Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Up with Darwin's Down House

On Tuesday I had a chance to go to the Down House. I was joined by an avid amateur astronomer from Pakistan, Umair Asim (see his post about the visit here).

Couple of comments:
If you visit London, do take some time off to visit Darwin's home. It is about 20 minutes from the trains with an added 15 minutes with a cab or a bus. I was expecting it to be an decent place of historical significance. But this turned out to be a fantastic experience. In addition, I had a rock & roll history lesson from my cab driver. Apparently, he is a local of Bromley, and he has had beer with other famous people from the area: David Bowie, Kieth Richards, and Billy Idol. Cool! (by the way, he was most excited about Billy Idol)

Back to Down House: Darwin was a rich dude - so his house and its surroundings are gorgeous. The first floor of the house (ground floor in UK) has been preserved as it was during Darwin's time - with the same portraits, books, furniture, and the layout. This is based on photographs taken before and after Darwin' s death. The electronic tour uses an ipod-like device, with a narration by David Attenborough. It has a nice structure to it. For example, the opening screen for each room provides the basic information about the room. However, you can also opt for a more detailed info. on portraits, furniture, and other objects in the room.

The narration gives you a great sense of Darwin's life. There is a focus on small, mundane details. Obviously, my favorite room was Darwin's study (right). Lined up with books, it showed Darwin's work table, writing instruments, a microscope stool - that his kids played with, and portraits of Josiah Wedgwood (Darwin's grandfather), Charles Lyell, and Joseph Hooker.

The second floor is now a fantastic exhibit. It does a great job of first taking us through Darwin's childhood (there are many interesting items - including beetles and bird eggs that he used to collect) and his voyage on the Beagle. This is very well done. Instead of focusing on big hefty quotes, they have statements from Darwin not really enjoying the ocean ride. But the best part: they have recreated the "poop cabin" - Darwin's room/study/library on the Beagle (about 10 feet by 11 feet). Visitors can only look through a window. But we can also see a holographic image of a young Charles Darwin (played by someone) busy at work. There are sounds of the seas - seagulls and from the ship itself - that occasionally distract him, but then he gets back to work. Very well done.

Then, of course, there is lots of information about how Darwin came to the conclusions he did. This bit of history was familiar to me, so I went relatively quickly through there. However, they have pages from Darwin's original draft for the Origin of Species. Pretty Cool.

But there is one other thing I wanted to highlight: Darwin was a real stickler for details and repetitions. For example, he wrote his daily expenses in a journal everyday for 40 years. There are 11 softcover books just recording his daily expenditure (he has several more lists like that).

We couldn't take pictures inside the house. But I can include some pictures of Darwin's garden.

Here is a nice view of Darwin's house and his favorite climbing plants.

Darwin's green house.

A view from in front of the dining room window. Yes, this (and more) is all his estate.

The resemblance is there, but no no, the guy with the beard is not Darwin.

Darwin's sandwalk - the path of his daily walks and the time to think about his theory. In just one short walk I have figured out that creationism makes so much more sense - plus we already know ALL the answers. This evolution business seems to require too much effort.

Survival of the prettiest: This is next to the bus station near the Down House. It strolled casually across the street and was totally fine.


Atif Khan said...

Interesting. Its a privilege to be at a place like that. Could have been lot better if you were allowed to take pictures of his rooms specifically his study.

Quellspring said...

What an opportunity to see the place where such a important figure in science performed his work. It couldn't have happened to a nicer astronomer.

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