Original article from Kent Live
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution marks him out as one of the most influential scientists of all time. He proved that all species of life evolved over millions of years from common ancestors and that humans share a common ancestor with apes.
He published his book, On the origin of species by means of natural selection , in 1859, adding his theory of “survival of the fittest” to later editions. It was highly controversial, challenging conventional Christian beliefs, but became a bestseller. He followed this with The Descent of Man in 1871, by which time his once radical claims had gained acceptance.
Darwin’s theories changed the world – but they were developed in Kent. He lived at Down House, Kent, for 40 years (1842-1882) with his wife Emma and children.
He wrote his papers in his study or conducted experiments in the garden (his “living laboratory”). He built a pigeon house, testing how he could breed the birds to develop distinctive features. He cross-bred double-flowered hollyhocks, and sheltered a patch of meadow from bumble bees to show the complicated connections between different species of plants and animals.
Down House, now owned by English Heritage, is open to the public. Visitors can stand in the room where he wrote Origin of species, which contains its original furniture, see some of the many possessions he gathered during his travels, view manuscript pages and walk in the gardens. They can literally walk in his footsteps on the “think path” he took for his daily walk around the grounds. The greenhouse and beekeeper’s display are well worth a visit. The shop sells a range of home-grown items as well as soft toys with Darwin themes, while the café serves dishes with ingredients from the kitchen gardens.
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As a young man, Darwin studied medicine in Edinburgh, where he attended talks on ‘transmutation’ or evolution, before changing to study divinity in Cambridge, where he spent a large amount of time studying beetles. He left divinity to travel for five years on HMS Beagle, studying a range of animals in the Americas. These early experiences laid the groundwork for his later studies. But most of his life’s work was conducted at Down House.
Another of his former homes, this time in Ramsgate, Kent, recently went for sale for just under £1m. The Grade II listed property has original features and has stunning views over Ramsgate Harbour. Darwin lived here before moving to Down House.