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Video clip synopsis – Museums have curators to manage and explain the exhibits. Here a museum curator comments on interpreting the meaning and significance of an exhibition object on display as part of the Australian National Maritime Museum’s special exhibition Charles Darwin — voyages and ideas that shook the world.
Year of production - 2009
Duration - 3min 3sec
Tags - Charles Darwin, culture, museums, representations, society, see all tags


Charles Darwin and the Paint Box

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About the Video Clip


Charles Darwin and the Paint Box was recorded at the Australian National Maritime Museum as it prepared for its special exhibition Charles Darwin — voyages and ideas that shook the world in March 2009.

Charles Darwin and the Paint Box is on the website Charles Darwin – The Australian Connection produced in 2009 by Ryebuck Media in association with the Australian National Maritime Museum for Screen Australia Digital Learning. The website takes us on an adventure to explore the role Australia played in shaping Charles Darwin’s theories.

The exhibition and the website were produced to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

Background Information


The Australian National Maritime Museum presented the exhibition, Charles Darwin — voyages and ideas that shook the world, on the 200th anniversary year of Charles Darwin’s birth and 150 years after the publication of his famous evolutionary theory On the Origin of Species.

At the age of 22 Charles Darwin seemed destined to become a clergyman when in 1831 he was given an opportunity to sail to South America on the small survey vessel HMS Beagle. The five year voyage exposed the young Darwin to the stunning nature of the world, triggering ideas that would come to explain the origin of life on earth and shake society to its core. The Beagle voyage proved the seminal event in Charles Darwin’s career, setting him on a path to become the most famous naturalist of the modern era.

Darwin’s account of the Beagle voyage inspired other naturalists to join survey expeditions exploring the world. Two of these, Joseph Hooker and Thomas Huxley were influenced by their experiences in Australia and went on to become Darwin’s staunchest supporters during the evolution debate and pivotal figures in the world of 19th century science.

Charles Darwin – Voyages and ideas that shook the world incorporates material from diverse collections including the British Museum, the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the National Library of Australia and the State Library of New South Wales.

Major exhibits allowed visitors to:

  • view watercolours that vividly record the places and people encountered by voyage artists
  • examine specimens and artefacts collected during a series of ground-breaking surveying voyages
  • see how Darwin lived aboard the Beagle and hear his first impressions of a tropical rainforest
  • learn how the Beagle's captain Robert FitzRoy is linked to modern weather forecasting
  • admire the craft of model making in our specially commissioned ship model of HMS Beagle
  • get close and personal with insect-eating plants in Darwin’s glasshouse!

Classroom Activities


Before watching this clip

  1. Select an object that is important to you. It might be a piece of technology, a favourite piece of clothing, a trophy that you have won, or any other object.
  2. Imagine that a person who does not know you is looking at that object. What can they learn from it about you and your society? For example, will it tell the viewer about the nature of the skills that are needed to produce it, the nature of entertainment, anything about values and attitudes, and so on?
  3. Now look at the video of a historic object associated with the Beagle voyage of Charles Darwin and see what it tells you about the society that produced it.

After watching this clip

  1. What is the object?
  2. How is it an advance on what was used before its invention?
  3. What does it tell us about the society that used it?
  4. What does it tell us about the people who used it?
  5. Museum curators have to describe objects in a limited number of words. Create a caption for this object that is no more than 50 words, but that explains as many as possible of its significant features.
  6. This object is well preserved. If it were not it might have to be restored by a curator. List at least two arguments for restoring objects, and at least two arguments for conserving objects as they are. Which do you think is the stronger case?
  7. The display is part of the way the Australian National Maritime Museum is representing history — that is, it is part of the Museum’s selection, interpretation and presentation of the historical events. What do you think are the main strengths and possible weaknesses in using this approach as part of its representation? Explain your ideas.

Further Resources


Nora Barlow (ed), The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882, New York, WW Norton & Company, 2005

Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle, London. Penguin, 1989

F.W. Nicholas and J.M. Nicholas, Charles Darwin in Australia, Port Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 2002

Iain McCalman & Nigel Erskine (eds), In the wake of the Beagle: science in the southern oceans from the age of Darwin, Sydney, UNSW Press, 2009

Iain McCalman, Darwin’s armada: how four voyagers to Australasia won the battle for evolution and changed the world, 
Sydney, Viking, 2009

David Quammen (ed), Charles Darwin: On the origin of species, illustrated edition, New York, Sterling, 2008

Julie Simpkin (ed), Charles Darwin: An Australian Selection, Canberra, National Museum of Australia Press, 2008

The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online

About Darwin

Natural History Museum – Darwin200

American Museum of Natural History – Darwin

Natural History Museum – Darwin, Big Idea, Big Exhibition