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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   23 October 1863

Coltishall Norwich

October 23/63.

My dear Darwin.

Since writing last,1 I have heard, through Lubbock,2 a rather better account of you—& sincerely hope that it may soon be confirmed by yourself. I have been wandering about, seeking rest & finding much— first I went to my Uncle Gunn’s with wife & 2 youngest;3 & I had a day at the Norfolk Cliffs with him— Then I returned to Kew & started last Saturday with Lubbock, Gunn, Thomson, & a Mr Jansen (friend of Lubbock) to Amiens & Abbeville,4 where I had look at the gravel pits, & much discussion thereupon. . Of course I am no authority on such a subject, but like most ignorant men must have an opinion of my own, & that the most confounded one, of simply being dissatisfied with the explanations of others. The most mysterious thing of all is the great numbers of worked flints found, & the vast area over which they are found. Considering the “imperfection of the Geological Record” it is obvious that these implements must be in the ground by tens of millions5— they are found over areas of very many square miles;— at various elevations in the valleys, from the present river-beds to several hundred feet above it, in beds capping the hills;—& at all depths in ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ that are 30 ft thick! ⁠⟨⁠There⁠⟩⁠ are several unsatisfactory points in the published explanations &c.6

1. The so called Loess or Superficial deposit, is, I think, clearly nothing but the altered condition of the exposed beds, due to ærial action.

2. There is in most of the beds both in the Somme & Oise, a curious admixture, of very rounded pebbles & angular flints, without intermediate forms: seeming every where, as if a detritus of angular flints had been rolled up with Seaside flint pebbles.

3. It is difficult to suppose ⁠⟨⁠that⁠⟩⁠ the angular & rounded flints have be⁠⟨⁠en⁠⟩⁠ carried by ice action to th⁠⟨⁠eir⁠⟩⁠ present position & the ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ worked flints (intermixed with them) not so— No⁠⟨⁠thing⁠⟩⁠ that I could see or hear of at ⁠⟨⁠all coun⁠⟩⁠tenanced the assumption that angular flints & pebbles were transported, & the worked flints simply dropped in during the deposition of the beds.

4. The theory of the accumulation of any of the beds by periodic overflow of large rivers, seems to me simply preposterous.7

The so called Loess is full of angular flints, weighing from an oz to a pound, besides round pebbles & sandstone boulders, all of which nothing, but violent current (if of water) could have transported, & to suppose that such rivers covered uniformly so many thousand square miles of ⁠⟨⁠h⁠⟩⁠illy country is to me quite ⁠⟨⁠in⁠⟩⁠conceivable— such deposit ⁠⟨⁠re⁠⟩⁠present the denudation of ⁠⟨⁠m⁠⟩⁠ountains many thousands feet high—& I cannot believe that the Oise & Somme of former days could have had anything material to do with it. Supposing that the so called Loess had been a fine silt—I doubt whether even then it would have been accountable for any river deposits— I doubt rivers making such deposits by annual floods at all—Except the land be sinking.

A system of vast Lakes & morasses with lofty mountains, torrents & ice action would do much to explain the whole deposit,—but where are the ancient boundaries of such lakes?— Next best would be estuarial ice deposit along a sinking coast.

We returned on Tuesday night after having visited Creil, & Chauny on the Oise; Amiens Abbeville St Acheul &c on the Somme. On Thursday I came here to my sisters,8 & this morning went to the gravel pits hard by. The similarity of the phenomena is so striking that it is impossible to suppose that the two countries were dissimilar, when the hatchets were deposited in Suffolk, Norfolk & Picardy, & I have a great notion that these post-tertiary beds do not represent so many climates as is supposed.— I must send you a wonderful sketch just received from Hector,9 of the ancient terraced glacial detritus filling the broad N. Zealand valleys, at only 1000 ft above the level of the sea—the exact counterparts of my sketches of Himalayan valleys at ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠10 Now this, in N.Z; is in the ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ & elevation of Palms, tree Ferns, & Dracænas!— Were Elephants & Co now to inhabit such a valley, they would be liable to be swept by torrents into this glacial detritus—& be regarded by future Geologists as evidently glacial animals; whilst the vegetable remains hard by would be referred to quite a different climate, & hence a difft geological period!

Torell’s account of the glacial marine animals, inhabiting a fresh-water lake in Sweden fa⁠⟨⁠r⁠⟩⁠ south of the latitude where th⁠⟨⁠ese⁠⟩⁠ animals now inhabit ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ sea,11 is another confoundi⁠⟨⁠ng⁠⟩⁠ circumstance— . & Lubbock brought me 2 marine Fuci, ⁠⟨⁠from⁠⟩⁠ a perfectly fresh Lagoon, wh⁠⟨⁠ich⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ the rocks.

⁠⟨⁠Tomorrow⁠⟩⁠ I go to the cliffs at Bacton & Happisburgh.

My wife is much better—12 we go on Monday to Yarmouth, & I return to Kew on Wednesday of next week

I am very well, but it will be long before I get over this craving for my child;13 or the bitterness of that last night. To nurse grief I hold is a deadly sin, but I shall never cease to wish my child back in my arms, as long as I live.

I have written you a most presumptuous yarn. It is delightful to have a good fellow to say what ⁠⟨⁠he⁠⟩⁠ likes to!!!— I would not have ⁠⟨⁠blas⁠⟩⁠phemed modern Geology so ⁠⟨⁠to Pr⁠⟩⁠estwich Lyell or Falconer ⁠⟨⁠ever in⁠⟩⁠ the world.14 My wife sends ⁠⟨⁠her⁠⟩⁠ love

Ever yours affec | J D Hooker

P.S. Just heard that Willy15 is sent back to Kew convalescent of scarlet fever; we had not been told he was ill! My Mother16 has taken him in for a week, after that I must take him somewhere.


John Lubbock.
The palaeontologist and geologist John Gunn was married to Maria Hooker’s sister Harriet, making him Hooker’s uncle by marriage (Allan 1967, ‘Hooker pedigree’). Hooker also refers to his wife, Frances Harriet Hooker, Charles Paget Hooker, aged 8, and Brian Harvey Hodgson Hooker, aged 3 (ibid.).
The references are to John Lubbock, John Gunn, the surgeon and botanist Thomas Thomson (R. Desmond 1994), and probably Frederick Halsey Janson, a London solicitor (Law list 1863). Abbeville, near Amiens, in the Somme valley, France, was a renowned site of prehistoric human artefacts (Van Riper 1993). See also letter from John Lubbock, 14 October 1863.
An allusion to chapter 9 of Origin, which was entitled: ‘On the Imperfection of the Geological Record’.
The principal study of the formation of the Somme valley deposits was made by Joseph Prestwich, presented in a paper read before the Royal Society of London on 27 March 1862 (J. Prestwich 1862a), and later published in revised form in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (J. Prestwich 1862b). Charles Lyell had also included a section on the geological structure of these deposits and their associated artefacts in Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 106–47).
The reference is to the theory expounded in Prestwich 1862b, pp. 286–98.
Hooker’s sister Elizabeth was married to the surgeon Thomas Robert Evans of Coltishall, Norfolk (Allan 1967, ‘Hooker pedigree’).
James Hector was the provincial geologist of Otago, New Zealand (DNZB).
Presumably a reference to Hooker’s sketches of the terraced moraines in the Yangma valley of Nepal published in Himalayan journals (J. D. Hooker 1854, 1: 242, and end of volume).
The reference is to the Swedish geologist and zoologist Otto Martin Torell and to Torell 1859.
Maria Elizabeth Hooker had died aged 6 on 28 September 1863 (see letters from J. D. Hooker, [28 September 1863] and 1 October 1863).
Joseph Prestwich, Charles Lyell, and Hugh Falconer.
William Henslow Hooker, the Hookers’ eldest child (Allan 1967).
Maria Hooker.


Allan, Mea. 1967. The Hookers of Kew, 1785–1911. London: Michael Joseph.

Desmond, Ray. 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. New edition, revised with the assistance of Christine Ellwood. London: Taylor & Francis and the Natural History Museum. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis.

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.

Law list: Clarkes’ new law list; being a list of the judges and officers of the different courts of justice … and a variety of other useful matter. London: W. Clarke. 1816–40. The law list; comprising the judges and officers of the different courts of justice: counsel, special pleaders, draftsmen, conveyancers, attorneys, notaries, &c., in England and Wales … and a variety of other useful matter. London: V. & R. Stevens & G. S. Norton [and others]. 1841–1969.

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.

Torell, Otto Martin. 1859. Bidrag till Spitsbergens molluskfauna. Jemte en allmän öfversigt af Arktiska regionens naturförhârcurbr;llanden och forntida utbredning. Stockholm: Typografiska föreningens boktryckeri.

Van Riper, A. Bowdoin. 1993. Men among the mammoths: Victorian science and the discovery of human prehistory. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.


With scientific party to Amiens to look at gravel-pits, the geology of which JDH describes at length.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 101: 167–70
Physical description
8pp damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4321,” accessed on 22 October 2021,

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