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The True Adventures of Charley Darwin

Chapter 1. Shrewsbury School: 1818

Odd, isn’t it, how a trivial thing can turn out to be a matter of greatest importance in one’s life. In my case, it was my nose.

I considered my nose rather ordinary, a trifle too large for me to be thought handsome but entirely suited to its purpose. However, because of my nose I was nearly denied the greatest adventure of my life. The man responsible was Robert FitzRoy, captain of a small sailing ship, who argued that a man’s character could be divined by studying the shape of his head and the features of his face. Based on the size and shape of my nose, the captain believed I lacked sufficient energy and determination to endure the arduous sea voyage he planned to make around the world.

How did it come about that a perfect stranger should care so deeply about my nose? And what was his decision and the result of it? To answer those questions, and others that may arise, let me begin at the beginning, long before I ever heard of the captain or of his ship HMS Beagle....

A Note from the Author

Who was Charley Darwin? —I mean the schoolboy who preferred to catch beetles and hunt for newts in the old quarry rather than study Latin and Greek, the young man who was more comfortable on horseback galloping across the pampa of Argentina than he was sipping tea in an English drawing room. Charley’s early struggles to discover who he was and what he wanted to do with his life led me to write his story as a novel, to see his world through his eyes, experience his life as he felt it, and describe his adventures, his successes and his disappointments in his own voice.

Charles Darwin’s brief Autobiography, his Beagle journal, and his voluminous correspondence have all provided windows into Charley’s world. In this book I’ve written his story as he might have written it in nineteenth century England, down to the English spellings that look so odd to an American: whilst, amongst, neighbour, meagre, travelled, learnt, titbit, and many more, and spelled (spelt!) place names as they were then: St. Jago, Chili, for instance, has become Santiago, Chile.

As he had suspected when he first wrote out his debate with himself on the subject of marriage, Charley never did “know French, or see the Continent, or go to America, or go up in a balloon.” But his remarkable, wide-ranging imagination, his powerful intellect, and his patient observations of the world around him carried him far beyond the wildest adventures of his voyage around the world.