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Letter 295

Darwin, C. R. to Henslow, J. S.

[28–9] Jan 1836

    Summary Add

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    His joy at prospect of journey's end in eight months' time.

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    Observations on Australia.

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    Reports on his collecting in Galapagos – its flora and very curious birds; its instructive geology.

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    Tahiti and good work of missionaries.

Transcription

Sydney—

January— 1836

My dear Henslow,

This is the last opportunity of communicating with you, before that joyful day when I shall reach Cambridge.— I have very little to say: But I must write if it was only to express my joy that the last year is concluded & that the present one, in which the Beagle will return, is gliding onwards.— We have all been disappointed here in not finding even a single letter; we are indeed rather before our expected time, otherwise I dare say I should have seen your handwriting.— I must feed upon the future & it is beyond bounds delightful to feel the certainty that within eight months I shall be residing once again most quietly, in Cambridge. Certainly I never was intended for a traveller; my thoughts are always rambling over past or future scenes; I cannot enjoy the present happiness, for anticipating the future; which is about as foolish as the dog who dropt the real bone for its' shadow.—

You see, we are now arrived at Australia: the new Continent really is a wonderful place. Ancient Rome might have boasted of such a Colony; it deserves to rank high amongst the 100 Wonders of the world, as showing the Giant force of the parent country. I travelled to Bathurst, a place, 130 miles in the interior, & thus saw a little of the country.— The system of communication is carried on in an admirable style; the roads are excellent, & on the Macadam principle; to form them vast masses of rock have been cut away. The following facts, I think, very forcibly show how rapid & extraordinary is the increase of wealth.— A fraction (I believe 78th) of an acre of land in Sydney, fetched by Auction twelve thousand pounds; the increase of public revenue during the last year has been 68,000£.— It is well known, that there are men, who came out convicts, who now possess an yearly income of 15,000£. Is not this all wonderful? But yet, I do not think this country can ever rise to be a second North America. The sterile aspect of the land, at once proclaims that Agriculture will never succeed.— Wool, Wool—is repeated & must ever be the cry from one end of the country to the other.— The scenery, from the extraordinary uniformity of its character, is very peculiar. Every where, trees of the same class & appearance are thinly scattered, with their upright trunks, over arid downs. The greatest change is that in some places the fire has been more recent & the stumps are black, whilst in others, their natural color is nearly regained.— On the whole I do not like new South Wales: it is without doubt an admirable place to accumulate pounds & shillings; but Heaven forfend that ever I should live, where every other man is sure to be somewhere between a petty rogue & bloodthirsty villain.—

In a short time we sail for Hobart town, then to K: Georges Sound, Isle of France, C. of Good Hope &c &c &c England.—

I last wrote to you from Lima, since which time I have done disgracefully little in Nat: History; or rather I should say since the Galapagos Islands, where I worked hard.— Amongst other things, I collected every plant, which I could see in flower, & as it was the flowering season I hope my collection may be of some interest to you.— I shall be very curious to know whether the Flora belongs to America, or is peculiar. I paid also much attention to the Birds, which I suspect are very curious.— The Geology to me personally was very instructive & amusing; Craters of all sizes & forms, were studded about in every direction; some were s<uch> tiny ones, that they might be called quite Specim<en> Craters.— There were however a few facts of interest, with respect of layers of Mud or Volcanic Sandstone, which must have flowed liked streams of Lava. Likewise respecting some grand fields of Trachytic Lava.— The Trachyte contained large Crystals of glassy fractured Feldspar & the streams were naked, bare & the surface rough, as if they had flowed a week before.— I was glad to examine a kind of Lava, which I believe in recent days has not in Europe been erupted.— In our passage across the Pacifick, we only touched at Tahiti & New Zealand: at neither of these places, or at sea had I much opportunity of working.— Tahiti is a most charming spot.— Every thing, which former Navigators have written is true: ``A new Cytheræa has risen from the ocean''. Delicious scenery, climate, manners of the people, are all in harmony. It is moreover admirable to behold what the Missionaries both here & at New Zealand have effected.— I firmly believe they are good men working for the sake of a good cause. I much suspect that those who have abused or sneered at the Missionaries, have generally been such, as were not very anxious to find the Natives moral & intelligent beings.— During the remainder of our voyage, we shall only visit places generally acknowledged as civilized & nearly all under the British Flag. There will be a poor field for Nat: History & without it, I have lately discovered that the pleasure of seeing new places is as nothing. I must return to my old resource & think of the future, but that I may not become more prosy I will say Farewell, till the day arrives, when I shall see my Master in Natural History & can tell him, how grateful I feel for his kindness & friendship.

Believe me, Dear Henslow | Ever yours Most Faithfully | Chas. Darwin

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 295.f1
    Henslow arranged the collection of CD's Galápagos plants, now in the Cambridge University Botany School Herbarium. Only a small part of this collection was described by Henslow; the remaining Galápagos plants were described by Joseph Dalton Hooker in 1846 (see letter from J. S. Henslow, 31 August 1833, n. 3).
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    f2 295.f2
    The Galápagos birds are famous for having aroused CD's first doubts about the permanence of species. For a discussion of their importance in CD's `conversion' see Sulloway 1982b, and for a detailed analysis of the role of `Darwin's finches' in particular see Sulloway 1982a. The entire Beagle collection of finches is now in the British Museum (Natural History) ornithological department at Tring. The specimens have been accurately identified and described for the first time in Sulloway 1982c.
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    f3 295.f3
    `Rich crowned Cytherea', Homer, Hymns, 5: 1. The original, now called Cerigo or Kithira, is an island off the coast of the Peloponnesus.
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