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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   31 October 1871

Royal Gardens Kew

Oct 31/71.

Dear Darwin

I think that you should see enclosed.

I have at last driven Mr Gladstone into a corner, & obliged him to take up my grievances.1 I told you that he had forwarded my complaints against Mr Ayrton to the latter to be answered, & he has sent me Mr Ayrtons in the form of a paper of explanations & allowed me an opportunity of discussing them with his private Secretary as his representative—2 I have unhesitatingly pronounced Mr Ayrtons’s “explanations” to be “a tissue of evasions, misstatements & misrepresentations” & I further charge him with telling the Prime Minister a direct falsehood. I then proceeded to show how all but impossible it is, that I should hold office under a Minister of whom I entertain and express these sentiments, & whose conduct to me has been so ungracious & offensive, & whose acts I regard as so detrimental, & subversive of discipline in this Establishment.3

I further appeal to Mr Gladstone as the First Minister of the Crown, by whom Mr Ayrton was set to rule over me!—to direct the latter to restore to me that authority & those functions of a Director that his Minister has taken away.

So you see I am enjoying a good shriek at my Lords & Masters—& I rather enjoy tossing my horns against the Sun & moon.

The Duke of Argyll4 has been most kind about it. But the best part of the fun is,—only for Gods sake don’t let it escape you—that Lyell has—thanks to a certain Lady’s interference—written to Ld Granville, asking him to get Gladstone to confer Murchisons K.C.B. on me!5 I’d give a hundred pounds to see Gladstones face when this “obus”6 was dropped into the embroglio— it gives infinite zest to the whole proceeding. Of course Gladstone would rather give it to Ayrton than to such a pestilent fellow as I am, who have continously worried him for 3 whole months. But how good of dear Lyell, & how like him to cleave to an old friend. & seek his honor when in Extremis. I am immensely touched by it—& for his sake (not my own God knows) would have wished him success— As it is, that incubus is now put off sine die. Lyell has, I know, done it by way of influencing Gladstone to my side in this pitiful quarrel with Ayrton, & in that respect the application cannot but have immense effect— in fact, if I beat Ayrton I shall rank Lyell’s shot as in the bull’s eye.— bless him.

A really very nice Book of Juke’s letters &c has been published by his sister Mrs Browne.7 What I have read of it I like extremely— he was a grand fellow—full of genuine human nature—abounding sympathy & generosity.

I followed dear old Murchison to the grave the other day, we shall never see his like again, & shall miss him in many ways very much indeed.— though for my part more in the papers than in the flesh, for I hardly ever saw him during latter years. After a year or two there will have been a regular clearing out of the old philosophers all dying at a ripe old age.— Sedgwick has I see given up lecturing at last.8

Ever yours affec | J D Hooker


Roy. Bot Gardens, | Calcutta

4th. Oct. 1871

Dear Sir

May I ask your sympathy with me in the following matter of which I write you with a deep sense of shame. Mr Darwin my kind and generous benefactor is still my creditor for £120, which he so heartily gave to meet my requirements in coming to India and which he must now think has been bestowed to a most unworthy and ungrateful recipient.9 For years the thought of this has been with me an abiding sore. Long ago I wrote him hopeful that I would soon be able to refund all and then I should have felt free and happy.10 Monetary difficulties which I shall take the liberty of explaining to you fell upon me; deeper and deeper I became involved. I was then altogether ashamed to write to Mr. Darwin and thus for years and to my sorrow there has been a complete silence. Time after time have I sat down to break it and tell him how I was circumstanced; but never did the thought present itself than as Mr. Darwin personally knows really nothing of me he cannot but think that I would but thus avoid paying my debt to him. Thus has bad been made worse, and I do hope you will forgive me in troubling you in this matter and I do beg that you will kindly explain all to Mr. Darwin. Permit me now to explain the cause of all my difficulties. Very shortly after I had got my house furnished here and fairly settled a much respected friend of mine came to me one day and told me of some then temporary difficulty he had in some money matters and asked me to sign a bill for him which he assured me he would be able to meet when due.11 It proved otherwise he sustained further losses and the bill fell upon me. I was unable to pay and had to borrow money at high interest to prevent my complete ruin and only now Dr. Hooker can I say that I have paid all up—stock and interest. After about seven years of Indian service I thus begin as I began which is a very grievous and hard thought. However I can say this that my friend did not make me a mere tool, he I am convinced honestly believed that I would never be called upon to pay it; though certainly it was wrong in him to make use of me and still more foolish and inconsiderate was it in me to sign bills which I knew I could not pay. It has been altogether a sad and painful lesson; but I have at least prospects of recovering a portion at least of what I have lost on his account as through the support of some of his old friends at home he is likely to get into a fair line of business. It has been thus through all these years I have struggled on under monetary difficulties, known only to my friend and the money lender. To you alone have I broken it and I do beg that you will explain to Mr. Darwin the cause of my silence and that I am still ever grateful to him. Henceforth my sole aim shall be (and this will prove more than words) to save the amount due by me to Mr. Darwin to which it is but simple justice that I should add interest which I shall do according to current rates in the Bank of Bengal. When I have this done my heart shall find that which it has not known for years.

Begging again Dr. Hooker that you are not offended with me in writing to you as I have done and that with shame and pain I assure you I shall anxiously await your reply.

I am | Dear Sir, | yours truly, & obliged | John Scott

P.S. | Would you kindly inform me also what is doing with my Fern-paper. Dr. Anderson told me that it had been passed for the Transactions.12 About the plates which the Society object to pay for and if Mr. Fitch can undertake them for about £20 I would send the amount on hearing from you.13 I shall be very thankful to you for any advise. | J Scott


Hooker had evidently succeeded in persuading Henry Holland to present his complaints against Acton Smee Ayrton to the prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 October 1871).
Hooker met Gladstone’s private secretary, Algernon Edward West, on 30 October 1871 (Nature, 11 July 1872, p. 214).
On Hooker’s dispute with Ayrton, see Nature, 11 July 1872, pp. 211–16; L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 159–77; MacLeod 1974.
George Douglas Campbell.
Hooker refers to Charles Lyell, to Granville George Leveson-Gower, the second Earl Granville, and foreign secretary, and to Roderick Impey Murchison, who had died on 22 October 1871 (ODNB). The ‘lady’ was Hooker’s wife, Frances Harriet Hooker (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 November 1871). KCB: knight commander of the (Order of the) Bath.
Obus: howitzer shell. The term was first used in print in May 1871. (OED.)
Hooker refers to Joseph Beete Jukes, Caroline A. Browne, and C. A. Browne ed. 1871.
Adam Sedgwick, CD’s former teacher at Cambridge, was 86 years old. The lecture course for 1871 to 1872 was delivered by a deputy, John Morris (see J. W. Clark and Hughes eds. 1890, 2: 458).
CD and Hooker had helped John Scott to obtain a position at a Cinchona plantation near Darjeeling in 1864 (see Correspondence vol. 12, pp. xviii–xix). To help pay for Scott’s travel and other expenses, CD wrote cheques for £25 and £10, and then gave Scott an additional £80 prior to his departure for India (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from John Scott, 2 August 1864 and n. 2).
Scott’s friend has not been identified.
Scott’s paper on tree ferns had been communicated to the Linnean Society by Thomas Anderson on 17 February 1870, and was eventually published in the Society’s Transactions in 1874 (Scott 1870). CD’s copy is in his collection of unbound journals, Darwin Library–CUL.
Scott 1870 contained eighteen plates by Walter Hood Fitch.


Browne, C. A. ed. 1871. Letters and extracts from the addresses and occasional writings of J. Beete Jukes. London: Chapman and Hall.

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

MacLeod, Roy M. 1974. The Ayrton incident: a commentary on the relations of science and government in England, 1870–1873. In Science and values: patterns of tradition and change, edited by Arnold Thackray and Everett Mendelsohn. New York: Humanities 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.


Details of the JDH–Ayrton–Gladstone imbroglio.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 93–5; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Directors’Correspondence vol. 156, Indian Letters, Calcutta Botanic Garden II 1860–1905, ff. 1066–7)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8036,” accessed on 29 September 2021,

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