Nine gastropods

Nine gastropods collected by Darwin
Gifted in 1927
Geology Collection: EUCM.0180.2013

Charles Lyell is a key figure in geology and the natural sciences. He authored the Principles of Geology which theorized that all geological events have been governed by laws of nature which are open to investigation at the present day, in effect that the Earth is constantly evolving. These theories were revolutionary not only to geology, but across the natural sciences. Sir Charles Darwin, at the age of 22, boarded the infamous H.M.S Beagle for a second voyage with a draft manuscript of Lyell’s Principles of Geology as reference, and directly applied these theories to the observations he made of wildlife, ultimately publishing these theories in the Origin of the Species.

The label which accompanies these gastropod shells indicate that they were collected by Darwin on St Helena. Given that Darwin suffered bouts of poor health throughout the rest of his life, rendering him unable to travel, these shells could only have been collected during the second voyage of H.M.S Beagle.

Charles Lyell and Darwin met for the first time on 29 October 1836, in the same month as the Beagle returned to England, and the pair developed a close and lasting friendship. It is possibly that Darwin gave the shells to Lyell, not for examination by Lyell himself, but his wife, Mary Horner Lyell, who was a keen conchologist. The shells were a part of a collection of Charles Lyell’s personal papers, books and objects which were gifted to the university by Lady Lyell in January 1927, but it is the recent acquisition of Charles Lyell’s notebooks which offers us the opportunity to contextualise the objects in the wider scientific landscape of Lyell’s and Darwin’s correspondence and ideas.

Story by Gillian McCay, Curator of the Cockburn Museum, and Elise Ramsay, Project Archivist (Climate Change)