University researcher unveils missing link in Darwin story

Date 12.11.2015

130 years after Darwin’s death, Dr Jeff Ollerton, Reader in Biodiversity at The University of Northampton, has published a new paper detailing Darwin’s association with a plant collector he met in South America.

The paper reveals an aspect to Darwin’s travels and research previously unknown and also points to the possible existence of a series of missing letters.

Dr Ollerton said: “”Darwin’s research has had a greater impact on our understanding of the natural world than any other scientist and more than 200 years since his birth his work is still highly influential. He is a figure we feel we know and there are hundreds of books and articles about him, but it appears there are still aspects of his life and research we didn’t appreciate until now.””

Dr Ollerton’s new paper, ‘John Tweedie and Charles Darwin in Buenos Aires’ has been published in the journal Notes and Records of the Royal Society and was written with Gordon Chancellor and John Van Wyhe.  It details Darwin’s relationship with Scottish born plant collector and gardener Tweedie.

“”Our research reveals that the duo almost certainly met in 1832 in Buenos Aires when Tweedie was living there.  Tweedie provided Darwin with seeds and information about where to find fossils.”” added Dr Ollerton. “”Although it was a short and  relatively unimportant meeting for both of them,  it was contacts like this one that facilitated Darwin’s understanding of the plants and geology of a continent that was very different to what he was accustomed to at home in Britain.””

Dr Ollerton’s research into Tweedie is part of an ongoing project and, following the identified link to Darwin, the researcher has found out about the possible existence of missing letters between the plant collector and scientist which could unveil even more about Darwin’s life and journey of discovery.

“”Tweedie’s descendents talk about correspondence between Darwin and Tweedie that carried on after Darwin returned to Britain. Supposedly, the two wrote to each other and if this was the case there could very well be a pile of unknown letters stored in the loft of a family member. Regardless of their high commercial value, these letters would be priceless in their scientific value.  Of course it could also be a family myth, but it would be fantastic if we could prove that the story was true.””