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18 Interesting Facts About Charles Darwin That May Surprise You

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One of the most famous scientists in the world, Charles Darwin, is known for his theories on natural selection and evolution. He unpacked these in his scientific literature, On The Origin of Species, in 1859. 

This biologist massively helped improve the understanding of the natural world through his studies, so we should be incredibly grateful for his contributions. 

However, Darwin was also a quirky human being known for some strange habits, so there’s quite a bit that you may not know about him. Luckily for you, I’ve got all the details on some of the most interesting facts about Charles Darwin that might blow your mind. 

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18 Interesting Facts about Charles Darwin

1. Charles Darwin Was Born on the Same Day As Lincoln


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Born on the 12th of February 1809, Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England. What might fascinate you is that another prominent person was also born on the exact same day: Abraham Lincoln

Yeah, that’s right, Lincoln was also born on the 12th of February 1809, although in a much more different place – a log cabin in the middle of the Kentucky woods. Besides birthdays, Darwin and Lincoln also shared common beliefs. Both the biologist and the 16th US President strongly believed in ending slavery.

2. He Was an Abolitionist


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Despite popular feelings at the time, Charles Darwin was strongly against slavery and was appalled by the practice of enslavement. While traveling around the world on the HMS Beagle, Darwin witnessed enslaved people and was horrified by how they were treated. 

He saw slavery frequently in South America and wrote about it in 1833, saying it was a “monstrous stain on our boasted liberty” and that “I have seen enough of slavery… to be thoroughly disgusted.” 

In fact, it was said to have impacted him so much that it caused his doubts in faith and even allegedly inspired the writing and publishing of On the Origin of Species

3. Darwin Didn’t Only Study Exotic Animals (He Ate Them Too)


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One weird and wacky fact about Darwin is he enjoyed feasting on a wide range of exotic animals. As a Cambridge student, he started the Gourmet Club – informally known as the Glutton Club – as a way to eat all kinds of birds and beasts, from hawks to bitterns. 

Talk about an adventurous eater! However, he did have limits, and he apparently gagged on a brown owl – calling the taste “indescribable” and vouching never to eat it again. On his trip across the globe aboard the HMS Beagle, his curiosity for tasting other exotic meats continued as he ate armadillos, agouti, giant tortoises, rheas, and even pumas. 

He described pumas as tasting “remarkably like veal in taste”. Luckily, today’s biologists don’t practice this behavior – as it could cause a whole different issue. 

4. He Was Married to His First Cousin 

Charles Darwin married his cousin Emma Wedgwood, and the couple stayed together until his passing. However, this almost didn’t happen due to Darwin’s dedication to his work. 

He suffered from a bout of illness when he was told to take a few weeks off from work. During this period, he was said to have met Miss Wedgwood at her family estate in 1837. One year later, he proposed, and they were married on the 29th of January 1839. 

Nowadays, this would be highly frowned upon, but back in 19th-century England, this wasn’t uncommon. Another interesting thing is that Darwin wrote a pros and cons list about getting married. One pro was “having a lifelong companion”, and one con was “losing time for work”.

5. He Dropped Out of Medical School


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Did you know that Charles Darwin was studying to become a doctor? Yeah, his father, Robert Darwin, enrolled him in the University of Edinburgh Medical School. This was after he spent a few months apprenticing for his father and showed a slight inclination toward medicine. 

However, this didn’t last long, as, in the second year of medical school, his interest in naturalism bloomed once he joined the Plinian Society. This society delved into the world’s natural history, and Darwin spent so much time in this that he neglected his studies. 

His father was highly unimpressed with Darwin’s attendance, and so he sent him to Christ’s College to become an Anglican priest. It was a good thing Darwin dropped out, as his early interests in plants and nature inspired his later work. Also, he was rumored to have been afraid of blood – which no doctor should be. 

6. He Had a Strange Nickname

During Darwin’s time in chemistry school, he earned the weird nickname “Gas”. No, it’s not what you think it’s for – Darwin wasn’t extremely gassy. 

He got this nickname because of his love for experimenting with and collecting gases. How strange is that? He was known for his kindness and gentleness, even up to his old age.

7. Over 380 Things Are Named After Him


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Talking about names, Charles Darwin has 389 species named after him, from the Chilean mouse – Phyllotis darwini, to Darwin’s frog – Rhinoderma darwinii. That’s not all; there are also several different places named after him all over the world. 

There’s the Charles Darwin National Park and the town of Darwin in Australia. Then there is Mount Darwin and Darwin Island in South America. There is also an accolade called the Darwin Medal, awarded for work done in evolution, biological diversity, and organismal biology. 

One award that he might not want his name associated with is the Darwin Award, which is an online honor for people who injure or kill themselves in the stupidest ways. As a result, they prove the merits of natural selection. 

8. On the Origin of Species Took Over 20 Years to Publish


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Charles Darwin’s most famous achievement, publishing On the Origin of Species, is merited as one of the most important contributions to modern biology. This is because it was so important to evolution. However, did you know that it took the biologist over 20 years to publish it – as he wanted to have enough evidence to prove his theory of evolution via natural selection? 

Charles was definitely an overthinker because you can understand why – because of the skepticism of science by society at the time. This, combined with how the general public reacted to the book, was why it took over 20 years, from 1836 to 1858, to publish his book. 

9. He Was a Backgammon Enthusiast


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Darwin had a major interest in playing backgammon, especially after returning from his trip on the HMS Beagle and becoming marred with illness. In fact, he created a rigorous daily routine as a way to reduce the pain caused by one of his many unknown diseases. 

As part of this routine, he scheduled time for two games of backgammon each day between 8 and 8:30 PM with his wife, Emma. He even kept score of each game he played in a book. 

10. He Didn’t Coin Survival of the Fittest


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Many people associate the phrase “survival of the fittest” with Darwin’s theory of natural selection. However, Darwin was not the first to use this phrase. 

Instead, Herbert Spencer, an English Philosopher, first coined “survival of the fittest” in his book Principles of Biology in 1864. Charles Darwin only used the phrase in his fifth edition of On The Origin Of Species in 1869. 

11. He’s Buried in Westminster Abbey


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Charles Darwin is buried in Westminster Abbey near some of England’s most famous scientists, such as the mathematician Isaac Newton and the astronomer John Herschel. Despite his complications with religion, Darwin was buried in the North Choir aisle of the abbey in the 1880s after many of his colleagues and the general public petitioned for it.

12. Darwin Suffered from Various Chronic Diseases

Upon returning home from his five-year trip around the world, Charles Darwin suffered from eczema, exhaustion, nausea, headaches, and heart palpitations. It is ironic that the man who discovered natural selection proved it with his death. 

This pain only worsened with age, and in 1882 he was diagnosed with heart disease only a few months before he died. Some allege that his death was caused by contracting a parasitic illness called Chagas disease during his travels, although this has not been fully proven. 

13. The HMS Beagle Voyage Took Over Five Years


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One of the most famous scientific expeditions was Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle. The ship set off from Plymouth, England, on the 27th of December 1831. The first stop was the Canary Islands in January 1832 after a cholera outbreak and quarantine. 

Next, they stopped at several spots in South America, including Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, Punta Alta, Tierra del Fuego, and the Falkland Islands.

Then, they set off for the Galápagos Islands arriving in September 1835. Here, Darwin discovered the Galápagos finches, which helped solidify his theory of natural selection. The journey continued along with stops in Australia and Africa before arriving in Falmouth, England, on the 2nd of October 1836.

14. He Struggled with His Religious Beliefs


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Throughout his life, Charles Darwin was riddled with what faith to believe. Born and raised as a Unitarian Christian, he was originally a devout Christian and followed the Bible word-for-word. 

However, as his studies progressed and upon his journey around the earth, his beliefs began to change. He was especially affected by seeing the treatment of enslaved people and following the deaths of his three children. 

That said, Darwin still valued faith’s importance and was considered an agnostic. Interestingly, he and his wife were fascinated by the Buddhist religion because of how it looked at compassion and the ending of suffering. 

15. He Visited Four Continents and Eleven Countries on His Voyage


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Charles Darwin is said to have visited four continents on his journey – Europe, South America, Oceania, and Africa. Most of the trip was spent in South America, where Darwin visited several countries. These include Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and beautiful Peru

Next, he headed to Oceania, where he made stops in French Polynesia, New Zealand, and Australia. The next continent he visited was Africa, where he visited Mauritius, South Africa, and Saint Helena. 

Lastly, he made a quick stop in Pernambuco, Brazil, before heading to his home continent of Europe. The last stop he made was on Terceira Island, an island that belongs to Portugal. 

16. His Portrait Featured on the 10-Pound Note


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Another thing you might not know about Darwin (unless you live in London): He featured on the British 10-pound note for almost twenty years. Yeah, Charles Darwin was on the back of the 10-pound note from the 7th of November 2000 until the 1st of March 2018.

His portrait was on the back of the note, along with the HMS Beagle, his magnifying glass, and a hummingbird among flowers. Other notable figures on the 10-pound note were Florence Nightingale, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen (currently).

17. He Received an Apology from the Church


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Upon the release of On the Origin of Species in November 1859, Charles Darwin was widely criticized by many people and organizations for the theory of evolution via natural selection. This was because many saw it as blasphemy and for it altering the common belief that God had created man.

One major critic was the Church of England, which condemned his challenges towards creationism. This feeling lasted until his death and for 126 years, when they published an apology to Charles Darwin in 2008. This is when Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown apologized for misunderstanding him in an online essay. 

18. He Had Other Famous Family Members

Charles Darwin wasn’t the Darwin family’s only claim to fame. Yeah, in fact, his direct ancestor and descendants were famous for their own reasons. Erasmus Darwin, his grandfather, was an abolitionist, poet, and philosopher famed for his thoughts on natural history. 

His son, George Darwin, was an astronomer well-known for his theory of the tidal evolution between the earth and the moon. His other children were also famous for various studies, including medicine, economics, and instrument-making.

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