John Tweedie and Charles Darwin in Buenos Aires

Jeff Ollerton, Gordon Chancellor, John van Wyhe

Abstract

The journey of exploration undertaken by Charles Darwin FRS during the voyage of HMS Beagle has a central place within the historical development of evolutionary theory and has been intensively studied. Despite this, new facts continue to emerge about some of the details of Darwin's activities. Drawing on recently published Darwin material and unpublished letters in the archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, we document a hitherto unexamined link between Darwin and John Tweedie (1775–1862), a relatively obscure Scottish gardener turned South American plant collector. All of the available evidence points to a meeting between the two men in Buenos Aires in 1832. Tweedie provided Darwin with information about the geography of the Rio Paraná, including the locality of fossilized wood eroding from the river bank. It also seems likely that Tweedie supplied Darwin with seeds that he later shipped back to John Stevens Henslow in Cambridge. Although this brief meeting was at the time relatively unimportant to either man, echoes of that encounter have resonated with Tweedie's descendants to the present day and have formed the basis for a family story about a written correspondence between Darwin and Tweedie. Local information supplied to Darwin by residents such as Tweedie was clearly important and deserves further attention.

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