skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   11 February [1857]

Down Bromley Kent

Feb. 11

My dear Lyell

I was glad to see in the newspapers about the Austrian Expedition:1 I have nothing to add geologically to my notes in the Manual.—2 I do not know whether the Expedition is tied down to call at only fixed spots. But if there be any choice or power in the scientific men to influence the places, this wd. be very desirable; it is my most delibreate conviction that nothing would aid more Natural History, than careful collecting & investigating all the productions of the most insulated islands, especially of the southern hemisphere.— Except Tristan d’Acunha & Kerguelen Land, they are very imperfectly known; & even at Kerguelen land, how much there is to make out about the lignite beds, & whether there are signs of old Glacial action— Every sea-shell & insects & plant is of value from such spots.

Someone in Expedition especially ought to have Hookers N. Zealand Essay.3 What grand work to explore Rodriguez with its fossil birds & little known productions of every kind—4

Again the Seychelles, which with the Cocos de mar,5 must be a remnant of some older land.— The outer isld of Juan Fernandez is little known.— The investigation of these little spots by a band of naturalists would be grand.— St. Pauls & Amsterdam would be glorious botanically & geologically.— Can you not recommend them to get my Journal (& Volcanic islands) on account of Galapagos.6 If they come from North, it will be a shame & sin if they do not call at Cocos islet, N. of the Galapagos.— I always regretted that I was not able to examine the great craters on Albemarle Isd, one of the Galapagos. In New Zealand urge on them to look out for erratic Boulders, & marks of old Glaciers.—7

Urge the use of the Dredge in Tropics; how little or nothing we know of limit of life downwards in the hot seas.—

My present work leads me to perceive how much the domestic animals have been neglected in out-of-the way countries.—

The Revilligago isld off Mexico, I believe, have never been trodden by foot of naturalist

If the expedition sticks to such places as Rio, C. Good Hope, Ceylon & Australia &c, it will not do much.—8

Ever yours most truly | C. Darwin

I have just had Helix Pomatia quite alive & hearty after 20 days under sea-water; & this same individual about six-weeks ago had a bath of 7 days.—9

P.S. I have really nothing to suggest to Mr. Forbes—10

I am delighted to hear about the Coal Plant & Purbeck Fossils.—11


The first Austrian scientific expedition to circumnavigate the globe was announced in the Athenæum, 10 January 1857, p. 53. The leader of the expedition, Karl von Scherzer, requested advice to render the voyage ‘efficient and fruitful in valuable results.’
CD refers to his contribution to Herschel ed. 1849 (see also letter to William Sharpey, 24 January [1857]).
The recently extinct, dodo-like solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria) was discussed in detail in Strickland and Melville 1848. Rodriguez Island had been a British possession since 1809.
The coco-de-mer, or double coconut, of the Seychelles palm, Lodoicea sechelarum. Edward Blyth had earlier commented to CD on the large number of plants and animals peculiar to the Seychelles, noting in particular the coco-de-mer, which he believed to thrive on only two of the islands. See Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [1–8 October 1855].
Ferdinand von Hochstetter of the Novara expedition did conduct a major geological survey of New Zealand, as CD recommended (Les Kermode, ‘Ferdinand Hochstetter in New Zealand’, Historical Studies Group Newsletter 5 (September 1992)).
In the event, the expedition visited, among the places CD mentioned, only the islands of St Paul and Amsterdam in the South Indian Ocean. CD’s recommendations, along with those of Roderick Impey Murchison, William Jackson Hooker, Charles Lyell, and others, were acknowledged in the Narrative of the voyage (Scherzer 1861–3, 1: 3–4). The personal thanks of Archduke Maximilian of Austria were read out at a meeting of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society on 11 June 1857 (Bonney 1919, p. 136).
Probably David Forbes, who was preparing to depart for South America in search of nickel and cobalt ores (DNB).


Bonney, T. G. 1919. Annals of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society written from its minute books. London: Macmillan.

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

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.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1853–5. Flora Novæ-Zelandiæ. 2 vols. Pt 2 of The botany of the Antarctic voyage of HM discovery ships Erebus and Terror, in the years 1839–1843, under the command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross. London: Lovell Reeve.

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.

Narrative: Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s ships Adventure and Beagle, between the years 1826 and 1836. [Edited by Robert FitzRoy.] 3 vols. and appendix. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

Scherzer, Karl von. 1861–3. Narrative of the circumnavigation of the globe by the Austrian frigate Novara (Commodore B. von Wullerstorf-Urbair), undertaken by order of the imperial government, in the years 1857, 1858, & 1859, under the immediate auspices of his I. and R. Highness, the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian. 3 vols. London: Saunders, Otley, & Co.

Volcanic islands: Geological observations on the volcanic islands, visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle, together with some brief notices on the geology of Australia and the Cape of Good Hope. Being the second part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1844.


Discusses a proposed expedition to Australia. Urges collecting and investigating productions of isolated islands. Recommends dredging the sea-bottom.

Mentions keeping Helix pomatia alive in sea-water.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.145)
Physical description
ALS 7pp, CL note

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2050,” accessed on 30 November 2023,

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