BOOK: Naturalists at Sea: Scientific Travellers from Dampier to Darwin

Glyn Williams, Naturalists at Sea: Scientific Travellers from Dampier to Darwin (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013), 328 pp.

On the great Pacific discovery expeditions of the “long eighteenth century,” naturalists for the first time were commonly found aboard ships sailing forth from European ports. Lured by intoxicating opportunities to discover exotic and perhaps lucrative flora and fauna unknown at home, these men set out eagerly to collect and catalogue, study and document an uncharted natural world. This enthralling book is the first to describe the adventures and misadventures, discoveries and dangers of this devoted and sometimes eccentric band of explorer-scholars. Their individual experiences are uniquely their own, but together their stories offer a new perspective on the extraordinary era of Pacific exploration and the achievements of an audacious generation of naturalists. Historian Glyn Williams illuminates the naturalist’s lot aboard ship, where danger alternated with boredom and quarrels with the ship’s commander were the norm. Nor did the naturalist’s difficulties end upon returning home, where recognition for years of work often proved elusive. Peopled with wonderful characters and major figures of Enlightenment science—among them Louis Antoine de Bouganville, Joseph Banks, John Reinhold Forster, Captain Cook, and Charles Darwin—this book is a gripping account of a small group of scientific travelers whose voyages of discovery were to change perceptions of the natural world.

The HMS Beagle Project still needs your support!

From Peter:

We are working flat out to see that the country that gave the world HMS Beagle and all the discoveries that flowed from her decks and crew has a sailing replica of this great ship too. We know times are tight, but if you have £5 million to spare there is little better you could do to help lighten the nationally austere mood than by helping us build and launch a sailing replica of the ship that changed the world.

If you have not donated what you can to this cause, go here. If you happen to know someone with a spare £5 million, go here.

HMS Beagle made from two Darwins (photo by A. Faherty)

HMS Beagle made from two Darwins (photo by A. Faherty)

BBC’S In Our Time: The Beagle, the Mockingbird and the Megatherium

As mentioned here, BBC – Radio 4 will have several shows about Charles Darwin. In Our Time, hosted by Melvyn Bragg, continues with a 4-part series with “The Beagle, the Mockingbird and the Megatherium”:

Part 2 of 4 charts Darwin’s round the world voyage on the Beagle and the objects and the ideas he bought back.

In Our Time’s website is here, and a direct link to the mp3 here.

Beagle Voyage Begins

From Today in Science History:

In 1831, Charles Darwin set sail from Plymouth harbour on his voyage of scientific discovery aboard the HMS Beagle, a British Navy ship. The Captain Robert FitzRoy was sailing to the southern coast of South America in order to complete a government survey. Darwin had an unpaid position as the ship’s naturalist, at age 22, just out of university. Originally planned to be at sea for two years, the voyage lasted five years, making stops in Brazil, the Galap[a]gos Islands, and New Zealand. From the observations he made and the specimens he collected on that voyage, Darwin developed his theory of biological evolution through natural selection, which he published 28 years after the Beagle left Plymouth. Darwin laid the foundation of modern evolutionary theory.

The Beagle Project Blog shares the opening line of Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle:

After having been twice driven back by heavy southwestern gales, Her Majesty’s ship Beagle, a ten-gun brig, under the command of Captain Fitz Roy, R. N., sailed from Devonport on the 27th of December, 1831.

Dispersal Event / Caution: I’m Crazy About Darwin

This dispersal event is long overdue. I’ve been having yard sales, cleaning houses, editing Yellowstone papers, withdrawing books. Actually, just one yard sale, one house, and one paper, but a heck of a lot of books! Also I have been watching all the previous Indiana Jones films before going to see the latest (hopefully next weekend). But for now, enjoy your Darwin:

Michael Ruse, philosopher of biologyand author of many books about Darwin and evolution (including the recent Charles Darwin and, as editor, the forthcoming The Cambridge Companion to the ‘Origin of Species’) has an opinion piece, “Darwin Passes His Tests,” in The Free Lance-Star.
Geneticist Steve Jones reviews The Voyage of the Beagle for The Wall Street Journal. Comments at The Red Notebook, The Beagle Project Blog, and The Sensuous Curmudgeon
Richard Carter has been blogging much about Darwin at The Red Notebook: Set your videos, ‘Every body is interested in pigeons’, Premature, The Young Charles Darwin [documentary review], and What I would tell Darwin

Daily Mail (UK): Darwin gets pride of place at the Natural History Museum (and Karen’s three posts on the statue move, and the museum’s news piece)
John Hawk’s Anthropology Blog: The appearance of the Origin
Notes & Records of the Royal Society: [journal article] More on Darwin’s illness: comment on the final diagnosis of Charles Darwin
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Movie Review: ‘The Fall’ (Darwin is a character in the film); io9: Charles Darwin Mourns for His Slain Monkey in “The Fall”
Times Online (UK): Vatican celebrates Darwin (2009 conference)
The Christian Science Monitor: Charles Darwin, gardener
quaint handmade: darwin’s in the garden
Science meets art in this ground-breaking, cross-disciplinary exhibition exploring Darwin’s interest in the visual arts and the vast range of artistic responses to his ideas in the later 19th century… The exhibition is a key element in the global celebration of Darwin’s Bicentenary, which includes Cambridge University’s international Darwin Festival in July 2009, and also coincides with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. It will also be shown at the Yale Center for British Art, opening on 12 February 2009.
Tired of seeing Darwin fish, how about a Wallace fish?
Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog: Darwin’s Orchid Prediction
Darwinian Talks in North Devon
Broome Community College’s London Blog for the Spring 2008 lit class, Darwin and Dickens: Science and Literature in Victorian England.
The image at left is of a 1971 comic book that was listed on eBay.

The Nelson Mail: Finding Time for a British adventure:

Three Nelson College students will travel in naturalist Charles Darwin’s footsteps through Britain after winning a prestigious national science film-making competition.

The World We Don’t Live In: Big Daddy? dissected
Anything to submit for the Fifth International and Interdisciplinary Conference, Alexander von Humboldt, 2009: Travels Between Europe and the Americas in July 2009? The topics include “Travel and Science: Measuring, Collecting, Imagining the World.”

The Voyage of the… Beetle?

As we have celebrated the legacy of Charles Darwin’s life and work this past week, I find it important to share an important discovery made by Darwin scholars. Small scraps of paper found inserted into several pages of Darwin’s Beagle Diary, apparently having been removed and lost, have resurfaced in an archive. Eight scraps in all and placed in an envelope, each one contains a written “clue,” such as “Every living organism is unique. Individuals vary, even within the same species.” Even more exciting is a note from Darwin in the same envelope: “These clues to the mystery of mysteries were given me by Rosie, a friend who accompanied me on the voyage of the Beagle.” As much as we credit Darwin for the theory of evolution by natural selection, developed over decades through keen observation, tedious studies, and curious experiments, it appears that Darwin received much insipiration for his ideas from someone else. And of all people, or creatures, rather, this someone else was a beetle! Rosie was a rose chaffer beetle, and Darwin was very fond of her.

Of course, everything I’ve written here so far is nonsense – if you think I am telling you something about the real world. But what about a children’s book?

<i>The Voyage of the Beetle</i> by Anne Weaver

The Voyage of the Beetle by Anne Weaver

There are numerous books about Darwin for children, many revolving around the voyage of the Beagle. Unfortunately I have not read any of them, nor was I aware of Darwin when I was a child (I read my first book about Darwin as a senior in high school – in 1996). I have seen other children’s books about Darwin over the last few years, however, and I am going to make a leap here and say that The Voyage of the Beetle: A Journey around the World with Charles Darwin and the Search for the Solution to the Mystery of Mysteries, as Narrated by Rosie, an Articulate Beetle (1), by Anne Weaver and illustrated by George Lawrence, is one of the most attractive and effective in teaching about natural selection. Concise (and not long-winded as is the title), and wonderfully illustrated and formatted, The Voyage of the Beetle was a delight to read – and I am glad to have it on my shelf for when my son is older.

What I really enjoyed about this telling of Darwin’s life is the attention to detail that Weaver, an anthropologist, employs while fashioning a fanciful tale about Darwin’s thought process concerning “that mystery of mysteries” – the mutability of species. When Darwin first meets Rosie under a rock, he was on his way to see Professor Henslow, Darwin’s mentor at Cambridge University and influential in Darwin’s getting the chance to sail on H.M.S. Beagle. Rosie prefers to call Darwin “Charles,” rather than the nickname of “Gas” he received because of his interest in chemical experiments as a teenager (2).

Darwin the beetle collector

Darwin the beetle collector

We learn about Darwin’s initial plans to be in the clergy so he could devote time to “follow his true passion: the investigation of the natural world.” We learn that Darwin was not only an adventurer in the traditional sense, but also an adventurer in the world of ideas – “He had a rare gift for looking at old facts in a new way.” Rosie forwarns Darwin of placing a beetle in his mouth so as not to lose another, more intriguing beetle. Briefly mentioned are Darwin’s cramped quarters on the ship and his seasickness during the voyage, images of slavery in Brazil and gauchos in Argentina, an earthquake in Chile and reading Lyell’s Principles of Geology, airborne marine iguanas of the Galapagos and kiwis in New Zealand, and ornithologist John Gould and cousin Emma Wedgwood. Weaver does an excellent job of incorporating what Darwin wrote in the diary he kept while on the voyage and his 1839 book, Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Countries visited during the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the World, under the Command of Capt. Fitzroy, R.N. (later The Voyage of the Beagle), as well as small details of Darwin’s life, such as his encounter with a slave in Rio de Janeiro. Most anecdotes are less serious. In his diary entry for January 14/15, 1832, Darwin writes:

Some few birds have been hovering about the vessel 59 & a large gay coloured cricket found an insecure resting place within the reach of my fly-nippers. — He must at the least have flown 370 miles from the coast of Africa.

In The Voyage of the Beetle, this cricket has a name (as do other insects we meet):

I [Rosie] found myself wandering about the ship in search of more cheerful companionship. This I found in a fellow adventurer, a brightly colored cricket named Motley. Motley had been blown almost 400 miles from Africa and has stopped to rest in the Beagle’s rigging.

Darwin's notebook

Darwin's notebook

All along their observations and adventures, Darwin consistently asks questions about the life and landscapes encountered in South America, New Zealand, Australia, and several oceanic islands. On examining microscopic organisms in water netted from the sea, he asks, “How could such beauty be created where no one can see it?” About sea slugs in Patagonia, Darwin asks, “But what if just a few were able to hide because they were quicker at squirting ink, or because their coloring matched the rocks or kelp where they live?” And on kiwis in New Zealand, “What if all birds started out with similar wings, but in each different environment, a wing form that was slightly more useful, perhaps because of stronger chest muscles, or a sleeker shape, was passed on for generation after generation?” Following each instance of Darwin’s curiosity about the nature of species, Rosie slips into his diary a clue to help him discover the solution to “that mystery of mysteries.” Darwin’s conversations with Rosie reflect, Weaver writes, his thought process that led him eventually to the idea of natural selection.

H.M.S. <i>Beagle</i>

H.M.S. Beagle

The Voyage of the Beetle works well as an entertaining adventure story, a charming biography of the young Darwin, and an educational book about natural selection and evolution (the book states it is for grades 4 and up). The clues provided by Rosie are not just for Darwin to consider, but for the reader to also try and figure out the solution through inductive reasoning, as Rosie says, “before Darwin does.” The illustrations by George Lawrence are very nice, and as “an admirer of Charles Darwin and his theories for many years,” Weaver’s approach to this book is fresh and clever, and most importantly, accurate. There is no eureka moment on the Galapagos – Darwin does not see different species of finches and exclaim, “Aha, evolution!” Nor is there the sense that Darwin set out on the voyage to prove evolution (3).

There is even a hint in the book of Darwin’s admiration for William Paley and his work Natural Theology; to Rosie, “isn’t it astonishing how every kind, or species, of creature fits into its environment as if it were designed for it?” His observations and questions about the nature of species ultimately led to his profound conclusions, presented in his 1859 abstract (of a planned larger work!), On the Origin of Species (and not The Origin of Species). And Darwin did not avoid publishing his work because of fear from religious circles or upsetting his wife, but because, as Weaver writes in a concluding chapter, he needed to “be sure enough of his solution to share it publicly,” as historian John van Wyhewould agree (this view may be presented in The Voyage of the Beetle, however, to avoid religious matters in a children’s science book).

I hope this book finds itself on library shelves, and possibly even as an important tool for teaching kids about evolution and natural selection as we approach the bicententenary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species in 2009.

1. Anne Weaver, The Voyage of the Beetle: A Journey around the World with Charles Darwin and the Search for the Solution to the Mystery of Mysteries, as Narrated by Rosie, an Articulate Beetle (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007 [copyright 2004]).

2. See Janet Browne,Charles Darwin: Voyaging [A Biography] (New York: Alfred A. Knopf), p. 33, or Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (New York: Warner Books, 1991), p. 18.

3. I particularly like this summary from historian of science Peter J. Bowler: “The scholars of the ‘Darwin industry’ have been forced to battle against the mythological character acquired by the voyage in order to reconstruct the true story. Many aspects of the traditional legend have not been substantiated by the most recent scholarship. Thanks to the work of Frank Sulloway, we now know that Darwin did not recognize the significance of the Galapagos finches until after the Beagle had departed. He had to use other people’s collections in order to investigate the problem of speciation in this unique environment. More generally, the Darwin scholars have shown that we need to reinterpret our whole picture of what he was up to during the five years he was away. The voyage is traditionally interpreted with the benefit of hindsight: we know what use Darwin eventually made of his discoveries and we allow this to influence our evaluation of what he actually did. Once again, Darwin himself contributed to the problem by rewriting the later and more popular edition of the Journal of Researches to incorporate the fruits of his own reflections on the voyage’s significance. HIstorians now argue that we must force ourselves to accept that his conversion to evolutionism came after his return to England. If we want to understand what Darwin was actually doing while circumnavigating the globe, we must look to the notebooks and letters written at the time – which reflect a very different set of interests to those imposed by hindsight” [in Bowler, Charles Darwin: The Man and His Influence (New York: Cambridge UP, 1990), pp. 49-51].

NOTE: I have to thank Dr. Weaver for having her publisher send me a copy ofThe Voyage of the Beetle for review. There is a companion website for the book, and it has been briefly reviewed at John Hawk’s Anthropology Weblog. There are a few reviews on the book’sAmazon page as well. All illustrations in this review are fromThe Voyage of the Beetle.

Pictures of the Young Darwin

Nunatak of The Beagle Project said, “So, I urge you, my fellow science bloggers, Darwin’s bulldogs/flying lemurs, Wallace’s rottweilers and other champions of science and reason to please use this Darwin Day as an opportunity to pour on more images of Darwin the young man.” Well, then, here you go. These illustrations, although not exact representations of the young Darwin (he wasn’t that masculine, was he?), are from a 1960 children’s book (of this series), We Were There with Charles Darwin on H.M.S. Beagle, by Philip Eisenberg and illustrated by H.B. Vestal.

Today in Science History: Darwin Returns from Beagle Voyage

UPDATE: Nunatak over at The Beagle Project Blog provides her thoughts on this moment, with passages from The Voyage of the Beagle.

On October 2, 1836, Darwin returned to England after nearly 5 years on H.M.S. Beagle. His entry for this day in his Beagle diary:

October 2nd After a tolerably short passage, but with some very heavy weather, we came to an anchor at Falmouth. — To my surprise and shame I confess the first sight of the shores of England inspired me with no warmer feelings, than if it had been a miserable Portugeese settlement.1 The same night (and a dreadfully stormy one it was) I started by the Mail for Shrewsbury. —

Aerial Ascent & Descent Histories

This is not related to natural history or the history of biology, but I thought it was neat connection.

Today in 1823, André-Jacques Garnerin became the first person to use a parachute regularly and successfully. From Today in Science History:

He perfected the parachute and made jumps from greater altitudes than had been possible before. On 22 October 1797, at age 28, Garnerin made his first jump above the Parc Monceau in Paris. He dropped from a hot-air balloon at 3000 feet. His parachute, with 36 ribs and lines, was semi-rigid, somewhat resembling an umbrella. The descent was a success, except that he shook back and forth violently while falling. The physicist Lalande, who attended the event, suggested improving air flow with a small opening at the top of the canopy. Garnerin died aged 41. While preparing balloon equipment, a beam struck his head inflicting a mortal wound.

3000 feet, that was impressive nearly two centuries ago, but this is even more so. On Thursday, John Lynch of Stranger Fruit posted a video of Joseph Kittinger’s 1960 skydive from just above 20 miles up.

Extreme Classics: The 100 Greatest Adventure Books of All Time

from National Geographic:

“A list we had hoped our readers would enjoy turned out to be one of the most popular features in Adventure’s five-year history. You asked for it—repeatedly—now you got it: the 100 Greatest in all their glory.”

Here are the top ten:

1. The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1922)
2. Journals, by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (1814)
3. Wind, Sand & Stars, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1940)
4. Exploration of the Colorado River, by John Wesley Powell (1875)
5. Arabian Sands, by Wilfred Thesiger (1959)
6. Annapurna, by Maurice Herzog (1952)
7. Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey (1968)
8. West With the Night, by Beryl Markham (1942)
9. Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer (1997)
10. Travels, by Marco Polo (1298)

The Voyage of the Beagle is #23, and NG says “The grand old man of modern biology was a gentleman of leisure, a crack shot, and no scientist when, at 22, he boarded the Beagle for its long survey voyage to South America and the Pacific. His record of the trip is rich in anthropology and science. (His shipmates called him “the Fly-catcher.”) The adventure comes in watching over Darwin’s shoulder as he works out the first glimmerings of his theory of evolution.”