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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Osbert Salvin   11 [May 1863]1

Down Bromley | Kent [Leith Hill Place]2

Monday 11th.

Dear Sir

Dr. Hooker has written to me to say that you would like to hear my opinion on the value of a collection made at the Galapagos.3 Perhaps you may have read my Journal; & if so, you will have observed that all the productions are singularly unattractive in appearance, & this, no doubt, renders this collection less interesting.4

But under a purely scientific point of view, I think it would be scarcely possible to exaggerate the interest of a good collection of every species rigorously kept separate from each island. It would throw much light on variation (& as I believe on the origin of Species) & on geographical distribution.5 No doubt many curious facts could be observed on the habits of the Birds & Reptiles. Probably there would be curious facts on the naturalisation & spreading of introduced plants & animals.—6 Some of the islands were only just visited by the Beagle, & these would be well worth exploring.7 The climate is perfectly healthy. The dismal scenery is like that of another world. I look back to my 6 weeks on these islands with extraordinary interest. But you must be prepared for mere amateurs in Natural History thinking little of any collection made there.

If you go, it would well deserve your attention to ascertain how the marine Amblyrhynchus breeds.8 Pray attend to presence of sea-borne seeds in drift on the beaches exposed to prevailing currents.9

with most cordial wishes for your success if you start, & with sincere respect for your zeal, pray believe me Dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | C. Darwin


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Osbert Salvin, 12 May 1863.
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), the Darwins stayed at Leith Hill Place, near Dorking, Surrey, the home of Josiah Wedgwood III, between 6 and 13 May 1863.
CD visited the Galápagos archipelago for five weeks between 15 September and 20 October 1835, during his voyage on HMS Beagle. His account of the visit to the Galápagos Islands appeared in chapter 19 of the first edition of Journal of researches (pp. 453–78) and chapter 17 of the second edition (pp. 372–401).
The Beagle collections from the Galápagos islands indicated not only that the majority of the land birds were endemic to the archipelago as a whole, but also that some were endemic to specific islands. The results of the analyses of avian, mammalian, and botanical collections from the archipelago between 1837 and 1859 led CD to accord great importance to the role of geographical isolation in the production of new species (Natural selection, pp. 254–6, 273–4; Origin, pp. 107–8; Sulloway 1979 and 1984).
For a number of years CD had been collecting data on variation in plants and animals introduced into different environments (Correspondence vols. 5–7). CD believed insights would be gained into the processes of adaptation, variation, and natural selection as a result of examining the nature of plants or animals that had successfully replaced the endemic flora and fauna of any country. In particular, CD noted that naturalised plants exhibited a ‘highly diversified nature’ (Origin, pp. 114–16). See also letter to Julius von Haast, 22 January 1863.
For an itinerary of HMS Beagle between 15 September and 20 October 1835, see Freeman 1978, p. 147. See also ‘Beagle’ diary, pp. 333–43.
CD refers to the marine iguana, which is endemic to the Galápagos Islands.
As part of his investigations into the geographical distribution of plants, CD had long been interested in the role of marine currents in seed dispersal, and had performed a series of experiments on the ability of seeds to survive immersion in sea-water (see Correspondence vol. 6, and Origin, pp. 358–61).


‘Beagle’ diary: Charles Darwin’s Beagle diary. Edited by Richard Darwin Keynes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1988.

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

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1978. Charles Darwin: a companion. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

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.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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.

Sulloway, Frank J. 1979. Geographic isolation in Darwin’s thinking: the vicissitudes of a crucial idea. In vol. 3 of Studies in history of biology, edited by William Coleman and Camille Limoges. Baltimore, Md., and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.


At the suggestion of J. D. Hooker CD offers his opinion on the value of a proposed collection to be made at the Galápagos. The display would not be attractive or appealing to amateurs in natural history, but the scientific value of good collections of every species would be very great if those of each island are rigorously kept separate.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Osbert Salvin
Sent from
Source of text
Sybil Rampen (private collection)
Physical description
ALS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4153A,” accessed on 21 June 2024,

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