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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Hugh Falconer   9 July [1860]1

The Athenæum

9th July

My Dear Darwin

Hooker—Huxley & others of your correspondents will have informed you about the doings at Oxford—and how the Saponaceous Bishop got basted and larded by Huxley. Owen also came in for such a set down by Huxley, as I have never witnessed within my experience of Scientific discussion.2 Your interests I assure you were most tenderly watched over by your devoted Elèves.

What I want to tell you now is quite a different affair— but one which I am sure will interest you very much. Baron Anca a Sicilian Friend, who followed up my inquiries in the Sicilian caves, has brought over from Sicily two molars of the Existing African Elephant and upwards of 20 jaws of the Existing Spotted Hyæna (Hyæna Crocuta), of the Cape—from the Caves!3

Admiral Smyth laid down “Adventure Bank” a shoal with a narrow channel, between Trapani the Western End of Sicily & Capo Bono—the promontory of Tunis.4

We can now show that the division of Sicily from the African Continent is quite as late—if not later than the separation of England from France.5

This is a great point gained—and I think the dispersion of the Hyæna Crocuta from the Cape of Good Hope to Sicily, will fructify into some congruity with your doctrines

My Dear Darwin | Yours Ever Sinly | H Falconer

CD annotations

1.3 Owen … discussion. 1.4] scored blue crayon
Top of first page: ‘Keep    Geograph Distribution’ pencil; ‘19 & 20’6 brown crayon


Dated by the reference to fossil remains found by Francesco Anca (see n. 3, below).
See letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 July 1860, and letters to J. D. Hooker, [2 July 1860], to T. H. Huxley, 3 July [1860], and to John Lubbock, [4 July 1860].
Anca announced his discovery at the Oxford meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Anca 1860). The fossils, found near Palermo, were given to Hugh Falconer for identification (see K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 334). The fact that the remains of living African species had been found in association with the remains of extinct species suggested that Sicily had been connected with Africa during a recent geological period.
William Henry Smyth, who retired from the navy in 1846, had engaged in naval operations with the Sicilian flotilla during the Napoleonic wars. During that time and for several years afterwards, he surveyed the Sicilian coast. His findings were published in Smyth 1824. The information given in the letter was published in Anca 1860.
Falconer discussed the implications of the fossils from Palermo in Falconer 1860.
Respectively, the numbers of CD’s portfolios of notes on the geographical distribution of animals and of plants.


Anca, François. 1860. Notes on two newly discovered ossiferous caves in Sicily. Report of the 30th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Oxford, Transactions of the sections, p. 73.

Smyth, William Henry. 1824. Memoir descriptive of the resources, inhabitants, and hydrography of Sicily and its islands. London.


Hyaena remains show how recently Sicily was joined to Africa.

Reports on the Oxford meeting of BAAS.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hugh Falconer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Athenaeum Club
Source of text
DAR 164.1: 5
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2863,” accessed on 27 July 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8