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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. H. Kidder   5 June 1876

Smithsonian Institution | Washington, D.C.

June 5th. 1876

Dear Sir:

In sending you herewith copies of Bulletins No. 2 & 3, National Museum, containing some notes upon the Natural History of Kerguelen Island, I beg leave to invite your attention particularly to the Study of chionis minor (pp. 85–86 & 114).1

The study is based upon, or rather was suggested by, a passing remark of yours in the “Voyage of a Naturalist”, the accuracy and prevision of which have been fully borne out by this investigation.2 We think that there is good ground for the opinion that this bird represents an ancestral form, intermediate between the plover-snipe and gull-petrel groups, and from which both have descended.

Certainly, whether or not it be true that Kerguelen Island is one of the few surviving peaks of a great Antarctic continent, it would be difficult to devise conditions more fitted for the permanence of ancient forms, undisturbed by variation, than are there to be found. Dr. Hooker long ago (184Σ) commented upon its surprising richness in new floral genera & species (many of them peculiar to the island), and the close resemblance of its Flora to that of S. America, although Africa is so much nearer at hand.3 The recent Transit of Venus expeditions have shown peculiarities and anomalies as remarkable pertaining to its Fauna, and especially in the class of Insects, tied down by their structure to the soil.

The field has by no means yet been thoroughly explored, as is plainly shown by the number of different forms obtained by the various collectors of the different parties, and it is very much to be hoped that this spot, so peculiarly isolated & set apart, as if for the purpose of illustrating the Origin of Species, may soon be thoroughly examined with a view solely to the knowledge of its Natural History.

I am, sir, with great respect, | very sincerely yours | J. H. Kidder | Surgeon U.S. Navy


Kidder suggested that Chionis minor (the black-faced or lesser sheathbill) was a connecting link between plovers and gulls (Kidder 1875–6, p. 114). Kidder had been surgeon and naturalist to the 1874–5 American transit of Venus expedition to Kerguelen Island. The systematic position of the Chionidae had been much disputed (see Newton 1893–6, s.v. sheathbill).
In Kidder 1875–6, p. 85, Kidder quoted from a US edition of Journal of researches CD’s speculation that the family to which Chionis belonged might reveal the grand scheme on which organised beings had been created (see Journal of researches 2d ed., p. 94). ‘Darwin’s Naturalist’s voyage’ or ‘Naturalist’s voyage round the world’ was the spine title of Journal of researches 2d ed.
For Joseph Dalton Hooker’s remarks on the flora of Kergeulen Island, see Hooker 1844–7, 1: 210, 219, and Ross 1847, pp. 83–7.


Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1844–7. Flora Antarctica. 1 vol. and 1 vol. of plates. Pt 1 of The botany of the Antarctic voyage of HM discovery ships Erebus and Terror in the years 1839–1843, under the command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross. London: Reeve Brothers.

Journal of researches 2d ed.: Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN. 2d edition, corrected, with additions. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1845.

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

Kidder, Jerome Henry. 1875–6. Contributions to the natural history of Kerguelen Island, made in connection with the American transit-of-Venus expedition, 1874–5. Bulletin of the United States National Museum 1 (1877) nos. 2 and 3: 1–51, 1–122.

Newton, Alfred. 1893–6. A dictionary of birds. Assisted by Hans Gadow, with contributions from Richard Lydekker, Charles S. Roy, and Robert W. Shufeldt. 4 parts. London: Adam and Charles Black.

Ross, James Clark. 1847. A voyage of discovery and research in the southern and Antarctic regions, during the years 1839–43. 2 vols. London: John Murray.


Sends his papers ["Contributions to the natural history of Kerguelen Island", U. S. Nat. Mus. Bull. 1, nos. 2, 3 (1876)], which are inspired by Journal of researches.

Letter details

Letter no.
Jerome Henry Kidder
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Smithsonian Institution
Source of text
DAR 169: 10
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10533,” accessed on 19 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24