RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1902. [Letters to George Grey, John Lort Stokes and Edgar Leopold Layard, 1846, 1847 and 1855 (Layard)]. Letters to Sir George Grey. New Zealand Herald, (6 September): 1.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 5.2022. RN1

NOTE: See record in the Freeman Bibliographical Database, enter its Identifier here.

The letters are: 3 November 1846 to Stokes, 10 November 1846 and 13 November 1847 to Grey and a here undated letter [in fact from 9 December 1855] and originally sent to Edgar Leopold Layard. The complete letters with important editorial notes are published in Correspondence vol. 3, p. 362 (Stokes), 364; vol. 4, p. 95 and to Stokes, 9 December 1855 Correspondence vol. 5, pp. 524-5.

See Darwin, C. R. 1892. Stokes' charges and Darwin's letters. In W. L. Rees and L. Rees, The life and times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B. London: Hutchinson. 2d ed., pp. 591-595. F1835 F1835

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Letters to Sir George Grey.


There are a large number of letters from the illustrious naturalist, Charles Darwin, in the Grey collection. In a letter dated Down, Farnborough, Kent, November 3, 1846, Mr Darwin writes to Captain Stokes about some memo, of his that had been sent on to Sir George Grey with a mischievous intention. On November 10, 1846, Darwin writes to Sir George Grey:—

"I beg to thank you for the courteous note of your communication of the 10th of May 1846, considering the circumstances under which it was written. I enclose a letter which I immediately wrote to Capt. Stokes and his answer; these will, I trust, exonerate us of intentional impertinence. Some most malicious person must have sent my note to you. I have been much mortified by perusing it, and though I am not presumptuous enough to suppose that you can care much for my opinion of your work on Australia, it is a satisfaction to me to be enabled to name to myself many individuals, to whom I have expressed my strong opinion of the many high qualities shown in your work, of which, the amusement it afforded, was but a small part. Your account of the aborigines I have always thought one of the most able ever written."

On November 13, 1847, Darwin writes to Sir George:—

"Ever since the voyage of the Beagle (it will be remembered that Darwin was the naturalist on the scientific voyage of H.M.S. Beagle), I have felt the deepest interest with respect to all our colonies in the southern hemisphere. However much trouble and anxiety you must have had and will still have, it must ever be the highest gratification to you to reflect on the prominent part you have played in two countries, destined in future centuries to be great fields of civilization.

You are so kind as to offer aid in any Natural History researches in New Zealand: I have no personal interest on any point there; but there are two subjects which have long appeared to me well deserving investigation; and if hereafter your labours should be lightened you might like to attend to them yourself, or direct the attention to them of any Naturalist under you. The first is, an examination of any limestone caverns. Such exist near the Bay of Islands and I daresay elsewhere. I was prevented from examining them by their having been used as places of Burial. Digging in the mud under the usual stalagmitic crust, would probably reveal bones of the contemporaries of the Dinornis. I think there is a special interest on this point, from New Zealand being at present so eminently instructive in a negative point of view, with respect to the distribution of terrestrial mammifers."

Darwin then proceeds at considerable length to direct the attention of Governor Grey to the occurrence of erratic boulders in New Zealand. He says:—

"I consider it as a most important question, as bearing upon the former climate of the world, to know whether such proofs occur generally in the Southern hemisphere as in the Northern…. I saw inland of the Bay of Islands, large rounded blocks of greenstone, but I was unable to ascertain whether the parent rock was far distant; nor did I then see the full importance of the question, otherwise I would have devoted every hour to it…. I would, myself, go through much labour to investigate the erratic phenomena and trace its limits and age."

In a letter dated Down, Bromley, Kent, written while Sir G. Grey was Governor at the Cape, Mr Darwin says:—

[Letter originally sent to Edgar Leopold Layard  9 December 1855. See Correspondence vol. 5, p. 524.]

"I have during many years been collecting all the facts and reasoning which I could, in regard to the variation and origin of species, intending to give, as far as lies in my power, the many difficulties surrounding the subject on all sides. One chief line of investigation naturally is concerned with the amount of variation of all our domestic animals. For various reasons, I have determined to work especially on pigeons, poultry, ducks and rabbits; though at the same time I am most grateful for any facts on all our other domesticated quadrupeds and birds. I have been buying all the races of Pigeons, in order to watch them living and make skeletons of them when dead. I find from various old works, that the Dutch formerly (as now) were great Fanciers, and it has occurred to me that breeds may in former times have been carried to the Cape of Good Hope and may still be retained there; and that these might possibly belong to breeds now lost in Europe, or rare, or even slightly modified. Now would you confer the very great favour on me to make enquiries for me on this head?... In the same way I should be most grateful for any breeds of the domestic Duck; or Poultry if bred at the Cape for many generations; or for any information regarding any Poultry kept by any of the aborigines, but these it would be impossible to get skinned. Mr Andersson has promised to draw up for me an account of the several breeds of cattle and dogs kept by the several tribes on the Western coast; if at any time you could aid me in this respect the aid would be very valuable. Very slight differences in some respects are almost as interesting as greater ones in the different breeds. But I fear that I shall have exhausted your patience; and I do not know whether your good nature will lead you to forgive this intrusion of a brother naturalist, who collected and worked on board H.M.S. Beagle in her voyage round the world."

Mr Darwin then states his opinion on some matters referred to by Sir George in previous letter regarding fossils found in Ceylon.

We have not in the collection the letters written by Sir George Grey to Darwin, so that we cannot form much idea of what aid he gave Mr. Darwin. But it is remarkable that we should have here in Auckland one of the earliest mentions by Darwin of his intention to investigate the whole subject of the origin of species, which resulted in the publication of the most remarkable and revolutionary books ever given to the world.

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Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

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