He formed his first ideas about how species develop while he was
voyaging on the HMS Beagle on which he was employed as - unpaid -
naturalist. His studies of the flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands
made him realise how each species develops to exploit particular
resources and therefore become most "fit" for its habitat. The idea of
Survival of the Fittest is often misunderstood to mean the strongest,
rather than the best adapted.
earlier work by
people like Lyell, who had already realised
the vast expanses of time necessary to undergo the geological processes
that had formed the earth, Darwin might have faced a tougher struggle
to have his ideas accpeted. But the tides of thought were already
changing. Others were starting to consider the possibility that natural
forces might drive species development and Darwin himself always
credited biologist Alfred Russel Wallace with having discovered very
similar ideas independently.
rex - A fit species?
(Oxford Natural History Museum)
His ideas were not without
opponents, however, and the overriding opinion among
scholars of the day was that Darwin's theories were mostly conjecture
and that there was very little evidence in his publication. There
was a special meeting of
British Association for the Advancement of Science a year after "On the
Origin of Species by Natural Selection" was published in1859. It was at
this meeting that Darwin's great opponent Bishop Samuel Wilberforce
challenged "Darwin's Bulldog" T H Huxley by asking whether it was
through his grandfather or grandmother that he claimed decent from
monkeys. Huxley's reported reply was that he would rather be decended
from two apes than be "a man afraid to face the truth".
Darwin's home in later life, and where he wrote "Origin of Species", was Down House in Kent.(left) The beautiful property stands overlooking the Kent countryside and is surrounded by woods and farmland. Around the house was Darwin's "thinking path" where he often walked to gather his thoughts before retiring to his study (see top picture) to put them on paper. His experiments were all over the study and often spilled out into the kitchen, drawing room and even on to the billiard table if he needed more room.
Top of page