Darwin’s first and rarest work: The Zoology of the Beagle

The voyage of H.M.S. Beagle from December 1831 through October 1836 became one of the most famous expeditions of modern times. Originally planned as a survey of southern South America and some islands in the Pacific, the voyage became a stimulus for the ideas that later crystallized as Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. On this voyage Darwin collected many specimens of plants, animals and fossils.

Darwin, Zoology of the Beagle, Fox: Canus antarcticus

When Darwin returned, he enlisted leading naturalists of the day to describe the specimens. The Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle was published as a collaborative effort between 1838 and 1843. Contributors included Richard Owen (fossil mammals), George Waterhouse (mammals), John Gould (birds), Leonard Jenyns (fish) and Thomas Bell (reptiles).

Darwin, Zoology of the Beagle, bird:  Tanagra Darwinii

The quarto work of 632 total pages includes 166 plates, 82 of which were hand colored. Gould’s illustrations of birds are renowned (he also recognized that Darwin’s finches represented more than one species). Darwin superintended the production of the work, including the plates, and contributed introductions, notes and descriptive comments throughout. Aspects of habitat that appear in the illustrations, such as background depictions of associated plants and insects, reflect Darwin’s close collaboration with his senior contributors. This work introduced Darwin to the British scene, after the Beagle voyage, as an important and upcoming young naturalist.

Darwin, Zoology of the Beagle, bird:  Xanthornus flaviceps

The Zoology of the Beagle was originally published in 5 Parts, consisting of a total of 19 Numbers issued over a six-year period:

1. Fossil Mammalia (4 Numbers: F8.1, F8.7, F8.8, F8.13)
2. Mammalia (4 Numbers: F8.2, F8.4, F8.5, F8.10)
3. Birds (5 Numbers: F8.3, F8.6, F8.9, F8.11, F8.15)
4. Fish (4 Numbers: F8.12, F8.14, F8.16, F8.17)
5. Reptiles (2 Numbers: F8.18, F8.19)

Darwin, Zoology of the Beagle, rodents: Mus elegansDarwin editions are designated according to Freeman number based upon the bibliographic work of Richard B. Freeman. This work as a whole is designated F8. Each individual Number of the work is designated by a decimal “.#” from F8.1 through F8.19.

The OU copy is bound in three volumes:

  1. Fossil and living mammals (Parts 1 and 2)
  2. Birds (Part 3)
  3. Fish and Reptiles (Parts 4 and 5)

The OU copy of Darwin’s first and rarest work is exceptional, with minimal foxing, no missing plates, and all errata sheets present. This recent acquisition completed the OU collection of Darwin first editions. These volumes are available in their entirety on the Collections’ image galleries.

Darwin, Zoology of the Beagle, fossil mammal: Side view of the Taxodon

Darwin, Zoology of the Beagle, panther: Felis Yagouarondi

Darwin, Zoology of the Beagle, owl: Otus Galapagoensis

Darwin, Zoology of the Beagle, finch: Cactornis ofsimilis

About ouhos

Kerry Magruder, Curator; and JoAnn Palmeri, Librarian
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