Darwin and the HMS Beagle

Darwin and the HMS Beagle
Letitia Tyler: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: 2-3 class periods

Required Documents
Darwin Tmeline


During the years that her husband, John Tyler, served in the United States Senate and ascended to the presidency in 1841, the world around Letitia Tyler was experiencing a revolution in social, philosophical, and scientific achievement. Writers and philosophers such as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche who were precursors to the more modern philosophy of existentialism were writing about the human condition. Karl Marx was formulating his ideas of government later published in his Communist Manifesto in 1848. The abolitionist movement in the Northern United States was gaining momentum. Samuel Morse was able to revolutionize communication with his invention of the telegraph in 1838. A change in scientific thought in the first half of the 19th century was led by the Romantic Movement which led to breakthroughs in the areas of physics such as electromagnetism, and especially in the area of biology with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.  It is widely known that as a young man Charles Darwin was invited to participate on a voyage on the ship HMS Beagle, the purpose of which was to continue the charting work in South America begun in a previous voyage as well as to run a chain of chronometric readings around the globe. Darwin was brought on this five year journey as a naturalist, whose job it was to study and document natural history throughout the globe. Although it is not believed that he developed his theory of evolution on this journey specifically, it was this experience that honed his power of observation and sharpened the skills that led to his later breakthroughs in the fields of naturalism and biology.


  1. The students will construct an accurate informational timeline to document the various stops made by Charles Darwin during his voyage on the HMS Beagle.
  1. The students will use the Internet to gather, synthesize and interpret information.
  1. The students will summarize information located during Internet research.

Materials Required:

Internet Access; Work Sheet – Timeline of the Voyage of Charles Darwin and the HMS Beagle


1. The teacher will write the name Charles Darwin on the board. Students will be asked to write down one thing they know about Darwin on a small piece of paper. The teacher will lead a discussion based on the prior knowledge written on the small pieces of paper.

2. The teacher will share the primary source document from Captain Robert Fitzroy that discusses why he desires to take a naturalist on the voyage to shed light on why Darwin became a participant on this voyage. This can be found at http://www.aboutdarwin.com/voyage/voyage02.html (scroll down to Sections titled “Naturalist Wanted,” and “A Letter to Darwin).

3, The teacher will then show the students the complete Website, “About Darwin.com” at http://www.aboutdarwin.com/index.html and briefly navigate the site together. This can be done on an interactive board or in a computer lab setting.

4. The students will use the Beagle Voyage section of the site to conduct the research needed to complete the timeline and the summary sections of the Work Sheet – Timeline of the Voyage of Charles Darwin and the HMS Beagle.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be extended by having the students use the site to trace the route of the voyage on a map or a globe. The students may also be given the task of completing further research into to observations Darwin made on his voyage. 

Sources & Resources:

Learning Standards:

Preparing America's Students for Success (Common Core as Adopted/Adapted in the States)


Darwin, Charles. Voyage of the Beagle (Annotated). Kindle Edition, 2014.

Darwin, Charles. Voyage of the Beagle. Beagle Press, 2013.

Nichols, Peter. Evolution’s Captain: The Story of the Kidnapping That Led to Charles Darwin’s Voyage Aboard The Beagle. New York: Harper Perennial, 2004.


About Darwin

Timeline of 19th Century Technology, Science and Inventions

19th Century Philosophy

History of Science


Credits:  This lesson was developed by Robert McClelland, Cleveland Metropolitan School District.