RECORD: 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.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned and text prepared by John van Wyhe 9.2009. RN2

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[page 591]


(NOTE B.—See pages 68 to 72.)


THE controversy alluded to between Captain Stokes and Sir George Grey, in pages 68 to 72, led to a strange correspondence between Grey and Darwin. The great naturalist had sailed on his memorable voyage in the Beagle a few years before she was

[page] 592

employed to convey Grey and Lushington to Australia. Mr. Stokes was at that time second lieutenant of the Beagle, and after Darwin's return to England a somewhat intimate and familiar correspondence was maintained by the author of the "Origin of Species" and the naval officer. Grey occupied the cabin formerly used by Darwin.

Captain Stokes communicated to Darwin the results of his so-called survey of the country between Perth and Shark's Bay, and asked his friend's opinion — first, as to the propriety of Grey's action; and, secondly, as to whether, in his opinion, the latter could reasonably be offended at the stand which he, Stokes, had taken.

Dr. Darwin was greatly surprised at the substance of this letter, and relying entirely upon the accuracy and good faith of his correspondent, stated in reply that he was grieved and astonished that a gentleman of Grey's character should, either by mistake or intention, have been guilty of such gross and dangerous errors.

In some strange way this letter found a place within the pages of a new book, forwarded with others by his publisher in London, to Grey, when Governor of New Zealand in 1846. Sir George, who had a great respect for Darwin, immediately enclosed this letter to its author, at the same time vindicating his own conduct and justifying the reports which he had made. The following correspondence then ensued:—

Down Farnborough, Kent, November 3rd, 1846.

My dear Stokes,—I have just received, to my great surprise, the letters of which the enclosed are verbatim copies. That with my signature was in my handwriting. I remember enclosing it to you with one of your proof sheets in answer to some query, whether Captain Grey could be offended at your manner of referring to some bay or river. I beg you to inform me immediately how it could possibly have been sent to Sir G. Grey. It

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places me in the position of wishing to make myself presumptuously impertinent to him—a position the very opposite to my feelings regarding him. I shall, of course, inform Sir G. Grey that I have written to you, and I should think it would be most agreeable to yourself to allow me to enclose your entire answer, or at least a paragraph from it, and I shall enclose a copy of this note. He will then see the whole part which I have been made by some means to play in this disagreeable affair.

To this Stokes replied as follows:—

November 6th, 1846.

My dear Darwin,—Your letter of the 8th, with its enclosure, has greatly surprised and annoyed me. I remember receiving the note of yours you have alluded to, and thought I had destroyed it at the time; but how or by what unfair means it has been most wickedly sent to Governor Grey, I am quite at a loss to know. It gives me great concern to think that I should in any way be the means of placing you in such a disagreeable position, and rest assured it will ever be a matter of deep regret to your very faithful friend,


P.S.—I shall endeavour to find out the mischief-maker.

On November 10th, Darwin wrote to the Governor of New Zealand in these words:—

My dear Sir,—I beg to thank you for the courteous tone 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 Captain 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 very 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 ablest ever written. As we are not likely to have any further communication, permit me to add that I have a most pleasant recollection of our former acquaintance. With much respect I beg to remain, yours faithfully,


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Sir George, in reply, answered the questions suggested to him, and wrote in such a strain of kindliness and good feeling as to elicit a somewhat remarkable epistle from the man of science, from which the following quotation is made:—

Down Farnborough, Kent, November 13th, 1847.

My dear Sir,—Although Your Excellency must be overburdened with business, I cannot resist the temptation to thank you cordially for the very kind, and if I may be permitted to say so, admirable spirit, with which you excuse and tell me to forget the, to me, painful origin of our correspondence. I have been the more gratified by your letter, as I had not the least expectation of hearing from you.

I am extremely glad to know how well your colony is now prospering. Ever since the voyage of the 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 principal part you have played in two countries, destined in future centuries to be great fields of civilisation.

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 entering 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. . . . The second point is, whether there are "erratic boulders" in New Zealand, more especially in the Middle and Southern Islands; and their northern limit, if such occur. Most geologists are now united in considering erratic boulders to have been transported by icebergs and glaciers. I consider it 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 have ascertained that such is the case in South America from Cape Horn to about lat, 40°. This subject requires much care and some little knowledge, or at least thought.

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As if to add assurance to assurance in confirmation of the views expressed by Captain Grey of the territory under discussion, a special correspondent despatched by the London Daily Chronicle traversed that district and reported upon it in the articles which appeared in that paper in August and September, 1891, under the heading, "The Outlook in Australasia."

He speaks of the very valleys indicated by Captain Grey as "the famous Greenough Flats, which the Agricultural Commission class among the richest agricultural land in all Australia." He dwells on their deep, loamy richness, averaging wheat crops of thirty bushels per acre," and goes on to mention "the heather and innumerable flowering shrubs, making the plains bright enough, even in winter, and encouraging a belief in all that was told us of the glorious display of flowers which the summer sun brings forth, making the country a veritable Florida, after a fashion which English imagination can hardly compass."

In a subsequent article the correspondent again returns to his description of that country, using the same terms of praise regarding large portions of it which he had already employed.

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