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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Joseph Dalton Hooker   [c. April 1851]1



My dear Darwin

Many thanks for your letter just received, & its enclosure from Pickering— the list is instructive— I will copy & return it what I want is howevever, a catalogue of such Islands as Elizabeth, & Pitcairn’s, which are very small & contain peculiar plants. 2 The total absence of peculiarity in the Coral Islets is suggestive, if taken in conjunction with the fact of their sinking—3 a peculiar plant on one such is perhaps the sole representative of what may have been a large genus Complete Flora’s of several Islands in the various stages of depression, from the rocky original Mt. with its fringing reef, to the isolated coral speck in the ocean would give some good data.

The Fitchia of Elizabeth-Island4 reminds me of the lone man in Martin’s5remaining page(s) missing

I quite understand & sympathize with your Barnacles, they must be just like Ferns.!6

CD annotations

crossed pencil
‘But it shows that the same species existed on anterior Rocky islets.’ added pencil
Top of first page: ‘20’7 brown crayon


The date is conjectured from the reference to Charles Pickering’s list of Metia Island plants (Correspondence vol. 4, letter from Charles Pickering, 9 January 1850), which CD told James Dwight Dana he would give to ‘my friend’ (i.e., J. D. Hooker) when he returned from India (ibid., letter to J. D. Dana, 24 February [1850]). Hooker had arrived in London on 25 March 1851 (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 332).
Elizabeth, also called Henderson Island, is an uninhabited coral island in the South Pacific, 120 miles north-east of Pitcairn Island.
Hooker alludes to the hypothesis that coral islets might indicate the existence of a former landmass that is now submerged. He elaborated his views on former landmasses in J. D. Hooker 1853–5, 1: xxi–xxiii.
Hooker had published a paper ‘On Fitchia, a new genus of arborescent Compositæ, (Trib. Cichoraceæ), from Elizabeth Island’ in which he stated: ‘Arborescent Compositæ, belonging to genera wholly differing from those found on continents, often occur in insular positions, and at once give a character to the landscape and to the Botany of the island they inhabit. This remark applies invariably to islands whose other vegetation differs from that of the neighbouring lands’ (J. D. Hooker 1845, p. 641). The Fitchia on Elizabeth Island was striking because it was the only arborescent Cichoraceae to be found on an island in the South Pacific. Apart from this peculiar genus, Hooker supposed the flora of Elizabeth Island to be largely identical to that of Pitcairn Island (ibid., p. 642).
A reference to John Martin’s painting ‘The Last Man’ (exhibited in 1839) depicting a single figure standing in a landscape strewn with corpses following the Deluge. Martin returned to this theme in 1849 and in 1850 exhibited a second painting entitled ‘The Last Man’. This second painting contains more literary allusions and depicts an old man surveying a scene of death and decay (Feaver 1975, pp. 95–6, 184–7).
This sentence was written at the top of the letter. Hooker probably refers to the great variation found in species of ferns and to the fact that many forms previously thought to be distinct could be grouped together as a single species. In J. D. Hooker 1853–5, 1: xiii, he explained how ‘so protean a Fern as Lomaria procera’ has varieties that ‘(to an inexperienced eye) are more dissimilar than are other species of the same genus.’ CD experienced much the same problem with Balanus, particularly the species B. tintinnabulum and B. amphitrite. In Living Cirripedia (1854): 243 he wrote: I will only add, that after studying such varying forms as B. tintinnabulum and amphitrite it is difficult to avoid, in utter despair, doubting whether there be such a thing as a distinct species, or at least more than half a dozen distinct species, in the whole genus Balanus.
CD’s portfolio number 20 contained notes on geographical distribution for possible use when he came to write his species book. Most of this material is now located in DAR 205.


Wants catalogue of small islands that contain peculiar plants. Thinks complete floras of islands in various stages of depression [subsidence] would provide good data.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 100: 164
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1382,” accessed on 23 March 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5