English naturalist (1809 - 1882)
Charles Robert Darwin can be considered as one of the most important
scientist of the nineteenth century. His theory of evolution, which held that
new species were the product of variation and natural selection, brought about a
revolution in our conception of life.
He was born into a well-to-do family. His maternal grandfather was Josiah
Wedgwood, the founder of the famous porcelain and earthenware factories. The
family fortune was accompanied by an interest in nature: his grandfather Erasmus
Darwin was also a respected scientist.
Though his studies started with theology in Cambridge in 1827, his predilection for collecting plants, insects and stones caused one of his professors to advise him to join a world trip as a naturalist to the Pacific Ocean on the Beagle. This voyage was to last five years, and to fill the young Charles with impressions and observations. During this expedition he also caught a tropical disease that would stay with him for the rest of his life.
Back in England, he married his cousin Emma Wedgwood and devoted his life to science. In 1859 he published the first edition of Origin of Species, in which he set out his theory of evolution. Even today, this theory is still the subject of considerable debate.
Darwin himself always kept his distance from the discussions that followed the publication of his controversial study. He led a secluded life and had contact only with friends. His favourite hobby was breeding pigeons. He was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.