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3. Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

Naturalist, Theory of Natural Selection

Most of what we know today about life on earth is because of the theories and concepts that Charles Robert Darwin proposed in the 19th century.

Charles Darwin was born on the 12th of February 1809 in Shropshire England, and was the fifth child of Robert and Susannah Darwin’s six children.

His father was a doctor and his mother was a financier, and they belonged to the wealthy British society.

Darwin lost his mother when he was just 8 years old, and thereafter went to a Christian boarding school with his elder brother Erasmus.

Before leaving to study medicine with Erasmus later on, Darwin apprenticed as a doctor under his father at 14 years.

Medicine did not interest him and Darwin in his second year of medical study began attending group debates on natural history, and assisted in investigations of the life cycle of marine life forms.

His father was rather disappointed in him that he was neglecting his medical studies, cunningly sent him to train to become an Anglican parson.

Darwin was not so excited about his studies, and preferred instead to be outdoors, riding or shooting.

During this time, his cousin William introduced him to the latest craze at that time – collecting beetles.

He began working closely with botany professors, passed all his exams well, and got recruited to join the HMS Beagle on her 5-year expedition to chart the coastline of South America.

During his expedition, Darwin investigated geology, pursued his beetle collecting, and managed to dissect marine invertebrates (life forms that do not have a vertebral column or spine).

His extensive observations and experiments led him to make careful notes of everything, and to theorize on many different things, which were eventually published.

His father, who himself was a doctor finally began supporting and funding Darwin’s scientific work, allowing Darwin to become a self-funded gentleman scientist, which gained him much fame in the scientific circles of England.

His theory of natural selection began with his study of the Galápagos mockingbirds. He believed that “one species does change into another” depending on where they live, because they can “adapt and alter the race to changing world”.

He soon gained recognition as a biologist, after earning the Royal Medal from the Royal Society in 1853.

He published many books on botany and science, which are the foundations for many modern theories.

He uncovered how humans evolved from earlier animals, and explained why so many birds and animals have bright colours and their adaptations to their environments.

He analysed men’s dominance over women as the result of sexual selection (another one of his many interests).

The last twenty odd years of his life was shadowed by much sickness but he still continued his work.

He married his cousin Emma Wedgwood and had ten children, of which two died as infants. He was a caring father who was always supportive of his kids.

However, he suspected certain genetic causes that may be linked to their many sicknesses because of his marriage to his cousin, Emma.

However, three of his many children became an astronomer, botanist, and civil engineer, while another was a soldier, politician, economist, and mentor.

His lifetime of many sicknesses was finally diagnosed to be a disease of the heart, and he finally died on 19th April 1882 from a heart failure.

His last words to his wife Emma were “I am not the least afraid of death – Remember what a good wife you have been to me – Tell all my children to remember how good they have been to me".

Even though he had wanted to be buried in his town’s churchyard, he was given a state funeral and buried in Westminster Abbey close to Sir Isaac Newton.

The period of Darwin is now known as “the eclipse of Darwinism” and it encouraged scholars to debate on so many biological and anatomical ideas that have led to an improvement of Darwin’s theories.