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John Edmonstone was an enslaved black man who taught the young and inexperienced Charles Darwin the skill of taxidermy. This skill benefitted Darwin in the preservation of birds, which brought about his ideas about evolution. In the quest to study medicine, a boyish 16-year-old Charles Darwin went to Edinburgh in 1825. However, he displayed little interest in the subject and only stayed for two years. He disliked the feeling of sitting through surgeries, which in those days were still performed without anaesthesia. Darwin stayed with his brother Erasmus at 11 Lothian street, near Edmonstone’s quarter.

As a way of utilizing the idle time he had, Darwin decided to take lessons from John on bird taxidermy. “A negro lived in Edinburgh, who had travelled with Waterton, and gained his livelihood by stuffing birds, which he did excellently: he gave me lessons for payment, and I used often to sit with him, for he was a very pleasant and intelligent man”, Charles Darwin highlighted in his autobiography. In a nutshell, John played a majorly instrumental role in promoting Darwin’s scientific research. Without the adventurous stories and the skill of taxidermy Edmonston taught Darwin, we probably may have little idea about evolution or the theories proffered. Click on the link below to read the full story

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