Feb 132018

Today is the birthday (1766) of Thomas Robert Malthus FRS, an English clergyman and scholar who was hugely influential in political economy and demography. Normally I would not post about two famous Englishmen in related fields, back to back like this; I like my posts to have some variety. In this case, however, having Darwin Day yesterday, on Darwin’s birthday, followed by Malthus today, almost works, and the two belong together. Darwin would probably never have come up with the idea of natural selection if he had not been reading and considering Malthus on population when he was sailing in the Beagle and considering the reasons for all the variety that he saw. It would have been better for me if they had shared a birthday, and I could have united them in a post that way. A day’s difference is a small inconvenience. I cannot always conjure up coincidences.

In An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), Malthus observed that an increase in a nation’s food production improved the well-being of the populace, but the improvement was temporary because it led to population growth, which in turn restored the original per capita production level. That is, humans had a propensity to exploit abundance for population growth rather than for maintaining a high standard of living. This position has become known as the “Malthusian trap.” He added that populations had a tendency to grow until the lower class suffered hardship and want and greater susceptibility to famine and disease, a view that is sometimes referred to as a “Malthusian catastrophe.” Malthus wrote in opposition to the popular view in 18th-century Europe that saw society as improving and in principle as perfectible. He saw population growth as being inevitable whenever conditions improved, thereby precluding real progress towards a utopian society: “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”. As an Anglican cleric, Malthus saw this situation as divinely imposed to teach virtuous behavior. He remains a much-debated writer. Some economists contend that since the industrial revolution, humans have broken out of the trap. Others argue that the continuation of extreme poverty indicates that the Malthusian trap continues to operate. Others further argue that due to lack of food availability coupled with excessive pollution, developing countries show more evidence of the trap.

According to Malthus the propensity for population increase also leads to a natural cycle of abundance and shortages:

We will suppose the means of subsistence in any country just equal to the easy support of its inhabitants. The constant effort towards population…increases the number of people before the means of subsistence are increased. The food therefore which before supported seven millions, must now be divided among seven millions and a half or eight millions. The poor consequently must live much worse, and many of them be reduced to severe distress. The number of labourers also being above the proportion of the work in the market, the price of labour must tend toward a decrease; while the price of provisions would at the same time tend to rise. The labourer therefore must work harder to earn the same as he did before. During this season of distress, the discouragements to marriage, and the difficulty of rearing a family are so great, that population is at a stand. In the mean time the cheapness of labour, the plenty of labourers, and the necessity of an increased industry amongst them, encourage cultivators to employ more labour upon their land; to turn up fresh soil, and to manure and improve more completely what is already in tillage; till ultimately the means of subsistence become in the same proportion to the population as at the period from which we set out. The situation of the labourer being then again tolerably comfortable, the restraints to population are in some degree loosened; and the same retrograde and progressive movements with respect to happiness are repeated.

Malthus has faced opposition from economists both during his lifetime and since. One of his most vocal critics several decades later was Friedrich Engels.

Research indicates that technological superiority and higher land productivity had significant positive effects on population density but insignificant effects on the standard of living during the time period 1–1500 AD.] In addition, scholars have reported on the lack of a significant trend of wages in various places over the world for very long stretches of time. In Babylonia during the period 1800 to 1600 BCE, for example, the daily wage for a common laborer was enough to buy about 15 pounds of wheat. In Classical Athens in about 328 BCE, the corresponding wage could buy about 24 pounds of wheat. In England in 1800 CE the wage was about 13 pounds of wheat. In spite of the technological developments across these societies, the daily wage hardly varied. In Britain between 1200 and 1800, only relatively minor fluctuations from the mean (less than a factor of two) in real wages occurred. Following depopulation by the Black Death and other epidemics, real income in Britain peaked around 1450–1500 and began declining until the British Agricultural Revolution. Historian Walter Scheidel posits that waves of plague following the initial outbreak of the Black Death throughout Europe had a leveling effect that changed the ratio of land to labor, reducing the value of the former while boosting that of the latter, which lowered economic inequality by making employers and landowners less well off while improving the economic prospects and living standards of workers. He notes that “the observed improvement in living standards of the laboring population was rooted in the suffering and premature death of tens of millions over the course of several generations.” This leveling effect was reversed by a “demographic recovery that resulted in renewed population pressure.”

Robert Fogel published a study of lifespans and nutrition from about a century before Malthus to the 19th century that examined European birth and death records, military and other records of height and weight that found significant stunted height and low body weight indicative of chronic hunger and malnutrition. He also found short lifespans that he attributed to chronic malnourishment which left people susceptible to disease. Lifespans, height and weight began to steadily increase in the UK and France after 1750. Fogel’s findings are consistent with estimates of available food supply.

The rapid increase in the global population of the past century exemplifies Malthus’ predicted population patterns, whereby expansion of food supply has encouraged population growth. “Neo-Malthusianism” may be used as a label for those who are concerned that human overpopulation may increase resource depletion or environmental degradation to a degree that is not sustainable.

A strict Malthusian approach is depressing, but it fails to take into account factors that could undermine natural processes. Humans, for example, can decide en masse to limit family size, or it can be limited by the government. This is the reason that Engels was opposed to Malthus. If you take human agency out of the equation, then there is no chance to escape the Malthusian trap. Some people argue that the Industrial Revolution caused sustained economic growth that led to a “breakout” from the Malthusian trap and is known as “unified growth theory.” It is hard to tell at the moment because the 20th century saw monumental changes in technology, 2 world wars, massive genocide campaigns across the globe, easily available birth control, and a host of other factors that radically shift a purely Malthusian outlook.

For centuries, including in Malthus’ time bread was the “staff of life.” Without bread people starved to death, as we know from the famous saying falsely attributed to Marie Antoinette. This video walks you through bread making in the 18th century using a variety of grains that were substituted for wheat when there were shortages:

Jun 122015


Today is the birthday(1819) of Charles Kingsley, an evangelical priest of the Church of England, an Oxford professor, historian, and novelist. He was a friend and correspondent with Charles Darwin. His children’s “fairy tale,” The Water Babies was once very popular, but fell into disfavor because of its occasional strident bigotry.

Kingsley was born in Holne, Devon, the first of two sons of the Reverend Charles Kingsley and his wife Mary Lucas Kingsley. His brother, Henry Kingsley, also became a novelist. He spent his childhood in Clovelly, Devon, where his father was Curate 1826-1832 and Rector 1832-1836, and at Barnack, Northamptonshire and was educated at Bristol Grammar School and Helston Grammar School before studying at King’s College London, and Cambridge University. Kingsley entered Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 1838, and graduated in 1842. He chose to pursue a ministry in the church. From 1844, he was rector of Eversley in Hampshire. In 1859 he was appointed chaplain to Queen Victoria. In 1860, he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge. In 1861 he became a private tutor to the Prince of Wales.


In 1869 Kingsley resigned his Cambridge chair and, from 1870 to 1873, was a canon of Chester Cathedral. While in Chester he founded the Chester Society for Natural Science, Literature and Art, which played an important part in the establishment of the Grosvenor Museum. In 1872 he accepted the Presidency of the Birmingham and Midland Institute and became its 19th President. In 1873 he was made the canon of Westminster Abbey. Kingsley died in 1875 and was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard in Eversley.

Kingsley was sympathetic to the idea of evolution and was one of the first to welcome Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. He had been sent an advance review copy and in his response of 18 November 1859 (four days before the book went on sale) stated that he had “long since, from watching the crossing of domesticated animals and plants, learnt to disbelieve the dogma of the permanence of species.” Darwin added an edited version of Kingsley’s closing remarks to the next edition of his book, stating that “A celebrated author and divine has written to me that ‘he has gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws’.” When a heated dispute lasting three years developed over human evolution, Kingsley gently satirized the debate, known as the Great Hippocampus Question, as the “Great Hippopotamus Test.”


Kingsley’s concern for social reform is illustrated in his classic, The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby, a tale about a young chimney sweep, which retained its popularity well into the 20th century. The Water-Babies, was written in 1862–63 as a serial for Macmillan’s Magazine, and first published in its entirety in 1863. The protagonist is Tom, a young chimney sweep, who falls into a river after encountering an upper-class girl named Ellie and being chased out of her house. There he drowns and is transformed into a “water-baby”and begins his moral education under a number of underwater tutors. The story is thematically concerned with Christian redemption, though Kingsley also uses the book to argue that England treats its poor badly, and to question child labor, among other themes.


Tom embarks on a series of adventures and lessons, and enjoys the community of other water-babies once he proves himself a moral creature. The major spiritual leaders in his new world are the fairies Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby, Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, and Mother Carey. Weekly, Tom is allowed the company of Ellie, who became a water-baby after he did.


Grimes, his old master, drowns as well, and in his final adventure, Tom travels to the end of the world to attempt to help the man where he is being punished for his misdeeds. Tom helps Grimes to find repentance, and Grimes will be given a second chance if he can successfully perform a final penance. By proving his willingness to do things he does not like, if they are the right things to do, Tom earns himself a return to human form, and becomes “a great man of science” who “can plan railways, and steam-engines, and electric telegraphs, and rifled guns, and so forth”. He and Ellie are united, although the book states that they never marry (claiming that in fairy tales, no one beneath the rank of prince and princess ever marries).


In the style of Victorian-era novels, The Water-Babies is a didactic moral fable. In it, Kingsley expresses many of the common prejudices of that time period, and the book includes dismissive or insulting references to Americans, Jews, blacks, and Catholics, particularly the Irish. These views, though sparse, are harsh to a modern reader and undoubtedly played a role in the book’s gradual fall from popularity.


In his Origin of Species, Darwin mentions that, like many others at the time, he thought that changed habits produce an inherited effect, a concept now known as Lamarckism. In The Water Babies, Kingsley tells of a group of humans called the Doasyoulikes who are allowed to do “whatever they like” so gradually lose the power of speech, degenerate into gorillas, and are shot by the African explorer Paul Du Chaillu. He also (controversially, nowadays) likens the Doasyoulikes to enslaved Africans, by mentioning that one of the gorillas shot by Du Chaillu remembered that his ancestors had once been men, and tried to say, ‘Am I Not A Man And A Brother?’, but had forgotten how to use his tongue.”

The Water Babies alludes to debates among biologists of its day, satirizing what Kingsley had previously dubbed the Great Hippocampus Question as the “Great Hippopotamus Test.” At various times the text refers to naturalists “Sir Roderick Murchison, Professor (Richard) Owen, Professor (Thomas Henry) Huxley, (and) Mr. Darwin”, and thus they become explicitly part of the story. In the accompanying illustrations by Linley Sambourne, Huxley and Owen are caricatured, studying a captured water baby. In 1892 Thomas Henry Huxley’s five-year-old grandson Julian (later a famed evolutionary biologist) saw this engraving and wrote his grandfather a letter asking:

Dear Grandpater – Have you seen a Waterbaby? Did you put it in a bottle? Did it wonder if it could get out? Could I see it some day? – Your loving Julian.

Huxley wrote back:

My dear Julian – I could never make sure about that Water Baby.

I have seen Babies in water and Babies in bottles; the Baby in the water was not in a bottle and the Baby in the bottle was not in water. My friend who wrote the story of the Water Baby was a very kind man and very clever. Perhaps he thought I could see as much in the water as he did – There are some people who see a great deal and some who see very little in the same things.

When you grow up I dare say you will be one of the great-deal seers, and see things more wonderful than the Water Babies where other folks can see nothing.

Despite his rather ghastly views on certain peoples, which were common in Victorian England, Kingsley was, on balance, a humanist. These quotes make my point, I believe:

All we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.

Some say that the age of chivalry is past, that the spirit of romance is dead. The age of chivalry is never past, so long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth.

There are two freedoms – the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought.


Naturally I have to focus on English river fish for Kingsley. Mrs Beeton supplies recipe and commentary. This dish is lifted from the ordinary by the addition of anchovy sauce. Nothing, I mean nothing, beats anchovy sauce on buttered toast at tea time on a wintry day.

THE PERCH.—This is one of the best, as it is one of the most common, of our fresh-water fishes, and is found in nearly all the lakes and rivers in Britain and Ireland, as well as through the whole of Europe within the temperate zone. It is extremely voracious, and it has the peculiarity of being gregarious, which is contrary to the nature of all fresh-water fishes of prey. The best season to angle for it is from the beginning of May to the middle of July. Large numbers of this fish are bred in the Hampton Court and Bushy Park ponds, all of which are well supplied with running water and with plenty of food; yet they rarely attain a large size. In the Regent’s Park they are also very numerous; but are seldom heavier than three quarters of a pound.


 INGREDIENTS.—Egg and bread crumbs, hot lard.

 Mode.—Scale and clean the fish, brush it over with egg, and cover with bread crumbs. Have ready some boiling lard; put the fish in, and fry a nice brown. Serve with plain melted butter or anchovy sauce.

Time.—10 minutes.

Seasonable from September to November.

Note.—Fry tench in the same way.


INGREDIENTS.—4 anchovies, 1 oz. of butter, 1/2 pint of melted butter, cayenne to taste.

Mode.—Bone the anchovies, and pound them in a mortar to a paste, with 1 oz. of butter. Make the melted butter hot, stir in the pounded anchovies and cayenne; simmer for 3 or 4 minutes; and if liked, add a squeeze of lemon-juice. A more general and expeditious way of making this sauce is to stir in 1-1/2 tablespoonfuls of anchovy essence to 1/2 pint of melted butter, and to add seasoning to taste. Boil the whole up for 1 minute, and serve hot.

Time.—5 minutes. Average cost, 5d. for 1/2 pint.

Sufficient, this quantity, for a brill, small turbot, 3 or 4 soles, &c.

Sep 152013


On this date in 1835, HMS Beagle, with Charles Darwin aboard, reached the Galápagos Islands. The ship landed at Chatham, or San Cristobal, the easternmost island of the archipelago. His visit to the Galápagos Islands is justly famous because of the observations he made there that helped him develop the general principles of natural selection. But it is important to remember that he was in the Galápagos for a little over a month on a voyage that lasted five years and circumnavigated the globe.


The second voyage of HMS Beagle, from 27 December 1831 to 2 October 1836, was the second survey expedition of HMS Beagle, under captain Robert FitzRoy who had taken over command of the ship on its first voyage after her previous captain committed suicide. FitzRoy had already thought of the advantages of having an expert in geology on board, and sought a gentleman naturalist as a supernumerary who could be his companion while the ship was at sea. The young Cambridge graduate (22 yrs), Charles Darwin, had hoped to see the tropics before becoming a parson, and accepted the opportunity. By the end of the expedition he had already made his name as a geologist and fossil collector, and the publication of his journal which became known as The Voyage of the Beagle gave him wide renown as a writer.

I thought it might be appropriate to quote segments from The Voyage of the Beagle concerning the Galápagos rather than describe his visit.  A full scan of the first edition can be found here http://http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3704/3704-h/3704-h.htm#chxvii Chapter XVII is the relevant section.  The illustrations I am using are partly from the original and partly my own choices.

September 15th.—This archipelago consists of ten principal islands, of which five exceed the others in size. They are situated under the Equator, and between five and six hundred miles westward of the coast of America. They are all formed of volcanic rocks; a few fragments of granite curiously glazed and altered by the heat can hardly be considered as an exception.


Some of the craters surmounting the larger islands are of immense size, and they rise to a height of between three and four thousand feet. Their flanks are studded by innumerable smaller orifices. I scarcely hesitate to affirm that there must be in the whole archipelago at least two thousand craters. . . .


Considering that these islands are placed directly under the equator, the climate is far from being excessively hot; this seems chiefly caused by the singularly low temperature of the surrounding water, brought here by the great southern Polar current. Excepting during one short season very little rain falls, and even then it is irregular; but the clouds generally hang low. Hence, whilst the lower parts of the islands are very sterile, the upper parts, at a height of a thousand feet and upwards, possess a damp climate and a tolerably luxuriant vegetation. This is especially the case on the windward sides of the islands, which first receive and condense the moisture from the atmosphere. . . .

In the morning (17th) we landed on Chatham Island, which, like the others, rises with a tame and rounded outline, broken here and there by scattered hillocks, the remains of former craters. Nothing could be less inviting than the first appearance. A broken field of black basaltic lava, thrown into the most rugged waves, and crossed by great fissures, is everywhere covered by stunted, sunburnt brushwood, which shows little signs of life. The dry and parched surface, being heated by the noonday sun, gave to the air a close and sultry feeling, like that from a stove: we fancied even that the bushes smelt unpleasantly. Although I diligently tried to collect as many plants as possible, I succeeded in getting very few; and such wretched-looking little weeds would have better become an arctic than an equatorial Flora.  .  . . The volcanic island of Fernando Noronha, placed in many respects under nearly similar conditions, is the only other country where I have seen a vegetation at all like this of the Galapagos Islands. . . .


23rd.—The Beagle proceeded to Charles Island. This archipelago has long been frequented, first by the Bucaniers, and latterly by whalers, but it is only within the last six years that a small colony has been established here. The inhabitants are between two and three hundred in number; they are nearly all people of colour, who have been banished for political crimes from the Republic of the Equator, of which Quito is the capital. The settlement is placed about four and a half miles inland, and at a height probably of a thousand feet. . . .The inhabitants, although complaining of poverty, obtain, without much trouble, the means of subsistence. In the woods there are many wild pigs and goats; but the staple article of animal food is supplied by the tortoises. Their numbers have of course been greatly reduced in this island, but the people yet count on two days’ hunting giving them food for the rest of the week. It is said that formerly single vessels have taken away as many as seven hundred, and that the ship’s company of a frigate some years since brought down in one day two hundred tortoises to the beach.


September 29th.—We doubled the south-west extremity of Albemarle Island, and the next day were nearly becalmed between it and Narborough Island. Both are covered with immense deluges of black naked lava, which have flowed either over the rims of the great caldrons, like pitch over the rim of a pot in which it has been boiled, or have burst forth from smaller orifices on the flanks . . .
The rocks on the coast abounded with great black lizards, between three and four feet long; and on the hills, an ugly yellowish-brown species was equally common. We saw many of this latter kind, some clumsily running out of the way, and others shuffling into their burrows. I shall presently describe in more detail the habits of both these reptiles. The whole of this northern part of Albemarle Island is miserably sterile.


October 8th.—We arrived at James Island: this island, as well as Charles Island, were long since thus named after our kings of the Stuart line. Mr. Bynoe, myself, and our servants were left here for a week, with provisions and a tent, whilst the “Beagle” went for water. We found here a party of Spaniards who had been sent from Charles Island to dry fish and to salt tortoise-meat. About six miles inland and at the height of nearly 2000 feet, a hovel had been built in which two men lived, who were employed in catching tortoises, whilst the others were fishing on the coast. I paid this party two visits, and slept there one night. . . . While staying in this upper region, we lived entirely upon tortoise-meat: the breast-plate roasted (as the Gauchos do carne con cuero), with the flesh on it, is very good; and the young tortoises make excellent soup; but otherwise the meat to my taste is indifferent.


The natural history of these islands is eminently curious, and well deserves attention. Most of the organic productions are aboriginal creations found nowhere else; there is even a difference between the inhabitants of the different islands; yet all show a marked relationship with those of America, though separated from that continent by an open space of ocean, between 500 and 600 miles in width. The archipelago is a little world within itself, or rather a satellite attached to America, whence it has derived a few stray colonists, and has received the general character of its indigenous productions. Considering the small size of these islands, we feel the more astonished at the number of their aboriginal beings, and at their confined range. Seeing every height crowned with its crater, and the boundaries of most of the lava-streams still distinct, we are led to believe that within a period geologically recent the unbroken ocean was here spread out. Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact—that mystery of mysteries—the first appearance of new beings on this earth.

Of terrestrial mammals there is only one which must be considered as indigenous, namely a mouse (Mus Galapagoensis) and this is confined, as far as I could ascertain, to Chatham Island, the most easterly island of the group. It belongs, as I am informed by Mr. Waterhouse, to a division of the family of mice characteristic of America.


Of land-birds I obtained twenty-six kinds, all peculiar to the group and found nowhere else, with the exception of one lark-like finch from North America (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) which ranges on that continent as far north as 54 degrees, and generally frequents marshes. . . . The remaining land-birds form a most singular group of finches, related to each other in the structure of their beaks, short tails, form of body and plumage: there are thirteen species which Mr. Gould has divided into four sub-groups. All these species are peculiar to this archipelago; and so is the whole group, with the exception of one species of the sub-group Cactornis, lately brought from Bow Island, in the Low Archipelago. Of Cactornis the two species may be often seen climbing about the flowers of the great cactus-trees; but all the other species of this group of finches, mingled together in flocks, feed on the dry and sterile ground of the lower districts. The males of all, or certainly of the greater number, are jet black; and the females (with perhaps one or two exceptions) are brown.


The most curious fact is the perfect gradation in the size of the beaks in the different species of Geospiza, from one as large as that of a hawfinch to that of a chaffinch, and (if Mr. Gould is right in including his sub-group, Certhidea, in the main group) even to that of a warbler. The largest beak in the genus Geospiza is shown above in Fig. 1, and the smallest in Fig. 3; but instead of there being only one intermediate species, with a beak of the size shown in Fig. 2, there are no less than six species with insensibly graduated beaks. The beak of the sub-group Certhidea, is shown in Fig. 4. The beak of Cactornis is somewhat like that of a starling, and that of the fourth sub-group, Camarhynchus, is slightly parrot-shaped. Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends. In a like manner it might be fancied that a bird, originally a buzzard, had been induced here to undertake the office of the carrion-feeding Polybori of the American continent.


The inhabitants, as I have said, state that they can distinguish the tortoises from the different islands; and that they differ not only in size, but in other characters. Captain Porter has described those from Charles and from the nearest island to it, namely, Hood Island, as having their shells in front thick and turned up like a Spanish saddle, whilst the tortoises from James Island are rounder, blacker, and have a better taste when cooked.

The distribution of the tenants of this archipelago would not be nearly so wonderful, if, for instance, one island had a mocking-thrush, and a second island some other quite distinct genus;—if one island had its genus of lizard, and a second island another distinct genus, or none whatever;—or if the different islands were inhabited, not by representative species of the same genera of plants, but by totally different genera, as does to a certain extent hold good; for, to give one instance, a large berry-bearing tree at James Island has no representative species in Charles Island. But it is the circumstance that several of the islands possess their own species of the tortoise, mocking-thrush, finches, and numerous plants, these species having the same general habits, occupying analogous situations, and obviously filling the same place in the natural economy of this archipelago, that strikes me with wonder.


I will conclude my description of the natural history of these islands by giving an account of the extreme tameness of the birds. This disposition is common to all the terrestrial species; namely, to the mocking-thrushes, the finches, wrens, tyrant-flycatchers, the dove, and carrion-buzzard. All of them often approached sufficiently near to be killed with a switch, and sometimes, as I myself tried, with a cap or hat. A gun is here almost superfluous; for with the muzzle I pushed a hawk off the branch of a tree. One day, whilst lying down, a mocking-thrush alighted on the edge of a pitcher, made of the shell of a tortoise, which I held in my hand, and began very quietly to sip the water; it allowed me to lift it from the ground whilst seated on the vessel: I often tried, and very nearly succeeded, in catching these birds by their legs. Formerly the birds appear to have been even tamer than at present.


These birds, although now still more persecuted, do not readily become wild: in Charles Island, which had then been colonised about six years, I saw a boy sitting by a well with a switch in his hand, with which he killed the doves and finches as they came to drink. He had already procured a little heap of them for his dinner, and he said that he had constantly been in the habit of waiting by this well for the same purpose. It would appear that the birds of this archipelago, not having as yet learnt that man is a more dangerous animal than the tortoise or the Amblyrhynchus, disregard him, in the same manner as in England shy birds, such as magpies, disregard the cows and horses grazing in our fields.

Reading his entire description of the Galápagos you will note that Darwin thinks nothing of killing things to study them, as was common in his day.  Conservation was not an issue for him. The Beagle set sail for Tahiti on 20 October 1835. Darwin wrote up his notes on board ship, and, as can be seen in these excerpts, was beginning to formulate ideas about the effects of habitats on the forms of species. The bombshell he dropped on the world was some years away, but that is a tale for another time.

For a recipe I have chosen an Ecuadorean dish of fish in coconut sauce. The Galápagos Islands are part of Ecuador now, and it seemed likely to be more palatable than a recipe for tortoise. The preferred fish is halibut which is plentiful all around South America, but any firm white fish will work. You can use a fresh coconut to make the sauce, use both the coconut water and grated coconut flesh. I find this to be a lot of work for an end result that differs little from using coconut milk. It is more traditional, though. Serve with plain white rice and fried plantain chips.

encocado DE PESCADO 2

Pescado Encocado


2 ½ lbs halibut or firm white fish, cut in chunks
¼ cup lime juice
juice from 2 oranges
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
2 tbsp sunflower or olive oil
1 medium sized onion, diced
2 bell peppers, diced
4 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
14 oz can of coconut milk
3 tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped
salt to taste


Mix the lime juice, orange juice, crushed garlic, cumin, paprika, coriander,  and salt in a small bowl.  Put the fish in a Ziplok bag, pour in the marinade, close the top with a small hole left, squeeze out the air in the bag, and seal it completely. Let the fish marinate for 1 to 2 hours.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add the diced onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and salt to taste. Sauté for 5 minutes until the vegetables are soft but not browned. Add the coconut milk and heat to a gentle simmer.  Cook for about 10 minutes stirring well to avoid burning.

Take the fish from the marinade and add them to the sauce. Let everything simmer very gently for about 20 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through.  Do not overcook the fish. After 15 minutes you can check by trying to separate one of the chunks with a fork.

Serve garnished with cilantro.

Serves 6

As a bonus for making it through to the end of the recipe, here is a clip from the end of the movie Master and Commander.  Much of the movie takes place on the Galápagos Islands.  The end makes reference to a flightless cormorant that Darwin observed.  The final music is a segment from one of my favorite pieces: Luigi Boccherini, la musica notturna delle strade di Madrid. The Spanish subtitles are a bonus.