Darwin’s Origin at the National Library of Australia

From the HIST-SCI-TECH listserve:

“What say the birds of Australia to this?” – Darwin’s Origin at the National Library of Australia

Earlier this year, the National Library of Australia acquired a copy of the first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, perhaps one of the most influential books of the nineteenth century.

Believed to be one of the earliest surviving copies of Darwin’s work to have arrived in Australia, the Library’s copy was first owned by Dr William Woolls of Parramatta, N.S.W. and it bears his inscription and the date March 17 1860 on the front free end paper. Woolls, a clergyman and schoolmaster, was also a noted botanist. He wrote many articles and papers on the subject and was made a fellow of the Linnean Society of London in 1865 and was later awarded a doctorate by the University of Göttingen for a dissertation on the botany of the Parramatta region. His name is commemorated in the genus Woollsia, as well as the name of six species.

The book contains many pencilled annotations made by Woolls and these provide a fascinating insight into the reception of Darwin’s revolutionary ideas on a well-educated reader at the other side of the world. Although many of the annotations have faded with the passage of time, some of Woolls notes are still legible. While some of the comments show agreement with Darwin’s theories, other comments call into question the author’s statements, in a couple of instances drawing upon Australian examples. Next to a passage on birds learning to fear man, for example, Woolls has written “what say the birds of Australia to this?”

The digital version of the Library’s copy of Origin is available through our catalogue: http://nla.gov.au/nla.gen-vn4591931


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