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article imageTall ship visits Cape Town on Darwin commemoration tour

By Christopher Szabo     Apr 25, 2010 in Science
Cape Town - A little-known aspect of Charles Darwin's epoch making voyage on HMS Beagle is the ship's stopover in Cape Town, South Africa. Now a tall ship is visiting the city to commemorate twin anniversaries.
The Dutch clipper, the Stad Amsterdam, arrived in Simon’s Town Apr. 23, after nine months at sea, stopping off in Britain, Spain, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Tahiti and Australia.
The Stad Amsterdam’s voyage is aimed at commemorating 200 years since Darwin’s birth and the 150 anniversary of the publication of his epoch making Origin of Species.
According to the South African Journal of Science (SAJS), Darwin assiduously collected plant specimens and met the local scientific establishment, described as ”small yet distinguished.” This included Andrew Smith, the Queen’s Astronomer at what became the Royal Observatory and which still forms part of South Africa’s growing astronomical science sector. He also met the great astronomer, John Herschel.
Darwin, despite his advanced views on evolution, nonetheless held the attitudes of his peers and rejoiced at the increase of the use of the English language over Dutch. Moreover, he had the pseudo-scientific views of the time as regarded sub-racial characteristics (”race”). The SAJS quotes Darwin describing his Khoi groom:
I hired a couple of horses and a young Hottentot groom to accompany me as a guide, he spoke English very well and was most tidily drest [sic]; he wore a long coat, beaver hat, and white gloves! The Hottentots … to my eye look like partially bleached Negroes; they are of small stature, and have most singularly formed heads and faces. The temple and cheek bones project so much, that the whole face is hidden from a person standing in the same side position, in which he would be unable to see part of the features of a European. Their hair is very short and curly.
The Journal says Darwin described the population of what had recently become the British Cape Colony:
In Cape Town it is said the present number of inhabitants is about 15 000 and in the whole colony, including coloured people, 200 000. Many different nations are here mingled together; the Europeans consist of Dutch, French & English and scattered people from other parts. The Malays, descendants of slaves brought from the East Indian archipelago, form a large body; they appear a fine set of men; they can always be distinguished by conical hats, like the roof of a circular thatched cottage, or by a red handkerchief on their heads. The number of Negroes is not very great and the Hottentots, the ill treated aboriginals of the country, are, I should think, in a still smaller proportion.
The Stad Amsterdam was expected to visit the main port, Table Bay, famous for it’s Waterfront area and the view of Table Mountain, before continuing its voyage.
Update - South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC)'s Channel 2 said Cape Town would be the ship's last historic stop, the Stad Amsterdam would continue back to its home port in Holland.
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