Darwin at the museum

Well, I've finally made it up to Auckland, to go to the 'Darwin' exhibition at Auckland War Memorial Museum. And it's as good as I'd hoped.  If you live in Auckland, or you're visiting, do try to go & see it. It's a wonderful walk through Darwin's life and through his development of the theory of evolution.

For me one of the high points was seeing plants that Darwin collected on the Galapagos, and things that he'd written – letters, diary notes, a page of the manuscript for the Origin of Species. To me that was a special link, a window to a really significant piece of scientific history. But there's heaps more material, plus videos and some live action as well – we watched the young 'Darwin' arguing with 'Captain Robert Fitzroy' over slavery (something that nearly got the real Darwin, who was vehemently anti-slavery, thrown off the Beagle in South America).

This was so good because it gave a more rounded picture of Darwin than we usually see – as my nephew said afterwards, "Why do they always show Darwin as a bearded old man? He was a young guy when he did a lot of this stuff." And you could see how excited Darwin was by what he was doing, through quotes like this: There is nothing like geology. The pleasure of the first day's partridge shooting… cannot be compared to finding a fine group of fossil bones, which tell their story of former times with almost a living tongue. (In his youth Darwin rather enjoyed hunting, though even then he got quite a buzz out of collecting a new beetle or a plant that he hadn't seen before.)

So do visit the Museum. You'll come out with a better understanding of Darwin the man, as well as Darwin the scientist. (And yes, I bought a t-shirt on the way out.)

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