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The Curious Case of Sir Everard im Thurn and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Exploration & the Imperial Adventure Novel, The Lost World Rosamund Dalziell Australian National University IN DECEMBER 1884, a British colonial official of Swiss extraction , Everard im Thurn, succeeded in climbing Mt Roraima, the highest mountain in the border region of the colony of British Guiana. The level of public interest is indicated by reports on the progress and ultimate success of im Thurn's expedition in the London Times on 13 February, 6 March, and 1 May 1885.x This achievement was to have far-reaching consequences for im Thurn's own career, for scientific knowledge, for British foreign policy and for the literary expression of imperial and Darwinian passions and anxieties. In this major act of colonial initiative and self-definition, im Thurn led a team which included Harry Perkins, a British surveyor who had rowed with him at Oxford, a Pomeroon Amerindian named Gabriel, and five other "Indians." Earlier phases of the expedition included a large contingent of indigenous employees from various tribal groups acting as guides, porters and canoeists. Im Thurn, whose skills included considerable expertise in botany, collected specimens from the Roraima area, from which scientists at Kew Gardens identified fifty-three new species and three new genera.2 But despite the expedition's major contribution to botanical science, and im Thurn's own accounts of his journey, published variously by the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and im Thurn's own Guianan scientific journal, Timehri, these were eclipsed by the work of fiction with which Mount Roraima became associated, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's imperial adventure novel, The Lost World (1912).3 The metaphor of a "Lost World" of living fossils came to characterise British Guiana in the European imagination.4 131 ELT 45 : 2 2002 Everard im Thurn and Arthur Conan Doyle were near contemporaries . Im Thurn was born in 1852, and Conan Doyle in 1859, the year of publication of On the Origin of Species. Both men were profoundly influenced by Darwin's theories and writings. Family misfortunes left them without the resources to establish themselves professionally early in their careers. Im Thurn's father was a Swiss-born businessman who went bankrupt in the mid-1870s, resulting in his son's curtailing his studies at Oxford and accepting a job in British Guiana.5 Arthur Conan Doyle's father was being treated for alcoholism in a nursing home when his son completed his medical qualifications. Without the financial resources to enter a medical practice at home, Conan Doyle accepted a position with the African Steam Navigation Company.6 Both young men in their early twenties had initially attempted to make a living by writing and sold a few articles, but had found the income too meagre.7 Both im Thurn and Conan Doyle were enterprising and adventurous, and made the most of the opportunities that the colonies provided. Both participated in the activities of the Royal Geographical Society and other learned societies. There the similarities end. Conan Doyle styled himself in maturity as a "writer of romance," and achieved enduring literary fame through his fictional character, Sherlock Holmes. Im Thurn's abilities led him into a career as a colonial administrator, although he maintained a high profile throughout his life in British scientific circles as an explorer, ethnographer and botanist and was a prolific contributor to scientific and popular journals. Intellectually versatile and remarkably energetic, im Thurn preferred a career outside Britain: the recognition he received after his retirement to London in 1910 was less than it might have been, according to surviving relatives, because his "German-sounding" name was a serious disadvantage in 1914-1918.8 A connection between novelists and explorers was nevertheless identified light-heartedly by Conan Doyle in a speech at The Royal Society Club in London in 1910: The writers of romance had always a certain amount of grievance against explorers ... that explorers were always encroaching on the domain of the romance writer. There had been a time when the world was full of blank spaces, and in which a man of imagination might be able to give free scope to his fancy...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 131-157
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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