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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Gerard Krefft   15 May 1872

Australian Museum Sydney

May 15/ 1872

Charles Darwin Esq | F.R.S | &c &c &c | Down, | Beckenham | Kent

Dear Sir

I have taken the liberty to address to you a copy of the “Sydney Mail” containing a short review of Professor Owens last paper on the Thylacoleo Carnifex which in my opinion was nothing but a harmless Phalanger and not more carnivorous than these animals are at the present day.1 I am anxious to obtain your opinion on the subject because the Thylacoleo is a most interesting animal allied to nearly every one of our marsupial families   Do you believe that it was “the fellest of Carnivores” as Professor Owen thinks2 & will you kindly favour me with a few lines at your convenience.—

I often observe our animals & one fact which I once communicated to Prof. Huxley will interest you. The Frilled Lizard Chlamydosaurus Kingii which is common in N. E Queensland has a habit of squatting on its haunches raising the arms clear off the ground & on one occasion I have noticed it hop, for a short distance. It is certainly the only Saurian which possibly can perform such a feat & I believe it has the longest hindlegs of any species of the tribe. Prof Huxley had written a paper on Archæopteryx & in consequence of reading it I made the experiment & succeeding in startling my specimen kept in a large enclosure on to its hind quarters.—3

I sent Prof. H a skeleton by the next mail but have never heard from him since. If you care about having a specimen I can supply you & if I can be of service to you in any other way please command me. I may not be able to send you Photogr. of my sketches/restorations of Thylacoleo &c this mail & I enclose rough tracing of some of the principal objects referred to in my review.—

I may also tell you that I discovered traces of man at the Breccia Cavern of Wellington & of the tooth I found you shall also have a Photo.—4

I hope to receive a line from you & remain dear Sir | yours very | sincerely | Gerard Krefft



[Tracings bound with G748: two sketches on tracing paper, one photograph, and a fourth item that may be a photo enhanced with pencil.]5 6

CD annotations

3.2 service] pencil cross in margin
4.1 discovered … Wellington 4.2] scored pencil


Krefft’s review from the Sydney Mail, 18 May 1872, is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. A corrected version was printed in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History (Krefft 1872). Owen’s most recent paper on Thylacoleo carnifex was Owen 1870, which was reprinted from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London under the title A Cuvierian principle in palaeontology tested by evidences of an extinct leonine mammal (Thylacoleo carnifex). Krefft had put forward the view that T. carnifex was not more carnivorous than present-day phalangers in Krefft 1866. Phalanger is a genus of the family Phalangeridae, brushtail possums or cuscuses. Only partial skull fragments of T. carnifex had been found.
See Owen 1870, p. 219.
In T. H. Huxley 1868, Thomas Henry Huxley argued that the fossil animal Archaeopteryx was closer to birds than to reptiles.
Krefft refers to the Wellington Caves of New South Wales. Breccia Cavern is now Mitchell Cave. The photograph of a tooth has not been found.
Some of the tracings of teeth are from Thomas Livingstone Mitchell’s Three expeditions into the interior of eastern Australia (Mitchell 1838, 2: plate 32).
The skull is from a plate accompanything Owen 1858, Owen’s first paper on Thylacoleo carnifex in the Philosophical Transactions.


Krefft, Gerard. 1866. On the dentition of Thylacoleo carnifex (Ow.). Annals and Magazine of Natural History 3d ser. 18: 148–9.

Krefft, Gerard. 1872. [Review of A Cuvierian principle in palæontology, tested by evidences of an extinct leonine marsupial (Thylacoleo carnifex), by Professor Owen [i.e. Owen 1870].] From the Sydney Mail, 18 May 1872, with corrections. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 10: 169–82.

Mitchell, Thomas Livingstone. 1838. Three expeditions into the interior of eastern Australia: with descriptions of the recently explored region of Australia Felix, and of the present colony of New South Wales. 2 vols. London: T. & W. Boone.

Owen, Richard. 1870. On the fossil mammals of Australia.– Part IV. Dentition and mandible of Thylacoleo carnifex, with remarks on the arguments for its herbivority. [Read 17 November 1870.] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 161 (1871): 213–66.


Sends his article ["Review of Owen’s Cuvierian principle of palaeontology"].

Letter details

Letter no.
Johann Louis Gerard (Gerard) Krefft
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Australian Museum, Sydney
Source of text
DAR 169: 116; Darwin Pamphlet Collection, CUL, G748
Physical description
ALS 8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8331,” accessed on 15 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20