There is a book I have been meaning to blog about for ages. It is Harry Thompson’s novel, published in 2005, called This Thing of Darkness. I have recommended it to several people and they have all been impressed, as I was, with its story, the intensity of the writing and with the underlying sadness of the facts. This novel, which is hugely well researched, is the story of the Voyage of the Beagle, that voyage!
Now it is, I think, a possibility that if you asked a number of people at a dinner say, to name three or four significant (mainly British) sea voyages, then the Mayflower, the Beagle, the Bounty and the Endeavour might be among them and your ‘guests’ might be able to name the Captains of at least the latter two (namely Bligh and Cook) and at least a significant passenger on the Beagle but not many of them would know the name of the Captain.
This Thing of Darkness is a novel about the Captain, Captain Robert Fitzroy. Only 23 at the time of this voyage, Captain Fitzroy was seized by two great ambitions, firstly to prove that white men and men of colour were equal, and to prove the veracity of the Book of Genesis. It is to this end that he takes on board his significant passenger – Charles Darwin.
Fitzroy’s other work for the British Government was at the time less successful, for he had observed the patterns of wind and weather caused by the oceans and currents, and based on his work The Times Newspaper would daily publish his weather forecast, that it was significantly wrong on several occasions (What else is new?) led to this service being withdrawn. But recently, the ‘powers that be’ altered the shipping area Finisterre to Fitzroy in belated recognition of his pioneering, and basically correct assumptions.
To quote from the blurb:
This Thing of Darkness is not just an epic historical novel. By turns gripping, funny, satirical and heartbreaking, it is also a novel about race, religion, science and colonialism that sheds many a light on the state of our world today. It is also one of history’s great untold true stories, a tale of men under sail who were prepared to risk their very lives to get at the truth
It also a book in which the research and erudition sit lightly on the text. Harry Thompson is the son of Eric Thompson, and brother of Emma and Sophie, this was his first novel and sadly his last as he died shortly after its publication. It is a truly marvellous book.