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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. B. Clarke   25 October [1861]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Oct. 25

My dear Sir

I thank you cordially for your very kind expressions towards me & for your letter which has deeply interested me.2 I had not heard of your account of Glacial action in Australia:3 had I heard of it, I should have alluded to the case in different terms.4 But I saw an account in a short paper by a man, whose name I had never heard.5 I have the reference somewhere, but I could not find it without a long search. Your name has of course been familiar to me for years.6 When I come to the subject again, I will refer to your account, for the subject interests me extremely.7 Indeed but a few months ago I wrote to Mr Gould in Tasmania to enquire.8 There are great difficulties in believing in a mundane cooler period; but it would throw a flood of light on Geographical Distribution. I have only just sketched the subject in the Origin & have a long M.S. discussion drawn out, but Heaven knows whether I shall ever live to publish half my M.S.—9 I should very much like to see the Granite striated. Also would you be so very kind as to take the trouble to tell me whether you refer to the penal settlement, Norfolk Isd, where there were so many greenstone boulders, & are you sure that there was no greenstone close by?— Were the boulders angular?10 This would be a very extraordinary case.— No subject interests me more than the Glacial period.

Many thanks for the Photograph which has pleased me much; for it has vividly recalled to my mind the views from the Blue Mountains—11

I had heard a little about New Zealand; & from what I saw there I always expected old rocks to be there discovered: in my own mind I excluded N. Zealand from the term oceanic Isld, as being connected by a Bank; but I ought to have been more guarded: I looked at it as at Madagascar & the Falkland Islands. Bear Isd is a real exception.— I am very glad to hear of your new discoveries of Secondary fossils in N. S. Wales.12 I have for some time thought, that the geology of distant countries would help on the progress of the Science more than anything else; & in this, you have been an earnest worker.— Most cordially do I wish you all success.—

When you next see my old ship-mate Mr Martens pray remember me very kindly to him;13 I have two of his sketches now hanging up in one of my rooms.—14 You have attended to so many branches of Nat. History, that I daresay you are a Botanist. There is one little experiment, which would be of great use to me, if you would be so very kind as to try it; namely to cover up any species of the Goodeniaceæ under a net, just before the flowers open, so as to prevent any Bee or other insect visiting it, & observe whether it sets seeds as well as an unprotected plant. I have made experiments on plants of this Order in my greenhouse, & I am very curious on this head.— Mr Drummond writes to me from Swan River that he has seen Bees open the indusium & extract pollen.—15 It is unreasonable to even hint it but I am also very curious to know whether Eucalyptus & Mimosa seed well when insects are excluded. It is a subject which I have worked at much.— I wrote to Dr. Müller, but he seems to be too busy to help me.—16 I know that you are very busy, but then I fancy, that you have indomitable energy.—

You will see a short discussion on dioicous Trees in Origin, which will show one reason, why I want to know whether they are not crossed naturally by insects, & thus rendered more fertile.—17 I am now preparing for press a little Book on this subject on Orchids. But I must apologise for scribbling on about my hobby-horses, & remain with much respect—

Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

P.S. | Can you tell me whether the introduction of the Hive-bee has lessened the numbers of a small native-bee? Do you know of any papers on the effect of introduced animals or plants on the native productions.— This seems to me a most interesting subject generally neglected.


Dated by reference to the publication of Orchids.
Letter from W. B. Clarke, [August 1861].
CD refers to his discussion of geographical distribution during the glacial period in Origin, pp. 365–82.
The reference is to CD’s statement about the evidence of glacial action in Australia (Origin, p. 373): ‘If one account which has been published can be trusted, we have direct evidence of glacial action in the south-eastern corner of Australia.’
Clarke had been a student at Jesus College, Cambridge, and had studied geology with Adam Sedgwick. He became a fellow of the Geological Society in 1826 (List of the Geological Society of London 1864). Clarke frequently published memoirs in geological journals and corresponded regularly with many of CD’s acquaintances (see Jervis 1945).
In Origin 4th ed., p. 443, CD cited Clarke as the authority for his statement that there appeared to be ‘clear traces of former glacial action on the mountains of the south-eastern corner of Australia.’
Charles Gould, son of the ornithologist John Gould, had emigrated to Tasmania in 1859 and was a surveyor to the Tasmanian Geological Survey (Aust. dict. biog. and Tree 1991, p. 209).
The reference is to CD’s ‘big book’ on species (see Natural selection, pp. 528–66).
See letter from W. B. Clarke, [August 1861]. CD believed that the occurrence of angular boulders, at some distance from their original location provided evidence for transportal by icebergs rather than by glaciers (see Collected papers 1: 163–71).
CD visited the Blue Mountains of New South Wales in 1836 during the voyage of the Beagle (Journal of researches, pp. 436–42).
On 20 November 1861, Clarke read a paper before the Philosophical Society of New South Wales on recent geological discoveries in Australasia. He cited CD’s statement in Origin, p. 308, that ‘not one oceanic island is as yet known to afford even a remnant of any palæozoic or secondary formation’, stating that CD was in error in applying this to New Zealand (Clarke 1861, p. 6). In the fourth edition of Origin, CD included a caveat concerning New Zealand (Origin 4th ed., pp. 372–3). Clarke sent CD a copy of his paper in 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from W. B. Clarke, 16 January 1862), which is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Conrad Martens, draughtsman on the Beagle from December 1833 until August 1834, settled in Australia in 1835 (see Keynes 1979, pp. 2–3). Martens had been Clarke’s first church warden after his appointment in 1846 as rector of St Thomas’s Church, St Leonards, New South Wales (see letter from W. B. Clarke, [August 1861], and Jervis 1945).
CD purchased two of Martens’s water-colours in January 1836 when the Beagle visited Sydney (see Correspondence vol. 1, letter to Susan Darwin, 28 January 1836). The water-colours are reproduced in Keynes 1979: No. 150, ‘The Beagle in Murray Narrow, Beagle Channel’ (pp. 116, 395), and No. 193, ‘River Santa Cruz’ (pp. 201, 397).
See Correspondence vol. 8, letter from James Drummond, 8 October 1860. See also letter to Journal of Horticulture, [17 May 1861].
CD’s correspondence on this point with Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich von Mueller, director of the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, Australia, has not been found.
See Origin, p. 100.


Aust. dict. biog.: Australian dictionary of biography. Edited by Douglas Pike et al. 14 vols. [Melbourne]: Melbourne University Press. London and New York: Cambridge University Press. 1966–96.

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–.

Journal of researches: Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain FitzRoy, RN, from 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Henry Colburn. 1839.

Keynes, Richard Darwin, ed. 1979. The Beagle record. Selections from the original pictorial records and written accounts of the voyage of HMS Beagle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Vols. 1,9,10]

List of the Geological Society of London. London: [Geological Society of London]. 1864–1934.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

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.

Tree, Isabella. 1991. The ruling passion of John Gould: a biography of the bird man. London: Barrie & Jenkins.


Thanks WBC for his account of glacial action in Australia. A mundane cooler period would throw a flood of light on geographical distribution. Has sketched a large MS on subject but does not know whether he will live to publish it.

Questions WBC on striated granite boulders.

Asks him to make a botanical experiment on insect fertilisation.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Branwhite Clarke
Sent from
Source of text
Mitchell Library, Sydney (MLMSS 139/36X, pp. 263–72)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3298,” accessed on 25 January 2021,

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