American Collections blog

13 March 2012

The Voyage of HMS Beagle: zoological views

Beagle zoology (birds)
Illustration from the birds focussed volume of, 'The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle'

A couple of weeks ago I spent a Sunday afternoon at Down House, where Charles Darwin lived and wrote his famous works. Many things struck me that afternoon but the map of the Beagle's voyage reminded me that Darwin's journey is a piece of history which provides a link between all of us here in the Americas and Australasian Studies department. Duly motivated, I decided to do a short blog on the Beagle's presence in the Library's collections.

The British Library holds a lot of material which refers to or resulted from the work conducted by Darwin and others during the voyage of HMS Beagle. Not only are there many copies of, 'On the Origin of Species' but there are also less popularly know publications, such as Darwin's paper, 'The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, etc.' (shelfmark: 07109.i.13). Amongst all of this, my favourite publication related to the expedition is, 'The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle' (which I also saw on display at Down House).

Beagle zoology (mammals)
Illustration of Australia's Mus Fuscipes, from the mammals volume of, 'The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle'

'Zoology' is a detailed account of the animals and fossils encountered and collected during the voyage of the Beagle with each volume being drawn together by various authorities of the time. Between them, the five volumes provide accounts of the various specimens collected and are richly illustrated with examples from various parts of the voyage (although the lithographs of Galapagos finches are understandably the most eye catching).

The account also underlines the scope and scale of the Beagle's voyage and Darwin's collecting, neither of which were necessarily unique to the time but they do illustrate a globalised scientific process. Unfortunately, it's becoming something of a trend for me to blog about restricted items and once again the library's original 'Zoology' (shelfmark: 791.I.17,18) is on this list. However, there are also some very good reproductions available in the reading rooms, not least the Royal Geographical Society's 1994 commemorative edition (shelfmark: Cup.410.g.500).



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