Darwin’s growing expertise

Before drying this specimen of Phlebodium, Darwin followed advice received in a letter from Henslow and carefully folded back the pinnae.

Throughout the voyage, Darwin was constantly improving both his scientific knowledge and skills. He kept a running list of instructions for preparing different kinds of specimens, some information being gleaned from books and some learned from other collectors. He often noted where he had obtained the advice: ‘Jars. first half putrid bladder. then 2 coverings of Lead or Tin foil, not large enough to be tied down. then bladder again. then varnish. Yarrell’. His Cambridge mentors continued to assist him. Henslow sent detailed advice on preparing specimens after receiving Darwin’s first batch, some of which were unrecognisable by the time they reached Cambridge: ‘For goodness sake what is No. 223 it looks like the remains of an electric explosion, a mere mass of soot – something very curious I daresay.’   In particular Henslow sketched a method for mounting large pinnate leaves, folding some over so that both surfaces could be seen. Darwin followed his advice exactly in drying a specimen of Phlebodium aerolatum.

CUL DAR 204, f. 111