Was Darwin a vegetarian?

No, he wasn’t.

That is to say, there is not a shred of evidence to make us think that he ever was—and quite a lot of evidence to the contrary. For some reason, though, many pro-vegetarian websites claim him as one of theirs.

In his youth, Darwin bagged pheasants and partridges by the score. At university, he was a member of a social dining club called The Gluttons, who specialised in eating strange meals. He became very sick after one infamous Gluttons dinner of brown (tawny) owl. During the Beagle voyage, Darwin also ate, amongst other creatures, Galápagos tortoise, puma, and rhea. Furthermore, his wife’s Recipes book (Amazon uk | .com) also contains numerous meat dishes.

But the real clincher is to be found in the Sir Francis Darwin’s reminiscences about his father:

Latterly he gave up late dinner, and had a simple tea at half-past seven (while we had dinner), with an egg or a small piece of meat.

So, Darwin certainly wasn’t a vegetarian in his latter days.

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks
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11 thoughts on “Was Darwin a vegetarian?

  1. John the Plumber

    Darwin suffered digestive problems for much of his adult life. Early 1886 found him 'half starved to death' on a prescribed crash diet of scanty ammounts of 'toast & meat'. (With no complaint from him that he was vegetarian.) [See Darwin - Adrian Desmond and James Moore 1991 p 533]

    Reply
  2. Chris

    I'm rather late to this party but interesting (to me at least) question for you: I once knew a mammalian biologist (a biologist of mammals rather than a biologist who was a mammal, although I seem to remember that the latter also applied) in Oxford who mentioned to me that Darwin had "discovered" a considerable number of species of mammals "by eating them". This was in the context of a conversation on the edibility of mammals in general. I assume that he meant CD had eaten them after examining them etc.

    It's easy to imagine that on a long voyage, especially without modern methods of preservation, one might elect to eat even a new discovery rather than have it decompose. I just wondered whether you are aware of any evidence of this or whether it was just speculation.

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    1. Richard Carter, FCD Post author

      I don’t know about mammals in particular, but the most famous story of Darwin ‘discovering’ a species as he was eating it was his discovery of the bird that became known as Darwin's rhea. Darwin was aware that there were two different species of these flightless birds in South America, and had unsuccessfully tried to collect a sample of the rarer, smaller species (which he believed to be a new species to science, although it later turned out somebody else had already collected it). Then, in January 1844, Darwin was happily tucking into a bird shot for lunch by HMS Beagle's artist Conrad Martens, when he realised it was the very species he’d been trying to collect. He managed to preserve a few of the pieces that hadn’t been eaten.

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