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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. B. Dawkins   8 February 1871

Norman Road | Rusholme, Manchester

8. Feb. 1871

My dear Sir,

By this post I send to you the results obtained by following up the clue afforded by the box of bones carried so bravely by Miss Godsal on pony back from a fissure near Corwen.1 It has led up to a series of explorations, which at all events have the negative virtue of demolishing the classificatory value of platycnemism as a character of race.2 I believe that eventually we shall have quite a cave-digging and tumulus hunting mania in the county, thanks to your kindness in sending the little box of bones.

In Yorkshire our cave-hunting has not been so successful: for we cannot carry our date further back than the 3d century after Xt. Never-the-less we have lighted on a most touching picture of the misery wrought in the highly civilized dwellers in Strathclyde, by the Picts & the Northumbrians. We find ‘Roman’ keys and the most beautiful ornaments in enamel, & other objets de luxe lying in a rude accumulation of debris—like that of the Dordogne,—in a cave some 1200 feet above the sea.3

I am looking forward to your new work with a longing curiosity.4

Hoping that you are none the worse for the severe weather | I am | My dear Sir | Yours truly | W. Boyd Dawkins

Charles Darwin Esq F.R.S. | Down.


While on holiday in Wales in 1869, CD had sent Dawkins a box of animal bones discovered at Perthichwareu, about ten miles east of Corwen, by Gertrude Jane Mary Lloyd. Subsequent explorations by Dawkins and Lloyd revealed a number of Neolithic human cave burial sites close by. (See Correspondence vol. 17, letter to W. B. Dawkins, 19 July [1869], and letter from W. B. Dawkins, 19 October 1869, and Correspondence vol. 18, letter from W. B. Dawkins, 29 January [1870]; see also Dawkins 1874, pp. 149–158, and Lucas 2007.) Dawkins published on the finds in Dawkins 1869, Dawkins and Busk 1870a, and Dawkins and Busk 1870b. There is a copy of Dawkins and Busk 1870b, inscribed by Dawkins, in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL; it was published in the January 1871 issue of the Journal of the Ethnological Society of London. Miss Godsal was probably Mary Godsal of Iscoed Park in Shropshire, Lloyd’s niece.
Platycnemia: flattening of the tibia (OED). See also Correspondence vol. 18, letter from W. B. Dawkins, 29 January [1870]. Dawkins concluded that not all of the tibiae were platycnemic and that the feature was indicative not of race but of age and sex (Dawkins 1871b, Dawkins 1874, p. 155; see also Peter Lucas 2007).
Dawkins mentioned that he was planning to go to the Craven Caves, near Settle, North Yorkshire, in his letter of 29 January [1870] (Correspondence vol. 18). See Dawkins 1874, pp. 81–125. Dawkins refers here to the Victoria Cave, the most notable of the Craven Caves. It had evidently been occupied by Romano-British families during Pictish and Anglo-Saxon invasions. In Dawkins 1874, pp. 108–9, Dawkins discusses the Romano-British kingdoms of Strathclyde (in south-west Scotland and at times including Cumbria) and Elmet (in Yorkshire). Dawkins discussed caves in the Dordogne region of France (Perigord) in Dawkins 1874, pp. 337–47.
Dawkins refers to Descent, which was published 24 February 1871 (Freeman 1977).


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

Dawkins, William Boyd. 1869. The Denbighshire caves. Transactions of the Manchester Geological Society 9 (1869–70): 31–7.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Lucas, Peter. 2007. Charles Darwin, ‘little Dawkins’ and the platycnemic Yale men: introducing a bioarchaeological tale of the descent of man. Archives of Natural History 34: 318–45.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.


The box of bones sent by CD has led to a series of explorations. Reports on Yorkshire cave-hunting.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Boyd Dawkins
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 125
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7477,” accessed on 22 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19