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Darwin Correspondence Project

To George Maw   12 May [1863]1

of Down, Bromley, Kent [Leith Hill Place]2

May 12th

Dear Sir

I have been visiting from home & your letter of April 25th did not reach me for some days.3 I then wrote to Sir C. Lyell, & he was so busy that he was not able to answer me at once.—4 He is much obliged to you, but he really does not know enough of the osteology of man to appreciate your specimen.—5 He agrees with me that bones from Gibraltar must be of very doubtful age. Nevertheless, in my opinion, no skull of man ought to be neglected. If you get a skull or part of skull from Gibraltar, I would suggest that you had better write direct to Mr Busk, Secretary Linn. Soc. Burlington House or to Dr Falconer 21 Park Crescent, & state what the remains are & whether either one would like to examine them.6 It would be a thousand pities if the specimens were wasted. You seem to have got a splendid section of the Drift.—7 It would be highly adviseable for you to collect as many shells as possible & look out well for any bones.— Mr. Prestwich of the Geological Soc. Somerset House, would probably be interested by any considerable collection of shells from the Drift.—8 Glacial shells have been found by me & others near Shrewsbury.9

Pray believe me | Dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from George Maw, 25 April 1863.
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), the Darwins were at Leith Hill Place, near Dorking, Surrey, the home of Josiah Wedgwood III, from 6 to 13 May 1863.
Letter to Charles Lyell, [7 May 1863]; Lyell’s reply has not been found.
Maw had informed CD that he was in a position to obtain a specimen of a supposedly human skull from Gibraltar, and requested CD to ask Charles Lyell whether he was interested in examining it (see letter from George Maw, 25 April 1863).
George Busk was the zoological secretary of the Linnean Society (DNB). Busk and Hugh Falconer were specialists in palaeontology, and had explored British and European caves in search of human fossil remains (DSB, Falconer 1868).
Joseph Prestwich was treasurer of the Geological Society of London (Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 1863), and a leading expert on Tertiary geology. In 1862, Prestwich read two papers on the geology of drift deposits before the Royal Society of London; he completed the study, which included an analysis of the shells found in the deposits, towards the end of May 1863 (Prestwich 1862b, p. 247).
In ‘Ancient glaciers of Caernarvonshire’, p. 185, CD briefly mentioned finding fragments of seashells in Shropshire and Staffordshire (Collected papers 1: 167).


‘Ancient glaciers of Caernarvonshire’: Notes on the effects produced by the ancient glaciers of Caernarvonshire, and on the boulders transported by floating ice. By Charles Darwin. Philosophical Magazine 3d ser. 21 (1842): 180–8. [Shorter publications, pp. 140–7.]

Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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.

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.

Falconer, Hugh. 1868. Palæontological memoirs and notes of the late Hugh Falconer … with a biographical sketch of the author. Compiled and edited by Charles Murchison. 2 vols. London: Robert Hardwicke.


Believes GM’s human bones from Gibraltar must be of very doubtful age. Lyell agrees, but feels any skull found should be forwarded to George Busk or Hugh Falconer.

Suggests GM look carefully for shells in the drift.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Maw
Sent from
Leith Hill Place Down letterhead
Source of text
Royal Horticultural Society, Lindley Library (MAW/1/10)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4157,” accessed on 21 June 2024,

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