Darwin as a geologist in Africa â€“ dispelling the myths and unravelling a confused knot
Two myths persist concerning the role played by Charles Darwin as a geologist in AfricaÂ during his epic voyage around the world (1831â€“1836). The first myth is that Darwin was aÂ completely self-taught geologist, with no formal training. The second myth is that it wasÂ Darwin who finally solved the problem of the graniteâ€“schist contact at the famous Sea PointÂ coastal exposures in Cape Town, after deliberately setting out to prove his predecessorsÂ wrong. These myths are challenged by the now ample evidence that Darwin had excellentÂ help in his geological education from the likes of Robert Jameson, John Henslow and AdamÂ Sedgwick. The story of Darwin and his predecessors at the Sea Point granite contact hasÂ become confused, and even conflated, with previous descriptions by Basil Hall (1813) andÂ Clark Abel (1818). Here, the historical record is unravelled and set straight, and it is shownÂ from the evidence of his notebooks that Darwin was quite unaware of the outcrops in CapeÂ Town. His erudite account of the contact was a result of the 8 years spent in writing andÂ correspondence after his return to England and not because of his brilliant insights on theÂ outcrop, as the myth would have it. While there has been little to indicate Darwinâ€™s landfallsÂ in Africa, a new plaque now explains the geology of the Sea Point Contact, and includes aÂ drawing of Darwinâ€™s ship, the Beagle, and quotes from his work.