Charles Darwin Journey HMS Beagle

Darwin’s voyage: HMS Beagle 1831-6


Bob: Hi there, welcome to Past Masters, from the National Archives in London. I’m Bob and this is-

Jo: Jo

Bob: And this is the very first episode in a new series of podcasts where each month we will take a look at a different historical event with the help of a few items from the staggering 178 kilometres of collections we have here at the Archives. Do you want to tell the listening world what we’ve got in store for them?

Jo: Pfff. Gosh. Love letters, secret service files, six million maps, Christmas cards, photographs, bar bills, signed confessions, lost property-

Bob: I meant this month.

Jo: Ah, oh yes. This month we are going back to the 1830s. In December 1831, Charles Darwin accepted his first job out of university and at 22 set sail aboard HMS Beagle for South America.

Bob: 22? It’s really hard to think of him being young.

Jo: You need to get those old beardy pictures out of your head. This might be the most important gap year in history. In five years away from home Darwin ate armadillo in Patagonia, made Chilean girls blush, took hallucinogenic drugs, met the Queen of Tahiti, saw cities destroyed and collected plants and animals previously unknown to science.

Bob: Not all at the same time.

Jo: The voyage makes Darwin question some of the most basic scientific principles of his age; ultimately he goes on to rewrite not only science but the whole of human history.

Bob: I’ve got a bunch of stuff from the Archive.

Jo: And so have I.

Bob: And between us and our very talented actors reading from documents from inside and outside the Archives, we are going to try to find out what life aboard the Beagle was like and exactly how the voyage influenced Darwin’s ideas. I’m ready for some titles, I don’t know about you.

Jo: Absolutely.

Bob: So what was Darwin doing on the Beagle in the first place?

Jo: Usually the Ship’s Surgeon is in charge of the science aboard ship. He would be the one to collect and examine the plant and animal species that the ship might come across. But Robert Fitzroy, Captain of the Beagle doesn’t rate his surgeon. He wants a University trained expert aboard. Partly it’s to keep him company.

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