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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Julius von Haast   22 January 1863

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Jan 22.—/63

Dear Sir

I thank you most sincerely for sending me your address & the Geological Report.1 I have seldom in my life read anything more spirited & interesting than your address. The progress of your colony makes one proud, & it is really admirable to see a Scientific Institution founded in so young a nation.—2 I thank you for the very honourable notice of my “Origin of Species”.—3 You will easily believe how much I have been interested by your striking facts on the old Glacial period.4 And I should suppose the world might be searched in vain for so grand a display of Terraces.—5 You have indeed a noble field for Scientific research & discovery.— I have been extremely much interested by what you say about the tracks of supposed mammalia.—6 Might I ask if you succeed in discovering what the creatures are, you would have the great kindness to inform me.— Perhaps they may turn out something like the Solen-hofen bird-creature with its long tail & fingers with claws to its wings!7 I may mention that in S. America in completely uninhabited regions I found spring Rat-traps, baited with cheese were very successful in catching the smaller mammals.8

I would venture to suggest to you to urge on some of the capable members of your Institution to observe & annually record the rate & manner of spreading of European weeds & insects, & especially to observe what native plants most fail: this latter point has never been attended to. Do the introduced Hive-bees replace any other insect? &c &c.— All such points are, in my opinion, great desiderata in science.—9

What an interesting discovery that of the remains of Prehistoric man!10

Believe me, Dear Sir, with the most cordial respect & thanks | Yours very faithfully | Charles Darwin


Haast sent CD the text of an address delivered before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury in September 1862 (J. F. J. von Haast 1862a; see n. 2, below). CD also refers to Haast’s report on his explorations during his first nineteen months as provincial geologist in Canterbury, New Zealand (J. F. J. von Haast 1862b; see n. 4, below). Haast sent CD copies of these publications in November 1862, a month before he sent a letter mentioning them; CD did not receive that letter until June 1863 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Julius von Haast, 9 December 1862, and this volume, enclosure to letter from Julius von Haast, 5 March 1863, and letter from J. D. Hooker, 19 June 1863). CD’s annotated copies of J. F. J. von Haast 1862a and 1862b are in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Haast was one of the founding members of the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury (DSB; H. F. von Haast 1948, pp. 220–30). The society held its first meeting at the offices of the Geological Survey of Canterbury in August 1862 and elected Haast as its first president. At its inaugural dinner in September 1862, Haast delivered the address, spelling out the institute’s goals, which included the formation of a museum of economic geology and natural history, a library, a chemistry laboratory, and an astronomical observatory. He also presented a review of the current state of knowledge respecting New Zealand’s natural history (J. F. J. von Haast 1862a).
In his inaugural address, Haast described Origin ‘as the great work of the age’, noting that prior to its publication, natural history ‘as a science’ was ‘as little advanced as astronomy was before the labours of Galileo, Kepler, and Newton’ (J. F. J. von Haast 1862a, p. 7).
Between January and May 1862, Haast conducted an exploration of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. The mountain range offered considerable evidence of extensive Pleistocene glaciation (see J. F. J. von Haast 1862b, pp. 127–31, and H. F. von Haast 1948, pp. 199–219). See also Correspondence vol. 9, letter from J. D. Hooker, [29 December 1861], and Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 September 1862, and letter from Julius von Haast, 9 December 1862. In Origin, p. 373, CD referred to indications of former glacial action in New Zealand, and in the fourth edition (pp. 442–3), he cited the ‘excellent researches’ of Haast and James Hector, stating that ‘we now know …  that enormous glaciers formerly descended to a low level in New Zealand’.
Haast observed littoral, alluvial, and glacial terraces in the province of Canterbury (J. F. J. von Haast 1862b, pp. 128–30).
In his address (J. F. J. von Haast 1862a, p. 6), Haast referred to the ‘indigenous quadruped’ called ‘Kaureke’ by the Maori, which he thought might be a badger or otter, though he had only seen its tracks, and described his own observation of a smaller mammal’s tracks. CD expressed his interest in endemic island organisms in Origin, pp. 201–2.
CD refers to Archaeopteryx. See letter from Hugh Falconer, 3 January [1863].
See, for example, Journal of researches, p. 351.
Haast was interested in importing European plants and animals that would benefit New Zealand; he suggested the establishment of acclimatisation societies for the introduction of ‘useful animals’ (J. F. J. von Haast 1862a, p. 3). In Origin, CD discussed the replacement of native New Zealand species (pp. 201–2), as well as the geographical distribution of animals and plants on oceanic islands (pp. 388–406). After discussing the naturalisation of plants on New Zealand and St Helena, he wrote (p. 390): He who admits the doctrine of the creation of each separate species, will have to admit, that a sufficient number of the best adapted plants and animals have not been created on oceanic islands; for man has unintentionally stocked them from various sources far more fully and perfectly than has nature.
In his address to the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, Haast referred to reports of the discovery of pre-Maori stone implements in Wellington Province, and proposed the possibility of inhabitants or visitors before the Maori as a subject worthy of inquiry (J. F. J. von Haast 1862a, p. 7).


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

DSB: Dictionary of scientific biography. Edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie and Frederic L. Holmes. 18 vols. including index and supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1970–90.

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

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

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.


Thanks JvH for his address [to the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury], his Geological Report [Topographical and geological exploration of the western districts of the Nelson province, New Zealand (1861)],

and for the "honourable" notice of Origin.

CD especially interested in JvH’s facts on the old glacial period.

Asks about fossil remains [of supposed living mammalia] which CD thinks may be like "the Solenhofen bird-creature" [Archaeopteryx].

Urges the recording of rate and manner of spreading of European weeds and plants and observation on which native plants "most fail".

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3935,” accessed on 24 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11