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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Kemp   17 October 1843


Octr. 17—1843


I have this morning received your letter of Saturday, informing me that Profr Henslow thinks some of the plants are common; hence he entertains a doubte that the soil may have contained other seed besides the old I planted.1 So far he is right, as I filled my pots with garden soil—having very little hope that any of that seed would germinate. But when it did I was most careful in examining it with a glass to identify the seed, (which the plants carried to the top) with a part of the unplanted. Two or three common plants sprang up along with it which I knew and plucked up. A single plant of a different kind I allowed to grow which I could never match with any, but which I was never satisfied with, A part of that Plant I likewise sent to Prof Henslow, at the same time expressing my doubtes with respect to it. With a Microscope I only could discover two varieties taken from the pit. I have been as careful in all matters regarding this matter, as if life or death had depended upon it, detesting above all things, palming a hoax upon the Public. Knowing that many valuable, and curious discovery has been lost by falling into careless and ignorant hands, I thought I to would be to blame in not making it known. About 20 years ago, a case of this kind occured near Stirling, In digging a shaft for Coal, the workmen found a little seed about 18 feet below the surface.— one of the men planted it, but producing no plant to please him, he plucked it up, cursing it for a useless weed. This I lately got told me by an eye witness.—

I am no way anxious about the publication of the discovery farther than may be thought advisable for the promulgation of truth. and that I leave with you to judge what you think best. In every case I have correctly stated facts, as I made certain of them.

Whether the plants are common or not, I think they are still a matter of interest, As many successive races, both of Animal, and Vegetable life have perished during the mysterious revolutions of past time, may those plants not throw some light upon the early vegitation of the present epoch.—

Sir as you formerly requested to have a more particular description of the gravel bank,—the boulders therin &c I have inclosed it.— I had a thought of adding a part of that to the former, but withheld it, thinking it might contain too much theory.

The surface of the Quarry-hill is so much weathered that no scratching remains upon it. However the greywacke upon the flank of the hills bear evident markings &c where the rock is strong.

I am much obliged for the trouble you have taken in this concern. If it is at all advisable to publish any notice of this, I cannot think of you being at the trouble of copying it for me, previous to publication.—

I am | Sir | Your Much Obliged | and very | Humble Servant | William Kemp Charles Darwin | Esqre

The present channel of the river opposite to where it passes the sand bank, is 45 feet below the level of of the clay bed upon which the seed was found. Only a few thin layers of clayey sand, not exceeding 8 inches in all lay between the seed and the gravelly bottom. The gravel ascends from below the sand, rising to a considerable height between the pit and the river, and extends nearly a mile to the west, forming a vast longitudinal mound in the middle of the valley.— Sir in describing farther, I am aware that I enter upon dispuited ground, but as the subject at issue seems to derive some interest from it, I will make free to venture.— This locality, presents much evidance of a very striking character in support of the glacier theory; The valley of Melrose is upwards of a mile broad, bounded by hills upon each side, extending parallel with the river, and enclosing it upon the east, leaving the Tweed only a narrow passage at the south east extremity, which course it has deepened through the ages of the past to a considerable extent. The mound or, morain varies much in its composition. A fine section is exposed upon its northern side, whire the river from time immemorial has unceasingly been undermining, and carrying it away, having formed a precipituous bank about 90 feet high. To a height of 70 feet it consists of an indiscriminate mass of boulders and clay. The boulders lying along the foot, and projecting out of the bank are exceedingly numerous, and of all sizes, some of them upwards of 20 Ton. A great number of those blocks, including all the very large ones, are Trap conglomerate, or Brecia, The only rock of that description in situ, is the eminence before aluded to, called the Quarry-hill, which is situate about half a mile south by east from the bank, projecting its hoary front boldly into the valleys ascending out of the crescent base of the Eildon-hills which rise to the height of 900 feet immediately behind that quarry. Its drooping bare back towards those hills denote much denudation, and there we have its ruins in the mound abundantly. I measured one block which is full seven feet square, and will weigh upwards of 25 tons; every corner is as sharp and angular as if it had been newly cut from the quarry. There are several other block scarce inferior in size, having some of their corners as it were slightly blunted by mutual attrition. By what means can we concieve these to have been borne there save by the agency of glaciers, By glaciers descendding the steep escarpment of the Eildons, tearing off the protruding rock, and bearing the ruins to the middle of the valley The next and only other class of boulders is the greywacke none of these are eaqual in size to some of the other, no rock of that description in this district can afford blocks of such dimensions. These have generally a much more rolled appearance, especially the smaller sized ones. This we might expict to be the case, as many of these have been borne for miles down the valleys of the Tweed and the Gala. they are generally very smooth upon one side, exhibiting numerous scratched, or grooved lines, which always run parallel with the long way of the stone, as if they had been forcably pressed over a number of various sized diamond points. I can discover little or no fragments of foreign rock, except an occasional small rounded piece of Carboniferous sandstone, which had possibly been dropt in the upper valleys at an earlier era, during the general despersal of the far travelled boulders. Occassionally I can ditect pieces of Trap, and Porphyry, but these are only such as we may compair with dykes along the neighbouring hills. It is worthy of remark, that the sedimentary clay abounding so much in this mound, extends no higher than what seems to have been the surface of the lake, all above being a mass of pure gravel from 10 to 30 feet deep, at some places mixed with a little coarse sand, at others containing no particle smaller than a hazle nut, and no boulder a foot in diameter. The gravel is well rounded and water worn, possibly by having been long exposed to the decending torrents, caused by the melting of the snow in the warmer season, or the bursting of Icy barriers. This too is evident by the great mass of gravel which has been swept over the under end of the mound. For about four miles west to the Junction of the Gala with the Tweed, there are mounds of a far more decided character as to appearance, but those it would be out of place to notice here. If in this case glacier action can be admitted, I presume it will so far afford a key, which may lead to the era when those seeds were deposited. At the final retreat of the glaciers, the river had first found its way by that ancient course, commencing to sweep those sedimentary layers into the edge of the lake. In the course of time the hitherto naked land had become clothed with vegitation, and by an Autumnal flood those seed bearing plants had been swept from the rivers bank and deposited upon the lower edge of the sand, while by far the greater portion of that sand was being afterwards laid over it.—

CD annotations

7.1 Kemp] ‘no hoax | Seeds in a figure.’ added pencil on verso
scored pencil
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10.18 well rounded] underl pencil



Describes germination of seeds he discovered. Cites similar story of seeds found in coal-mine.

Gives further description of gravel bank [of River Tweed] and other geological details.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Kemp
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 50: A12–15
Physical description
ALS 6pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 706,” accessed on 30 September 2023,

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