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NZ artist may have inspired Darwin

NZ artist may have inspired Darwin's evolution theory, claims historian

Evidence suggesting Charles Darwin may have received help formulating his theory of evolution has been uncovered by a New Zealand historian.

AUT University Professor of History Paul Moon says the writings of artist Augustus Earle reveal an astonishing parallel with Darwin's theory.

"Earle spent several months in New Zealand from 1827-1828, painting scenes of Maori life, and documenting his trip in a journal. It's this journal which forms the basis of a remarkable link with Darwin."

Professor Moon says the significance is in the timing. "Earle completed his manuscript in 1831, and in it, he wrote of the differences between Maori and Aborigines. He concluded that the Aborigines were the 'last link in the great chain of existence which unites man with the monkey'. The statement not only suggests humans evolved from monkeys but also talks about the idea of a missing link."

Professor Moon says the journal extract is particularly significant because Darwin began his voyage on the Beagle, where he completed the basis of work which led to his theory of evolution. His companion during the early stages of the voyage was Augustus Earle, the expedition's artist. Darwin's theory of evolution was not published until 1859, and even his private writings on the topic only began in 1837.

"What this shows," says Professor Moon, "is that at the time when Darwin's mind first opened to the idea of the transmutation of species while on the Beagle voyage, his travelling companion, Augustus Earle, had already developed a remarkably similar idea about evolution."

Professor Moon has also uncovered a letter from Darwin to his sister, Caroline, confirming the naturalist had read Earle's work containing the suggestion of evolution.

"If we put all the pieces together, there is a strong circumstantial case for Earle having helped to at least trigger Darwin's thoughts on evolution."


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