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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Lubbock   19 [July 1855]1



Dear Lubbock

I had a note from Lyell this morning in which he says you have found the first Ovibos moschatus ever discovered fossil in England!2

I must congratulate you on such a capital discovery. Considering the habit of ovibos, & the nature of the drift-beds, I declare, I think it one of the most interesting discoveries in fossils made for some years.—3 I congratulate you, & may this be the first of many interesting geological observations.

Yours very truly | C. Darwin

I wish you could have come here on Tuesday.4



The endorsement is corroborated by a letter from Charles Lyell to John Lubbock, 16 June 1855, printed in H. G. Hutchinson 1914, 1: 37.
In the company of Charles Kingsley, Lubbock had discovered a fossil musk-ox in the Maidenhead gravel (H. G. Hutchinson 1914, 1: 37–9). The fossil skull was described in R. Owen 1856.
The discovery of the remains of this Arctic quadruped in English formations was evidence that the musk-ox had ranged further to the west during the former cold period than previously expected. Richard Owen tentatively identified the fossil species as being the same as the living species, and used this fact as evidence against a catastrophic or cataclysmic close to the former cold period (R. Owen 1856, p. 130).


Hutchinson, Horace Gordon. 1914. Life of Sir John Lubbock, Lord Avebury. 2 vols. London: Macmillan.

Owen, Richard. 1856. Description of a fossil cranium of the musk-buffalo … from the ‘lower-level drift’ at Maidenhead, Berkshire. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 12: 124–31. [Vols. 6,7]


Congratulations to JL on finding musk-ox fossil.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Lubbock, 4th baronet and 1st Baron Avebury
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 263: 1 (EH 88206446)
Physical description
ALS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1720,” accessed on 18 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5