Trac­ing Dar­win’s foot­steps

A new map fol­lows sci­en­tist Charles Dar­win’s jour­ney in the West­ern Cape in 1838, do­ing re­search and col­lect­ing spec­i­mens

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - JELLYBEAN JOURNAL -

LAST YEAR was the 200th an­niver­sary of the birth of Charles Dar­win and the 150th an­niver­sary of the pub­li­ca­tion of his fa­mous book, On the Ori­gin of Species.

In this book, pub­lished in 1859, he put for­ward his the­ory of evo­lu­tion – that all crea­tures on earth are de­scended, over mil­lions of years and many changes, from a sin­gle an­ces­tor, and that we all de­vel­oped through nat­u­ral se­lec­tion.

This means, very briefly, that the fittest species – those who can adapt best to their en­vi­ron­ment – are likely to be the ones that sur­vive.

In 1834, a quar­ter cen­tury be­fore he pub­lished Ori­gin, Dar­win spent 18 days in Cape Town and some of his re­search from that trip was used in his book.

Dar­win was 27 when he vis­ited our city aboard the HMS Bea­gle, which was on its way back to Eng­land from South Amer­ica. The ship docked at 13 ports dur­ing its voy­age and stayed the long­est in Si­mon’s Bay (now Si­mon’s Town). The South African leg of the voy­age was the last part of the jour­ney which took five years.

Dar­win was a grad­u­ate of Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity in Eng­land, with a back­ground in nat­u­ral sci­ence and his dad reck­oned that it would be a good ex­pe­ri­ence for his son to see the world. so Dar­win went on the ship as a com­pan­ion to Robert Fitzroy, who was the cap­tain.

Dar­win ob­served ev­ery­thing around him, col­lected spec­i­mens and made notes. It wasn’t a free ride – Dar­win’s dad had to pay for his ticket. It was like a su­per gap year – one that lasted five years.

In the Cape, Dar­win vis­ited Si­mon’s Bay, Wyn­berg, Clare­mont, Ob­ser­va­tory, Cape Town, Sea Point, Paarl, Fran­schhoek, the Fran­schhoek Pass, Grabouw, Houw Hoek, Sir Lowry’s Pass and the Cape Flats.

The Dar­win Trail – a map which traces his steps through the West­ern Cape, has been pub­lished by A&C Maps. The map was ini­ti­ated by Dr Wil­mot James, who is a DA MP and shadow min­is­ter for higher ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing, as part of the Africa Genome Ed­u­ca­tion In­sti­tute Dar­win 200 cel­e­bra­tions – a project to cre­ate greater aware­ness of Dar­win’s legacy.

On the easy-to-fol­low map, there are ref­er­ences to things that Dar­win saw, as well as in­for­ma­tion about at­trac­tions that were not there in his day. One can track his move­ments and visit the places he stopped at.

While here, Dar­win dis­cov­ered a Cape bug and it is named af­ter him – Kaapiad Dar­wini.

Find out more at The Dar­win Ex­hi­bi­tion which is on at the Iziko SA Mu­seum, un­til April. The ex­hi­bi­tion in­cludes some of the notes and ob­ser­va­tions that he made on the Bea­gle voy- age. It also shows his im­pres­sions of the peo­ple he en­coun­tered and the land­scape he trav­elled through, as well as the spec­i­mens he col­lected.

Af­ter he got back to Eng­land, he stayed in con­tact with many peo­ple he met in the Cape.

His African jour­ney made a big im­pres­sion on Dar­win

He reck­oned that mod­ern hu­man be­ings orig­i­nally came from our con­ti­nent – that we all had a com­mon an­ces­tor. It has turned out that he was right – the ev­i­dence for the evo­lu­tion of crea­tures on earth over mil­lions of years is now clear.

The Dar­win Trail Map is avail­able free from Cape Town Tourism, tourism bu­reaus, Iziko mu­se­ums, the MTN Scien­cen­tre or from the Africa Genome Ed­u­ca­tion In­sti­tute. Call 021 683 5814 or go to or for more in­for­ma­tion.

LONG AGO: Wyn­berg was still ru­ral when Dar­win vis­ited.

VOY­AGE: Dar­win spent five years on HMS Bea­gle, which stopped in Cape Town.

NAT­U­RAL SE­LEC­TION: En­joy­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion are

Chris Stringer (from Lon­don’s Nat­u­ral his­tory Mu­seum) Colin Payne of

Iziko Mu­seum.

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