2009 JD Stewart Address
Charles Darwin: traveller in Australia and biological revolutionary
Presented by Emeritus Professor Frank Nicholas
Charles Darwin visited Australia for two months in 1836. He did so as the companion to the captain of H.M.S. Beagle, Robert FitzRoy, who had been instructed by the Admiralty to complete the Royal Navy’s surveys of South America, and then to circumnavigate the globe, taking every opportunity to check chronometrical estimates of longitude at ports along the way, including Sydney, Hobart and King George’s Sound.
During the Beagle’s visit to Australia, Darwin rode a horse from Sydney to Bathurst, walked and rode extensively in and around Hobart, and walked in the environs of King George Sound. His first-hand encounter with Australian animals caused him to ask (in the Sydney section of his diary) whether there had been more than one creator.
Darwin’s Australian experience did not provide a Eureka moment. Instead, what he saw in Australia and elsewhere during the Beagle’s voyage contributed to the wealth of evidence he assembled during the following 23 years, showing that:
(a) species have evolved and
(b) evolution can be explained by a combination of natural selection, correlated responses to selection, sexual selection and chance events, all operating over almost incomprehensible lengths of time on the vast store of heritable variation that exists in nature.
This revolutionary view of life on earth is still as relevant now as when it was first published 150 years ago: it underpins all of modern biology, providing a very powerful, unified and (to use Darwin’s own word) “enobled” view of the natural world.
More information can be accessed on Charles Darwin in Australia by F.W. and J.M. Nicholas website.