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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Richard Owen   25 August [1841–2]1

12 Upper Gower St

Aug 25th—.

My dear Owen

I remember showing you some time ago the accompanying old tooth of Elephant from African coast & I have some faint recollection, that you said you would like to have it from its state of decay.— if not please throw it away.

I saw some weeks since at Mr. Shillinglaw’s2 at the Geographical Soc. a piece of a tusk of a Mastodon or Elephant, from Upper Peru.— Does not Cuvier enter into long discussion on a piece of tusk brought by Humboldt from S. America, doubting whether it belonged to an elephant—3 Would this be worth your looking at for that end.—4

Your’s very truly | C. Darwin


CD resided in Upper Gower Street from January 1839 to September 1842; however, according to his ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 2, Appendix II) he was not in London on 25 August in 1839 or 1840.
Librarian of the Royal Geographical Society (Mill 1930, p. 56).
Cuvier initially considered the tusk evidence for the existence of true fossil elephants in South America (Cuvier 1806, p. 57). He later seems to have concluded that other fossil remains in South America were exclusively from mastodons (Cuvier 1821–4, 1: 266–8).
Owen discussed elephant and mastodon teeth and tusks at some length in Owen 1840–5, 1: 613–55.


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

Cuvier, Georges. 1806. Sur les éléphans vivans et fossiles. Annales du Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle 8: 1–58, 93–155, 249–69.

Cuvier, Georges. 1821–4. Recherches sur les ossemens fossiles, où l’on rétablit les caractères de plusiers animaux dont les révolutions du globe ont détruit les espèces. New ed. 5 vols. in 6. Paris.

Mill, Hugh Robert. 1930. The record of the Royal Geographical Society 1830–1930. London: Royal Geographical Society.

Owen, Richard. 1840–5. Odontography; or, a treatise on the comparative anatomy of the teeth; their physiological relations, mode of development, and microscopic structure, in the vertebrate animals. 2 vols. London. [Vols. 3,8]


Sends elephant tooth from Africa. Suggests it may be interesting in light of his [mistaken] memory of Cuvier’s opinion about tusk brought from Peru by Humboldt.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Richard Owen
Sent from
London, Upper Gower St, 12
Source of text
Natural History Museum, Library and Archives (General Special Collections Owen correspondence 9/207)
Physical description
ALS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 608,” accessed on 21 May 2024,

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