Naturalist Charles Darwin changed the world through his theory of evolution. If your child is a dinosaur enthusiast or a fossil hunter – or simply curious about their own species – they need to know about his work and discoveries. Former primary school teacher Emma Shingleton of education resource experts PlanBee tells his story – she also has ten fun facts about the great man
A life of global exploration
Charles Darwin, who was born in Kent in 1809, studied the natural world over many years. He took part in expeditions to countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and the remote islands of the Galápagos, gathering information. On his famous 1831-36 voyage on HMS Beagle, he collected samples of plants, animals, rocks and fossils which he took home to England to study.
He began to question the origin of species and how they have changed over time. In 1859, Darwin published his book ‘On the Origin of Species’, which outlined his theory of evolution. Darwin challenged the idea that God made all animals and plants on Earth. Instead, he suggested that species change over time, adapting to their environment. His theory included the idea of ‘natural selection’ – sometimes known as ‘survival of the fittest’. This is where a variation of a species may change to suit its surroundings, adapting to make sure of its survival. Meanwhile, another variation of a species may not be able to adapt as well and so dies out.
For years, Darwin suffered from eczema, headaches, sickness and boils. Some suggested he was infected by parasites picked up on his travels around the world. Others now believe Darwin may have had Crohn’s disease.
On 19th April 1882, Darwin suffered heart failure at his home, Down House. On his deathbed, he said to his wife, Emma:
“I am not the least afraid of death. Remember what a good wife you have been to me. Tell all my children to remember how good they have been to me.”
He was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Fun facts about Darwin
1. Darwin dropped out of medical school because he couldn’t stand the sight of blood.
2. In 1839 he married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood. Although this is something that seems strange nowadays, in the 19th century it was widely accepted.
3. Darwin waited 20 years to publish his theory of evolution – he worried that the public were not yet ready for his radical ideas.
4. He not only studied animals from around the world… he also ate them!
5. In 2000, Charles Darwin was commemorated by putting his portrait on the back of a £10 note.
6. He shared the day of his birth, 12th February 1809, with famous US president Abraham Lincoln.
7. Darwin wrote a ‘pros and cons’ list on whether or not to marry.
8. He loved hiking
9. Darwin played two games of backgammon with his wife every evening.
10. The full name of his most famous book is ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life’. No wonder it was shortened to ‘On the Origin of Species’!