In 1831, a young naturalist and recent graduate named Charles Darwin returned home from a geology excursion to find a letter waiting for him that would change the course of science. His mentor had recommended him for the post of naturalist scientist on HMS Beagle’s expedition to chart the southern coast of South America − a journey that would afford him many chances to pursue his naturalist studies.
The Beagle left Devonport on December 27, 1831, commanded by Lieutenant Robert FitzRoy. While FitzRoy mapped the coast, Darwin studied the geology and collected plant and animal specimens ashore. After touring the South American coast, the ship encountered a strange and ominous volcanic archipelago known as the Galapagos Islands. Darwin was captivated by the unusual organisms that he observed and the subtle variations they exhibited. He came to the conclusion that these animals must have come from the South American mainland long ago, then diversified into the new species he found on the Galapagos Islands.
It took many years after the Beagle returned to England for Darwin to further develop an explanation for his discoveries. In 1859, he published On the Origin of Species, and our understanding of the history of life was forever altered.