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13 November 2014

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You are in: Devon > History > Local history > Darwin in Devon 200

Charles Darwin (Natural History Museum)

Charles Darwin (Natural History Museum)

Darwin in Devon 200

Events are taking place across Devon to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin.

In 2009, the BBC is helping to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin.

The scientist was born in Shropshire on 12 February 1809, and events are taking place across the country as part of Darwin 2009.

It's one of two major Darwin milestones in 2009, because 24 November 2009 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of his most famous work, The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection.

What has all this to do with Devon, we hear you ask. Well, quite a lot actually!

For a start, his voyage of discovery began in Plymouth. In 1831, he joined a five-year scientific expedition on the survey ship HMS Beagle, which set sail from the port.

It was during this trip that his ideas on evolution were born. In particular, in the Galapagos Islands off the South America coast, his findings about the islands' population of finches were a big breakthrough in explaining the origin of species.

He returned to England in 1836 and his famous work was published in 1859.

Kents Cavern caves

The prehistoric caves at Kents Cavern

Two years later, in 1861, Darwin stayed in Torquay for six weeks, in a house just down the road from the prehistoric caves at Kents Cavern, where excavations were then uncovering evidence which backed up his theories on evolution.

Plymouth is the main focal point for Devon's anniversary events.

Devon Humanists, meanwhile, have launched a special Darwin 200 Devon website and are hoping for written contributions from people about Darwin's work - especially if there is a Devon connection.

Keith Denby has set up the website and is a graduate biochemist. He said: "We want some learned articles about Darwin's theories or his interaction with Devon - any connection with Devon would be great.

"He had plenty of links with Devon and we know he corresponded with people here as well.

"We want this to be a resource for researchers and schools in the future."

Another lasting legacy will be a replica of HMS Beagle.

It's hoped the boat will depart from Plymouth in 2011 on a repeat of Darwin's journey, with new scientific research taking place - with the help of NASA.

HMS Beagle of the Galapagos by John Chancellor, © Gordon Chancellor

HMS Beagle of the Galapagos by John Chancellor

Initially, the replica was to be built at Devonport, but the project foundered. The Beagle project is now being kept alive by a group headed by Peter McGrath, a writer and yachtsman based in Yorkshire.

The project has received charitable status, so fundraising has started in earnest.

The wooden ship - to be built in South Wales - will look the same from the outside, but inside there will be all the latest navigational aids and mod cons to ensure a more comfortable journey than in Darwin's day.

And the ship will be on NASA's radar throughout: "One of the astronauts at NASA  called," explained Peter. "From their point of view, the original Beagle was like a predecessor to what they are doing in space.

"When our Beagle is sailing, NASA will be taking photographs from the space station, showing the seas ahead and telling us where there seems to be any oceanographic phenomena in the area.

"There will be scientists on board the ship, carrying out ground-breaking oceanographic research. It's a working science ship, just like Darwin's.

"And they'll be setting off from Plymouth, as the original one did because it's really the only possible starting point there can be.

"Our vision is for this to provide a legacy from all this interest so it doesn't all die and go away. For the sake of science, we can't let that happen."

To find out more about the Beagle Project, the Darwin 200 Devon website, and events taking place across the county, visit the websites which are linked from this page.

David Lack, a biology teacher at Dartington School in Devon, visited the Galapagos Islands in the 1930s and filmed some of the wildlife. His findings went into his book, Darwin's Finches. You can view some of the footage by clicking onto the video link. Copyright: Dartington Hall Trust.

* The image of Darwin at the top of this page was kindly provided by the Natural History Museum in London which is holding its Darwin Big Idea exhibition until 19 April 2009. Visit the website for more information - see the link on this page.

Photo of HMS Beagle of the Galapagos by John Chancellor, © Gordon Chancellor and reproduced with his kind permission.

last updated: 26/01/2009 at 17:03
created: 08/01/2009

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