This is an excerpt from Chapter II of A Guinea Pig's History of Biology: The Plants and Animals Who Taught Us the Facts of Life (now available as a Random House ebook). Other chapters trace the development of the modern theories of evolution and inheritance by focusing on experiments with fruit flies, guinea pigs, zebra fish and so on. Here, the subject is the passionflower, and the gift of specimens that led to a notable friendship. The excerpt has been formatted for the Victorian Web by kind permission of the author, with added illustrations, captions and links. Where possible, in-text citations replace end-notes; page changes are noted in square brackets. [You may use the images here without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the source and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.] — Jacqueline Banerjee

decorated initial 'A'fter the Beagle's return to Britain in 1836, Darwin distributed his specimens to various experts, in order to have them properly identified and named. At this stage in his career, his main expertise was in geology, not botany, so the passionflowers went with the rest of the Galápagos plants to his old friend Henslow [John Steven Henslow (1796-1861), the Cambridge Professor of Botany who had taught him as an undergraduate]. Unfortunately, Henslow was too busy with his university duties and his parish work (he became vicar of Hitcham, Suffolk, l837) to work on his former student's plants. They languished neglected, for many years.

The Voyage of the Erebus, as shown on the title page of Joseph Dalton Hooker's The Botany of the Antarctic Voyage of H.M. Discovery ships Erebus and Terror in the Years 1839-1843. Hooker, title page.

In 1843, seven years after the Beagle's return, Darwin finally got tired of waiting for Henslow and offered the Galápagos plants to William Hooker's son, Joseph Dalton Hooker. Joseph had just returned from a remarkable voyage of his own — four years spent circumnavigating the Antarctic on another British naval vessel the Erebus. It and its sister ship, the aptly named Terror, had braved icebergs and storms to sail further south than any ships had before, trying to determine the exact position of the southern magnetic Pole. Although the ships' hulls had been strengthened help them resist the pack ice, no wooden sailing vessel could survive the Antarctic winter. As the days closed in and the ice began to extend its grip, the Erebus and Terror retreated north and wintered in Australia, New Zealand or South America, carrying out repairs and re-supplying. During these respites, Joseph Hooker went exploring and collected plants. Although he was only an assistant naval surgeon (while Darwin had paid his own way as a gentleman companion to the captain), having a father with a famous name in botanical circles opened doors for Joseph. He contacted his father's correspondents wherever he went. [40/41] Although his ship did not take him to Buenos Aires to meet Tweedie [Scottish landscaper and plant-collector (1775-1862), then exploring Argentina], Hooker met many similar men in Australia and New Zealand whose love of botany had led them to collect for his father, who had recently become director of Britain's national botanic garden at Kew.

Passiflora Mooreana, illustrated by Walter Hood Fitch at Kew, as shown in Curtis's Botanical Magazine and featured on the cover of Endersby's book.

On his return to Britain, Hooker decided to write not merely a description of his travels but a comprehensive flora of all the countries around Antarctica. By comparing and contrasting the plant life of different countries, he hoped to discover how plants had arrived in their present habitats. Apparently aware of his interest in distribution, Darwin offered the Beagle plants to Hooker, including the passionflowers. Darwin's published journal of the Beagle voyage and his publications on geological and other topics had made him a celebrated figure and Hooker was both excited and flattered by his attentions. Once the plants had arrived, he wrote to tell Darwin that they "are far more xtensive [sic] in number of species than I could have supposed" and that even though he "was quite prepared to see the xtraordinary difference between the plants of the seperate [sic] Islands from your journal," he was nevertheless surprised by his observations of the actual specimens, which he realized would force him and other botanists to rethink their ideas about plant migration (12 December 1843 - 11 January 1844, Burkhardt and Smith). Three years later, Hooker described Darwin's passionflowers in the Transactions of London's Linnean Society; convinced they were new species, Hooker named them Passiflora tridactylites and Passiflora puberula.* Darwin's gift, including the passionflowers, began a lifelong friendship with Hooker; their regular letters and visits were invaluable to both men, and Hooker's observations and his knowledge of botanical matters were to shape Darwin's work over many decades.

* This was in his first paper on Galápagos plants, in Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, 1847, 20: 222, 223. Hooker produced a fuller account of Darwin’s Galápagos plants two years later, in "An Enumeration of the Plants of the Galapagos Islands," Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, 1849, 1: 276-79.

Related Material


[Source of text:] Endersby, Jim. A Guinea Pig's History of Biology: The Plants and Animals Who Taught Us the Facts of Life. London: Arrow Books (Random House), 2008. 40-41.

Burkhardt, F.and S. Smith, eds. The Correspondence of Charles Darwin. Vol. II: 1837-1843.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

[Illustration source:] Curtis's Botanical Magazine, v.66. N.S. 13. Plate 3773. Internet Archive. Contributed by Missouri Botanical Garden. Web. 15 April 2015.

[Illustration source:] Hooker, Joseph Dalton. The Botany of the Antarctic Voyage of H.M. Discovery ships Erebus and Terror in the Years 1839-1843. London: Reeve Brothers, 1844. Internet Archive. Contributed by the MBLWHOI Library. Web. 15 April 2015.

Created 15 April 2015