Charles Darwin

A Darwin Finch from the Galapagos

Not so much a literary figure as perhaps the greatest man in English scientific history, Charles Darwin’s portrait shares the current £10 sterling note with that of the Queen. The Victorian scientist’s theory of evolution by natural selection is recognised as one of the most fundamentally important ideas in present day science.

Charles Darwin is alive and well

Charles Darwin is alive and well




The Origin of Species
The Origin of Species - 'The book that shook the world' by challenging accepted religious thinking

It was at Down House in Kent that Charles Darwin worked on his scientific theories and wrote On the Origin of Species, the book which both revolutionised and scandalised the Victorian world when it was published in 1859. He was later to write The Descent of Man. The large Victorian family house has been well preserved with most of the original furnishings, which give a faithful impression of the surroundings in which he lived and worked. This is particularly true of his study which is powerfully evocative of his working day. The house also contains a fascinating collection of pictures, books and maps, together with several interesting geological and zoological specimens. As interesting as the house are the extensive gardens. For it was here that Darwin, through his wildlife observations and experiments in the grounds of Down House, and inspired by the beautiful countryside around him, came to realise that evolution by natural selection is the key to our understanding of the living world. His house and gardens are in the care of English Heritage and, to their delight, are being considered as a World Heritage site.

Darwin's study
The Old Study. This was Darwin’s sanctuary. The Pembroke table in the centre of the room was his work table and letters, papers and specimens usually cluttered the surface

Darwin didn’t set out to be a scientist or naturalist, he left Shrewsbury to study medicine at Edinburgh University. The irony of it is that, repelled by the sight of surgery without anaesthesia, he went to Cambridge University to study theology and become a clergyman in the Church of England. After receiving his degree, Darwin accepted an invitation from Captain Robert FitzRoy to serve as an unpaid naturalist on the HMS Beagle. It departed in 1831 on a five-year expedition to the Pacific coast of South America.

During Darwin’s historic visit to the Galapagos Islands, when he was in his twenties, his ideas on the theory of evolution began to form. Darwin’s Finches are a living link to the scientific breakthrough that enables us to understand our own ancestry. What he had thought to be wrens, blackbirds and slightly differing finches, each a separate species, prompted him to ask himself why each of the islands had thrown up its own unique creatures. Having spent five years on his voyage aboard the Beagle, he spent another five living in the social whirl and professional intensity of London.

Wandering from room to room of Down House, where the scientist lived in comparative seclusion for 40 years, you gradually acquire a sense of the mind and personality of the man, not only the scientist, but also the husband and father. Darwin, who continued to write and publish his works on biology, was plagued with fatigue and intestinal sickness throughout much of his adult life. This is now thought to be a panic disorder as well as the Chagas’ disease contracted during his travels in South America.

Our Shakespearean actor as Charles Darwin.
Our Shakespearean actor as Charles Darwin

But the highlight of the trip is the theatrical experience that follows the house visit. In a specially designed small private theatre, just the other side of the village, deep in the Kent countryside, our Shakespearian actor, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the great man himself, brings the naturalist to life for Storyline guests. In his specially written one-man play, Beyond Paradise, his masterly theatrical performance is bound to enthral. The bearded, slightly stooped man captivates the Storyline audience. The visitor will have begun to understand something about Darwin during the visit to Down House earlier in the day. But the actor who seems to fill the stage in this semi-darkened room is also Darwin the family man, the gentle husband and loving father to his eight children. The play also encapsulates Darwin as an experimenter and observer, a thinker and writer. For it could be Darwin himself recounting his life - from childhood to his student days through to his five-year voyage of discovery, and to the publication of his controversial book in 1859. The virtuoso performance has received critical acclaim wherever it has been performed.

Images by kind permission of English Heritage.

The greenhouse where Darwin's botanical experiments took place.
The greenhouse where Darwin's
botanical experiments took place.

Theatrical Reviews

"Beyond Paradise is at once an entertainment and an education. I confess I learned more about Darwin in one evening than I gathered in a lifetime."

Herbert Kretzmer, Lyricist of "Les Miserables"

"This portrayal of Darwin is both hugely enjoyable and highly instructive. I felt I was back in the 19th century sharing discoveries, joy and sadness with the man himself."

Bernard Levin, following a performance in Chelsea

Testimonials and what the press says

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