Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 24, 2014
On the Origin of Species,

On the Origin of Species,

November 24, 1859: Charles Darwin publishes. The full title of his book was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. For the sixth edition, published in 1872, the title was thankfully shortened to On The Origin of Species. Darwin’s book introduced scientific theory stating populations evolve over time through a process of natural selection. He based this on observations and data gathered during his trip aboard the Beagle in the 1830s. After his return to England, he furthered his studies using research and experimentation as well as correspondence with other scientists of the era. Various evolutionary ideas had already been proposed.

Biologist Ernst Mayr has summarized the key points of the book. Every species is fertile to produce offspring which survive to reproduce so the species can grow (fact). Despite fluctuations, populations remains about the same size (fact). Resources are limited and relatively stable over time (fact). A struggle to survive results (inference). Individuals in a population vary significantly (fact). Much of the variance is inheritable (fact). Those less suited are less likely to survive and reproduce while those better suited do survive and create offspring which is the basis for natural selection (inference). This slow process results in populations changing to adapt to their environment (inference).

In later editions of On the Origin of Species, Darwin included a history of evolutionary ideas back as far as Aristotle. Early Christian Church fathers and Medieval European scholars interpreted the Genesis creation story as allegorical rather than literal. Nature was seen as capricious with odd births between species and spontaneous creation of life. The Protestant Reformation inspired a literal interpretation of the Bible. The biblical story did not agree with emerging scientific facts. After the English Civil War, one of the Royal Society’s goals was to show that religion and science could coexist without disrupting political stability.

Darwin was not the only person working on the theory of evolution. An 1855 paper written by Alfred Russel Wallace, described patterns in geographical distribution of living and fossil species and how new species developed from the old similar ones. Charles Lyell saw the relative merits in the paper as well as how it related to Darwin’s work. Darwin had long avoided publishing the controversial work but with this impetus, he rushed to publish a short paper outlining his own theory in order to retain discovery status. Both men were permitted to present papers at the Linnean Society in 1858. There are differences between the two papers in some details. Darwin’s book was published on this date and went on sale for fifteen shillings. It has been in print ever since.

In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.

False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness.

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars. – all from Charles Darwin

Also on this day: Little Jamie – in 1993, James Bulger’s murderers are found guilty.
Jump to Nowhere – In 1971, Dan Cooper jumped from a plane and was never seen again.
Wilt the Stilt – In 1960, the basketball player garnered another record.
Alone? – In 1963 Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 11, 2013
HMS Beagle representation

HMS Beagle representation

May 11, 1820: HMS Beagle is launched. The 10-gun brig-sloop was a Cherokee class ship of the British Royal Navy. She was named for the dog. She was launched from Woolwich Dockyard on the River Thames and cost £7,803 to build. In July, she was the first ship to sail under the new London Bridge as part of the fleet review held to celebrate King George IV’s coronation. And then she was kept in reserve for five years, moored afloat but without masts and rigging. She was refitted as a survey barque and made three voyages.

It cost £5,913 to refit the ship, removing 4 cannons and adding a mizzen mast for greater maneuverability. Captain Pringle Stokes piloted the Beagle from Plymouth on May 26, 1826. They embarked with HMS Adventure on a hydrographic survey of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Two years and two months into the voyage, Captain Stokes committed suicide after locking himself in his cabin for weeks. The ship came under command of Flag Lieutenant Robert FitzRoy who did a remarkable job. They returned to England on October 14, 1830.

Another survey trip to South America was to be given to HMS Chanticleer, but she was not seaworthy and the Beagle, under now-Captain FitzRoy, set sail after extensive refitting. FitzRoy, concerned about Captain Stoke’s suicide, wanted to bring a friend on the long trip – someone to alleviate the boredom and loneliness of command. Charles Darwin was the friend FitzRoy chose. Scheduled to leave in October, the overhaul caused a delay and so they did not sail until December 27, 1831. Instead of simply surveying South America, the ship returned to England via New Zealand, Sydney, Cape Town, and many other stops, arriving home safely on October 2, 1836.

The plan envisioned by FitzRoy saw the navy personnel engaged in hydrogeography while his friend could provide expertise with mineralogy and geology. The log for such a journey required painstaking descriptions and accurate and detailed note taking. Darwin’s notes led him to the theory of natural selection. The scientist discussed his theory with other naturalists but did not publish his seminal work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection until 1859. The work did not meet with immediate success. It did, however, thrust HMS Beagle into the limelight, making her one of the most famous ships in history.

“Reading these two genomes side by side, it’s amazing to see the evolutionary changes that are occurring. I couldn’t imagine (naturalist Charles) Darwin looking for stronger confirmation of his theories.” – Robert Waterston

“How do you know that God didn’t speak to Charles Darwin?” – Jack Lemmon

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

“The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant was alone evidence enough to upset Darwin.” – Henry Brooks Adams

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Robert FitzRoy was born July 5, 1805 in Suffolk, England. He was aristocratic by birth, a descendant of King Charles II as well other illustrious titles in his family tree. He is best known for his sailing adventures and eventually reached the rank of Vice-Admiral. However, he was also the 2nd Governor of New Zealand, taking over that position from Captain William Hobson on December 26, 1843. During his two years of rule, he was to maintain order and protect the Maori while still allowing settlers to settle on the Maori’s land. His resources were meager (mostly from duties paid) and he had little military backing. The settlers were overzealous and were found at fault in the Wairau Massacre. FitzRoy was probably quite willing to relinquish the role in 1845 to Sir George Grey.

Also on this day Man Against Machine – In 1997 IBM’s Deep Blue became a chess champion.
Pullman – In 1894, a wildcat strike against Pullman Palace Car Co. began.
The Pill – In 1960, the first contraceptive pill was approved by the FDA.

HMS Beagle

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 13, 2010

HMS Beagle

October 2, 1836: The HMS Beagle returns to England after Charles Darwin spent the last five years gathering data bout fauna, flora, wildlife, and geology across the globe. During the years away from England, Darwin spent about two-thirds of the time on land, studying the local environments around the globe.

Darwin became interested in natural history while studying in college – first medicine and then theology. He kept copious, meticulous notes all during the voyage. While at sea, he read Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology and was influenced by the work.

He noted raised beaches in Patagonia, seashells in the Andes Mountains, discovered extinct fossils in South America, and island specific mockingbirds in the Galapagos Islands. Within a few years of his return to England, he published Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle. He continued to expound on certain aspects of the geology he found in other writings.

He was aware of the problems with publishing “heretical” works, such as his theory of natural selection. He confided in friends shortly after his return to England, but waited nearly a quarter of century to publish his work. He finally did so because a rival had developed a similar theory and so he published jointly in 1858 with Alfred Russel Wallace. In 1859, his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection reached print.

“I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection.”

“A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections, – a mere heart of stone.”

“The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.”

“We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities… still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”

“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” – all by Charles Darwin

Also on this day, in five young girls were killed at an Amish schoolhouse.