The island that forever changed science


The island that forever changed science

When we think of evolution, we think of Charles Darwin. Yet on a tiny, volcanic, Indonesian island, a little-known naturalist formulated a theory that would shape the world of science.

·         By Theodora Sutcliffe

5 June 2017

The Indonesian island of Ternate, like its neighbour Tidore, is almost all volcano. It sprouts from the sea, an almost-perfect, yet truncated cone, wreathed in steamy clouds and fringed with a narrow strip of flatlands and beach that house an airport, a city and an around-the-island road.

Even in the run-up to the tourist event of the millennium, the full solar eclipse of March 2016, Ternate felt a remote place: the sort of island where it’s hard for a foreigner to cover more than a few metres without being enlisted for a group selfie, and small children greet you, gender regardless, with cheery cries of ‘Hello Mister!’ It seems an implausible location, all in all, for one of science’s great eureka moments, when a Victorian naturalist put pen to paper and outlined the theory of evolution through natural selection…