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In this richly detailed novel based on the life of Syms Covington, Charles Darwin’s hard-working shipboard assistant and later his house-servant, Roger McDonald investigates and illuminates a man forgotten by history, capturing the breathtaking excitement of the historic voyage of the Beagle and exploring the scientific, religious, and social controversies that exploded around Darwin’s watershed theories.

As “Darwin’s shooter,” Covington had a rare insight into Darwin’s life work and twenty years later, Covington awaits his copy of The Origin of Species with mixed emotions. Embittered by Darwin’s failure to acknowledge him, he is profoundly troubled by his own role in the discoveries that subverted sacred doctrines and shook the Victorian worldview to its very foundation.

Mr Darwin’s Shooter

Published by Vintage
ISBN-13: 978-1741666588

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3 Responses to “Mr Darwin’s Shooter”

  1. shirley Says:

    This last must surely be the most obviously Darwin-inspired of all the chosen novels. McDonald takes the reader on Darwin’s vogage through the servant’s eyes and Darwin seems a less than ideal master, showing no appreciationn for Covington’s devoted efforts. The details of life on board and the methods of procuring and preserving the bird specimens is fascinating. However, there is also a very strong religious dilemna being addressed. Covington arrives with strongly held Christian beliefs and we share the doubts and worries that Darwin’s theories awake in him. I particularly liked when he reported: ‘Darwin said it wasn’t his doing, if it was shown the Bible wasn’t true. … Darwin wasn’t in the business of proving atheism, he said, or anything else for that matter that would undermine Creation, but was only setting his mind to the material’. In other words he was just the scientist!

  2. Clare Says:

    I have just finished this novel and feel that I might go back and read it again to make sure of picking up all the undercurrents which I might have missed. The portrait of the provincial world “Before Darwin” as it were with Covington and other lads very much inspired by revelation and their Evangelical religious beliefs, was so different to anything else I have encountered. John Phipps who “recruits” Covington and a a group of other youngsters seemed at first a bit suspicious but by the end of the novel it is clear that he is sincere and just a religiously driven man. The description of life in the Navy under rigid Capt. Fitzroy is horribly harsh and certainly provides a clear indication of why Covington is desperate to get into service with Darwin instead! The class system too and the way in which he nwas passed over for promotion again and again was very realistic. At the end of the book when as a middle-aged man he says to Mcracken ” Do you like me?” I finally felt I understood this enigmatic man when he showed that actually – he was not a committed Darwinian. All this work for the great naturalist and all his experiences had still left him with belief in the higher spirit of man and in God and he comes across as a bigger character than Darwin! . I’d be really interested to hear what other readers thought…

  3. Margaret Says:

    Looking at the work of Darwin from the perspective of his shooter made the book very interesting. I think it would make a good film as there is adventure, discovery, violence, sex: all the things that film makers like. It is a fascinating multi-layered novel.

    I may have missed it, of course, but could not find any mention of Covington in the Exhibition that I visited today. It is sad indeed that his work had been erased from history.

    McDonald has created a skilful account of Covington’s life and brought it into the light.