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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   28 January 1877

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington S.E.R.

Jan 28. 77

My dear Hooker,

I am delighted to hear that I have not made you savage about Frank’s paper.1 I enclose an extract from my Coral book which tells all I know about Aldabara, & you will see that it merely shows that the island is not an ordinary atoll.2 I said to Günther many months ago that the most probable view about his tortoises seemed to me to be that various closely allied forms had once been distributed over almost the whole world. How the deuce they get to volcanic islands I cannot pretend to say.3

Every yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


“Thirdly, Aldabra,— it consists of three islets, about 25 feet in height, with red cliffs (Horsburgh vol 1 p. 176)4 surrounding a very shollow basin or lagoon. The sea is profoundly deep close to the shore. Viewing this island in a chart, it would be thought an atoll; but the foregoing description shows that there is something different in it’s nature; Dr Allan also states that it is cavernous, & that the coral-rock has a vitrified appearance.5 Is it an upheaved atoll, or the crater of a volcano?—uncoloured.—”


See letter from J. D. Hooker, 27 January 1877 and n. 3. CD planned to submit Francis Darwin’s paper on Dipsacus (F. Darwin 1877b) to the Royal Society of London.
Aldabra is a large outlying coral atoll of the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean (Columbia gazetteer of the world). CD described it briefly in Coral reefs, p. 186, but did not visit it.
Albert Günther had speculated on how giant land tortoises had been transported to islands in a paper presented to the Royal Society (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 27 January 1877 and n. 6).
James Horsburgh had mentioned the red cliffs in Horsburgh 1836, 1: 176–7.
CD had received the account of the Scottish physician James Brands Allan from John Grant Malcolmson (see Correspondence vol. 2, letter from J. G. Malcolmson, 7 October 1839).


Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

Coral reefs: The structure and distribution of coral reefs. Being the first part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1842.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Horsburgh, James. 1836. India directory: or, directions for sailing to and from the East Indies, China, Australia, Cape of Good Hope, Brazil, and the interjacent ports. 4th edition. 2 vols. London: W. H. Allen and Co.


CD thinks A. Günther’s tortoises are relics of closely allied forms, once widely distributed. Expressed this view to AG a few months ago. Cannot explain their restriction to volcanic islands.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 95: 432–3
Physical description
LS 2pp, encl 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10819,” accessed on 19 August 2022,