It might be said that speculation; to form a theory (or hypothesis) without firm evidence, is the foundation of science.
It may equally be said that speculation; to invest with a hope of gain but with the risk of loss, is the foundation of business.
The Dreamtime is speculation, as are the stories of the Bible, Torah and Quran. Trade and agriculture are speculation. Migration, mining, commerce and interplanetary travel are all speculation.
Raising a family is speculation.
Speculation leads to discovery, enlightenment and prosperity; but also to contempt and failure.
Stories of speculation are perpetual and unbounded. This place is rich in them.
The Origins of Man
At the end of June in 1860, the cream of 19th Century British scientists, philosophers, and theologians, together with many journalists and vast numbers of the public, gathered at Oxford for a three day meeting of the British Association. Indeed, the meeting was so well attended that the planned venue had to be abandoned for the larger capacity of the great library of the Museum. A primary item of discussion, that which had stirred such great interest in the meeting, was the controversial work of Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, which had been published seven months earlier in London.
Those in attendance included Sir Joseph Hooker, Sir Charles Lyell, Reverend William Whewell, Reverend Adam Sedgewick, Professor Richard Owen, Sir Benjamin Brodie, Dr Charles Daubeny, and Sir Michael Foster, but the event achieved international notoriety due to a reported exchange between the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, and Thomas Henry Huxley. Wilberforce had the floor and was stating an argument in opposition to Darwin’s theories of evolution when he is reported to have turned to Huxley, a known advocate of Darwin’s theories, and asked him:
Was it through your grandfather, or grandmother, that you claim your descent from an ape?
Huxley's retort was reported as:
If I had to choose between being descended from an ape or from a man who would use his great powers of rhetoric to crush an argument, I should prefer the former.
The actual words spoken in the exchange remain in doubt, but the nature of the exchange was seismic, particularly in large sections of the academic and scientific community who were only too familiar with conforming to the dictates of the Church about the conclusions they were permitted to reach. Huxley had stood up against the Church for the autonomy of science.
Darwin’s work was threatening to breach the bulwark of Western Christian orthodoxy. Could the Church be fallible? Might man be simply the product of a natural evolutionary process and not the pinnacle of God’s plan? Huxley’s challenge amounted to open resistance to the authority of the Church. It signalled that the new theories would not be crushed by ridicule, but laid out for considered analysis. The shockwaves associated with the publication of On the Origin of Species were spreading rapidly and widely.
Twenty months after that meeting of the British Association at Oxford, Charles Gould found himself in a previously unrecorded valley in Western Tasmania. Gould was a 28 year old English geologist, engaged by the Tasmanian Government to conduct a geological survey of the island. Gould almost certainly had the great philosophical questions about science and religion in the forefront of his mind as he looked to the west along that valley. He later recorded in his journal:
I found the valley to be about three miles long, winding westerly between two high quartzoze mountains with rugged summits. There was a good deal of tea-tree scrub in the bottom of the valley but the slopes of the mountain were barren. I named that on the right hand going up Mt Lyell, on the left Mt Owen.
In the following days, Gould recorded and named the peak we now know as Mount Sedgewick after the Reverend Adam Sedgewick, a former president of the British Geological Society and an opponent of Darwin’s theories, although he remained friendly with Darwin for the remainder of his life.
In subsequent years, nearby peaks were named for Thomas Huxley, John Tyndall (a geologist and associate of Huxley), Darwin himself, and Joseph Jukes (a geologist and former student of Professor Sedgewick). Whilst no official record of the origins of this nomenclature remains, Gould is considered to be the person most likely for bestowing the names.
We now know, of course, that humans had been coming to these mountains long before Gould. The original inhabitants of this island almost certainly sat atop these peaks and wondered at the origins and spirit of the land. It is fitting therefore that the European nomenclature of the mountains was born in some of the great philosophical questions: what are the origins of man? Is life on Earth the result of a series of coincidences and accidents, or the gift of a Creator? Can religion and science co-exist?
It is also fitting, given that the nomenclature also reflects the discipline of geology, that we consider how these mountains came to be here.