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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Huxley   7 May 1869

My dear Darwin

Do you recollect recommending that the ‘Nassau’ which sailed under Capt. Mayne’s Command to Magellan’s straits some years ago should explore a fossiliferous deposit up the Gallegos river?1

They visited the place the other day as you will see by Cunningham’s letter which I inclose—and got some fossils which are now in my hands2

The skull to which Cunningham refers consists of little more than the jaw—but luckily nearly all the teeth are in place—and prove it to be an entirely new ungulate Mammal with teeth in uninterrupted series like Anoplothermi—about as big as a small horse3

What a wonderful assemblage of beasts there seems to have been in South America! I suspect if we could find them all they would make the classification of the Mammalia into a horrid mess.

Ever | Yours faithfully | T. H. Huxley

Please return Cunningham letter.

Jermyn St

May 7th 1869


Huxley refers to the memorial that CD enclosed with a letter to him of 4 July [1866] (Correspondence vol. 14); although the memorial has not been found, there is a draft of it (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter to the Lords of the Admiralty, [2–4 July 1866]). Richard Charles Mayne was captain of HMS Nassau, which surveyed the Straits of Magellan from 1866 to 1869 (ODNB). Huxley also refers to the discovery of fossil bones of mammals at the base of a cliff along the Río Gallegos in Patagonia (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter from B. J. Sulivan, 27 June 1866 and n. 7).
Robert Oliver Cunningham’s letter has not been found; he was the naturalist on HMS Nassau (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter from J. D. Hooker, 4 February 1866 and n. 4). Some of Cunningham’s description of the find is reproduced in Flower 1873 (see n. 3, below).
Huxley refers to the genus Anoplotherium. In his presidential address to the Geological Society of London for 1870, Huxley proposed the genus name Homalodotherium for the fossil discovered by Cunningham (see Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 26 (1870): lvii). The species was later described by William Henry Flower as Homalodontotherium cunninghami (see Flower 1873). The accepted name is now Homalodotherium cunninghami.


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

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.


H. M. S. Nassau, surveying Magellan Straits, has found fossils at Gallegos River. They have been sent to THH by R. O. Cunningham [naturalist of H. M. S. Nassau]. Skull of entirely new ungulate mammal.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Huxley
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Jermyn St
Source of text
DAR 166: 319
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6732,” accessed on 22 June 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17