By Andrew Pierce
British scientist Charles Darwin, photographed in 1842 with his eldest son William Erasmus Darwin
The first drafts of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which have never before been seen in public, are being published online for the first time today.
For decades one of the most important collections of primary materials in the history of science was available only to scholars at Cambridge University Library, which had been given the 90,000 papers and images by the Darwin family in 1942.
Highlights of the collection include Darwin’s sketch of the Tree of Life, a recipe for boiling rice and observations on the creatures he encountered on the Galapagos Islands, such as giant tortoises
They were delivered in parcels containing small packets of manuscript wrapped in tissue paper on which the subjects had been noted in Darwin's hand, just as he had left them.
The papers, now published by Darwin Online, include early calculations on his theory of evolution, thousands of drafts of his scientific writings, records of his experiments, and even arguments in favour of a wife, who he described as "better than a dog anyhow".
Darwin was just 22 when he joined HMS Beagle as resident naturalist for a five-year world voyage. When he arrived in the Galapagos Islands, the inspiration for On the Origin of Species, he was astonished by the creatures he encountered, such as the centenarian giant tortoises, from which the islands took their name.
On his return to Britain in 1836, armed with thousands of geological specimens from his trip across South America, he began devising a new theory of evolution.
The papers disclose the first signs of his scientific breakthrough in July 1838 in his book on "transmutation of species".
He wrote: "Had been greatly struck from about month of previous March on character of S. American fossils - & species on Galapagos Archipelago. - These facts origin (especially latter) of all my views."
It led to the publication in 1859 of On the Origin of Species, a book whose enunciation of the theory of how man evolved from animals rocked religious beliefs to their foundations and shook the scientific thinking of a century and beyond.
The collection also contains photographs of Darwin and his family, newspaper clippings, reviews of his books, boyhood notes on birds and proofs of On the Origin of Species.
Other material sheds light on Victorian family life, including a recipe for boiling rice scrawled in Darwin's handwriting. There is also a memorandum on marriage, which he wrote in 1838.
"Reasons for not marrying: freedom to go where one liked; choice of Society & little of it.
- Conversation of clever men at clubs - Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle. - to have the expense & anxiety of children - perhaps quarrelling - Loss of time. -cannot read in the Evenings - fatness & idleness - Anxiety & responsibility - less money for books."
But the arguments for a union won the day: "Children - (if it Please God) - Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one, - object to be beloved & played with. - better than a dog anyhow."
He married Emma in 1839 and they had 10 children. Darwin even recorded observations on his first child, William Erasmus, who was born on Dec 27, 1839. He wrote: "During first week, yawned, stretched himself just like old person - chiefly upper extremities - hiccupped - sneezes sucked?...."
Emma Wedgwood in 1840. She married her cousin Charles Darwin in 1839. She was the granddaughter (and Darwin was the grandson) of Josiah Wedgwood, of Wedgwood pottery fame.
Dr John van Wyhe, the director of the Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online at Cambridge University, said of the collection: "Darwin changed our understanding of nature forever.
"Only a handful of scholars across the world have seen all of this material.
"People are now being given access to the real Darwin, not just the stuff that has been filtered by the experts."
Charles Darwin: Evolution of a genius
1809: Born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire
1825: Goes to Edinburgh University to study medicine
1827: Joins Cambridge University to prepare to become a clergyman
1831: After graduation, joins HMS Beagle
1836: Returns to England and begins developing ideas on changeability of species
1838: Arrives at a sketch of evolution
1839: Marries Emma Wedgwood and moves to Kent
1858: Evolution theory announced in academic paper
1859: Publishes On the Origin of Species
1882: Dies on April 19 and is buried at Westminster Abbey