Plaque to Be Unveiled in Sea Point at Darwin Celebrations

Article excerpt

Cedric Hunter ("Darwin's legacy", May 1) makes a most welcome point about the Sea Point Contact that Charles Darwin identified when he was in the Cape between May 31 and June 18, 1836. Indeed, one of the key events planned in Cape Town for the bicentenary celebrations of Darwin's birth this year will be the unveiling of a new plaque by Mayor Helen Zille marking the Contact. Hunter is absolutely correct in saying that the Contact is a major mark in the history of geological studies.

This is the full scope of the Darwin bicentenary activities we hope to put together, subject to funding: 1) a series of high-level experts like Janet Browne giving lectures; 2) the unveiling of a new plaque marking the Sea Point Contact; 3) an exhibition of Darwin's three weeks at the Cape as part of his Voyage of the Beagle; 4) developing the Darwin Trails tracking his personal journey by wagon and on horseback from Simon's Town to Cape Town, Paarl, Franschhoek, Houw Hoek and back to Cape Town, and 5) using webcasting technology, linking the Cape to all of the other sites, including South America and the monumentally important Galapagos, all of which will lead to Cambridge University, the institution where Darwin earned his degree, thus the centre of the British Council-initiated Darwin 200 celebrations.

The best - in my view - article on Darwin's visit to the Cape is Wilhelm S Barnard's Darwin at the Cape (South African Journal of Science 100, May-June 2004, pp243-8).

I thank Michael Cherry and Jeffrey Lever for bringing Barnard's sensitively written account to my attention.

In the article, Barnard does an excellent job of explaining why Darwin was drawn to geology and the Earth's changes rather than to botanical, zoological or entomological evolution.

Indeed, Darwin found the Cape to be a bleak and largely uninteresting place, its high points being its geology and his dinner conversations with the great astronomer Sir John Herschel, who was at the Cape at the time to catalogue the southern hemisphere stars, clusters and nebulae. …