Darwin exhibition at the The Natural History Museum, London

The Natural History Museum, London

Exhibition > 19 April 2009

Darwin is the biggest ever exhibition about Charles Darwin. It celebrates Darwin’s ideas and their impact for his 200th birthday in 2009.


© The Natural History Museum. All Rights Reserved

Discover the man and the revolutionary theory that changed our understanding of the world and our place within it. Darwin is a celebration of Charles Darwin’s ideas and their impact, giving new insight into the achievements of this brilliant observer of nature.

Visitors can retrace Darwin’s life-changing journey as a curious and adventurous young man aboard the HMS Beagle on its five-year voyage around the world. Follow the clues that helped him develop the idea of evolution by natural selection through notebooks, artefacts, rare personal belongings and the fossils and zoological specimens he collected on his travels. See the patterns he observed among animals that led to the publication of On the Origin of Species that gathered the evidence for the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Darwin features live green iguanas and horned frogs from South America, along with fossil specimens collected by Darwin. The exhibition also features a beautiful reconstruction of Darwin’s study at Down House. It was here, at his country home in Kent, that the revolutionary observer and experimenter proposed the scientific theory that all life evolves according to the mechanism of natural selection. The objects on display, coupled with illuminating text and interactive displays, give visitors an insight into the patterns he observed among species that led to his famous theory.

Family photographs and letters show a different side to this famous scientist – Darwin as a family man, husband and father of 10 children. This unique exhibition concludes with an exploration of modern evolutionary biology and the importance of evolution in understanding how infectious disease-causing organisms keep changing as we attempt to control their spread.

Alex Gaffikin, exhibition developer at the Natural History Museum says: ‘Our mission is to share the wonders of the natural world with the general public and we’re really excited to host this landmark exhibition. Evolution is such an important subject, and we’re looking forward to engaging our visitors in developments surrounding this fascinating area of science.’

Darwin Big idea big at the Natural History Museum


Darwin’s study. An elaborate reproduction of Charles Darwin’s study from Down House is one of the centerpiece attractions of Darwin.
© The Natural History Museum. All Rights Reserved

Darwin Big idea big at the Natural History Museum


Interpretation Panel
© The Natural History Museum. All Rights Reserved

Darwin Big idea big at the Natural History Museum


Etty’s box display in the Darwin exhibition at the Natural History Museum
© The Natural History Museum. All Rights Reserved

Visitors to Darwin will go on a six-stage voyage of discovery, starting at a model of HMS Beagle, the boat that took Darwin on his famous expedition.

    A Trip Around the World:

    The Beagle’s mission was to explore and map the oceans and islands of South America and the south Pacific. This section of the exhibition showcases personal items, including Darwin’s pistol. It’s the first time many of Darwin’s belongings have been shown to the public. Visitors can follow the clues Darwin uncovered on his Beagle voyage that ultimately led him to understand how animals are connected by shared ancestors. Darwin’s explorations come alive in a large circular display featuring many of the wonders Darwin witnessed on this voyage, such as Argentinian horned frogs and a green iguana from South America. Also on display are fossils and dramatic, mounted specimens of the animals he saw, including sloths, rheas and armadillos. This amazing variety of objects is gathered together for the first time, along with specimens Darwin collected himself, including petrified wood.


    Darwin’s revolutionary ideas began to unfold while he was living in London after arriving home from the Beagle voyage. Notebooks and letters charting the development of his thinking illustrate his growing reputation in London and the social climate in which he struggled to develop his theory. This section also includes specimens critical to his theory, such as the original fossil skull of a large extinct hoofed mammal, Toxodon platensis, which he collected on the Beagle expedition and later discussed with colleagues. Also featured are love letters between Darwin and his first cousin Emma Wedgwood, of the illustrious Wedgwood family, famous for its spectacular pottery. He married Emma in 1839. Also on display are his personal notes debating whether or not to marry her.

    Down House:

    A centrepiece of the exhibition is the elaborate reconstruction of Darwin’s study at Down House in Kent, where, by continuing to experiment with pigeons, plants and other forms of life, he refined his theory of evolution. It was in his study, in 1859, that Darwin completed the book that took the world by storm – On the Origin of Species. Also showcased are many personal treasures related to Darwin’s intellectual journey and family life, including an original handwritten page from On the Origin of Species and a box filled with shells and family keepsakes collected by his daughter Etty. A large-scale video presentation, created from 1,000 high resolution photographs, transports visitors on a contemplative virtual walk with Darwin along the Sandwalk, the ‘thinking path’ the naturalist created in the grounds of Down House.

    Theatre – The Life and Work of Charles Darwin:

    A video biography of Darwin, narrated by his great-great-grandson, Randal Keynes, author of Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution, introduces visitors to the political, social, and scientific climate Darwin was working in. The film retraces Darwin’s life through footage filmed on location in England and elsewhere. It depicts his student years, his voyage on the Beagle and his time in London. Also detailed is his life at Down House, his country home in Kent where he conducted decades of research and wrote many of his books, including the legendary On the Origin of Species.

    The World Before Darwin:

    When Darwin began his studies, the general belief was that organisms were unchanged since their divine creation a few thousand years ago. Visitors can see how Darwin’s contemporaries arranged specimens via an antique display case filled with exceptional mammal, reptile and bird skeletons. It was these ideas that Darwin encountered and then ultimately overturned with his revolutionary theory.

    Evolution, Today:

    Near the exhibition’s exit, examples of modern evolutionary research show how Darwin’s theory has been enhanced and enriched by subsequent discoveries in palaeontology, genetics and molecular biology. Videos and interactive exhibits help visitors understand concepts such as adaptation to environment and natural selection. Darwin’s evolutionary theory is central to science and is the foundation of all of modern biology. Screens show interviews with some of today’s leading scientists, discussing Darwin’s continuing impact on modern society and science.

Darwin Big idea big at the Natural History Museum


Blue-footed boobies. Fossils, mounted specimens, and illustrations of the uniquely American modern animals and groups Darwin saw on the Galápagos Islands, such as these blue-footed boobies (Sula nebouxii excisa)
© The Natural History Museum. All Rights Reserved

Darwin Big idea big at the Natural History Museum


Galapagos Tortoises
© The Natural History Museum. All Rights Reserved

Darwin Big idea big at the Natural History Museum


Glyptodont skeleton and armadillo. A cast of a fossil glyptodont, such as Darwin unearthed during his travels through South America, will be featured in Darwin.
© The Natural History Museum. All Rights Reserved

The exhibition is a highlight of Darwin200, a national programme of events celebrating Charles Darwin’s ideas, impact and influence around the bicentenary of his birth. www.darwin200.org

Darwin is organised in collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History, the Natural History Museum, London, the Museum of Science, Boston, the Field Museum, Chicago and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada.

© The Natural History Museum. All Rights Reserved


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~ by Stampfli & Turci on January 7, 2009.

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