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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Phillips   14 February [1848]1

Down Farnborough Kent

Feb. 14th

My dear Sir

I hope that you will excuse my giving you a little trouble. In Mr Hopkins paper on Lake District,2 he alludes to a statement of your regarding some erratic boulders which have come from a lower level to their present position.3 Will you kindly give me the reference in any of your works. Living in the country it would cost me some search to find out. I am going to write a little paper on this subject4 & I want to get all the cases possible in some detail. I believe I have got the true explanation (I know that you will shake your head incredulously) of this curious phenomenon, of erratics travelling from their parent rock at a low level to a higher position.

Since you wrote your account (in whichever work it may be inserted) of the boulders so situated in Yorkshire, have you made any further observations on this head, & in that case would you kindly communicate with me. Is the difference of level accurately or only approximately ascertained? Mr Milne has described some similar facts near Edinburgh,5 & Hitchcock some striking cases in N. America.6 I observed, though without sufficient care the same thing in Glen Roy & the phenomenon has occasionally haunted me ever since.7

Do you know of any other published cases?

I feel sure that your kindness will lead you to forgive this trouble.

Pray believe me, my dear Sir | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

P.S. I am employed in drawing up some Geological instructions, at the desire of Sir J. Herschel for the Admiralty Volume. Do you happen to have any suggestions, or special points of enquiry, likely to suit Naval Expeditions; I shd be very grateful for such.—


Dated from the reference to CD’s chapter on geology, which he had undertaken to write for the Admiralty manual (Herschel ed. 1849). See letter to J. F. W. Herschel, 4 February 1848.
Hopkins 1848, pp. 96, 98.
Phillips 1835 and 1837–9, 1: 270.
CD’s paper, ‘On the transportal of erratic boulders from a lower to a higher level’ (Collected papers 1: 218–27), was read at the Geological Society on 19 April 1848. His hypothesis was that the erratic boulders were transported by coast-ice as the land was subsiding. The boulders that were pushed inshore would, at the end of the period of subsidence, be deposited at a level higher than the parent rock.
Milne 1847a, p. 167.
In his paper, ‘On the transportal of erratic boulders’ (Collected papers 1: 218–27), CD was anxious to discount explanations based on great floods or debacles in favour of transportal by floating ice (p. 225). Boulders in Glen Roy were described in ‘On the parallel roads of Glen Roy’, Collected papers 1: 118–22.


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

Hitchcock, Edward. 1841. Final report on the geology of Massachusetts. 2 vols. Northampton, Massachusetts.

Hopkins, William. 1848. On the elevation and denudation of the district of the lakes of Cumberland and Westmorland. [Read 6 June 1842.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 4: 70-98.

‘Parallel roads of Glen Roy’: Observations on the parallel roads of Glen Roy, and of other parts of Lochaber in Scotland, with an attempt to prove that they are of marine origin. By Charles Darwin. [Read 7 February 1839.] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 129: 39–81. [Shorter publications, pp. 50–88.]

Phillips, John. 1835. On a group of slate rocks ranging E.S.E. between the rivers Lune and Wharfe, from near Kirby Lonsdale to near Malham. Transactions of the Geological Society of London 2d ser. 3: 1–20.


Asks for the reference in which JP states that some erratic boulders came from a lower to a higher level. CD is writing a paper ["Transportal of erratic boulders", Collected papers 1: 218–26] in which he believes he has the true explanation. Would like as many instances, with details, as possible.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Phillips
Sent from
Source of text
Oxford University Museum of Natural History Archive Collections (John Phillips collection))
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1157,” accessed on 9 February 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 4