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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Henry Sykes   20 December [1859]1

Down Bromley Kent

Dec. 20th.—

My dear Sir

As this note requires no acknowledgment or answer, I trust to your kindness to excuse my troubling you.2 Mr Blyth hears that there is some chance of a naturalist being appointed for the China Expedition, & he is very anxious to receive this appointment.—3 I think that it is of infinite importance that a skilled naturalist should go rather than a mere collector. Mr Blyth seems to me well fitted for the post, from having attended to several branches of natural history; & he has lately been specially attending to Chinese productions.—

Therefore I venture to hope that you may be favourably inclined to support the appointment of a naturalist to the Chinese Expedition & that Mr Blyth should have the place.—4 I do not know how far you are now directly concerned with Indian affairs; but your indirect influence must be great.—5

With apologies for troubling you, I remain | My dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Charles Darwin


The year is given by the reference to the ‘China expedition’ (see n. 3, below). Although there is an endorsement on the letter that reads: ‘C. Darwin the Distinguished Naturalist. Ansd 10/1/59’, it would appear that the year was given in error. See also letter to Charles Lyell, 29 [December 1859].
Sykes had been heavily involved with Indian natural history during his service in the East India Company, and since his return to England in 1831 he had been an influential figure in Indian affairs in general. He served as chairman of the East India Company from 1856 to 1858. In 1858 he was also president of the Royal Asiatic Society.
Edward Blyth, a long-standing correspondent of CD’s, had been curator of the museum of the Asiatic Society of Bengal since 1841. He had frequently attempted to improve his conditions of employment by the East India Company, enlisting CD’s assistance, but to little effect (see Correspondence vol. 6, letters from Edward Blyth, 23 February 1856 and 26 February 1856). The ‘China expedition’ was a second British expeditionary mission, being organised under James Bruce, Earl of Elgin, against the Chinese as a result of the emperor’s failure in June 1859 to ratify the treaty of Tientsin. It set out early in 1860. See Walrond ed. 1872, pp. 315–16.
There is no record of a naturalist accompanying this expedition. Blyth remained in Calcutta until his retirement in 1862.
See n. 2, above.


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


Urges appointment of Edward Blyth as naturalist on an expedition to China.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Henry Sykes
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.185)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2588,” accessed on 27 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7