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Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. He was the son of Robert Waring
Darwin and his wife Susannah; and the grandson of the scientist Erasmus Darwin,
and of the potter Josiah Wedgwood. His mother died when he was eight years old,
and he was brought up by his sister. He was taught classics at Shrewsbury, then
sent to Edinburgh to study medicine, which he hated, and a final attempt at
educating him was made by sending him to Christ's College, Cambridge, to study
theology (1827). During that period he loved to collect plants, insects, and
geological specimens, guided by his cousin William Darwin Fox, an entomologist.
His scientific inclinations were encouraged by his botany professor, John
Stevens Henslow, who was instrumental, depsite heavy paternal opposition, in
securing a place for Darwin as a naturalist on the surveying expedition of HMS
Beagle to Patagonia (1831-6). Under Captain Robert Fitzroy, he visited Tenerife,
the Cape Verde Is, Brazil, Montevideo, Tierra del Fuego, Buenos Aires,
Valparaiso, Chile, the Galapagos, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Tasmania. In the
Keeling Is he devised his theory of coral reefs. During this five-year
expedition he obtained intimate knowledge of the fauna, flora, and geology of
many lands, which equipped him for his later investigations. By 1846 he had
published several works on the geologcial and zoological descoveries of his
voyage- works that placed him at once in the front rank of scientists. He
developed a friendship with Sir Charles Lyell, became secretary of the
Geological Society (1838-41), and in 1839 married his cousin Emma Wedgewood
(1808-96). From 1842 he lived at Down House, Downe, Kent, a country gentleman
among his gardens, conservatories, pigeons, and fowls. The practical knowledge
he gained there, especially in variation and interbreeding, proved invaluable.
Private means enabled him to devote himself to science, in spite of continuous
ill-health: it was not realized until after his death that he had suffered from
Chagas's diasease, which he had contracted from an insect bite while in South
America. At Down House he addressed himself to the great work of his life- the
problem of the origin of species. After five years of collecting the evidence,
he began to speculate on the subject. In 1842 he drew up his observations in
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