Fifty years ago on the Galapagos Islands, the Charles Darwin Research Station was established in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island. To mark those five fruitful decades, a statue of Charles Darwin is being installed at the facility, ready for all to see and admire. But how did this statue come to be?
Deciding how to portray Darwin was easy enough – he would be memorialised as the young, imaginative soul who, almost two centuries ago, excitedly took in the new South American world as he sailed these exotic seas. What better way to remind (and inspire) visitors that the route to science is one of constant discovery, adventure and gusto?
According to Godfrey Merlen, one of our patrons who was heavily involved in the project, our Darwin would take the shape of a “man sitting on a bench, leaning slightly forward, interested in his surroundings, absorbing the wider picture, and willing to talk. Around his neck the lens; a notebook in his hand with a finger marking the place would be appropriate. His hair curving over his forehead, sideburns descend to his jaw line as in the mode of the day”.
So far so good, but if we dig deeper the statue’s conception becomes even more intriguing. The funds for the statue were donated to the GCT through the John R. Murray Charitable Trust, which helps to maintain the John Murray Archive. This archive is a collection of works that John Murray, a publishing company now under Hodder and Stoughton, has printed over its 200 years of existence.
Throughout its history John Murray has published many remarkable British authors known worldwide. Among these writers are Lord Byron, Jane Austen, and – of course – Charles Darwin.
Darwin, who returned to England from his voyages in 1836, had released a book through the publisher Henry Colburn, but was dissatisfied with the finished product. He then turned to the firm John Murray in 1845, then already helmed by the third generation of John Murrays. He was happy with the fruits of his labours, and thus began the relationship between Darwin and John Murray.
This partnership was a long one, lasting almost forty years. And Darwin, being the prolific writer he was, churned out around twenty works under John Murray, the most famous of which being On the Origin of Species in 1859. These books spanned a wide range of subjects, among them barnacles, botany and a biography of Darwin’s grandfather. The last book he published in 1881 was on earthworms, and in a letter to John Murray, wrote that he was satisfied with his success as an author, “I am much pleased at the sale of my books”. Darwin died shortly thereafter, in the spring of 1882.
It is therefore fitting that this statue, soon to be enjoyed by all visitors to the Charles Darwin Research Station, should be possible thanks to the publishing firm which, all those years ago, made Darwin’s name what it is today.
by Jose Hong