skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Gerard Krefft   17 July 1872

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

July 17. 1872

Dear Sir

I am much obliged for yr note & the newspaper together with yr excellent illustrations.1

I have read the article with great interest. It would be presumptuous on my part, from want of knowledge, to express any decided opinion with respect to yr conclusion. Nevertheless, it seems to me scarcely possible to read all yr statements & reasonings & doubt that you are correct. Your conclusion also agrees with that of Prof. Flower & others. It is lamentable that Prof. Owen shd shew so little consideration for the judgment of other naturalists, & shd adhere in so bigotted a manner to whatever he has said.2

This is a great evil, as it makes one doubtful on other points about which he has written. The Cuvierian principle may evidently be extended much too far:3 Toxodon is a good instance of this, as no one I believe has ventured to surmise from the skull, whether it was an aquatic or terrestrial animal.4

I am extremely obliged for yr kind offer of assistance; & should I ever want (which is not the case at present) information or specimens from Australia, I will apply to you.

I am the more obliged for yr kindness as, if you will allow me to say so, I have long respected your able & indefatigable labours in the cause of natural science.

Pray believe me | dear Sir | yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin


CD refers to Krefft’s review of Richard Owen’s work on Thylacoleo carnifex. See letter from Gerard Krefft, 15 May 1872 and n. 1. For William Henry Flower’s view of T. carnifex, see Flower 1868.
Owen had stated that he was following Georges Cuvier’s principle that the first task in the study of a fossil animal was to explore the form of the molars to determine whether the animal was a carnivore or herbivore (Owen 1870, p. 228). His argument against Krefft 1866 and Flower 1868, however, was based on function not structure. Owen did not claim that the dentition of Thylacoleo carnifex resembled that of carnivores, but that the incisors in T. carnifex evidently had a laniary (tearing) function; he then compared the wear patterns in functionally similar teeth.
Owen had described the cranium of the Toxodon collected by CD during the Beagle voyage; from the position of its nasal openings he had deduced that it was aquatic (see Fossil Mammalia, pp. 17, 21–3).


Thanks for JLGK’s article [see 8331].

CD thinks it a pity that Owen shows so little consideration for the judgment of other naturalists.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Johann Louis Gerard (Gerard) Krefft
Sent from
Source of text
Mitchell Library, Sydney (MLMSS 5828)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8416,” accessed on 20 May 2018,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20