CHARLES DARWIN’S VISIT TO AUSTRALIA

In January 1836 Charles Darwin sailed into Port Jackson on Her Majesty’s ship the Beagle, a tengun 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.

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 immigration 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.

On 17th January 1836 Charles Darwin crossed the Nepean River on a ‘ferry-boat’ and ascended the road built by William Cox. A strenuous climb to an altitude of 3,000 feet brought him to the Weatherboard Inn (Katoomba) by the middle of the day. Local inhabitants recommended he ride 1.5 miles (2.4km) to look into the Jamieson Valley. He wrote a word description of the sheer sandstone cliffs and the waterfall that dropped 1,500 feet (460m) onto the valley floor. Travelling further west he stopped at Blackheath for the night. A walk next morning of 3 miles (4.8km) brought him to Govett’s Leap, named to honour surveyor William Govett. The word “leap” is an Old English expression of a small waterfall.

‘We descended from the sandstone platform by the pass of Mount Victoria. To effect this pass, an enormous quantity of stone has been cut through. At Hassan’s Walls, I left the high road, and made a short detour to a farm called Walerawang…..the usual number of assigned convict-servants here is about forty.’

Charles Darwin considered the convict policy and wrote –

‘Converting vagabonds, most useless in one hemisphere, into active citizens of another, and thus give birth to a new and splendid country – a grand centre of civilization – it has succeeded to a degree perhaps unparalleled in history’.

Reference: The Voyage of the BEAGLE by Charles Darwin.