Some of the essays are relatively narrow and likely to interest only specialists: a detailed survey of Darwin's correspondents in the Pacific region; an essay on P. Brooks Randolph, the Seattle Young Naturalists Society, and their contributions to the development of science in the United States Northwest; a history of the early Balfour Studentships and the decline of evolutionary embryology; and biographical studies of John T. Gulick, of Australian geologist and geographer Griffith Taylor (1880-1964), and of Richard Schomburgk, director of the Adelaide Botanic Garden from 1865 to 1891. Other essays treat subjects of broader interest within the history of evolutionary biology: Darwin and Dana and the debate over the origin of coral atolls; the role of the central Pacific islands in confirming Darwin's biogeographical theories; and the importance of maps (particularly in the context of Wallace's Line) to biogeography and early evolutionary theory. There is also an essay on the 1898 Torres Strait Expedition and its significance for the disciplines of anthropology and psychology.
Darwin's Laboratory contains three essays on missionary contributions to Pacific science: the relationships of Darwin and FitzRoy with the missionaries they met on the Beagle voyage; the links between the Church of England Melanesian mission and the nascent discipline of anthropology; and the scientific importance of British missionaries in the Pacific more generally. And there are three essays on connections between Darwinism and politics: the way in which reports on the Australian Aborigines influenced Darwin (and the lack of evidence for a separation between Darwinism and "Social Darwinism"); the use of Darwinism to support racism in late nineteenth century New Zealand; and the influence of Darwinism on left-wing politics in Japan, Australia, and Hawaii around the turn of the century.