here is no doubt that chance can sometimes play a central role in the development of defining events in the history of humanity. Such was the case with Charles Darwin’s opportunity to travel on the Beagle; it was without a doubt the most important experience of his life and was a key element in the development of his ideas about evolution and the origin of species.
Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. He was the fifth of six siblings and was practically raised by his sisters after the death of his mother at age six.
In 1825 he began to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, but postponed these studies to pursue theology in 1828 at Christ’s College in Cambridge, encouraged by his father, Robert Darwin, a renowned doctor and businessman in England.
During his time at university, he met the Reverend John Stevens Henslow, a botany professor to whom Charles Darwin owes a great part of his love of natural history as well as his introduction to Captain Fitz Roy. It was J. Henslow who proposed that Darwin take a position as an unpaid naturalist with Captain Fitz Roy, since the latter needed a companion and gentleman of his own social class with whom he could get on reasonably and share the trip, and who was not a formal part of the crew.
This expedition, entrusted by the British Admiralty, was preparing its second voyage to
Finish the cartographic work started during the first voyage between 1826 and 1830 under the command of Robert Fitz Roy. Fitz Roy took on the role of captain during the Beagle’s
first voyage after its first captain, Pringle Stokes, committed suicide in Tierra del Fuego.
The Beagle’s voyage lasted almost five years, sailing from Plymouth Bay, England on December 27, 1831 and arriving in Falmouth on October 2, 1836.
Its first landfall in South America was in 1832 in Bahia or San Salvador, Brazil, where Charles Darwin spent his time exploring the area, admiring the exuberance of the vegetation and the great number of new species that presented themselves before his eyes.
Continuing his exploration southward, it is important to mention his stay in Bahia Blanca, more specifically in Punta Alta. Darwin found this to be a place of great geological appeal that lent itself to the field application of the new knowledge acquired through the recent publication of the first volume on geological principles by the geologist Charles Lyell. It was here where he found enormous fossils of immense, extinct quadrupeds, and this discovery sparked his first doubts with respect to his religious beliefs.
The next destination was Cape Horn. It was on this leg of the voyage that the Beagle found itself in the most serious danger of shipwreck due to the high seas and constant storms, but it came through unscathed thanks to Fitz Roy’s great skill as a pilot.
The Beagle then sailed to Navarino Island in order to carry out another of the voyage’s main objectives: to return three natives to their homeland after they were taken to England some years before by Fitz Roy, who intended to carry out a very peculiar human experiment. The Anglican Church Mission Society chose the young and inexperienced clergyman Richard Matthews as a missionary to ensure that the seed of civilization and Christianity planted by Fitz Roy in Tierra del Fuego germinated and bore fruit.