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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Henslow   9 July 1836

St. Helena.

July 9th.—1836

My dear Henslow

I am going to ask you to do me a favor. I am very anxious to belong to the Geolog: Society. I do not know, but I suppose, it is necessary to be proposed some time before being balloted for, if such is the case, would you be good enough to take the proper preparatory steps. Professor Sedgwick very kindly offered to propose me, before leaving England: if he should happen to be in London, I daresay he would yet do so.—1 I have very little to write about.— We have neither seen, done, or heard of anything particular, for a long time past: & indeed if, at present, the wonders of another planet could be displayed before us, I believe we should unanimously exclaim, what a consummate plague. No schoolboys ever sung the half sentimental & half jovial strain of “dulce domum” with more fervour, than we all feel inclined to do.— But the whole subject of dulce domum, & the delight of seeing one’s friends is most dangerous; it must infallibly make one very prosy or very boisterous— Oh the degree to which I long to be once again living quietly, with not one single novel object near me.— No one can imagine it, till he has been whirled round the world, during five long years, in a ten Gun-Brig.—

I am at present living in a small house (amongst the clouds) in the centre of the Isld. & within stone’s throw of Napoleon’s tomb. It is blowing a gale of wind, with heavy rain, & wretchedly cold: if Napoleon’s ghost haunts his dreary place of confinement, this would be a most excellent night for such wandering Spirits.—

If the weather chooses to permit me, I hope to see a little of the Geology, (so often partially described) of this Isld.— I suspect, that differently from most Volcanic Islds. its structure is rather complicated. It seems strange, that this little centre of a distinct creation should, as is asserted, bear marks of recent elevation.

The Beagle proceeds from this place to Ascencion, thence to C. Verds (What miserable places!) to the Azores, to Plymouth & then to Home. That most glorious of all days in my life will not however arrive till the middle of October. Some time in that month, you will see me at Cambridge, when I must directly come to report myself to you, as my first Lord of the Admiralty.— At the C. of Good Hope, we all on board suffered a bitter disappointment in missing nine months’ letters, which are chasing us from one side of the globe to the other. I daresay, amongst them there was a letter from you; it is long since I have seen your hand writing, but I shall soon see you yourself, which is far better. As I am your pupil, you are bound to undertake the task of criticizing & scolding me for all the things ill done & not done at all, which I fear I shall need much; but I hope for the best, & I am sure I have a good, if not too easy, task master.—

At the Cape, Capt Fitz Roy, & myself enjoyed a memorable piece of good fortune in meeting Sir J. Herschel.— We dined at his house & saw him a few times besides. He was exceedingly good natured, but his manners, at first, appeared to me, rather awful. He is living in a very comfortable country house, surrounded by fir & oak trees, which alone, in so open a country, give a most charming air of seclusion & comfort. He appears to find time for every thing; he shewed us a pretty garden full of Cape Bulbs of his own collecting; & I afterwards understood, that every thing was the work of his own hands. What a very nice person Lady Herschel appears to be,—in short we were quite charmed with every thing in & about the house.— There are many pleasant people at the Cape.— Mr Maclear,2 the astronomer, was most kind & hospitable.— I became also acquainted with Dr A. Smith, who had just returned from his expedition beyond the Tropic of Capricorn.— He is a cap⁠⟨⁠ital⁠⟩⁠ person & most indefatigable observer: he has brought back an immense collection, & amongst other things a new species of Rhinoceros.—3 If you had heard him describe his system of travelling & mode of defence, it would have recalled the days of enthusiasm, which you have told me, you felt on first reading Le Vaillant.—4 Dr Smith shortly goes to England, he will soon return & recommence his travels & either succeed in penetrating far into the interior, or, as he says, leave his bones in Africa.—5

I am very stupid, & I have nothing more to say; the wind is whistling so mournfully over the bleak hills, that I shall go to bed & dream of England.— Good night, My dear Henslow | Yours most truly obliged | & affectionately | Chas. Darwin.—


See Andrew Smith 1838–49 for the zoology of the expedition. Smith’s diary has been published in Andrew Smith 1939–40.
Levaillant 1790, a popular book of travels in Africa.
Andrew Smith left for England in 1837 but did not return to South Africa.


Smith, Andrew. 1939–40. The diary of Dr Andrew Smith, director of the "Expedition for exploring Central Africa’, 1834__1836. Edited by Percival R. Kirby. 2 vols. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society.


Asks JSH to propose him for Geological Society. His meeting with Sir John Herschel and Andrew Smith at Cape of Good Hope.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Stevens Henslow
Sent from
St Helena
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Henslow letters: 30 DAR/1/1/30)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 304,” accessed on 3 June 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 1