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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Syms Covington1   9 March 1856

Down Bromley, Kent.

March 9, ’56.

Dear Covington,—

I was very glad to get a month or six weeks ago your letter of the 4th of September, with its interesting account of the state of the Colony and your own affairs, which I am most truly glad are so prosperous. You did a wise thing when you became a colonist.2 What a much better prospect you have for your sons, bringing them up as farmers—the happiest and most independent career a man can almost have—compared to what they could have been in this old burthened country, with every soul struggling for subsistence. I have lately been talking a good deal on the subject with Captain Sulivan, who has four boys, and who often seems half-inclined to start for some Colony and make his boys farmers.3 Captain Sulivan, owing to all his practice in the old Beagle (I have heard that our old ship is now a collier),4 was the right hand of the fleet in the Baltic, and had all the difficult work to do in placing the ships in the bombardment of Sweabourg. I heard of a letter from a seaman in the fleet, but not in Captain Sulivan’s ship, who said he was the best sailor in the whole lot, and that if the men could elect their Admiral they would elect him.5 Captain Stokes is married again, to a widow, and will never, I believe, go afloat again.6

I have finished my book on the barnacles (in which you so kindly helped me with the valuable Australian specimens).7 I found out much new and curious about them, and the Royal Soc. gave me their great gold medal8 (quite a nugget, for it weighs 40 sovereigns), chiefly for my discoveries in regard to these shells, which are not perfect shells, but more allied to crabs.9

My health is better, but I have a few bad days almost every fortnight, and cannot walk far or do any hard work. I am now employed on a work on the variation of species, and for this purpose am studying all about our domestic animals and am keeping alive all kinds of domestic pigeons, poultry, ducks. Have you ever noticed any odd breeds of poultry, or pigeons, or ducks, imported from China, or Indian, or Pacific islands? If so, you could not make me a more valuable present than a skin of such. But this, I know, is not at all likely.

My children, thank God, are all well, and one gets, as one grows older, to care more for them than for anything in this world. With every good wish for the health and happiness of yourself and family, believe me, dear Covington, yours sincerely, CHARLES DARWIN.


The manuscript of CD’s letter has not been found. This transcript has been taken from the earliest known printed source; another version published in de Beer 1959, pp. 24–5, differs in some respects from the one given here. See also Correspondence vol. 5, letter to Syms Covington, 14 March 1852, n. 1.
Covington, CD’s servant and assistant for eight years during and after the Beagle voyage, had emigrated to Australia in 1839 and become postmaster at Twofold Bay, New South Wales. Covington’s letter has not been found.
Bartholomew James Sulivan had been a lieutenant on board the Beagle. Following surveying work in the Falkland Islands, he had farmed on the islands, 1848–51.
From 1847 to 1870, when it was sold for scrap, the Beagle served as a coast guard watch vessel on the river Roach (Freeman 1978). For the history of the Beagle after CD’s voyage, see Thomson 1975.
Sulivan had recently seen active service in the Baltic as captain of the surveying vessel HMS Lightning. The naval attack on Sveaborg, in the Gulf of Finland, was an unsuccessful minor diversionary gambit during the siege of Sevastopol in 1855 (Sulivan ed. 1896).
John Lort Stokes, mate and assistant surveyor in the Beagle with CD, was subsequently engaged on coastal surveys of Australia and New Zealand. In 1851 he returned to England and remained on half-pay until 1860.
Living Cirripedia (1854). Covington had sent CD cirripede specimens from Twofold Bay (see Correspondence vol. 4, letter to Syms Covington, 23 November 1850).
The Royal Medal of the Royal Society of London was awarded to CD in November 1853 for his work on geology and for his monograph on the Cirripedia. See Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix II.
Prior to the 1830s, cirripedes had been classified as molluscs. One of the accomplishments of CD’s study was to show how, according to their developmental history and anatomy, the barnacles were related to the Crustacea.


Thanks SC for his interesting account of the state of the colony. SC was wise to settle there where his sons have much better prospects.

Has finished his book on barnacles [1854]. Royal Medal awarded him chiefly for this work.

Asks SC whether he has observed any odd imported breeds of poultry, for his work on variation of species.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Syms Covington
Sent from
Source of text
Sydney Mail, 9 August 1884, p. 255

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1840,” accessed on 23 May 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6