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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Alfred Tylor   19 November 1868

1 Paradise Row | Stoke Newington

Nov 19 1868

C Darwin Esq FRS.

Dear Sir

May I ask you to read the enclosed report of a discussion respecting our Coral formations in the Pacific1

I have looked through your works carefully but have not succeeded in finding any acount of any recent thick coral deposit which has been elevated2

Could you kindly inform me if there is any thick bed of miocene coral described   I mean a bed hundreds of feet or more thick composed exclusively of reef building coral cills3 without volcanic or stratified rock.

I heard you mention 300 ft as the greatest elevation recent coral beds have been elevated in the Pacific and no section of these is given.

Professor Huxley has also visited the Pacific4 and seemed to consider that the ground touched by the sounding lead at great depth outside the coral reefs was also made by corals but I do not find that you have expressed a positive opinion to that effect but you state pieces of dead coral have been dredged up at great depths and you leave it to be inferred that it may be of coral formations

If the hypothesis of a fall in the sea level of 600 feet is applied to Sir H T Delabeches5 case of the banks of Newfoundland now under 30 to 40 fathoms of water for 30,000 square miles supposes the temperature was suitable for corals to live, would not that explain the formation of Atolls & Reefs as well as the theory of gradual subsidence as far as the upper 600 feet.

I trust you will excuse my writing to you and asking for information on this point alluded to by Professor Huxley6   I think my brother E B Tylor has had the pleasure of seeing you when he has been at Sir J Lubbocks7

Believe me to remain | Yours truly | Alfred Tylor


The enclosure has not been found, but Tylor refers to the discussion following the presentation of his paper ‘On the formation of deltas’ at the 11 November 1868 meeting of the Geological Society of London. The published version of the discussion is appended to the abstract of the paper (see A. Tylor 1868, pp. 11–12).
CD’s main work on the topic was Coral reefs; he also wrote an article, ‘Elevation and subsidence in the Pacific and Indian Oceans’, that appeared in Proceedings of the Geological Society of London 2 (1838): 552–4.
‘Cill’: old spelling of ‘sill’, used in the sense of ‘a high ridge on the sea bed that effectively separates the bodies of water on either side’ (OED).
Thomas Henry Huxley was assistant-surgeon on HMS Rattlesnake from 1846 to 1850, when it surveyed in the Coral Sea (the Pacific Ocean between Australia, New Guinea, and Vanuatu).
Henry Thomas De la Beche (see A. Tylor 1868, p. 8 and De la Beche 1851, pp. 227–9).
Huxley, who was president of the Geological Society, had opened the discussion of Tylor’s paper. He mentioned that dead corals in the neighbourhood of coral reefs extended to ‘vast depths’ (A. Tylor 1868, p. 11).
CD had attended a reception at the Royal Society of London on 28 April 1866, where he met Edward Burnett Tylor (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter to J. D. Hooker, 16 May [1866]). No other record of a meeting between E. B. Tylor and CD at John Lubbock’s house has been found.


Coral reefs: The structure and distribution of coral reefs. Being the first part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1842.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

De la Beche, Henry Thomas. 1851. The geological observer. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans.

‘Elevation and subsidence in the Pacific and Indian Oceans’: On certain areas of elevation and subsidence in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, as deduced from the study of coral formations. [Read 31 May 1837.] By Charles Darwin. Proceedings of the Geological Society of London 2 (1838): 552–4. [Collected papers 1: 46–9.]

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.


On corals and coral-formation.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Tylor
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Stoke Newington
Source of text
DAR 178: 198
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6467,” accessed on 11 December 2019,

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