Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle (1839)

Originally posted at, the now-discontinued blog of the OU History of Science Collections. Neither this post nor any of its content should be taken as an official communication of the University of Oklahoma.

Darwin@the Library info | Exhibit brochure (pdf)

Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle (1890)

Which of Darwin’s books was the most popular during his own lifetime?

Charles Darwin’s second book was a travel narrative, a lively account of the Beagle voyage originally published in 1839 as the third volume of the Journal of Researches. The Journal was a 4-volume report of the voyage edited by Robert Fitzroy, captain of H.M.S. Beagle.

Darwin, Journal of Researches (1839), title page

Darwin’s journal became known in subsequent editions simply as the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle. Darwin’s Voyage was an immediate best-seller. More people read this book in the 19th century than any of Darwin’s other works.

Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle (1890)

Darwin recounted adventures at sea: sailing around Cape Horn, passing by snow-topped mountains and volcanic islands.

HMS Beagle at Cape Horn Snow covered mountains Volcanos

And adventures on land: crossing icy bridges in the Andes and traversing treacherous mountain passages. He relayed visions of strange, far-away places and the exotic people who lived there.

Icy bridge Mountain bridge Exotic people

Darwin’s travel narrative was widely admired, both in Britain and on the continent, as a description of the scientist as an explorer encountering the exotic and sublime.

Forest waterfall

The Voyage makes compelling reading, recounting stories about many of the specimens described in the Zoology. For example, the Voyage explains that Darwin caught the vampire bat beautifully colored in the Zoology as it alighted on the back of his horse near Coquimbo, in Chile.

Vampire bat, from the Zoology Vampire bat, from the Voyage (1890)

Galapagos tortoise, from the Voyage (1890)The 1890 edition of the Voyage depicted the Galapagos tortoise, which somehow escaped being described in the Zoology.

It’s no wonder the Voyage of the Beagle has remained in print to this day.


Examine the Voyage of the Beagle in high resolution at the Online Galleries:

More info about Darwin’s first book, the Zoology.

Darwin@the Library info | Exhibit brochure (pdf)

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