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The Silent Landscape
Chapter Ten. The Echoes of Evolution
Melbourne, 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 10'E

It 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.

(Collins Street, Melbourne a few years after Challenger's visit)

Most 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...


Challenger 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.

Although 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 priority.

The 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

The 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...

New Zealand

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 felt relief.

...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.

Challenger's 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...

Now click here to enter Chapter 11. The Groaning Planet...



Richard Corfield 2003 in association with pedalo.co.uk