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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   17 May 1867


May 17/67

Dear Darwin

I find I must not go to Down tomorrow, having sent Smith to the country for his health, which causes me some anxiety. I must put it off till the Gooseberry Season!—1

I go again to Paris at end of month, a good holiday it makes, though the only rest I get is in the Theatres— Still the show is very interesting & I have an awful deal to learn in the matter of the plants.2

I hear that Wallace & Mueller of Victoria are the most likely candidates for gold medal for Biology, & am puzzled a little to decide, but have so very high an opinion of Wallace that I incline to him— his work is so very good though less than one could have wished.3

Do let me know soon how your health is. & how your book gets on.4

We are all pretty well & my wife getting about a little.5

Ever Yr affec | J D Hooker



15th April 1867

My dear Dr Hooker

Thanks for your Letter of 18th. Feby, and for its enclosures. I read with the deepest interest your Lecture on Insular Floras.6 It is a very valuable contribution towards the investigation of that most puzzling subject. I am glad to see that you incline a little to the theory of submerged continents; for the supposition that currents, oceanic or aerial, and birds, and fishes, have conveyed all the original progenitors of the Plants found on such Islands as those of New Zealand or Kerguelen, has always struck me as quite insufficient to account for the facts of the case.

Even as regards my favourite Ferns, which from the extreme lightness of their spores may be distributed for vast distances by the Winds, it is difficult to understand why certain genera are so carried to certain places and not to others close by, affording similar climate & conditions.

When once placed in such isolated spots their departure from the original type, and consequent formation of new species is readily conceivable.

I wish I could give you more information about the Seychelles, but you will be able to learn a good deal from Mr Edward Newton, brother to Professor Alfred Newton of Cambridge, who has just gone on leave of absence from home & spent a month at the group for the purpose of collecting Birds, on his way to England.7 He writes me that he was disappointed on the whole, as he found both their Fauna and Flora exceedingly limited.

To the latter cause he attributes the great deficiency of Insects which he states to be very remarkable. He saw but four species of Butterflies—of which one was a common Mauritius one. To the paucity of insects and flowering plants again, he attributes the small number of Birds, of which he got but few new ones for his Collection.8

Does not this tend rather to discountenance a Continental origin? Unless we may assume that the smallness of the different Islets and their distance from each other has led to wholesale extinction of species.

With regard to their Granite formation, and Indian Flora, betokening former connection in that direction, I am unable to judge as to the second point but as to the first I imagine that Granite though occasionally protruding in Southern India and Ceylon is not a prominent feature in the geological structure of either, and it must be remembered that it is on the contrary largely developed in the North of Madagascar much nearer at hand. I have been told by those who have seen both that its characters are very similar.

I never heard of any indigenous Mammals being found at Seychelles, at least no quadruped.9

The large Bat or Flying Fox is there but it is common here & in Madagascar also.

They have not even our little insectivorous quadruped the Tendrec (Ericulus spinosus) the only one pretending to be indigenous to Mauritius, though as it is eaten as a delicacy by the Blacks I suspect it may have been introduced from Madagascar.10 As to our laying claim to fossil bones of Deer, I doubt—saving Professor Owen’s opinion—whether they are of older date than the first Colonization of the Island when it is on record that the Portuguese turned loose Deer, Monkeys, &c &c. I am not quite sure to which discovery you allude, but it is probably the recent one when the Bones of Deer, Pigs, & Monkeys, were found in the swamp at Mahébourg in which the remains of the Dodo were embedded.11

I did not see any animals bones from this spot, nor find any when I visited it, and I have no idea what of size or description those of the Deer were— Mr Clark in his Paper on the discovery (vide Ibis— April 1866) states—“The Deer’s bones only were found in juxtaposition so as to make it probable that the animal had died on the spot on which they were found”12   Now as the Deer are every year hunted and driven from the Woods, often wounded to die in Cornfields & elsewhere, if these Bones were those of the large species which is very near the Ceylon Elk or Jamboc Deer though I believe Mr Newton has identified it with a Java variety, there can be little question as to where they are derived. If on the other hand they are as I think I heard from Mr Newton of a small species, they may be those either of the Gazelle which was introduced many years ago by the French from Senegal, or of the Indian Axis Deer which has also often been tried here.13

It would be curious to know in either case whether they seem identical with a former determination of semi fossilized Deer’s bones by Professor Owen from a Cave near Black River sent to him with some remains of the Tortoise by the late Dr Ayres under the impression that they might be those of the Dodo. This was I believe in 1860 or 61.14

Mr Edward Newton can give either yourself or Dr Owen full details as I called his attention to the subject.

I hope soon to have an opportunity of becoming better acquainted with the Seychelles Flora, as a travelling companion of Mr Newtons, Mr Nevill remained there for two months after the former had left and is expected back by next Steamer. I lent him my [Boxes Straps] &c, & he promised to lay down all he could, though beyond the Ferns he knows but little of Botany, Shells being his speciality.15

I was anxious that Dr Meller should avail himself of an opportunity which now presents itself for spending 6 months at Mahé   Dr Brookes the Government Medical Officer there having applied for leave to go home—16 He writes to me however that his health is so bad, that he could be of no good there, & that it would only be tantalising to him to go there as an invalid. He has suffered terribly from Dysentery during all the Summer, and I almost fear that the heat of Seychelles might be too much for him. I have not seen him for many weeks, as he is quite unable to attend to business. In fact I think the opiates to which he sometimes has recourse are nearly as bad as the disease.

Mr Ward writes to me that failing Meller he hopes to secure the services of a Dr Wright (or Bright, for he does not write distinctly) who is coming out to the islands in June on a Scientific Mission.17 Do you know anything of this? I trust he will carry out your wishes of a thorough exploration.

Pray thank Mr Baker for the Copy of his Paper on Hymenophylæ read before the Linnean Society. I hope the Trichomanes Barklianum will stand, but I have an uncomfortable suspicion that it may prove the same as Trichomanes cuneatum Poir. in the Bourbon Catalogue, though Dr Meller could get no specimen of that & I have never met with it. The very general description given by Dr [Borias] would suit any simple leaved species and he says nothing of the venation.18

I enclose another species from Bourbon which is not in the Catalogue & which they told Meller was new & undescribed. I am sorry Mr Baker had not got it when he was dealing with the question, but I concluded Dr Meller had sent it home.

We are now going over our Bourbon specimens, & will set aside any that may be interesting to you at Kew.

I regret to hear of a hitch in the publication of the Synopsis but trust you will succeed in having reasonable remuneration for his work secured to Mr Baker. Will you ask the Publisher to put down my name for two copies of the work.19

Your letter has provoked rather a long story, but you must bear the consequences of your kindness in writing to me, | very truly Yrs | Henry Barkly

CD annotations

Verso of last page of letter: ‘The early accounts expressly state no mammal or Batrachian aboriginal20—& numbers turned out. The rusa of Java is one.— Pigs & Monkeysink


CD had been expecting Hooker to visit Down on 25 May (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [12] May [1867]). John Smith was the curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Hooker’s visit to Down during the gooseberry season was something of a tradition; see Correspondence vol. 13, letter from J. D. Hooker, [after 17 June 1865] and n. 6.
Hooker was attending the Paris exhibition as juror for seeds and saplings of forest trees (Gardeners’ Chronicle, 6 April 1867, p. 348).
Hooker refers to the Royal Medal of the Royal Society of London. Two were awarded each year ‘to each of the two great divisions of Natural Knowledge’ (Record of the Royal Society of London, p. 349). Hooker had also considered whether Alfred Russel Wallace might be awarded a Royal Medal in 1864 (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. D. Hooker, 26[–8] October 1864 and n. 18). Ferdinand von Mueller was director of the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne (Aust. dict. biog.). Neither Wallace nor Mueller won a Royal Medal in 1867; Wallace won one in 1868.
Hooker refers to Variation.
Frances Harriet Hooker’s health had been intermittently poor since the birth of her sixth child in January.
There is a transcript of Hooker’s letter to Henry Barkly of 18 February 1867 in CUL (MS Add 9537). Hooker enclosed his paper on insular floras (probably his pamphlet version of J. D. Hooker 1866a; see Williamson 1984) and a paper on new species of Hymenophyllaceae (Baker 1866).
Edward Newton was auditor-general at Mauritius (Modern English biography). Alfred Newton was professor of zoology and comparative anatomy at Cambridge University (ODNB). Hooker had suggested in his letter to Barkly of 18 February 1867 (see n. 6, above) that an exploration of the Seychelles would add vastly to knowledge of insular floras.
Edward Newton gave an account of the birds of the Seychelles, including five new species, in Newton 1867a and 1867b.
In his letter to Barkly of 18 February 1867 (see n. 6, above), Hooker had said that he supposed the Seychelles were granite and had an Indian flora, and remarked that he and CD thought them relics of an old continental coastline; he asked whether they had any indigenous mammals.
The tenrec (now Tenrec ecaudatus) is thought to have been introduced to Mauritius from Madagascar (Nowak 1999).
In his letter to Barkly of 18 February 1867 (see n. 6, above), Hooker had written: Since delivering the discourse, I am informed that Mammalian bones (Deer of a small species) have been found in bogs in Mauritius, is it so? & if so are the species certainly indigenous or can they be of animals introduced during an early period of the the colony? I saw Owen the other day, who assured me that the discovery of the bones was a fact. The reference is to Richard Owen. See also letters from J. D. Hooker, 4 February 1867 and 20 March 1867.
The reference is to George Clark’s paper on his discovery of dodo remains in a marsh near Mahébourg, Mauritius (G. Clark 1866); the quotation is from p. 145.
By ‘Ceylon Elk or Jamboc’ Barkly probably meant the sambar, Cervus unicolor (subgenus Rusa; see EB s.v. Ceylon, and Nowak 1999). Alfred Newton, the editor of Ibis, the periodical in which Clark’s paper was published, added a note to Clark’s remarks about an earlier discovery of antlers of the deer that still existed on Mauritius in the marsh near Mahébourg, saying that these deer had been identified by Edward Blyth as Cervus rusa, a species introduced from Java (Ibis 4 (1862): 92). The axis deer (Axis axis) is native to the Indian subcontinent (Nowak 1999).
Philip Burnard Ayres, superintendent of quarantine on Mauritius, died in 1863 (Modern English biography). No published remarks by Owen on the Black River cave specimens have been found.
Geoffrey Nevill published two papers on the land-shells of Mauritius and the Seychelles (Nevill 1868 and 1869).
Charles James Meller was director of the botanic gardens, Pamplemousses, on Mauritius; Mahé is the largest of the Seychelles Islands, which were a dependency of the colony of Mauritius (see McCracken 1997, pp. 46–9). James Henry Brooks was medical officer on the Seychelles between 1858 and 1883; in 1868 he was on leave and his place was taken by P. Vaudagne, who has not been further identified. (Colonial Office list.)
Swinburne Ward was civil commissioner on the Seychelles (Colonial Office list 1867). Edward Perceval Wright spent six months in the Seychelles in 1867, and brought back a collection of plants and animals (ODNB); he did not take the post of medical officer (see n. 16, above).
Barkly refers to John Gilbert Baker, assistant in the Kew Herbarium, and Baker 1866 (see n. 6, above). Trichomanes barklianum is one of the species listed in Baker’s paper. Ile Bourbon is now known as Réunion Island, and is 130 miles south-west of Port Louis, Mauritius; it was a French colony (EB). The Bourbon catalogue, the second Trichomanes species mentioned, and Dr [Borias] have not been identified.
Hooker had written in his letter to Barkly of 18 February (see n. 6, above): ‘Mr. Baker has nearly brought the Synopsis Filicum to a completion, but we are rather in a deadlock by the Publisher proposing to pay Mr Baker nothing for his work, except the work should “pay”—thus repudiating the contract made with my father, to pay £150 for the work.’ The reference is to W. J. Hooker and Baker 1868, published by Robert Hardwicke.


Aust. dict. biog.: Australian dictionary of biography. Edited by Douglas Pike et al. 14 vols. [Melbourne]: Melbourne University Press. London and New York: Cambridge University Press. 1966–96.

Clark, George. 1866. Account of the late discovery of dodo’s remains in the island of Mauritius. Ibis n.s. 2: 141–6.

Colonial Office list: The Colonial Office list … or, general register of the colonial dependencies of Great Britain. London: Edward Stanford; Harrison & Sons. 1862–99.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

McCracken, Donal P. 1997. Gardens of empire: botanical institutions of the Victorian British empire. London and Washington: Leicester University Press.

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.

Nevill, Geoffrey. 1868. Notes on some of the species of land Mollusca inhabiting Mauritius and the Seychelles. [Read 23 April 1868.] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1868): 257–61.

Nowak, Ronald M. 1999. Walker’s mammals of the world. 6th edition. 2 vols. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Record of the Royal Society of London: The record of the Royal Society of London for the promotion of natural knowledge. 4th edition. London: Royal Society. 1940.

Williamson, M. 1984. Sir Joseph Hooker’s lecture on insular floras. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 22: 55–77.


Cannot come to Down; John Smith is unwell.

Will go to Paris again at end of month.

Wallace and F. J. H. von Mueller of Victoria are most likely candidates for Royal Society Gold Medal for biology.

Encloses letter from Henry Barkly.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 163–4; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Directors’ Correspoddence 188: 125)
Physical description
3pp † encl 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5539,” accessed on 5 December 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15