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

By Adrian Desmond | Go to book overview
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8
Homesick Heroes

THE BRITTLE PERFECTIONIST was cracking. Captain Stanley looked ravaged and no one questioned his cut-and-run policy. He had been racked for months. The flood of anxieties, about the reefs, the savages, the safety of his crew and the worth of his work, had pushed the 'little man' to the brink. The crash came with horrifying violence.

Sailing away from the Louisiade he had a seizure, leaving him partly paralysed. As he dragged his leg, his mind began to wander. Then came the vitriolic outbursts. His 'waspish' temper 'became unbearable' and Thomson showed alarm as Stanley snapped heads off. The doctor pleaded with him to relinquish command or he 'could not feel ... responsible for his life'.

Stanley's fastidiousness deserted him. He seemed not to care anymore, his mind gone, his body paralysed, his brother dead. He ignored badly charted wrecking-reefs in the Coral Sea. This, as MacGillivray said, was practically criminal for a surveyor with 17 chronometers on board.

The run to Sydney was painfully slow. Light winds dogged them. 'We have made about 600 miles in the last fortnight', Huxley logged on 24 January 1850; 'we are about 800 miles from Sydney, and might be there in a week. But so we might a week ago. Uncertainty and suspense seem my lot. Patience! Patience!' On 4 February they were still lying becalmed, 30 miles off Sydney Heads. Only six hours away but no breeze to blow them in. He had not heard from Nettie for five months and the frustration was showing. 'The Fates can surely not tantalize any longer'. 1

These were the moments that Nettie dreamed of yet dreaded, as the Rattlesnake hove into sight. In her 'bitter fancies' she feared

-129-

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