REVIEW: Nicholas Crane at Richmond’s Georgian Theatre Royal

So whether the earth is pumpkin-shaped or more rugby ball may not be crucial to today’s thinking, but three centuries ago it was cutting edge.

BBC Coast presenter Nicholas Crane delved into the world of 18th century South America to write Latitude – The astonishing adventure that shaped the world – and delivered a memorable talk at the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond as part of the 2002 Richmond Walking and Book Festival.

As a former president of the Royal Geographical Society Nicholas Crane certainly knows his subject and during the hour-plus talk he gave a wonderful set of insights into a Franco-Spanish expedition that sought to prove whether the world bulged at the centre, or was pointed at the poles.

You may ask, so what? But accurate maps saved lived at sea and made money on land, so this was a adventure which had real purpose.

A team of scientists from old Europe was sent to the new world – Ecuador and Peru – to measure one full degree of latitude. By doing so, they would thus prove the shape of the earth.

But their chosen land was a place of erupting volcanoes, impassable rainforests, earthquakes, deadly diseases, tropical storms and violence.

Nicholas Crane lightened the tone with tales of the misfit scientists completely ill-equipped for their unusual surroundings on the other side of the world. The expedition leader squandered much-needed funds in brothels while others fought duels, stumbled into mutinies, or died horribly.

The tale of their decade-long odyssey into discovery flirted with failure on numerous occasions, only to finally return home to Europe to ultimate triumph and widespread fame.

Nicholas Crane has written books galore on his travels and he delivered the sold-out talk with great wisdom and humour, although the question and answer session at the end of the evening seemed far too short. It would have been fascinating to know more about the author, famous for his trusty umbrella on ‘Coast.‘

But the book is a pleasure to read and Nicholas Crane has unearthed a rare gem of a story, from the world’s first truly international team of scientists, who somehow achieved what they set out to discover.


1 Comment

  1. I only wish they hadn’t removed the benches from the theatre. I realize they weren’t that comfortable, but I felt it would have been worth putting up with that, to give people the chance to witness such an authentic atmosphere. I am 78yrs with a bony backside, but I would still relish that authenticity.

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