Photo by Julia Margaret Cameron 1870
Extract from Charles Darwin's account of his visit to Hobart, February 1836 aboard the Beagle.
From Chapter XIX:
Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by H.M.S. Beagle.
London : H. Colburn, 1839.
"The Beagle stayed here ten days, and in this time I made several pleasant little excursions, chiefly with the object of examining the geological structure of the immediate neighbourhood.
The main points of interest consist, first in some highly fossiliferous strata, belonging to the Devonian or Carboniferous period; secondly, in proofs of a late small rise of the land; and lastly, in a solitary and superficial patch of yellowish limestone or travertin, which contains numerous impressions of leaves of trees, together with land-shells, not now existing. It is not improbable that this one small quarry includes the only remaining record of the vegetation of Van Diemen's Land during one former epoch.
The climate here is damper than in New South Wales, and hence the land is more fertile. Agriculture flourishes; the cultivated fields look well, and the gardens abound with thriving vegetables and fruit-trees. Some of the farmhouses, situated in retired spots, had a very attractive appearance. The general aspect of the vegetation is similar to that of Australia; perhaps it is a little more green and cheerful; and the pasture between the trees rather more abundant.
One day I took a long walk on the side of the bay opposite to the town: I crossed in a steamboat, two of which are constantly plying backwards and forwards. The machinery of one of these vessels was entirely manufactured in this colony, which, from its very foundation, then numbered only three and thirty years! Another day I ascended Mount Wellington; I took with me a guide, for I failed in a first attempt, from the thickness of the wood. Our guide, however, was a stupid fellow, and conducted us to the southern and damp side of the mountain, where the vegetation was very luxuriant; and where the labour of the ascent, from the number of rotten trunks, was almost as great as on a mountain in Tierra del Fuego or in Chiloe. It cost us five and a half hours of hard climbing before we reached the summit. In many parts the Eucalypti grew to a great size, and composed a noble forest.
In some of the dampest ravines, tree- ferns flourished in an extraordinary manner; I saw one which must have been at least twenty feet high to the base of the fronds, and was in girth exactly six feet. The fronds forming the most elegant parasols, produced a gloomy shade, like that of the first hour of the night.
The summit of the mountain is broad and flat, and is composed of huge angular masses of naked greenstone. Its elevation is 3100 feet above the level of the sea. The day was splendidly clear, and we enjoyed a most extensive view; to the north, the country appeared a mass of wooded mountains, of about the same height with that on which we were standing, and with an equally tame outline: to the south the broken land and water, forming many intricate bays, was mapped with clearness before us. After staying some hours on the summit, we found a better way to descend, but did not reach the Beagle till eight o'clock, after a severe day's work. (Feb. 6, 1836: pp 486-7) "
[end of extract]
Darwin's astonishment at the magnificence of these ferns was repeated by Tasmanian photographers right through to the 1900s in endless variations. Ferns laden with snow was a particularly popular image. The State Library of Tasmania holds hundreds of photos taken by Clifford, Anson, Cawston, Abbott, Allport, Haigh, Winter, Baily and every other photographer between 1860-1880.
At least five stereographs of ferns by Thomas Nevin are held at the Tasmanian Musueum and Art Gallery, dated to ca. 1870.
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery Collections
Q1994.56.13 Fern Trees Sepia Stereo on Salt Paper ca. 1870
Q1994.56.13 ITEM NAME: Photograph: MEDIUM: sepia salt paper stereoscope , MAKER: T Nevin [Artist]; DATE: 1870c DESCRIPTION : Fern Tree ? INSCRIPTIONS & MARKS: Impress on front: T Nevin/ photo
Q16826.34 ITEM NAME: photograph: MEDIUM: albumen silver print sepia toned stereoscope, MAKER: T J Nevin ? [Photographer]; DATE: 1870s DESCRIPTION : Ferns. Possibly near Hobart, maybe Mt.Wellington or Kangaroo Valley.
Q16826.33 ITEM NAME: photograph: MEDIUM: albumen silver print sepia toned stereoscope, MAKER: TJ Nevin [Photographer]; DATE: 1870s DESCRIPTION : Ferns. Possibly near Hobart, maybe Mt.Wellington.
Q16826.31 ITEM NAME: photograph: MEDIUM: albumen silver print sepia coloured stereoscope, MAKER: Nevin ? [Artist]; DATE: 1870s DESCRIPTION : Ferns With Snow. Ferns with snow, possibly at KangarooValley. (LenahValley)
Q16826.30 ITEM NAME: photograph: MEDIUM: albumen silver print sepia coloured stereoscope, MAKER: T J Nevin ? [Artist]; TITLE: 'FernsKangarooValley.' DATE: 1870s DESCRIPTION : (Lenah Valley)
INTERVIEW with a CHARLES DARWIN DESCENDANT
Source of image: Charles Darwin University
Source: ABC Radio National Science Show
Robyn Williams: So we begin with a Hollywood movie called The Runaway Jury, starring Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and John Cusack. What's that got to do with Darwin?
[excerpt from The Runaway Jury]
Robyn Williams: Part of The Runaway Jury. That, like other films written for the likes of Bruce Willis, Victoria Tennant or Kevin Kline, was by Matthew Chapman, Charles Darwin's great-great-grandson, or one of them. Mathew Chapman also wrote the marvellous memoir Trials of the Monkey on how he went to visit Dayton Tennessee where the Scopes monkey trial was held in the 1920s, putting Charles Darwin, his ancestor, right in the dock.
Here's Matthew Chapman with Mike McRae reflecting on the USA, creationism and the modern world.
Matthew Chapman: Also you're living in a country where there are all kinds of strange disparities, where you have the richest nation on Earth with 11 million children living in poverty, the richest nation on Earth where you have people who have billions of dollars and people who can't afford health care. And I think in the education system you have the same thing; at the top end you have Stanford and Harvard and Caltech, and at the bottom end you have little communities like Dover Pennsylvania where the last intelligent design trial took place where in fact there was a very good science class, a wonderful teacher there, but the money that was being provided was not huge and the emphasis on science was not great.
You know, it's going to cost this country very dearly, I think. You have India and other countries in the east that are graduating way more scientists, and science in general enjoys much more respect and dignity and status in those countries. And the fact is that in this country, 50% of the growth of the American economy since WWII has come out of science and technology, and we're about to start losing that innovation, it's slipping away to India and China, and manufacturing jobs too. So unless something happens to improve science education, people are going to be hit in the way that they do care about, which is money.
Mike McRae: Concerning your travels through the southern states of the US you've remarked on how friendly and warm the people are. Obviously having a belief in evolution isn't really necessary for people to live happy and fulfilling lives. What do you think these people are missing out on?
Matthew Chapman: I think they're missing out on a grander view of the universe on one end, that actually if you look at the religious myths that people like to believe in, of God slapping it together in six days and resting on the seventh day, compared to the concept of the Big Bang, if one could absorb the concept of that enormous amount of time that the universe has had to develop, that is a much grander view of life. That's at the top end of it.
At the bottom end, I think that not having a scientific rational view makes life harder to live, and when you have problems you're probably less able to deal with them and sort them out. I think there are many practical things that have to be done to do with the environment where science will be very valuable and necessary in issues that have to be understood in a scientific way if we're to survive and be healthy. I think that's what they're missing out on; a proper understanding of reality.
Mike McRae: Evolution seems to present for many a fear of humans not being overly special as far as living things go. How do you think these individuals would rationalise the discovery of life arising on other planets into their religious perspective?
Matthew Chapman: [laughs] With great difficulty. Well, maybe not, maybe they'd say, well, God is working in a different way on this planet and now he's developing it in the Darwinian way whereas here he did it in seven days. I don't know. I think it's really the difference between Christianity and Buddhism; Christianity puts man at the centre and Buddhism is much more to do with getting peace in life out of seeing how small and insignificant you are. I think I favour that approach more but that's just because I'm a self-loathing Brit. (laughs)
Robyn Williams: Matthew Chapman, Darwin's great-great-grandson was with Mike McRae of CSIRO in Canberra. Chapman's films can be looked up on his website, but I recommend his book as well, Trials of the Monkey.
Chris Darwin, who lives in the Blue Mountains, is also part of the family, as is Randal Keynes who wrote the book Annie's Box. Chris, have you ever met Professor Keynes?
Chris Darwin: I know Randal Keynes, so I've met him...actually we had dinner with him last time I was over in London. Matthew Chapman, I didn't ever realise he was a relative, although I think I'd heard of him because of his film work because he was pretty successful, but I didn't even realise he was a relation. But there is actually a list now of all the descendents. Lots of them, I should say, presumably he's on the list.
Robyn Williams: Any others in Australia?
Chris Darwin: I don't think so. Apparently Fitzroy, who was the captain of the ship, apparently there's a Fitzroy in Australia.
Robyn Williams: Very sadly of course Fitzroy killed himself in the end, didn't he.
Chris Darwin: Yes, and some people say that Charles may have even contributed to the angst that he clearly had.
Robyn Williams: Of course Fitzroy was a creationist and he was very much a Bible believer in the conventional sense, and so he was horrified to have been so involved himself, to some extent, on The Beagle adventure.
Chris Darwin: Absolutely, and at the Oxford trial he apparently was wringing his hands as he left the Oxford debate, saying...I've forgotten what he said. He did say something desperate, I've forgotten exactly what it was, but 'oh dear, I'm partly responsible.'
Robyn Williams: Going back to Randal Keynes, the book Annie's Box...well, that's what it's called in Australia and Britain...you've presumably read it?
Chris Darwin: Oh dear! (laughs) This is going to be embarrassing because you're going to ask me next if I've read The On Origin of Species aren't you? He is! Oh no! I tell you what, it's so embarrassing, I have sat down on a number of occasions, mostly because every now and again people say...sometimes on radio programs and this is even worse, 'Have you ever read it?' So I had to say once 'no' and I said (to myself) 'you've got to read this'. And it's embarrassing to say and people think it's so unfair of me, but actually I have never found a better way...if you have problems sleeping, On The Origin of Species, I reckon...I'm not being mean to Charlie because he was just so convinced the audience of his theory...it's just evidence after evidence after evidence and I can't get through it. And I promise you I would have tried to read it five times. Have you read it?
Robyn Williams: No! I've read parts, let's be fair, and I've also read the film script of Origin, as it's called, by John Collee based on Annie's Box, Randal Keynes' book, which of course is going to be the movie out this year, so that's called Origin as well and it looks very exciting indeed. No, I have read parts of Origin and I must say the output of Charles Darwin has been absolutely gigantic. If you look at the material that's on worms, for example, or on all those invertebrates, and the orchids, and on it goes. So have you looked at any of them?
Chris Darwin: I have read Voyage of The Beagle cover to cover. It actually is a good read as well. But as for all the other ones, no.
Robyn Williams: Do you know anything about his politics? Was he a Whig or was he a Tory?
Chris Darwin: That's a good question. I'm going to go for Whig but I'm only guessing.
Robyn Williams: He is a bit Whiggish, but of course there's a slightly dark side where they talk about social Darwinism as if only the elite should pass muster and the rest can really go to the wall, and eugenics, which was a bit of a mistake in the middle of the 20th century, which seemed in some people's ideas...like, Julian Huxley, of all people, a very liberal person, who was head of the British eugenics movement. So there were some things that applied Darwin's ideas which were, as I say, on the dark side. But as for his actual politics...
Chris Darwin: I think you're probably onto something. I think we can't be too unfair on him, Charlie, because he was a man of his day. But suddenly...when you read about what he said in Australia, for example. Have you got some quotes? There are some pretty frightening quotes which I'd prefer not to be read out loud, but I think it does show that he was not of the view that...there was a view in those days that if you were from the criminal class, that was pretty much where you were going to stay. And then suddenly he came to Australia and found all these people who had been criminals ten years ago were land owners, large tracts of land, and he found it a bit shocking I think.
Robyn Williams: Frank Nicholas from the University of Sydney has written extensively...you know Frank of course...
Chris Darwin: Yes.
Robyn Williams: ...and you walk in the Blue Mountains together on Darwin's Walk, don't you.
Chris Darwin: Yes, we do. We did that last week actually. Darwin's Walk is a lovely walk. It's basically a stroll that Darwin took almost before breakfast, and it ends up at this just gob-smacking view as the Wentworth Falls creek falls over the cliff. He came along this walk and was suitably blown away. It's rather exciting because this guy...Charlie had been travelling for four years at this stage around the world, he'd seen some pretty amazing sights, so he wasn't someone who was going to be easily impressed, and he was a bit tired frankly of travelling, and you can see it when you read The Voyage of The Beagle. But when he got to the edge of Wentworth Falls he started gushing with all sorts of words like 'magnificent' and 'splendid' and all these sorts of great words. So it's a nice walk, an easy walk as well, which is fun. I do guide it actually.
Robyn Williams: And that is your actual job, you're a guide?
Chris Darwin: Well, not just that walk but really I take people canyoning and abseiling and some rock climbing. So that's what I do most of the time.
Robyn Williams: Involved in the Australian bush.
Chris Darwin: Yes.
Robyn Williams: And you occasionally come across Darwin's particular walk. Do you necessarily announce it when you're taking people through?
Chris Darwin: Oh yes, you can't be too shy. Generally when I do Darwin's Walk, which I've only done four times or something, they pick me as the guide because...if someone rings up and says, 'We want to have a guide for Charles Darwin's Walk,' they say, 'Have I to someone for you! I've got the direct descendent.' And generally the hardest bit to start off with is actually convincing the clients you're not a fraud. They go, 'Can we see your passport?' or 'Have you got your driver's licence.' So it's quite funny.
Robyn Williams: And apart from that, when it's not 2009, in a normal year, do you think much about Darwin?
Chris Darwin: It's very hard to tell. Everybody has a sort of lift in life; some people have got a nice voice like you have, some people are beautiful, and some people are funny and some people have great brains. My lift in life has been Charles Darwin, it's been so useful to me. So I suppose I do. And I definitely think about the way he thinks because you have any challenge, whatever it is you're doing, there is something incredibly attractive and powerful about his particular style of deep thought which I definitely try and use, and I find it very useful to do so.
Most people think in a shallow way, they maybe go back a couple of links in the logical chain, if ever. But Charles was a man who went back ten logical steps and found some, he would claim, errors in the logical chain. I definitely try and do that. So in answer to your question 'Does he affect me day to day?', yes, he does because he just makes you think and ask that lovely question which was the question he was constantly asking himself as he travelled the world all his life; why? That was his word.
Robyn Williams: Chris Darwin on 'the word' and his ancestor Charles. Chris Darwin lives in the Blue Mountains.
[end of transcript]
Darwin Exhibition at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra
Photo © Pinnacle Times for TP 2009 ARR