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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Julius von Haast   21 July [– 7? August] 18631

Christchurch Canterbury N Z.

21th July 1863

My dear Mr. Darwin!

I had the pleasure to write to you on the      January last2 and can not tell you, with what intense pleasure, I received your kind letter of the 22th of January.3 If it is pleasant to hear words of encouragement, when living in the centre of civilisation, how much greater is the delight to receive them away from it and from such a man, as yourself, the noble champion of true philosophic enquiry.— But when I tell you, that your letter came into my possession just on returning from a very rough and toilesome journey across the Alps to the Westcoast, finding it with many others at an isolated sheepstation in the lower alpine regions, you may easily imagine, that this circumstance added not a little to my enjoyment.—4

I did not think, that my inaugural adress would interest any body except those few of my auditors, who really took an interest in scientific matters.—5 Unfortunately the adress being too long, I had to curtail it and therefore many passages were omitted and amongst them one, which explained the enormous difference between your glorious researches and those of your predecessors in the same field. In one of my next papers, when noticing your magnificent work on Orchids, in which you have shown to many botanists, how to proceed, I shall return to the subject;6 at the same time I shall endeavour to show not only, that the geological age of the world must be incalculable and elucidate the subject by describing the formation of our Alps, drawing some conclusions in looking at the enormous thickness of the strata, of which they are composed and their lithological character, but also in confirmation of your theory, I shall point out, that the old system of chronological sequence of the so called formations all over the world, has to be abandonned in a great degree.7

To this conclusion I came, when noticing some remarkable phenomena in connection with the fossiliferous strata of New Zealand. I see by an article in the Intellectual Observer8 (: a splendid publication:) that Prof. Huxley has written a paper, treating of the same matter in the Quarterly Journal of the Geol. Society;9 which unfortunately I have not yet seen, but which I expect every day. He seems to have come to the same conclusions.

I am just beginning to write my extended report on my researches of the last three years, which I hope will leave the printer’s hands in about 12 months and which will be accompanied by maps, sections & sketches.10 In it I shall give a great many details concerning the glacial period, which is developed in New Zealand in a most wonderful degree.11

During my last journey, I again observed very often the tracks of the supposed Quadruped, but although I had a capital dog with me, I never succeeded in obtaining the owners of the feet, which had imprinted them. It seems almost to me that the animal enters its hole from below the surface of the water like the otter.—12 But I got a great many Kakapo’s (Strigops) and as so very little is known of their natural history, I wrote a short paper on their habits, of which I send you enclose a copy, as it will be a long while before it will be printed.13 It will without doubt interest you, as it bears on many points in connection with the “Origin of Species.14 And the Solenhofen Bird—Amphibium, what a wonderful creature!15 The connecting links between the different species, genera and even order and classes did exist and will be found.

Your suggestion concerning the desirable record of the spreading of European weeds & insects in the Colony was a very good one, I have communicated it to the Philos. Institute & the members were extremely grateful to you.16 Some of them have already offered to report and are occupied in collecting the necessary material

This subject had for a long time attracted my attention and I shall give you a few instances of the wonderful capabilities of European products, to settle themselves on antipodean ground & to destroy or drive away the indigenous inhabitants.17 The Native (Maori) saying: “So as the white man’s rat has driven away or killed our Kiore (native rat) the European housefly drives away our own (Bluebottle) the clover kills our fern (.Pteris esculenta) so will the Maori disappear before the white man” is a very true one. Yes, it is really wonderful to behold the botanical and zoological changes, which have taken place since first Captn Cook visited the shores of New Zealand.18 Some pigs which he and some other navigators after him left behind with the natives and the offspring of which in some cases became wild, have increased in such a way, that it is impossible to destroy them. There are large tracts of country, where they reign supreme, the soil looks as if ploughed hole near hole appearing from their burrowings. Some station owner of 100,000 acres have given contracts for killing them, (at 6 d. a tail) and as many as 22,000 on a single run have been killed by adventurous parties without any diminution being visible. Not only are they obnoxious in occupying the ground which the sheepfarmer needs for his flocks, but also in following assidiously the ewes, when lambing and eating the poor lambs, as soon as they make their appearance. They do not exist on the Western side of the Alps and only in the lower ground on the eastern side, where snow seldom falls, so that even the explorer has not the advantage of profiting by their existence. The boars are sometimes very large, covered with long black bristles and with enormous tusks, resembling closely the wild boars of the Ardennes & they are equally savage and courageous.

An other interesting fact is the appearance of the Norwegian rat. (At some spots the English rat is said to be abundant). It has thouroughly destroyed the native rat & is to be found everywhere even in the very heart of the Alps, growing to a very large size. The European house mouse follows it closely and what is surprising, where it makes its appearance it drives in a great degree the Norwegian rat away.— Amongst other quadrupeds cattle, dogs & cats are found in a wild state, although not abundant.

The European housefly is another importation   Where it arrives, it expels the blue bottle fly, which seems to shun its company. But the spread of the European insect goes on very slowly, so that Settlers knowing their useful quality of their old home aquaintance have carried it in bottles and boxes to their new inland stations

Amongst the European plants the most prolifique is without doubt the Watercress. Nobody who has not seen it, has any idea of its luxuriant growth. It has chocked up rivers, creeks & ditches so as to create great inconvenience to the Inhabitants. For instance the clearing of the river Avon, which meanders through Christchurch costs that city yearly many hundred pounds.

Docks, buckweeds & red Sorrel have spread everywhere even to the Alps, as far as cattle and sheep have travelled, and even higher up, they are found, the seeds without doubt being brought there by birds or winds. Several species of thistles are also spreading very fast and would soon overrun the whole country, as they have already done in some parts of Australia, had we not very stringent laws for their eradication.

You see there is ample room for research in New Zealand, also in this respect I am very anxious to see and study Sir Chs. Lyell’s new work on the evidence of antiquity of man, because it must be a masterwork, like everything this illustrious philosopher has written.19

As a feeble tribute from the Antipodes I may mention to you, that the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury at their last meeting have inanumously (:parsons ⁠⟨⁠no⁠⟩⁠t excepted) elected you an honorary member; you will probably receive the diploma with this mail.20 In doing so, the members have honoured themselves and in associating the names of yourself and of our friend Dr. Jos. Hooker21 with the Institute, they have assured to their Society a powerful moral support.

In the Revue du Monde Coloniale of March 1863 (Paris) is an article: La science dans la nouvelle Zélande and in it a passage mentionning you, which I find so very appropriate that I venture to copy it for your perusal: “L’illustre Darwin a visité les rivages zélandais, alors que, comme un nouveau Platon, il preludait par de longs voyages ‘a l’élaboration de ses savantes théories.”22

But I see my letter becomes rather too long, therefore not to take any more of your valuable time, I shall conclude, but not without hoping, that you will again favor me with your letters, which are like an Oasis in this wilderness of money-making settlers.

Allow me to include my photograph23 to enable you to know your correspondent by sight and may I ask you as a great favor not only to myself but to all your admirers, to send me yours in return, which I shall highly value.

Believe me my dear Sir with great respect yours very faithfully | Julius Haast.—

Chs. Darwin Esqre | FRS. etc. | Down, | Kent SE.

PS. | It is, I think, not necessary to tell you that you may make any use of my communications, how and when you like.—24

CD annotations

12.2 I am … (:parsons 13.2] crossed pencil


The date range is conjectured from the reference to CD’s election as an honorary member of the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, New Zealand (see n. 20, below). This letter was apparently sent in the same cover as the letter from Julius von Haast, 6 August 1863, which is folded in an identical manner.
No letter from Haast to CD of January 1863 has been found. Haast probably refers to his letter to CD of 9 December 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10), of which CD only received a copy in July 1863 (see letter to Julius von Haast, 18 July [1863] and n. 2). Haast left a space in the text before ‘January’.
Haast refers to his geological expedition across the Southern Alps of New Zealand’s Middle Island (now South Island) to the west coast (see letter from Julius von Haast, 5 March 1863, n. 2).
Haast refers to his inaugural address to the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, New Zealand (J. F. J. von Haast 1862a). See letter to Julius von Haast, 22 January 1863 and nn. 2 and 3, and enclosure to letter from Julius von Haast, 5 March 1863 and n. 12.
No paper discussing Orchids is listed in the bibliography of Haast’s publications in H. F. von Haast 1948, pp. 1088–1100.
Haast refers to CD’s statement in Origin, p. 324, that when ‘marine forms of life are spoken of as having changed simultaneously throughout the world’, the expression should not be understood in any strict sense. In particular, CD noted that ‘the most skilful naturalist would hardly be able to say whether the existing or the pleistocene inhabitants of Europe resembled most closely those of the southern hemisphere’. No publications on this subject by Haast have been identified.
The Intellectual Observer was a monthly popular science journal, which began publication in February 1862, edited by Henry James Slack.
Haast refers to Thomas Henry Huxley’s anniversary address to the Geological Society of London (T. H. Huxley 1862a), which was briefly described by William Bernhard Tegetmeier in the March 1862 number of the Intellectual Observer (Intellectual Observer 1 (1862): 153), and discussed extensively in an article in the June 1862 number (Slack 1862). For CD’s initial reaction to Huxley’s 1862 address, see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to T. H. Huxley, 10 May [1862]; see also letters to T. H. Huxley, 7 December [1862] and 18 December [1862].
Haast refers to his geological work for the provincial government of Canterbury; he began working as a geologist in Canterbury province in November 1860, becoming provincial geologist in 1861 (DNZB). Although Haast published numerous papers and reports on the geology of Canterbury province (see H. F. von Haast 1948, pp. 1088–1100, and Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers), he did not publish an extended account until 1879 (J. F. J. von Haast 1879; see also letter from Julius von Haast, 27 September 1865, Calendar no. 4900). There is an unannotated copy of J. F. J. von Haast 1879 in the Darwin Library–Down.
For CD’s interest in the evidence from New Zealand relative to the Pleistocene glacial period, see the letter to Julius von Haast, 22 January 1863 and n. 4. Haast discussed the glacial deposits of the Southern Alps of New Zealand in several of his papers (see H. F. von Haast 1948, pp. 1088–1100, and Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers).
The manuscript copy of Haast’s paper on the ground parrot, entitled ‘Notes on the structure and habits of Strigops habroptilus read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury’, is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. The paper was later published in German in the Verhandlungen der Kaiserlich-Königlichen Zoologisch-Botanischen Gesellschaft in Wien (J. F. J. von Haast 1863); an English translation appeared in Ibis in 1864 (J. F. J. von Haast 1864).
Strigops habroptilus (a synonym of S. habroptila, the kakapo) possesses well-developed wings, but is flightless. In the manuscript copy of the paper he sent to CD (Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL, G304, pp. 9–10), Haast noted that an individual of the species frightened into falling from a tree did not open its wings to break its fall. He observed: is not this one instance more that all organic beings by adapting themselves to circumstances will insensibly change their habits & in consequence, their structure will also undergo great modification—the better to fit them for the struggle for existence, unless in the meantime they have been exterminated or have disappeared from other causes—?!— It would lead me too far were I to enter manfully into this important subject, to which the eminent labours of Darwin have directed the close attention of philosophers and naturalists—
CD sent Haast’s letter to Joseph Dalton Hooker, who requested permission to publish Haast’s observations on the naturalisation of species in New Zealand (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [30 October 1863], and letter from J. D. Hooker to Emma Darwin, 11 November 1863). A somewhat modified version of a portion of the letter was published in J. D. Hooker 1864, pp. 126–7.
James Cook was the first to circumnavigate and accurately chart New Zealand; he first arrived there in 1769 (DNB).
C. Lyell 1863a.
According to the letter from the secretary of the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, New Zealand, 14 September 1863, CD was elected an honorary member at a meeting held on 7 August 1863.
Hooker was also elected an honorary member of the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury in 1863 (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 508).
Fonvielle 1863, p. 182. The passage translates: ‘The illustrious Darwin visited the shores of New Zealand, at a time when, like a new Plato, he was developing through long voyages the elaboration of his learned theories.’ Plato was reputed to have travelled widely before returning to Athens to found the Academy (CBD).
The enclosure has not been found.
See n. 17, above.


Calendar: A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. With supplement. 2d edition. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994.

CBD: A classical dictionary of Greek and Roman biography, mythology, and geography. Based on the larger dictionaries by the late Sir William Smith. Revised by G. E. Marindin. London: John Murray. 1894.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 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.

DNZB: A dictionary of New Zealand biography. Edited by G. H. Scholefield. 2 vols. Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Internal Affairs. 1940. The dictionary of New Zealand biography. Edited by W. H. Oliver et al. 5 vols. Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Internal Affairs [and others]. 1990–2000.

Fonvielle, Wilfrid de. 1863. La science a la Nouvelle-Zélande. Revue du Monde Coloniale 8: 182–8.

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. 1863. Bemerkungen über Strigops habroptilus, eingesendet aus Canterbury auf Neuseeland. Verhandlungen der Kaiserlich-Königlichen Zoologisch-Botanischen Gesellschaft in Wien 13: 1115–20.

Haast, John Francis Julius von. 1879. Geology of the provinces of Canterbury and Westland, New Zealand: a report comprising the results of official explorations. Christchurch, New Zealand: The ‘Times’ office.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

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.

Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers: Catalogue of scientific papers (1800–1900). Compiled and published by the Royal Society of London. 19 vols. and index (3 vols.). London: Royal Society of London. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1867–1925.

Slack, Henry J. 1862. Life changes on the globe. Intellectual Observer 1: 325–33.


In a forthcoming paper JvH will show geological age of the world to be "incalculable" and will confirm CD’s theory that "the old system of chronological sequence of formations all over the world must be abandoned in a great degree".

Predicts the links between species, genera, and classes will be found.

CD elected an Honorary Member [of Philosophical Institute of Canterbury].

Letter details

Letter no.
John Francis Julius (Julius) von Haast
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 166: 4, 6; Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL (G304)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4249,” accessed on 22 April 2024,

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