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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   3 October 1868

Dear Darwin

I enclose a copy of Sir H. Barklys answer to my enquiry relating to the Seychelle Island Crocodile which will I think interest you.1

Ever yrs affec | J D Hooker

Kew Octr. 3/68.


Mr Ward informs me that there are people in the Seychelle islands who remember to have seen them alive in that group though he has failed hitherto to get any bones.2

I prefer however giving you chapter & verse when I can do so, and I therefore enclose you an extract from the journal of the Bishop of Mauritius, giving an account of his visit to Mahé in March 1864; which he has since publish for private circulation.3

You will see the name of his informant is given and the mode in which one of the last crocodiles was caught described, with the additional statement that the father of the narrator had killed no less than 110 (wild?) animals. The nature of its food is also disclosed in this extract.

You enquire what the Madagascar crocodile eats— I presume fish & small aquatic reptiles, but there are plenty of marvelous stories of its pulling down men. It abounds in the Lagoons which are parallel with the sea between Tamatave and Andevorande4

Transport to the Seychelles in a trunk of a tree is certainly possible but it appears to me highly improbable. The crocodile does not venture out to sea burrows in the mud instead of crawling over fallen timber, and could hardly live the requisite time without food and water as it was used to. Assuming however it was so transported it would be from the African not the Indian side, if we are to take the double cocoa Nuts as an indication that the set of the currents is from Seychelles to the Malaba coast.5

Besides the distance from Madagascar is far shorter and the Amirantes form a stage, though I never heard of crocodiles there. I suppose a skeleton would settle this point, though I do not at present know what the specific differences between the African and Indian crocodile are.

“But what struck me more than the account of the Sharks, was that given by several persons and especially by Mr. Calais of the crocodiles, which within the memory of many persons now living, infested the Seychelles— Mr. Calais’ father killed 110 himself, and the last of them Mr. Calais distinctly remembered. It was in the large “mare” (pond or lake) close to the house where we slept at Baie Lazare. A “Caiman” or crocodile was reported, the bait was placed, a little pig rather tainted, which an old Negro took and replaced by a bit of fish. In the morning the apparatus had sunk; the crocodile was drawn out and killed and was found to be full of eggs. It was 18 feet long.”

Extracts from the Journal of the Bishop of Mauritius

visit to Seychelles March 18646

Mons Calais is described as a Proprieter residing now at Ile aux Cerfs in the harbour of Mahé7

The length of this crocodile is the extreme attributed to the Indian crocodile (crocodilus bifurcatus) in Ceylon by Sir Emerson Tennent8   That of Madagascar (crocodilus vulgaris Cuvier var D— Pollen’s Animaux Vertébrés de l’ile de Madagascar)9 is said to be even larger & that it is quite as formidable will be seen by the following extract from the latest account of the Island.

“A day or two after we had passed the Plain of Mangoro Mrs. Lambert followed bringing amongst other presents to the King an Arab horse. Whilst crossing one of the small marshy streams the greatest depth of which could not exeed 4 feet, the Horse was attacked on his left flank by a huge crocodile (the marks of whose teeth were shown me after the Horse arrived at the capital

The groom jumped off on the side farthest from the crocodile, who was repulsed by a kick in its jaws from the wounded horse— Disgusted with this reception, the crocodile next attacked a Malagasy slave, who was leading a donkey, dragged him under the water and destroyed him”

Madagascar & the Malagasy

by Lieut Oliver R.A.

Day & Son 186410


Henry Barkly was the governor of Mauritius (ODNB); the Seychelles were a dependency of Mauritius. See also letter from J. D. Hooker, 13 February 1868. In a letter to Barkly dated 6 July 1868, Hooker wrote, ‘We are all quite puzzled by your account of the Crocodile in the Seychelles. Darwin, though holding that the Ss. were once in continental continuity with Asia & Africa, has some facts that lead him to suspect that the Crocodiles may have been transported.’ (CUL Ms Add 9537 (Hooker deposit).)
Swinburne Ward was the civil commissioner of the Seychelles from 1862 to 1868 (Colonial Office list).
Vincent William Ryan’s journals were printed as Ryan 1864, but did not include his visit to Mahé in March 1864. The extract is paraphrased in Egglestone 1889.
Tamatave (now Toamasina) is a city on the east coast of Madagascar, sixty miles north of the city of Andevoranto (Columbia gazetteer of the world).
CD had long been studying the transport of plants and animals to and from islands; see Origin, pp. 388–406. The coco-de-mer, or double coconut, is the large two-lobed nut of the Seychelles palm, Lodoicea maldivica (Mabberley 1997). Barkly refers to currents to the Malabar Coast, the south-west coast of India.
See n. 3, above.
Ryan mentioned meeting Adrian Calais on Mahé during his 1859 visit to the Seychelles (Ryan 1864, p. 105); Calais has not been further identified.
James Emerson Tennent published descriptions of the ‘Indian crocodile’ (‘Crocodilis biporcatus, Cuvier’ in Tennent 1859, 1: 186–7, and Tennent 1861, p. 284). Georges Cuvier described Crocodilus biporcatus (a synonym of Crocodylus porosus, the saltwater, estuarine, or Indopacific crocodile) in the Annales du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle 10 (1807): 48–50. It was exterminated by 1800 in the Seychelles. Its present range extends east and north from Sri Lanka (Ceylon) to New Guinea and northern Australia. The largest extant crocodile, it is known to travel long distances by sea. See Gerlach and Canning 1993, and Ross ed. 1998.
Cuvier listed the Nile crocodile, Crocodilus vulgaris (a synonym of Crocodylus niloticus) in Annales du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle 10 (1807): 65. François P. L. Pollen’s list of Madagascar vertebrates included Cuvier’s ‘Variety D’ of C. vulgaris (Pollen 1863, p. 332). The present range of the Nile crocodile, includes Madagascar (see Ross ed. 1998, pp. 48–50). Some classifications include subspecies, one of which is C. n. madagascariensis, the Madagascan Nile crocodile (see, for example, Alderton 1991, p. 122).
The quotation is a rough transcription of an account in Samuel Pasfield Oliver’s Madagascar and the Malagasy: with sketches in the provinces of Tamatave, Betanimena, and Ankova (S. P. Oliver [1866], p. 92, n. B, in Appendix). The group is recorded as passing the Plain of Mangoro on 5 August 1862. The account referred to Joseph François Lambert; ‘Mrs.’ is a copyist’s error for ‘Mons’ (Monsieur).


Alderton, David. 1991. Crocodiles and alligators of the world. London: Blandford.

Colonial Office list: The Colonial Office list … or, general register of the colonial dependencies of Great Britain. London: Edward Stanford; Harrison & Sons. 1862–99.

Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

Egglestone, William Morley. 1889. Bishop Ryan, a memorial sketch. Stanhope, via Darlington: the author.

Mabberley, David J. 1997. The plant-book. A portable dictionary of the vascular plants. 2d edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Oliver, Samuel Pasfield. [1866.] Madagascar and the Malagasy; with sketches in the provinces of Tamatave, Betanimena, and Ankova. London: Day and Son.

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.

Pollen, François P. L. 1863. Énumération des animaux vertébrés de l’île de Madagascar. Nederlandsch Tijdschrift voor de Dierkunde 1: 277–84.

Ryan, Vincent William. 1864. Mauritius and Madagascar: journals of an eight years’ residence in the diocese of Mauritius, and of a visit to Madagascar. London: Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday.

Tennent, James Emerson. 1859. Ceylon, an account of the island, physical, historical, and topographical, with notices of its natural history, antiquities and productions. 3d edition. 2 vols. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts.

Tennent, James Emerson. 1861. Sketches of the natural history of Ceylon, with narratives and anecdotes illustrative of the habits and instincts of the mammalia, birds, reptiles, fishes, insects &c. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts.


Encloses copy of H. Barkly’s answer to JDH’s inquiry on the Seychelles Island crocodile.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 238–9
Physical description
ALS 1p, encl 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6410,” accessed on 23 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16