Huxley: From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest

By Adrian Desmond | Go to book overview
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Sepulchral Painted Savages

`AM I AT SEA or dreaming?'

The Rattlesnake left Sydney harbour on 8 May 1849 and sailed north, this time destined for New Guinea. Hal left Nettie a knot of grief and frustration. She had heard of the 'fierceness' of the Papuan natives and worked herself into a state, imagining Hal 'exposed to their attacks'.

The dreaming carried him up the coast. He settled into his somnambulistic routine, lost in Nettie's letters in the momentary calm, 'then comes a roll ... the timbers creak, the pigs squeal, the fowls cackle, two or three plates fly with a crack out of the stewards pantry' and the cook's curses brought him back to reality.

He had a ruder awakening after Moreton Bay (Brisbane). Steering through the Coral Sea, the heavily laden ship was hit by a cyclone. The Bramble lost her stern-boat and separated from the Rattlesnake, which was itself 'plunging and rolling in the heavy seas like a log'. The shoddy caulking left the gun room and Huxley's cabin flooded. He sided with the men, blaming it on the officers, who should have been "tending to the ship, 'stead o' givin pic-nics in Sydney harbour'. 1 Then the tiller rope gave way and the ship broached to and was hit by three huge waves broadside.

Far from the cyclone, Nettie sat at home with his old letters:

They are never-failing sources of comfort... Ah how I love him - with my whole soul - with all the truth and devotion that ever urged a woman's heart. My desire is to become good and excellent as the being he imagines me - my happiest dreams are of a peaceful home with him to


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Huxley: From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest
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