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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Branwhite Clarke   [August 1861]1

Whilst I am writing, you will, I hope, pardon my allusion to another remark in your work, which I think must apply to myself. In p 373 you say “If one account which has been published can be trusted, we have direct evidence of glacial action in the South-eastern corner of Australia”—2

I think here you refer to a passage in one of my Reports to the Government of N.S.W. dated Eden 6 Mar 1852. and published in the Parly. Bl. Books. If so, I would now refer to p 167. in my little book, lately published, a copy of wh. is at the Geol. Socys library, entitled “Researches in the Southern Gold Fields of N.S.W”—3 On that page is a note respecting rocks polished by wallabies.

Till I saw those rocks, I had always firmly believed, that the polish at Jincabillee, Rock Flat and Aston Ck, was the result of snow: and even now I am of opinion such is the case. But I have no doubt whatever about the Bolivia granite. I enclose you a minute slice of the surface, that you may examine it, and a stereo scopic view of the locality.

In the same little book is a chapter on Climate & Vegetation in the Australian Alps (p 221–234) in which you will find mention of distinct rocas perchés.4 I saw several of these which I am quite sure of. And in a coom on the Snowy Plain (not far from the Gangarlin River) I came upon an assemblage of rounded blocks of Granite which so much resembled a moraine, that I have no doubt of that either. Furthermore, in Norfolk Island, the surface is partly covered by transported blocks of greenstone. This evidence, therefore, of ice in two ways may I think be admitted.

I have also speculated on the possibility of auriferous deposits being in some instances glacial—i.e. deposited after the rocks had been subjected to the action of ice and snow. At the head of the Encumbene River (where the recent Kiandra gold workings are established p 117 &c) there are heaps of what the diggers call “made ground” i.e accumulations of detritus collected either by water of the rivers or of floods or in some other way since the gold was disintegrated from the rocks. And in these heaps are patches of shale or clay, containing impressions of plants which I believe to be of Miocene age. Now if you see what I say elsewhere, on p 86, p 94, p 105, you will think with me, that there were in ancient times more 〈evi〉dences of the abode and action 〈of〉 ice than we now perceive.5

I make no apology for thus addressing you—because, as you will observe, my object is on your own behalf.—

We have living here, an old ship-mate of yours Conrad Martens, who has sometimes named you to me. He is now looking old. He was my first church-warden here in 1846.—6

You will probably recollect a paper of mine in the Tasmanian Journal on Showers of Dust—you commented on it I think before the Geol. Socy.7 I now know that the pumice which is also mentioned forms, in places along the coast, beds beyond and above high water mark: and must, therefore, be considered as belonging to Raised Beaches. So that the Pumice period is [illeg].

I have filled my paper with an almost unreadable scrawl—but I write against time. Pray believe me to be, | My dear Sir, | Yours very truly | W. B Clarke

CD annotations

1.1 Whilst … Australia”— 1.4] crossed blue crayon
2.1 I think … wallabies. 2.5] scored blue crayon
4.6 Norfolk Island,] underl blue crayon
6.1 I make … Clarke 9.2] crossed blue crayon
Bottom of first page: ‘Glacial—’ blue crayon, circled blue crayon; ‘W. B. Clarke—Aug 1861’ blue crayon


The date is provided by CD’s annotation.
Clarke, who had emigrated to New South Wales in 1839, carried out an extensive survey of the geological and mineralogical deposits of Southern Australia. He refers to Origin, p. 373.
Clarke 1860. Clarke had discovered gold in Australia in 1841, and in July 1860 the governors of the Australian colonies officially recognised him as the first to have discovered gold on the continent (DNB).
CD had long been interested in erratic boulders as evidence of past glacial action and of a former worldwide cold period. He had already heard of such boulders occurring in New Zealand (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to W. B. D. Mantell, 3 April [1856]).
In the next edition of Origin, CD slightly altered his statement regarding evidence of glaciation in south-eastern Australia to credit Clarke as the authority for the information (Origin 4th ed., p. 443).
Conrad Martens joined the Beagle as draughtsman in Montevideo in 1833, replacing Augustus Earle. Martens prepared a number of pencil sketches and watercolours from the voyage. He settled in Australia in 1835, becoming a distinguished landscape painter. Clarke was the minister of the parish church in Willoughby, New South Wales.
In his paper ‘On the fine dust which often falls on vessels in the Atlantic’, read to the Geological Society of London on 4 June 1845 (Collected papers 1: 199–203), CD cited one of Clarke’s papers on the same topic published in the Tasmanian Journal 1 (1842): 321–41.


Clarke, William Branwhite. 1860. Researches in the southern gold fields of New South Wales. Sydney.

Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Evidence of glacial action in Australia. [See Origin, 4th ed., p. 443.]

Letter details

Letter no.
William Branwhite Clarke
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 161.2: 171
Physical description
4pp inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3222,” accessed on 4 July 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9