RECORD: Darwin George Howard. [nd] Stories told by my father. CUL-DAR112.B47-B50 (Darwin Online, http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed from the manuscript by Kees Rookmaaker, corrected by John van Wyhe 4.2009. RN1
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Reproduced with permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library and William Huxley Darwin.
Stories told by my father
Mellersh, afterwards Admiral Mellersh, was once the midshipman on board the Beagle. A story was told against him at the time when he first joined his ship. He was quite a small boy & stayed on shore for his last dinner at which he got rather elevated with drink. He went off to join his ship with the Admiral, whom he did not know by sight. The admiral to be civil asked the middy his name, whereon Mellersh responded "I'm Mellersh of Midhurst & I've read Lord Byron & I don't care a damn for anybody."
My father went out a ride at Buenos Ayres with a number of midshipmen of the Beagle & other ships on hired horses. Now the South American horses are trained to stop dead in the middle of their gallop when they feel the touch on the bridle. The cavalcade started galloping in straggling order, my father last. After going some way the leading midshipman wanted to stop, & the horse of course stopped dead, & off went the rider over his head. The second officers horse came up to the first & stopped too & threw his rider too. The same fate followed each & my father arrived to find all the dismounted riders swearing at one another & asking each other why they had stopped in that absurd manner.
When at Moor Park at the Watercure establishment my father was observing the habits of ants. One of their habits was to carry away the empty cocoon cases to a distance, & he wanted to discover what they did with them, for they appear to carry them to a great distance. He was one day observing this when an old countryman came up & entered into conversation asking him what he was doing. My father explained & offered him a shilling if he would help. An ant was indicated & they both squatted down to watch their respective ants and shuffled from time to time as the ants proceeded. The place was the side of a country road. A carriage was heard approaching with the horses trotting, as it drew near the horses were slowed to a walk. My father kept telling the man "Now you must'nt look up", & so they both sat there looking intently at the ground & shuffling along alternately. My father's ant came to a bare place just as the carriage was abreast of them, & glanced up for an instant & saw a whole carriage full of people gazing at the pair intently with their mouths open with astonishment at the apparently insane proceeding.
When my father was at Malvern in 1851 he was under the treatment of Dr Gully, (who afterwards was somewhat notorious on account of the Bravo case), and Dr Gully was a spiritualist & believer in clairvoyance. He bothered my father for sometime to have a consultation with a clairvoyante, who was staying at Malvern, and was reputed to be able to see the insides of people & discover the real nature of their ailments. At last he assented to pacify Dr Gully, but on condition that he should be allowed to test the clairvoyante's powers for himself.
Accordingly in going to the interview he put a banknote in a sealed envelope. After being introduced to the lady he said "I have heard a great deal of your powers of reading concealed writings & I should like to have evidence myself; now in this envelope there is a banknote - if you will read the number I shall be happy to present it to you." The clairvoyante answered scornfully "I have a maid-servant at home who can do that." But she had her revenge for in proceeding to the diagnosis of my father's illness, she gave a most appalling picture of the horrors which she saw in his inside.
When my father was in London he liked to get some of the tropical fruit & sometimes went to a fruiterer's himself. One day in Oxford Street he went into a fruiterer's & asked if they had any chirimoyas. They had not, but a talkative old gentleman who was bargaining in the shop, asked him if he had ever tasted them in the tropics. On my father saying yes, they fell into conversation & discussed the tropics & other places in S. America. I suppose there must have been some allusion to the Beagle, for the old gentleman said "Why you must be Binoe the Surgeon", & on my father saying no, he said "Then who on earth are you?" - And he then told him. As far as I can remember the old gentleman had been an officer or doctor on the Adventure or Beagle in the previous voyage, when they were together. He accordingly knew all the people on the Beagle, but I cannot remember what his name was.
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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
File last updated 2 July, 2012