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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Julius von Haast   9 December 1862

Lake Ohau. N.Z.

December 9th. 1862.


Dear Sir

Our common friend Dr J. D. Hooker tells me he did me the honour to send you my last letter & extracts and that you were interested in them, yet at the same time communicates to me that you wish for a specimen of our native rat & frog.2 I had the pleasure to send you a month ago two productions of my pen (addressed to the British Museum) for the perusal of which I hope you will find a spare moment.3 You will observe that I took the liberty to call one of our Alpine giants after you as a feeble tribute from the Southern hemisphere to the author of ‘Origin of species’.4

I am very sorry that I have no specimen of the native rat, it being almost extinct, but I shall do my best to procure one for you; The frog exists only in one or two small creeks at Coromandel in the northern island, and I shall write instantly to one of my Auckland friends, Mr. Chs. Petschler to procure one, and to send it directly to you.5 There are some more highly interesting animals in N.Z. quite unknown to science, as for instance a small quadruped in the rivers forming this lake, & as no doubt I shall be able to procure some, I shall do myself the honour to send them to you for examination & description.6 Dr. Hooker tells me that you ask him if I had your ‘Origin of Species’, if ever in my life I could be induced to tell an untruth, it would be here the case, because I should consider it the highest compliment to receive a work like yours from the hand of the Author, and on returning to Ch. Church, I shall present my copy to our embryo of a library, so that I can then fairly say, I do not possess it.7

You will see in my address as Presit. of the Phil. Instt. of Canterbury, that I tried to explain in few words to the members & public at large, the great object of your work, so as to preserve them against the prejudices of bigoted people.8 It will perhaps interest you when I tell you, that the ‘Origin of Species’ was my travelling companion during my last journey, in the N.Z. Alps, taking always a book with me, the careful study of which, the long evenings & rainy days in a tent afford the best opportunity, and I need scarcely say that very often I forgot hunger & fatigue, cold & storm in its perusal, & sometimes I was only roused from its study by the falling of an avalanche, or the howling of the storm.9 If you wish me to make any observations on the subject of natural history, I shall be most happy to fulfil your desires. You will allow me to give you one instance which came under my knowlege, how animals in order to preserve their offspring, adapt themselves to circumstances: the ‘Casarca Variegata’, the ‘Paradise duck’ of the setlers, builds its nest along the bank of rivers, on the ground, but several instances have been observed at the Arowenui bush between Lyttelton and Timaru on the east coast of this island, that these webfooted birds when disturbed from their nests, have built new ones on the top of high trees, bringing afterwards their young ones on their backs down to the water; This occurrance has been observed by many respectable people so that there is not the least doubt about its truthfulness, & have not the deductions from such a change in the habit of an animal a very high bearing on the confirmation of your theories? Any parcel for me if entrusted to the care of Mr. J. Marshman our Provinl. Agent, 16 Charing Cross London, will reach me safely.10 Having hurt my right hand slightly, by a fall with a horse, you will excuse my employing one of my travelling companions to write this. Hoping that you will find time to send me a few lines,

Believe me my dear Sir | very sincerely yours | Julius Haast

Chs. Darwin Esqr | ect FRS | London.

CD annotations

1.1 Our … species’. 1.7] crossed ink
2.1 I am] after opening square bracket, ink
2.2 The frog … desires. 3.11] crossed ink
Top of letter: ‘Change in Habits in nest in Duck. | New Zealand Vertebrata.’ ink


Haast initially wrote this letter on 9 December 1862, enclosing or intending to enclose it with a letter to Joseph Dalton Hooker of 10 December 1862. Hooker received Haast’s letter in mid-April 1863, but either he lost Haast’s letter to CD, or Haast failed to enclose it as promised (see Correspondence vol. 11, letters from J. D. Hooker, 20 April 1863 and [30 April 1863], and letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 April [1863]). Fearing, however, that the entire body of his correspondence sent from Lake Ohau at this time had gone astray, Haast sent Hooker copies of his letters to CD and Hooker, together with two covering letters, in March 1863 (see ibid., letter from Julius Haast, 5 March 1863). These arrived in mid-June 1863, and Hooker transmitted to CD the letter from Julius Haast, 5 March 1863 (ibid.), together with this copy of the letter from Julius Haast, 9 December 1862 (see ibid., letter from J. D. Hooker, 19 June 1863). For reasons of clarity, the copy of Haast’s letter has been reproduced here, in addition to being reproduced as an enclosure to the letter from Julius Haast, 5 March 1863 (ibid.).
J. F. J. von Haast 1862a and 1862b (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Julius von Haast, 22 January 1863). There are annotated copies of these publications in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
J. F. J. von Haast 1862a, p. 127. Mount Darwin is at the northern end of the Malte Brun Range, in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Haast explained his practice of naming mountains in a letter to William Jackson Hooker of 9 June 1862: ‘When beginning with the survey of the Southern Alps of New Zealand, hitherto entirely unknown, I proposed myself to create a kind of Pantheon or Walhalla for my illustrious contemporaries amongst those never-trodden peaks and glaciers’ (H. F. von Haast 1948, p. 213).
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 21 [September 1862] and nn. 6 and 7. Charles Petschler has not been identified.
In J. F. J. von Haast 1861, p. 135, Haast had stated: ‘The native rat (Mus rattus) is the only known indigenous land quadruped’. However, in J. F. J. von Haast 1862b, p. 6, Haast had discussed the possible existence of two further indigenous quadrupeds. One was a badger- or otter-like quadruped, ‘called by the natives Kaureke’, which he believed probably still existed in the lakes and rivers of the Southern Alps. The second was a smaller, nocturnal quadruped, traces of which Haast had found ‘in the river bed of the Hopkins, the stream which forms Lake Ohou [Ohau]’. Mus rattus is a synonym of Rattus rattus, the black rat.
Haast refers to the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, which he founded in the summer of 1862 (H. F. von Haast 1948, pp. 220–30).
In J. F. J. von Haast 1862b, p. 7, Haast presented his discussion of Origin as ‘a tribute to its illustrious author’, stating that this was ‘the great work of the age’ in natural history. While asserting that CD’s theories were not altogether new, Haast claimed that CD’s ‘great merit’ was that he had not only dealt with the subject in a ‘true philosophical spirit’ but had also collected ‘a great mass of facts, which throw new light upon this inexhaustible source of inquiry’.
As geologist for the province of Canterbury, Haast had spent the period from January to May 1862 in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, carrying out the regular work of the geological survey of the province, together with a search for gold-bearing deposits (H. F. von Haast 1948, pp. 199–219).
John Marshman was agent to the Canterbury Emigration Office, 16 Charing Cross, London (Post Office London directory 1863).


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

Haast, Heinrich Ferdinand von. 1948. The life and times of Sir Julius von Haast, explorer, geologist, museum builder. Wellington, New Zealand: privately published.

Haast, John Francis Julius von. 1861. Report of a topographical and geological exploration of the western districts of the Nelson Province, New Zealand. Nelson, New Zealand: Nelson provincial government.

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.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.


Will try to procure specimens of native rat and frog for CD. Will be glad to make observations for him.

Cites case of a species of duck that normally nests on ground but builds in trees if disturbed.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Francis Julius (Julius) von Haast
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Lake Okau, N.Z.
Source of text
DAR 166: 1
Physical description
ACCS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3851,” accessed on 23 June 2024,

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