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Darwin Correspondence Project

To C. H. Smith   26 January [1845]

Down near Bromley. | Kent

Jan 26th

My dear Sir

I am exceedingly obliged for your note & your most kind expressions regarding my health, which is still very indifferent, but allows me to do my light work. The extract you send me is rather fuller, than anything which I have seen; it refers certainly to the same island, to which I refer in my volume on “the Structure & Distribution of Coral Reefs” (p. 127. & p. 168) & I believe without doubt the same with Pouynipète or Seniavane; I came to this conclusion after accurate comparison of various charts at the Geographical Soc. Out of the about 43 islands (or atolls) of the Caroline Arch:, about 40 are low coral-islands, & only 3 high islands, encircled at a distance by barrier coral-reefs; & it appeared that the description referred to a high island. Every one knows how greedily a theorist pounces on a fact, highly favourable to his views, so that I was very unwilling not to make much of this fact, but there was something in the account, which made me rather sceptical: moreover the writer spoke of granite-blocks & I have reason to believe the isld is volcanic, though, to be sure trachyte & granite are easily confounded. Lastly I heard (perhaps very unjustly) very indifferent accounts of Dr. Lloghtsky’s moral character.1 I perceived by the manner in which you referred to the case, that you did not think it fully established; & I agree with you, upon the whole, that it probably is not a mere fabrication. I have very little doubt that hereafter, the existence of former wide tracts of land, since buried in the ocean by subsidence, will turn out the chief means of the migrations & passage of animals, plants & man, from one part of the world to another. How rapidly do facts in geology accumulate, showing that most of the sedimentary strata of Europe & N. America, have during their accumulation (as shown by upright buried trees, footsteps once on the surface, presence of beings, which cannot live in deep-water &c &c) slowly subsided.

In the Pacific & Indian oceans, if there be any truth in my explanation of the singular structure of coral-reefs, wide tracts have subsided, since the existence of the present reefs.—

But I must apologise to you, for having run on at this length: pray accept my sincere thanks for your prompt & most obliging answer, & believe me, with my best compliments to Miss Smith,

My dear Sir | Yours sincerely obliged | Charles Darwin


Doubts about Johann Lhotsky’s character probably arose from his being ‘careless with money and too outspoken in criticism of those in high places’ (Aust. Dict. Biog.).


Discusses extract sent by CHS dealing with island of Pouynipéte. Agrees account of island by Lloghtsky [Johann Lhotsky] is suspect.

Comments on view that former migration of animals, plants, and man was by continental extensions now submerged.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Hamilton Smith
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (40)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 820,” accessed on 19 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 3