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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Arthur Nicols   20 August 1872

11. Church Row | Hampstead | N.W

August. 20th 1872.

Dear Sir.

On one occasion you did me the honour to take notice of some observations I had made on the habits of the Koala under domestication;1 and, since I understand that you are about to publish a work on the modes of Expression among animals,2 I submit the following to your notice as perhaps bearing upon one division of the subject.

I saw this happen very frequently which perhaps give it additional interest— When in Australia I had two dogs, a pointer and retriever, who had been brought up together, and who often communicated with each other thus. One would lie upon the balcony of an upper story facing the street, and the other near my feet as I sat at the table within my room. The sentinal on the balcony kept a look out in the street, and on seeing a dog pass would jump up, come to his companion lying near me, touch the latter with his nose and wag his tail, when they would both hurry down into the street and “interview” the stranger. Sometimes they would both go to the balcony take a look at the stranger and lie down again without further notice of him. That there was direct communication in this I have no doubt, and whatever was expressed by the one animal was evidently understood by the other without mistake or hesitation.

For a considerable period I acted as shepherd to a large flock of sheep in Australia and then employed myself in taking notes of their means of inter-communication which appeared to me to be well defined, and directed to certain ends which were foreseen by the animals, and attained.

If it would be of any interest to you, I shall be happy to forward you a few of the prominent cases when I have picked them out from my note books.

When the “Contents” page of your forthcoming work is ready I shall esteem it a great favour if you will obliged me with a copy—

Dear Sir | Yours truly | Arthur Nicols.


Nicols had described koalas that had acquired a taste for tobacco and rum (see Correspondence vol. 19, letter from Arthur Nicols, 7 March 1871). CD used this information in Descent 2d ed., p. 7 n.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.


Offers observations on expression in Australian dogs, since he knows CD plans to publish on the subject.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Arthur (Arthur) Nicols
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 172: 58
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8477,” accessed on 5 December 2019,

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