skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. E. Darwin   [9 November 1879]1

Basset, | Southampton.


My dear Father

Mr Olmstead wants to get a few good signatures to the enclosed petitions.2 Will you mind signing them & forwarding to Mrs Spottiswoode. I enclose an envelope & note but I do not know Mr Spottiswoode exact address.3

Sara thought it would be possible to send it to Lord Derby through Lady Derby.

His would be a capital name if it could be got; but I don’t want to give you any trouble; & unless you thought Mother could send it to Lady Derby nothing had better be done.4 Lords are thought much of over the water.

I shall get Huxley & Dr Hooker & perhaps Mr Cowper Temple’s, unless I think of any big name George could get.5

Your affect son | W. E. Darwin

P.S. both petitions should be signed







To ALONZO B. CORNELL, Governor of the State of New York:

The undersigned, citizens of several states and countries, address you by reason of the suggestion lately made by LORD DUFFERIN,6 that the State of New York and the Dominion of Canada should secure and hold, for the world’s good, the lands adjacent to the Falls of Niagara.

The Falls of Niagara are peculiarly exposed to disastrous injury. The heights of snow, the precipitous crags of great mountains, however they may be disfigured by man, can rarely be applied to uses which would destroy their sublimity. But should the islands and declivities of the Niagara River be stripped of their natural woods, and occupied for manufacturing and business purposes; should even the position, size, and form of the construction which the accommodation of visitors will call for, continue to be regulated solely by the pecuniary interests of numerous individual land-owners, the loss to the world will be great and irreparable. The danger may be measured by what has already occurred. The river’s banks are denuded of the noble forest by which they were originally covered, are degraded by incongruous and unworthy structures, made, for advertising purposes, willfully conspicuous and obstrusive, and the visitor’s attention is diverted from scenes to the influence of which he would gladly surrender himself, by demands for tolls and fees, and the offer of services most of which he would prefer to avoid.

Objects of great natural beauty and grandeur are among the most valuable gifts which Providence has bestowed upon our race. The contemplation of them elevates and informs the human understanding. They are instruments of education. They conduce to the order of society. They address sentiments which are universal. They draw together men of all races, and thus contribute to the union and the peace of nations.

The suggestion, therefore, that an object of this class so unparalleled as the Falls of Niagara should be placed under the joint guardianship of these two governments whose chief magistrates we have the honor to address, is a proper concern of the civilized world, and we respectfully ask that it may, by appropriate methods, be commended to the wise consideration of the Legislature of New York.7

A similar memorial has been addressed to the Governor General of Canada.8


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Emma Darwin to M. C. Stanley, 12 November [1879]. In 1879, the Sunday before 12 November was 9 November.
In October 1879, Frederick Law Olmsted prepared a memorial that called for the protection of Niagara Falls from commercial and industrial development. Together with Charles Eliot Norton (William’s father-in-law), he circulated the document to leading persons in the US, Canada, and Britain and eventually obtained over 600 signatures, including CD’s (see letter from C. E. Norton to F. L. Olmsted, 17 October 1879 (F. L. Olmsted Papers: Correspondence, 1838–1928, Library of Congress, mss 35121, box 18; reel 17), McLaughlin ed. 1977–2015, 7: 424–5, and Kowsky 1985).
Thomas Henry Huxley, Joseph Dalton Hooker, William Francis Cowper-Temple, and George Howard Darwin.
Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, first marquess of Dufferin, was governor-general of Canada from 1872 to 1878 (ODNB).
The petition was presented in March 1880. For more on the campaign to preserve Niagara Falls, see Runte 1973.
John George Edward Henry Douglas Sutherland Campbell, marquess of Lorne, was the governor-general of Canada from 1878 to 1883 (ODNB).


Kowsky, Francis R. 1985. In defense of Niagara: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Niagara Reservation. In The distinctive charms of the Niagara scenery: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Niagara Reservation, edited by Charles E. Beveridge for the Buscaglia-Castellani Art Gallery. Niagara Falls, N.Y.: Niagara University.

McLaughlin, Charles Capen. ed. 1977–2015. Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted. 9 vols. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Runte, Alfred. 1973. Beyond the spectacular: the Niagara Falls preservation campaign. New York Historical Society Quarterly 57: 30–50.


Sends CD petition from Olmstead and asks him to forward it around to get good signatures.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Erasmus Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Basset, Southampton
Source of text
Cornford Family Papers (DAR 275: 74), Gardner 1880, pp. 31–9
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12301F,” accessed on 25 January 2022,