Biography of English Naturalist and Eccentric Charles Waterton Part 1

About the English Naturalist and Eccentric Charles Waterton, his biography, history, adventures and early life.

CHARLES WATERTON (1782-1865). English naturalist and eccentric.

One of the truly classic English eccentrics, Charles Waterton lived a life that was filled with a constant stream of bizarre adventure, all stemming from his dedication to the study of nature. Charles was born into one of the oldest families in northern England; Shakespeare mentions the Watertons in Richard II. His parents were wealthy but untitled, and as the heir to the family estate, Walton Hall, Charles was free to indulge his twin penchants for high adventure and natural history.

Charles Waterton was educated as a Roman Catholic. In 1796 he was sent to Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit school, where he displayed his talent in the field of natural history. He finished his schooling in 1800, and 4 years later he decided to visit some family-owned properties in British Guiana. After managing the estates in South America until 1812, Waterton made up his mind that he would go off into the unexplored regions of the Brazilian jungle in search of the poison that Indians used in their blowguns--wourali or, as it is now called, curare. For some unexplained reason, Waterton was convinced that wourali was the cure for hydrophobia. It was during this and 3 subsequent trips into the jungle that Waterton performed many of the feats that guaranteed his role in history as a thoroughgoing eccentric.

In 1825 he published an account of the 4 journeys in a volume entitled Wanderings--which now occupies a permanent place in English literature--detailing the extraordinary dangers he faced with unflagging--if not foolhardy--courage. When a report came to him that a large python had been spotted in the vicinity of his jungle hut, he dashed off barefoot to capture it (he never wore shoes or boots in the jungle). After the natives succeeded in pinning the snake's head to the ground, Waterton threw himself upon the python's wriggling tail, and finally bound the creature's mouth with his suspenders. The safari made its way back to Waterton's hut, where they deposited the python in a large sack, closed the opening with a knotted rope, and then placed the sack in a corner of Waterton's hut to pass the night. "All night long the snake was restless and fretful," Waterton wrote, but the wanderer apparently did not object to sharing his sleeping quarters with a python.

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