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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   2 November 1871

Royal Gardens Kew

Nov 2/71

Dear Darwin

A few words of answer, just to say that Sir H. Holland appears to be taking a most active & kind, as well as judicious course in this matter. He has both written to & seen Gladstone, who has taken the appointment of the Board of Visitors into consideration.1 Of course as to that matter I keep wholly in the background. This expediency of such a Board should be decided wholly without reference to the present exceptional state of affairs—though these may make —it expedient to hurry the appointment. Gladstone has stated to Sir H. H. as objection the possible interference it may create between the “First Commr’ of works & the Treasury, & between me & the First Commr— but I do not see how that could be, if the Visitors duty was simply to report annually, & to consider questions referred to him by the First Commr or Treasury.2

The Lady I alluded to was my wife! who has lately, & only quite lately, taken it into her head that I am badly treated in a general way as a public servant by the Govt. & that my services should be recognized by K.C.B. &, (unusually with her), the feelings have got the better of the judgement, & she went & consulted Lady Lyell about it— saying that it might serve me a good turn in this affair with Ayrton, that I should be recommended for this distinction.3 I took the less objection to this course because of it being a favorable flank movement; & because it was clearly impossible that Gladstone should think of me under the present circumstances; & I see that the vacancy is filled up, & so it is all well— Neither my wife nor I wish for knighthood— on the contrary I look forward to it, with dismay; as entirely a lot of engagements, & social calls that I hate— On the other hand, it is perhaps a duty I owe to my family, who have kindly pride in me. & to my Botanical friends, who wish to see Botany honored; & to my position here, which it will no doubt materially strengthen. I will let you know when I hear anything further— What is your address at Leith Hill?4

Ever yours affect | J D Hooker


CD had asked Henry Holland, a friend of the prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone, to intervene on Hooker’s behalf in a dispute with Acton Smee Ayrton; as commissioner of the Office of Works, Ayrton was Hooker’s superior (see letter to Henry Holland, [20 October 1871], letter to J. D. Hooker, 20 [October 1871], and letter from J. D. Hooker, 31 October 1871 and n. 3). Gladstone evidently considered appointing an independent ‘Board of Visitors’ to report on the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Ayrton was first commissioner of works. A major subject of dispute between Hooker and Ayrton was the control of public expenditures at Kew, and this fell ultimately under the jurisdiction of the Treasury (see Nature, 11 July 1872, pp. 213–15).
Hooker refers to Francis Harriet Hooker and Mary Elizabeth Lyell. Hooker had mentioned that, owing to ‘a certain Lady’s interference’, Charles Lyell had proposed him for a KCB (Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath; see letter from J. D. Hooker, 31 October 1871). Hooker had previously declined a knighthood on the grounds that it was not offered in an order that indicated that it was given for special service (see Correspondence vol. 17, letters from J. D. Hooker, 14 November 1869 and 21 November 1869).
CD was staying at Leith Hill Place in Surrey, the home of Josiah Wedgwood III, from 3 to 10 November 1871 (‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.


Henry Holland is taking an active part in helping JDH in the Ayrton affair.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 96–7
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8046,” accessed on 28 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19