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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Blyth   23 November 1862


Novr. 23/62—

My dear Sir,

I suppose you have heard that Sir C. Wood has disallowed my pension, although so strongly and flatteringly recommended by the Viceroy in Council—1 But it matters not. I will win it yet.2 Nobody has told me of it, nor do I require to be told that the Earl of E. and K. (the representative of the old Scottish kingly family of Bruce) is piqued and nettled at being thus coolly snubbed by the Yorkshire Baronet.3 Ld Elgin held a grand levee on the 10th ulto., at which I attended; and as I passed him to make the usual bow on such occasions, he said nothing, of course, nor to anybody else in such a crowded assemblage, but I think that I understood the expression of his countenance. At all events, I revisit England immediately,—as I trust, by the screw steamer which leaves this on the 15th. proxo., proceeding viâ the Cape.4 I have many reasons to prefer that route; among which are, that I can take a lot of living animals with me, for the Z. Gns,5 and because I wish to visit Capetown and examine its museum. It is understood also that I go home to combat Sir Charles on the spot, as likewise to recruit my health and strength, after so long a residence within the tropics. I am to be well supplied with funds, supposed to come (and perhaps they do so) from the Asiatic Socie〈ty,〉 but I cannot help suspecting that there are ‘wheels within wheels’ in this matter— I am exceedingly well supported here, and have no lack of friends in England, both in the House & out of it;6 among whom I surely reckon upon you,7 and as surely upon my personal friend, our renowned financier, Mr. Laing,8 at whose princely table I have had the honour to dine, & who in fact knows me well. He is likely to prove a nice thorn, in the House of Commons, in the side of the present Indian minister; but I doubt if the latter will be able to maintain his official position much longer, despite the support of Ld P.,9 in face of the tremendous opposition which is fast rising against him from every quarter— Sir C. undoubtedly does possess one transcendant talent, which is that of making himself enemies, in which he is most preeminently successful. But enough of all this. I hope and expect to be able to shake you by the hand soon, if you will allow me the honour and the pleasure. Meanwhile, I may remark that I forgot to mention to you in my last letter, that there are no soundings (in ordinary seaman’s parlance, i.e. with the usual instruments,) between the Andamáns & the main, to the eastward; but, that a string of islands, rocks, and shoals, extend from Cape Negrais10 to Acheen Head in Sumatra; which may have once been continuous land.11

Yours ever Sincerely, Ed. Blyth—

CD annotations

1.19 among whom … minister; 1.22] crossed ink
1.31 but, … land. 1.33] ‘18.’12 added in margin, brown crayon


Charles Wood was the secretary of state for India; the viceroy and governor-general of India was James Bruce, earl of Elgin and Kincardine (DNB). Blyth had been curator of the museum of the Asiatic Society of Bengal since 1841, and in 1855, had applied to the society’s Court of Directors for a pension to be awarded to him after a certain number of years’ service; his memorial was forwarded to the British government in 1856, but met with no success. In July 1861, following the deterioration of Blyth’s health, the society sent a second memorial to the government (Blyth 1875, pp. ix–xi). The earl of Elgin argued that Blyth’s application had claims to consideration as a ‘special case’ (the pension had been refused on the grounds that grants from public revenues were limited to those in the ‘direct service of the government’), and he stated (Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 31 (1862): 430): It is the case … of a man of science, who has devoted himself for a very small salary in duties in connexion with the Asiatic Society, a body aided by and closely identified with the Government of India from which the public have derived great advantage. Mr. Blyth may truly be said to have been, in a great measure, the creator of the Natural History Museum, which has hitherto supplied the place of a Public Museum in the metropolis of India … [I]f, under such circumstances, Mr. Blyth should after twenty years’ service, be compelled to retire from ill-health, it would not be creditable to the Government that he should be allowed to leave without any retiring pension
A pension of £150 was granted to Blyth in 1863 (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter from Edward Blyth, 21 September 1863, and Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 33 (1864): 73).
Bruce was the eighth earl of Elgin and the twelfth earl of Kincardine. Wood, who was the member of parliament for Halifax, Yorkshire, was a baronet (DNB).
Blyth’s departure was precipitated by his ill health. In the circumstances, the council of the society agreed to give him a year’s leave with full pay (Blyth 1875, p. xii, and Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 32 (1863): 32).
The reference is to the zoological gardens in Regent’s Park, London, run by the Zoological Society of London, of which Blyth was a fellow.
Blyth reportedly owed his pension mainly to ‘the untiring efforts made in London’ by Hugh Falconer and Proby Thomas Cautley (Blyth 1875, p. xii).
During the 1850s, Blyth became one of CD’s most important correspondents, providing him with a vast amount of information on the plants and animals of India (see Correspondence vols. 5–7).
Blyth refers to Samuel Laing, financial minister in India, on the council of the governor-general (DNB).
Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston, was the prime minister.
Cape Negrais is on the south coast of Burma.
Blyth’s letter has not been found; however, CD and Blyth had apparently discussed the occurrence of amphibians in the Andaman Islands. In Origin, pp. 392–3, CD had written: With respect to the absence of whole orders on oceanic islands, Bory St. Vincent long ago remarked that Batrachians (frogs, toads, newts) have never been found on any of the many islands with which the great oceans are studded. I have taken pains to verify this assertion, and I have found it strictly true. In the fourth edition, published in 1866, CD repeated the above passage (Origin 4th ed., pp. 467–8), but continued: with the exception of New Zealand, New Caledonia, the Andaman Islands, and perhaps the Salomon Islands and the Seychelles. But I have already remarked that it is doubtful whether New Zealand ought to be classed as an oceanic island; and this is still more doubtful with respect to the Andaman and Salomon groups.
This is the number of CD’s portfolio of notes on the means of dispersal of plants and animals.


Blyth, Edward. 1875. Catalogue of mammals and birds of Burma. With a memoir [by A. Grote] and portrait of the author. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal n.s. 43 (1874), pt 2, extra number (1875).

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

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.

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.


EB has had his pension disallowed; is coming to England.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edward Blyth
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160.2: 204, DAR 205.2: 216
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3821,” accessed on 25 September 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10