Darwin's relationship with Australia started out a little edgy, but all was forgiven…

Extracts below taken from "Darwin, Wallace and the princess in the south"

Trading lesson: Do not stare too long at the screens without having a cup of tea clarity will come with comparison, debate and time.

"Farewell, Australia! you are a rising child, and doubtless some day will reign a great princess in the south: but you are too great and ambitious for affection, yet not great enough for respect. I leave your shores without sorrow or regret."

New Zealand came out far worse, Darwin finding it neither pleasant nor attractive and ranking its Englishmen "the very refuse of society". He was too homesick after four long years abroad to muster up much enthusiasm for new lands, and looked back more fondly on Australia in later diary entries and letters, eventually deciding that Australia was a "fine country".

The letters exchanged by the two friends show that Darwin's thinking about Australia shifted. "Yours is a fine country," he wrote Covington in 1857, "and your children will see it a very great one." The letter also refers to Darwin's dinner in England with Australian sheep-breeder Sir William Macarthur, during which he "drank some admirable" Australian wine. Some years later, feeling more despondent about his life than usual, Darwin wrote to Covington with a most unusual inquiry: "When I think of the future I very often ardently wish I was settled in one of our Colonies… Tell me how far you think a gentleman with capital would get on in New South Wales. (state Aust)

"Australia had evolved into a true princess in the south". It was a place Darwin thought might be better than England. Darwin so disliked sea travel, and was so often ill, that one can hardly imagine him boarding a ship bound for Sydney, but had he done so On the Origin of Species might have been an Australian book, and this story may have turned out very differently.

Darwin's legacy is vast. He changed for all time our picture of life on earth and our place in it. Arguing clearly and powerfully from examples drawn from all over the globe, he showed that nature and humanity are not opposing categories but part of the same flourishing of life. He provided nature with a past that explains what it is today. He did the same for us. His influence lives on in disciplines as diverse as medicine, agriculture, philosophy and psychology.

A century and a half after he gave the world his theory, Charles Darwin remains as relevant as ever.

Note: Darwin was not, as is often supposed, the first to conceive of evolution. His grandfather Erasmus was one of many before him to argue for the concept. Darwin's contribution was to identify natural selection as the mechanism that drives evolution, by recognising that many are born but only the best suited survive and reproduce. Darwin explained this in Origin.





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