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Mr Darwin’s Shooter

by Roger McDonald

Last century Charles Darwin set out on a voyage in the Beagle that would change forever the way human history was viewed. It was on this voyage that Darwin collected the information that gave birth to his controversial Theory of Evolution.

This is a novel of scientific discovery, of religious faith, of masters and servants, and of the endless wonder of the natural world. But its greatest triumph is Covington himself, the boy who looked up at the beckoning figure of a yellow-haired Christian in the stained glass window in his boyhood church of Bedford, and sought to follow.

He leaves Bedford as a lad of 13 and goes to sea with the evangelical sailor John Phipps and becomes one of Phipps’ ‘lads’. But Phipps’ catechising can’t repress Covington’s passage into manhood, nor prevent him chasing the exotic native maidens of Tierra del Fuego. When next he returns to sea it is to serve on the Beagle.

Winner,  NSW, Victorian and South Australian Premier’s Literary Awards.



“…rings with the tones of Stevenson, Melville and Doctorow.”  Jack Hibberd, The Age 

“…powerful…fierce and fascinating.’  Gillian Beer, The Guardian 

“A sustained piece of imagining … The scenes of discomfort on both [Darwin’s and Covington’s] sides are beautifully observed … This is a lavish, rich novel in an idiosyncratic countryman’s voice, thickened with metaphor.”   Francis Spufforth, The Independent

“The adventures on board the Beagle are vividly described, generating a sense of the excitement that must have greeted each new find … McDonald’s research into nineteenth-century natural history has resulted in a richly detailed narrative … Covington … is wholly engaging, as are his later philosophical torments in the face of Darwin’s theory. That his part in the most momentous theory of the Victorian age should have been so overlooked seems a shame. With Mr Darwin’s Shooter, Roger McDonald has done both him and us a valuable service …”   Nicola Walker, Literary Review

“An innovative, powerfully poetic imagination … an unerring touch and a witty, ebullient prose effortlessly carry a great density of idea and implication.”   Brian Matthews, The Australian

“It is through a poet’s eye … that his characters and environments evolve, detail by detail; brought to life skilfully as if by nature itself.”   Who Weekly

“‘Mr Darwin’s Shooter is a persuasive argument for history with a (fictional) human face. The challenge posed by Darwin’s theory of evolution to the spiritual values of his day could hardly be more tellingly evoked than it is in its impact on the far from cerebral Covington. McDonald’s novel .. is a stirring reminder that the Beagle sailed on a voyage into the unknown, and that beliefs now central to the way we see the world were once almost beyond imagination.”   Ian Brunskill, The Times

“… a story too good to give away, beautifully written and meticulously researched, with intertwining sub-plots of love, friendship and betrayal. As for the voyages, I lent it to an old Merchant Navy mate and asked if it rang true. ‘I could smell the sea in it,’ he said.”   Brian Davis, Time Out

“an odd but ultimately gripping story, told in an archaic prose that is at first awkward but grows into something unworldly and rather beautiful … There is something of Conrad in Roger McDonald …”   Jeremy Gavron, Times Literary Supplement

“Craggy, vivid prose that excels at evoking physical sensation.”   David Grylls, The Sunday Times

“Brilliant.”  Kirkus Reviews 





01 January, 1998

About Roger McDonald

Roger McDonald was born at Young, NSW, and educated at country schools and in Sydney. He began his working life as a teacher, ABC producer, and book editor, wrote poetry for several years, but in his thirties turned to fiction, expressing the feeling that for him, at least, poetry was 'unable to express a full range of characters and moods, the larger panorama of Australian life that I felt was there to portray'. His first novel was 1915, a novel of Gallipoli, winner of the Age Book of the Year, and made into a highly successful eight-part ABC-TV mini-series (now on DVD). Since 1980 McDonald has lived on farms (no farm animals except poultry and a corrugated iron sheep, these days) outside Braidwood, with intervals spent in Sydney and New Zealand. His account of travelling the outback with a team of New Zealand shearers, Shearers' Motel, won the National Book Council Banjo Award for non-fiction. His bestselling novel Mr Darwin's Shooter, was awarded the New South Wales, Victorian, and South Australian Premiers' Literary Awards. The Ballad of Desmond Kale won the 2006 Miles Franklin Award and South Australian Festival Prize for Fiction. A long story that became part of When Colts Ran was awarded the O. Henry Prize (USA) in 2008. His latest novel is The Following.

Other books by Roger McDonald


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