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Charles Darwin and P. G. King - a lifelong friendship

Charles Darwin died 19 April 1882 but the debate he sparked on the origins of life continues right through to the present day. These theories were developed by Darwin on his journey around the globe on HMS Beagle 1831-1836. It was also on this voyage that he started his lifelong friendship with a young midshipman Philip Gidley King, who had been born in Parramatta, Sydney. King who had already travelled on the Beagle with his father on a trip through the Magellan Straits was a talented artist who made several drawings and kept a journal of the voyage.

 When HMS Beagle stopped over at Sydney, in January 1836, King stayed and started a new career as a pastoralist. Both however kept in contact and the Library holds a letter sent by Darwin to King in 1854.

In 1892, at the request of the publisher John Murray, King was asked for recollections as a possible supplement to the new illustrated edition of Darwin's voyage of the Beagle. Among his reminiscences is this insight into their relationship,  

Darwi Letter to PG King_1854 mlmss 3447

Letter received from Charles Darwin, 21 Feb. 1854, King Family - papers, 1806-1903, State Library of New South Wales, MLMSS 3447

At Rio Janeiro Mr Darwin thoroughly enjoyed the new life in a tropical climate. Hiring a cottage at Bota-fogo, a lovely land-locked bay with a sandy beach of a dazzling whiteness, Mr Darwin took for his shore companions the writer, who from having been in the former voyage with his father although then of tender years was able to remember and recount to the so far inexperienced philosopher his own adventures. "Come King" he would say "you have been round Cape Horn and I have not yet done so, but do not come your traveller's yarns on me." One of these was that he had seen whales jump out of water all but their tails, another that he had seen ostriches swimming in salt water. For disbelieving these statements however, Mr Darwin afterwards made ample reparation. The first was verified one fine afternoon on the East coast of Tierra del Fuego.* A large number of whales were around the ship, the Captain, the Philosopher and the Surveyors were on the poop, presently Mr Darwin's arm was seized as a gigantic beast rose three fourths of his huge body out of the water. "Look Sir look! Will you believe me now?" was the exclamation of the hitherto discredited youth. "Yes! anything you tell me."