Good Morning, Aussies: How Shells Changed the Fate of a Continent
Posted by Richard Conniff on August 5, 2009
Here’s another excerpt from my story about seashells in the August Smithsonian:
The craving for shells was even powerful enough to change the fate of a continent: at the start of the 19th century, when rival French and British expeditions set out for the unknown coasts of Australia, the British moved faster. The French were delayed, one of those on board complained, because their captain was more eager “to discover a new mollusk than a new landmass.” And when the two expeditions met up in 1802 at what is now Encounter Bay, on the south coast of Australia, a French officer complained to the British captain that “if we had not been kept so long picking up shells and catching butterflies…you would not have discovered the south coast before us.” The French went home with their specimens, while the British quickly moved to expand their colony on the island continent.