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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Kemp   7 April [1843]1

Down Bromley | Kent

April 7th.—

Dear Sir

Owing to my change of residence your communication has been slow in arriving here.2 I am much obliged for it, as it promises to be very wonderful.— I will today send one or two of the seeds to Mr. Robert Brown (confessedly the first Botanist in Europe) & find out whether he knows them or their family; & I will send the remainder to Professor Lindley with a request to have them planted at the Horticultural Garden of London & taken care of.—3 Let me urge on you to watch your plants & if they do not prosper to vary their treatment. I think you do not know whether they inhabited a cold or hot, a wet or dry climate. As any plant dies, I earnestly recommend you to dry it between paper most carefully even if it has only the germinal leaves, & preserve if they flower some in Spirits of Wine & I will get (if you choose) the best botanists to examine them.— Should the Plants turn out known ones, your case no doubt is deserving of record, but shd they turn out unknown species your case would be magnificent.—4 Dr Daubeny of Oxford is attending to the subject of germination of old seeds, but he unfortunately has just started for Spain.—5 With respect to your paper for Taylor’s Journal, I will do as you please, but if it were my own nothing shd induce me to publish it, till the seeds had fully grown & had been examined by Botanists with known names.—6 In present state some of the Public wd say he has been imposed upon by seeds having been placed there, as a joke; & others wd say, no doubt they are some common British Plants. It is well to make every paper to tell with its whole effect at once. If the seeds turn into unknown plants, perhaps you wd prefer your Paper being read before the Geological Society; shd you prefer this, I wd (when the plants have been examined) with pleasure transmit it to the Soc.— In that case the latter part of the Paper, if you will allow me to suggest it, had better be a little simplified:— If you follow my advice, & retain your paper till the plants have flowered or have died & have been examined—Could you not in the 〈in〉terval reexamine the situation & try to get more or hunt for shells or bones &c in the gravel.—

I will wait till I hear from you again.— I will inform you if Mr Brown has anything particular to say about the seeds. & on the ultimate fate of those seeds, which I send to the Horticultural Gardens.—

Believe me | Yours very faithfully | C. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from William Kemp, 2 October 1843 (Correspondence vol. 2).
CD moved to Down House in Down, Kent, on 14 September 1842 (see Correspondence vol. 2, Appendix II). Kemp’s letter has not been found.
Kemp had found seeds in a sand pit near Melrose, Scotland; see Correspondence vol. 2, letter from William Kemp, 2 October 1843. CD refers to John Lindley (see Correspondence vol. 2, letter to John Lindley, 8 [April 1843]). CD’s letter to Robert Brown has not been found.
Kemp wished to argue that the seeds had been deposited in the sand thousands of years previously when the pit would have been a river bank or lake shore (see Correspondence vol. 2, letter to John Lindley, 8 [April 1843]).
From 1841 to 1857, Charles Giles Bridle Daubeny served on a committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science experimenting on the growth and vitality of seeds. In the committee’s report to the British Association meeting in 1842, Daubeny and Hugh Edwin Strickland requested old seeds to be submitted for experiment (Strickland and Daubeny 1842; see also Correspondence vol. 2, letter from J. S. Henslow, 2 November 1840).
CD refers to Annals and Magazine of Natural History. Kemp’s original paper has not been found, but he later published a much-edited account in the Annals (Kemp 1844). The account was drafted by CD based on Kemp’s letters (see Correspondence vol. 2, Appendix VI).


CD will sent seeds to specialists for identification.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Kemp
Sent from
Source of text
Ruth Cramond and David Cramond (private collection)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 667F,” accessed on 19 May 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18 (Supplement)