Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species was first published on 24th November 1859 with the title On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Species in the Struggle for Life.
Darwin’s controversial book had a profound effect on Victorian society challenging the traditional belief that the World had been created by God in seven days.
In 1831 Darwin had been invited to join a five year scientific expedition to survey South America on board the Beagle. Darwin spent most of his time making observations on marine and animal life as well as the geology of the area. During the voyage Darwin also read Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology which set the theory that the geology of land could change over time.
While making his observations Darwin saw that some species had slightly different features in different areas. This was most noticeable on the Galapagos Islands where he discovered that both mockingbirds and tortoises had different features on different islands. From this discovery he began to formulate his theory of evolution – that it is possible for one species to evolve into another. He noted that in the animal world the number of young born exceeded the number required for the species to survive and that only the strongest and fittest generally survived to adulthood.
Darwin spent twenty years developing his theory and may never have published his work but in 1858 he discovered that another naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace had developed similar theories the two decided to make a joint announcement of their theory. It was another year before Darwin was ready to publish his complete theory but when it was published on 24th November 1859 it was received with mixed reactions and split the scientific and religious world. It also caused controversy because the theory could be used to prove that man was descended from apes and many cartoons appeared in newspapers showing Darwin with an ape’s body.
Darwin’s work had a profound influence on scientific thinking and formed the basis of modern evolutionary belief.