From William Branwhite Clarke1 16 January 1862
16 Jany 1862.
My dear Sir,
I was extremely gr〈at〉ified by your letter of Octr. 25th, this day received.1
It will give me great pleasure, if I be enabled to gratify any of your wishes, when the season comes for experiment.2
I do not profess to be a Botanist; but it is impossible to be uninterested in the subject of Botany, especially as one is requested to dabble in the matter in connection with the f〈ossi〉l beds of Antiquity.3
The Goodeniaceæ do not blossom here now. When the season arrives we will put some under a net as you propose: I am prepared to admit that insects do to some extent assist and hinder the work 〈of〉 propagation. I have never seen a blossom on our Gum Trees without finding ants and beetles in abundance,—even at the very top most branch.4
I dare say, if one had time, the facts could be made out satisfactorily as to what plants certain insects attach themselves.
In this country the ants are the natural scavengers— they clear away whole trees—and convert the very hearts of our forest monsters in〈to〉 papier maché—
Flies too do an immense amount of labour in one way or another. When I was in camp on the flanks of the Alps in 1851–2 I was so tormented with them, that I watched their ways.5 I found that they became active about 4 AM. and came in to my tent—so I used to get up at 3 and circumvent them—else I could not have dressed, eaten or shaved in peace.
Crowds of them got 〈 〉 the top of the tent, and we beat them down at night-fall with green branches, making great slaughter. But to solve the mystery as to the morning visiting, I went out one night with a fire stick, and found by its light every blade of grass laden with them all over the space I traversed. What do they and the so-called Mosquitos live on—where no animals are found? Clearly on moisture, dew &c and doubtless on honey—and if so they probably impregnate flowers. There are certain flowers in the bush, which contain a thin sweet juice, which I often sucked in 〈m〉y walks in a hot day—but I have always had to bite off the end of the flower to prevent the swallowing of the ants.
As to Bees, I will mention only one incident.6
Some years ago (1844 or 5) I had charge of the country from Paramatta to and beyond the Hawkesbury.7 I formed acquaintance with the aboriginals. In one tribe (of which none now exist) was a man called “Captain” who used to get me native honey from [Ourinbah] and Doural. One day I found him cutting out a large establishment from the top of a very lofty Eucalyptus: and I asked him to bring it to Paramatta to my Cottage, which he did. The hollow in the bough was filled with the harmless native bees and their honey. It lay in the yard for two or three days, till it was discovered by English bees belonging to my friend Dr. Stuart, who lived in another part some distance off.8 In the course of a day or two these foragers killed off nearly all the little native bees and stole their honey. This I can vouch for. Yet I once saw a native hive under the same shed with English bees at the Vineyard, now “Subiaco” Mr Hannibal McArthur’s residence on the Paramatta River.9 The English bees are very common in the bush. They make their hives in hollows in the lofty Gum trees. But the native bee is very rare now where it was once common.— I wish Mr Macleay would give the world the benefit of his researches into our insect world.—10
If I find any thing published on the subject mentioned in your P.S. “effect of introduced on native animal”, I will let you know.—11
You will receive a pamphlet by this mail on the Geoly of Australasia; and I hope you will not be offended with the mention of your notice of N.Z. & Oceania.12
I have always considered N. Zealand, N. Caledonia, &c as merely the summits of the ranges parallel with our Australian “Cordillera”. There are soundings between this and N.Z.—13 There is mention of the reduced state of both countries in the pamphlet that also contains a notice of supposed Glacial action in N.Z. (p 54 to 7) It brings in your doctrine of ‘submergence’ exemplified by the Reefs.—14 My paper brings up all that is known of Australasian Geology up to 31 De r 1861. and gives what is necessary to simplify the nature of my difference with M’Coy.15
Will you give me your opinion of the deductions from his paper on the Wollumbilla fossils. (p 48 No 5)16 and my Section from Stony Ck (p 53– to 6)
The once penal Norfolk Id is the island on which the greenstone boulders repose. There is basalt in Howe’s Island. But I think no greenstone nearer than Tasmania or New Holland or New Zealand.17 What should prevent ice floes or icebergs in that region if the glacial period be no fiction. Are scratches necessary? Are blocks dropped from icebergs necessarily scratched? Glaciers blocks would be—but ? of others. In my pamphlet I have inserted a paper on the recent journeys across this Continent. In p 60 last paragraph but two and last sentence, I define a strait. The younger Gregory boy just returned from the point I marked finding the same desert sands A. C. G. found on Sturt’s Ck!18
Pardon this garrulity and allow me to remain, My dear Sir, Yrs. very truly | W B Clarke
P.S. One of the local School-masters in this one of my 5 Parishes, is a Mr Hussey who says he is known to you. He is a great fisherman and tells me wondrous things of his catchings. Can you tell me of him? He has been in Africa.19
C Darwin Esq
Answers CD’s questions on Australian flora, bees, geology.
Please cite as
Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3392,” accessed on 14 February 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-3392