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Reading and writing the scientific voyage: FitzRoy, Darwin and John Clunies Ross


An unpublished satirical work, written c.1848–1854, provides fresh insight into the most famous scientific voyage of the nineteenth century. John Clunies Ross, settler of Cocos-Keeling – which HMS Beagle visited in April 1836 – felt that Robert FitzRoy and Charles Darwin had ‘depreciated’ the atoll on which he and his family had settled a decade earlier. Producing a mock ‘supplement’ to a new edition of FitzRoy's Narrative, Ross criticized their science and their casual appropriation of local knowledge. Ross's virtually unknown work is intriguing not only for its glimpse of the Beagle voyage, but also as a self-portrait of an imperial scientific reader. An experienced merchant seaman and trader–entrepreneur with decades of experience in the region, Ross had a very different perspective from that of FitzRoy or Darwin. Yet he shared many of their assumptions about the importance of natural knowledge, embracing it as part of his own imperial projects. Showing the global reach of print culture, he used editing and revision as satirical weapons, insisting on his right to participate as both reader and author in scientific debate.

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I am grateful to the journal's reviewers for their many helpful suggestions, and to Bernard Lightman, Anne Secord and James A. Secord, as well as audiences at VSNY, CSHPS and University of Wisconsin–Madison, for their comments on earlier versions.

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1 John Clunies Ross, ‘Voyages of the Adventure and Beagle. Supplement to the 2nd, 3rd and Appendix volumes of the first edition … a satire’, Papers of Capt. John Clunies Ross, British Library Additional MS 37631, 1824–1854, ff. 146–233. References hereafter will follow the author's own pagination of the manuscript, pp. 1–169, rather than folio numbers.

2 FitzRoy, Robert (ed.), Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of H.M.S. Adventure and Beagle between 1826 and 1836, Describing their Examination of the Southern Shore of South America, and the Beagle's Circumnavigation of the Globe, 3 vols. and appendix, London: Henry Colburn, 1839.

3 Ross, op. cit. (1), pp. 1–3. For Colburn as a publisher see Veronica Melnyk, ‘“Half fashion and half passion”: the life of publisher Henry Colburn’, PhD thesis, University of Birmingham, 2002; and Sutherland, John, ‘Henry Colburn, publisher’, Publishing History (1986) 19, pp. 5984. On contemporary criticism of the publishing industry see Johns, Adrian, ‘The identity engine: printing and publishing at the beginning of the knowledge economy’, in Roberts, Lissa, Schaffer, Simon and Dear, Peter (eds.), The Mindful Hand: Inquiry and Invention from the Late Renaissance to Early Industrialisation, Amsterdam: Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, 2007, pp. 403427.

4 The quotation here combines two related introductory sections in the manuscript, the preface and the opening to the discussion of Cocos-Keeling. Ross, op. cit. (1), pp. 1–2, 26–27.

5 Secord, James A., Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Cf. Secord, Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001; and Topham, Jon, ‘Beyond the “common context”: the production and reading of the Bridgewater Treatises’, Isis (1998) 89, pp. 233262. For later scientific reading publics see Lightman, Bernard, Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007.

6 Ross, op. cit. (1), pp. 1, 28.

7 Fan, Fa Ti, ‘Science in the cultural borderlands: methodological reflections on the study of science, European imperialism, and cultural encounter’, East Asian Science, Technology and Society (2007) 1, pp. 213231; Livingstone, David, ‘Science, text and space: thoughts on the geography of reading’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (2005) 30, pp. 391401; Roberts, Lissa, ‘Situating science in global history: local exchanges and networks of circulations’, Itinerario (2009) 33, pp. 930; Secord, James A., ‘Knowledge in transit’, Isis (2004) 95, pp. 654672; Delbourgo, James, Raj, Kapil, Roberts, Lissa and Schaffer, Simon (eds.), The Brokered World: Go-Between and Global Intelligence, 1770–1820, Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History, 2009, pp. ixxxxviii.

8 Basalla, George, ‘The voyage of the Beagle without Darwin’, Mariner's Mirror (1963) 49, pp. 4248; Anderson, Katharine, ‘Natural history and the scientific voyage’, in Curry, Helen, Jardine, Nicholas, Secord, James A. and Spary, Emma (eds.), Worlds of Natural History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2018.

9 Belcher, Captain Edward, Narrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Samarang during the Years 1843–46, London: Reeve, Benham & Reeve, 1848. Belcher visited Cocos-Keeling in July 1846.

10 The British Library manuscripts catalogue lists Frank Adams, esq., as the presenter of manuscript. It was acquired in 1908, and library records have no further information on its provenance (Claire Wotherspoon, Manuscript Reference Team, British Library, personal communication, 22 November 2017). It is suggestive that in these years the islands were acquiring new importance as a communications link: a cable company established a station on the islands in 1901, and a further cable connection to Java was established in 1906. One possibility is that, through the administration associated with these endeavours, some family papers were transferred to London.

11 Keighren, Innes M., Withers, Charles and Bell, Bill, Travels into Print: Exploration, Writing and Publishing with John Murray 1773–1859, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015; Myers, Robin and Harris, Michael (eds.), Journeys through the Market: Travel, Travellers and the Book Trade, New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1999.

12 Foulke, Robert, The Sea Voyage Narrative: Genres in Context, New York: Twayne, 2002; Fuller, Mary, Voyages in Print: English Narratives of Travel to America, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995; Mentz, Steve, ‘Towards a blue cultural studies’, Literature Compass (2009) 6, pp. 9971013; Carey, Daniel, ‘Compiling nature's history: travellers and travel narratives in the early Royal Society’, Annals of Science (1997) 54, pp. 269292; Sankey, Margaret, ‘Writing and re-writing the Baudin scientific expedition’, in Fornasiero, Jean and Mrowa-Hopkins, Colette (eds.), Explorations and Encounters in French, Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press, 2010, pp. 103134, Nyhart, Lynn, ‘Voyaging and the scientific expedition report, 1800–1940’, in Apple, Rima D., Downey, Gregory J. and Vaughn, Stephen L. (eds.), Science in Print: Essays on the History of Science and the Culture of Print, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012, pp. 6586; Ogborn, D. Miles, ‘Writing travels: power, knowledge and ritual on the East India Company's early voyages’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (2002) 27, pp. 155171.

13 Craciun, Adriana, Writing Arctic Disaster: Authorship and Exploration, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

14 Review of new books’, London Literary Gazette (12 April 1823) 325, pp. 225226.

15 Standard histories are Ritchie, George, The Admiralty Chart: British Naval Hydrography in the Nineteenth Century, New York: American Elsevier, 1967; and Friendly, Alfred, Beaufort of the Admiralty: The Life of Sir Francis Beaufort 1774–1857, London: Hutchison, 1977. Hydrography's place in early Victorian science was analysed in Miller, David Philip, ‘The revival of the physical sciences in Britain’, Osiris (1986) 2, pp. 107134; recent studies of hydrography and the Admiralty Hydrographic Office include Barford, Megan, ‘The surveyor's St. Lawrence: route science and survey work’, in Anderson, Katharine and Rozwadowski, Helen M. (eds.), Soundings and Crossings: Doing Science at Sea 1800–1970, Sagamore Beach: Science History, pp. 4978; Cock, Randolph, ‘Scientific servicemen in the Royal Navy and the professionalisation of science 1816–1855’, in Knight, David and Eddy, Matthew M. (eds.), Science and Beliefs: From Natural Philosophy to Natural Science, Farnham: Ashgate, 2005, pp. 95112; and Adrian Webb, ‘The expansion of British naval hydrographic administration, 1808–29’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Exeter, 2010. Of particular interest in terms of hydrographical publications and their audience is Barford, Megan, ‘Fugitive hydrography: the Nautical Magazine and the Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty 1832–1850’, International Journal of Maritime History (2015) 27, pp. 208226.

16 See, e.g., The Seaman's New Vade-Mecum Containing a Practical Essay on Naval Book-Keeping With the Method of Keeping the Captain's Accounts and Complete Instructions on the Duties of a Captain's Clerk, Purser &C in the Royal Navy, 5th edn, London: Steel & Co, 1811; and Regulations Established by the King in Council, and Instructions Issued by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, Relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea, London: John Murray, 1826.

17 For an instance of his explicit refusal to fund general narratives see Randolph Cock, ‘Sir Francis Beaufort and the coordination of British scientific activity 1829–1855’, PhD thesis, University of Cambridge, 2003, pp. 244–246.

18 ‘Arago's Voyage Round the World’, Galignani's Magazine, June 1823, pp. 52–59, 53.

19 MacDouall, John, Narrative of a Journey to Patagonia and Terra del Fuego in 1826 and 1827, London: Renshaw and Rush, 1833, p. iv. The epitaph alluded to Alexander Pope's Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot and its complaints about the writer's life: ‘’Sdeath, I'll print it and shame the fools!’

20 Laird, MacGregor and Oldfield, R.A.K., Narrative of an Expedition in the Interior of Africa in the Steam-Vessels Quorra and Alburkah, in 1832, 1833, 1834, London: Richard Bentley, 1837.

21 Charles Darwin to William Whewell, 16 February 1839, Darwin Correspondence Project Database, at, letter no 496, accessed 25 July 2011.

22 R.B. Freeman, The Works of Charles Darwin: An Annotated Bibliographical Handlist, 2nd edn, Dawson: Folkestone, 1977, pp. 31–37, at, accessed 14 February 2018. Darwin told his sister that Colburn had billed him for presentation copies, and that only 1,337 copies had been sold. Darwin to S.E. Darwin, 22 February 1842, Darwin Correspondence Project Database, at—621, letter no 621, accessed 14 February 2018.

23 Darwin to S.E. Darwin, 1 April 1838, Darwin Correspondence Project Database, at, letter no 407, accessed 14 February 2018.

24 Freeman, op. cit. (22); C. Darwin to J. Murray, 17 March 1845, Darwin Correspondence Project Database, at, letter no 841, accessed 27 September 2017.

25 Freeman, op. cit. (22), p. 33.

26 An account based on fortunate access to the journals of the Pioneer’ appears in Wood-Jones, Frederic, Coral and Atolls, London: Lovell Reeve, 1910, p. xxii. Wood-Jones lists Ross's interest in the Falklands, Melville Island in the Timor Sea, Kerguelen Islands (also known as Desolation Islands), another coral island off East Sumatra known then as Poggy or Poggee, and Easter Island, before deciding on Cocos-Keeling (p. 13). The writer lived on the islands in 1905–1907 as medical officer to the cable company station, and married a great-granddaughter of John Clunies Ross in 1910. He notes that a fire destroyed ‘a great part of [Ross's] writings’, though ‘some fragments remain’ (p. 24). He does not specify the manuscript I discuss.

27 Guppy, H.B., ‘The Cocos-Keeling islands,’ Scottish Geographical Magazine (1889) 5, pp. 281297, 457–474, 569–588, 281.

28 The two most reliable sources are Gibson-Hill, C.A., ‘Documents relating to John Clunies Ross, Alexander Hare and the establishment of the colony on the Cocos Keeling Islands’, Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (1952) 25, pp. 7301; and a pair of articles by historian Ackrill, Margaret: ‘The origins and nature of the first permanent settlement on the Cocos Keeling Islands’, Historical Studies: Australia and New Zealand (1984), 21, pp. 229244; and ‘British imperialism in microcosm: the annexation of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands’, London School of Economics: Working Papers in Economic History, March 1994, 18/94, pp. 1–40, at, accessed 8 December 2017. Gibson-Hill (1911–1963) was (like Wood-Jones, op. cit. (26)) a medical doctor who worked for the cable and wireless company station at Cocos-Keeling in 1941. He collected documents on the early history of the island and later became curator of Singapore's Raffles Museum (now the National Museum of Singapore) and a leading figure in the Royal Asiatic Society, Malayan Branch. Both Gibson-Hill and Ackrill draw attention to the numerous errors in popular accounts of Ross and of Cocos-Keeling, which Ackrill attributes to the scattered nature of the official archives (i.e. Colonial Office and its predecessors: Mauritius, original correspondence, 1778–1950, CO 167, National Archives; Cocos or Keeling Islands and Seychelles, 1830–1839, ADM 125/131, National Archives). Ackrill has carefully assessed Gibson-Hill's sources, but does not appear to have used the family papers in the British Library. See Ackrill, ‘The origins and nature of the first permanent settlement on the Cocos Keeling Islands’, op. cit., p. 243.

29 Most information about Hare comes through Ross, so needs caution. The population figures come from Ross's long account of the settlement that he submitted to Sir Bladen Capel, commander-in-chief of the East Indies Station, the writing of which Gibson-Hill dates to late 1835; it is reprinted in Gibson-Hill, op. cit. (28), p. 228.

30 Bastin, J.S., ‘Britain as an imperial power in south-east Asia in the nineteenth century’, in Bromley, J.S. and Kossman, E.H. (eds.), Britain and the Netherlands in Europe and Asia, London: Macmillan, 1968, pp. 174190; Boomgaard, Peter, Colombijn, Freek and Henley, David (eds.), Paper Landscapes: Explorations in the Environmental History of Indonesia, Leiden: KITLV Press, 1997; Cannadine, David (ed.), Empire, the Sea and Global History: Britain's Maritime World, 1760–1840, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007; Ricklefs, M.C., A History of Modern Indonesia since c.1200, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981; Tagliacozzo, Eric, ‘Hydrography, technology, coercion: mapping the sea in Southeast Asian imperialism, 1850–1900’, in Killingray, David, Lincoln, Margaret and Rigby, Nigel (eds.), Maritime Empires: British Imperial Maritime Trade in the Nineteenth Century, Woodbridge: Boydell/National Maritime Museum, 2004, pp. 142158; Tagliacozzo, , ‘Navigating communities: race, place and travel in the history of maritime Southeast Asia’, Asian Ethnicity (2009) 10, pp. 97120.

31 Horsburgh, James, India Directory, or Directions for Sailing to and from the East Indies, China, Australia, Cape of Good Hope, Brazil and the Interadjacent Ports Compiled Chiefly from Original Journals of the Company's Ships and from Observations and Remarks Made during Twenty-One Years’ Experience Navigating in Those Seas, 4th edn, 2 vols., London: W.H. Allen, 1836, vol. 1, pp. 134135.

32 In 1832 the journal was absorbed into the Journal of the Asiatic Society. Arnold, David, Science, Technology and Medicine in Colonial India, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 3031.

33 Some account of the Cocos or Keeling Island and of their recent settlement’, Gleanings of Science (1830) 2, pp. 293301, 294.

34 Wood-Jones, op. cit. (26), p. 25.

35 Ackrill, ‘British imperialism in microcosm’, op. cit. (28).

36 Tarling, Nicholas, ‘The annexation of the Cocos Keeling Islands,’ Historical Studies: Australia and New Zealand (1959) 8, pp. 400404.

37 Ross, op. cit. (1), on titles, p. 2; crossing-the-line ceremony, p. 5; Thetis, p. 7; Challenger, p. 18; settlers, pp. 11–13, 112, 45; slavery and serfdom, pp. 9–10; toady, p. 3, original emphasis; little sniffs, p. 37, original underlining.

38 Ross, op. cit. (1), pp. 1–2.

39 Disraeli, Benjamin, The Voyage of Captain Popanilla, London: Henry Colburn, 1828. On Disraeli and his early novels see Akel, Regina, Benjamin Disraeli and John Murray: The Politician, the Publisher and the Representative, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016; Harvie, Christopher, The Center of Things: Political Fiction in Britain from Disraeli to the Present, London and Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1991; Ridley, Jane, Young Disraeli 1804–46, New York: Crown Publishers, 1995; Schwarz, Daniel, Disraeli's Fiction, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 1979.

40 Disraeli, op. cit. (39), pp. 2–3.

41 Capt. Duintjer, from a visit to Cocos-Keeling in 1842, quoted in Gibson-Hill, op. cit. (28), p. 14. Gibson Hill's sources were nineteenth-century regional newspapers, the Singapore Free Press and the New Rotterdam Courant in 1857.

42 Ross, op. cit. (1), refers to ‘the emperor of Brobdignang’ (sic) at p. 148 and to Babbage at p. 36. In his article on Darwin's coral theory he says he has not yet obtained a copy of Lyell's work, but refers favourably to Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, whose critics are marked by ‘bigotry, cant, and … hypocrisy’. Ross, John Clunies, ‘Review of the theory of coral-formation set forth by Ch. Darwin in his book entitled: Researches in geology and natural history’, Natuurkundig Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsch Indie (1855) 8, pp. 143, 11, 41.

43 Ross, op. cit. (1), on visiting a library at the Cape, p. 144; on ordering books, p. 27; on acquiring Belcher's account, p. 148.

44 Ross's list of ships visiting the islands during 1827–1830 is included in ‘Some account’, op. cit. (33), pp. 300–301.

45 On the shifts from Radical to Romantic to Victorian domesticated forms of satire see Butler, Marilyn, Peacock Displayed: A Satirist in His Context, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979; Dyer, Gary, British Satire and the Politics of Style, 1789–1932, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997; Jones, Steven E. (ed.), The Satiric Eye: Forms of Satire in the Romantic Period, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003; Palmeri, Frank, ‘Cruikshank, Thackeray and the Victorian eclipse of satire’, Studies in English Literature (2004) 44, pp. 753777; Palmeri, , ‘Narrative satire in the nineteenth century’, in Quintero, Ruben (ed.), A Companion to Satire, Oxford: Blackwell, 2007, pp. 361376. Gatrell, Vic, City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London, London: Atlantic Books, 2006; and Maidment, Brian, Comedy, Caricature and the Social Order 1820–1850, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013, both focus on visual traditions in satire.

46 Kyle Grimes, ‘Verbal jujitsu: William Hone and the tactics of satirical conflict’, in Jones, op. cit. (45), pp. 173–184, 174–175.

47 See the comparison of Thomas Love Peacock and Disraeli in Dyer, op. cit. (45), pp. 94–138. Peacock is perhaps the best-known satirist of the 1820s, but his mannered settings and characters are very different from Disraeli's more chaotic Hubbabub. Ross seems to belong better with the latter, and to the later respectable satire of Henry Mayhew's Punch (founded 1841), than to Peacock's world of Headlong Hall and Crotchet Castle.

48 Secord, Visions of Science, op. cit. (5), pp. 1–23; Paradis, James, ‘Satire and science’, in Lightman, Bernard (ed.), Victorian Science in Context, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 143176. The ‘March of Intellect’ was a well-known 1825–1829 series of prints by William Heath, caricaturing the enthusiasm for technological innovations, reform and education.

49 Rudwick, Martin, ‘Caricature as a source for the history of science: De La Beche's anti-Lyellian sketches of 1831’, Isis (1975) 66, pp. 534560. Cf. other geological satires in O'Connor, Ralph, The Earth on Show: Fossils and the Poetics of Popular Science, 1802–56, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007, pp. 99114.

50 On supplements see the special issue of Victorian Periodical Review (2010) 43, pp. 97215.

51 See, accessed 13 February 2018.

52 Dubow, Saul, A Commonwealth of Knowledge: Science, Sensibility and White South Africa, 1820–1900, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006; Holdridge, Christopher, ‘Laughing with Sam Sly: the cultural politics of satire and British colonial identity in the Cape Colony, c.1840–1850’, Kronos (2010) 36, pp. 2953.

53 Ross, op. cit. (1), p. 23.

54 Ross, op. cit. (1), p. 24.

55 Ross, op. cit. (1), pp. 51, 130.

56 Ross, op. cit. (1), pp. 40–43. For an account of Darwin's observations on Cocos-Keeling see Armstrong, Patrick, Darwin's Other Islands, London: Continuum, 2004; and Sponsel, Alistair, Darwin's Evolving Identity: Adventure, Ambition and the Sin of Speculation, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2018.

57 Ross, op. cit. (1), reason for name of island, pp. 43–45; FitzRoy's theft of his own survey, pp. 31, 36–67, 148.

58 E.g. The Annotated Paragraph Bible … Arranged in Paragraphs and Parallelisms, 2 vols., London: Religious Tract Society, 1853. Secord, Victorian Sensation, op. cit. (5), p. 291.

59 Ross here vividly equated intellectual property with the legal freedom of the person. Impressment referred to a long-established practice of forcing men into service on Royal Navy vessels; in some periods, notorious ‘press gangs’ roamed ports, looking for experienced hands to seize. In the Radical press, impressment became a potent example of violent class injustice.

60 Ross, op. cit. (1), p. 35.

61 Robert FitzRoy, ‘A very few remarks with reference to the deluge’, in FitzRoy, op. cit. (2), vol. 2, pp. 657–682, 657.

62 Voyages of the Adventure and Beagle’, Quarterly Review (1839) 65, pp. 107126, 115; other major reviews were Athenaeum, 1 June 1839, pp. 403–405, 15 June 1839, pp. 446–449; and Edinburgh Review (1839) 69, pp. 467493.

63 Ross, op. cit. (1), pp. 14, 165.

64 Robert FitzRoy, ‘Remarks on tides’, in FitzRoy, op. cit. (2), appendix to vol. 2, pp. 277–297; Reidy, Michael, Tides of History: Ocean Science and Her Majesty's Navy, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008. Ross, op. cit. (1), pp. 6–7, 32–37.

65 Ross, op. cit. (1), p. 8.

66 There is an intriguing reference to John Clunies Ross's response to another notable theorizer. Wood-Jones notes that he saw a two-volume treatise on Malthus written by Ross, ‘a work of great erudition written from an extreme point of view, but although it makes a fierce attack upon every premiss [sic] and every argument of Mr. Malthus, it cannot be said to detract greatly from the patiently drawn conclusions’. Wood-Jones, op. cit. (26), p. 25.

67 Ross, op. cit. (42), p. 7.

68 Ross, op. cit. (42). For coral's evocative cultural tradition see Stafford, Barbara, ‘Images of ambiguity: eighteenth-century microscopy and the neither/nor’, in Miller, David Philip and Reill, Peter Hans (eds.), Visions of Empire: Voyages, Botany and Representations of Nature, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 230257; Anderson, Katharine, ‘Coral jewellery’, Victorian Review (2008) 34, pp. 4752. For an example of coral islands as a key site for evangelical geohistory see Montgomery, James, ‘Pelican Island (1827)’, in The Poetical Works of James Montgomery, vol. 4, London: Longman, 1860, pp. 3116.

69 Sponsel, op. cit. (56); Alistair Sponsel, ‘Pacific islands and the problem of theorizing: the U.S. exploring expedition from fieldwork to publication’, in Anderson and Rozwadowski, op. cit. (15), pp. 79–112; Stoddart, David, ‘Darwin, Lyell and the geological significance of coral reefs’, BJHS (1976) 9, pp. 199218.

70 Rudwick, Martin, Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geo-history in the Age of Revolution, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005.

71 Ross, op. cit. (1), pp. 3, 149.

72 John Clunies Ross, ‘On the formation of the ocean islands in general, and of the coralline in particular’, Singapore Free Press, 2 June 1836, reprinted in Gibson-Hill, op. cit. (28), pp. 251–260, 256, 258.

73 Ross does not cite his sources, but the idea of coral reef islands emerging from the sea to develop into a habitable space for humankind was a familiar one by the time he settled on Cocos-Keeling. The storyline was established in the brief remarks on Pacific coral islands written by Friedrich von Eschscholtz, naturalist on the Pacific voyage of Otto Koetzebue in 1815–1818. The findings about coral living only at shallow depths, which became an important and disputed point, emerged from the work of naturalists Jean René Quoy and Joseph Paul Gaimard, on the circumnavigation of L'Uranie commanded by Louis de Freycinet, 1817–1820. For a summary see Sponsel, op. cit. (56). Ross seems to have known of MacCullough's, John System of Geology with a Theory of the Earth and an Explanation of Its Connexion with the Sacred Records, 2 vols., London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1831, which added an argument about the balance of fresh to saline water on coral islands to the by-then familiar geodynamical narrative.

74 For a near-contemporary assessment, similarly critical of Darwin's evidence at Cocos-Keeling, see Guppy, op. cit. (27). Guppy concluded that ‘neither of upheaval nor of subsidence is there any evidence of an unequivocal character’ (p. 588). On the continued debate see Dobbs, David, Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral, New York: Pantheon, 2005. For a summary of modern research see Woodroffe, Colin D. (ed.), ‘Ecology and geo-morphology of the Cocos (Keeling) islands,’ Atoll Research Bulletin, nos 399–414, Washington, DC: National Museum of Natural History–Smithsonian Institution, 1994.

75 ‘Some account’, op. cit. (33), p. 293.

76 Ross, op. cit. (1), p. 3.

77 Herschel, John (ed.), Manual of Scientific Enquiry, London: John Murray, 1849, p. iii.

78 Reidy, op. cit. (64).

79 Raj, Kapil, Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Construction of Knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 1650–1900, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007.

80 ‘Political examiner’, London Examiner, 21 June 1845. On the politics of the Examiner and its editor see James A. Davies, ‘Albany Fonblanque’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, at

81 Most biographical accounts of FitzRoy treat his time in New Zealand briefly. Mellersh, H.E.L., FitzRoy of the Beagle, London: Hart-Davis, 1968. Cf. Ian Wards, ‘FitzRoy, Robert’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published 1990, at, accessed 15 February 2018; and Henderson, George, Sir George Grey: Pioneer of Empire in Southern Lands, London: Dent, 1907. A personal version appears in FitzRoy, Robert, Remarks on New Zealand, London, privately printed, 1846.

82 Ross, op. cit. (1), pp. 167–169; ‘New Zealand-Governor FitzRoy’, The Examiner, 31 May 1845, p. 386.

83 Ross, op. cit. (1), pp. 168–169; the report is reprinted as ‘Extracts from Rear Admiral Maitland's report on the visit of H.M. sloop Pelorus (Francis Harding, Commander) to Cocos, December 1837’, in Gibson-Hill, op. cit. (28), pp. 273–283.

84 Ross, op. cit. (72), p. 27; on the complexity of colonial print and class see Dubow, op. cit. (52); and Ghosh, Anindita, Power in Print: Popular Publishing and the Politics of Language and Culture in a Colonial Society, 1778–1905, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

I am grateful to the journal's reviewers for their many helpful suggestions, and to Bernard Lightman, Anne Secord and James A. Secord, as well as audiences at VSNY, CSHPS and University of Wisconsin–Madison, for their comments on earlier versions.

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