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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. J. Aubertin   3 September 1863

St Paul’s

Sep 3. 1863

My dear Mr Darwin

I am much obliged to you for your letter of the 19th July—1 Our geological aspirants here are quite satisfied in finding your report of the stones I sent you from our tunnel confirmatory, more or less, of their own ventured opinions!2

This is indeed a strange country geologically as well as æthnologically! Everything in Creation has a real meaning I suppose! & so I suppose Brazil & the Brazilians must have! There is not much more variety in their Postage Stamps than there is in their pursuits, arts, & acquirements! But such as there are to be found I have much pleasure in enclosing for your boy, & wish they were prettier!3 The numbers on them represent the “reis”4—one thousand of which (according to “Cocker”)5 make the mil-reis— 1#000.

The value of this coin, at Mint Par, being (as perhaps you already know) 27d— That is the simplest division of money here, but there are a hundred & fifty other clumsy calculations, as bad as our own—

The House of Commons, I see, has voted the Decimal & Metric Systems, but is far from obtaining the satisfaction of all!—6 I suppose there are objections to every system—& lately I have heard the proposal to make “8” the Basis, as giving even halves & quarters &c—which of course “10” does not. There are a good many more, I fancy, troubled with having nothing to count than there are who are troubled to count what they have! At all events, in general matters of life, each of us pretty well knows how to state the account in his own favour!

I am very sorry to hear of such illness in your family, but trust you may now all be pretty well, yourself included.7 You have, I understand had a very beautiful summer in England, with every prospect of a most abundant harvest, which I hope has been by this time tolerably well realized.—

We have the small-pox very badly here, which makes terrible looking objects of some of the poor Blacks! I understand it has been an Epidemic too, in England this year!—8 I was re-vaccinated the other day, but it resulted 〈in a〉 false pustule!

Believe me very faithfully Yours | J. J. Aubertin.


Letter to J. J. Aubertin, 19 July 1863.
See letter from J. J. Aubertin, 27 April 1863, and letter to J. J. Aubertin, 19 July 1863. Aubertin was superintendent of a railway in Brazil and had sought CD’s advice on tunneling through the rocks of which he sent samples.
CD had requested Aubertin to send postage stamps for Leonard Darwin’s collection.
Reis: ‘A Portugese money of account of very small value … of which one thousand form a Milreis’ (OED).
According to Cocker: ‘reliably, correctly’ (Brewer). Edward Cocker was a seventeenth-century arithmetician, whose popular arithmetical text-book went through over a hundred editions (DNB).
The reference is to a bill for a decimal system for British weights and measures, and for making them correspond with the units of the metric system, that was introduced in the House of Commons by William Ewart in May 1863, and received its second reading (during which the principle of the bill was approved) on 1 July 1863 (Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates 3d ser. 172 (1863): 43). However, since the bill did not have government support, it did not pass through the various stages required for it to become law before the end of the parliamentary session, and thus lapsed. With government support, Ewart successfully introduced a more limited bill in the following parliamentary session, which legalised the use of metric terms in contracts (Connor 1987, EB).
An epidemic of smallpox in London, beginning in the middle of 1862 and culminating in the second quarter of 1863, claimed 2281 lives by the end of 1863. Outbreaks also occurred in several English provincial towns (Sixth report of the medical officer of the Privy Council, pp. 82, 105–8, 157–9, and 187–9).


Thanks CD for his letter and geological report on the stones JJA sent.

Encloses postage stamps for CD’s son.

Letter details

Letter no.
John James Aubertin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Sao Paulo
Source of text
DAR 159: 124
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4289,” accessed on 22 April 2019,

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