Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin 200 - Australia, 19 January 1836

Darwin visited Australia in January 1836 and stopped for several days in Sydney. During this time he made a trip inland as far as Bathurst. On his way through the inland from the Blue Mountains to Bathurst, Darwin spent a day and a night at a property called Wallerawang. There he wrote what is probably the most discussed of his diary entries recorded in Australia.

Earlier in the evening, I had been lying on a sunny bank and was reflecting on the strange character of the animals of this country as compared to the rest of the World. A Disbeliever in everything beyond his own reason, might exclaim, “surely two distinct Creators must have been [at] work; their object however, has been the same & certainly in each case the end is compete”.-
Whilst thus thinking, I observed the conical pitfall of a Lion-Ant:- a fly fell in & immediately disappeared; then came a large but unwary Ant; His struggles to escape being very violent, the little jets of sand described by Kirby (Vol I P 425) were promptly directed against him.- his fate however was better than that of the poor fly’s:- without a doubt this predacious Larva belongs to the same genus, but to a different species from the European one – Now what would the Disbeliever say to this? Would any two workmen ever hit on so beautiful, so simple & yet so artificial a contrivance? I cannot think so. – The one hand has worked over the whole world. –A Geologist perhaps would suggest, that the periods of Creation have been distinct & remote, the one from the other; That the creator rested in his labor.

Some have claimed that this is the first evidence of Darwin’s doubts about a creation, and the first inklings of his thoughts on evolution – his doubts (the Disbeliever/the Geologist), deep time (the Geologist), and convergence (Lion-Ants).

Much as I would like to claim that Australia was where it all started to come together for Darwin, I’m not convinced. It’s all a bit vague. While Darwin certainly took copious geological notes, I don’t think that “the Geologist” was code for himself, and, sorry Australia, I don’t think that this was the ‘eureka‘ moment.

But then I don’t think there was a ‘eureka moment’. I think the theory was painstakingly crafted from years of observation, collecting, study, hypothesising, testing and writing. It was more a series of mini ‘eurekas’ as the ideas flowed, the evidence came and the testing proceeded.

The theory of evolution is truly a global theory. The evidence is all around us, and Darwin gathered information from around the globe to build the theory. From North Wales, from Patagonia, from Tierra del Fuego, from Chile, from the Galapagos Islands, from Australia, from Keeling Island. From the minds of philosophers, economists, geologists, botanists, zoologists.

As global theory, there is no one point, no one place, that can lay claim to it.

It belongs to everyone.

Having said that though, just where was he when he had these thoughts?

Well, we know he was as the Wallerawang homestead and on a sunny bank. In other notes Darwin mentions the Cox River (Coxes River to be exact). The Wallerawang homestead was on the Cox River, and since he was alone, it's fair to assume that he wouldn't have gone far, so it was probably the Cox River. He mentions that "earlier in the evening I had been lying on a sunny bank". In the evening, the sun would be in the west, which means that he was probably on the east bank.

So putting all this together, Darwin was probably on the east bank of the Cox river, close to the Warrerawang homestead.

Exactly where? well, further south of the homestead, the Cox river enters a region of shallow, but steep sided gorges.

Unfortunately, the Warrerawang homestead was flooded in 1957 to produce Lake Wallace, so in all probability, Darwin's sunny bank is now below Lake Wallace just to the east of present day Warrerawang.

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Happy Birthday Charlie.


  1. And don't tell me Lake Wallace was named after ...

  2. Survival of the fittest.

    well if we go by Darwin we must ask the question whether his theory would survive the times when every one is after one single question

  3. It would be great if the lake was named after Alfred Wallace, but I don't think it was. I've been trying to find out where the name came from. There is one Wallace in the local cenetary, so it may be after a prominant family in the region.


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