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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Syms Covington1   30 March 1849

Down Farnborough, Kent, [Malvern]

March 30, 1849.

Dear Covington,—

It is now some years since I have heard from you, and I hope you will take the trouble to write to me to tell me how you and your family are going on.2 I should much like to hear that your worldly circumstances are in a good position, and that you are every way fortunate. I hope that your deafness has not increased.3 I will now tell you about myself. My poor dear father, whom you will remember at Shrewsbury, died in his 84th year on the 13th of November. My health lately has been very bad, and I thought all this winter that I should not recover. I am now not at home (though I have so dated this letter) but have come to Malvern for two months to try the cold water cure, and I have already received so much benefit that I really hope my health will be much renovated. I have finished my three geological volumes on the voyage of the old Beagle, and my journal, which you copied, has come out in a second edition, and has had a very large sale.4 I am now employed on a large volume, describing the anatomy and all the species of barnacles from all over the world. I do not know whether you live near the sea, but if so I should be very glad if you would collect me any that adhere (small and large) to the coast rocks or to shells or to corals thrown up by gales, and send them to me without cleaning out the animals, and taking care of the bases. You will remember that barnacles are conical little shells, with a sort of four-valved lid on the top. There are others with long flexible footstalk, fixed to floating objects, and sometimes cast on shore. I should be very glad of any specimens, but do not give yourself much trouble about them. If you do send me any, they had better be directed to the Geological Society, Somerset House, and a letter sent to inform me of them. I shall not publish my book for 18 months more.

I have now six children—three boys and three girls—and all, thank God, well and strong. I have not seen any of our old officers for a long time. Captain Fitz Roy has the command of a fine steamer frigate.5 Captain Sulivan has gone out to settle for a few years, and trade at the Falkland Islands, and taken his family with him.6 I know nothing of the others. You will remember Evans, my father’s butler at Shrewsbury; he and his wife are both dead. I should like to hear what you think of the prospects of your country. How is Captain King?7 Should you see Mr. Philip King,8 please say that I desired to be most kindly remembered to him; I was grieved to hear some long time since that he was out of health. Has he any family? I often think how many pleasant walks I had with him. Speaking of walks, I fear my day is done, and I could never tire you again. I have not been able to walk a mile for some years, but now with the water-cure I am getting stronger again. With every hope that you are happy and prosperous, believe me, dear Covington, your sincere well-wisher, C. DARWIN.


The text of this letter and of the letter to Syms Covington, 23 November 1850, were published in de Beer 1959b, pp. 17–20. Gavin de Beer’s transcripts of the texts differ considerably from the versions in the Sydney Mail but according to de Beer the Sydney Mail was the source of his versions, a fact that is corroborated by surviving material in de Beer’s papers in the archives of University College, London. The discrepancies are, perhaps, the result of de Beer revising the transcripts in accordance with what he knew of CD’s usual writing practices.
Syms Covington, CD’s servant during the Beagle voyage and in London, 1837–9, had emigrated to Australia in May 1839 (Correspondence vol. 2, letter to William Sharp Macleay, 29 May 1839).
In 1843 CD had sent Covington an ear-trumpet (Correspondence vol. 2, letter to Syms Covington, 7 October 1843).
By 1 January 1848, 4100 copies had been sold (‘Journal’; Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix I).
This was the Royal Navy’s first screw-driven steamship, the 360-ton Arrogant. Robert FitzRoy conducted the trials of the new ship (Mellersh 1968, p. 260).
Phillip Parker King, captain of the Beagle on its first survey, had retired and settled in Australia.
Philip Gidley King, son of P. P. King, had sailed with CD in the Beagle as midshipman. He left the ship at Sydney to join his father and settled in Australia.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Mellersh, Harold Edward Leslie. 1968. FitzRoy of the Beagle. London: Rupert Hart-Davis.


Reports on developments in recent years, his father’s death, his own poor health, publications, and work on barnacles. Asks SC to collect some specimens, if he lives near the sea.

News of FitzRoy and B. J. Sulivan.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Syms Covington
Sent from
Source of text
Sydney Mail, 9 August 1884, p. 254

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1237,” accessed on 19 May 2024,

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