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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   24 June 1849

Camp Sikkim Himal.

June 24, 1849.

My dear Darwin

Your two letters reached me yesterday & gave me most sincere pleasure. I have read them over & over again, as also that to Hodgson which he forwarded to me in great glee—really you little know how prized a valuable scientific correspondent in England is, to the jungle fowl in India, & the lazyness of English naturalists in this respect, is one of the greatest sins & detriments to the furtherance of science.

In the first place let me offer my sincere sympathy in the bereavement you have experienced, which though natural in one point of view is no less painful at any times & under your own distressing symptoms doubly so at that when you sustained it. I was also very much concerned to hear of the H. Wedgewoods’ pecuniary loss,1 it is a hard case, but they have the consolation of feeling that they have no blame.

Your bettered health rejoices me greatly, I pray God Malvern & the cold water will do you good, I do indeed court all the medical details you send, & boring though it be to recapitulate such things, would beg you to continue to me particulars of your case. I read that part of your letter with as much interest as any other, & that is saying a great deal, for all your gossip is dearly welcome to me.

I am again in the mts & camped at 12000 ft., but in the rainy season with small comfort. The Rajah too throws every obstacle in my way & annoys me sadly, so that it is all I can do to foil him & the hostile people & hold my own— my plan is to say nothing, never to turn my head round or steps back, refer all greivances to Campbell at Dorjiling & proceed as opportunity offers. I have all but gained the Thibetan frontier N.E. of Dorj. & turned the position of the people, who are assembled at the beaten track & pass to oppose me. Still I do not know where I am rightly & my timid Lepchas are easily alarmed.2

I have a very small blanket tent & few people. the country at this season of floods & landslips is difficult in the extreme & we often starve for some days, or feed on wild fruits & herbs. Campbell the Political at Dorj. & Hodgson keep me supplied as bountifully as circumstances permit & give me every possible aid of counsel men & food so that I really am not badly off.

Happily I got safe through the Malarious valleys, but the weather was very trying & now I am miles beyond fever range as hungry as a hunter & with plenty of food. I am close to the back of the main range & hope to carry out my object of comparing the cis & trans. slopes, for into Thibet I cannot go, the people being collected all along the frontier & alarming my people with stories of soldiers & robbers. The weather is generally good for half the day, but very Fuegian on the whole & today I cannot stir out. I am writing on my knee on top of a great rock with a little Tent 8 ft. by 6 over me & a blazing fire in front; still the ground is sodden & I cannot keep my feet warm.

What a real pleasure I now find in rereading your letters & killing my time with this gossip. I am above the forest region, amongst grand rocks & such a torrent as you see in Salvator Rosa’s paintings vegetation all a scrub of rhodods. with Pines below me as thick & bad to get through as our Fuegian Fagi on the hill tops, & except the towering peaks of P.S.3 that, here shoot up on all hands there is little difference in the mt scenery— here however the blaze of Rhod. flowers & various colored jungle proclaims a differently constituted region in a naturalists eye & twenty species here, to one there, always are asking me the vexed question, where do we come from?.—

After writing last to you I joined Hodgson in the plains & explored the Terai where are an extraordinary series of terraces descending by steppes to the plains of India & reappearing there on as isolated hills of pebbles & sand & clay with flat tops & scarped sides. All I regard as evidences of the retirement of the waters (relative—fight your own battles!) which once stood over all, when the Himal. was a grand fiord coast, (hear! hear!)—

From 16000 ft. to 300 above the sea I can now trace throughout, flat topped banks or terraces of angular & water worn fragments, at relative levels of 10 to 300 ft. above the beds of the rivers that flow through the valleys they once floored— these banks are cut in 2 to 5 steppes & I have found pebbles agglutinated to the lower faces & sides of projecting rocks 300 ft. above the level of a river in central Himal. whose bed is 4000 ft above the sea. No Himal river is now 8 ft deep & when the water was 300 at this locality how deep was it at the exit of the rivers in the plains, now only 300 ft above the sea? I have thousands of instances of these terraces & steppes, they occur along every valley & are best seen at every river fork. To explore these properly would take months & many men, for the jungly nature of the valleys is very bad & you cannot measure accurately, without artificial clearance. I think I have all the particulars you require of the Yangma valley lake-beds & terraces.4 There I saw no or very few & small water worn pebbles, the terraces are of unstratified sand & angular & a few rounded pebbles. I take each terrace to have been the floor of the valley—which was cut out by the retiring waters— for argument sake say, the water stood in Yangma valley at 15000 (a) ft.; 1000 above its rocky bottom (b). then the glacial action on the coast filled the bottom, not with sand & pebbles but with angular detritus, c for 300 ft. diagram As the land rose, or water sank, (it’s immaterial to me) the river cut a course through c. & hence the first terrace— A further retirement would make a second & so on. diagram now complicate the case with the lake beds & huge transverse ridges of angular boulders forming the dam to these— (1.) from above the dam there is a great lateral valley leading up to several thousand feet above the rocky bottom of the valley. (2.) the dam of stones tails off at right &ang90;s. to the axis of the valley, or rather slanting a little downwards. (3). The dam is formed of huge masses of the granite & Eurite only seen in situ several 1000 ft above the bottom of the valley. (4.) the dam is (say) 112 mile long & (say) 400 yards broad— (5.) it is 600 ft. above the true rocky bottom of the valley below it, & 300 above the lake bed above it (6.) The rocks of which it is formed are all angular fragments, those at top some 20 yards long, & they are piled in an elongated ridge, diagram

Now my hypoth. is that as the glacial action along the shores of the valley e,e, was filling the floor of that valley a with angular detritus,—Bergs from b were floating down the rocks c & depositing them in the position they now occupy. What possible modern glacial action, could pile the dam c, 300 ft above a & 600 above x? diagram

The stream from b you may drink up & the glaciers it descends from are mere patches of blue ice. it however has deposited along the inner margin of c ridges of angular detritus very short, & in all respects miniatures of c. The stream through a is hardly knee deep any where, a mere torrent.5 Modern glacial action in the Sikkim Himal. is confined to fracturing & piling up small heaps of angular fragments, or great shoots of the same. The country is so rugged tortuous & steep that you see no traces of modern glacial action 2000 ft below the level of P.S.: here glaciers & avalanches are unknown of any dimensions. Excessive steepness is the character of all at & below the P.S.

Explore me one of the deep bays of Victoria land, with rocky ice bound flanks & still water, & would you expect pebbles or angular detritus at the bottom?6

None of the boulders are scored or marked (that I saw)—nor did I ever see one so treated in Antarctica— I often examined rock in situ for scores, & do still, in vain, Rocks here are all rugged, the strat or lamination [packed] nearly vertical & nowhere at the same angle 10 yards apart, so that the action of an abrader would be to splinter & fracture— Every where too the rocks are splintered by weathering & I think to expect to find grooves or mamillations on such a surface & on such a composition, as these rocks are, could never be expected. No remark in your Journal struck me so forcibly as that of the granite outburst of the Cordillera being by a series of shocks or partial upheavals. So it is here, every thing is utter confusion above 8000 ft— the smallest fragment you can pick up shews signs of violence in the land, it is disturbed to the smallest lamination, shaken at one time, fractured at a second, baked at a third, broken away by a fifth & carried to where you find it by still another. The Chaotic confusion of the jagged mass shooting up all around me must be seen to be appreciated.

The rivers, ie. Mt torrents, always reach the underlying rock, throughout the Himal. but this is every where so distorted convulsed &c that it is broken to pieces. A continuous line of cliff is utterly unknown here.

Anent the Gneiss forming the red clay I am quite ready to give in, being puzzled beyond belief by said red clays


Hooker must have had this news from another correspondent. No mention of the Hensleigh Wedgwoods’ pecuniary loss is made in CD’s letters to Hooker of 28 March or 9 April 1848. The reference is perhaps to Hensleigh Wedgwood’s position as Registrar of Metropolitan Carriages, which was abolished by an Act of Parliament on 25 March 1850 (Hansard Parliamentary Debates 3d ser. 109 (1850): 1347).
Hooker was camped near the junction of the Zemu and Thlonok rivers, about 10 miles south of the border with Tibet. See J. D. Hooker 1854, 2: 54–63.
Perpetual Snow.
CD had requested more details about the Yangma terraces in his letter to J. D. Hooker, 9 April 1849. For his comments on Hooker’s explanation of the Yangma valley formation, see letter to J. D. Hooker, 12 October 1849.
‘A mountain stream which at times is full of rushing water and at other times is more or less dry’ (OED).
The discovery of Victoria Land in the Antarctic circle and its annexation by Britain had been a central feature of James Clark Ross’s expedition of 1839–43, on which Hooker had served as botanist and assistant-surgeon.


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.


Pleasure at receiving CD’s scientific letters to JDH and Hodgson.

The H. Wedgwoods’ pecuniary loss.

Condolences at CD’s father’s death.

Rajah harasses JDH’s work. Lack of supplies, rain, malarial valleys, and landslips make going difficult. Cannot get into Tibet.

"Twenty species [of plants] here [Camp Sikkim] to one there [Tierra del Fuego?] always are asking me the vexed question, ""where do we come from?""."

From observation of terraces descending to steppes and plains of India, he thinks that the Himalayas were once a grand fiord coast.

Has information CD requested on Yangsma valley. JDH’s detailed hypothesis of origin of dam there. Does not agree with CD’s interpretation.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Camp Sikkim, Himalayas
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (India letters 1847–51: 187–8 JDH/1/10)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1247,” accessed on 16 April 2024,

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