Speculative Viewing: Victorians’ Encounters with Coral Reefs

  • Kathleen Davidson
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


This chapter traces the influence of Darwin’s coral reef theory on illustrated accounts of British, American and Australian scientific expeditions and how different conceptions of time were represented in photographs, written accounts and related media. As the focus for this study, two exemplary figures in late-nineteenth-century marine exploration, Alexander Agassiz and William Saville-Kent, are examined, and the different ways they approached their work are compared with Darwin’s methodology. All three naturalists had substantial experience of tropical nature and were captivated by the morphology of coral reefs. Furthermore, they each sought to represent the tropics visually by engaging viewers with the idea of an environment in flux.


Coral Reef Charles Darwin Alexander Agassiz William Saville-Kent John Murray Magic lantern Royal Society Australia Great Barrier Reef Queensland 

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathleen Davidson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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