skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project


From J. D. Hooker   20 February – 16 [March] 1848

Kosderah—E bank of Soane-River, a tributary of Ganges) near Bidjegur—

Feby 20. 1848.

My dear Darwin

Though our correspondence has not ebbed so low for full four years, you have been so constantly in my mind that it appears far from strange to be writing to you. On my arrival at Madras, the first thing I did was to enquire about the Chetah,1 upon which subject I had three unimpeachable authorities, who agreed precisely; one of them (Mr Elliott)2 had kept the animal for hunting himself— They never breed in confinement, nor are they taught to hunt any more than a cat is to mouse— Full grown ones are invariably selected, taken to the field in a waggon & loosed near their prey; which they approach under cover & pounce upon, they are neither starved or otherwise excited, always strike the quarry on the hind quarter, then siezes the deer or antelope by the throat & hang on till it be strangled, they take no other animal, When first used a Leg of mutton is placed in the mouth to detach it from the deer. No Cheetah will hunt more than one year, whether so used seldom or often. The youngest animal will take instinctively to the same sport, but are poor hunters & hence never used.

In Hawking 2 species are used, 1 the common Peregrine (which migrates S.) & is a powerful bird, striking the Heron & Bustard; 2 a native red-breasted Hawk, which strikes the Quail & such like game. Neither species will hunt a second year, the cause of which is not obvious; though one can understand the Cheetah resigning a habit for whose exercise he has no further use, & the Dog (English) which so degenerates as never to afford sport after the first hot season in India.

I find as, might be expected, that the Natural features of this vast area seperate different species in most cases, & that sometimes the limits of the latter, though defined, are apparently not subject to any evident law but to caprice, thus, where I am now, on the Soane river;3 I am given to understand the little antelope never crosses this river to the Eastward, nor the Gaur, or the large antelope to the West., there is a broad plain between the boundary of each, seperating the heights (700–1000 ft) which each inhabits, but no other obstacle to migration, (& that is none)— this reminds one of the Obi in Siberia—4

One of the most striking instances of the prevalence of races in districts is afforded by the Elephant, of which there are three distinct wild Indian varieties, confined to the three remote but similar forests they respectively affect. 1. The Sylhet Elephant, (Muknur) whose head is carried on a level with the back. 2d the Rajmahal, (a district at the bend of the Ganges,) which carries the head high, is broader between the ribs & has generally small tusks— 3d the Morung which is confined to the Turai or those deadly (in the bad season) jungles below the Himalayah, from Kamaon to Assam, it carries the head low, is wide from rib to rib & has more slender limbs. None of these breed in confinement, & the carriage of the head, the most obvious diagnostic mark, is soon lost after taming— To these you may add the Ceylon Eleph, which I was informed, in that Island, is always very different looking from the continental one, & I believe seldom or never has tusks— Now that we are on Elephants, I may add that I have been riding a Sylehet one daily for the last month & a noble beast she is, a grand fellow to talk to your children about hereafter: The most curious instinct (as it appears to me) which I have observed, is its use of the water reservoir by day, from which it draws water every now & then & squirts it over its body for coolness; whilst on a cold night it collects all the earth it can & covers itself, for warmth. Its docility is admirable, we are travelling over a road-less country, where it has to push on the waggons with its forehead & there the poor brute has a bump, raw & bloody at top, as large as a child’s-head;—still it never complains, & at the word of command puts his broad forehead to the waggon, first side-ways to avoid the sore, &, as that won’t do, gallantly disregarding the pain— If Elephants have head-aches what splitting ones they must be.

I am perfectly bewildered by the number of facts hourly thrown before me whose importance I can scarce appreciate from my ignorance of Indian Nat-Hist. & all I can do now is to attempt to collect those relating to the larger or more common animals. Of Dogs we have 4 kinds here, the imported or bred English, the Pariah or native Domestic, the Jackall & Koa or wild & never domesticated dog (besides a Fox). The English & Pariah intermix freely & indiscriminately, but I cannot hear of either mixing with the Jackall or Koah. I thought to have understood that the English dog never barks long after importation, this is not the case, I noted the other day, hearing an old resident giving tongue lustily & even the Pariah does at rare intervals. The 2 domestics occasionally run wild, but keep distinct from the Jackall, Fox or Koah.— There are 2 kinds of Domestic Cattle, 1. the Bhil a beautiful creature with a (so called Buffalo) hump, it is a native of Nepaul & occasionally runs wild, the wild sometimes breed with the Domestic but the offspring is degenerate & seldom fertile— 2 the Buffalo a hideous beast which also runs wild. The Bison was once a native of these hills but has been extinct for 20 years— of differences in color indicating certain circumscribed localities of various animals, there are endless instances; none however more remarkable than that of the Sciurus maximus or common Peninsular Squirrell, the individuals of which to W. of Ghaats are black-backed—those to East of the same range having a rufous tinge. As in other parts of the world, so here, almost all the animals of the plain will ascend 4000 ft or even 6000, but the alpine species will not descend; this is a common observation, but it never struck me before coming to India that in this respect height is not analogous to Latitude; for more of the animals & man himself accommodate themselves rather to an increase of temperature than a diminution. Thus the English man, horse, dog, sheep &c &c, all thrive in India, but the monkey, man, Bhile & all the other common tropical animals are incapable of supporting a colder climate dependent on Latitude. I have just heard from good authority that a large Saurian inhabits the streams on the elevated-table-land of Zillah Shahabad, (S. of Mirzapore opposite me now, N. of Soane)—a species of alligator, 6 feet long, unknown in the lower plains— I have offered a reward for it, but it is said to be rare & it is difficult to get the natives to secure it.

P.S. There are 2 Crocodiles in Soane, & both ascend streams & migrate 4–5’ over dry ground to Tanks far from water.5

The change in climate consequent on cutting down the timber over the several hundred miles I have traversed (& many hundred more which I never shall see) is as may be supposed very considerable, not only is the annual fall of rain being diminished, but in the diminished frequency of the showers & especially of thunder & lightning & all but total absence of hurricanes.. When the total destruction of the woods shall be effected the crocodile of the highest ponds will I suppose be suppressed; the streams & other waters already having diminished greatly. We are all familiar with the cause & effect above alluded to, but I know of no instance where the phenomenon is displayed over so great an area & in so short a time as this part of India affords.—

I fear however I am tiring you with these crude gleanings, but must tell you another which I thought odd, it is that of the old (deserted) Sand-Martins nests, close by me here, being literally stuffed with spiders of the Harlequin kind, Phalangium (I think) those round-bodied long-legged beasts— these also inhabit crevices in the same banks but in the swallow’s nests are sometimes in Millions, from the mouth to 2 feet back (the depth of the excavation) being one dense mass of spiders. With a stick you may poke out thousands at each haul. I cannot observe that the martin feeds on them & am well sure that they themselves have nothing but sand to eat.

Talking of Hirundines I was told of a curious fact concerning the Swallow of W. Peninsular India, a bird never seen at its nest, or any where at or near the sea from early morning to sunset, during which time they repair to the very summits of the Neilgherry Ghaats (6–8000 ft:) though watched, for they have never been seen in any intermediate position: this diurnal migration in a bird which is neither Rook nor Raptor & gregarious to boot, is surely remarkable— It builds a sort of edible nest in caves near the sea..

In a strictly Geological point of view this is a singularly uninteresting country from the enormous extent of the individual formations & the alluvial deposit which all but covers all the plains of India. There are however singular & still unexplained points in the mineralogy of the country, as my early education would style it, such as the formation of Kunker,6 or beds of nodules of Limestone in the alluvium; & more especially the efflorescences of Nitrate of Potash? & other salts which I have only observed in the Granitic & Gneiss formation. & these in singular abundance. The little all I know of the coal formation (& that is but scanty) I shall give to Forbes7 in a letter: this question is no less perplexing here than at home.

I will give you but one Botanical fact, & that is regarding the vegetation of heights; You have often asked if Mts, especially isolated ones, in the Tropical & S. Latitudes had closely allied representatives of Arctic or N. Temperate forms. now I have been up but one eminence, & that of no more than some 5000 ft & there I found a Barberry in abundance & one not unlike both our English & (I may say) our smaller Cape Horn species.—8 Just one more fact of a different value—do you remember the allusion to Vallisneria in your grandfather’s “Botanic Garden”—9 I have found what I take to be a second or new species of the genus in the waters of the Soane, with the same wonderful habits:—without books however & a limited memory I talk rather at random about new species.

Shalkunj—50’ S.E. of Mirzapore, March 4—

Dear Darwin—

I left Mr Williams (of the Geologic. Survey)10 with whose Camp I have been Botanizing up country this past month, yesterday & am pushing on to Mirzapore whence I go to Calcutta in the steamer via Benares Patna & Rajmahal, & from Calcutta go to Darjeeling with all speed (before the hot weather regularly sets in.) Darjeeling is in the Sikim Himalayah, between Nepaul & Bootan, a rainy rich Botanical Station,11 where I shall stay for several months I hope. My address always is the Bot. Gardens, Calcutta care of Falconer12 who will forward all letters to me. My passage out with the G. G.13 was a most delightful one, we staid at Lisbon, Gibralta, Malta, Alexandria, Cairo, Suez, Aden (an old crater like St Helena), Ceylon & Madras. I have three homes in Calcutta, Govt. House, Mr Colville14 Sir L. Peel’s15 an ardent Gardening Botanist who lives opposite the Bot. Garden & which I hence prefer & the Garden itself where I did not put up before Falconer’s arrival not being sure of the terms he & McLelland16 the locum-tenens were on. The invitations from other parties were numerous & I am indebted for all my travelling arrangements, my Palkee17 & whole outfit of that kind to Mr Colville Advocate general, to whom Lord Auckland18 (his Uncle) wrote. I do hope that something will be soon done for Science in India as I see by a paper that the G. G. has authorized a Phys. Geogr. survey of Kamaon by naturalists as well as surveyors! If this be true I shall join them for a little next year, & get my friend Thomson19 placed upon it.

What a glorious field they will have!— Sewalik hills to Thibet—Simla to Nepaul. I heard from Thomson from Thibet (via England) he alone was prosecuting the journey towards Yarkand I do earnestly pray for his safety for to a solitary traveller they are queer hosts up there. Capt Cunningham20 had returned to Cashmire & Lieut Strachey21 was pushing his way E. into Chinese Thibet— A live Equus hermionus! is now on its way from Thibet down country for England—22 A species of Auroch is said to to be found in W. China bordering on Thibet. I was shewn a horn in Calcutta— Of the Geology of Thibet towards Leh (Ladak) Thomson says— “We have Granite, Gneiss, Micah & Clay slate, Quartz, Sandstone, conglomerate & Limestone, all in most admirable confusion. The only very evident fact to be deduced is, that the Himalayah & most evidently & clearly the whole of Kunawur & Piti have been a series of Lakes at a very recent period, the hills & valleys being to a great extent patched over with alluvial clays, occasionally containing small lacustrine shells”— He is doing wonders in Bot. Geogr. & is at the junction of the Himalayan, Altai Indian & Europæan Floras, working immensely hard.

With regard to my health it is exactly the same, I am still troubled at times with those bothering pains on the left side & palpitations, aching in the axilla & occasionally down the arm. The motions of the heart are on these occasions very irregular, but I have no ringing in the ears, shortness of breath or any symptoms that alarm me. Hot or cold days make no difference & indeed I had so long a cessation of all pains for 3 weeks after my arrival that I thought the hot weather had cured me. Whatever it is I am none the worse of being here—otherwise I never had better health, am thinking of getting fat & hardly know what a headache is. Please do not shew this part of my letter, as this refers to a subject of which my friends know nothing.

My movements for the future are very uncertain. I shall stay at Dorjeeling April & May & probably in June, during the rains, go to Cherra Poonjee in Sylhet, a healthy station 5000 ft. up—there remaining till the healthy season reappears in the low-lands— I shall thus not see Falconer for 8 months, which I exceedingly regret—how I yearn for a yarn with him about old friends every where.

Mirzapore March 8th 23

Dear D.

here I am en route to Dorjeeling straight down the Ganges to Bhagulpore not Calcutta then up to Sikim— I will write you again I hope ere long. Sincere regards to Mrs Darwin & all my friends; particularly Lyell to whom I will write soon. Love to the children—

Ever Yours Affectionately | Jos D Hooker

Benares Feby 16.24

I received your most welcome letter25 from Falconer just before leaving Mirzapore thank you very much for it. I am so glad you have plucked up courage for the cirripeda: won’t I look out for them in Borneo!26 I have asked my Father to send you any letters that may interest you but I have hitherto been a shocking correspondent. Sincere regards to the Lyells— How much I think of you all.

You must get Griffiths Journals,27 as soon as you can—ask Royle28 about them they are published here & are full of crude facts which I have not yet studied— Put every question about this quarter of the globe you can think of..

I shall not see Falconer till Autumn. he has a Herculean task at the Gardens, all but as bad as my F. had at Kew.29

CD annotations

4.4 Elephant (Muknur) … confinement 4.9] scored pencil
5.13 the wild sometimes … fertile— 5.14] double scored pencil
5.16 of differences … tinge. 5.20] scored pencil
5.21 4000 ft … Latitude; 5.23] triple scored pencil
11.2 You have … Cape Horn species.— 11.6] double scored pencil
19.1 You must … crude facts 19.2] triple scored pencil


CD had asked Hooker to make enquiries about the habits of both native and imported domestic animals. See Correspondence vol. 3, letter to J. D. Hooker, [11–12 July 1845], for CD’s first enquiry about cheetahs. CD initially posed this question in his Questions & experiments notebook, p. 12 (Notebooks).
Walter Elliot, commissioner for the administration of the Northern Circars, a division of the Madras presidency, who was a renowned sportsman and author of natural history articles. He is the ‘Mr Elliott’ whose collection of birds and animals Hooker saw in Madras (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 233). In an early letter to his family from Madras, Hooker mentions ‘Mr Walter Elliott’ who was ‘very high in office & a good Mammalia & Bird man’ (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Indian Letters 1847–51: 32). Elliot later sent CD skins of pigeons from India (Origin, p. 20).
Hooker joined David Hiram Williams, who had been appointed geological surveyor to the East India Company in 1845, on an expedition to Beejaghur, on the banks of the river Soane, where coal deposits were reputed to exist (J. D. Hooker 1854, 1: 2). Hooker had previously examined fossil plants from Indian coal-beds sent by Williams to the Geological Survey in 1847 (see De la Beche 1848, p. cix).
See Correspondence vol. 3, letter to J. D. Hooker, [10–11 November 1844], for CD’s comments on Alexander von Humboldt’s description of the existence of two floras separated by the river Obi in Siberia.
Hooker’s letter was composed over a period of several weeks, and this postscript was added in the space between paragraphs at the same time as the section of the letter dated 4 March was written; both are in a distinctive bright blue ink.
The puzzling nature of kunkar had already been pointed out to CD by John Grant Malcolmson (Correspondence vol. 2, letter from J. G. Malcolmson, 30 November 1839).
Edward Forbes, a colleague of Hooker on the Geological Survey of Great Britain.
Probably Berberis asiatica, described in J. D. Hooker 1854, 1: 24 n., and in Hooker and Thomson 1855, pp. 224–5. The ‘Cape Horn species’ is that collected by CD in Tierra del Fuego during the Beagle voyage and named by Hooker B. darwinii (Correspondence vol. 2, letter from J. D. Hooker, [12 December 1843 – 11 January 1844]).
Vallisneria, an aquatic plant with two forms of flowers; the female flowers float on the surface of the water attached to a spiral stalk which extends or contracts as the water rises and falls (Darwin 1789–91, pt 2, p. 33).
David Hiram Williams, see n. 3, above.
The British connection with Darjeeling was firmly established in 1835, when a portion of the area was ceded to the British as a sanitarium.
Hugh Falconer, who had been appointed superintendent of the Calcutta botanic gardens and professor of botany at the Calcutta Medical College in 1847.
The new governor-general of India, James Andrew Broun Ramsay, Lord Dalhousie.
James William Colvile, advocate-general in Calcutta.
Lawrence Peel, chief-justice of Calcutta.
John McClelland of the Bengal Medical Service, who was in charge of the Calcutta botanic gardens from 1846 to 1848.
A light litter for one, with a box borne on poles carried on the shoulders of four or six men.
George Eden, Earl of Auckland, was instrumental in obtaining a Treasury grant for Hooker’s expedition to India, see letter from J. D. Hooker, [6 or 13 October 1847], n. 1.
Thomas Thomson, a commissioner for defining the boundary between Kashmir and Chinese Tibet. For an account of Thomson’s travels in 1847 and 1848, see Thomson 1852.
Joseph Davey Cunningham, political agent in Bhopal.
Henry Strachey, a lieutenent in the Bengal Army, who was collecting plants in the Himalayas and Tibet in 1847.
Equus hemionus, the wild horse or ass of Tibet and Mongolia, also known as the dziggetai (J. D. Hooker 1854, 2: 172 n.). Only one specimen had previously been exhibited in the menagerie of the Zoological Society of London, 1831–8 (Scherren 1905, pp. 56–7).
This paragraph of the letter and the valediction are written in the margin and across the top of the first page. The intended position in the text is unclear, but the sequence of Hooker’s dates indicates that this paragraph was written before the final section mistakenly dated 16 February instead of 16 March, see n. 24, below.
A mistake for 16 March 1848. Hooker arrived at Mirzapore on 8 March, leaving there on 15 March on a steamer for Benares, where he arrived on 16 March (J. D. Hooker 1854, 1: 634).
CD’s letter has not been found.
Hooker was expecting to spend a year in Borneo, as stipulated by the Admiralty. This part of the expedition was later cancelled (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 218 n. 1, 329).
The Calcutta Journal of Natural History and Miscellany of the Arts and Sciences in India, edited by John McClelland. For several years William Griffith edited the botanical section.
John Forbes Royle, who, in the service of the East India Company, had made a collection of economic plants of India, 1823–31. He also possessed a large collection of books about India (see letters to J. F. Royle, [12 April – 17 May 1847], [16 April – 21 May 1847], 14 August [1847], and 1 September [1847]).
Hooker’s father, William Jackson Hooker, had been director of Kew Gardens since 1841. He had greatly extended the grounds and scientific functions of the gardens, opening a Museum of Economic Botany in 1847 and the great palm house in 1848 (Allan 1967, pp. 148–58, 178–9).


Though correspondence has never ebbed so low, CD is constantly in his thoughts.

Observations on cheetahs used as domesticated hunting animals.

Finds geographical barriers sometimes separate species, but also finds species that remain separate where there are no barriers to migration.

Colour "individuates" isolated animal species.

Plains and alpine animal distribution show altitude not strictly analogous to latitude.

Impact of timber cutting on climate has led to extinction of crocodiles.

Will discuss coal formation in letter to Edward Forbes.

CD often asked whether isolated mountains in southern latitudes had closely allied representatives of Arctic and north temperate plants; JDH has found a representative barberry.

Making for Darjeeling via Calcutta.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hooker, J. D.
Darwin, C. R.
Sent from
Kosderah (Palamau)
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: India letters 1847–51: 52–4
Physical description
6pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1158,” accessed on 27 July 2016,