Biological Sciences

Charles Darwin

Perhaps surprisingly, Charles Darwin did not study biology or “natural history”. He enrolled at the University to study medicine in 1825, when he was just 16 years old.

Portrait of Charles Darwin

Darwin’s father and grandfather had both studied medicine. Edinburgh had the reputation of providing the best medical education in Britain, but Darwin did not enjoy his studies. He left after two years without graduating.

The Plinian Society and Robert Grant

However, while at Edinburgh Darwin became a member of a student natural history group called the Plinian Society.

He spent time with Robert Grant, a marine biologist and sponge expert, and assisted Grant in his studies of the marine life of the coastline near Edinburgh.

Darwin’s work with Grant is considered to have had an influence on his thinking. It was while at Edinburgh that Darwin wrote his first scientific paper, on bryozoans, which he presented to the student society.

The Beagle and the theory of evolution

Four years after leaving Edinburgh, Darwin joined HMS Beagle as the ship's naturalist, for a round the world voyage under the command of Captain Robert Fitzroy. On the voyage he observed and collected plants, animals, rocks and fossils.

We now know that Darwin came up with his theory of evolution by natural selection soon after his return home from the Beagle voyage, but it was many years before he had accumulated enough evidence to publish his work.


Darwin’s 200th anniversary fell in February 2009. "Darwin200" is a national series of events that will celebrate the impact that Darwin's ideas about evolution, as well as his approach to the understanding of the natural world and his outstanding example as a scientist, continue to have on our lives.

The celebrations centred on February 2009, but will build up to November 2009, which is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's famous work "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection".

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