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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Sharpey, Secretary, Royal Society   24 January [1857]1

Down Bromley Kent

Jan. 24th.—

Dear Sharpey

Having never especially attended to the Natural History of the Region in question I really am quite unable to offer any special points of research.2 And as far as general suggestions go, I cannot add to the Instructions published in the Admiralty Manual.—3 As it seems that there will be a Geologist attached to the Expedition it seems superfluous to remark, that a collection of the Carboniferous plants from the Coal of that Region would preeminently possess high interest.4 So again with Glacial action, more especially in regard to sea-borne erratic boulders, it would be highly desirable to ascertain their extension southward, inland, & to what elevation on the land.—5

I wish sincerely I could aid in any suggestions, but it is really not in my power.—

Pray believe me, Dear Sharpey | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


Dated by the reference to the North American exploring expedition (see n. 2, below).
A committee of the Royal Society had been formed to prepare instructions for the guidance of members of a North American exploring expedition, 1857–9, under the direction of John Palliser. The purpose of the mission was to survey the territory between Lake Superior and Vancouver Island to determine the best available route connecting the eastern and western regions of Canada. William Jackson Hooker and Joseph Dalton Hooker prepared instructions for the botanist to the voyage (Hooker’s Journal of Botany and Kew Gardens Miscellany 9 (1857): 214–19).
The Admiralty Manual of scientific enquiry (Herschel ed. 1849), to which CD had contributed a chapter on geology. There had been a second edition in 1851.
For CD’s earlier interest in this question, see Correspondence, vol. 3, letter to J. D. Hooker, [December 1846].
The subject of erratic boulders had long been of interest to CD. He believed such boulders had been transported by floating icebergs. See Collected papers 1: 218–27.


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.


Feels unqualified to offer advice on research by the expedition; he has never attended to natural history of the region. Suggests collecting Carboniferous plants and studying the geographical extension of sea-borne erratic boulders.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Sharpey
Sent from
Source of text
The Royal Society (MC17: 336)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2206,” accessed on 28 January 2021,

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