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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   13 October 1848


October 13 1848.

My dear Darwin

I have been very remiss in my duties to many old friends, & to yourself & still more especially to Lyell amongst the number; but the very rich Flora of this place has kept me busy & Hodgson is so complete a Himalayan Naturalist that I have paid little other attention to Zoology than bottling beetles & applying to my host for information on all other branches. Answers to your Queries shall be forthcoming in this letter I hope. Old Falconer has been ill again, with Fever this time, but is recovering; the medicos say that he is more frightened than ill & I suppose the long & short of it is that he takes no more care of himself here than at home. His Lecture duties too press hard upon him, & these in the hot season are no trifling matters. I cannot hear that he is doing any thing in Science, I fear nothing, but pray say as little about this as may be, to any but Lyell & very intimates: it is plain that he is giving way to his old habits; for attentive as he is to all my requirements & these are legion, I scarce ever get a line from him. Our correspondence which commenced briskly is dropping very fast on his part, not even one line accompanying my monthly batch of English letters; & your’s to me, sent him for perusal, I cannot get back. Strange to say he got into the hands of some snobs1 as soon as he landed in Calcutta & gave great offence at the Asiatic Society, especially to Colvile the president,2 one of the most gentlemanly good men in India, making a prodigious fuss about trifles & uttering a long speech in broadest Scotch; which, whether for accent, manner or matter, kept the society in roars of laughter, to the no small scandal of science.

Hodgson, Colevile & myself were much distressed & I wrote him a most urgent letter, pointing out what was expected of him so anxiously previous to his arrival, & what a turbulent vulgar clique he had joined. Like a good fellow as he is, he took nought amiss & Colvile afterwards wrote me that they had made it up. What could have come over him I cannot tell, but the disappointment of all real lovers of Science amounted to disgust. Since then I do not see that he has taken any part whatever in the As. Soc. which wanted grievously a man of his attainments & position & does so still. The E.I.C. have I believe granted him his Europ. time as service which is very right & he is said to be trying further to get his full medical fund pension. The latter proceeding is considered not fair as the retiring P. is not a Govt. affair (only sanctioned by Govt) & the calculations on which it is based refer to duration of life as regulated by Indian Service, which are seriously deranged by such demands being conceded, & is an injustice to those who have thus to serve longer & pay more than he does.3 I am sorry to have to say all this of a mutual friend so dear to us both, but it is no secret in India & you will perhaps hear plenty of it at home & desire to know the truth of the matter.

The Rains which have kept me a close prisoner for 4 months are hardly over, in the mean time I have kept a party of 10 to 20 collectors in all parts of the hills, selecting certain tribes indifferent to fever for the valleys & Terai, & have thus obtained a very large herbarium, carefully ticketted as to elevation &c. receiving all the plants alive & drying them here. The damp climate has been much against me, but the advantage I have enjoyed in Hodgson’s large house servants & counsel are incalculable. We live together like brothers his very indifferent health requiring a little medical advice— Whether for the richness of the Flora, its novelty, the site of Dorjeeling for studying its distribution, & above all for the aid & information I obtain from H. this is certainly the best spot in all India for me.

As yet the Flora of above 10,000 ft is unknown to me, the Sub Himal. only reaching that Elevat. Hitherto no one has reached the Snows E. of Kermaon i.e any where between Western Nepaul & the extreme Eastern Himalayah & as the upper or 3d. Bot. region commences at 10,000 ft in this Meridian I must do so to complete a transverse section of the range. Ld. Dalhousie addressed a strong letter to the Sikkim Rajah to allow of my doing so [ far] this & I daily expect a refusal or acquiescence.4 The Nepaul Govt: which I addressed through the Pol. Resid. at Cathmandu5 & who have hitherto refused leave to any Englishman to visit any other part of Nepal but the road to Cathmandu, have just sent me permission to pass from Sikkim into Nepaul, where a guard of Soldiers will meet & conduct me to the Thibet passes! 5 or 6 marches take me to the Snows of Kinchinjunga (28178 ft.) where the guard is to meet me at the N.W. corner of Sikkim; but the Sikkim Rajah hesitates allowing me to pass through his territories. The Polit. Resid. here6 stands a good friend & threatens in case of refusal to retain the lease money we pay for this Sanatarium & attach a valuable property of the Rajah’s in the plains, in which Ld. Dalhousie will I know concur:7 but whether this will gain consent from a [ timid] barbarian, more Chinese than Indian, though a protected ally of our’s, is doubtful.

I am all ready for a start as soon as the rains are over— I forgot to ask my mother to forward you a letter explaining this complicated affair more fully, but if you forward the enclosed to Kew she will send it you. Should I accomplish this cruise I shall be happy. In December the Terai is perfectly healthy & I shall explore that district, I hope with Hodgson, & then hurrah for a transverse section of the Himal. from the Snow to the plains, in this central position, with rocks plants & climate & the zoology by Hodgson, projected on a chart— I am however counting my chickens before they are hatched, so pray say little about this. My materials for the central region—4–10,000 ft are very complete having already upwards of 2000 species of plants & defined the limits of the important Nat. Orders on both slopes of the Mts., during the many excursions I made in April & May: there are many more species to add, but these will not I think affect general results much.

The Geology of this region is cruelly same as far as my poor judgement goes—mica slate & garnets, Gneiss & Clay slate being familiar enough to a Scotchman. The rocks all so shattered & contorted that there is certainly no continuous solid nucleus to these mountains—isolated masses alone crop out any where, there is neither a precipice nor plain any where— Uniform steep slopes of 4–8000 ft on all sides of every mountain, combined with the extraordinary multitude of these, the utter absence of any system amongst them, the contortion & unduplication of the strata & the quaqua versality of the dip every few yards, appear to my unaided judgement to denote that the Mts are made up of shattered masses upheaved without order. Such a pile of broken masses could alone I think retain the stratum of soil which supports the forest. The latter is uninterrupted from the lowest valleys up to & over all Mts of 11–12000 ft. I assure you that all over the faces of the hundred Mts & spurs which rise in a confused mass between this & the true Snowy Mts. there is not one acre (except artificial clearings) free of forest, save an occasional land slip which exposes a mass of broken rocks as nucleus. The rocks certainly pass from clay slate in the hot valleys at the N. base of this, into hornblende schists & Gneiss above, these lower rocks 6000 ft below, are more regularly disposed, still always with a tremendous dip—on the plainward bases the mica schists are very micaceous & full of garnets, dip away from the plains & are overlain by vast masses of gravelly detritus partly I think due to the destruction of the Red-sandstone rocks, which usually flank the subHimalayah, but are not apparent here. There are no evidences whatever of glacial or diluvial action even, of terraces, water levels or ancient lakes in this elevated part of the range, that I have seen. I was detained a few days in the Terai coming up & think I have full evidence of terraces there at 1000 ft, flanking the plains, but the place was very unhealthy & the heat & rains so bad that I phunked staying longer, as I should have the opportunity of examining it in the healthy season.

The soil here is a stiff clay from the decomp. of Gneiss & Felspar, much of which is crumbly, it contains 30 percent of alumina, & only 5 of organic i.e vegetable matter: above it is a defined layer of vegetable mould, 12 inches or so, containing 9 pc of alumina & nearly 30 of organic matter!—no phosphates or traces of animal organic, or of Lime or Potash a little Soda, Muriatic Acid— Would any one believe that the steep hill faces should retain so uniform a coating of this un mineralized coal, that the vegetable matter should not penetrate deeper, & that the definition of the super from the sub soil is so clear as I always find it.

In Geological prate (I will have a fling at you, even from the ends of the earth old friend) the 10,000 ft perpendic. of forests, flanking valleys of exceeding steepness should produce vast beds of vegetable matter in the bottoms of such valleys, but there is as little evidence of a detrital coal being forming here, as there is unexpected proof of a layer, extraordinily rich in organic matter, retaining its position on steep hills. Again, in the richest Terai forest soil; a rank, dank, fevery, & eminently vegetable mould, I find only 11. percent of organic matter; though there is every apparent element for the production, & better position (gentle slopes) for the retention of the organic matter— May not heat produce dissipation of the latter?— I am too ignorant of Chemistry to judge. The analyses are good, made for me by a Mr Muller here,8 from whom I get great assistance, & I am examining other soils. I have still to observe Geology properly

the above are rude remarks, wanting in precision— Why glaciers were denied to the Himal. I cannot conceive, nor any one else, there are plenty, along the higher ranges, which, the unSnowed Sub. Himal. flanks: but all Himal Snowy Mts are so abrupt on their S. faces, that such glaciers are not produced far meridionally They interfere much with the definition of the Snow line E.G. the Glacier source of Gangotic is at only 12000 ft I believe; the P.S. being properly at 14 or 15000.—9

I think I see from this a very grand inaccessable glacier on Kinchin about 45 miles off occupying a profound chasm valley, with a perp. Southward face of ice—& torrents from below it. Here the snowy Mts are totally distinct from the Sub. Himal. & throughout the range the former (except NW) seldom project Snowy spurs into the Sub-Himal. I expect Kinchin is a granite Mt: protruded through the Gneiss &c, though some of its lower pinnacles look slaty & sharp, but I am convinced one cannot guess at formations by outline. The sudden transition from the belt of Sub Himal. which is some 40 miles broad & all whose hills rise to 8–12000 (in many series) to the continuous range of snowy peaks they flank; many of which rise 22, some 24, & a few 28000 ft indicates a geological phenomenon.

The conflicting accounts of the Himal. arise from our studying solely the N.W. corner of it, where the whole range is broader, more confused, Snowy peaks occurring amongst the SubHimal & the transition from the plains of India to those of Thibet undefineable with precision. A proper understanding of any one part E. of Kemaon would solve many of the difficulties attending the exam. of the N.W. but as I said before no one has hitherto had permission to do this, & he that now has is miserably unfitted for the Task. It is not false modesty my saying I am timid about it; I have no reason to fear the cold the natives or exposure, but such problems to be entrusted to my unaided powers of observation give me many an anxious hour, so much so that I avoid giving any publicity to my prospective attempts. It is getting late in the season & still raining cats & dogs: the Sikkim Rajah fancies I want to appropriate his villainous country, & has promised me expulsion if I attempt to pass through Sikkim. Repulsion will be a bitter mortification— Enough of this however—“Spero meliora”—

I have been pumping Hodgson for you; & he has given me for you a set of his Zoological pamphlets which I will send to my Father for you: he particularly wishes you to shew them to Waterhouse & that the latter would consult the drawings of Nipalese animals sent by Hodgson & deposited in the Brit. Mus.10 Please do this message for me. You would find H. a first rate prompt correspondent so pray write to him, The following answers to your queries are all His not mine, they were all news to me, on their authenticity you may rely.—

1. The climate of India in general & of the Himal at 4–10,000 ft is prejudicial to European seedlings, from excessive rains, especially in the latter regions.—

2 The whole race of Europ. vegetables, though they thrive admirably, will not propagate, The tendency in all is to loose reproductive power in the plains & more markedly in the hills (some notes I am sending my father on effects of climate on Fruit-trees in hills & plains will explain this).—

3. The Tea plant grows admirably at Cathmandu, 4500 ft., & seeds well, but seeds though plump & good seldom grow.—

4. The Junma large goat, has been introduced into the temperate region of the Himal. (4–10,000 ft.) lives well, gestates well, but young either prematurely cast, or die (though well cast & healthy otherwise) of congenital goitre.

5. AD. 1842. A spotted ♀ Axis (Axis medius, Hodgs) bred with a ♂ Juraol (Hemitragus quadri-mammis) a beast almost more goat than deer. Progeny fine & healthy, more of ♀—subsequent history unknown—but will enquire; this occurred at the Residency Garden Cathmandu, just before Hodgson left who will make enquiry about it.

6. The Yak (a domestic Bison) confined to the snows, breeds freely with the humped buffalo domestic of the plains (Bos); & the breed is much more valuable than either parent, & called Zobo—it is in all respects intermediate,—more tractable than Yak, less so than Bos,—bears heat better than Yak cold worse;—heat worse than Bos, cold better.— true cross (always fertile) breeds freely with cross, & no degeneration—cross breeds equally freely with either parent, but this is not sought, the perpetuation of the cross by total separation of this from either parent being the object..

—7. In these mountains the domestic fowl is much more like the original jungle cock (possibly from intermixing) than the fowls of the plains are. The domestic will always breed with the Chittagong (itself a domestic race of species unknown) Hodgson has repeatedly had the eggs of the wild jungle fowl brought him, & hatched the chicks, but they never live.— in short we cannot reoriginate the domestic breed— Jackall, tame dog & Fox of India have all crossed. Wild dog (Kuon primævus) said also to have crossed with tame Dog, but H. is doubtful about this; see India Sporting Review for 1847, or 8, for only authority.

8—a large deer ♀ Rusa hippelaphus in the Residency Garden at Cathmandu repeatedly induced the Brahminee bulls to cover it effectually in the rutting season, this was its constant practice—no produce of course.

9. The Tussa silk moth Phalæna cynthia (“Indi” of the natives of base of these mts. “Eria” of Assamese, both from Reindi the caster oil plant) is only known in domestic state, & always fed on Ricinus leaves—common all along bases of hills, never above 4000 ft probably not above 2000, from Kemaon to Brahmaputra. Moths always fly like fun 11 & the Mechis 12 we are now questioning say they must be restrained at once. The wild one (P. mylitta) is equally abundant, but never domesticated, feeds on Sal (Shorea robusta) Terminalia, Zizyphi, Bombax & probably many other things. The tame too will take many other foods equally with Castor leaves— Only one var of domestic species is known to the natives of these parts & except as hereditary bonds-moths I can yet get no facts on the hereditary rights or wrongs (of the domestic species). See As. Soc. Journal V. 6: p. 32——13

10th A notorious Capt. C. was shot in the glutæus maximus in a duel, (time unknown possibly immediately before impregnation of mother but I can make out easily), he died afterwards of another complaint altogether, but the posthumous child, (his 3d child) a fine boy, has a deep impression on the analogous place, into which H. has put his finger end 50 times. As the mother gestated at intervals of 2 years it is probable that the wound was received by the father after the birth of the 2 previous children who had no scar. You’ll snub this you wretch if you can I know.14

I must close in haste— I fear this will cost you more postage than it is worth. Best sincere regards to Mrs Darwin, Mr & Mrs Wedgewood15 particularly; to Westwood16 & Forbes, but above all to Lyells & promises to write when I can speak more definitely on the Geology of this place. I never was in better health in my life— love to the Bairns. Write 2 lines to Hodgson & thank him for his paternal care & liberality to me— Tell Horners, Owen, Bell17 & all that I salute them most respectfully & sincerely—& Believe me old Darwin with earnest hopes for your better health

Yr affectionate friend | Jos D Hooker.

You have gratified Frances18 recently & myself of course by writing to her.

CD annotations

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On cover: ‘Coal Paper’


‘A person belonging to the ordinary or lower classes of society … one who has little or no breeding or good taste; a vulgar or ostentatious person’ (OED).
James William Colvile was president of the Asiatic Society of Bengal at Calcutta from 1848 to 1858.
As an employee of the East India Company, Hugh Falconer was required to contribute to the Bengal Medical Retiring Fund and would be eligible for an annuity of £300 after seventeen years of service in India. Six annuities were offered each year to the six most senior servants of the medical service who had fulfilled all the necessary conditions. By 1848, Falconer had served in India for twelve years and in England for five, the maximum permitted period of absence from India. For the regulations concerning the Bengal Medical Retiring Fund see the East-India register and army list, for 1848, p. lxviii.
Hooker was at first refused permission to enter Sikkim. He decided instead to explore the two easternmost passes between Nepal and Tibet which would also bring him near to the mountain Kinchinjunga. The expedition is described in J. D. Hooker 1854, 1: 177–270. While Hooker was travelling in Nepal news reached him that the Sikkim Rajah would allow him to return to Darjeeling through his territory (J. D. Hooker 1854, 1: 198).
Major C. Thoresby (East-India register and army list, for 1848).
Andrew Campbell. For Campbell’s attempts to gain permission from the Sikkim Rajah for Hooker to travel in Sikkim, see Campbell 1849.
Darjeeling had been leased to the British by the Sikkim Rajah in 1840 for the establishment of a hill-station and ‘sanitarium’. Once established, the town also served as a military and political base from which representatives of the British government could oversee the Himalayan kingdoms of Sikkim, Nepal, and Bhutan (J. D. Hooker 1854, 1: 115–18). The British did eventually annex the plains (tarai) mentioned by Hooker, and a portion of the hills beyond, in retaliation for a later incident involving Hooker in 1850 (letter to W. J. Hooker, [January 1850]).
C. J. Muller, who lived in Darjeeling, contributed analyses of the soils of Sikkim to J. D. Hooker 1854, 2: 383–4. He also assisted Hooker by making meteorological observations during Hooker’s absence from Darjeeling (J. D. Hooker 1854, 2: 402–4).
Hooker discussed the distribution of glaciers and the varying heights of the perpetual snow (‘P.S.’ in the letter text) in J. D. Hooker 1854, 2: 394–400. The Gangetic valley is mentioned on p. 400.
The specimens and drawings are listed in Gray and Gray eds. 1846. Hodgson evidently intended to publish a series of illustrations of the zoology of Nepal and employed several Indian artists to make an extensive collection of drawings.
‘Like fun: energetically, very quickly, vigorously’ (OED).
The people of the Siligoree district at the foothills of the Himalayas (J. D. Hooker 1854, 1: 101–2).
Hugon 1837, one of several articles on silkworms in the sixth volume of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
See Correspondence vol. 3, letter from J. D. Hooker, 30 December 1844, in which Hooker recounts a similar story, and CD’s sceptical reply, letter to J. D. Hooker, [7 January 1845].
Hensleigh and Fanny Mackintosh Wedgwood.
John Obadiah Westwood, the entomologist, probably known to Hooker through Westwood’s work on the insects of the Himalayas published in Royle 1839.
Thomas Bell.
Frances Henslow, Hooker’s fiancée.


Campbell, Archibald. 1849. Journal of a trip to Sikim, in December 1848, with sketch map. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 18: 482–541.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Hugon, Thomas. 1837. Remarks on the silk worms and silks of Assam. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 6: 21–37.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Royle, John Forbes. 1839. Illustrations of the botany and other branches of the natural history of the Himalayan Mountains, and of the flora of Cashmere. 2 vols. London. [Vols. 5,7,8]


Hugh Falconer’s misbehaviour.

Waiting out rains at Brian Hodgson’s.

Will make botanical transverse section of Himalayas from plains to snow.

Arrangements to pass Sikkim Rajah’s territory.

No evidence of glacial or diluvial action in sub-Himalayan mountains. No evidence of detrital coal formation.

Hodgson’s replies to CD on introduced species and hybrids.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (India letters 1847–51: 112–14 JDH/1/10)
Physical description
5pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1203,” accessed on 25 October 2021,

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