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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Walter Baldock Durrant Mantell   17 November 1854

Down Bromley Kent Nov.

17th. 1854

Dear Sir

I hope you will excuse the great liberty I take in addressing you, but I trust my long acquaintance with your honoured Father may serve me as an introduction.1 When on board H.M.S. Beagle I particularly attended to glacial deposits, & I am now very much interested on this subject,2 & most earnestly want to know whether any distinct phenomena of this kind have been observed in New Zealand.— When I was in Bay of Islands I saw several large boulders of greenstone, but as I did not know the surrounding country, & as they were in valleys & not on isolated hillocks, I was not able to tell whether they were true erratic boulders,3 or merely blocks washed down by chance floods &c &c from greater heights. Now I shd. esteem it a great favour if you would inform me on your own authority, (or on that of any other competent observer, if such there be in N. Zealand) whether there are any great blocks of rock, especially if angular, which have certainly been transported from a long distance, or which must have crossed valleys or arms of the sea in their course. And lastly whether any one has observed moraines or the marks of glaciers having formerly descended to a lower level on the New Zealand Mountains. The Southern islands wd. of course be the most favourable for the chance of the discovery of ancient erratic & glacial action, but I fear that has been rarely visited by instructed persons.

Hoping that you will forgive my asking you to take the trouble to inform me; I remain, Dear Sir | Your’s faithfully & obliged | Charles Darwin

I may add that on stating how anxious I was to obtain the foregoing information, I was encouraged by Sir Charles & Lady Lyell to take the liberty of addressing you.—


Mantell, the son of Gideon Algernon Mantell, had settled in New Zealand in 1840. See Correspondence vol. 2, letter to G. A. Mantell, 21 [April 1843], n. 2.
CD’s interest dates from 1844. See Correspondence vol. 3, letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 December [1844], and also Appendix III, in which CD sought information on glaciation in New Zealand as an indication of a possible former cool period during which plants and animals might have colonised the country. In November 1854 he was re-examining the geographical distribution of plants on a worldwide scale (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 15 November [1854]).
CD had visited the Bay of Islands in December 1835 (see Correspondence vol. 1, letter to Caroline Darwin, 27 December 1835).


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


Requests authoritative information on erratic boulders and marks of glaciers in New Zealand, and especially in southern islands.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Walter Baldock Durrant Mantell
Sent from
Source of text
Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand (MS-Papers-0083-268)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1603,” accessed on 24 November 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5