But What to Bring?

Part of the Darwin exhibition.

With little time to prepare before the ship departed, Darwin hurriedly shopped for supplies. "It is such capital fun ordering things," he wrote his friend Charles Whitley. Describing the same purchases to his family, however, he was careful to emphasize his frugality: "I have procured a case of good strong pistols and an excellent rifle for 50 pounds, there is a saving; a good telescope, with compass, 5 pounds, and these are nearly the only expensive instruments I shall want."

Frontier Naturalist

Darwin's Bible from the Beagle voyage
Bible courtesy Quentin Keynes Bequest, Charles Darwin Trust. Photo: © AMNH / Denis Finnin

These are some of Darwin's belongings from his Beagle voyage. He wouldn't think of traveling without a Bible—after all, he still intended to become a clergyman when he returned. But he also needed weapons to survive on the rough-and-tumble South American frontier, including this pistol and a "peacemaker," or cosh, a small club to fend off robbers, rebels and revolutionaries.

His most important possessions, however, were his scientific instruments, such as his clinometer, a tool for measuring angles and elevations that he needed for geological observations. Just months before the voyage, Darwin had written to Sedgwick about his efforts to master the clinometer:

"I put all the tables in my bedroom, at every conceivable angle and direction. I will venture to say I have measured them as accurately as any Geologist going could do."