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Darwin Correspondence Project

To George Charles Wallich   12 December [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent.

Dec. 12th

Dear Sir

I beg permission to thank you sincerely for sending me your “Notes on animal Life at vast Depths”.2 It has interested me extremely.

You have indeed made a grand beginning at an admirable field of research.

If you would not think me very unreasonable, you would do me a great favour, if you would inform me on one point not noticed in your Notes. In the account given in the Times, it is stated that the Machine or Borer either often or sometimes penetrated through the Foraminiferous deposit into different underlying matter.3 This would show that the Foraminiferous deposit was sometimes or often thin; & this is the point on which I am anxious for information.— It bears on the decay of the exuviæ of organisms at the bottom of the sea; & is important for me in relation to some few passages in my Book on the Origin of Species, of which I am now preparing a corrected Edition.—4

You allude, also, to bare rock at the bottom of the sea. Have you any reason to believe that extensive areas are bare?—   About the Borer I had with hesitation thought of quoting the Times; but if the facts are true, I shd. of course infinitely prefer just alluding to the case on your authority.5

What a wonderful fact about the Ophiuræ, & what a capital proof of the Foraminifera having been alive is their discovery in their stomachs.6

Do you not think that you are rather bold in inferring that the basaltic pebbles were rounded at such great depths? Are you sure they were not dropped by icebergs either recently or at the close of the Glacial period?

With my best thanks & apologies for troubling you, I remain, | Dear Sir, | Yours very faithfully | C. Darwin

P.S. | Is it not a most curious fact that the water at such profound depths, & under such a vast pressure, should retain Oxygen for the respiration of the animals mentioned by you?


A copy of this letter was published in Correspondence vol. 8. Subsequently the original has come to light, and this text was corrected against the original in 2009.
Wallich 1860. There is an annotated copy in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. Wallich, who was an army surgeon in India, had been seconded in 1860 to HMS Bulldog, which was conducting an extensive survey of the Atlantic seabed for the proposed submarine cable link between England and America. The Admiralty, at the request of the promoters of the telegraph scheme, undertook to obtain the deep-sea soundings along a route running from Scotland to Labrador via the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Francis Leopold McClintock was the commander. The survey, which proved to be very arduous, lasted from June to October 1860. The Bulldog returned to England in poor condition in November (Markham 1909, pp. 252–62). Ultimately the plan to lay a cable along this route was abandoned.
The Times, 5 December 1860, p. 5, reported the preliminary results of the North Atlantic telegraph expedition.
In Origin, p. 288, CD discussed how ‘Shells and bones will decay and disappear when left on the bottom of the sea’. He further stated that the sediment, contrary to popular opinion, was probably not deep, owing to the constantly changing conditions of the seabed.
As proof that Globigerina, a genus of Foraminifera, lived at much greater depths of the sea than had previously been supposed, Wallich stated that he had found specimens in the digestive cavity of starfish living in nearly 1300 fathoms of water (Wallich 1860, pp. 11, 22–3). CD marked these passages in his copy of the paper.


Markham, Clements Robert. 1909. Life of Admiral Sir Leopold McClintock. London: John Murray.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Wallich, George Charles. 1860. Notes on the presence of animal life at vast depths in the sea; with observations on the nature of the sea bed, as bearing on submarine telegraphy. London: privately printed.


Discusses GCW’s Notes on the presence of animal life at vast depths [1860]. Asks for information on the decay of exuviae of organisms at bottom of sea. Has GCW reason to believe extensive areas of sea-bottom are bare? Is he sure rounded pebbles were not dropped by icebergs? Curious that water at such depths retains oxygen.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Charles Wallich
Sent from
Source of text
Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums (subsequently on sale at Nate D. Sanders (dealer) 25 February 2016)
Physical description
ALS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3020,” accessed on 7 June 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8