Albert J. Klee, 2005
Cichlid Room Companion

Darwin, Jenyns, and the Chanchito

By , 2006. image

Classification: Taxonomy and phylogeny, South America.

" A fascinating story behind the Chanchito, Australoheros facetus discovery and description. Involving some of the most famous characters in Natural History. A must read by all interested in natural history "

Chanchito The image of the Chanchito that appeared in the April 1895 issue of Mulertt's The Aquarium.

In the June 2004 issue of Modern Aquarium (Greater City Aquarium Society-New York), Claudia Dickinson wrote about the Chanchito. The Chanchito is probably the first of our aquarium hobby cichlids, having been imported into Germany in 1894 and into this country in 1895. In the course of preparing the material, Claudia and I had an exchange of e-mails concerning the author of the species, Leonard Jenyns. The Jenyns name is fairly well known to those aquarists interested in species authorship since he also described Corydoras paleatus, the ten-spotted livebearer (Cnesterodon decemmaculatus), and Galaxia maculatus (the spotted Galaxia, one of the rainbowfishes). In addition, the genus, Jenynsia (Anablepidae), was named after him.

So, who was Leonard Jenyns? A little research uncovered some absorbing facts and provoked some fascinating questions about Charles Darwin and what might have been, all because of an article about a cichlid!

Leonard Jenyns (1800-1893) was the youngest son of the Rev. George Leonard Jenyns of Bottisham Hall, Cambridgeshire. Jenyns was related through his mother's family to Dr. William Wollaston, a famous English chemist and physicist who, among other things, discovered two new metals, palladium and rhodium. (Another link to well-known names was that Jenyns' mother had her portrait painted by Gainsborough.)

By 1812, encouraged by his great uncle, the Rev. Leonard Chappelow, he took up the study of natural history and in 1813 he departed for Eton. There he read Gilbert White's "Natural History of Selborne," copying it out and memorizing most of it by heart. White's lifestyle and methods Jenyns later took for his own. In those days the only model to whom field naturalists could turn for inspiration was Gilbert White and those who are familiar with Lynn Barber's "The Heyday of Natural History" or David Elliston Allen's "The Naturalist in Britain, A Social History," will appreciate White's importance in the early decades of the nineteenth century.

In 1818 Jenyns entered St. John's College, Cambridge and during his second year his interest in natural history came to the attention of John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861), later to become a famous botanist of the nineteenth century, as well as a distinguished teacher. Henslow and Jenyns worked together on various natural history pursuits until Henslow's death. The two were extremely close, Henslow marrying Jenyns' sister Harriet in 1823. Henslow's relevance to this story will be made clear a bit later.

Jenyns took his degree in 1822, became a Fellow of the Linnaean Society and of the Cambridge Philosophical Society and, with Henslow, set up the latter's Museum. In May 1823 he was ordained a Deacon and in 1824 he was ordained a Priest. In this same year he published a "Scientific Journal Book" for the making of Meteorological and other observations, and in 1825 he proceeded to his M.A. degree and read his first paper on the "Ornithology of Cambridgeshire" to the Cambridge Philosophical Society.

In December 1827 he became the Vicar of Swaffham Bulbeck. However, this did not slow down his scientific output. In 1828 he read a paper to the Linnaean Society on "Two British Species of Plecotus" and a year later declined a Zoological Professorship being contemplated at Cambridge. In 1829 his publications included "The Common Bat of Pennant," and "On Incisor Teeth of Rodenta." In 1831 he published "On a Peculiar Parasitical Mite found on Slugs," and a paper on squids, i.e., "On the British Species of Cyclas and Pisidium." He also found time that year to read a series of lectures on Ornithology to the Cambridge Philosophical Society. It is clear, therefore that, although a clergyman, Jenyns was also a widely respected naturalist by the time the HMS Beagle was set to sail at the end of 1831.

The characters of this storys The characters of this story. Top-left: The Rev. Leonard Jenyns (1800-1893), British naturalist and author of the fish volumes of "The zoology of the voyage of H. M. S. Beagle, under the command of Captain Fitzroy, R. N., during the years 1832 to 1836." Top-right: ohn Stevens Henslow (1796-1861), friend of both Leonard Jenyns and Charles Darwin. Along with Jenyns, he was instrumental in obtaining Darwin's appointment as Naturalist on the HMS Beagle. Bottom-left: Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Bottom-right: Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913).

For the next forty years Jenyns published widely in the scientific literature. Jenyns, by the way, was a supporter of Darwin's "Origin of Species" (published in 1859) and, for a clergyman at the time, this was both courageous and risky. (In 1860 Darwin wrote to Asa Gray, "Several clergymen go far with me. Rev. L. Jenyns, a very good naturalist. Henslow will go a very little way with me, and is not shocked with me.")

In July 1871 Jenyns was left the property of a cousin of his father, Francis Blomefield, but to inherit he had to assume the name of Blomefield. At the time the estate was worth more than £7000 (big bucks in those days!) and it came with 140 acres in Norfolk. Jenyns continued to publish scientific papers under the Blomefield name up until a year before his death. By 1891 he had suffered bronchial attacks and gout but was able to rally enough to give two lectures, "Records of a Rookery" and "Remarks on the Distribution and Movements of British Animals and Plants." He remarked at the time, "Perhaps I am the only scientific man in England who ever gave lectures in his ninety-second year!"

Although this answers the question of who was the mysterious "Jenyns, L." noted as the describer of some of our best-known aquarium fishes, this is only part of the story. In Jenyns' diary entry for 1831 he writes, "This year I had the offer of accompanying Capt. Fitzroy, as Naturalist, in the Beagle, on his voyage to survey the coasts of S. America, afterwards going round the globe:-declined the appointment which was afterwards given to Charles Darwin Esq. of Xts' College Cambridge."

In July of 1831, Fitzroy had proposed to Captain Francis Beaufort the idea of a naturalist accompanying him on his expedition. If the name sounds familiar, Beaufort was the one who developed the "Beaufort Scale," a means by which one could judge the speed of the wind visually, and Fitzroy made wide use of it during the Beagle's second survey. Beaufort was at a loss as to who to suggest, so he sought the advice of his old Cambridge friend, George Peacock. The following is taken from Jenyns' "Chapters in My Life" (then known as Leonard Blomefield):

The appointment arose in this way. Dean Peacock, at that time Fellow of Trinity College, was intimate with Captain Fitzroy, and was applied to by the latter, as to whether he could not find some one among the Cambridge men, who would be fit and willing to accompany him in his voyage in the capacity of Naturalist. Peacock immediately thought of Henslow and myself. Henslow, however, being a married man with a family, was not disposed to go under his then circumstances,-(though earlier in life no doubt he would have caught at such an offer gladly)-and he tried to persuade me to go instead. I hesitated; and, after a full day taken to consider my decision, I also declined, as well on account of my being engaged in parish work-as Vicar of Swafham Bulbeck-which I did not think it quite right to quit for a purpose of that kind, as on account of my judging that I was not exactly the right person, either in point of health or other qualifications,-to offer myself for the situation. We then agreed (Henslow and self) that Darwin, in all respects, would be a fit man to go, and on his assenting, his name was at once sent up to Capt. Fitzroy, and the appointment was confirmed.

It may come as a surprise to some, therefore, to learn that Darwin was the third choice to accompany the Beagle, not the first. That Jenyns and Henslow recommended Darwin should come as no surprise. Darwin and Jenyns had met when Darwin was an undergraduate at Cambridge, and the two of them collected insects together, especially beetles. Some years later Darwin wrote of Jenyns, "At first I disliked him from his somewhat grim and sarcastic expression; and it is not often that a first impression is lost; but I was completely mistaken and found him very kindhearted, pleasant and with a good stock of humor. I visited him at his parsonage on the borders of the Fens, and had many a good walk and talk with him about Natural History."

Jenyns also wrote later of Darwin, "He was my junior at College by ten years; but from the similarity of our pursuits, we soon became intimate after the first introduction. He was at that time a most zealous Entomologist, and attended but little-as far as I remember-to any other branch of Natural History. He occasionally visited me at my Vicarage, at Swaffham Bulbeck, and we made Entomological excursions together, sometimes in the Fens, that rich district yielding so many rare species of insects and plants-at other times in the woods and plantations of Bottisham Hall. He mostly used a sweeping net, with which he made a number of successful captures I had never made myself, though a constant resident in the neighborhood."

Charles Darwin (1809-1882), like many people of genius, did not at first appear to have extraordinary talents. From a young age Darwin disliked school and preferred observing birds and collecting insects to study. He was sent to medical school in Scotland when he was 16 but young Darwin found medicine "intolerably dull," and he was much more interested in attending natural history lectures. (The sight of blood made him squeamish and it is interesting to note that even before Darwin left for sea there were signs that he had a weak stomach!)

Seeing that Darwin lacked enthusiasm for becoming a doctor, his father suggested he study for the clergy. Darwin was agreeable to the idea and enrolled in the university at Cambridge, England, in 1827. Here again, Darwin admitted, "My time was wasted, as far as the academic studies were concerned." However, Darwin found that his friendship with John S. Henslow, then professor of botany at the university, made life in Cambridge extremely worthwhile. Through long talks with Henslow, Darwin's knowledge of the natural world increased and Henslow encouraged Darwin in his studies of natural history. Henslow was also a pastor, so Darwin made plans to pursue a life in the clergy.

His heart really wasn't in it, however, but since he had a summer to think about it he went on vacation. When he returned home he found two letters waiting for him: one, an offer to work as a naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle, and the other, a letter from Professor Henslow encouraging him to do so. However, like many young men and women still living at home, Darwin had to consider what his father, Dr. Robert Darwin, might think about such a trip. Darwin ultimately won his father over (Dr. Darwin even put up 30 pounds a year for Charles' food and paid to equip him for the voyage) and was soon signed on as ship's naturalist. At the end of the voyage and at the earnest request of Charles Darwin, Jenyns undertook to edit the monograph on the fishes for the trip (Jenyns, L., "The zoology of the voyage of H. M. S. Beagle, under the command of Captain Fitzroy, R. N., during the years 1832 to 1836," London: Smith, Elder, and Co. Issued in 4 parts, Fish, 1840-42.), and the rest is, as they say, aquarium history.

We now arrive at three interesting questions, all arising from an aquarium article on the Chanchito. Assuming that Leonard Jenyns had gone on the voyage of the Beagle instead of Charles Darwin:

(1) Would Jenyns rather than Darwin have developed the origin of species concept?

Even though Jenyns was interested in species variation (he read a paper on "The Variation of Species" to the Cheltenham meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1856, a paper that Darwin asked Jenyns to send him), I think it unlikely. In addition to his religious background, Jenyns was essentially a field naturalist and lacked the breadth of vision needed to develop such a theory.

Oddly enough, though, Jenyns was a far better field naturalist than Darwin. Henslow's letter to Darwin re the Beagle appointment read: "I have stated that I consider you to be the best qualified person I know of who is likely to undertake such a situation-I state this not on the supposition of your being a finished Naturalist, but as amply qualified for collecting, observing and noting anything worthy to be noted in Natural History. ... Captain F. wants a man ... more as a companion than as a mere collector and would not take anyone however good a Naturalist who was not recommended to him likewise as a gentleman." Far from being an enthusiastic endorsement of Darwin's scientific abilities, the letter reads as nothing more than an assurance that Darwin had the social status needed to qualify him as Fitzroy's companion and enough knowledge of natural history to qualify him as a general menial collecting samples and making general observations.

A good example of Darwin's weakness as a field collector is that in spite of the importance of "Darwin's finches" in evolutionary theory, the original type specimens from the Beagle voyage have long been a source of puzzlement to ornithologists. The localities recorded on the specimens, for example, do not seem to coincide with the various species and subspecies distributions observed today. The explanation for these anomalous specimens lies in part in Darwin's own collecting procedures while in the Galapagos. His specimens, which were largely unlabelled by island, later acquired a number of erroneous localities as a result of Darwin's own incorrect guesses, as well as the efforts of later ornithologists to make Darwin's specimens agree with his published localities.

(2) Would Darwin have developed the origin of species concept in any case?

Well, perhaps not. During the voyage of the Beagle, Darwin found fossils in South America of extinct animals that were similar to modern species, and on the Galapagos Islands he noticed many variations among plants and animals of the same general type as those in South America, thus sowing the seeds of his ideas on natural selection. Darwin himself wrote in 1838 to have been "... greatly struck from about the previous March on the character of South American fossils, and species on Galapagos Archipelago. These facts, especially the latter, origin of all my views." If the Beagle voyage was the origin of all his views, then it would seem unlikely that he would have developed the origin of species concept had he not made the trip.

(3) Would Darwin have developed the origin of species theory in time to establish priority over Wallace?

In 1854, Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) traveled to the Malay Archipelago to collect for various museums and private collectors. He was looking specifically for evidence that related forms were found in both the Amazon Basin and on the Archipelago. If he could find evidence that closely related species were found in widely dispersed regions of the world, this might bring into question the idea that each species was created independently.

In 1855 he published a cryptic note in guarded language entitled "On the Law Which Has Regulated the Introduction of New Species," in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History. Here he maintained that new species arose from related, pre-existing species. Darwin did not fully comprehend what Wallace was saying and considered him to be a "creationist."

In February of 1858, while on an island in the Moluccas (Indonesia), Wallace was bed-ridden and suffering from an attack of malaria. Ill and fevered, he suddenly realized the importance of Malthus' classic observations on populations and drafted his ideas on "the survival of the fittest" during a single evening. He worked over the draft the next two evenings with the idea of sending it to Darwin with whom he had prior correspondence. On March 9, 1858 he mailed his letter by mail-boat from the island of Ternate, asking if Darwin thought the ideas worthy.

Upon seeing Wallace's paper Darwin realized he was about to be scooped, and decided to end the 20-year delay in publishing his own theory. Wallace's paper and Darwin's various notes and correspondence on the subject were subsequently read at the same Linnaean Society meeting in London on July 1, 1858. The next year, Darwin published "On the Origin of Species." Although Wallace independently reached the same conclusion, it has usually been Darwin's name alone associated with the theory. In light of the close call in dates, I think a good case could be made that Wallace would have been first and therefore the one credited with the origin of species concept had Jenyns and not Darwin been on the Beagle voyage.

Perhaps you have your own answers to these questions, but whatever stance you take, it constantly amazes me that the aquarium hobby can open up so many interesting doors when one least expects it! Chalk one up for the Chanchito!

The route of the HMS Beagle The route of the HMS Beagle, showing its route to Brazil where the Chanchito was collected.

This article was originally published in the August 2004 issue of the Buntbarsche Bulletin (Number 223), a publication of the American Cichlid Association, and appears here with the permission of the author.


Klee, Albert J.. (Jan 05, 2006). "Darwin, Jenyns, and the Chanchito". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Sep 23, 2023, from: