Origin of the City’s Name
Darwin City, while named after the famous naturalist Charles Darwin, was never visited by him during his five year voyage around the globe on HMS Beagle. The Beagle under the command of John Wickham, who along with Lieutenant John Stokes had sailed with Darwin on the Beagle’s second voyage and were his good friends, did however later come to the harbour now named Darwin Harbour in 1839.
Stokes and Darwin had shared the poop cabin on the Beagle where they both worked long hours at the chart table and slept in hammocks in the cramped space.
On 8 September 1839, John Stokes took a small boat and crew from the Beagle , moored off the coast, to explore the waterways surrounding Darwin Harbour, Hope Inlet and Shoal Bay. Since their boat was provisioned for four days, they continued on to the opening of Darwin Harbour. Arriving after dark they camped the night on cliffs, now named Nightcliff, at the entrance to the harbour. On 9 September the group rowed into the harbour and inspected the promontory they named Talc Head.
‘Stokes remarked on the soft white rock he found there, which he called ‘talc slate’. Then he wrote his famous comment: The other rocks near it were of a fine–grained sandstone; a new feature of this part of the continent, which afforded us an appropriate opportunity of convincing an old shipmate and friend, that he still lived in our memory; and we accordingly named this sheet of water Port Darwin’. As ship’s commander, John Wickham would have had the last word on the naming of Port Darwin, but it is clear that his regard for Charles Darwin was sufficient that he concurred with the name Stokes had bestowed. Port Darwin was the last good port to be discovered on the whole of the Australian coast.
A permanent European settlement at Port Darwin was not established until 1869. The City of Darwin was first named Palmerston after the British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston; however this name was changed to Darwin in 1911. The change of name was attributed to the ‘unsuitability’ of the name Palmerston, given the almost universal common usage of the name Darwin for the town, related to its location at Port Darwin. There were also towns named Palmerston in Queensland and New Zealand, being additional reasons cited for the need to change the name.
Darwin 200 Anniversary Celebrations
In 2009 Darwin City celebrated the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth with the commission of an artwork – the HMS Beagle Ship Bell Chime. Created by Dr Anton Hasell of Australian Bell Pty Ltd, the Bell Chime is a public artwork in the form of a musical instrument in the Civic Gardens. The Bell Chime links Darwin City to Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle from 1831-1836 and includes a replica HMS Beagle ship’s bell as well as a series of cast bronze bells on top of which are bronze statues of a selection of the Australian parrots which fascinated Charles Darwin when in Australia. Find out more about the Beagle Bell Chime
Charles Darwin National Park
On the outskirts of the City of Darwin lies a small national park on the shores of Frances Bay that conserves important wetland, mangrove and woodland ecosystems of Darwin Harbour along with historical World War II infrastructure such as ammunition bunkers. This area known as Charles Darwin National Park is home to 36 species of mangroves and is part of the traditional lands of the Larrakia people. It provides a spectacular view of the City of Darwin across the Harbour.