“Charles Darwin: Voyage & ideas that shook the world” exhibition


“We all know travel broadens our vision and stimulates our thinking, but what sort of voyage was it that inspired Charles Darwin to construct his theory of evolution that shook the beliefs of the 19th Century to its core? A major exhibition coming soon to the Australian National Maritime Museum takes you on a voyage with Charles Darwin on HMS Beagle.

Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour

20 March – 23 August 2009 

The exhibition places the Beagle voyage in the context of other early 19th Century exploratory expeditions, revealing the sense of wonder explorers experienced as the natural world opened up before them. The Australian National Maritime Museum has assembled the exhibition Charles Darwin – Voyages and Ideas that Shook the World to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of his most famous work On the Origin of Species.

To coincide with the opening of the exhibition, the museum is combining with Sydney University to present a special two-day symposium (20-21 March) with eminent speakers from universities and other institutions in the UK and Australia. The exhibition opens with an introduction to HMS Beagle, a small (27.5 metre) survey vessel and an account of its earlier (1826-30) survey expedition to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego under the command of Phillip Parker King.

It then introduces the young Charles Robert Darwin, born 12 February 1809, the son of Dr Robert Darwin, a successful Shropshire physician, and Susannah Darwin, daughter of the famous potter Josiah Wedgwood. Charles was the fifth of six children in this well-to-do family.

After unexceptional studies at Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities, Charles in 1831, aged only 22, was invited almost by chance to join the Beagle on its circumnavigation of the globe which took five years to complete. The voyage would expose him to a variety of environments and plant the genesis of ideas that would explain his evolution of life on earth.

The exhibition includes ship plans, charts, documents from the voyage, scientific instruments of the type carried on Beagle, even portraits of some of the ship’s company. A mock-up of Darwin’s cabin shows that the young passenger, at 1.8 metres tall, would not have been able to stand up in his own space. The cabin was so small he had to remove drawers to make room for his feet when he was lying in his hammock.
There are also paintings and sketches by the ship’s artists – the celebrated Augustus Earle, followed by the equally celebrated Conrad Martens – illustrating landfalls and people encountered along the way. As well there are examples of the vast numbers of natural specimens Darwin hoarded, including a remarkable collection of crabs of different types and sizes.

The exhibition follows Darwin after the Beagle voyage, delving into his studies and his life with his family in the village of Downe, Kent, with a real glasshouse demonstrating his fascination with orchids and his scientific study of their reproduction. In other areas the exhibition presents insight into the voyages of Joseph Hooker and Thomas Huxley, naturalists who, like Darwin, joined survey ships to investigate new environments and became firm supporters of the theory of evolution.

Hooker visited Hobart while serving as assistant surgeon on HMS Erebus during the 1839-43 Ross Antarctic expedition. With the assistance of Tasmanian collectors, Hooker published the first comprehensive description of the island’s flora. Thomas Huxley was assistant surgeon on HMS Rattlesnake during its survey of northern Australia and New Guinea in 1846-50. Nicknamed Darwin’s Bulldog, he became evolution’s most effective advocate.

To bring the exhibition together its curator, Dr Nigel Erskine, travelled widely in the UK, visiting Darwin’s home Down House (Kent) as well as a wide range of collecting institutions. Exhibition loans include material from the British Museum, the National Maritime Museum (Greenwich) and Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

The two-day symposium In The Wake of the Beagle: Science in the Southern Oceans from the Age of Darwin will be held at the Australian National Maritime Museum on 20-21 March. Symposium themes will include Voyaging and Collecting, History and Philosophy of Science, Ethnography, Biography and Mass Media. Two-day registration is $50, one-day $25. For more information or to register, phone (02) 9298 3644.
Papers from the symposium will be published as a book In The Wake of the Beagle: Science in the Southern Oceans from the Age of Darwin (University of New South Wales Press).

The Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, is open daily, 9.30 am to 5 pm. All inquiries (02) 9298 3777, or visit http://www.anmm.gov.au .”


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