CHARLES DARWIN   –   Dr Dawn Gould

Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) was ”a British scientist who laid the foundation of modern evolutionary theory with his concept  of the development of all forms of life through the slow working process of natural selection.”

On 31 May 1836 the ship HMS Beagle under the command of Captain Robert Fitzroy, anchored in the Cape of Good Hope’s Simon’s Bay which offered better winter weather than Table Bay. Aboard was a 28 year old British born naturalist, Charles Darwin, who during his life (he died in 1882) would receive praise and severe criticism for his work relating to the evolutionary theory of the development of all forms of life through the process of natural selection. The ship was on its way back to Britain after having spent nearly five years sailing to South America (Brazil and Chile and the Galapagos Islands), New Zealand, Australia, Mauritius.

During the length of time that the Beagle lay at anchor Darwin was able to get about and, in particular, note local geology. In fact on the 28 August 1953 the then National Monuments Council erected a plaque in Sea Point which stated: “The rocks between this plaque and the sea reveal an impressive contact zone of dark slate with pale intrusive granite.  This interesting example of contact between a sedimentary and an igneous rock was first recorded by Clarke Abel in 1818.  Since its discovery it has had an inspiring influence on the historical development of geology.  Notable amongst those who have described it, Charles Darwin visited it in 1836.”  The plaque disappeared but very recently a new one has been placed in position.

Darwin was also able to visit Paarl and Fransch Hoek, Was driven over the Fransch Hoek Pass to Houw Hoek then over Sir Lowry Pass and on towards Cape Town.

At this time living on his Feldhausen estate in Claremont was the astronomer and mathematician John Herschel (later Sir) who was working on a survey of the southern sky. He and his wife Margaret  had arrived at the Cape on January 15 1834 and would leave on 11 March 1838.  In the way of a very small town news would have spread quickly of the Beagle’s travels and in particular of certain members of such a distinctive voyage. Perhaps in this way both Fitzroy and Darwin were introduced into the social circle of the Herschels.  Both men visited the Herschel home and met again before they sailed.  Darwin appears to have appreciated meeting John Herschel and referred to his kindness and friendliness of character, his comfortable home with its large grounds which included many oak and fir trees. He considered the meeting “a memorable piece of good fortune”.

Captain Fitzroy, a nephew of the Duke of Grafton, visited the Royal Observatory and apparently had been, according to a letter written by Mrs Herschel to her brother Dr J Stewart, very popular with herself and with the other members of the female community whom he met.   She invited Darwin and Fitzroy to write about the missionaries they had met during their travels hoping, in this way, to improve public opinion on the work they did. In September 1836 an article of twenty pages was published in the South African Christian Recorder, with Darwin and Fitzroy named as the authors.   However from a letter written by Fitzroy to his hostess, it would seem that only he was the author.   The year 1859 saw the publication of Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.