Charles Darwin arrives in Australia – 1836

“January 12th Early in the morning, a light air carried us towards the entrance of Port Jackson: instead of beholding a verdant country scattered over with fine houses, a straight line of yellowish cliff brought to our mind the coast of Patagonia. A solitary lighthouse, built of white stone, alone told us we were near to a great & populous city. — Having entered the harbor, it appeared fine & spacious; but the level country, showing on the cliff-formed shores bare & horizontal strata of sandstone, was covered by woods of thin scrubby trees that bespoke useless sterility. — Proceeding further inland, parts of the country improved; beautiful Villas & nice Cottages were |681| here & there scattered along the beach; and in the distance large stone houses, two or three stories high, & Windmills standing on the edge of a bank, pointed out to us the neighbourhead of the Capital of Australian civilization.

At last we anchored within Sydney Cove; we found the little basin, containing many large ships & surrounded by Warehouses. — In the evening I walked through the town & returned full of admiration at the whole scene. — It is a most magnificent testimony to the power of the British nation: here, in a less promising country, scores of years have effected many times more than centuries in South America. — My first feeling was to congratulate myself that I was born an Englishman …”


For online copy of Darwin’s Diary see


Post script:

Darwin’s expression about being  “Born an Englishman” – in the context of his arrival in a newly established colony, can be read as an expression of Darwin’s  sense of belonging to the then expanding British Empire.

That is why i cut the full quote at that point, as evidence of Darwin’s inner condition rather than as an evaluation of the city of Sydney at that time. The young Darwin reported the flush of pride he felt at being an Englishman and part of the British empire.

When the Sydney Morning Herald also covered the arrival of Darwin (SMH, Steve Meacham 12 Jan 2009), they made the same editorial decision – cutting the quote at the same point –  as though Darwin may have been saying what a wonderful city Sydney was.

The SMH denied their readers the full story, for Darwin goes on to write:

“Upon seeing more of the town on other days, perhaps it fell a little in my estimation; …”

The SMH story strikes me as playing to an Anglo-Australian sense nationalism (which was in its infancy when Darwin visited) rather than objective reporting.


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