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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Edward Cresy   [before May 1848?]1

Down, Farnborough, Kent


My dear Sir

Although I have never particularly attended to the points in dispute between Dr. King and the other Arctic gentlemen, yet I have carefully read all the articles in the Athenæum,2 and took from them much the same impression as you convey in your letter, for which I thank you. I believe that old sinner Sir J. Barrow has been at the bottom of all the money wasted over the naval expeditions.3 So strongly have I felt on this subject, that when I was appointed on a Committee for Nat. Hist. instructions for present expedition,4 had I been able to attend, I had resolved to express my opinion on the little advantage, comparatively to the expense, gained by them. There have been I believe, from the beginning 18 expeditions;5 this strikes me as monstrous, considering how little is known, for instance, on the interior of Australia. The country has paid dear for Sir John’s hobbyhorse.6 I have very little doubt that Dr. King is quite right in the advantage of Land Expeditions as far as geography is concerned;7 and that is now the chief object.8

I thank you very cordially for the trouble you have taken about Darlue;9 I fear I have but a small chance of finding out about the travelling sheep.10

With thanks for your note, pray believe me, | My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | C. Darwin

I hope Mr. & Mrs. Cresy are well.


Dated from the relationship to the letter to Edward Cresy, [May 1848] (calendar number 1171).
Richard King, who had served on the Arctic expedition of 1833–5, used the Athenæum from 1845 until 18 December 1847 as a forum for his dispute with leading figures in the Admiralty regarding the exploration of the Arctic. The dispute concerned the relative merits of sea and land explorations, the geography of the Arctic, the possible locations of a north-west passage, and, in 1847, the methods to be employed by rescue parties searching for the lost Franklin expedition. See King 1855 for a summary of his suggestions.
John Barrow’s observations of icebergs and currents convinced him of the existence of a north-west passage and/or an open polar sea (Barrow 1818). His influence in the Admiralty and the Royal Geographical Society enabled him to promote polar sea expeditions supported by Government funds from 1804 onward. Barrow died on 23 November 1848.
Probably the sectional committee of mineralogy and geology of the Royal Society of which CD was a member, 1839–49. William Buckland, chairman of the committee during 1847–8, was asked to supply natural history instructions for James Clark Ross’s search expedition that set out in May 1848 (Admiralty Blue Books XLI: 202–3; Royal Society Geology Committee Minutes, 1839–49).
Arctic exploration began in earnest in 1818. According to Holland ed. 1982, Ross’s would have been approximately the twentieth British expedition. In the Athenæum, 11 January 1845, King indicated that there had been ten sea and three land expeditions. In 1848, three Franklin rescue missions started out, with many others following.
The ‘dear’ price included loss of life as well as monetary expense.
Land parties were smaller, safer, and less expensive. King contended that the men on a polar land journey were able to make geographical observations and report other important natural and scientific data instead of remaining idle while locked in the ice for months at a time.
Presumably the concept of a commercial seaway through open Arctic water, put forward in 1818, had by this date been abandoned.
Darluc 1782–6. The copyist has transcribed this as ‘Darlue’, presumably a misreading. See also letter to Edward Cresy, [May 1848] (calendar number 1171).
CD was interested in reports that transporting sheep from one locale to another, and changes of climate, induced changes in their coats. See Variation 1: 98–9, 2: 278–9. CD had earlier questioned Henry Thomas De la Beche on this point (Correspondence vol. 2, letter to H. T. De la Beche, 7 February 1842).


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

Barrow, John. 1818. A chronological history of voyages into the Arctic regions (1818): undertaken chiefly for the purpose of discovering a north-east, north-west or polar passage between the Atlantic and Pacific. London. [Reprint edition. Devon: South Devon House. 1971.]

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

Darluc, Michel. 1782–6. Histoire naturelle de la Provence, contenant ce qu’il y a de plus remarquable dans les règnes végétal, minéral, animal et la partie géoponique. 3 vols. Avignon.

King, Richard. 1855. The Franklin expedition from first to last. London.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Agrees that naval expeditions to the Arctic are a waste of money. Believes Sir J. Barrow responsible. "Dr [Richard?] King is quite right in the advantage of Land Expeditions".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Edward Cresy, Jr
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 143: 304
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 805,” accessed on 31 July 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 4