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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. G. Malcolmson   2 January 1840


January 2d 1840

My Dear Sir,

My friend Mr Robertson of Inverugie House1 is anxious to become a member of the geological society, and has asked me to propose him; and I have much pleasure in doing so for one who prosecutes the science with so much zeal. It is no small advantage to have a friend in this retired corner, who buys and lends all the best geological works published in England, and in Germany and France, and I therefore hope that you will put your name to the enclosed certificate—as he would like your name to be given, being an ardent admirer of yours, and adheres to all your conclusions regarding gradual elevation, at home and abroad. He has already made some interesting observations on the great drift, raised beaches and submarine peat of this province. I have asked Mr Murchison to be the third person, and if necessary Lonsdale will add his name, I am sure, as he proposed to give his name to an ammonite discovered and ascertained to be new by Mr R, from the Lias fragments still existing here.2 He will for the present be a non-resident member.

I have to thank you for your most interesting paper on Glen Roy, which I read with great interest,3 and but for my hurried departure from this country4 I should have sent you a few remarks—altho’ of no value. I was forced out of that country by bad weather even for the west. It is only a few days since I got it, and that evening Mr Stables Junior of Cawdor Castle,5 who has wandered over much of Scotland and is a good botanist, and knows something of geology, was with me, and the conversation turned on your theory, which he was quite inclined to admit, (he has not seen the roads) having seen similar appearances along the steep shores of Loch Carron which enters deeply into the west coast of Ross-shire—and near Dingwal on the east, where he describes single lines almost 60 feet broad, as passing round the Ord Hill, and along the sides of the valley W. of the Strath Peffer Spa. That in Loch Carron he drew, without looking at your woodcut, as if he had made a copy diagram

Had I had leasure when the days get longer I should certainly have gone and seen this. Pray keep it in view.—

I am at a loss to say how important I think the theory to be, and I feel very desirous to see it put beyond dispute. The explanation of the non-occurrence of sea shells is not satisfactory to my mind, as I saw great banks of diluvial clay that would preserve shells for ever. No person here entertains a doubt of the great drift that covers so much of these counties being marine, and none but Dr. Fleming, (who fancies a great European lake bursting its barriers at different times)6 ascribes it to any thing but the slow action of the sea—as there are every where alternations of sand and gravel. The sand is known to all who work in cements to be sea sand. Everywhere along the eastern coast a series of terraces can be traced far above the common line of raised beaches—these are well seen both north and south of Aberdeen and along the shores of the Moray frith. Sometimes they occur near rivers, when some doubt may arise as to their origin, yet even there as the gravel of which they are formed is composed of the same materials, and similarly stratified I generally can ascertain their oceanic origin.

This great drift extends far up the valley of the Dee—and also of the Spey. Strathspey is full of gravel, often forming flat hills all of the same height and arranged as if by currents from the west their long diameter being E & W. I took much interest in tracing it in the Deep valleys at the foot of the Cairngorm, as it seemed to afford both there and on the Findhorn the natural soil of the native pine forests—such as those of Rothemurcus, Abernethy,7 Dulsie &c

If you ever visit this country I much wish you would accompany Mr Gordon Minister of Birnie and examine the terraces on the side of the vale of Rothes, which opens from that of the Spey near Elgin, & has given passage to many boulders.8

I expect to leave this for London next week & probably will sail by the Ireland packet of Feby. or March.


Alexander Robertson Esqr ⁠⟨⁠of⁠⟩⁠ Inverugie house in the county ⁠⟨⁠of Morayshire⁠⟩⁠ being desirous of becoming a mem⁠⟨⁠ber of⁠⟩⁠ the geological Society, we the ⁠⟨⁠undersigned⁠⟩⁠ beg to recommend him as a fit p⁠⟨⁠erson⁠⟩⁠ to obtain that honor. He has zealously cultivated the scien⁠⟨⁠ces of⁠⟩⁠ geology and zoology.

John G. Malcolmson M.D. From ⁠⟨⁠personal⁠⟩⁠ | kno⁠⟨⁠wledge⁠⟩⁠9

CD annotations

crossed pencil
2.5 Stables] underl pencil ; ‘Stables’ added ink
scored pencil
2.9 Carron] ‘Carronadded ink
2.9 Dingwal] ‘Dingwalladded ink
2.11 Ord] ‘Ord???’ added ink
2.11 Peffer Spa] ‘Peffer Spa’ added ink
double scored pencil
double scored pencil
6.3 Birnie] ‘Birnie, 3 miles from Elgin’ added ink
Top of first page: ‘C’ink!, circled ink ; ‘See Dr. Anderson on Glen Roy & Encyclopædia by Macculloch.’10 pencil


Alexander Robertson, elected a Fellow of the Geological Society 5 February 1840.
A proposal apparently never carried out.
Malcolmson departed for India to join the firm of Forbes and Co. of Bombay. He died in March 1844 in Dhoolia (Gentleman’s Magazine n.s. 21 (1844): 670).
William Alexander Stables, agent for Cawdor.
Fleming 1826, pp. 219–20.
Rothiemurchus and Abernethy forests are on the northwest foothills of the Cairngorm mountains.
The letter is incomplete. CD has copied in pencil the phrase ‘from … boulders.’ from the missing part of the letter. The final paragraph is written above the salutation.
Roderick Impey Murchison and CD also signed.


Anderson, John. 1841. On the geology of Fifeshire. Prize Essays and Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland n.s. 7: 376–431.

Fleming, John. 1826. The geological deluge, as interpreted by Baron Cuvier and Professor Buckland, inconsistent with the testimony of Moses and the phenomena of nature. Edinburgh Philosophical Journal 14: 205–39.

MacCulloch, John. 1830. Parallel roads of Glen Roy. The Edinburgh Encyclopædia (edited by David Brewster) 16: 291-309.


Discusses CD’s Glen Roy paper; would like to see the theory put beyond dispute. Tells of Mr Stables’ observations on the parallel roads. Discusses geological features of Scotland which he is sure are marine in origin.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Grant Malcolmson
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 171: 31; Geological Society of London (Membership certificates, 1840)
Physical description
AL 4pp inc † encl 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1147,” accessed on 24 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 2