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Charles Darwin thinks about geology in Australia

Video clip synopsis – Professor Iain McCalman returns to a spot where Darwin observed the geological formation of the Blue Mountains, and speculated on what it told us about the origins of life.
Year of production - 2009
Duration - 1min 20sec
Tags - Charles Darwin, discovery, evidence, evolution, exploration, science, see all tags


Charles Darwin thinks about geology in Australia

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About the Video Clip


Charles Darwin thinks about geology in Australia was recorded in 2009 as part of the Australian National Maritime Museum special exhibition Charles Darwin — voyages and ideas that shook the world.

Charles Darwin thinks about geology in Australia 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.

Professor Iain McCalman is a historian at the University of Sydney.

Background Information


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.

In 1836 Darwin briefly visited Australia, with stops at Sydney, Hobart and King George’s Sound.

During his stay in Sydney he made a trip to Bathurst and the Blue Mountains. His comments on the geology and wild life of the area, and his comments on the possible fate of the Aboriginal people he saw, provide us with strong indications that he was already in the process of developing his famous theory of evolution by means of natural selection, and which he finally published in 1859.

Classroom Activities

  1. Look at this clip with the sound off. Observe the nature of the geological formation in the background. Describe what you see.
  2. Now suggest an explanation for its origin.
  3. At the time of Darwin most western people believed the account of creation in the Bible — that God created everything, and that they had not changed over time. This happened about 6000 years ago. How might the geology of the Blue Mountains challenge that belief?
  4. Now watch the clip with the sound turned on. What did Darwin suggest was the cause of the great valleys he could see?
  5. What do we now see as the real explanation?
  6. How would either explanation lead Darwin to challenge the biblical creation story?
  7. Why might Darwin have been hesitant to promote these ideas?

Following up a ‘big idea’

  1. Research to find out how people reacted to Darwin’s ideas, and how they changed the way many people thought about the origins of the world.
  2. For more information about Darwin the geologist see the interactive website The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences and use the tools that Darwin had to explore geological features.

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