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A voyage of discovery: Charles Darwin and the Beagle

To mark the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin and to encourage powers of scientific observation.

by The Revd Alan M. Barker

Suitable for Key Stage 3


To mark the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin and to encourage powers of scientific observation.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a £10 note (which features Charles Darwin). Note that permission must be obtained from the Bank of England to reproduce the design for OHP (
  • A globe, an observing glass, a fossil, some plant material and a pen and notebook, displayed on a table, will help to tell the story of Charles Darwin.
  • The Natural History Museum website carries an excellent presentation on the route of the voyage of the Beagle (
  • Be prepared to explain some of the terms used in this assembly.


  1. Introduce the theme of observation by challenging the assembly to describe the colours and design of a £10 note. Reflect that often we take familiar things for granted. Challenge everyone to become more observant.
  2. Display the £10 note and introduce the portrait of Charles Darwin. He lived from 1809 to 1882. This year the bicentenary of his birth is being marked by special exhibitions, books and television programmes.

    Charles Darwin was a naturalist. He was invited to go on a voyage around the southern hemisphere, with other explorers, on a ship called HMS Beagle. Carrying 66 passengers, the Beagle was only a small vessel, 27.5m long and 7.5m wide. Their voyage was to last for five years and they travelled 40,000 miles! What an adventure! A ship similar to HMS Beagle is also featured on the £10 note.
  3. Using the globe (or the National History Museum presentation), indicate how the Beagle explored the southern hemisphere, visiting South America, South Africa and Australia and many remote islands, such as the Galapagos. On the voyage, Charles Darwin came across some amazing sights, animals and birds in different parts of the earth. Often the explorers made expeditions inland, for hundreds of miles.

    Refer to the observing glass, the fossil and the notebook. Darwin saw wonderful plants and creatures that he carefully drew and wrote about in his notebooks. He collected thousands of specimens of insects, birds and plants. There were also fossils that helped him to learn about creatures living millions of years ago. On the Galapagos, Charles Darwin rode on the ‘giant tortoises’ and was to find iguana lizards that looked like miniature dragons. 
  4. What must it have felt like to discover such amazing fossils and creatures? What creatures do the children find fascinating, and why? Reflect upon some of the characteristics that are described. The colours of some animals provide camouflage, hiding them from sight. Others have ‘prehensile’ tails adapted for climbing, strong claws and teeth for capturing prey, or eyes providing powerful vision. Use examples given by the students to contrast different creatures – living and extinct. Who would have liked to join Charles Darwin on his voyage?
  5. Pause to challenge the children’s powers of observation. Can they identify the bird featured on the £10 note and spot the hidden fossils? (The bird is a green and red hummingbird and the ammonite fossils are portrayed most clearly at the bottom of the security pattern to the left of the Queen’s head.)
  6. After his voyage, Charles Darwin spent many years thinking hard about everything he had seen. He wondered how so many species of creatures and plants had come to exist. He eventually came to believe that life on earth had developed gradually in a process called ‘evolution’. The many different plants and creatures that live on earth (not forgetting human beings!) have been formed through a struggle for survival that has lasted for hundreds of millions of years. Darwin wrote down his ideas about this in his book The Origin of Species. It helped people to see themselves and the world in a new way.
  7. Conclude by reflecting that, 200 years after the birth of Charles Darwin, scientists continue to explore the world in which we live. Today, we can learn about their exciting discoveries from television and the internet, as well as from books. The bicentenary celebrations and £10 note remind us of the importance of science.

    There’s no need for us to go on a long sea voyage! Wherever we are, there are things to discover if, like Darwin, we observe carefully and think about what we see.

Time for reflection

Creator God,
Thank you for the excitement of exploration and discovery,
for new ideas and thoughts,
and for science, which helps us to understand your world.


‘Think of a world without any flowers’ (Come and Praise, 17). The version in the book Hymns & Psalms includes the verse ‘Think of a world without any science’.

‘From the tiny ant’ (Come and Praise, 79)

Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony could be played as the children enter.

Publication date: March 2009   (Vol.11 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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