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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Edward Sabine1   16 March [1857]2

Down Bromley Kent

March 16

My dear Sir

By some accident I received your note only this morning, for which I am much obliged; as it wd. be very inconvenient to me to attend I would much rather not be on the Committee. Indeed it wd. be superfluous, as I know not much of the Nat. History of N. America, & as Sir Roderick Murchison & Dr. Hooker are on it.3 Sir John Richardson would be the man for Zoological suggestions.—

As the extension in Lat. & Long. & all the phenomena of Glacial action & erratic boulders will, no doubt, be one chief object of attention to the geologist of the Expedition, I may make one suggestion, viz to attend most carefully to the state of the rocks in those rivers, in which annually large quantities of ice are carried down with great force. Sir John Richardson many years ago, told me that they were beautifully polished.—4 Are they scored also? & is the scoring on the upper side. &c &c.— are stones & mud embedded in river ice? It is a great desideratum in geology to be able to distinguish between rocks polished & scored by glaciers, & by floating ice.—5

I suppose the expedition will not visit any arctic shore; but it may fall across some ancient line of cliff, with beds of shingle at its base, formed during the Glacial epoch, & I think a most minute examination of the character of the shingle on arctic shores would be very desirable, for comparison with the sub-angular drift of the southern counties of England. The tertiary strata with fossil plants & lignite would be a very interesting point for examination; but is quite obvious.— If I shd. think of any point worth noticing, I will write.

Pray believe me, my dear Sir | Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin


Edward Sabine was chairman of the Royal Society North American exploring expedition committee (Royal Society committee minute book 42).
The minutes of the expedition committee of 16 March 1857 record that Sabine had written to CD (Royal Society committee minute book 42).
See letter to William Sharpey, 24 January [1857]. Both Roderick Impey Murchison and Joseph Dalton Hooker were members of the committee.
CD had consulted John Richardson, author of Fauna Boreali-Americana (J. Richardson 1829–37), in 1838 when he was writing the addenda to Journal of researches in order to explain the distribution of erratic boulders by iceberg transport (pp. 619–20).
CD had long wished to differentiate the action of glaciers from that of floating ice and was especially concerned to demonstrate the role of icebergs in the distribution of erratic blocks (see ‘On the distribution of the erratic boulders … of South America’, Collected papers 1: 145–163, and ‘Notes on the effects produced by the ancient glaciers of Caernarvonshire’, Collected papers 1: 163–171).


‘Ancient glaciers of Caernarvonshire’: Notes on the effects produced by the ancient glaciers of Caernarvonshire, and on the boulders transported by floating ice. By Charles Darwin. Philosophical Magazine 3d ser. 21 (1842): 180–8. [Shorter publications, pp. 140–7.]

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

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.

Richardson, John. 1829–37. Fauna Boreali-Americana; or, the zoology of the northern parts of British America. Assisted by William Swainson and William Kirby. 4 vols. London and Norwich: John Murray; Richard Bentley; J. Fletcher.


Would rather not serve on Royal Society committee [for a North American exploring expedition]. Suggests subjects for geological investigation.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Edward Sabine
Sent from
Source of text
The Royal Society (MM4: 39)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2241,” accessed on 18 January 2022,

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