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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Duppa Crotch   10 April 1865

Uphill House | Weston Super Mare

April 10/65

Dear Sir

Since I was in Shetland—3 or 4 years ago1—I have twice visited the Canary Islands in search of development & an Atlantis!2 & have brought back more than 40.000 specimens—mostly entomological—& some confirmed opinions—

Those on the mutation of species needed no confirmation—but with regard to the great continent, in part submerged—which connected America with Africa in the miocene & subsequent eras, I feel more confident than ever that the Sahara is the ocean bed which separated this land from Africa, & that migration worked Eastward of Greenland—across the telegraphic plateau,3 then a portion of the dry land of Atlantis—rather than across Asia via Behring’s Straits (which must have been a perfect Noah’s Ark) as Asa Gray supposes—4 The utter non-existence of infra-Saharan species in the Canary Islands, & continual occurrence of Transatlantic types is very surprising— I do not know how intimately you investigated these Islands & shall feel extremely obliged to you for any expression of opinion with regard to the Atlantis Hypothesis—5

Further than this I think Adhemar’s theory of the Antarctic glaciers6 not only possible but as probably explaining the submergence of the Western portion of Atlantis— I brought home with me about 50 sketches & hope to publish an account of doings, beholdings & theorisings shortly, which I should like to dedicate to you,7 if you will permit me—since, in common with many others, I owe to you entirely the scientific adjustment of the crude Lamarckian doctrines8 which I held, as the nearest approach to the truth.

Believe me | Yours sincerely | W. D. Crotch M.A. Oxon.


Crotch had written to CD in 1861 about physiological changes in Shetland horses and seagulls (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter from W. D. Crotch, 25 January 1861).
Atlantis was the popular name given to Edward Forbes’s hypothetical sunken Miocene continent in the Atlantic Ocean linking the Iberian peninsula with the Azores and with Ireland, providing a land-bridge over which species migration took place (E. Forbes 1845 and 1846). For extensive discussions of Forbes’s Atlantis hypothesis, see Correspondence vols. 3, 5, and 6. Oswald Heer subsequently put forward an Atlantis hypothesis to provide a land-bridge between Europe, Africa, and North America (Heer 1855 and 1860). See also letter from Charles Lyell, 16 January 1865 and n. 19, and letter to Charles Lyell, 21 February [1865] and nn. 3–5.
The transatlantic cable, making telegraphic communication between Britain and North America possible, was laid on the sea-bed plateau between Ireland and Newfoundland, Canada, in 1856 (see W. H. Russell 1865, especially p. 7).
To account for the similarity between the plant species of the north-eastern United States and eastern Asia, Gray had posited a ‘mingling’ of species over the Behring Straits during a warmer temperate period both before and after the glacial age. See A. Gray 1858–9 and Dupree 1959, pp. 250–1.
CD had long been critical of attempts to explain the geographical distribution of animals and plants by postulating former land-bridges (see letter to Charles Lyell, 21 February [1865] and n. 3). During the 1850s, CD had carefully compared lists of species on the Canary Islands, Madeira, and the Azores, with the plants and animals of nearby landmasses (see Correspondence vols. 5 and 6). He summarised some of his findings, which were in opposition to the Atlantis theory, in Origin, pp. 357–8. See also Natural selection, p. 538.
The reference is to Alphonse-Joseph Adhémar and Adhémar 1842.
Crotch publicly announced his intention of writing a history of the Canary Islands and Madeira with a view to substantiating the Atlantis hypothesis in the Entomologist (Entomologist 2 (1864): 111); however, the work was never published.
For CD’s views on the evolutionary theory of Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, see Origin 3d ed., p. xiii.


Adhémar, Alphonse-Joseph. 1842. Révolutions de la mer. Paris: Carilian-Goeury et V. Dalmont.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Dupree, Anderson Hunter. 1959. Asa Gray, 1810–1888. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University.

Forbes, Edward. 1845. On the distribution of endemic plants, more especially those of the British Islands, considered with regard to geological changes. Report of the 15th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Cambridge, Transactions of the sections, pp. 67–8.

Gray, Asa. 1858–9. Diagnostic characters of new species of phænogamous plants, collected in Japan by Charles Wright, botanist of the US North Pacific Exploring Expedition … With observations upon the relations of the Japanese flora to that of North America, and of other parts of the northern temperate zone. [Read 14 December 1858 and 11 January 1859.] Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences n.s. 6: 377–452.

Heer, Oswald. 1855. Ueber die fossilen Pflanzen von St. Jorge in Madeira. [Read 5 November 1855.] Neue Denkschriften der allgemeinen Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für die gesammten Naturwissenschaften n.s. 5 (1857): paper 2.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Origin 3d ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 3d edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1861.

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.

Russell, W. H. 1865. The Atlantic telegraph. London: Day & Son.


Supports Atlantis hypothesis.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Duppa Crotch
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 161: 274
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4811,” accessed on 26 September 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13