Charles Robert Darwin 1809 - 1882
Without question Shrewsbury's most famous son, official 'Great Briton' and the man credited as solving the mystery of why so many people look like monkeys.
Charles Darwin was the English naturalist who first established the theory of evolution in his work 'Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection'.
Darwin was born and brought up in a house (now Darwin House) on The Mount in the Frankwell area of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England on February 12th 1809 and was the grandson of Erasmus Darwin (the English scientist and poet - considered one of the foremost physicians of his day). His mother was a daughter of the famous English pottery manufacturer, Josiah Wedgwood.
Darwin spent the early years of his life in Shrewsbury and he was educated at Shrewsbury School under his tutor Samuel Butler. Today the original Shrewsbury School houses the town library, outside of which is a statue of Darwin who looks down benignly over his town as it develops and adapts. After all, these changes are merely further examples of evolution at work.
In 1825 he went on to Edinburgh University to prepare himself to enter the medical profession. However, he decided he was unfit to follow a medical career and in 1828 he went to Christ's College, Cambridge with the idea he would become a clergyman but this career also soon lost its appeal.
Darwin always had an interest in the natural world and this developed through his love of Shropshire's geological heritage.
Although not a natural sailor, from the December of 1831 at the age of 22, to the October of 1836 Darwin made his famous journey in H.M.S. Beagle as the naturalist for the surveying expedition which visited Cape Verde and other Atlantic islands, the South American coasts and the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Tasmania, Keeling Island, the Maldives, Mauritius, St Helena, Ascension and Brazil.
The voyage acted as the preparation for his life's work, his observations between the relationships of geographically separated animals (animals on the islands and contiguous mainland) and time-separated animals (those living and extinct animals). As a result of these observations, Darwin ecame convinced that species were not immutable, but evolved from one another.
Darwin's journal for 1837 contains the following words explaining his feelings following this idea:
"In July opened first notebook on Transmutation of Species. Had been greatly struck from about the month of previous March on character of South American fossils, and species on Galapagos Archipelago. These facts (especially latter) origin of all my views."
When Darwin returned to England in 1836, he spent many years collecting furthur evidence beffore publishing 'The Origin of Species' in 1859. Emmediately after its publication, there was an uproar amongst Victorian Society. Darwin was denounced by the church and the scentific community was split.
Whilst Darwin was not the first person to write about evolution, he was the first person to present detailed evidence and to sugguest a process of Natural Selection to explain how species change. Darwin's theory instigated further research which has helped in our present day understanding of evolution.
Whilst there are still unanswered questions, 'The Orgin of Species' remains one of the most important biological works ever written and Charles Darwin is amongst the most influential figures in biological history.
Darwin's theory changed the way we look at the world and evolution and ourselves, he was one of the foremost thinkers of his generation and the legacy of his work has withstood over a century of debate and criticism, this is why Shrewsbury celebrates Darwin as its most famous son in its annual Darwin Festival each February.
The new Discover Darwin in Shrewsbury website contains all the latest fun Darwin related events and lectures throughout the town.
For more information about Charles Darwin in Shrewsbury please click here