During the early 19th century the Royal Navy sent some of its ships around the world to make more accurate navigation maps. On 27th December 1831 HMS Beagle sailed from Plymouth on its second voyage to South America and home via the East Indies. Charles Darwin was on board as a naturalist companion for Captain FitzRoy who, subject to fits of depression, was fearful of of the consequences of long, lonely years at sea. The voyage was extended from its proposed 2 years and the Beagle eventually returned to England in May 1836. Darwin spent the majority of his time studying geology as FitzRoy had intended but he also observed and collected animals, birds and plants. He sent all his specimens – rocks, fossils, birds, animals and plants – back to Henslow in Cambridge where they were kept safe until Darwin’s return. The plants were a gift for Henslow, Darwin’s friend and mentor, and most of them have remained in Cambridge ever since.
Thanks to a generous donation from Lawrence Banks the Darwin specimens were recently conserved and placed in archive quality boxes to ensure their safekeeping for future generations. This work was carried out by Emma Ruffle from the Natural History Museum in London.