Introduction to the first Danish translation of Darwin's Journal of Researches (chapters 18-20)

By Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

In 1870, Darwin’s work was translated into Danish for the first time. Extracts from chapters 18-20 of the 1860-edition of Voyage of the Beagle were published as Rejseiagttagelser (1835-36) [Voyage Observations (1835-36)]. By this time Darwin was already known among naturalists and the literary public as the founder of the theory of evolution by natural selection. In 1871 Jens Peter Jacobsen began his Danish translation of On the Origin of Species.

The translation of Rejseiagttagelser and its 2-page introduction were published anonymously. In the introduction it was stated that the extracts had been selected in order to complete Captain Cook’s descriptions of Oceania. Moreover, it was emphasised that the extracts would give an impression of the transformations taking place when the superior white man drove out the aboriginals.

This short and inexpensive book was published by Udvalget for Folkeoplysningens Fremme [The Committee for the Advancement of General Enlightenment] in the popular series Folkelæsning [Everyman’s Reading]. The books in this series would normally cost 50 øre (about the hourly wage for an unskilled labourer) and sold up to 3,500 copies, a large number in Denmark in the 1870s. In 1881 the Committee sent out a second, unchanged edition. Accordingly Rejseiagttagelser was probably the most widely circulated of Darwin’s works in the nineteenth century, read by thousands of farmers and working-class people.

The Committee was founded in 1866 by the theologian Mattias Steenstrup (1822-1904), the brother of the naturalist Japetus Steenstrup. The Conservative official Steenstrup devoted his life to the advancement of general education. By the end of the nineteenth century his Committee had published more than 200 books. Science was one of the popular topics, since Steenstrup regarded it as ‘safe knowledge’ during the constitutional struggle between the Conservative government and the Liberal opposition. Whereas the publication of On the Origin of Species would have been controversial due to its supposedly heretical ideas, it was perfectly safe for the Committee to publish the extracts from Voyage of the Beagle as part of the popular and entertaining genre of travel writings. Consequently, Steenstrup tried to make Darwin famous as a friendly explorer, while the Radicals at the same time used him as a weapon against Christianity and Conservatism.

See the general introduction to Darwin in Denmark.


Darwin, C. R. 1870. Rejseiagttagelser (1835-6) af C. Darwin. (Tahiti. – Ny-Seland. – Ny-Holland. – Van Diemens Land. – Killing-Øerne.). Copenhagen: Gad. 1st edition. Image F1834

Detailed reference:

Darwin, C. R. 1870. Rejseiagttagelser (1835-6) af C. Darwin. (Tahiti. – Ny-Seland. – Ny-Holland. – Van Diemens Land. – Killing-Øerne.). Copenhagen: Udvalget for Folkeoplysningens Fremme & G. E. C. Gad. 1st edition. iv + 72 pp. 16.4 x 10.9 x 0.5 cm. Price: 0.50 DKK (2nd edition). Printing: G. S. Vibes Bogtrykkeri

Holdings: 'Chr. Christensens Bogbinderi' [Chr. Christensen’s Bindery]; 'Statsbiblioteket, Aarhus' [The State Library, Aarhus]

Translation of : Darwin, C. R. 1860. Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. Fitz Roy R.N. London: John Murray. Tenth thousand. (Final text) Text Image Text & image F20 extracts from chapters XVIII – XX, pp. 386-448.



p. 3: 'Tahiti; Koralrevene omkring Øen ere antydede'

p. 6: 'Kokospalme, 60-70 Fod høj'

p. 6: 'Banan eller Pisang, en urteagtig Plante, bliver fra 8 til 20 Fod høj'

p. 7: 'Brødfrugttræet'

p. 10: 'Et Bregnetræ'

p. 46: 'Græstræer fra Ny-Holland, af en lignende Bygning som Palmer'

p. 47: 'Gren af Kasuarinen; Grenene ligne Padderokker'

p. 47: 'Næbdyr'

p. 60: 'Stjærnekoral-Koloni

p. 61: 'Pinseøen'

p. 61: 'Kiling-Revet'


2 title pages

Introduction, pp. 1-2

Tahiti, pp. 3-21

Ny-Seland, pp. 21-36

Ny-Holland, pp. 36-53

Van Diemens Land eller Tasmania, pp. 53-57

Ny-Holland, pp. 57-59

Kiling-Øerne, pp. 59-72



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