A Life's Work


Take a video tour of Down House.

©AMNH video 2005

In 1842 Charles Darwin and his family fled London in search of peace and quiet. They found it in a tiny village 16 miles outside the city, and for the next 40 years their home--called Down House--was Darwin's retreat, research station and the hub of his vast scientific network. Working in his study, greenhouse and garden, corresponding with scientists around the world, Darwin patiently completed the puzzle of evolution by natural selection.


Origin Manuscript by Charles Darwin, February-July 1844

©The Syndics of Cambridge University Library DAR 7

But for nearly two decades Darwin kept his secret from the world. It took a letter from the Malay Archipelago--a letter outlining another man's version of natural selection--to push him into print. Shutting himself in his study, working feverishly, Darwin finally produced the Origin of Species. That book--and its companion volume, Descent of Man--would spark a revolution. They would also make Darwin the most revered, and controversial, scientist of his time.


Family Circle

As the years passed, the sprawling house at Down filled up with children--the Darwins would have 10 in all--and a series of governesses, nurses, and pets.


Kindred Spirits

When Darwin looked at the expressions on people's faces--and at the body language of dogs and cats--he saw evidence for evolution.


From Pigeons to Potatoes

Darwin often turned to domesticated species--manageable and well-documented groups that he, or the experts he knew, could breed and shape. Pigeons, rabbits, cabbages, gooseberries--these would be a major object of study and his window into the workings of selection.


A Grand Amusement

Darwin looked at plants in a fresh way, fascinated by the intricate details of their structure and behavior. Above all, Darwin's plant research demonstrated the power of evolution by natural selection.


Our Poor Dear, Dear Child

Annie Darwin's death at the age of 10, likely from tuberculosis, left Emma and Charles reeling. Darwin mourned the loss of his "poor dear dear child" all his life.


Wonderful Creatures, These Orchids

Down House was in good orchid country; native species bloomed everywhere. This abundance delighted Darwin, who saw in the "wonderful creatures" a perfect case of natural selection at work.


At Last

Darwin | American Museum of Natural History


The World Reacts

The Origin of Species caused a sensation, not only in Britain but around the world. Scientific reaction was equally intense.


Where It Happened

Rising early, working in his study for several hours in the morning and several in the afternoon, Darwin produced an enormous amount of work, including one of the most influential scientific books of all time: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.