Charles Darwin changed the world. His book ‘The Origin of the Species’ gave us the idea of evolution. He travelled around the world looking for proof and he believed he found it. However, he was not the first person to suggest that there is a relationship between humans and other animals and that humans were descended* from apes*. This is his story.
Charles Darwin’s birth
Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England on 12th February, 1809. His family were Christian and wealthy*. His two grandfathers had been important men and members of a group of scientists and philosophers. One, Josiah Wedgewood, fought against slavery* and the other, Erasmus Darwin was the first to think about the theory of evolution. He believed that every living thing had one common ancestor. An idea Charles Darwin worked on during his life. Darwin’s parents had many intellectual* and influential* friends.
An opportunity of a lifetime
When Darwin grew up he decided to study medicine. However, he hated anatomy, the study of the human body, and surgery*. His father sent him to Cambridge University to study for a career in the church. At Cambridge, Darwin studied botany, the study of plant life. He was much happier. He spent a lot of time drinking and partying with friends. Although Darwin believed in God and was studying for the church, he was not really want to work in the church.
Luckily for Darwin, one of his tutors at Cambridge recommended* him for a job on a ship, the HMS Beagle. Darwin had the job of writing about the wildlife and plant life of the different countries the ship visited. The journey took five years and the Beagle visited four different continents. Unfortunately for Darwin, he suffered from terrible seasickness. Below is a map of the countries Darwin explored*.
After visiting South America, the Beagle stopped at the Galapagos Islands for five weeks. It was here that Darwin made his most important discovery. He studied rocks and many different animals and birds on the islands. In particular, he saw the differences between the finches on different islands. He thought that the birds had adapted* to live in the different environments. It made him think about ‘transmutation’. It was an idea his grandfather had thought about many years earlier. Transmutation was the name he used for ‘evolution’. It describes how animals change to adapt to their environment. Darwin was not happy with this idea because he thought it was against* God.
Darwin was often quite ill and he was an anxious man. He became particularly ill in 1851 after the death of his ten-year-old daughter, Anne. He spent a lot of time writing about his travels but he had never published* his work. In 1858, a letter changed this.
Alfred Russell Wallace was a young man who admired Darwin and decided to go travelling to study wildlife. He began to think about his own theory of evolution. So he wrote a letter to Darwin to tell him of his ideas. He asked for advice about publishing a book on his new theory. Darwin realised* that he had to publish his own book. He did not want to forget Wallace, however. He included him in his papers and included some of Wallace’s work at a meeting of British scientists.
Sadly, around the same time, Darwin’s son, Henry, died aged 18 months. Darwin was heartbroken and it made him ill again. Soon after, he published his new book, ‘The Origin of the Species’. It shocked many people who believed that evolution was a fight between science and God.
Darwin, because of his studies and the death of three of his children, had stopped believing in God. He published his book, The Descent of Man. He talked about the relationship between humans and apes. Although many people were unhappy, a lot of people were beginning to believe Darwin. His books had made him famous and the theory of evolution became more and more accepted*.
Descended – to be related from something that lived a long time ago.
Apes – a primate. Like a monkey but with long arms and no tail.
Wealthy – very rich
Slavery – the system where someone is a slave or someone owns slaves.
Intellectual – a educated person whose interest is studying
Influential – someone who has a lot of influence.
Influence – the power or abillity to affect people or things.
Surgery – when a doctor cuts open someone’s body to remove something or to fix something.
Recommended – to say something is good or suitable.
Adapt – to change something or a behaviour to improve it.
Against – to have an opposing (opposite) idea or opinion.
Publishing – to have a book printed.
Realised – to suddenly understand or remember something.
Accepted – to say yes to something or agree with an idea or opinion.
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