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Darwin Correspondence Project

To the Lords of the Admiralty   [2–4 July 1866]1


To the L of the Admiralty

We the undersigned having heard that one of H.MS ships under the comm of Capt. M accompanied by a naturalist will soon proceed to survey parts of the Str of Magellan,2 beg permission to call the attention of your Lordships to the fact that several years ago A. S. C.B.3 discovered at Gallegos River in the extreme S. part of Patagonia a great deposit of the bones of extinct species of quadrupeds. Many of these collected with the aid of Hydrographer Capt Richards R.N. & afterwards in the B. Museum.4 These [illeg] remains apparently belong to a more ancient period, than the collection by Mr Darwin on H.MS. Beagle5 & by other Naturalists, & currently of extreme interest to science—

Some of the fossils have been described by R. O. F.RS in the Transactions of the Philoso Soc for 1853, & their characters have been shown to be highly remarkable6

We the undersigned have been informed by Admiral S., that in the course of a few days several boat-loads of these bones could be collected, & thus if a week or two were given to the work, perfect specimens could probably be disinterred.7

We therefore earnestly request your L. to take into your favourable consideration the benefit which wd conferred on Natural Science, if orders were given for a Collection to be made of these fossils under the present favourable circumstances, by the aid of the Naturalist who accompanies Capt Mayne.


The date is established by the relationship between this letter, the letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 July 1866, and the letter to T. H. Huxley, 4 July [1866].
HMS Nassau, under the command of Richard Charles Mayne, surveyed the Straits of Magellan from 1866 to 1869; the naturalist on the voyage was Robert Oliver Cunningham (see letter from B. J. Sulivan, 27 June 1866 and nn. 6 and 7).
A. S. C.B.: Admiral Sulivan, CB. Bartholomew James Sulivan, who discovered the Gallegos fossils (see n. 4, below), was a rear admiral and a Commander of the Order of the Bath (DNB).
Sulivan had discovered the bones in January 1845, while commanding HMS Philomel (see letter from B. J. Sulivan, 27 June 1866 and n. 7). George Henry Richards served with Sulivan as lieutenant on HMS Philomel (Sulivan ed. 1896, p. 56); he became hydrographer to the Admiralty in 1863 (Modern English biography). Some of Sulivan’s fossils are described in the Catalogue of the fossil Mammalia in the British Museum (Natural History) 3: 167–8.
CD’s fossil mammal specimens from the Beagle voyage were described by Richard Owen in Fossil Mammalia.
R. O. F.RS: Richard Owen FRS. Sulivan’s fossils were sent to Owen who, in a paper published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (Owen 1853), established a new genus, Nesodon, on the basis of the fossils.
See letter from B. J. Sulivan, 27 June 1866.


Catalogue of the fossil Mammalia in the British Museum (Natural History). By Richard Lydekker. 5 vols. London: Taylor and Francis. 1885–7.

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.

Modern English biography: Modern English biography, containing many thousand concise memoirs of persons who have died since the year 1850. By Frederick Boase. 3 vols. and supplement (3 vols.). Truro, Cornwall: the author. 1892–1921.

Owen, Richard. 1853a. Description of some species of the extinct genus Nesodon, with remarks on the primary group (Toxodontia) of hoofed quadrupeds, to which that genus is referable. [Read 13 January 1853.] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 143: 291–310.


Petition earnestly requesting that a ship surveying the Strait of Magellan collect fossil bones in the south of Patagonia.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Admiralty, Lords of the
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 96: 25–6
Physical description
Adraft 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5142,” accessed on 17 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14