Charles Darwin’s evolutionary reading: HMS Beagle’s library goes online

Jul 18, 2014

By Nishad Karim


The lost collection of books that kept Charles Darwin company aboard HMS Beagle and provided inspiration for his later works on evolution has been made publicly available for the first time today.

Hundreds of titles that filled the shelves of the ship’s library on Darwin’s five-year circumnavigation of the globe in the 1830s have been brought together and made freely available through the Darwin Online Beagle Library project.

Led by John van Wyhe, a historian of science at the National University of Singapore, a research team compiled digital copies of what they believe to be the complete set of 404 books, including thousands of stunning illustrations, that accompanied Darwin aboard HMS Beagle.

Among the titles are all 20 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica, seven volumes of the Natural History of Invertebrate Animals by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, and James Cook’s three-volume account of a Pacific Ocean voyage in the 1770s.

Darwin was 22 years old in 1831 when he set off for the Amazon, Patagonia and the Pacific aboard the ship. The trip around the world was planned to take two years, but the Beagle did not return to England until October 1836. His notes from the Galapagos and other destinations were central to the development of his theory of evolution through natural selection, which he described in his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species.

5 comments on “Charles Darwin’s evolutionary reading: HMS Beagle’s library goes online

  • The digitisation of rare books makes valuable, fragile, historical records, available to all, – world wide, – without risking damage to the museum copies or involving those wishing to study in extensive travel.
    A magnificent educational resource.

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  • What a wonderful new reading list! My heartfelt thanks to the diligence and dedication of the people who did this, and to the internet itself for being able to distribute it so widely.

    They are still looking for financial help. I for one will assist in the small way that I can.

    I note with interest, and giving myself a small pat on the back that I have two of the volumes listed (Anson’s and Vancouver”s voyages) on my own shelves.

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  • A wonderful educational treasure house.

    Now then, let me think, where could it best be utilized; are there any particular communities which would benefit from it?


    Oh yes! I know; mustn’t say anything though, might cause “offence”, and that would never do.

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  • Of course it was on the voyage of the Beagle that Darwin’s Christianity came face to face with the cruel reality of the natural world. His Christianity lost out. He was an honest man.

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