skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [4 November 1853]1


Friday mg.

My dear Darwin

I hope that this may be acceptable news to one who is so high above working for a reward. The R.S. have voted you the Royal Medal for Natural Science—2 All along of the Barnacles!!!3 I am most intensely delighted, infinitely more than you can be, very much on the strength of the Lepadidae too; for you must know that I neither proposed you, nor seconded you; nor voted for you— I was base, perfide— Portlock4 proposed you for the Coral Islands & Lepadidae. Bell5 followed seconding, on the Lepadideae alone, & then, followed such a shout of pæans for the Barnacles that you would have [sunk] to hear. This took place months ago, & the enquiries into each candidate being followed up in the recess we met again twice to hear what each had got to say, especially from foreign evidence. You & your blessed Barnacles came out stronger than ever, & but one competitor had any votes except you i.e. Lindley—6 I proposed Lindley after you were proposed & Wallich7 seconded him, & I am so convinced of the good faith of my brother-counsellors, that the defeat of my man, by 23 of the votes (it would have been by more than 34 had all voters been present) is a source of sincere & impartial unqualified gratification. This you must know is the first year in which the Royal Medals have been thrown open to indiscriminate competition; the candidates not being obliged to have written papers in the Transactions.8

My wife recovers slowly Baby is strong & hearty. Both will I think accept Mrs Darwin’s kind invitation when Frances is quite off the sick list.9

Ever dear Darwin | Yrs affect | J D Hooker


The voting took place at the meeting of the council of the Royal Society on 3 November. The award was actually made to CD on 30 November (see ‘Journal’; Correspondence vol. 5, Appendix I).
When CD was first nominated on 2 June 1853, the works mentioned as the grounds for the award were Geology of ‘Beagle’ (the 1851 combined edition of Coral reefs, Volcanic islands, and South America), Fossil Cirripedia (1851), and Living Cirripedia (1851) (Royal Society council minutes). The citation of the award, printed in Abstracts of the papers communicated to the Royal Society of London 6 (1850–4): 355–6, briefly mentioned the geological work but primarily discussed the several points of interest in Living Cirripedia (1851), on the Lepadidae. See Correspondence vol. 4, pp. 405–7, for the text of this part of the citation.
Joseph Ellison Portlock, major general of the Royal Engineers, had made contributions to geology and natural history.
Thomas Bell, secretary of the Royal Society.
In addition to John Lindley, professor of botany at London University, other candidates for the Royal Medal in 1853 included: Robert Wilhelm Eberhard Bunsen, Arthur Cayley, Edward Frankland, August Wilhelm von Hofmann, and John Tyndall (Royal Society council minutes).
Nathaniel Wallich, formerly superintendent of the Calcutta botanical garden, had returned to England in 1847 (DNB).
The Royal Medal had hitherto been awarded only for papers published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. In June 1850 this regulation was changed so that ‘the Royal Medals in each year should be awarded for the two most important contributions to the advancement of Natural Knowledge, published originally in Her Majesty’s dominions within a period of not more than ten years, and not less than one year of the date of the award, subject, of course, to Her Majesty’s approval.’ (Royal Society of London 1940, pp. 116–17). In 1853, however, only one Royal Medal was awarded because John Tyndall, who had been nominated for the second medal, declined it when he learned that some of the council had had second thoughts about the findings of the paper for which the award had been given (Hall 1984, p. 142).
Frances Harriet Hooker had given birth to her first child, William Henslow Hooker, on 24 January 1853.


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. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Fossil Cirripedia (1851): A monograph on the fossil Lepadidæ, or, pedunculated cirripedes of Great Britain. By Charles Darwin. London: Palaeontographical Society. 1851.

Hall, Marie Boas. 1984. All scientists now: the Royal Society in the nineteenth century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Living Cirripedia (1851): A monograph of the sub-class Cirripedia, with figures of all the species. The Lepadidæ; or, pedunculated cirripedes. By Charles Darwin. London: Ray Society. 1851.

South America: Geological observations on South America. Being the third 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. 1846.

Volcanic islands: Geological observations on the volcanic islands, visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle, together with some brief notices on the geology of Australia and the Cape of Good Hope. Being the second 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. 1844.


Royal Society votes its Royal Medal for 1853 to CD. JDH reports the debate and vote at the Royal Society Council.

Honoured for Coral reefs

and Cirripedia.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 104: 186–7
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1539,” accessed on 17 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5