenomena – he recognized the efforts and contributions of the often overlooked figures in history. Data collectors, calculators, and computers, doing monotonous and tedious work with ink, provided crucial information for “scientists” to devise their theories with. By looking closely at the role of these “subordinate labourers,” as Whewell referred to them, Reidy gives us a much needed contribution to the history of science, a bottom-up history in a field which too often stresses the importance of the man of science. There were many men (and women) of science, whether or not they were considered “scientists.”

While Reidy succeeds in relating the study of the tides to those with economic interests in using that knowledge – merchants, traders, etc. – what is missing from Tides of History, despite its secondary role to an understanding of the emerging scientist in the early Victorian period, is how the military aspect of the study of the tides was actually used. Examples of how the Admiralty benefited from tidal knowledge, grounded in particular events (if records exist), would surely benefit an understanding of the importance of the study of the tides, and of the relationship of scientists with the larger society. Another mistake in Tides of History, in my opinion, is in the introduction of self-registering tide gauges in Reidy’s narrative. Through reading the text, we know that data collectors observed and marked down numbers concerning the tides. We do not know, however, if and how they utilized technological instruments in carrying out their tasks. So, the invention of the self-registering tide gauge, which made it possible to record data without the hand of a person, becomes not as exciting a turn in the narrative as if the reader truly understood how earlier “subordinated labourers” collected information about the rise and fall of tides.

Despite these few problems, Tides of History is a valuable contribution to understanding the culture of science in the early Victorian period, a time when the role of scientists was becoming more connected with commerce and government, in helping to ensure Britain’s imperialistic success and reaping rewards from it. Taken with Richard Drayton’s Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain and the ‘Improvement’ of the World (Yale University Press, 2000), Tides of History offers a more complete picture of the relationship between science and society – of the political and economic importance of science and the increasingly important role of the scientist – in the nineteenth century. This is a valuable book for those interested in nineteenth-century science, the history of physical sciences, imperialism, environmental history, and maritime history to have on their shelves.

Darwin’s Dust


Two-toned dust plumes blew northward off the coast of Libya on October 26, 2007Two-toned dust plumes blew northward off the coast of Libya on October 26, 2007

This image comes from the photography blog The Big Picture from The Boston Globe. Each week’s post contains wonderful captures around a particular topic. The week of January 14 was “Earth, observed.” The dust blowing over the Atlantic brings to mind Darwin’s 1845 paper, “An account of the FINE DUST which often falls on Vessels in the ATLANTIC OCEAN,” from the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London (see this paper here on Darwin Online). Darwin writes:

On the 16th of January (1833), when the Beagle was ten miles off the N.W. end of St. Jago, some very fine dust was found adhering to the under side of the horizontal wind-vane at the mast-head; it appeared to have been filtered by the gauze from the air, as the ship lay inclined to the wind. The wind had been for twenty-four hours previously E.N.E., and hence, from the position of the ship, the dust probably came from the coast of Africa. The atmosphere was so hazy that the visible horizon was only one mile distant. During our stay of three weeks at St. Jago (to February 8th) the wind was N.E., as is always the case during this time of the year; the atmosphere was often hazy, and very fine dust was almost constantly falling, so that the astronomical instruments were roughened and a little injured. The dust collected on the Beagle was excessively fine-grained, and of a reddish brown colour; it does not effervesce with acids; it easily fuses under the blowpipe into a black or gray bead.


From the several recorded accounts it appears that the quantity of dust which falls on vessels in the open Atlantic is considerable, and that the atmosphere is often rendered quite hazy; but nearer to the African coast the quantity is still more considerable. Vessels have several times run on shore owing to the haziness of the air: and Horsburgh recommends all vessels, for this reason, to avoid the passage between the Cape Verd Archipelago and the main-land. Roussin also, during his survey, was thus much impeded. Lieut. Arlett found the water so discoloured, that the track left by his ship was visible for a long time; and he attributes this in part to the fine sand blown from the deserts, “with which everything on board soon becomes perfectly caked.”

Professor Ehrenberg has examined the dust collected by Lieut. James and myself; and he finds that it is in considerable part composed of Infusoria, including no less than sixty-seven different forms. These consist of 32 species of siliceous-shielded Polygastrica;3 of 34 forms of Phytolitharia, or the siliceous tissues of plants; and of one Polythalamia. The little packet of dust collected by myself would not have filled a quarter of a tea-spoon, yet it contains seventeen forms.

In 2007, several microbiologists published in Environmental Microbiology an article titled “Life in Darwin’s dust: intercontinental transport and survival of microbes in the nineteenth century.” The abstract

Charles Darwin, like others before him, collected aeolian dust over the Atlantic Ocean and sent it to Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg in Berlin. Ehrenberg’s collection is now housed in the Museum of Natural History and contains specimens that were gathered at the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Geochemical analyses of this resource indicated that dust collected over the Atlantic in 1838 originated from the Western Sahara, while molecular-microbiological methods demonstrated the presence of many viable microbes. Older samples sent to Ehrenberg from Barbados almost two centuries ago also contained numbers of cultivable bacteria and fungi. Many diverse ascomycetes, and eubacteria were found. Scanning electron microscopy and cultivation suggested that Bacillus megaterium, a common soil bacterium, was attached to historic sand grains, and it was inoculated onto dry sand along with a non-spore-forming control, the Gram-negative soil bacterium Rhizobium sp. NGR234. On sand B. megaterium quickly developed spores, which survived for extended periods and even though the numbers of NGR234 steadily declined, they were still considerable after months of incubation. Thus, microbes that adhere to Saharan dust can live for centuries and easily survive transport across the Atlantic.

Darwin relied on finding the means of dispersal of many organisms because, if all life on earth is related through common ancestry, some organisms had to have found ways to travel to new locations (single centers of creations versus the multiple centers of creation that some naturalists, like Louis Agassiz, postulated in order to stay true to scripture). Whether floating as seeds may do, hitchhiking on the feet or in the bowels of birds, or transporting via logs or other flotsam, or even on trains and cars, life finds a way (yes, Malcolm) to new places.

BBC’S In Our Time: The Beagle, the Mockingbird and the Megatherium

As mentioned here, BBC – Radio 4 will have several shows about Charles Darwin. In Our Time, hosted by Melvyn Bragg, continues with a 4-part series with “The Beagle, the Mockingbird and the Megatherium”:

Part 2 of 4 charts Darwin’s round the world voyage on the Beagle and the objects and the ideas he bought back.

In Our Time’s website is here, and a direct link to the mp3 here.

Beagle Voyage Begins

From Today in Science History:

In 1831, Charles Darwin set sail from Plymouth harbour on his voyage of scientific discovery aboard the HMS Beagle, a British Navy ship. The Captain Robert FitzRoy was sailing to the southern coast of South America in order to complete a government survey. Darwin had an unpaid position as the ship’s naturalist, at age 22, just out of university. Originally planned to be at sea for two years, the voyage lasted five years, making stops in Brazil, the Galap[a]gos Islands, and New Zealand. From the observations he made and the specimens he collected on that voyage, Darwin developed his theory of biological evolution through natural selection, which he published 28 years after the Beagle left Plymouth. Darwin laid the foundation of modern evolutionary theory.

The Beagle Project Blog shares the opening line of Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle:

After having been twice driven back by heavy southwestern gales, Her Majesty’s ship Beagle, a ten-gun brig, under the command of Captain Fitz Roy, R. N., sailed from Devonport on the 27th of December, 1831.

Mandeville’s Ship: Theistic Design and Philosophical History in Charles Darwin’s Vision of Natural Selection

Alter, Stephen G. “Mandeville’s Ship: Theistic Design and Philosophical History in Charles Darwin’s Vision of Natural Selection.” Journal of the History of Ideas 69 (July 2008): 441-465.

Abstract This essay examines the analogy of a savage observing a sailing ship found in the final chapter of Darwin’s Origin of Species, an image that summed up his critique of British natural theology’s “design” thesis. Its inspiration drawn from works by Mandeville and Hume, and Darwin’s experience on the Beagle voyage, the ship illustration shows how Darwin conceived of natural selection’s relationship to theistic design in terms of a historical consciousness developed by Scottish Enlightenment thinkers. That outlook involved a dual emphasis on the rationality of historical inquiry and the largely irrational character of the actual historical process. Symbolized by the history of ship construction, this perspective aided Darwin in formulating his response to British natural theology.

Also in this issue: “The Pointsman: Maxwell’s Demon, Victorian Free Will, and the Boundaries of Science”

"What’s New" at Darwin Online

These were added to The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online between May 14 and June 2, 2008:

Darwin, C. R. 1905. The voyage of the “Beagle” Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage round the world of H.M.S. “Beagle”. London: Amalgamated Press, Harmsworth Library. Image [Cover and front matter only – the first edition of Darwin’s famous work to be called ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’]

Text fully corrected by Sue Asscher: Darwin, C. R. 1872. The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 6th ed. Text Image PDF

Chancellor, Gordon. ‘Well wooded with willows’: an introduction to Beagle field notebook 1.7

Chancellor, Gordon. ‘Oh the difference with England!’: an introduction to Beagle field notebook 1.16

Colour images of: Darwin, C. R. 1872. The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 6th ed. Image PDF F391 By permission of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum (London). With thanks to Judith Magee and Jessica Warde of the Natural History Museum for scanning and providing this book.

Improved colour images of: Barlow, N. ed. 1945. Charles Darwin and the voyage of the Beagle. Image PDF

[Buob, L.] [1882.] Darwin’s Heim. Ueber Land und Meer. Allgemeine illustrierte Zeitung No. 34: 691-2, 1 plate. p. 688. Image A newly recorded recollection of a visit to Down House.

Darwin, C. R. The immersion of leaves in a solution of sugar [draft of `Insectivorous plants’ pp. 293-4] (1874-1875). Text Image A NEWLY DISCOVERED DARWIN MANUSCRIPT! With thanks to Darwin in Denmark.

Darwin C. R. 1882. [Letter to New York Entomological Club]. In H. Edwards, Obituary. Charles Robert Darwin F.R.S. Papilio. Organ of the New York Entomological Club 2, no. 5 (May): 81. Text Image A NEWLY DISCOVERED DARWIN PUBLICATION!

Darwin, C. R. 1881. [Letter to Mrs. Emily Talbot on the mental and bodily development of infants]. Social science.—Infant education. The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 15, no. 2 (April): 206-7. Text Image PDF A NEWLY DISCOVERED DARWIN PUBLICATION!

Darwin, Emma. 1868. [Letter on the spinal ice-bag]. In J. Chapman, Sea-sickness and how to prevent it: an explanation of its nature and successful treatment, through the agency of the nervous system, by means of the spinal ice-bag. With an introduction on the general principles of neuro-therapeutics. London: Trübner and Co., p. 101. Text Image

Born This Day: C. Wyville Thomson, naturalist of HMS Challenger

Born this day:

Sir C. Wyville Thomson (Born 5 Mar 1830; died 10 Mar 1882). Sir C(harles) Wyville Thomson was a Scottish naturalist who was one of the first marine biologists to describe life in the ocean depths. He led the famous 110,224-km (68,890 mile) scientific expedition of HMS Challenger in (1872-6) which trawled the depths of the oceans for new forms of life. This was the world’s first foray into big science. The expedition was to circumnavigate the world in the steam corvette, HMS Challenger, with a goal, as resolved by the British Association (1871) of “carrying the physical and biological Exploration of the deep-sea into all the great oceanic centres”. The extensive biological collections, together with soundings, bottom samples, and chemical and physical observations, presented the first broad view of the character of the oceans.

The Voyage of the… Beetle?

As we have celebrated the legacy of Charles Darwin’s life and work this past week, I find it important to share an important discovery made by Darwin scholars. Small scraps of paper found inserted into several pages of Darwin’s Beagle Diary, apparently having been removed and lost, have resurfaced in an archive. Eight scraps in all and placed in an envelope, each one contains a written “clue,” such as “Every living organism is unique. Individuals vary, even within the same species.” Even more exciting is a note from Darwin in the same envelope: “These clues to the mystery of mysteries were given me by Rosie, a friend who accompanied me on the voyage of the Beagle.” As much as we credit Darwin for the theory of evolution by natural selection, developed over decades through keen observation, tedious studies, and curious experiments, it appears that Darwin received much insipiration for his ideas from someone else. And of all people, or creatures, rather, this someone else was a beetle! Rosie was a rose chaffer beetle, and Darwin was very fond of her.

Of course, everything I’ve written here so far is nonsense – if you think I am telling you something about the real world. But what about a children’s book?

<i>The Voyage of the Beetle</i> by Anne Weaver

The Voyage of the Beetle by Anne Weaver

There are numerous books about Darwin for children, many revolving around the voyage of the Beagle. Unfortunately I have not read any of them, nor was I aware of Darwin when I was a child (I read my first book about Darwin as a senior in high school – in 1996). I have seen other children’s books about Darwin over the last few years, however, and I am going to make a leap here and say that The Voyage of the Beetle: A Journey around the World with Charles Darwin and the Search for the Solution to the Mystery of Mysteries, as Narrated by Rosie, an Articulate Beetle (1), by Anne Weaver and illustrated by George Lawrence, is one of the most attractive and effective in teaching about natural selection. Concise (and not long-winded as is the title), and wonderfully illustrated and formatted, The Voyage of the Beetle was a delight to read – and I am glad to have it on my shelf for when my son is older.

What I really enjoyed about this telling of Darwin’s life is the attention to detail that Weaver, an anthropologist, employs while fashioning a fanciful tale about Darwin’s thought process concerning “that mystery of mysteries” – the mutability of species. When Darwin first meets Rosie under a rock, he was on his way to see Professor Henslow, Darwin’s mentor at Cambridge University and influential in Darwin’s getting the chance to sail on H.M.S. Beagle. Rosie prefers to call Darwin “Charles,” rather than the nickname of “Gas” he received because of his interest in chemical experiments as a teenager (2).

Darwin the beetle collector

Darwin the beetle collector

We learn about Darwin’s initial plans to be in the clergy so he could devote time to “follow his true passion: the investigation of the natural world.” We learn that Darwin was not only an adventurer in the traditional sense, but also an adventurer in the world of ideas – “He had a rare gift for looking at old facts in a new way.” Rosie forwarns Darwin of placing a beetle in his mouth so as not to lose another, more intriguing beetle. Briefly mentioned are Darwin’s cramped quarters on the ship and his seasickness during the voyage, images of slavery in Brazil and gauchos in Argentina, an earthquake in Chile and reading Lyell’s Principles of Geology, airborne marine iguanas of the Galapagos and kiwis in New Zealand, and ornithologist John Gould and cousin Emma Wedgwood. Weaver does an excellent job of incorporating what Darwin wrote in the diary he kept while on the voyage and his 1839 book, Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Countries visited during the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the World, under the Command of Capt. Fitzroy, R.N. (later The Voyage of the Beagle), as well as small details of Darwin’s life, such as his encounter with a slave in Rio de Janeiro. Most anecdotes are less serious. In his diary entry for January 14/15, 1832, Darwin writes:

Some few birds have been hovering about the vessel 59 & a large gay coloured cricket found an insecure resting place within the reach of my fly-nippers. — He must at the least have flown 370 miles from the coast of Africa.

In The Voyage of the Beetle, this cricket has a name (as do other insects we meet):

I [Rosie] found myself wandering about the ship in search of more cheerful companionship. This I found in a fellow adventurer, a brightly colored cricket named Motley. Motley had been blown almost 400 miles from Africa and has stopped to rest in the Beagle’s rigging.

Darwin's notebook

Darwin's notebook

All along their observations and adventures, Darwin consistently asks questions about the life and landscapes encountered in South America, New Zealand, Australia, and several oceanic islands. On examining microscopic organisms in water netted from the sea, he asks, “How could such beauty be created where no one can see it?” About sea slugs in Patagonia, Darwin asks, “But what if just a few were able to hide because they were quicker at squirting ink, or because their coloring matched the rocks or kelp where they live?” And on kiwis in New Zealand, “What if all birds started out with similar wings, but in each different environment, a wing form that was slightly more useful, perhaps because of stronger chest muscles, or a sleeker shape, was passed on for generation after generation?” Following each instance of Darwin’s curiosity about the nature of species, Rosie slips into his diary a clue to help him discover the solution to “that mystery of mysteries.” Darwin’s conversations with Rosie reflect, Weaver writes, his thought process that led him eventually to the idea of natural selection.

H.M.S. <i>Beagle</i>

H.M.S. Beagle

The Voyage of the Beetle works well as an entertaining adventure story, a charming biography of the young Darwin, and an educational book about natural selection and evolution (the book states it is for grades 4 and up). The clues provided by Rosie are not just for Darwin to consider, but for the reader to also try and figure out the solution through inductive reasoning, as Rosie says, “before Darwin does.” The illustrations by George Lawrence are very nice, and as “an admirer of Charles Darwin and his theories for many years,” Weaver’s approach to this book is fresh and clever, and most importantly, accurate. There is no eureka moment on the Galapagos – Darwin does not see different species of finches and exclaim, “Aha, evolution!” Nor is there the sense that Darwin set out on the voyage to prove evolution (3).

There is even a hint in the book of Darwin’s admiration for William Paley and his work Natural Theology; to Rosie, “isn’t it astonishing how every kind, or species, of creature fits into its environment as if it were designed for it?” His observations and questions about the nature of species ultimately led to his profound conclusions, presented in his 1859 abstract (of a planned larger work!), On the Origin of Species (and not The Origin of Species). And Darwin did not avoid publishing his work because of fear from religious circles or upsetting his wife, but because, as Weaver writes in a concluding chapter, he needed to “be sure enough of his solution to share it publicly,” as historian John van Wyhewould agree (this view may be presented in The Voyage of the Beetle, however, to avoid religious matters in a children’s science book).

I hope this book finds itself on library shelves, and possibly even as an important tool for teaching kids about evolution and natural selection as we approach the bicententenary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species in 2009.

1. Anne Weaver, The Voyage of the Beetle: A Journey around the World with Charles Darwin and the Search for the Solution to the Mystery of Mysteries, as Narrated by Rosie, an Articulate Beetle (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007 [copyright 2004]).

2. See Janet Browne,Charles Darwin: Voyaging [A Biography] (New York: Alfred A. Knopf), p. 33, or Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (New York: Warner Books, 1991), p. 18.

3. I particularly like this summary from historian of science Peter J. Bowler: “The scholars of the ‘Darwin industry’ have been forced to battle against the mythological character acquired by the voyage in order to reconstruct the true story. Many aspects of the traditional legend have not been substantiated by the most recent scholarship. Thanks to the work of Frank Sulloway, we now know that Darwin did not recognize the significance of the Galapagos finches until after the Beagle had departed. He had to use other people’s collections in order to investigate the problem of speciation in this unique environment. More generally, the Darwin scholars have shown that we need to reinterpret our whole picture of what he was up to during the five years he was away. The voyage is traditionally interpreted with the benefit of hindsight: we know what use Darwin eventually made of his discoveries and we allow this to influence our evaluation of what he actually did. Once again, Darwin himself contributed to the problem by rewriting the later and more popular edition of the Journal of Researches to incorporate the fruits of his own reflections on the voyage’s significance. HIstorians now argue that we must force ourselves to accept that his conversion to evolutionism came after his return to England. If we want to understand what Darwin was actually doing while circumnavigating the globe, we must look to the notebooks and letters written at the time – which reflect a very different set of interests to those imposed by hindsight” [in Bowler, Charles Darwin: The Man and His Influence (New York: Cambridge UP, 1990), pp. 49-51].

NOTE: I have to thank Dr. Weaver for having her publisher send me a copy ofThe Voyage of the Beetle for review. There is a companion website for the book, and it has been briefly reviewed at John Hawk’s Anthropology Weblog. There are a few reviews on the book’sAmazon page as well. All illustrations in this review are fromThe Voyage of the Beetle.

The HMS Beagle Project…

… is really cool. The project is building a replica of the ship Darwin & Fitzroy sailed on between 1832 and 1836. They will resail the voyage starting in 2009 in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, doing nifty science and science education along the way. You should check their website out, and tell your friends/colleagues about it as well. They also have a shop through CafePress, where you can get your HMS Beagle Project gear to support this endeavour.

HMS Beagle Sets Sail

From Today in Science History:

In 1831, Charles Darwin set sail from Plymouth harbour on his voyage of scientific discovery aboard the HMS Beagle, a British Navy ship. The Captain Robert FitzRoy was sailing to the southern coast of South America in order to complete a government survey. Darwin had an unpaid position as the ship’s naturalist, at age 22, just out of university. Originally planned to be at sea for two years, the voyage lasted five years, making stops in Brazil, the Galapogos Islands, and New Zealand. From the observations he made and the specimens he collected on that voyage, Darwin developed his theory of biological evolution through natural selection, which he published 28 years after the Beagle left Plymouth. Darwin laid the foundation of modern evolutionary theory.

Richard at The Red Notebook has more, as does Professor Olsen and Larry Moran.

PODCAST: Robert FitzRoy FRS: sailing into the storm

Thanks to Richard Carter of The Friends of Charles Darwin for informing us (here’s his post with mp3 link) of a podcast from the Royal Society about the captain of HMS Beagle, Robert Fitzroy:

John Gribbin is the author of more than a hundred books of popular science, including FitzRoy: the remarkable story of Darwin’s Captain and the invention of the weather forecast. In this talk, he discusses FitzRoy’s career as captain of HMS Beagle and as a pioneering meteorologist. Dr John Gribbin, University of Sussex

The Beagle Project Blog on the Fitzroy podcast. Many other history of science and exploration podcasts from the Royal Society here or here. Also, the Royal Society still has their archives freely accessible until the end of November:

Royal Society digital journal archive
Back by popular demand – FREE access to science’s greatest journal archive
The Royal Society Digital Journal Archive, dating back to 1665 and comprising in excess of 60,000 articles is available FREE online for a three month period beginning 1 September 2007.
The archive contains seminal research papers and a record of some of the key scientific discoveries in the last 340 years including: Halley’s description of his comet’ in 1705; details of the double helix of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1954; and Edmond Stone’s breakthrough in 1763 that willow bark cured fevers, leading to the discovery of salicylic acid and later the development of aspirin.
The development of the digital archive means that the Society’s online collection, which until now only extended back to 1997, contains every paper ever published in the Royal Society’s journals – from the first ever peer-reviewed article in Philosophical Transactions to the most recent interdisciplinary article in Interface.
The complete archive is FREE online until the end of November 2007. Following this period, it will continue to be free as part of any of the Royal Society’s new journal subscription packages.
For further information on the archive and our packages, please visit or contact us quoting LIB1
[The image of Fitzroy is from Wellcome Images]

Good Things from The Beagle Project Blog

UPDATE: A comment in PZ Myers’ post promoting The Beagle Project Shop prompted statements from Peter McGrath and Karen ‘nunatak’ James explaining some of the “multiple aims of [their] project.”

Head on over to The Beagle Project Shop to get your gear and help “build the Beagle!” Here is the post about it at The Beagle Project Blog. Other recent posts to peruse:

An open letter to Simon Gurr: more hair please and Simon Gurr responds (about a Darwin graphic novel for 2009)
Darwin Day 2008 (yes, not 2009)
The Beagle Project: all at sea
Darwin’s bioluminescence

Today in Science History: Darwin Returns from Beagle Voyage

UPDATE: Nunatak over at The Beagle Project Blog provides her thoughts on this moment, with passages from The Voyage of the Beagle.

On October 2, 1836, Darwin returned to England after nearly 5 years on H.M.S. Beagle. His entry for this day in his Beagle diary:

October 2nd After a tolerably short passage, but with some very heavy weather, we came to an anchor at Falmouth. — To my surprise and shame I confess the first sight of the shores of England inspired me with no warmer feelings, than if it had been a miserable Portugeese settlement.1 The same night (and a dreadfully stormy one it was) I started by the Mail for Shrewsbury. —

Today in Science History: Charles Darwin

from Today in Science History:

In 1831, Charles Darwin first met Captain Robert Fitzroy, commander of HMS Beagle, who would be his cabinmate on a the historic five-year expedition (1831-36). During that voyage, Darwin visited the Galapogos Islands which inspired his theory of evolution.

Fitzroy, Darwin’s cabinmate?

In 1857, Charles Darwin, now 48 years old, had not yet published his theory of evolution. On this day, he sent a letter to Asa Gray, a Harvard botanist, discussing his theory. The encouragement which followed from Gray and others, and new knowledge that Alfred Wallace had independently developed the same theory, prompted Darwin to end 20 years of indecision and publish his ideas.

Darwin wishes to be Beagle naturalist

from Today in Science History:

In 1831, Charles Darwin replied to the letter from Revd. Henslow telling him of the offer to sail on the H.M.S. Beagle. Darwin’s had learned natural history from Henslow, who had recommended him for the unpaid position as a naturalist. Darwin told Henslow that his father would not permit him to leave on such a the voyage. Meanwhile, his father had written to his brother-in-law, Josiah Wedgwood II, about his concerns regarding the proposed two-year jaunt. This afternoon Darwin prepared to join the Wedgwoods for the next day’s beginning of the shooting season by riding to Maer Hall, the Wedgwood home. The Darwin family was related to the Wedgwood family through the marriage of Darwin’s father to the daughter of the first Josiah Wedgwood, the famous potter.

Here is the letter from Darwin to Henslow, and two other letters (1, 2) related to this event. See also The Beagle Project Blog.

Darwin invited as Beagle naturalist

from Today in Science History:

In 1831, Charles Darwin returned home from a geology field trip in North Wales to find letters from Revd. John Henslow and George Peacock informing him that he will soon be invited on a scientific voyage of HMS Beagle. He was 22 years old, and had just graduated from Cambridge University. The offer was to be a naturalist on H.M.S. Beagle for a two year survey of South America, leaving on 25 Sep. Although he immediately accepted the offer, his father and sisters were opposed. They regarded it as an idle pursuit that would delay his expected career in the clergy. His father, however, was prepared to change his mind, but only if Darwin could find a qualified man who viewed the exploit as worthwhile. Darwin spent the next two days doing just that.

Naturalist, or gentlemenly companion to Fitzroy? The two letters referred to are here and here.