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Letter 970

Darwin, C. R. to Holland, Edward

[after 12 July 1843]

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    Discusses fossil bones found in Australia by Mr Isaac. Suggests they be sent to Richard Owen.

Transcription

Down Bromley Kent

Tuesday

My dear Holland,

I am much obliged for your friendly note and interesting enclosure.— I have by no means forgotten our short but pleasant intercourse at Cambridge & some few rides and excursions together. When I was in Cambridge some five years ago, I made enquiries after Mr Polo & was told he was dead.—

The fossil bones discovered by Mr Isaac will probably prove exceedingly valuable, & I return with thanks the clear account of the district. I shall be curious to see them, though I know nothing on the subject & am only a fossil Resurrectionist. Prof Owen has already worked at so many Australian fossils, that I have no doubt he will be glad to undertake their examination & description,—that is if he has time, for he is overwhelmed with materials from all parts of the world.— Mr Isaac probably knows that heads especially with teeth are very much more valuable than any other bones.— I hope you will urge on him to make a large collection of several specimens of of every shell small & large in the bed which he refers to, marking carefully the relative position of the bed to any bed with bones. The chronology, which must be judged of by shells, of the extinct Australian animals is very imperfectly known & a collection elucidating this point, would be of real interest. Caution him against concluding that the shells are living species: no one can off hand say so, & even if so, they wd not be the less valuable.— I hope if the bone-bed lies near Mr Isaac's present residence, he will send home many treasures. I know of no quarter of the world so likely to afford important discoveries in this line: for instance some single bone or skeleton might throw a surprising light on the relation of the ornithorhynchus with the rest of the creation. Mr Isaac ought to read Lyell's Principles & Elements of Geology, if he has not already done so. it would give him much zest in his pursuits.—

Pray give my kind compliments to Mrs Holland & believe me | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 970.f1
    Dated from the reference to a visit to Cambridge ‘some five years ago’ (‘Journal’, May 1838; Correspondence vol. 2, Appendix II) and the letter's mourning border (Josiah Wedgwood II died on 12 July 1843). A reference to a watermark of 1845 in the John Howell catalogue description of this letter is probably an error for 1843. See also n. 4, below.
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    f2 970.f2
    A guide and vendor of specimens to Cambridge undergraduate entomologists (see Correspondence vol. 1, letter to W. D. Fox, [15 March 1829]).
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    f3 970.f3
    Frederick Neville Isaac, possibly a relative of Holland's wife, Sophia Isaac. Isaac had settled in the Darling Downs, Queensland, an area rich in fossils (see Aurousseau, ed. 1968, 2: 745, 768–9).
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    f4 970.f4
    Isaac did eventually send an account of Australian fossils to Richard Owen dated 5 July 1845 (British Museum (Natural History) Owen Collection, Letters). Owen (1877–8, p. 240) also refers to fossils found by Isaac in 1849.
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