Charles Darwin's Visit to Australia (Part 1)

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In January 1836 Charles Darwin sailed into Port Jackson on Her Majesty’s ship Beagle, a ten-gun brig under the command of Captain Fitz Roy. The Beagle had sailed from Devonport England on 27th December 1831 on a scientific expedition of discovery with Darwin as the ship’s naturalist.

Charles Darwin aged 31
Charles Darwin aged 31

There were three special interests that Darwin wanted to observe when in the colony of New South Wales - the state of the society, the living conditions of the convicts and the degree of attraction to induce emigration to this part of the world.

Darwin wrote in his journal that the whole population was bent on acquiring wealth, the climate was splendid and perfectly healthy and the two main exports were wool and whale oil.

The first four days in Sydney impressed Darwin with the township presenting a vigorous community and a number of large houses indicating wealthy ownership. On 16th January he hired a man and two horses to go to Bathurst where he expected to learn more of the farming activities. The roads had been built on the MacAdam principle where crushed basalt from the Pennant Hills Quarry covered the surface, making it safe in wet or dry conditions. He watched a convict chain gang employed to build and maintain the roads. He stayed at Parramatta the first night and at sunset observed a group of aboriginal men carrying their spears and woomera. He paid their leader a shilling to demonstrate their skills at throwing spears and was amazed at the accuracy of every spear thrown at a small target set at 30 paces.

Aboriginal Warrior
Aboriginal Warrior

Trevor Patrick is a local historian of the north-west of Sydney, Australia. His latest book, In Search of the Pennant Hills, recounts some of these stories (and others) in more detail.