LONDON - On the anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, outlining Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, a sensational discovery reveals the only known painting of Darwin aboard the HMS Beagle, the ship that carried the English naturalist on his historic voyage.

The watercolour, painted by Augustus Earle (1793–1838) will be offered in the English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations sale in London this December captures Darwin’s expedition as never seen before.

Painted while anchored off the Patagonian coast in 1832, the young Darwin is clearly recognizable although only half his face is visible and he is giving a long-winded pronouncement to an officer on the characteristics of an insect. So caught up is he with his investigations he is oblivious to the chaos around him: the deck is bustling as crewmembers bring more specimens for Darwin’s inspection – shells, seabirds, even an entire cabbage palm. Another crewmember is heaving a massive block of stone, carefully labelled with geological terms, to Captain FitzRoy, who is himself opining excitedly on the nature of a mineral.


AUGUSTUS EARLE, CARICATURE GROUP PORTRAIT ON BOARD HMS BEAGLE. ESTIMATE £50,000–70,000.

Not all the crew, however, are engaging in this spirit of discovery: one sailor grumbles as he slopes off with a theodolite (and a bottle of rum) while an officer complains about the mess on the deck and others are engaged in taking bearings. Indeed Darwin’s daughter recalled that life aboard ship could be fractious, as underlined by this tongue in cheek watercolour, which carries the title “Quarter Deck of a Man of War on Diskivery of interesting Scenes on an Interesting Voyage”. Each figure has their own speech bubble with words written in black ink: “Stand out of MY way!!! I’ve got specimens for the Captain!!!,’ says a sailor delivering specimens to FitzRoy.

In echoing many known features of the Beagle voyage, this painting represents an important new witness to one of the most renowned scientific voyages in history.

English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations

15 December 2015 | London