Part 3 - All at Sea

It Happened on Galapagos, Didn't It?
"TOM STOPPARD opens the series by describing his experiences in the Galapagos islands, where natural history drove Darwin to develop his theory of evolution."1

The 'cause and effect' relationship between Darwin's visit to the Galapagos islands, in 1835, and the formulation of his evolutionary hypothesis has been touted around so often that few people would even think of drawing a division between the visit and the thought.  Yet it is, in fact, essential to separate the two things if we are ever to discover the truth about Darwin.

The real impact of the Galapagos islands on the young Darwin had to do with their unique geological features rather than their fauna and flora.  As Peter Brent observed in his biography of Darwin:

"At the time, the principle significance of the Galapagos was concerned, lay in their volcanic formation.  The real meaning of his work there would not become apparent to him for several years."2

Charles Darwin - Geologist

If Darwin had any genuine scientific talent it must surely have been as a geologist, an irony (as we shall see later) that has tended to be overshadowed by the fame of The Origin.  Yet here, as in so much of Darwin's life, researchers are confronted by a wealth of ambiguity.

Darwin's earliest introduction to the study of geology seems to have been through the lectures by Robert Jameson which he attended during his student days in Edinburgh.  Many years later Darwin noted, in his autobiography:

"[Jameson's lectures] were incredibly dull.  The sole effect they produced on me was the determination never as long as I lived to read a book on Geology or in any way to study the science."3

Despite this alleged dislike of the subject, however, Darwin spent most of August, 1931 (shortly after graduation) on a geological tour of Wales in the company of a Cambridge professor of geology, Adam Sedgwick.  This experience was to prove the more timely since Captain Fitzroy presented Darwin with the first volume of Charles Lyell's major work - Principles of Geology - as a welcoming present.
By studying Lyell's work (he had the second and third volumes sent on to him during the voyage) Darwin effectively taught himself the hated subject.  Indeed, he embraced it so enthusiastically that he later recounted that when the Beagle made its first stop, at St. Iago in the Cape Verde islands:

"It then first dawned on me that I might write a book on the geology of the countries visited, and this made me thrill with delight."4

Various passages in Darwin's correspondence during the voyage and in his later reminisciences indicate that 'geologising' became almost an obsession, and there is nothing untoward in his fascination with the geological structure of the Galapagos islands.  But we're jumping ahead of ourselves, for Darwin nearly missed seeing the Galapagos islands at all.  And that was due to further conflict with his father.

False Starts

We left Darwin, you will remember, in line for the post of naturalist aboard the Beagle.  This was not so much for his skill as a naturalist, as for his suitability as a companion for Captain Fitzroy during the five year voyage.

Evolutionists have been known to object to this interpretation, but are usually forced to manipulate the evidence to support their view.  This parrticular example is taken from a pocket book biography of Darwin by John and Mary Gribben:

"It is often suggested that Darwin was approached not as a naturalist, but simply as an acceptable young gentleman, who liked to hunt.  That is far from being the complete truth.  To be sure, he was a young gentleman, and he did like to hunt.  But he had recommended by Henslow ... who was well aware that Darwin was an able naturalist, had more than a smattering of geology, and would himself benefit from the experience. ... Henslow wrote to assure Darwin that he saw him as 'amply qualified for collecting, observing, and noting any thing worthy to be noted in Natural History ... I assure you I think you are the very man they are in search of.' 5
Unfortunately the Gribbins have carefully removed this quotation from its context, and with good reason.  When we put this apparently glowing recommendation back in context we see a rather different story, as in this (fuller) version of Henslow's letter6:
"I have stated that I consider you to be the best qualified person I know of who is likely to undertake such a situation - I state this not on the supposition of your being a finished Naturalist, but as amply qualified for collecting, observing and noting anything worthy to be noted in Natural History. ... Captain F. wants a man ... more as a companion than as a mere collector and would not take anyone however good a Naturalist who was not recommended to him likewise as a gentleman. ... Don't put on any modest doubts or fears about your qualifications for I assure you I think you are the very man they are in search of.' "7
Far from being an enthusiastic endorsement of Darwin's scientific abilities, the letter reads to me as nothing more than an assurance that Darwin has the social status needed to qualify him as Fitzroy's companion, and enough knowledge of natural history to qualify him as a general dogsbody collecting samples and making general observations.

At this point, despite having already accepted the post, according to Jenyns, Darwin does a typical about face.

Replying to Henslow's letter, on August 30th, 1831, Charles writes:

"My father, although he does not decidedly refuse me, gives such strong advice against going, that I should not be comfortable if I did not follow it."8
As you will have gathered by now, the filial obedience implied by that final phrase must be taken with a large pinch of salt.
Dr Robert Darwin actually gave eight reasons for objecting to his son's proposed adventure.9  Much of the problem stemmed from the fact that Charles still hadn't plucked up the courage to tell his father that he did not, after all, intend to enter the church.  Not unreasonably, Dr Darwin felt that a lengthy sea voyage, no matter how worthy its purpose, was rather inappropriate preparation for life as an Anglican vicar, and his eventual decision to approve his son's plans cannot have been arrived at easily (even though it was in response to a carefully argued letter written - at Charles' instigation - by his (maternal) uncle and future father-in-law, Josiah Wedgewood).

So, at last, having overcome all 'domestic' difficulties, a bad attack of psychosomatic illness, and two false starts, Darwin and the Beagle finally set sail from Plymouth on December 27th, 1831.  (They were to have set sail the day before, but the crew celebrated Christmas day so enthusiastically that they couldn't find the ship in time to catch the tide on the 26th!)

For the next five years Charles fulfilled his role as Fitzroy's companion-cum-ship's naturalist.  It is true that Darwin was dogged by a tendency to sea-sickness, and relations between himself and the authoritarian Captain Fitzroy worsened steadily throughout the voyage.
Nonetheless, Darwin may be judged to have carried out his duties as naturalist (mainly the collecting of 'specimens') at least adequately.  The one question that still hung over Darwin, like a sword of damocles, was how he could explain to his father that he would not take up a career in the clergy.
The solution to Darwin's dilemma arrived quite unexpectedly and, one imagines, to Darwin's great relief.

According to biographer Peter Brent, the letter (dated late1835) was from Darwin's sister, Susan, and it contained details of a letter from Professor Sedgwick (with whom Charles had toured Wales shortly after graduating from Cambridge).
Sedgwick, it seems, had been much impressed by some of the letters which Darwin had written to Henslow during the voyage.  These had been read out to the Geological Society, and Sedgwick offered the opinion that:

"He [Darwin] is doing admirably in S. America ... & if God spare his life, he will have a good name among the Naturalists of Europe ..."10

Darwin Myth #4: The Visit

Since it seems unlikely that there were two such letters (both linked to Henslow's public reading of Darwin's letters), it is interesting to note some significant amendments in Darwin's version of this event.  Darwin recalls that, when the Beagle finally reached Ascension Island (July, 1836), he collected a letter in which his sisters declared that Sedgwick, far from simply writing, had travelled all the way to the Darwin family home to make his comments in person.  He had, moreover, not merely suggested that Darwin would "have a good name".  Rather he had gone so far as to assure Robert Darwin that Charles "should take a place among the leading scientific men."11

Given his status, any commendation by Sedgwick would have been worth having.  One cannot help but wonder why, even years later, with his reputation established, Darwin still found it necessary to indulge in this gilding of the proverbial lily.

Things were looking up, but Darwin must have known that this 'good name' would only last as long as it was accompanied by 'good deeds', so to speak.

Charles Darwin - Evolutionist

Such was the situation, then, which faced Darwin when he at last returned to England, on October 4th, 1836.  His family were, quite naturally, overjoyed at his return.  Yet only two days later Darwin wrote to Henslow:

"I want your advice on many points. ... I am in the clouds & neither know what to do, or where to go ..."12
The confusion was purely temporary, however, and sometime in the next few months Darwin began to see where his path lay.  The answer, as we now know, was in the evolutionary hypothesis, and there were at least three good reasons why he chose this particular route to fame.

Firstly, Darwin's (paternal) grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, had been a strong believer in the possibility of evolution, as demonstrated in his famous book, Zoonomia.  Although Erasmus had died before his grandson was born, still Charles was well-acquainted with his grandfather's ideas.  And how could Robert Darwin possibly criticise his son for wanting to follow this line of study without, by implication, criticising his own father?

Secondly, the whole subject of evolution, though still publicly rejected by the scientific establishment, was attracting an increasing amount of attention.  Despite Darwin's rejection of such a possibility, evolution was indeed "in the air" long before The Origin was eventually published.  He must also have been aware, as in 1836-37 (or even earlier), that whoever satisfactorily resolved the 'evolution question' would indeed take a position of eminence amongst the scientific men of the age.

Darwin's third reason for choosing to study evolution, or the 'transmutation of species' as it was then called, was at the same time the most important - and the least publicised.  To put it bluntly, all the hard work, the intuition, and the scientific insight, had already been done.  Darwin himself had only to gather together the 'evidence' which would make the hypothesis academically respectable.

The Years of Indecision

There is an unfortunate tendency among some evolutionists, to dismiss anyone who disagrees with their views as a closet creationist.  Let me re-emphasise, then, that despite his discovery of the true source of Darwin's 'inspiration', and the extent of Darwin's debt to that source, Professor Eiseley remained convinced of Darwin's essential genius, and a comfirmed evolutionist, so far as I am aware, right up to the time of his death in 1977.
I must admit that this writer is unable to share that admiration.  It is my belief that Darwin was the tool, albeit apparently unwilling, of a certain eminent scientist, and was willing to perpetrate a major fraud for the sake of acquiring a scientific reputation which would otherwise most certainly have eluded him.

In order to present the evidence upon which I have based these conclusions I would like to continue the story from this point on in the form of an irregular diary.


Edward Blyth's paper The Varieties of Animals is published in the Magazine of Natural History.13  (Edward Blyth's role will become clearer as our story develops.  For the moment let us simply describe him as a British naturalist.)


On his return to England Darwin begins work on the material (both notes and specimens) accumulated during the five year voyage.  The first fruit of this work is to be a three volume record of the voyage.  The first two volumes were written by Captain Fitzroy, with occasional assistance from Darwin.  The third volume was Darwin's own personal record.  When published, the book did indeed serve to earn Charles a fair measure of recognition in scientific circles, but it hardly put him up "among the leading scientific men", as Sedgwick had allegedly forecast.

In this same year Edward Blyth has two more papers published in the Magazine of Natural History.  (The two texts are presented in Eiseley's book as a single item under the title: Seasonal and Other Changes in Birds.)


Darwin spends time at Cambridge, renewing old friendships and sorting his specimens (with more than a little help from those friends).  He also spends a great deal of his time catching up on scientific work published while he was at sea.  As he later stated (in typically ambigous style):

"When I see the list of books of all kinds which I read and abstracted, including whole series of Journals and Transcripts, I am surprised at my industry."14

Edward Blyth's paper Psychological Distinctions Between Man and Other Animals is published in the Magazine of Natural History.

In July of this year Darwin opens the first of his notebooks on 'the transmutation of species' - the same notebook which will later be shorn of those all-important 50 pages.  It is at this point that we encounter several more intriguing contradictions in Darwin's account of his work.  In one statement, for example, he claimed that he had:

"... worked on true Baconian principles, and without any theory collected facts on a wholesale scale ... by printed enquiries, by conversations with skilful breeders and gardeners, and by extensive reading ..."15
(Italics added.)

These may be 'Baconian principles', but it is hard to understand how Darwin could have sent out "printed enquiries" if he really had no notion what it was he wanted to enquire about!  There is also, as usual, a discrepency between what Darwin says about his work from one place to another.
Thus on one occasion Darwin states that he had given much thought to the whole subject of the transmutation of species before opening his first notebook on the subject16.  And this is confirmed by a quotation cited in the Chancellor biography where Charles, in 1838 claims to have been:

"... greatly struck from about the previous March on the character of South American fossils, and species on Galapagos Archipelago.  These facts, especially the latter, origin of all my views"17
(Italics added)

In a letter written to Henslow, written in October of this year, Darwin explains that he cannot accept the prestigious (but onerous) post of Honorary Secretary to the Geographical Society because of his extremely heavy workload.  He also hints at the ill-health which will cast its shadow over the rest of his life.

"Of late," he writes, "anything which flurries me completely knocks me up afterwards, and brings on violent palpitations of the heart."18


In February, despite his earlier protestations, Darwin accepts the position of Honorary Secretary to the Geographical Society.

Despite the increase in his workload, Charles becomes so engrossed in his study of 'the species question' that it begins to interfere with his other interests. In September he writes to Sir Charles Lyell:

"I have lately been sadly tempted to be idle ... as far as pure geology is concerned - by the delightful number of new views which have been coming in thickly and steadily, - on the classification and affinities and insticts of animals - bearing on the question of species.  Note-book after note-book has been filled with facts which begin to group themselves clearly under sub-laws."19
(Italics added.)

Towards the end of this year, Darwin later averred, he at last read the book which was to give meaning to his hitherto "Baconian" investigations:

"In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement 'Malthus on Population', and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence ... it at once struck me that ... favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. ... Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work ..."20
(Italics added)

One cannot help but wonder how Darwin managed to carry out these 15 months of "systematic enquiry" without having "a theory by which to work"?  On the face of it Darwin's alleged indebtedness to Malthus seems to make a great deal of sense, especially when coupled with Erasmus Darwin's views on "nature, red in tooth and claw".  But does it really stand up to close inspection?  According to Peter Brent:

"Soon he was capable of mentioning 'my Malthusian views' in a manner so matter-of-fact it suggests that by the spring of 1839 he had melded these opinions totally with his own."21

How amazing!  There's Darwin, plugging away in random fashion, making systematic enquiries with no particular rhyme or reason, and he "happens" to read Malthus' book and everything falls into place!  Were that it were that simple.

According to another biographer, Peter Bowler, Darwin's memory is as much at fault here as just about everywhere else:

"It was towards the end of the D Notebook in September 1838 that Darwin first begins to refer to Malthus and the principle of population.  He had read T.R. Malthus' Essay on the Principle of Population not (as the autobiography implies) for amusement but as part of his systematic reading programme devoted to the human implications of evolutionism."22

Given that Malthus' book had been published some 12 years earlier, by Darwin's own publisher (John Murray) and had been so influential that the New Poor Law of 1835 had been described as a "Malthusian bill", it is indeed rather difficult to accept that Darwin "happened to read" the book just "for amusement", and that he left the book unread for so long.  Looking back to those 50 pages removed from the 1937 notebook one can't help wondering if they perhaps provided clear evidence that Darwin read Malthus many months earlier than he admitted, or even that his references to Malthus are a complete red herring simply intended to divert attention from the true source of his ideas.


On January 29th, Charles married his cousin, Emma Wedgewood (daughter of Josiah).  It was to be a very long, and for the most part apparently very happy relationship, spoiled only by the childhood deaths that were sadly such a commonplace event at that time.
Exactly eight years after he first set sail aboard the Beagle, Emma bore Charles their first child - William Erasmus.  This much we know as fact.  When we turn back to the subject of Darwin's work on the species problem, however, we find only more confusion.

It is part of the Darwinian Myth that the first synopsis of what eventually became The Origin of Species was drawn up in 1842.  Yet in the proceedings of the Linnean Society for July 1st, 1858, there is clear reference to an earlier work prepared in 1839.  In The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Francis Darwin tries to explain this anomaly by citing a passage in his father's autobiography which runs:

"I gained much by my delay in publishing from about 1839, when the theory was clearly conceived ..."23 (Italics added)

As Frances Darwin pointed out, "clearly conceived" is not necessarily the same thing as 'ready to publish'.  Nevertheless, taken at face value this comment does seem to imply that Darwin already had enough material on hand to publish something - but deliberately put off going to press.  Moreover, in a letter to Alfred Wallace dated January 25th, 1859, Darwin states that Wallace's draft paper, supposedly prepared in just two days (and this after a serious bout of tropical fever):

"puts my extracts (written in 1838, now just twenty years ago!), which I must say were never for an instant intended for publication, into the shade."24

Sort this out then, if you will.  In 1838, or '39, Darwin had some "extracts", or enough material to produce a book; and although he had been working for approximately two years on the project so as to have reached a "clearly conceived theory", either his extracts "were never ... intended for publication", or he had considered publishing his theory but decided to put it off - for another twenty years!

One cannot help but suppose that Darwin had an equally clearly conceived reason for delaying the publication of his 'theory'.


Time passes, and Charles seems to have had difficulty making up his mind as to the best title for his magnum opus-to-be.  In a letter to W.D. Fox in January of this year he explains:

"I continue to collect all kinds of facts about 'Varieties and Species', for my someday work to be so entitled."25

In February Darwin resigns from the post of Honorary Secretary to the Geographical Society on the grounds of ill health.

In September, Edward Blyth arrives in Calcutta to take up his duties as curator of the Asiatic Society of Bengal's museum in that city.
By some curious oversight, Peter Brent (in the briefest of references to Eiseley's research) has Edward Blyth writing his crucial papers "In faraway Calcutta."26  This unaccountable error has the convenient effect of placing Blyth's work two years later than Darwin's "clearly conceived theory", thereby neatly avoiding the question of Darwin's plagiarism.

  1. From the preface to Paradise and Purgatory, an article on the Galapagos Islands in The Sunday Times (colour magazine), London: November 29th, 1981.  pp.38-39 .
  2. Charles Darwin, Peter Brent, op. cit.  p.194.
  3. Autobiography, Charles Darwin (Nora Barlow, ed.). W.W. Norton, New York:1958.  p.52.
  4. Ibid. p.81.
  5. Darwin (1809-1882) in 90 minutes, John and Mary Gribbin.  op cit. pp.22-23.
  6. Charles Darwin, John Bowlby.  Hutchinson, London:1990. p.109.
  7. The Complete Correspondence of Charles Darwin, F. Burkhardt and S. Smith.  Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge:1985-91.  Vol. 1. pp.128-29.
  8. The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Francis Darwin (ed.).  John Murray, London:1887.  Vol. 1, p.197.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Charles Darwin, Peter Brent, op. cit.  p.201.
  11. The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Francis Darwin (ed.), op. cit.  Vol. 1, p.66.
  12. Charles Darwin, Peter Brent, op. cit.  p.219.
  13. These three papers by Edward Blythe are reproduced in full in Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X, Loren Eisely, op. cit.  pp.97-165.  (Since the combined titles of the three papers run to over 100 words I have adopted Eiseley's abbreviations.)
  14. The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Francis Darwin (ed.), op. cit.  Vol. 1, p.83.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.  Vol. 1, p.68.
  17. Charles Darwin, John Chancellor.  Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London: 1973. p.157.
  18. The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Francis Darwin (ed.), op. cit.  Vol. 1, p.287.
  19. Ibid.  Vol. 1, p.298.
  20. Ibid.  Vol. 1, p.83.
  21. Charles Darwin, Peter Brent, op. cit.  p.301.
  22. Charles Darwin: The Man and His Influence, Peter J. Bowler. Basil Blackwell, Oxford:1990. p.82.
  23. The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Francis Darwin (ed.), op. cit.  Vol. 2, pp.11-12 and Vol. 1, p.88.
  24. Ibid.  Vol. 2, p.146.
  25. Ibid.  Vol. 1, p.301.
  26. Charles Darwin, Peter Brent, op. cit.  p.275.

Go to other sections

Part 0 - Introduction
Part 1 - Metaphors and Myths
Part 2 - The Mystery Begins
Part 4 - He Who Hesitates ...
Part 5 - Last Days
Part 6 - Without Reference ...
Part 7 - The Missing Link
Part 8 - Going Public, Maybe
Part 9 - ... Father to the Man
Part 10 - Mr Wallace, Mr Blyth ...
Part 11 - ... and 'Mr' Lyell
Part 12 - The Final Frontier

Appendices - The full text of Blyth's papers from 1835-37
Appendix A - The Varieties of Animals - Part 1
Appendix B - The Varieties of Animals - Part 2
Appendix C - Seasonal and Other Changes in Birds - Part 1
Appendix D - Seasonal and Other Changes in Birds - Part 2
Appendix E - Seasonal and Other Changes in Birds - Part 3
Appendix F - Seasonal and Other Changes in Birds - Part 4
Appendix G - Psychological Distinctions Between Man and Other Animals - Part 1
Appendix H - Psychological Distinctions Between Man and Other Animals - Part 2
Appendix I - Psychological Distinctions Between Man and Other Animals - Part 3
Appendix J - Psychological Distinctions Between Man and Other Animals - Part 4

This paper was written and produced by Andrew J. Bradbury