Cambridge University Library houses the world’s major archive of Darwin manuscripts, books, and letters. This exhibition explores the Beagle voyage as a pivotal experience in Darwin’s life: his journey was born out of his studies at Cambridge, and his specimens and notes were sent back to Cambridge and disseminated from there. The exhibition reunites manuscripts and natural history specimens from the University’s collections, many of them never before seen in public, and shows how Darwin’s experiences on the Beagle played an essential role in the formulation of his theories throughout the rest of his life. The exhibition is co-ordinated with temporary and permanent exhibitions elsewhere in the University, and together these will provide an unparalleled opportunity to explore Darwin’s life and work.
Among the exhibits are the letter that first offered the 22-year-old Darwin a place onboard; field notes and specimen lists, together with some of the plant, animal and mineral specimens they describe; geological maps and cross-sections; a detailed scale model of the Beagle herself; contemporary sketches made by the Beagle’s artist, Conrad Martens, and some of the books that Darwin took on the voyage with him and kept for the rest of his life. The title for the exhibition comes from an inscription inside one of these books, given to Darwin by the University Professor of Botany, John Stevens Henslow, shortly before the Beagle sailed: “J. S. Henslow to his friend C. Darwin on his departure from England upon a voyage round the World”.