Special Collections > Exhibitions, Events & In the Press

Click here for a PDF of the official invitation exclusively designed for UCC by Jeremy Bowman

The Charles Darwin Bicentennial:
UCC Celebrates Natural History and the Victorian Scholar

A Brief Summary

2009 represents two very important dates in the history of scientific thought and its impact on how we see the world today. It is the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his most famous work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

As a means of celebrating Darwin’s life and work UCC Library organised an exhibition, which opened on February 12th, Darwin’s birthday, and ran until 8th May 2009.
The exhibition focused on the close links that existed between the early scientists in the emerging disciplines of Geology, Zoology, and Botany. It showcased treasures from the Victorian collections of Queen’s College Cork: its Library and Natural History Museums.
The exhibition displayed rare and influential works from the UCC Library’s Special Collections, by Darwin and those who influenced him. The books were enhanced by specimens from UCC’s Zoology and Geology Museums. The exhibition attracted wide attention within the university community and beyond. It proved very popular with school visits and members of the public.
Highlights included:

  • A rare first edition of Origin of Species, along with a wide range of Darwin first editions, including Descent of Man.
  • Specimens from UCC’s Zoology Museum, including two actually collected by Charles Darwin himself  in Patagonia, South America, during the H.M.S. Beagle voyage, under the command of Captain Robert Fitz Roy (1831-1836). Acquired by Queen’s College Cork for its Natural History Museum, they provide a direct tangible link with the young Darwin, naturalist on the voyage. Other specimens on display included a Duck-billed Platypus, an Echidna, and a Wandering Albatross
  • Specimens from the Geology Museum illustrating fossil record, including a complete Ichthyosaur, over 250 million years old, and the transitional fossil Archaeopteryx, also known as “first bird”. Archaeopteryx discovered in 1861, only two years after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, became a key piece of evidence in the debate over evolution.
  • Beautifully illustrated works including a full set of the original volumes of The Zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, under the command of Captain Fitzroy, R.N., during the years 1832 to 1836 with John Gould’s famous bird descriptions.

Note: How UCC acquired the Darwin Artifacts
The two Darwin specimens on display, a Patagonian Cavy, and an Opossum were collected (and stuffed) by Charles Darwin himself, in Maldonado, Patagonia, South America during the H.M.S. Beagle voyage (1831-1836).

Darwin donated all his mammal collection to the Zoological Society of London’s museum. When this museum dispersed in 1855 the collection was passed on to the British Natural History Museum, also in London.

These two specimens were purchased in 1855 by the President of Queen’s College Cork, Sir Robert Kane, and the then museum curator, Robert Harkness. It is believed that it was not known that these were specimens from Darwin’s voyage when they were bought, having been overlooked by the British Museum during the transfer from the Zoological Society. It was not until 1982, largely through the efforts of the then curator Dr Eamonn Twomey, that these specimens became recognised as part of the Darwin Collection.


Back to Special Collections

Last updated: 12 March 2015

More Information