Saturday, September 27, 2008

The evolutionary tourist in Edinburgh

The Rough Guide to Evolution contains an evolutionary tourist guide, with guides to the places associated with Darwin in Shrewsbury, Cambridge and London. In an earlier draft, there was also a guide to Darwin's Edinburgh, but this was dropped by the time we got to the final draft, chiefly because the tangible links to Darwin in Edinburgh are rather scanty and it is probably not worth visiting the city just to see them. But for those of you who live near to Edinburgh or happen to be visiting the city anyway, here is the guide, complete with some hypertext links.

Charles Darwin and his brother Erasmus took lodgings at 11 Lothian Street, but the house was knocked down to make way for the Royal Museum of Scotland. Nonetheless the museum is worth a visit for its geological and natural history collections, which include Dolly the sheep. A plaque has been installed over the rear entrance to the museum, commemorating the Darwin connection [BBC News link | Blog post from Kevin Williamson | Darwin's first letter home from 11 Lothian Street]

John Edmondstone, the former slave who taught Darwin taxidermy, lived at 37 Lothian Street—this building apparently survives. The medical school is located across the main road from Lothian Street.

The evolutionary tourist can re-live one of Darwin’s geology field trips by a visit to the Salisbury Crags, a series of 50-metre cliffs that rise in the centre of the city in Holyrood Park. Here, Professor Jameson bored Darwin with a lecture on the origins of the rock filing a local crevice. 

It is also possible to re-trace Darwin’s exploration of the local marine life by a walk along the rocky shore of the Firth of Forth at low tide at nearby Prestonpans, where Robert Grant had a winter residence at Walford House (post code EH32 9AZ,at the junction of the High Street and Ormiston Place). 

The first Charles Darwin (1758-78), uncle of the famous evolutionist, also studied in Edinburgh, where he died from meningococcal meningitis. He is buried in the Duncan family vault in th Chapel of Ease in St. Cuthbert’s Church, which is located in Lothian Road, at the eastern end of Princes Street.


Janet and Lenore said...

The links to Darwin may be scanty, but here are lots of reasons to visit Edinburgh for anyone interested in evolution, science, and learning. You mention Dolly the sheep. Other incredible developments from Edinburgh range from the medical e.g. development of anaesthesia, forensic science - which Conan Doyle made good use of in the Sherlock Holmes stories and of course the enlightenment with great figures such as David Hulme and Adam Smith

Mark Pallen said...

Of course! Edinburgh is one of the world's greatest cities and the Scottish Enlightenment changed the world forever. Space was limited in the book, so the tourist guide got chopped, but there is a whole page on Darwin's time in Edinburgh and Hume and Smith both get mentions elsewhere in the book. Smith's invisible hand metaphor was an influence on Darwin's natural selection and Darwin read Hume on his return from the Beagle.

Plus Thomas Huxley wrote a biography of Hume.

And Erasmus Darwin trained in Edinburgh, as did Robert Darwin!

No shortage of connections to Darwin, evolution and rationalism! said...

This is interesting. Are there any personal guides carrying out such evolutionary route? That would be a very unique to discover Edinburgh.
local guides, local wisdom

Blue said...

For 'evolutionary tourists' interested in crossing the 'pond', there will be a new Evolution exhibition (opening April 16, 2009), and Darwin memorabilia on display, and some excellent programming at the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge, MA..more at