skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. C. Redfield   6 May 1840

New York

May 6th 1840

To Charles Darwin Esqr ∣ 12 Upper Gower St. London

Dear Sir

Your letter of Feb 24th transmitted by Profr. Silliman came to hand a few days since, and I have to thank you for drawing my attention to Capt. Tillards description of the revolving cloud or eruptive whirlwind which attended the volcanic outbreak near the Azores in 1811.1 I had noticed that the meteoric phenomena which attend volcanic eruptions have been described in a manner that authorizes us to consider them, in many cases at least, as analogous in character to the water spout or small tornado. The characteristic noises and the carrying up of light ashes to great elevations by the spiral action (in the centre of the vortex) seem to afford evidence of the verticular character of these discharges; were not the interior movements in these discharges concealed from view, as in the tornado or thunder cloud, this point, it is probable, would long since have been considered as settled.

I have not the paper of Profr. Oersted at hand but remember to have been satisfied with so much of his reasoning as goes to maintain the identity of the so called water spout with the columnar whirlwind. It has seemed obvious, however, that the notion that these whirlwinds and also the greater whirlwind storms should be ascribed to the meeting of opposite currents in the atmosphere, is essentially erroneous.2 To me it appears that the currents or storms as well as other movements in an atmosphere or ocean are never found in direct apposition to each other and that the movements of any part or portion of the fluid mass must always be mainly coincident with those of the other parts or portions which are immediately adjacent. Hence the cause as well as necessity of the varied verticular and other movements which are found in our atmosphere. The inquiries which appear connected with the subject of your letter are indeed important as well as interesting, and I sometimes wish for leisure and talent suited to the due investigation of these and some kindred topics.

I have read with much interest and satisfaction your volume of the voyages of the Adventure and Beagle,3 and was not a little gratified with the manner in which you have treated the the subject of terrene elevation and subsidence.

I shall forward you by the British Queen steamer or the first packet ship a few copies of meteorological papers together copies of the two last geological reports made to the legislature of New York, and also a copy of the report of the Regents of the University which contains a summary of meteorological reports.4 I have little direct intercourse with the lovers of science on your side of the Atlantic and shall at all times be happy to receive intelligence

I am dear Sir | Yours truly | Wm. C. Redfield


See Correspondence vol. 2, letter to W. C. Redfield, 24 February [1840]. James Tillard’s observations on the eruption of a volcano in the sea off the Azores were published by the Royal Society under the name S. Tillard (Tillard 1812). CD’s letter to Redfield had been sent via Benjamin Silliman Sr (see Correspondence vol. 13, Supplement, letter to Benjamin Silliman, 26 February 1840).
In Oersted 1839, Hans Christian Oersted suggested that whirlwinds and water-spouts were caused by currents of air flowing in opposite directions but following a parallel course.
Journal and remarks, which appeared as the third volume of the Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and Beagle, between the years 1826 and 1836 was separately published as Journal of researches in 1839.
CD acknowledged these gifts in December 1840 (see Correspondence vol. 2, letter to W. C. Redfield, [22 December 1840]). There are two geological survey reports for the State of New York dated 27 February 1839 and 24 January 1840, and inscribed by Redfield, in DAR 137.3 and DAR 136.16. The Annual Report of the Regents of the University (New York State Senate, no. 64, 2 March 1840), also inscribed by Redfield, is in DAR 137.5.


Thanks CD for information about Captain Tillard’s account of the volcanic eruption in the Azores in 1811.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 565H,” accessed on 31 July 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24 (Supplement)