Born into a wealthy English family, Darwin as a boy was encouraged by his father to develop his interest in the natural world. After gaining his bachelor of theology degree from Cambridge University, he was offered the opportunity to join a voyage to South America, on board the British warship ‘HMS Beagle’. His experiences during the voyage and the studies he conducted, would shape the rest of his work and life. They would also shape our understanding of human origins.
Darwin very nearly missed out on the voyage on HMS Beagle. When he heard the news that he would finally be going, he was very excited. Today, we can only speculate if he would have been quite so excited, had he known about all the hardships he would have to face during five years at sea – not least the terrible sea-sickness.
Most people get over their sea-sickness within a few days. But not Darwin. He would continue to feel ill throughout the entire voyage. And to compound the physical suffering, when the Beagle arrived in Brazil, what he saw there would leave Darwin profoundly troubled in his mind.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying goes. Well, Charles Darwin certainly suffered a lot for what he would eventually achieve. His voyage on HMS Beagle would be the foundation on which he built his reputation as one of the greatest – and most influential – scientists who ever lived. In our next programme, we’ll follow Darwin as he travelled along the coast of South America. He would have a number of adventures there, and would build up an impressive collection of fossils and insects, which he would send back to England.