August 29, 1831 (a Monday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

On the evening of this date, upon returning from Northern Wales where Adam Sedgwick had given him a crash course in field geology, Charles Darwin found letters waiting for him from Revd. John Henslow and George Peacock. Darwin had been invited to be a naturalist for the unpaid position of gentleman’s companion to Robert FitzRoy, the captain of HMS Beagle. The ship was to set sail on September 25 on a two-year expedition (later extended to five years) to chart the coastline of South America. Darwin wanted to go but his father and sisters were totally against the idea, seeing it as a continuation of his long line of idle pursuits.

Darwin’s father objected to his proposed journey on several grounds:

  • Such a voyage would reflect badly on his future prospects as a member of the clergy.
  • The entire plan seemed adventurous and wild.
  • Why was a naturalist still being considered so close to the start of the voyage? Other people must have been considered. Why had they refused the offer?
  • Going on the voyage would prevent Charles from settling down to a real life.
  • The accommodations on the ship would be very poor.
  • The voyage would offer Charles another excuse to change his focus in life.
  • It would be a complete waste of his time.

However, his father’s refusal was not absolute; he told his son that if he could find a man with common sense who thought it was a good idea, then he would allow him to go.

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