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Darwin Correspondence Project

From E. A. Darwin   9 April [1864]1

9th April

Dear Charles

Lyell2 was calling here yesterday, & asked me to tell you what he had been talking about. He said he had been seeing Sir W Hooker to learn how Kew managed to send people out to collect and he found that all expenses were covered by sale of surplus specimens.3

He wants to do the same with bones, & Miss Coutts4 has invited him to meet the new Consul at Sarawak & the Rajah Brooks to consult about examing the caves in Borneo.5 He did not express that he wanted you to take any steps in the matter, but he said that we should probably find our progenitors there if anywhere.6

He gave rather a bad account of Lady L that she was very much worn by her anxieties & that he himself was rather bad & they were going a little tour to restore themselves.7

Yours affec. | E D


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from A. R. Wallace, 10 May 1864.
Erasmus refers to William Jackson Hooker, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. For a discussion of collectors for Kew, see R. Desmond 1995, pp. 206–13.
Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts was an heiress and influential philanthropist, with interests that included science and colonial expansion (DNB).
Alfred Russel Wallace had evidently discussed with Lyell the importance of exploring a cave in north-western Borneo said to contain abundant bones, including what Wallace, according to Lyell, thought might be ‘the bones of extinct species of anthropomorphous apes most nearly allied to man’ (see K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 382); for Wallace’s recollection of his friendship with Lyell at this time, see Wallace 1905, 1: 433–5. Wallace discussed the caves and requested funds for the exploration in a letter to the Reader, 19 March 1864, p. 367, which was also published in Natural History Review 4 (1864): 308–11. The Rajah of Sarawak, James Brooke, later offered to examine some caves at the expense of the Sarawak government; George Thorne Ricketts, the new consul, was to superintend the work (Natural History Review 4 (1864): 472–3, and letter from A. R. Wallace, 10 May 1864). CD’s unbound copies of these issues of the Natural History Review are in the Darwin Library–CUL. At some time in 1863 or 1864, Wallace had spent time with Brooke in Devonshire, where they also went on excursions with Burdett-Coutts (see Wallace 1905, 2: 51–2, and n. 4, above).
In Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a), Lyell suggested that equatorial Africa, Sumatra, and Borneo, which were home to anthropoid apes, were likely places to find fossil remains of gradational forms between apes and humans (see C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 498–500). On 28 April 1864, Lyell wrote to a correspondent that he hoped to find ‘extinct ourangs, if not the missing link itself, from these Borneo explorations’ (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 383).
In April 1864, Mary Elizabeth Lyell and her husband travelled to Midhurst, Sussex, and Salisbury, Wiltshire (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 381).


Desmond, Ray. 1995. Kew: the history of the Royal Botanic Gardens. London: Harvill Press with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

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.

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1905. My life: a record of events and opinions. 2 vols. London: Chapman & Hall.


Lyell thinks an expedition should be sent to the caves in Borneo, supported by the sale of surplus specimens; thinks "our progenitors" may well be there.

Letter details

Letter no.
Erasmus Alvey Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 105: B25–6
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4458,” accessed on 8 December 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12