Ten. The Echoes of Evolution
Victoria, Australia, March 17, 1874, 37o45'S,
144o 58'E to Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
June 8, 1874, 33o55'S, 151o 10' E. 33o55'S, 151o
had been the longest period of the voyage away from civilization
and the crew and Scientifics shared a sense of relief when
the Antarctic leg of the voyage was finally over. No one
complained when Nares scrapped the planned visit to Hobart
in Tasmania and decided instead to head straight for Melbourne.
Almost as soon as they anchored, Challenger was overrun
with influential citizens anxious to see the ship and to
bid its crew welcome to Australian waters. As they rode
at anchor in Hobson's Bay they were amazed and delighted
by the contrast to the silence and loneliness of their Antarctic
sojourn. All was movement, color, and gaiety. Coastal steamers
arrived and departed, yachts and steam launches filled with
pleasure seekers and cargo crisscrossed the bay, and all
around them merchant ships and other men o' war were towed
in and out of the harbor as they arrived from distant lands
or made ready to set out across the Pacific Ocean that lay
just beyond the sandbars.
Street, Melbourne a few years after Challenger's visit)
impressive of all, the horizon before them was dominated
by the vast magnificent city of Melbourne, its skyline broken
here and there by church spires and high roofs and the foreground
dominated by the new buildings of government: the city hall,
the new post office, government house, the parliament buildings
and the treasury. Everything they saw reminded Challenger's
crew that they had arrived at the furthest outpost of an
empire that ruled the world, and that Australia, like India,
was another vibrant jewel in Victoria's crown...
arrived in Sydney on Easter Monday, April 7, 1874. Among
those unfamiliar with the “Australian station,” the approach
caused some consternation. The harbor was almost completely
enclosed by high cliffs and inexperienced hands wondered
if they were about to run aground. But almost at the last
minute the gap between Sydney Heads became visible–as Captain
Nares knew it would–and Challenger slipped through into
one of the most perfect natural harbors in the world.
Sydney Harbor was arguably one of the most spectacular and
beautiful anchorages in the British Empire, like any working
port it had its more prosaic side and the eastern shore
was dominated by wharfs and quays where freight and passenger
vessels berthed. Here, too, was the dry dock Challenger
desperately needed after the rigors of the Antarctic voyage.
She was still scarred after her encounters with icebergs
so proper repairs to her jury-rigged jib boom were a top
months in Sydney passed agreeably, the officers at least
finding the company civilized and charming. The Scientifics
were in their element too, particularly Henry Moseley, who
had realised that if the deep ocean was one place where
the proof of Mr. Darwin's theories might be found, then
Australia was another.
Chains of Command
Australian writings of both Spry and Moseley contain frequent
references to the so called missing links of the fossil
record, reflecting Victorian biologists' preoccupation with
the search for intermediate forms of life; that is, forms
that have characteristics of both ancestor and descendent.
Australia has two of the most spectacular examples in the
animal kingdom, the egg-laying mammals commonly known as
the echidna and the platypus...
The voyage from Sydney to Wellington
was fraught with difficulty. By the time they sighted
Cape Farewell in New Zealand, the weather had worsened
and Challenger was forced to take shelter for a
night and a day in Port Hardy, an inlet in the northern
end of D'Urville Island in Cook Strait. The next day they
managed only another short run of some 20 miles before
being forced to shelter in the lee of Queen Charlotte
Sound's Long Island. The following day they made it across
Cook Strait, Challenger creaking and groaning in
the high sea. When the towering pinnacles of Ben Mor and
the Karakora Ranges loomed up across the spume, all aboard
...They were only 10 miles from
harbor when tragedy struck...
Challenger did not linger
in Wellington. The Admiralty wanted her back in Spithead
by the spring of 1876 and still she had the vast bulk
of the Pacific Ocean ahead of her. But Challenger's
encounters with missing links were not yet over, because
Moseley found, among a pile of rotting wood in the forest
outside Wellington, one of the most extraordinary examples
in the animal kingdom... The insect worm.
visit to Australia and New Zealand was an eye opener
for the Scientifics. The region was without question rich
in the evidence that Mr. Darwin so longed for, intermediate
forms between major animal groups. The Antipodes were indeed
lands where missing links were no longer missing. In this
place the Challenger expedition had found a large
part of what it sought, the very echoes of evolution itself...
click here to enter Chapter 11. The Groaning Planet...