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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Richard Brinsley Hinds   21 April 1843

29 Alfred Place | Bedford Square

April 21. 1843

My dear Sir,

I have been some time replying to your queries contained in your letter of the 9th. Inst, but a friend of mine has had my copy of Sir E Belcher’s Narrative,1 which it was first of all necessary to procure, as the answers required some reference

1. Structure of Clipperton Rock. 2 Landing on the reef or rock was not deemed practicable; none therefore had a near view of it. It is a sharp, ragged rock, projecting through the coral belt.

2. Cocos Island. 3 This island is I believe entirely volcanic. About the existence of coral in its neighbourhood, I speak in some doubt. But my impression is that a reef was seen at a part of the island visited by one of the boats, and I think that masses of dead coral were strewed about the beach.

3. I never remember to have seen a bird likely to belong to Cactornis,4 and Mr. Gould informs me there is no specimen in the collection.5

4. Increased Depth of water at Bow Island. 6 I approach this subject with some caution. I know it to be Sir E. Belcher’s decided opinion that channels do deepen among coral formations, and his opinion is particularly valuable as he is a keen observer and has had the rare opportunity of seeing the same spot twice at a distant interval. But he may be liable to a common failing of seeing according to his views. In support of his view I have heard him cite the island you mention; also the deepening of a channel at Tahiti, through which a french frigate had entered of late to the anchorage; also that the sea at Tahiti now washes over the site of a house he formerly knew well; and in these two last he I think meets with the concurrence of Mr. Pritchard,7 our Consul there. With regard to the islet at Bow Island; its previous existence may be open to question from the circumstance that the lagoon abounds in the coral knolls, so well described in Beechey,8 many of which are awash—

5. The occurrance of coral elsewhere — The Marquesas closely resemble the Society Islands, but are without their coral formations. Our experience only extended to Port Anna Maria, in Nukahiva, and a few miles of the neighbouring shores. A small coral reef exists near the anchorage, which was the only thing like coral we saw on its shores; nor was it noticed in the highlands as at the Sandwich Islands. At Vavao we saw no coral. At Amboco, Feejee Islands, a reef of coral. At New Hebrides I do not remember the least trace. Every thing here was volcanic, and in an active state.

I have much pleasure in answering these enquiries, but I must request you to take them with caution, as you must be well aware that the hasty visit of a ship does not permit very close examination; and my attention was never particularly drawn to the subject.

I am, | Yours faithfully | Rd. Brinsley Hinds Charles Darwin Esq


Belcher 1843. This was the narrative of the Pacific expedition of H.M.S. Sulphur, in which Hinds served as surgeon and naturalist.
A low lying island, dangerous to navigators, in the Pacific, 10o 17’N and 109o 19’W.
An island off the coast of Panama to the south-west.
CD had collected two species of Cactornis on the Galápagos Islands (see Birds, pp. 104–5). In 1841 Edward Belcher, the Captain of H.M.S. Sulphur, had sent to the Zoological Society a third species of Cactornis. CD may have sought to verify his guess that it came from Cocos Island, the nearest island to the Galápagos (ibid., p. 105). But see letter from R. B. Hinds, 19 July [1843], which may refer to Belcher’s specimen.
John Gould had described the birds of both the Beagle and Sulphur voyages.
The Sulphur expedition attempted unsuccessfully to bore into the coral at Bow Island, now Hao in the Tuamotu Islands (Belcher 1843, 1: 365–70).
Beechey 1831, 1: 167–8, 180–2.


Beechey, Frederick William. 1831. Narrative of a voyage to the Pacific and Beering’s Strait, to co-operate with the Polar expeditions: performed in HMS Blossom … in the years 1825, 26, 27, 28. 2 vols. London.

Belcher, Edward. 1843. Narrative of a voyage round the world, performed in Her Majesty’s Ship Sulphur, during the years 1836–1842, including details of the naval operations in China, from Dec. 1840, to Nov. 1841. 2 vols. London.


Replies to queries by CD. Describes Clipperton Rock [SW. of Mexico] and Cocos Island. Mentions possible species of Cactornis. Discusses depth of water at Bow Island [Hao, Tuamotu Archipelago], and occurrence of coral formations at various islands.

Letter details

Letter no.
Richard Brinsley Hinds
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Alfred Place, 29
Source of text
DAR 166: 219
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 671,” accessed on 30 September 2023,

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