Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

JUNE 23rd

On this day in history in 2006, died Harriet the tortoise.

Harriet was Charles Darwin’s Giant Galapagos tortoise, who he collected on his epic voyage on board HMS Beagle, and who outlived him by over a century.

Harriet the tortoise, species Geochelone elephantopus porteri, was hatched about 1830, in the Galápagos Islands, and was collected as a specimen by Charles Darwin during his 1835 tour of the islands. Harriet and two other tortoises, known as Tom Dick and Harry, were taken to London, where they were put in the charge of Lieutenant John Clements Wickham, one of the officers of the Beagle. When Wickham retired from the Royal navy in 1841, he left for Australia taking his tortoises with him, to live in Newstead House, Moreton Bay (now Brisbane). When Wickham left Australia for Paris in 1860, he donated his charges to the Botanic Gardens, Brisbane. Here it was discovered that Harry was actually a lady tortoise, and she was renamed Harriet.

The tortoises lived peacefully, by a pool in the Botanic Gardens, living on a diet of aubergines, courgettes, string beans, parsley, squash, endives, carrots, tomatoes and hibiscus flowers. Dick died in the Nineteenth century, and Tom lived until 1942, while Harriet continued to thrive by her pool under the gentle warmth of the Australian sunshine. In 2005, at her 175th birthday party, Harriet was weighed and measured, and was found to be about the size of a dinner table. She was probably the oldest living creature on the planet.

In 2006, Harriet succumbed to a brief illness, and on 23rd June, passed away peacefully. Her medical attendant, veterinary surgeon Dr Hanger, stated that "She had a fairly acute heart attack and thankfully passed away quietly overnight." He attributed her longevity to a stress-free life.

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