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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Richard Owen   19 December [1836]

Decemb. 19th.—

My dear Sir

I have just written and will send at the same time with this, a letter to Sir Ant: Carlisle.—1 I have done exactly as you recommended me.— I thought myself compelled to fix on the British Museum in preference to that of Paris,2 because I was carried on board a King’s Ship; and the public collection of the country certainly has claims on me.— If the collection had been made entirely at my own expense, that is on board a Merchant vessel, then I should not have hesitated in making a different choice.— I quite agree with you that the British Museum ought to make returns when it has the power.— I suppose you could not venture to propose another set for Paris. Their value would be so much more in that collection than in the British Museum.— I ought to make up my mind to give my own set to Paris; but I confess I should be grieved to lose my trophies. I should feel like a knight who had lost his armorial bearings.— If the Council should not choose to go to the expence necessary for making all the casts; it was suggested to me here, that the College might pay the price of forming the casts, and the public bodies purchase the models, but I think you will agree with me, that if this can be avoided, it will be better.—

With respect to great head of the Rodent,3 I certainly feel inclined to run the risk of taking a cast, because the models will be more generally useful, even in case the head itself should be injured or destroyed. But I am sure after the kind and effectual manner with which you have entered on this affair, I cannot do better than follow your advice.— I, at one time, began to think that the fossil bones would be as troublesome to me, and as of little service, as some other branches of my collection are likely to be.— But now I look back to the trouble I took in procuring them with great satisfaction. I do assure you, I feel very grateful to you, for having given me such good assistance.

I have scarcely begun to unpack my cases; in the course of a week I shall have every thing open, and I already know of one very large bone (of a Mastodon??) which I will forward to the College.— When separating the animals in Spirits, I will put by any that, I think, will interest you.—4 And, it will be a great pleasure to me, if I chance to possess any thing which will be of use to you in your numberless investigations.

Believe me, my dear Sir, | Your very truly obliged | Chas. Darwin *S 2

Christ Coll: | Cambridge


Sir Anthony Carlisle, Vice-President of the Council and Chairman of the Board of Curators, Royal College of Surgeons. CD’s letter to him has not been found, but the substance is given in the minutes of the RCS Board of Curators meeting of 21 December 1836. (See next letter.)
The Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, which contained Georges Cuvier’s collection of extinct Mammalia.
The Toxodon platensis. (See Fossil Mammalia, pp. 16–35.)
Minutes of the Museum Committee of the Royal College of Surgeons, as abstracted by Sir Arthur Keith in 1908, list a donation from CD on 4 January 1837: ‘28 mammalian skeletons in spirit, all rare, and 20 specimens of Birds’. These may be the specimens on two lists in DAR 29.3, in CD’s hand, with accompanying notes, bearing the stamp of Richard Owen’s estate. The numbers are not, however, identical; the DAR 29.3 lists contain 26 mammals and 24 birds.


Fossil Mammalia: Pt 1 of The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle … during the years 1831 to 1836. By Richard Owen. Edited and superintended by Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder and Co. 1839–43.


Has written to Royal College of Surgeons, exactly as RO recommended, concerning disposition of his South American fossil bones. He fixed on the British Museum, rather than Paris, to receive plaster casts, because he was on board a King’s ship. Suggests RO propose another set for Paris, where they would be more useful than at BM. Has scarcely begun unpacking his cases.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Richard Owen
Sent from
Christ’s College, Cambridge
A 19 DE 19 1836
Source of text
Fitzwilliam Museum
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 329,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 1