Voyage of Darwin’s Beagle – Episode 1: One Small Step For Man (2009)

Beagle: In Darwin’s Wake is a commemoration of 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s book “On The Origin of Species”.

Almost 180 years after Charles Darwin’s journey circumnavigating the world, a crew of authors, artists, and scientists follow in his footsteps. Journalist and presenter Lex Runderkamp, biologists Dirk Draulans and Sarah Darwin (who is the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin), the artist Anthony Smith and the writer Redmond O’Hanlon are accompanied by a number of invited guests whose backgrounds are compatible with the theme of each of the 8 episodes.

The series was initiated by the Dutch-Flemish state broadcaster VPRO. The crews 8 month long voyage on board of the clipper Stad Amsterdam began from the English port of Plymouth on September 1, 2009 and traced the route of the HMS Beagle’s 5 year voyage (1831-1836).

The first episode visits Tenerife of Canary Islands and Cape Verde while crossing the Atlantic ocean to Salvador da Bahia in South America. The narration is interlaced with quotes read from Darwin’s The Beagle Diary.

When Beagle arrived in Tenerife her crew were quarantined and not allowed to step on foot to the island. This was a real bummer for Darwin since he was all pumped up to see himself physically what one of his inspirational hero Alexander Von Humboldt (1769–1859) wrote and published about volcanoes of Tenerife.

“An inordinate fondness for beetles.”
J.B.S. Haldane

There’s also a quote from J.B.S. Haldane (1892–1964) who is one of the most influential biologists after Darwin’s time. Haldane was asked by some theologians what could be inferred about the mind of the Creator from the works of His Creation. Haldane’s response was “An inordinate fondness for beetles” in reference to over 400,000 species of beetles known by that time in the world.

While crossing the Atlantic Darwin had the opportunity to see geological layers based on the book “Principles of Geology” written by the geologist Charles Lyell (1797–1875) and published 10 years before the journey. Darwin had a copy on board the Beagle.

The captain of Beagle Robert FitzRoy (1805–1865) was given the task to map the coastline of South America. In those days calculating the longitude was a big challenge and highly accurate clocks and chronometers were taken on board. Darwin also had a state of the art microscope with which he examined many microscopic organisms from the sea. Throughout the each leg of journey, Stad Amsterdam also collected data for scientists invited on board.

One of the mottos of the documentary series is “on the future of species” in reference to “the origin of species”. There is frequent emphasis on effects of climate change in every episode. In this particular episode scientists on board Stad Amsterdam look for changes in ocean currents which may indicate global warming.

When the documentary crew arrived Salvador da Bahia, Brazil we quickly learn the original landcover of Atlantic rainforest has greatly diminished. There appears to be some hope however. We also learn that forests are allowed to regenerate into second-growth forests.

Voyage of Darwin’s Beagle – All Episodes


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