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Darwin Correspondence Project

From S. P. Woodward   4 June 1856

British Museum.

June 4th— 1856.

Dear Sir

I am sorry you are not coming to the Meeting to-night—as I have a paper on the highly popular subject of Orthocerata!—1 Poor Mr Sharpe—the loss is great to the Societies—but greater still to those individual members who like myself enjoyed his friendship & relied upon his aid. He had recovered so far as to sit up & chip fossils! And then relapsed.2

You honour me greatly—but the credit belongs to those whose opinions I have collected—Waterhouse, Forbes, Hooker &c3 I am glad you do not object to having been yourself brought in to testify to heterodox theories.4

If you will send me the written memoranda you refer to (ie. if it does not give you the trouble of writing them out afresh for the purpose)—I will give them my best attention—5 I fear I am very slow— I seldom see the force of a joke in less than 48 hours— But I might come to some conclusion by the period of your visit, a fortnight hence.

After the rect. of your last letter6 I consulted with Mr Waterhouse again about the Island Faunas—& we agreed that the doctrine might be maintained against all comers. Sir Chas. Lyell is coming to the same opinion—tho’ he would account for it metaphysically. We can start with a good case in Tasmania—an island which must have been separated from Australia since the creation of Thylacinus & Dasyurus (which occur fossil in the mainland) & before the arrival of those species peculiar to the continent. In the north of Australia additional groups occur, & faint Asiatic symptoms appear— and we cannot doubt that if a land way from India to Australia had remained since the epoch of the Felidæ, some of that wandering tribe would have found their way & made sad havoc with the poor Opossums— The “stream of migration” has been from Asia towards Tasmania—but has been arrested periodically, so that Tasmania represents the oldest condition—Australia the next—New Guinea & Timor next—& then there is a vast interval between them & Borneo.

Respecting the Falklands—Fuegia & Chiloe—my impression is that they have been drowned at no very remote period, & so lost all symptoms of the ancient Fauna of S. America— Their present isolation cannot date so further back than the Newer Tertiary period, in which the modern vulgar Foxes took the lead in repeopling them.

Some years ago I had a gossip with Mr Whewell in Combination-room,7 when he cordially agreed to this view, as more probable than the Lyellian doctrine.

I should think Dr Pickering must hold something like the same notion—from his chapter on the Probable scene of the Creation of Man.8 He hesitates between the Area of the Orangs, & that of the Chimpanzees & seems inclined to make the first man black!

I am strongly impressed with a conviction of the oneness of the scheme of Creation— But collecting data is a serious matter! Mr Waterhouse advises me not to abandon the project of a general exposition of my theory, & promises to supply the Mammalian & Insect facts. I want chiefly a monster-map (on the conical projection)—so as to map out the data & put them to the test of discussion— If I live another six years I may do it— Meanwhile I look eagerly for the publication of your specific researches!

Yours sincerely | S. P. Woodward Chas. Darwin Esqr.

CD annotations

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‘Mastodon awful difficulty’added pencil
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Top of first page: ‘19’9 brown crayon


Woodward read his paper (Woodward 1856a) at a meeting of the Geological Society on 4 June 1856.
Daniel Sharpe, president of the Geological Society and a fellow of the Royal, Linnean, and Zoological Societies, had died on 31 May 1856 as a result of a fall from his horse on 20 May. He was working on a memoir on the Mollusca of the Chalk for the Palaeontographical Society at the time of his death (DNB).
George Robert Waterhouse and Edward Forbes were cited at length in Woodward 1851–6, 3: 349–54 and 381–3, as Woodward’s sources for his general discussion of the geographical distribution of land and marine Mollusca. Joseph Dalton Hooker was cited in Woodward 1851–6, 3: 406.
A reference to Woodward’s belief that island faunas were usually older than those of continents (see letter from S. P. Woodward, 2 May 1856). CD had been ‘inclined very much to dispute’ this doctrine (see letter to S. P. Woodward, 27 May 1856). Woodward had used information from CD’s Journal of researches on the shells of St Helena and Ascension to support his view of the antiquity of such faunas (see Woodward 1851–6, 3: 389).
William Whewell was the master of Trinity College, Cambridge. The combination room in Cambridge colleges is the fellows’ common room.
Charles Pickering, author of The races of man (Pickering [1848]), discussed briefly the possible origins of the several races of man in chapter 20 of his book.
The number of CD’s portfolio of notes on the geographical distribution of animals.


DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

Pickering, Charles. [1848.] The races of man: and their geographical distribution. Vol. 9 of the United States Exploring Expedition during the years 1838–42 under the command of Charles Wilkes, U.S.N. London.

Woodward, Samuel Pickworth. 1851–6. A manual of the Mollusca; or, a rudimentary treatise of recent and fossil shells. 3 pts. London. [Vols. 6,8,9]


SPW and Waterhouse agree on island faunas; gives Australia and Tasmania as examples. The "stream of migration" from Asia to Tasmania.

Looks forward eagerly to the publication of CD’s "specific" researches.

Invites CD to send his memoranda [on Manual of Mollusca].

Letter details

Letter no.
Samuel Pickworth Woodward
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
British Museum
Source of text
DAR 205.3: 303
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1889,” accessed on 4 March 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6