Darwin was born a naturalist; large chunks of his youth were spent rummaging through his father’s gardens and land looking for interesting critters. Darwin himself even reflects on his early habits in his Autobiography; he writes that the ‘passion for collecting, which leads a man to be a systematic naturalist, a virtuoso or a miser, was very strong in me, and was clearly innate’. As he grew a little older, his intentions whilst searching out the wildlife of his father’s land changed slightly and he became an avid shooter. Shooting birds was then a very acceptable sport which the young Darwin clearly enjoyed and was very good at. But his passion for shooting eventually faded. One story states that he once came across a bird that was shot the day before but was still alive; another tells of a beetle that was sent to him as an old man, alive but clearly suffering, Darwin gently put both of these creatures out of their suffering. It is also clear that Darwin’s zeal for shooting on the Beagle voyage started to diminish, and he often hired men to do the shooting for him.
His passion for collecting never stalled. As a university student at Christ’s College, Cambridge Darwin was an avid beetle collector, eventually amassing one of the best beetle collections he knew of. His beetle collecting also got his name in print for the first time. J. F. Stephen lists Darwin as a collector in his Illustrations of British Entomology. Throughout his life Darwin continued to collect. On the Beagle voyage it was his main occupation, and he later collected (by post)enough barnacles to write the authoritative account of the group. His next project saw him collect the bones and measurements of many domestic animals. Not forgetting the greatest hallmark of Darwin’s work - his collection of facts which he used so well to outline and support his theories!