Charles Darwin attended Christ’s college from 1828-1831. He completed his BA without honours, and did not proceed to the theological training generally expected following a normal degree. Darwin was not quite the model student, and apparently missed many of his lectures, more interested in extra-curricular activities. He most certainly did attend the lectures of John Stevens Henslow, however, the professor of botany during Darwin’s time at Cambridge, and perhaps the single most influential person in leading Darwin onto his remarkable path.
Henslow had taken up the post of Regius Professor of botany in 1825, having held the position of Professor of Mineralogy before that from 1822, only 4 years after his graduation. Even without his impact on Darwin, Henslow has a considerable legacy, cataloguing many of the plants local to Cambridge in one of the oldest volumes of British flora, and founding the new Cambridge University Botanic Garden in 1831. Darwin became great friends with him, and was known as ‘the man who walks with Henslow’ by the other professors. On Friday evenings Henslow held open house, and Darwin was a regular attendee of these scientific soirees. In his memoires of Henslow, Darwin writes at length on how much he enjoyed and learnt from his time with Henslow, and extensively praises his character. It was also Henslow who suggested to Captain FitzRoy that Darwin should be taken on the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle, and while on this pivotal journey Darwin continued to be aided by Henslow, who received and looked after the specimens Darwin sent back as well continuing to offer advice.