Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Grim Reminder of How Things Might Have Turned Out...

An article by Steve Meacham in the Sydney Morning Herald explores one of the great "what if's" of history:

HE HAS gone down as an obscure footnote in history: a failed Royal Navy captain who committed suicide in 1828 off the coast of Patagonia, taking 12 days to die from self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

There is no known portrait of him. No record of his birth.

Yet the State Library of NSW has just paid $200,000 for the final, handwritten journal of Pringle Stokes, at auction in London against stiff competition.

Why? "Because it's one of those great 'what ifs' of history," explains the library's senior curator, Paul Brunton.

Stokes was the first captain of HMS Beagle. Had he not committed suicide, Charles Darwin would never have been invited to join the Beagle on its epic second voyage.

The history of scientific discovery - certainly Australia's role in it - would have taken a different course.

Arguably, there would be no The Origin Of Species.

In this case, Wallace would probably the one we would be feting this year, instead of Darwin. Instead of being "Darwinists," we would be "Wallacians."

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