Mr Darwin's Shooter
"I was smart as a carrot new-scraped and that was the best of me. I loved my scriptures and I lived my happiness to the full...
"Based on the true story of Syms Covington, manservant to Charles Darwin on the famous voyage of the Beagle, this is a novel of scientific discovery, religious faith, masters and servants, ambition and adventure, and the endless wonder of the natural world.
"As a boy, Covington looked up at the beckoning figure of yellow-haired Christian in the stained-glass window of his Bedord chapel and sought to follow. When he meets Darwon, fifteen-year-old Covington is already an old Patagonia hand. In the course of their voyage together he shoots and collects hundreds of specimens for his 'gent', specimens which become fundamental to the formulation of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.
"But what do these discoveries mean for a man's soul? Darwin's work challenges Biblical creation. In assisting him, has Covington committed a crime against God and his own nature?
"In beset middle age, Covington awaits the arrival of the first copy of Darwin's The Origin of Species in Sydney's Watson's Bay. What part of his life might be in it? What truths may it contain?"Earthly, insightful and beautifully written, Mr Darwin's Shooter is a novel from a writer at the height of his powers."
The day was hot and dusty with scattered leaves of poplars lining a towpath. A boy went swimming in green canal water, rolling himself belly-over, gulping and thrashing in pleasure. He beat the slowly moving water with the flat of his hand and floating face-down blew noisy bubbles.
Syms Covington was naked as a bulb, white and hairless except for a slicked-down tuft of red curls across the dome of his conspicuous head. At twelve years of age he was sturdy as a man and soon would become one, stretching in his bones until he reached a height of just six feet, and getting a strength across his shoulders and in his arms like a house beam squared from timber. Yet when Covington floated on his back between corridors of puffy summer clouds he felt small as a flea, and imagined he looked down on the earth. It made a field of blue for him to hop around in. He laughed and squeaked, never minding how cold the water was, and went swimming any time of year to win wagers or for the joy of it alone. Other times he took bread and cheese in a sack and wandered the fields. On summer nights he slept with a stone for his pillow like Jacob, waking in the moonlight and hearing a badger grunt and watching a hare strip bark from a sapling. He fought his fears on such nights and saw them come to nothing in the early light.
From the Knopf hardback edition, 1998.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2001 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Roger McDonald Page.
Last modified: December 30, 2001.