, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 35-54
Date: 28 Nov 2008

Experimenting with Transmutation: Darwin, the Beagle , and Evolution


Detailed analysis of Darwin’s scientific notes and other writings from the Beagle voyage reveals a focus on endemism and replacement of allied taxa in time and in space that began early in the journey. Though it is impossible to determine exactly when Darwin became a transmutationist, the evidence suggests that he was conversant with the transmutational ideas of Lamarck and others and testing (“experimenting” with) them—before he received a copy of Lyell’s Principles of Geology, vol. 2, in November 1832, in which Lyell describes and disputes Lamarck’s theory. To the two rhea species of Patagonia and the four mockingbird species of the Galapagos, we can now add the living Patagonian cavy (rodent) species, and its extinct putatively related species that Darwin collected at Monte Hermoso (Bahia Blanca) in the Fall of 1832, as a replacement pattern absolutely critical to the development of Darwin’s transmutational thinking. Darwin developed his first transmutational theory by adopting “Brocchi’s analogy” (Rudwick 2008)—i.e. that births and deaths of species are analogous to the births and deaths of individuals. Births and deaths of species, as of individuals, are thus explicable in terms of natural causes. Darwin explored these themes and the replacement of the extinct cavy by the modern species explicitly in his February 1835 essay (Darwin 1835a).