A baobab tree in the Cape Verde Islands!

Episode: 41. Site Number: 225. Date Posted: 22 March 1997. Location: Cape Verde Islands. Type: Miscellaneous.

The surgeon on Sir James Ross's voyage of 1839-43 (Erebus and Terror) was Robert McCormick. He had been on the Hecla in 1827 during Parry's Arctic expedition. The profile sketch to the left shows McCormick at age 25.
      He later served on what he described in his autobiography (Voyages of Discovery in the Arctic and Antarctic Seas [London: Sampson Low, 1884]) as a "...small surveying ten gun brig..." This was in fact the Beagle, his fellow naturalist being Charles Darwin (which he also fails to mention by name). In his entry for January 16, 1832 (Vol II, p 220), McCormick writes: "We anchored off Porta Praya, in the island of St. Jago, Cape de Verde Islands, and I landed there. On the 18th I paid a visit to the remarkable old baobab-tree . . . growing in an open space to the westward of the town. . . . as a memento I cut my initials, with the date of the year, high up the main stem." On the 2nd of February he continued: "I went on shore again, and on measuring the baobab-tree, I found it 36 1/2 feet in circumference." Perhaps Darwin himself held the other end of the tape!
      During Ross's voyage, on the way south, another visit was made to the Cape Verde Islands. McCormick's entry for November 15, 1839, reads: ". . . I made a visit to my old friend the baobab-tree, in the middle of the valley, and a mile to the eastward of the town. . . . On reaching the baobab-tree, I ascended it, and looked for my own initials, which I cut, with the year 1832, in the main stem, about two-thirds up the tree, when here last in that year. Time had impressed them deeper, and they appeared larger, more marked and distinct from the contraction of the bark around. I now added the present year, 1839, beneath the former one . . ." A tinted lithograph of the tree showing the initials and dates follows page 16 of Vol I of McCormick's book, which was self-published. [By the way, if you enjoy fancifully-shaped icebergs, have a look at the folding panorama that follows page 373 of Vol I. There's one entitled Cottage Berg that actually has windows and a chimney!]
      Now here's the obvious question: Is the tree still extant? Baobab's seem to live forever so it's not inconceivable that it's still going strong. If not, what's become of this obscure bit of Antarctic history? Perhaps the portion with the carved initials and dates sits in some local museum. Any ideas?