1836 October 4
Darwin arrived at The Mount in the evening and found the family
was fast asleep. The next morning he strolled into the dining
room while his father and sisters were having breakfast. An
immediate pandemonium of delight broke out all over the house.
Much celebration commenced and a few of the servants became
After the house quieted down, Darwin spent the day writing letters
to all his friends and relatives. Charles Robert Darwin, once
an insecure college graduate, had become a seasoned naturalist
and a man at the start of a journey whose conclusion would forever
change the way humanity views its place in the world.
1836 October 15
Darwin went to Cambridge to see his friend Revd.
John Stevens Henslow. When he arrived he spent a long time
talking with Revd. Henslow about what to do with all his collections
of specimens. Later in the week he met with Adam Sedgwick and
they talked for hours on end about the geology of South America.
Darwin went to London to visit with his brother, Erasmus. He
also spent a lot of time going to all the London museums, hunting
for people to examine and catalogue his specimens. Unfortunately,
nearly all the museums were seriously backlogged with specimens
recently brought in from the British Colonies.
1836 October 24
Darwin spent his time waiting around in London for the Beagle
to arrive at the Woolwich dockyards.
1836 October 29
H.M.S. Beagle arrived at the Woolwich dockyards to be paid off.
Darwin got the remaining crates off the ship with Syms
Covington's help. He became very worried about what to do
with the huge pile of crates sitting on the dock. Eventually
much of them went to Revd. Henslow in Cambridge. In the evening
he met Charles Lyell
for the first time at Lyell's house for dinner, and was also
introduced to Richard
Owen. Lyell helped Darwin in finding naturalists to take
his specimens for examination, and Owen eagerly volunteered
to examine some his animal and fossil specimens.
At some time during this month Darwin severed his friendship
with Robert Grant,
an old friend and teacher from his Edinburgh days. Grant was
very interested in looking over his specimens of coral, but
Darwin did not want his years of hard work tainted by a radical
evolutionist trouble maker. From this time forward Darwin and
Robert Grant parted ways forever.
1836 November 1
A proposal was put forth to admit Charles Darwin as a Fellow
of the Royal Geological Society.
1836 November 11
After spending a week with his fossil specimens at the Royal
College of Surgeons, Darwin headed to Shrewsbury for a ten day
visit. He also went to see his uncle Josiah at Maer Hall, and
to Overton to visit his sister, Marianne, and her husband, Henry
Parker. While visiting Maer Hall, his uncle suggested to Darwin
that he should publish a book of his five year voyage around
1836 December 06
Darwin returned to London and disposed of all his fossils at
the Royal College of Surgeons. He spent the next week engaged
in looking for naturalists to take his other specimens.
1836 December 13
Darwin left London for Cambridge and stayed at Revd.
Henslow's house. While there he gave a talk to the Cambridge
Philosophical Society about the formation of glassy tubes that
were formed when lightening struck the sandy beaches near Maldonado,
1836 December 16
Perhaps because he felt his was imposing on the Henslow's, Darwin
moved out and took lodgings in 22 Fitzwilliam Street, Cambridge.
Darwin spent the winter writing a paper on South America, and
organizing his huge collection of specimens.
1837 January 4
This was a big day for Darwin. Today he gave his first speech
before the Royal Geological Society in London. He was very nervous!
All the experts in geology were there and this was Darwin's
big chance to prove himself to his peers. The topic of his paper
was on the gradual raising of South America over eons of time.
He concluded that as land masses raise upward, the nearby ocean
floor subsides, and that the animals on the raising continent
somehow or another adapt to these very slow changes (at this
time Darwin had no idea how this happened). This theory represented
a shift away from Lyell's theory which stated that animals cannot
adapt, but rather die out and are replaced with new species.
This was one of the earliest signs that Darwin was beginning
to develop his own theories, going beyond his mentors. The speech,
by the way, was received very well by nearly all the geologists
1837 March 6
Darwin left Cambridge and moved in with his brother in London.
Over the next few weeks his brother, Erasmus, introduced him
to London's more influential scientific elite's. One of these
elite's was Charles
Babbage, the inventor of the "difference engine" - the first
calculating machine, and forerunner of modern computers. Babbage
introduced Charles Darwin to the idea that everything in nature
worked according to specific laws. This idea prompted Darwin
to seek out the natural laws which governed the transmutation
1837 middle of March
Darwin moved out of his brother's place and took up residence
nearby in 36 Great Marlborough Street. Syms
Covington stayed on as his servant. During this month Darwin
began to have doubts about the idea of new species coming about
by a series of miraculous creations, and he was starting to
question Paley's "argument from design" thesis. Based on his
observations during the Beagle voyage, Darwin saw that some
new theory of speciation was needed. This was to become his
quest, to discover the process by which new species come to
1837 late March
For the past few months John
Gould, an ornithologist at the London Zoo Museum, had been
examining the birds Darwin brought back from the Galapagos Islands.
Gould quickly discovered that the birds were not finches, blackbirds,
wrens, and gross beaks as Darwin thought, but were in fact all
distinct species of finches. Upon further examination Gould
saw that the major distinction between the finches was the shape
of their beaks.
now had an exciting mystery on his hands. How did an original
population of finches from the mainland migrate to the Galapagos
and then change into several species? Unfortunately, Darwin
did a very poor labeling job on the birds for he did not think
that noting what island they were found on was important. Over
the next few months he got in touch with other Beagle crew members
who had also collected birds at the Galapagos, and luckily many
of them had labeled which island their birds were taken from.
Armed with his new finch location data, Darwin saw that each
species existed its own island, somehow filling some kind of
1837 May 3
Darwin was influenced by the recent discovery of "fossilized
monkeys" in Africa. He conjectured that such fossils were evidence
that mankind was descended from some kind of ape ancestor. However,
he dared not mention this to anyone, as such talk was tantamount
1837 May - June
Theories of how new species come into being started to fill
Darwin's head. He discussed the topic of species change with
his new friend, Richard
Owen. As far as Owen was concern, each species had its own
"organizing energy" which dictated how far a species can change
(not very much, according to Owen). Furthermore, there was a
relationship between the complexity of a species and the power
of this organizing force. Darwin told Owen he agreed with his
basic theory, but he did not see why their should be limits
to change. Owen then gave Darwin a stern lecture on the subject,
reminding him that there was no reason for new species to come
into being. Darwin was quickly learning to keep his mouth shut
regarding the transmutation of species.
By this time Darwin was slowly becoming obsessed with transmutation.
One of his earliest theories of species change was that each
species has a fixed life span and somehow they became extinct
when their "life force" was used up. In his "Red Notebook" which
he started onboard the Beagle, he noted that the giant llamas
of South America seemed to die out even though they had not
experienced a climatic change. For Darwin this pointed to their
"life force" running out. Still, he had to explain how new species
of llama took the place of the extinct ones. This line of inquiry
was put on hold because he had to finish editing his "Journal
of Researches" and he was also working on his "Zoology" series.
It was during this time that Darwin began to experience stomach
troubles for days on end.
1837 June 20
After seven months of work his volume of the "Journal of Researches"
was finally complete, but publication was delayed because the
volume Capt. FitzRoy
was writing was going slower than anticipated. Darwin started
writing another book on South American geology, and also devoted
much time to the study of transmutation - in secret of course.
1837 around July
Darwin began his "B" Notebook in which he put down his thoughts
on the subject of transmutation. In this notebook Darwin examined
four general questions --
- what was the evidence for species transmutation?
- how did species adapt to a changing environment?
- how were new species formed?
- how one could account for the similarities between different
One of the highlights of the B Notebook was his analogy of a
branching tree to represent common descent of all species.
The next few months were spent deep in thought about transmutation.
Darwin started trying to figure out how plants and animals crossed
from mainland continents to islands far out in the ocean. During
this time he only spoke to his brother about his transmutation
1837 September 20
Darwin was experiencing heart problems which may have been caused
by the stress brought on by his heretical transmutation research.
He stopped work for a short time and went home to Shrewsbury,
stopping along the way to visit the Wedgwood estate. During
this visit he paid particular attention to his first cousin,
The first volume of "Zoology" was published ("Zoology of the
Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, Part I"). This first in a series of
five books covered the fossil mammals collected during the Beagle
1838 February 5
Darwin accepted the position of vice-president of the Entomological
Society, despite Lyell's
warning not to let such appointments get in the way of his research
During this time Darwin was struggling between the desire to
go public with his transmutation theories, and being ostracized
by his fellow naturalists (Henslow,
and others). He solved this dilemma by keeping quiet for the
time being. To add more stress to his life, Darwin was starting
to disagree with his peers about the preeminence of mankind.
For Darwin, all species were equally impressive right down to
the simple earthworms. For him, natural laws determined how
an organism developed and such laws play no favorites. The only
problem was that he had no idea what these laws of nature were.
1838 middle of March
He started his "C" notebook which focused mainly on transmutation,
the distribution of species, the relation between habit and
structure, and behavioral adaptations. The manner in which Darwin
gathered information for this notebook was rather clever. He
fired off a list of questions to pigeon breeders, dog breeders,
experts on animal husbandry, and a host of other animal experts.
The questions centered on how they bred animals and the results
they got from different kinds of crosses. In a time when the
subject of variation of species was taboo, this was a "harmless"
way to gather information that may support the theories he was
Darwin began to formulate a crude notion "Descent" and was just
getting started with the idea of "Fitness." From the breeders
he wrote letters to he learned that an animal need not be perfectly
suited to its environment in order to survive. Indeed, he learned
that the bird breeders were selecting traits that would be harmful
to the animals in the wild (bright gaudy colors, huge clumsy
feathers, etc.). He also saw that nature was eliminating the
same variations that breeders were trying to encourage. The
question was, how did nature kill them off?
For a fleeting moment Darwin toyed with the idea of a struggle
for existence. He also began to see that the adaptation of species
was relative to the environment a species lived in. As the environment
changed, so too did species change in order to survive. The
commonly held belief that all species were perfectly adapted
to their surroundings was therefore false. He was also convinced
that there were no separate races of man, but only environmentally
adapted modifications of them. Soon, Darwin was expanding the
influence of descent, making it responsible for emotions, habits,
instincts, ethics, and morals.
1838 March 28
There was a new curiosity at the London Zoo and Darwin went
out to have a look. It was an orangutan named Jenny. He was
fascinated by this orangutan and spent many an hour observing
it. Jenny, it seemed, displayed emotions in the same manner
as a human child. Darwin was fascinated!
1838 Spring or Summer
The first thoughts of getting married started to run through
Darwin's head. He even went so far as to jot down a list of
pros and cons of marriage. If he remained a bachelor he could
go wherever he wished - tour Europe, maybe even visit America
and do geology. Marriage would mean children, and that would
mean a loss of time with his research. He would become a fat
and idle gentleman. However, marriage would also mean he would
have someone to look after him, someone to talk to and care
for. He also considered taking a professorship at Cambridge,
or if he lived out in the country he would have the peaceful
quiet of a private life and could breed plants and animals.
1838 Spring or Summer
While reading up on animal breeding, Darwin came across a pamphlet
written by a politician and professional animal breeder by the
name of Sir John Sebright. It was titled "The Art of Improving
Breeds of Domestic Animals" (1809). In this pamphlet Darwin
was struck by one particular statement which said that the weak
do not survive long enough to pass on their traits.
1838 May 10
Darwin paid a visit to Revd.
Henslow at Cambridge for a few days and had thoughts of
settling there. He did not like London very much, but unfortunately
that was where all the "action" was for the natural sciences.
Darwin began to consider that human thoughts and actions were
inherited and governed by some sort of natural law. If true,
this would imply that not only men, but also women, should be
educated to the highest possible standards. By doing so one's
children would get a double dose of beneficial traits. He told
his theory of inherited characteristics to Henslow but he thought
it was utter foolishness. Perhaps it was to Lamarckian
Due to concern for his reputation, Darwin decided to not publish
any of his transmutation theories for many years to come.
His health problems started to become worse - more heart troubles,
stomach pains, nausea, and headaches. Figuring that some time
in the country would do him some good, Darwin went on holiday
to northern Scotland. He explored the Glen Roy valley, forty
miles south-west of Inverness, where he studied the famous "Parallel
Roads" running along the sides of the valley. He theorized that
the roads were caused by the retreat of ancient seas as the
valley rose over eons of time. If true, this would add support
to his theory of raising land masses (these formations are now
known to have been caused by the action of retreating glacial
1838 July 15
Darwin left Scotland in good health and high spirits and paid
a visit back home at Shrewsbury. He told his father about the
transmutation theories he had been working on. He also brought
up the subject of marrying his cousin, Emma Wedgwood. His father
reminded him that the Wedgwoods were far more religious than
the Darwins, especially the women. If he was going to marry
Emma Wedgwood, it would be prudent to keep his non-religious
opinions to himself. While Darwin was at The Mount he started
his "D" and "M" Notebooks. The D Notebook focused on species
reproduction and the origin of adaptation, while the M Notebook
continued with the origin of adaptation, and then went on to
the origin of man, and the expression of emotions.
1838 July 29
Darwin rode out to the Wedgwood estate to see Emma. They spent
much time together, engaged in intimate conversation, but he
did not bring up the topic of marriage. He did, however, do
exactly what his father told him not to do - he expressed his
religious views to Emma. In brief, he told her he believed that
nature was not influenced by divine intervention, but rather,
nature worked according to specific natural laws.
1838 August 1
Upon returning to London Darwin started to work on the topic
of free will, theorizing that all thoughts and actions were
simply functions of the brain following the dictates of natural
laws. He did, however, see these natural laws as a product of
god's creation. By now Darwin had several projects going at
the same time. The Beagle Journal was waiting to be published
(Capt. FitzRoy was
still causing delays), the Zoology series needed a lot of work,
the Geology of South America book was being edited down to a
smaller text on the formation of coral reefs, and a paper he
was writing on his observations at Glen Roy was coming along
well. In his spare time (one wonders how he managed to find
any!) he went to the London Zoo to observe the facial expressions
of baboons and monkeys.
Darwin had a dream of being executed by hanging.
Darwin read a book by the famous economist, Revd.
Thomas Malthus, titled "Essay on the Principle of Population."
In this book Malthus put forward the economic theory that as
human populations grow and resources become scarce the weak
die off in a struggle for existence. Darwin theorized that the
same kind of relationship may exist in the wild. In other words,
what Malthus saw in economics, Darwin saw in nature.
1838 October 2
Darwin began his "E" and "N" Notebooks. The "E" book continued
his transmutation ideas, his thoughts on the population theory
of Thomas Malthus, how variation and adaptation are related,
the rate of species change, the separation of the sexes, and
the differences between selection by animal breeders and selection
in nature. The "N" Notebook continued the topics covered in
"M" but with fewer theoretical considerations and more definition
1838 November 11
Charles Darwin proposed to Emma Wedgwood at Maer Hall. Everyone
at the house was overjoyed, especially the Wedgwood ladies.
The next day Darwin went to Shrewsbury to tell his father and
sisters, all of whom were extremely happy for him. Arrangements
were made for Darwin and Emma to receive a £5,000 dowry,
plus £400 a year from Josiah Wedgwood II, along with £10,000
from his father, Dr. Robert Darwin, which would be invested
for the newlyweds. Now Darwin could look forward to not having
to work for a living; giving him plenty of free time for his
book writing and transmutation research.
To get an idea of how well off Darwin and Emma would be, it
may be useful to consider the average yearly wages for certain
occupations during the Victorian era -
Wealthy merchant or banker - £10,000 a year
Physician or lawyer - £1,500 a year
Civil servants - £500 a year
Assuming the £15,000 they received was invested wisely
(most of it was) and brought in an annual yield of 10%, they
could expect an annual income of about £2,000 a year. While
this may not seem like a lot today, in the 1830's this amount
was considered a small fortune.
1838 late November
After all the marriage details were worked out, Darwin returned
to London and started house hunting. He continued working with
the variation of species and now saw that the methods of nature
and breeders were not all that different, but while nature worked
on millions of characteristics, breeders worked on only a few.
Both, however, weeded out undesirable traits.
1839 January 1
Darwin moved into 12 Upper Gower Street, London (just a few
blocks from Regent's Park). His servant, Syms
Covington, helped him move all his belongings. After a few
days the house looked like a cluttered museum of natural history.
1839 January 24
Darwin was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.
1839 January 29
Charles Darwin married Emma Wedgwood at St. Peter's Church at
Maer. The newlyweds returned to London rather hastily, making
the guests quite upset. One possible explanation for leaving
early may have been that by now Darwin had developed his fear
of being in crowds of people for long periods of time.
Emma started to become very worried about Darwin's salvation.
She was aware that his transmutation research was consuming
his thoughts and she feared it may lead him away from Christianity.
A few weeks later Syms Covington said farewell to Darwin and
headed off to Australia along with thousands of other British
citizens during this time. A gentleman by the name of Joseph
Parslow became Darwin's new servant, a position he would hold
for the next forty years.
Winter or Spring
Darwin began flooding animal breeders and farmers with a seemingly
endless barrage of questions about species variation and inheritance.
He compiled a list of twenty-one questions, written on eight
quarto pages. He wished to know, for example, if the characteristics
of hybrids are maintained in future generations, how cross breeding
effected the vigor of a species, and the results of crossing
wild types with established breeds. Unfortunately the list of
questions overwhelmed the breeders due to their complexity and
as a result very few of them responded.
1839 late May
The three volume narrative of the Beagle voyage was finally
published. It included Capt. Philip King's narrative of the
first Beagle voyage, and Darwin's and Capt.
FitzRoy's narratives of the second. The Victorians were
quite keen on books with long titles, in this case it was -
"Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure
and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836." Unfortunately,
the books received luke warm reviews, mainly due to volume two
and three being too repetitious.
Darwin finished working on his transmutation notebooks (N was
the last one) and continued with his book - "The Structure and
Distribution of Coral Reefs." Concern that his ideas would be
used for atheistic revolutionary ends, he decided not to publish
anything from the notebooks and shelved them.
Darwin's narrative of the Beagle voyage was published separately
and given the title - "Journal of Researches into the Natural
History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage
of H.M.S. Beagle." Fortunately, this time his journal sold very
well, and still does so today - 162 years later.
Darwin and Emma had their first child, a boy whom they named
William Erasmus Darwin, after one of Darwin's great-grandfathers.
Migraines, pains in the heart, nausea and stomach problems started
taking a heavier toll on Darwin. By now even a little excitement
in his life brought on illness, so he became more and more of
Darwin was still experiencing ill health. He went home to Shrewsbury
to have his father examine him. The Doctor was at a loss and
gave a diagnosis of "cause unknown."
Being quite ill all summer and confined to bed, Darwin got very
little work done on his book writing projects or his transmutation
Darwin gave a lot thought to how a bat's wings developed over
time and wondered what good half a wing would do. Perhaps wings
previously had a different function? Darwin also pondered over
fossil evidence for the transmutation of species. At the time
there were very few of them in the museums, but he figured in
the future enough would be found to provide evidence for one
species changing into another.
Darwin was still sick and could only work for a few hours a
day. Due to ill health, he resigned from the Geological Society.
1841 March 2
Anne Elizabeth Darwin was born.
By this time Darwin saw the need to get out of London and into
the clean open countryside. His father agreed to buy him a house.
The summer was spent looking for a new place out in the country,
but still close enough to London so he would be able to visit
his fellow naturalists.
1842 March 7
At long last Darwin completed his Coral Reefs book. He then
went to Shrewsbury, hoping the escape from London would do his
health some good. His plan was not successful, however.
Part one of Darwin's Geological Observations series - "The Structure
and Distribution of Coral Reefs" was published by Smith, Elder
1842 late June
While at Shrewsbury Darwin wrote up a thirty-five page sketch
of his ideas about transmutation. This was the very first rough
draft of his theory. In it he had natural selection figured
out, and had a basic description of descent, both of which he
said obeyed strict laws of nature. It is interesting to note
that at this time Darwin thought these "laws of nature" were
set forth by god during creation, after which time god stepped
back and no longer intervened with the universe.
Darwin made an outline of reasons not to published his transmutation
 Fellow naturalists would never accept his ideas.
 animal breeders would find a huge treatise too boring to
 the trouble making atheists would use it for their evil
 the church would scorn him.
 he did not want to be labeled an atheist.
 he would betray his friends and family to whom he owed so
1842 July 18
Still not feeling better, Darwin returned to London and rewrote
his rough sketch, expanding it a little. His spare time was
used up in house hunting.
1842 July 22
At last he located a suitable house in Kent. It was called Down
House, and he purchased it (rather, his father did) for about
£2,000. It was just a mile or two south of the village
of Downe, Kent with a population of about 450 people.