skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. H. Smyth   7 August [1839]

12 Upper Gower St

Dear Sir

I hope you will excuse the liberty I take in addressing you, after having only once had the pleasure of meeting you.

I am engaged in drawing up an account of the Coral formations of the Pacific & Indian seas, and I observe it is said in Krusentern’s memoir, that you were in the Cornwallis, when Smyth’s Isld in the Northern Pacific was discovered.—1 I am particularly anxious to know, whether the low islets & reefs, of which the group is composed, form a ring surrounding a lagoon, like so many other islds. in the Pacific, and the atolls in the Indian ocean:—or, if it has not a lagoon, then is one central island of greater height, & apparently of different constitution from the other low islets on the reef, & surrounded by a channel of deepish water:—in short whether it has any peculiar structure.—2 As I cannot obtain this information from any other quarter, if you would spare me a few minutes & send me an answer, I should feel extremely obliged and I trust you will excuse my having ventured so far to trouble you.—

Believe me dear Sir | Yours respectfully | Chas. Darwin 12 Upper Gower St

Aug 7th.—


Krusenstern 1835, p. 104, refers to ‘Smith’ Island, now known as Johnston Island, a coral atoll 16o 45’N and 169o 32’W. Smyth served in H.M.S. Cornwallis under C. J. Johnston when the island was discovered in 1807 (Dawson 1885, 1: 53 and Modern English Biography).
Smyth informed CD that there were ‘two very low small islands, with a dangerous reef off the east end of them’, but he could not recall if the islands surrounded a lagoon (Coral reefs, p. 158).


Dawson, Llewellyn Styles. 1885. Memoirs of hydrography including brief biographies of the principal officers who have served in HM naval surveying service between the years 1750 and 1885. 2 pts. Eastbourne: Henry W. Keay. [Facsimile reprint, London: Cornmarket Press, 1969.]

Krusenstern, Adam Johann von. 1835. Supplémens au recueil de mémoires hydrographiques: publiés en 1826 et 1827, pour servir d’analyse et d’explication à l’Atlas de l’Océan Pacifique. St Petersburg: De l’Impr. de A. Pluchart.


Asks for details of Smyth’s Island discovered by WHS – particularly whether the islets form a ring surrounding a lagoon. [See Coral reefs, p. 158].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Henry Smyth
Sent from
London, Upper Gower St, 12
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 530,” accessed on 19 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 2