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Mr. Darwin's Shooter

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  381 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
In this richly detailed novel based on the life of Syms Covington, Charles Darwin's hard-working shipboard assistant and later his house-servant, Roger McDonald shines a light on a man forgotten by history, capturing the breathtaking excitement of the historic voyage of the Beagle and brilliantly illuminating the scientific, religious, and social controversies that explode ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published February 1st 2000 by Penguin Books (first published 1998)
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An historical novel based on the seafaring life of Sym Covington, servant to Charles Darwin, on his remarkable Beagle journey.

Startlingly likely, Covington’s character is not merely well illustrated from McDonald’s research; he is compelling and as fine a companion on a reader’s journey as he was to Mr. Darwin... that is to say, irritatingly large in character, touching and alarming in faith, fine in his ambitions and thorough in his work.

A butcher’s boy turned clerk, turned deck-hand, turned s
Deb Potter
Oct 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I still think of this book - I read it several years ago. The main character is a man - we follow him from young to old - who is on board with Darwin. This man has been brought up a christian - but he has moved from one faith to another and been influenced by different strands of christianity. Through Darwin and their shared journey he sees the evidence of evolution and grapples with his own faith. That is the deeper part of the book but its also a detailed and interesting tale of a 19th century ...more
Aug 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A fascinating fictionalized exploration of the impact of Darwin's emerging theory on his real-life servant/assistant, Syms Covington. The book cleverly intertwines Covington's early life story - from child of a horse butcher to boy-sailor to the voyage of the Beagle - with the concerns of his later years as a successful immigrant in Australia: a family, a complex friendship and business partnership with the neighboring doctor who saved his life, and the tortuous whirlwind of emotions associated ...more
Richly written - and that drew me in - although it lost its narrative drive in the final third of the book.
Jennifer (JC-S)
Sep 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: librarybooks
‘No, a man does not have to be just as he seems. He can be more, in the light of understanding.’

This novel has been crafted around the life of Syms Covington, who was servant and assistant to Charles Darwin on the second voyage of the Beagle (December 1831 to September 1936). Covington was 15 when this voyage set sail, Darwin was 23.

There are two time periods to this narrative: the first focuses on the early life of Syms Covington and his travels with Darwin; the second focuses on him as an agi
Apr 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Mr. Darwin’s Shooter written by Roger McDonald told of the tales of Covington, Mr. Darwin’s assistant. The unique novel shows all the untold work of the forgotten assistant. The book does not focus on just the discoveries for Darwin’s research, but the knowledge learned and tested as these discoveries were made. As time goes on, Covington struggles with the true meaning of life and creation. The more science he discovers, the less religion becomes believable. Every voyage brings Covington closer ...more
Ian Pindar
Apr 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-20-favs
I loved this book. It is in my top ten, I recently wrote a review for Oscar and Lucinda, and for me this is much better. I concede that it could well be the fact I have studied Darwin in detail at university and school, and this included aspects and knowledge I did not know. I felt I was on the Beagle and looking at the voyage from a different POV. We are rarely given the POV of anyone except Darwin and Fitzroy (The Captain), but we see the world through Syms Covington's eyes, and what a view it ...more
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
If this book is any indication the lack of interesting events provided Darwin with plenty of time to think up a theory of evolution.
Roger McDonald is a noted Australian novelist however this is the first of his books that I have had the pleasure of reading. Like The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami that I read earlier this year, this is a book based on the life of a real person. Syms Covington, the titular protagonist of this story was a person like most people who have lived and were forgotten. Now his life has been impressively reclaimed from history's notorious dustbin in this novel by Roger McDonald.

Syms Covington was 15
Mar 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was surprised I liked this one, because I don't know anything about science. The book was an interesting examination of the ways Darwinism affected people's beliefs. I liked the characters.
Jun 28, 2017 rated it liked it
2.5 stars, or thereabouts, rounded up. The story of Syms Covington, Darwin's right-hand man while travelling on the HMS Beagle and collecting the Australian and South American specimens that would, over time, provide his thinking for the Theory of Evolution.

Mr Darwin's Shooter had themes relevant to my interests - the Victorian age, naturalism, the challenge of Faith - however it wasn't an entirely enjoyable read for me. When I see that it took me ten days to read I'm surprised - it felt like m
Roger Brunyate
Whither Creation?

Syms Covington, the protagonist of this magnificent novel, was a real person. A seaman on board the HMS Beagle, he became the personal servant to Charles Darwin, helping him gather specimens in South America, tending him in England, and maintaining a correspondence even after his emigration to Australia. He might have remained a mere footnote to history, mentioned in Darwin's letters but not acknowledged in either The Voyage of the Beagle or The Origin of Species, had Roger McDo
So I read this book for school and it was really "ehh." The beginning was extraordinarily boring and I really didn't like it at all and then it picked up a little but never really felt like it went anywhere. I also felt slightly mislead because this book is not at all about Darwin's time with Covington, it's mostly about Covington before working with Darwin and then after. He spends less than a fifth of the book actually working with Darwin, which just felt misleading. The writing was okay, not ...more
Apr 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In order for Darwin to gather the specimens he needed to advance his theory of evolution, he needed help. This is the (fictionalized) story of the man who acted as his personal servant and assistant on the Beagle and for a few years after. Young Syms Covington goes to sea as a young boy, recruited by a Christian preacher and sailor who traveled around the English countryside teaching and recruiting young boys as Christian sailors. Covington sails on two voyages, then is hired on to serve as a sa ...more
Marshall Moyer
Mar 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Mr. Darwin's Shooter presents a unique perspective of the Scientific Revolution through the eyes of Syms Covington, the oft forgotten assistant of Charles Darwin. The book is a very interesting look into the changes and conflicts that theories such as evoltion were causing in society during the 19th century. This conflict is prominently evident in Covington, who struggles internally throughout the novel with balancing his reverent Christian faith with discoveries that he is helping Darwin make. ...more
May 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Mr. Darwin's Shooter is a creatively written novel about a man named Syms Covington who did not get the credit he deserved in history. The book follows the life of a young man seeking adventure who eventually ends up being Charles Darwin's sidekick so to speak in many of his discoveries. However, history doesn't seem to mention Covington that much when it comes to Darwin's discoveries and so this was an interesting novel to read because it really makes you think about all the other brilliant min ...more
Mar 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Mr. Darwin’s Shooter was a great way to tell of an important discovery, through the life of Syms Covington rather than the life of Darwin himself. Even for readers who aren’t interested in evolution or scientific advancements, like myself, the book is still a good read.

The characters are realistic, yet interesting, and very well-developed. The plot is good, and a good portion of the book is about Covington’s life after working with Darwin instead of leading up to his time with Darwin then stopp
Jan 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: general_fiction
Barely a week after I finished reading this 130-odd fossils collected by Charles Darwin on the Beagle's voyage of 1834 have resurfaced! They were found in a cabinet in London. Joseph Hooker somehow failed to number and register them so they have been forgotten for 170 years. Remarkable! I love it when serendipitious things like this happen.

It's hard for us in 2012 to understand the earth-shaking impact of Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859. Like Copernicus and other great scientists...taking on
Apr 30, 2012 rated it liked it
This one was actually better than I was expecting - my rating is a 3 but I'd put it closer to a 3.5. The book started off almost imcomprehensible (although I probably shouldn't have started reading past midnight), but progressively got better. I would warn anyone who would rather not read about sexual encounters that there is one that happens pretty suddenly and one that is built up to for practically an entire chapter, as well as a few random descriptions of male genitalia. Other than that, how ...more
Mar 04, 2012 rated it liked it
Mr. Darwin’s Shooter is an interesting novel that focuses on the relationship between the famed naturalist and his not-so-famous assistant, Syms Covington. This book focuses less on the age-old conflict between science and religion, and more on the development of these two ambitious—if not slightly flawed—characters. McDonald also introduces the perspective of Covington’s doctor and friend, MacCracken. McDonald’s beautiful diction and meticulous character development greatly make up for the lack ...more
Apr 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
This novel goes behind the scenes of Charles Darwin's research to the man who assisted throughout the entire endeavor and was a critical part in the research: Syms Covington. By reading this book you experience Covington and two different ages; the reader gets to see Covington when he is younger and living on a ship and later assisting Darwin. The reader also gets to see an older, more irritable Covington who is good friends with a man named MacCracken. This book doesn't focus as much on the sci ...more
May 02, 2012 rated it liked it
I thought this was a pretty interesting book. Often times we only hear of the main people that make scientific discoveries, and not all of the people behind the scenes that assisted them. Like in the case of the founding of America, little did we know that this new world had been discovered previously by the Chinese empire, then by Columbus, and then by Amerigo Vespucci who finally published his finding and had the country named after him. I had no idea about this person Syms Covington, and bein ...more
Aug 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
This book by an Australian author is about Charles Darwin's assistant, about whom little is known, but around whom McDonald spins a fascinating tale. He portrays the assistant as an ambitious & capable young man who craves but receives little credit from Darwin for his efforts. He's also a devout Christian who slowly & reluctantly (perhaps like Darwin himself?) realizes how Darwin's findings will challenge the religious belief system of that time. McDonald was able, through the eyes of t ...more
Taylor Johnson
Apr 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Mr. Darwins's Shooter, written by Roger McDonald, tells the story of Syms Covington who is a Charles Darwin's unappreciated assistant on his ship the HMS beagle. The novel switches back and forth between the time periods of Covington's childhood and his life in old age, giving perspective into the impact his voyage with Darwin had on his spiritual and overall quality of life. The entire novel seems to be a constant battle between science and religion, striving to answer the question of how life ...more
Apr 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Convington assisted Darwin on his historical voyage, but is often forgotten about today. The book jumps, sometimes awkwardly, between time periods, while Convington remembers his journey across the world. He struggles with the meaning of his life. He wonders whether all of the effort and work he did was worth it since Darwin gave him no credit in his book. He also struggles with his relationship to God since participating in this world altering publication, that many would say suggests there was ...more
Apr 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Almost all of the story is told by flashbacks from an older Syms Covington. As a boy, Covington grew up in a poorer family, and at a young age he left to sail the seas. The author presents Convington as a talented, intelligent, yet underprivileged young man, whose education at sea was limited to self-proclaimed preachers and veteran sailors. The important part of the book revolves around Convington's time aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, and alongside Charles Darwin. There he learned to become a natura ...more
Apr 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Mr. Darwin's Shooter is a surprisingly good book. The story centers around the story of Syms Covington a young boy bound to become the assistant to Charles Darwin. The book covers the life of Covington from a young boy to his old age. The author set up the book in an interesting manner beginning with Syms as a mysterious grumpy old man and flashes back to his younger years. This method develops the character in an interesting fashion. Young and old Covington are two very different people but as ...more
Mar 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Mr. Darwin’s Shooter by Ronald McDonald tells the story of Syms Covington, who was Charles Darwin’s forgotten assistant during Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle. Throughout the novel, the characters develop and evolve, and we get an inside look at what it really meant to be a servant. Covington starts out as a religious man, but during the voyage, he starts relying less on his faith and more on science. At the end of the novel, he struggles to find the balance between the two. This novel switche ...more
Phil Doherty
Apr 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Roger McDonald has written a superb story that starts out with a young boy working for Charles Darwin, collecting his specimens for him and chasing down the wildlife that is shot down for study and dissection etc.
Many years later the boy (Syms Covington) has grown into manhood and is living in Sydney, Australia, in a comunity called Watson's Bay, which is an idyllic beach setting located just inside the entrance to Sydney. His own religeous beliefs are such that he believes in the bible as writt
Aug 21, 2008 rated it liked it
I found the writing style to be rather convoluted and sometimes difficult to follow, compounded by sections jumping back and forth between time periods. An interesting character study of an entirely obscure historical figure - a man named Covington who rates one or two mentions in Darwin's journals. Covington found a way out of a future in his father's slaughterhouse with a "missionary marine" group, and maintains a strong devout streak. He eventually ends up as Darwin's manservant/specimen coll ...more
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