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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Leonard Darwin to Emma Darwin   [after 26 June – 28 September 1874]1

My dear Mother

It is of no use putting a heading of any sort as I have no notion when this will be posted.

Palmer was determined to keep on shore as long as possible, so we slept on the Hotel on Friday night June 26 and came off to the Merope by 6.30 on the following morning.2 As it had been raining all Friday, I got my first and last view of Plymouth Harbour at the same time; it is very pretty but I had not long to enjoy it, as, directly I got on board I went down to my cabin, and spent an hour in making all snug for the first few days of expected misery. I got on deck again just in time to see sails set level to glide smoothly out of Plymouth harbour. The wind was light and warm and all that morning I was comfortable enough. By 7 o’clock in the evening I saw the last of England. The wind had headed us and grew fresh and cold and by Sunday night it was blowing hard. That night going to bed was the most trying thing I have yet had and I only escaped by a Hairs breadth. All Sunday and Monday the poor emigrants were looking utterly miserable, lying about in solid heaps all over the poop and deck.3 Some little boys seemed to me the only people at all happy— I think children suffer less than anyone, and women much more than men. We first class passengers are given one half of the poop and the unmarried female emigrants the other half, so that we have little room to move about when it is fine. Tuesday was a dead calm and things were improving gradually—although a calm with a good swell is by no means a sensation to be envied   As to my own stomach it never came to an actual crisis but it makes me very billious and uncomfortable. I think I ought to be very contented with my state in comparison with the wretchedness of the others—but what is a sinking in someone’s stomach compared to a sinking in one’s own. As to the passengers you need not be the least alarmed with regard to the three Miss Foys, at least I sincerely trust so   To say the best of them they are plain looking vulgar girls, with rather an objectionable Mama4   A Mr. and Mrs. Douglas are the nicest people on board as far as I can tell yet. She was a Miss Harper, one of the innumerable Harpers of Christchurch who I have heard of so often. She has a brother at St. George’s who Frank knows. She has lived in New Zealand nearly all her life and is now making her fifth voyage, and likes it none the better for being her fifth. she tells me. Mr. Douglas knows N. Thompson D. Reid and S. Buttler a little, and I guess from something he said is a brewer at Christchurch5   It is rather fortunate getting to know him on the way out as he must be in the nice set at Christchurch. He is also some connection—brother in law I think he said to Mr. Tripp to whom Mrs. Ruck has given me a letter of introduction.6 There is one other gentleman with us Mr. Cross brother to the home secretary   He is rather nice but is too fond of letting us know what he heard Mr. Gladstone say whilst breakfasting with the Marquis of Salisbury, and that sort of thing.7 He is starting for a tour round the world, an odd way of enjoying such a lark to begin with 90 days emigrant ship without seeing land   The above with the captain8 closes the list of presentable people. There is a simpering female going out to marry a Mr. Brown, and a nameless objectionable cad who flirts with the simpering female and will cut out Mr. Brown before the voyage is out.9 There is one more gentleman man but he is rather a blankfile, and with 2 boys a quiet man with a pemantenly billeous sea sick wife, and a good sort of roughish sheep farmer the entire list is complete.

It is no use sending you home a regular lod of the ships course so I shall go along putting down things as they turn up with an occasional date thus (July 1st.) We have now been 36 hours becalmed in the Bay of Biscay just out of sight of Land. At least some thought they saw it, but we could not be certain. We have just begun seeing the regulation see objects—stormy petrels, one shark and a perfect crowd of porpoises   The latter passed right under the ship; they seemed nearly always to be in pairs and looked very jolly leaping in and out of the water close after each other. The ship will be very noisy for work I am afraid and this will be the only disadvantage of taking out emigrants. Above my head the 50 female emigrants keep stumping about and forrard there is a perfect Babel whenever the ship is at all still   As far as noise is concerned the whole is more like a street in some London slum, crowded with children. I have got my cabin very comfortable, with so many hooks and shelves that I hardly know what to do with them. Amy’s10 hold all fits just beside my washing stand and takes every thing of that sort that I want.

After the calm in the Bay of Biscay we had fair winds all the way to Madeira which we passed close to but at night so could only see a foggy outline with a few lights (July 8th.)

I will describe one of my days in fine weather, and it seems to me that will finish nearly all I can say till the end of the voyage. Out of bed at 7.30 and have a good bath in the bath-room. Get on deck by 8 potter about, talk, and sometimes read a little till 9 when we have breakfast. I sit next the future Mrs. Brown who at present acts on me like a wet blanket and a mustard poultice. On the other side is Palmer and then the captain; and opposite the three Miss Foys. The feeding is very good, as there is always plenty of fresh meat in the shape of mutton, pork, chicken, and ducks   After breakfast take a turn on deck and then come and work at Transit of Venus work of some sort till 12. This is the best time as the saloon is always quiet.

The preparations for lunch now necessitate another turn on deck   At lunch the general wish is to eat as little as possible, as dinner at four comes so soon after it. —an arrangement of meals which the captain says kills the day   I think it kills it too much. Crawford11 is the wit of the party, and generally keeps us laughing; I expect it does not take a big joke to kill here but I think he is really very amusing. Between lunch and dinner I read my Mill which is progressing slowly.12 After dinner some light book, a pipe, and about the 50th. turn on decks does away with the time till tea, at 7. After tea I never attempt to read, it is so delightfully cool on deck. and rather the reverse below. At 8 o’clock we begin a religious game of whist; then a final turn on deck and so to bed. Yesterday I went aloft for the first time it is rather a scrubious13 sensation at first; not that I felt giddy actually but only a trifle unhappy   What strikes one most is how little the ship below looks, and what a wonder it is that it is not blown flat over. I went on the top gallant yard to look for Madeira, but it was too soon to see it. It is quite beautiful to see the ship cutting through the waves from above; there was not a cloud in the sky and the water was most wonderfully blue.

Yesterday and today (17th July Lat 13 N.) have been our first really hot days but if it is no hotter than this I shall not mind much [but] it will not stop my working at all; at cards in the evening when the lamps are lighted we feel it most but at night I can keep my cabin cool by having my port and my door wide open. I am glad to hear them say that the emigrants are cooler than we are; I believe it is quite true for the decks get very hot in the day time and we feel it; not the emigrants who are one story lower down   We have been unlucky about the islands we have come across   We passed in sight of both the Canaries and of the Cape de Verde, but they only looked like a cloud with a clean cut outline rising above the other clouds; for we were near them and the land is high. We have had two or three little squabbles on board and it looks bad for the peace of the three months if we cant keep straight for three weeks. Chairs on deck are a cause of much unpleasantness   Mr. Cross (who is not brother to the home secretary)14 nearly came to blows with the Foys   He has two easy chairs on deck, which they used always to sit in, as they had only one amongst them   on getting out of his chair one day, the nicest and rather good looking Miss Foy immediately got into it. After a little Mr. Cross took his other chair up to her and asked her to change, on which she told him to wait. Mother F; as we call her, vacated the family chair and Mr. Cross sat down in it. Soon after mother F came up from below and told Mr. Cross to get out of her chair and said she would teach him a lesson; he got up directly and said he hoped she would teach her daughters the same lesson at the same time. Whatever were the rights and wrongs of the question it has done us all good, as the people who dont own deck chairs sometimes now take the trouble to bring up their cabin chairs. Another row took place when the girls caught the offensive cad—who is nicknamed the bête noire on account of the colour of his beard—cheating at cards—cheating them out of a few coppers at a round game they said. This little row has been cleared up to the satisfaction of all parties, although I believe it was a true bill.

We have now got to the next stage of the proceedings—the Doldrums; these are nastier than I expected, but I think we have had them worse than usual. A dull sky, which as Butler says seems to keep off most of the light of the sun but none of its heat;15 and a heavy glassy swell so that the ship pitches and rolls as if we were in a gale of wind. Then comes a squall of rain from any quarter and everybody scuttles down into the hot saloon. The thermom. has been provokingly low, never more than 83o in the cabins; but I suppose it is the dampness and the constant high temperature that makes it oppresive; it never gets below 75o at night. I think I have felt it less than most; lots of the emigrant girls fainted, which makes me doubt about the coolness down below; but we had two ladies fainted as well. We have had some beautiful skies just before getting becalmed; but no good sunsets, only one good one since we left England, and that was the first night out. It is a curious appearance to see the clouds rising abruptly out of the the sea—to see them hull down as it were—it shews the wonderful cleanness of the air. It takes very little to attract attention now; the other day when the sun was nearly vertical, we we all turning round and round watching the shadows of our heads turning round and round with us. Yesterday (July 21st. Lat 9oN) the sailors went through the ceremony of “burying the dead horse”   On leaving London they get a months advance of pay, and thus work for nothing for the first month of the voyage, and the above ceremony is a rejoicing when it is over. The horse is made up in the following way; they dismount one of the little signal guns from its carriage, onto which they tied a large barrel. This constituted the body and legs and the head was made in some wonderful way with cloth, sewn in the right shape, and stuffed with straw. One of the sailors acted jockey, and got himself up very well, with white trousers, boots and [sups], and a jockey cap. The sailors then drag the horse round and round the ship, the jockey singing a song and all the rest joining in the chorus   The horse is then taken just under the poop and sold by auction; this is a polite form of getting the first class passengers to tip them, as they are the only people who bid. It fell to Mr. Cross for £1, but we are all going to subscribe so that the sailors will really get more than their £1. It was quite calm and later on when it was nearly dark, we saw the horse and jockey being hauled up right out of the sea to the yard arm; the sailors now kept firing the signal gun letting off blue lights, and a few rockets; and then finally lighted the horse, which was stuffed with oily straw, and cut it adrift to float away burning in the sea.

After three or four day of Doldrums we began to feel the trade winds, which in the summer come up some way north of the line. We all hailed it as a blessing, principally because it blew away a collection of the stiffest smells it has every been my luck to come across. We crossed the line at 11 oclock on July 28th.; this was natural as I had a ticket for a lottery worth £7, which I should have won if we crossed after 12.; The day before every one said I was certain to win; all the more certain as I have a reputation for luck at all sorts of games; and I should have won if the wind had not fresened about three hours before we crossed. This was a great blow to my reputation, which had before given me from Mrs. Douglas the nickname of “that heathen chinee”16   They had the usual jokes on crossing the line; Neptune came on board the night before and gave us each an invitation to attend the court to be held next day for the purpose of initiating us into the mysteries of the ocean. They gave notes to the girls too, and we frightened them fearfully by making them really believe that they would be shaved as well next day. Next afternoon the ceremony came off the sailors tied up the four corners of a new sail, so that it would hold a few feet of water. Neptune and Mrs. Neptune then came round and talked a lot of nonsense and after that the shaving began   The sheepfarmer went first to be shaved, voluntarily, as he had been across the line before. He was seated on a chair and his face all lathered over with soap flour and water, and then shaved with a great wooden razor; the sham doctor asked him if he felt faint and before he had time to answer he put a smelling bottle to his nose. This bottle had a cork through which needles were driven so that the points just came through; sometimes they have something that smells very bad in the bottle, but the above is most effective. After the shaving he went into the sail of water and four sailors in there, called the bears, ducked him. There was nothing very unpleasant in it and we were all going to have been shaved; but the emigrants had been splashing about in the water before they began, and stirred it up and dirtied it till it was like pea soup—this made all but two or three of us glad enough to get off, which we managed easily enough.

Aug 8th. Lat 20S Long 38W

We have all been very cross these last few days, and I have not written for an age for fear of growling too much. In the first place the S.E trade winds have been very bad; they dont come from the SE but from the S, and this has driven us near the coast, so that we have had to tack and stand out to sea once and may have to do so again; it has been rainy and squally also and the wind has kept shifting about, not the least like a trade wind ought to; once we were taken aback, that is the wind shifted so suddenly that the ship got on 3 or 4 knots stern way before they could get her round. This sent the water flying into Palmer’s stern cabin ports and wet all his papers and spoilt his temper for the day. All this is making us gradually alive to the fact that we are making a very slow passage and that is trying to the temper. The squalls made the sea rough again and by a curious coincidence we were most of us pale and silent. I imagined that everyone was cured after a fortnight, but I felt very distinct qualms after being at sea for 38 days, and I am afraid I shall feel a little out of sorts whenever it is pitching. The sailors never own that a ship has been lively, but I think it must have been so, as it pitched Palmers little swinging trays clean off the hooks in the ceiling on which they are hung by cords. There was a temporary revival of spirits when the condensing engine boiler burst and it appeared certain that we should have to put in to Rio to have it mended. But a wretched emigrant boiler maker and the engineer managed to put it to rights again, and if it does not burst in the next 24 hours we shall not see Rio. As an officer of the Transit of Venus Exp. I was very glad, but it was very hard to have ones hopes dashed to the ground; every one had a different wish; a walk to stretch ones legs, some ices, a night at the opera, a clean table cloth and a comfortable arm chair, the first and last being my favourites. We have just had a little divertisment A little fishing boat from the coast of S. America was seen ahead, and immediately everybody began writing letters like mad, we lay to and sent a boat with about 80 or 100 letters on board and -/6 for each. I thought from the size of the boat that they might not be above throwing the letters overboard and keeping the money, so I decided not to send this, and wrote a few incoherent lines with the wrong latitude, date &c and telling nothing that I wanted to tell. I am glad I did this as I hear they looked an awful set of ruffians on board, and I could not bear to think of this, my one long letter not coming in safe

Aug 16 Lat 38S Long 15W

I find the disinclination to write that I spoke of before growing on me sadly. The other day I got everything ready, but when I tried to start I could not find a word to write. We are out of the trade winds now and have got into the westerly winds without a single day calm between the two; the first bit of luck we have had. The change of temperature was wonderfully sudden; the last two or three days of the trades were as nice as they could be, just hot enough for being comfortably cool in the thinnest summer clothes and just right for sitting under the awning reading novels; then we got a strong wind and in four or five days after we all had our winter clothes out, and ever since we have had to stump up and down the deck to keep warm. We are having our first rough weather now, though they always keep on saying this is nothing to what you will have. However we dont feel it much now as we are running before the wind. Today the water keeps washing over the main deck; the waves dont regularly break over but the heavy spray and the water coming through certain cracks and crevices is enough to flood the deck 2 or 3 inches deep. All the emigrants seem to take it as a joke at present but I should think it is a joke that must lose its point. I should like to be able to give you some notion of the fearful state of familiarity we have come to; I never before thoroughly realized the the old copy book saying about familiarity. This chiefly applies to the young ladies as we call them by courtesy; perhaps the names we speak to them by will give a faint idea; the three Miss Foys are—Miss Foy, sometimes, spooney and a few other casual names; Miss Lizzie has no more familiar name as she is not popular, and then is the “Little un” a great big girl about 19. The future Mrs. Brown Miss Barber is always called Barbarous   The latter is always being chaffed about her supposed affection for drink. Crawford wrote some poetry on the evil effect of drink, which ended up with the following lines—they bust in the door, and there on the floor, lay Barber as drunk as an owl. All this is taken in perfect good part, but still it is very wonderful   I find I was pretty well right about the people on board, Mrs. Douglas is very nice indeed and Mr. Douglas fairly so. I was rather hard on Mr. Cross who I found was curate of Hatfield for some time where he met all his dukes and lords. All the rest may be neglected.

Aug 26th. Lat 45S Long 40E.

We have been going along at a rattling pace for the last ten days; the weather has become abominably cold with sometimes a little snow and sleet; the thermom. down as low as 36o once, which is cold in a place where there are no fires. It seems to me very odd that Doctors order people with weak chests to go through this, as besides being cold a ship must always be draughty. We are followed now by litterally hundreds of birds however far from land we are   One day we saw more nearly thousands hovering over what was supposed to be a dead whale. I wonder what it is down here that makes the sea support so many more than in the north. There are not many sorts of birds; the cape pidgeon is much the most common and is the prettiest as well, white underneath with black marks on the wings. They catch these little birds by hanging out a thin line from the stern, against which they fly and get intangled in it in the most wonderful way. They are then hauled in and killed on deck; lots escape but I dont think it hurts them more than the fright. We have hardly seen any Albatross yet which is very unusual; I want to see them on deck with their wings 16ft from tip to tip. The water cames over the Main Deck every day and yesterday came over the poop enough to wet Crawford from head to heels. Many of the passengers cant sleep at night when it has been rolling but I have managed it as yet by turning up the mattress on each side and pushing in between it and the sides of the bunk two rugs and about four complete suits of clothes. This leaves only just room for me to lie so that I cant move about at all, and I wake up in the morning feeling rather stiff and uncomfortable   Soon after I wrote last we sighted Gough Island, probably the last land we shall have till N.Z. I have nearly finished all my Transit of Venus work and Mills Polit. Econ. and at present I am in rather a demoralized state; it is harder to work in the cold weather as there is always some one in the saloon, and my cabin chair and table are hardly steady enough when we are jumping about. I am reading Lady Barker’s Station life,17 it is rather amusing as I hear such different accounts of things from the Douglas’es   Do you remember an account of the christening of some children for whom she “rashly promised” to make white frocks for the occasion and just got this “heap of snowy garments” made in time. She invited a hundred people to come to here house for the ceremony, and had to collect “every pie-dish for miles round” in order to give them a feed. “Our good bishop” was to perform. When “our good bishop”—Mrs. Douglas’ father—read this passage he turned to his journal and saw “christened two children”; he thinks they came in coloured frocks and does not remember any particular fuss. This is the style in which the whole book is written according to their accounts   It is rather on a par with her cribbing from other cookery books without saying anything about it. Wherever she goes she is always followed by a suspicious adventure of some sort

Sept 7th. Lat 49S Long 115E.

We are all in very good spirits today as we have just made the best bit of running we have yet done, 1200 miles in four days. and for the last 30 days we have averaged 10 miles an hour which would be good going for a steamer for that distance   First we had nearly a gale of wind and then nearly a flat calm, and it rolled so that even the officers on the ship grumbled, and few of us had any sleep. Douglas came into my cabin at 3AM. and proposed a game of whist as a last resource, but we could not quite get it up. We sighted more land the Crozets where the American expedition for Venus is going;18 I dont envy them for although it corresponds to March the islands were covered with deep snow—down to the waters edge, and they looked as bleak and barren as possible. One Island had no snow on it, and it looked very fine standing out against the snow on the others as it has wonderful abrupt rocks called the twelve apostles lying near it and sticking out of the water like black spears. The way we all look forward to the end is like boys at school waiting for the holidays, only instead of marking off the day on little made up almanacs, Palmer produces his chart, on which he plots the course, for daily inspection; and the number of miles to be done is calculated. The expected time of arrival varies curiously with the weather we are having; in the calm the 28th. was a favourite day in the lottery but now after only four days it has come down to the 19th. or 20th. We passed close to an iceberg in the night, but unfortunately after we had all gone to bed. The last few day I have had my feet bad with chilblains, for the first time in my life; all this gives rather a false idea of the cold.

Sept 17th. Lat 48S Long 150E.

This is the last time I shall write from the Merope unless very unforseen circumstances occur. I have been feeling rather out of it with all my Transit work quite done, and what I am afraid I feel more all my novels finished, but I am rather glad of 10 days idleness before we begin hard work at Christchurch. Yesterday as it was nearly calm, they lowered a boat in order to shoot a great white albatross we saw astern; I volunteered to row as I wanted some exercise, and I got it. After they had got the albatross we went astern after another bird. and a little breeze sprung up at the same time, and we had to row away after the ship like fury. I believe they kept the ship going as hard as they could just for the fun of seeing us tugging away wildly in this distance   They sent a lifebouy astern with a rope tied to it, and we kept seeing this dancing about generally dragged just under the water; sometimes we gained a little on it it, and then it would gain on us as we were wildly fishing for it; at last we got hold of it and were pulled along side. Their joke nearly told on themselves as in a few minutes we should have given up, and then they would have had to have come after us. A ship under full sail, all alone on the sea, is somehow a very striking sight.

I dont suppose I shall ever take a voyage again in such comfort; it makes such a wonderful difference having a Cabin to oneself. Now that I keep my American chair in my room, I can read very comfortably there; they are much better than the little chairs, as they dont fall about so, and when it is rolling I can get as firm as possible by putting my feet against something   But even the American chair doubled up by itself in the night when it rolled so.

Christchurch Monday

91 days from England

Here we are at last. We had some more delays head winds and calms but finally appeared in sight of the “Heads” at 6AM on Sunday morning. — a very bad day for seeing the first of New Zealand Misty Rainy and cold. The Heads are at the mouth of a narrow inlet about 7 miles long which leads up to the anchorage at Lyttleton; we got up this inlet very slowly and did not anchor till nearly 10 oclock. The country around looks very like Wales only rather wilder and less trees; the hills come straight down into the water, and it looked very pretty notwithstanding the rain &c. We then had to wait for some hours for the health officer to come and pass the ship. There was great excitement on board, several people expecting their friends; suddenly at breakfast all the girls burst out crying for no particular reason, and when some friends did arrive they broke down utterly. But all the time rain and waiting and every thing could not keep down the spirits of the party for an instant. We now began to suspect what swells we were here. We heard that Mr. Rolleston the superintendent of the Province and J. Haast were coming down from Christchurch to meet us;19 so we had to wait on for him whilst the others began to vanish. He came about 3pm and brought with him such a jolly packet of letters from you all which I began reading all at once so to speak and got them all confused and have not got them quite right yet. The mail is going out in two or three hours, and I have hardly had time to read them consecutively all over again and suck all the juice out of them. It was the first thing that made me feel in distant lands.

I must keep going as I am getting awfully hungry without my breakfast (fresh butter and milk!) We landed at Lyttleton, a pretty little town running as far as it can up the side of a steep hill that comes right down into the sea, very picturesque but very collonial with nothing but wooden houses. there is no room for a large town and in fact Christchurch is only Lyttleton burst through the hill and come out 8 miles distant on the other side. From here we went on to Christchurch by train, with the swells in a carriage to ourselves, and nothing to pay

At Christchurch we went straight to the club where they had engaged rooms for us and where we shall be as comfortable as possible if we stay there for good. We then took a walk round Christchurch and saw the Government buildings where they have given us a jolly little office in case we settle to fix our observatory there, which I think is nearly certain to be the case   Also a walk round the park where the observatory will be fixed20   The country is as flat as possible, and the town is laid out on an enormous scale and is springing up all over it in solitary houses. There is a pretty little river running through it about the size of the Cam, and the sides are lined with weeping willows just in their bright green state. These willows were brought by some French settlers from St Helena, and all came from the tree over Napoleon’s grave! Then back to the club and had the most delicious high tea that I ever eat in my life   Very early to bed, and here I am just finishing breakfast from which I could no longer resist.

I think I had better leave all further impressions till next mail as I am too hurried now, so I will shut up this letter which hardly balances the bundle in my pocket. Give my love to the inhabitants of Downlet about whose jolly weeding I have just heard.21 I suppose they will be settled there by this time and will be old inhabitants by the time I come back. I am sorry to hear of George being bad and the unfortunate end of his tour. Would you ask him to write me a few tips about American travel, and thank him for his letters.22

Love to all the rest and goodbye mother for the present. | Your affec son | Leonard Darwin


The date range is based on the dates in Leonard’s letter, and the arrival of the Merope in New Zealand on Sunday 27 September 1874 after leaving Plymouth on 27 June 1874 (G. B. Airy ed. 1881, p. 483). The letter to Leonard Darwin, 25 November 1874, was written in reply.
Henry Spencer Palmer was the head of the British expedition to observe the transit of Venus in New Zealand.
There were 331 immigrants on board the Merope. Between 1871 and 1874, the central government of New Zealand ran a scheme to encourage colonisation in which immigrants could delay contributing to the cost of their passage until they had been in the country for some time. (‘Emigration to Canterbury: shipping lists 1856–74’, (accessed 8 July 2013)).
Mrs Foy and her three daughters have not been identified.
Janet Harriette Douglas, wife of Thomas Douglas, was the daughter of Henry John Chitty Harper, bishop of Christchurch, who had fifteen children. Her brother Gerald Samuel Harper was studying medicine at St George’s Hospital, London, with Francis Darwin. Her husband’s acquaintances included Donald Reid and Samuel Butler; N. Thompson has not been identified.
Charles George Tripp had married Ellen Shephard Harper, Janet Douglas’s sister; the letter of introduction was from Mary Anne Ruck.
Joseph Cross was not related to the home secretary, Richard Assheton Cross. Leonard also refers to William Ewart Gladstone and Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, third marquess of Salisbury.
The captain of the Merope was Edmund Williams.
The ‘simpering female’ was a Miss Barber, as is revealed later in Leonard’s letter; neither Miss Barber nor Mr Brown have been identified.
Amy Ruck.
Henry Crawford, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, was an astronomer appointed to assist Palmer in the observation of the transit of Venus (G. B. Airy ed. 1881, p. 483).
As is made clear later in the letter, Leonard was reading John Stuart Mill’s Principles of political economy; the first edition had appeared in 1848, and the seventh was published in 1871 (Mill 1871).
The comic writer Edward Lear first used the neologism ‘scroobious’ in a limerick published in 1861 (‘There was an old person of Philæ’, Lear 1861); he went on to use it several times with various apparent meanings, including ‘a state of anxiety’ (Lear 2006, p. 498).
See above, n. 7.
In his account of his voyage to New Zealand, Samuel Butler had stated that the Doldrums were not a sunny but a monotonously gloomy place, where the dense clouds seemed to ward off the light, but not the heat, of the sun (Butler 1863, p. 10).
‘The Heathen Chinee’ was the name given to a much reprinted popular poem by Bret Harte, first published in 1870, in which a Chinese labourer was depicted as a card-sharp. Harte intended his poem as a satire on the racism shown towards the Chinese in California, but it served instead to entrench this attitude (see Métraux 2011).
Leonard refers to Mary Anne Barker’s Station life in New Zealand (Barker 1870).
The American expedition to observe the transit of Venus had intended to set up an observatory on the Crozet Islands in the southern Indian Ocean, but this was prevented by bad weather. Instead the Crozet Island team was taken to Tasmania to establish an observatory at Campbelltown. See Keyes 1967, p. 21.
Palmer set up the Transit Observatory at Burnham, eighteen miles from Christchurch (G. B. Airy ed. 1881, p. 483), but other observing stations were set up in New Zealand; Crawford established a complete observatory in Naseby, Otago, and Palmer also managed several others set up by private residents over a distance of 750 miles (ibid., p. 484). Poor weather, however, resulted in almost total failure of observations in New Zealand.
Francis and Amy Darwin were living in Down Lodge following their marriage on 23 July 1874 (see letter from Emma Darwin to J. B. Innes, 24 June [1874] and n. 5).
George Howard Darwin had to curtail his trip on the Continent because of ill health (see letter from J. V. Carus, 7 July 1874 and n. 1). George and Francis Darwin had travelled in America in 1871 (see Correspondence vol. 19, letter to Asa Gray, 16 July [1871]).


Barker, Mary Anne. 1870. Station life in New Zealand. London: Macmillan.

Butler, Samuel. 1863. A first year in Canterbury Settlement. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, & Green.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Keyes, Ian W. 1967. New Zealand artifacts from the United States ‘Transit of Venus Expedition’ 1874–1875. Smithsonian contributions to anthropology, vol. 2, no. 2. Washington: Smithsonian Press.

Lear, Edward. 1861. A book of nonsense. 3d edition. London: Routledge, Warne, & Routledge.

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Describes voyage to New Zealand.

Letter details

Letter no.
Leonard Darwin
Emma Wedgwood/Emma Darwin
Source of text
DAR 239.1: 2
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9517F,” accessed on 25 June 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22