Early Years

Charles Robert Darwin was born on February 12, 1809, in Shrewsbury, England, the fifth of six children born to the wealthy doctor and financier Robert Darwin and susannah Wedgwood Darwin. susannah died when Charles was only eight, and he then joined his older brother Erasmus as a border at the Anglican shrewsbury school.

At the age of 16 Charles spent the summer of 1825 as an apprentice doctor helping his father treat the poor of shropshire in the West Midlands region of England. He then returned to medical school in Edinburgh, but he was not interested in surgery, so instead he learned taxidermy from John Edmonston, a freed slave who had worked for English naturalist Charles Waterton (1782-1865) in the South American rain forest. In 1826 in the second year of his studies at Edinburgh, Darwin joined the Plinian Society, a student-run organization dedicated to the study of natural history under the guidance of Dr. Robert Grant. In 1827 Darwin made a presentation to this group about his studies that black "spores" found in oyster shells in the Firth of Forth were the eggs of a skate leech species. He spent much time during these years studying the collections of plants at the University Museum, while neglecting his course work in the geology course of Robert Jameson.

Darwin's father was worried about the direction of his son's studies, drifting further from the medical field, and he enrolled him in a bachelor of arts program at Christ's College in Cambridge, with hopes that he would become a clergyman with a steady income. Darwin instead sought company riding horseback and shooting in the countryside, while becoming engrossed in beetle collecting that eventually led him to publish his work in Stevens' Illustrations of British Entomology. These investigations led him to become friends with botany professor John Stevens Henslow, who helped Darwin investigate natural sciences, mathematics, religious studies, and physics, passing his exams as 10th in his class of 178 in 1831.

Darwin continued to study theology and science at Cambridge, where he read William Parley's books on natural theology and his arguments for divine design in nature. His courses and studies inspired Darwin to travel and contribute to science, and he planned to visit Tenerife in the tropical Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean to study the natural history of the region. He took the geology course of Adam Sedgwick, traveling to Wales for fieldwork, and when he returned to Cambridge he found that his friend John Stevens Henslow had recommended him to the unpaid position of naturalist on a voyage of the HMS Beagle under Captain Robert Fitzroy. Darwin's father initially objected to his participation on the journey but eventually relented, and Darwin left on the historic voyage four weeks later in 1831.

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