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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Bartholomew James Sulivan   13 January – 12 February 1845

HMS Philomel Rio Gallegos | Patagonia

Monday, Jany. 13. 18441

My dear Darwin

As I have some information to give you that I think will interest you, I will write at once while it is fresh in my memory. About a week since we left the Falklands to get Soundings, but did not at the time intend going far from the land, and consequently had only a few days water on board, but the weather being very fine, as we had to get soundings across to the main I ran across, and having unusually fine weather and light winds, I found when we were off Santa Cruz, that it would be necessary to go into some place for water to take us back, and made for the Straits of Magellan wishing to go there, but having very light winds from SE in sight of Cape Fairweather, and being anxious to get back as soon as I could, I ran into this river. (and a precious intricate place it is, we were in a ticklish situation once or twice coming in) three days since in the Evening and the next morning started for the head of the Harbor where Capt Stokes2 says fresh water can be got about 25 miles off. it is a second Santa Cruz but more intricate and you can only go up and down with the tide. You know the kind of Cliffs at Cape Fairweather, having the appearance of Chalk. Cliffs of the same kind commence at about 12 miles up this River on the North shore (the South being low and flat) and are about 200 or 250 feet high. Tho pushed by tide & time I thought I would land for a moment and expected to see some of the oyster shells &c like St Julian, but could not find a single fossil shell of any kind, and therefore I think no part of the cliff can consist of your “Fossiliferous Strata”—(refering to sketch at page 202 of your book)

with this you will recieve a drawing of the cliff,3 but I will now roughly discribe it The whole height appeared to be composed of what you have called “white sediment”—that is a yellowish white friable stone stratified horizontally about two hundred feet high and in numerous beds of different shades of colour, but three beds of from 12 to 20 feet wide were of a more compact nature, one near the level of the sea a hard conglomerate (I suppose) of gravel the next about one third up the Cliff a grey soft sand stone, a third nearer the top of a blueish grey sand stone more compact and looking at a distance like limestone all the rest was the light colour friable clay earth none of which was hard enough to fall in solid pieces but the three harder rocks were in large masses at the foot of the cliff, some, 15 or 20 feet square. The whole formation being covered by a bed of shingle, covering every slope of the Hollows in the cliffs and, therefore, I think must not be the regular top bed of shingle you describe. It was from 6 to 12 feet deep forming a border to all the cliffs like this


while I was looking at the masses of rock that had fallen I saw what I thought a concretion sticking out of one of the blocks of grey sand stone but on breaking it with a hammer saw that it was a piece of fossil bone after digging it out I saw another piece of bone close to it with part of the same sand stone adhering to it. it was the joint of an annimal as large as a horse at least. This made me search more and I soon saw what appeared to be the thin bones of the nose of a small head, and I succeeded in getting it out whole but the stone was so soft and the bones so very old that it crumbled to pieces after I put it in paper and proved to be the head of a small Animal about the size of an Armadillo and as the Skull and some Teeth remain good I hope it will be still worth something The skull is about this size

[DIAGRAM HERE] and the teeth about this [DIAGRAM HERE]

but all so old that even the teeth are quite black and rotten. near the same place I also found a leg bone of an Animal about the size of a deer, but only the joint and about half the bone could I get out perfect. I was then obliged tho reluctantly to leave, on account of the tide; and as it was, our boats got aground about twelve miles further up, and we were away all night, and did not get back till yesterday, (Sunday) and I knew if possible I must sail today as the work must be finished at the Falklands this season; and as I really have no business here, I did not like to remain, but much to my delight this morning it blew right in; and it was impossible to sail, so I started early and remained at the cliffs as long as the tide would allow searching for more (‘big bones)’ and I am glad to say it was well worth going, for I got a great many (not very large) which I hope will be valuable. some I cannot tell what they are as rather than risk breaking them I brought stone and all cutting them out in a large piece of stone, but I am sorry to say we were in such a hurry that I was obliged to have my boats crew working away also and many are broken and many only partly got out however, the following I can make out. Parts of the head and teeth of two Animals one large, teeth this size

[DIAGRAM HERE] the other smaller, [DIAGRAM HERE]

Pieces of bone from 112 inches to 12 an inch in diameter. The whole back bone and ribs of an Animal about the size of a small deer, this is in one large piece of stone so I did not attempt to clear out the bones but cut all the stone away but what contained the bones There may be more in the stone than what show externally.— One large piece of stone has I think a small head and other bones in it, and I think there are parts of one or two smaller heads, but am not certain and what I am much pleased at is getting a piece of the shell of an Armadillo quite perfect, about the size of those now existing. the piece is very small but there are many perfect scales about this size


There are six or seven bands about 4 inches long in all and the breadth of three or four scales perfect like this


There were also some very small black things in the rock which may be some minute fossils and some things which may not be fossils, but I have taken one in case they are, these are like this


the lines are dark and very perfect, perfectly circular, about 9 inches in diameter. I looked carefully for shells but could not find a single one of any kind. Now comes the important part, of the bed in which they are: and I have not the slightest doubt but that the blocks came from the lowest of the two beds of sand stone I have described. unfortunately I could not get up the cliff to examine the bed, but I could see that the color was the same. There were only two beds of stone as I have said before in the cliff except the conglomerate at the bottom, and in one place the cliff having fallen enabled me to get up to the Summit of a high cliff where I could examine closely all the upper beds of clay earth and the upper bed of blueish sand stone as well as some part of the Clay between that and the lower sand stone and certainly they were not at all like the rock in which the fossils are Therefore I am as convinced in my own mind that they came from the lower sand stone bed as if I took them out. The color and appearance being exact and there were no traces of fossils, in the upper sand stone bed the only other one it could possibly have been but now comes another singular thing while examining the upper part of the cliffs I saw near me a piece of the upper white clay earth that had fallen it was about the size of my head and sticking out of it were two beautifully perfect teeth about this size


They seemed less altered than the other ones and more perfect I was within two yards of them and with some difficulty reached the piece but unfortunately directly I touched it it crumbled in pieces and roll’d down the cliff two hundred feet I searched every part I could get to where the Fragments rolled but could not find the teeth and the pieces that fell to the bottom had not even the marks of the teeth in them, but I have brought a bit of the piece to show you that it is totally different from the rock the other fossils are in. Therefore even the upper white part of the “white sedimend” must contain organic remains but I could not see any more in that part of it I could reach. among the shingle on the surface there were some things which I think are marine fossils but I forget the name They look something like this


I have now told you all that I can think of, till you see the fossils; I think you will complain how mutilated they are but if you had seen the time we had and the strong tide running, and the rough way the men were working at it in spite of my urging them to take care, you would not wonder at it. Then sometimes they were on the side of a piece of stone as big as my Cabin and it is so easily broken that it was almost impossible to get a piece out solid, where we got them at a corner or end of a piece we were more successful. had I a few days to spare, I would get a boat load for I did not examine more than half a mile of the Cliffs. I think I should be well pleased if the wind would blow right in tomorrow but it has come round this evening and is quite fair so I must not lose any more time, for I have much to do to finish this season, and it might be thought at head quarters that I had no business remaining here. As I hope to go home this year myself I shall not send them home but keep them till we return that I may ensure their going safely. of course they are for you, but I suppose you will prefer their going with yours to the College of Surgeons.4 I may after all be thinking them of more importance than they are, but I think they must be much older than any of the Bahia Blanca ones.5 they are nearly black and some quite rotten. I was amused by hearing one man calling out that he had got marrow in his bone, thinking he was joking yet I found that the piece of stone had broken so as to divide the bone length ways and really it was full of a pith or marrow still soft but something like the pith of a piece of Elder tree— in some of the bones little sharp spines project from the inside and tho fine are very perfect. I think there are leg, shoulder and a blade bone (or I should say pieces of them) among them.

January 14th. Another foul wind today so I started early and had another tide at the cliffs and added considerably to the collection, some the same kind as before, but others certainly different, and very puzzling to me. I think there are pieces of several small heads, and some look like large insects more than animals, & others are I think fish or reptiles, but I am sorry to say few are perfect. even in the rocks they are not perfect being in bits here and there but we seldom succeeded in getting a piece out whole where the rock was large, but I thought it better to get as many as possible even if broken than lose time to get out a few more perfect. I got today also some smaller bones that are small enough to match the small heads one so small that a man said he had found a “little birds leg”. They are all much scattered about in the rocks as if they have been separated and spread about before being deposited. I also got one or two in different kinds of strata, showing that the remains are not confined to one bed. in one block of very friable rubble or clay there was a piece of a Jaw larger than a horses, with several teeth, but all quite loose and separated in small pieces exactly like the clay they were in so that they all separated as they were taken out. but now I must confess that I was wrong in my Idea about the bed the fossils are in. I found today, that the sketch I intended sending you of the Cliffs only applied to one part and that the two upper beds of darker sand stone I mentioned were not the same in other places and sometimes instead of two darker and harder beds, there were three and four, in other places only one, and all within a mile in length. The lower bed of gravel conglomerate only appeared here and there. The best description I can give you of them, is, that beds of light coloured clay alternate with thiner beds of blueish and grey sand stone, the clay varying in colour from nearly white to a Yellowish brown The upper beds of clay are much the thickest— The strata most marked and general is a bed about 20 feet thick of the light coloured clay, immediately above the lower dark sand stone that I thought contained the fossils. The upper part of this bed is nearly white but it is darker below and at the bottom is a yellowish brown. it is perfectly Horizontal and as far as the Eye can reach along the Cliffs it can be seen plainly, while the other beds occasionally change both in colour and size. I will try and give you a rough Idea of it [DIAGRAM HERE] Level Summit of the plain a a a a b b c c d d e e X to begin with (e) the low part of the cliff up to about 60 feet is composed darker colour clays, on which here and there is a bed of Conglomerate (d) is the lower grey sand stone in which I thought the fossils were it is about 20 feet thick but occasionally is not seen or is changed in color and compactness. Then comes the regular straight bed (c.) about 20 or 25 feet thick the lower part darker than the upper which is nearly white, then comes (b) which may be about 50 or 60 feet sometimes one two or even three beds of narrow darker stone showing plainly in it, but often changing— above it is (a) the upper white and yellow beds that extend to the top where they are covered by the shingle, these beds must be above a hundred feet thick as the level of the plain is some height above the top of the cliffs except in one or two places but in those places these white beds extend to the top, so that they are evidently directly below the shingle. There are many beds in this portion all thicknesses and shades sometimes darker sand stones, some narrow ones; red, and white, & blue, but the whole appearance, is the light colour which with the bed (c) give the cliffs the appearance that used to be considered chalk. I fear I have explained this sadly and you may think me too minute but I am anxious to explain where the fossil bed is which I will now do. in one place I found them today I saw that the Grey sand stone I thought they were in was not to be seen on that cliff while large pieces of the bed (c) were to be seen on a slope below it evidently resembling in size & appearance the stones in which the fossils are but not in colour This I saw was accounted for by, the large pieces at the foot of the cliffs being covered at high tides which had made them so much darker— after some difficulty I managed to get to a corner of the bed in the cliff, and saw that the lower part which is of a brownish yellow color, tho looking friable clay, had in it large masses of a more compact nature which fell to the foot of the cliff, where the high tides constantly covering them, and a rapid tide—washed off the outer & softer parts of the blocks, leaving the hard stones in which the fossils are, and from the wearing away of the stone the bones are seen projecting; I could find no bones in the part of the bed I reached but by cutting away the softer part of a block saw the sand stone inside exactly the same as on the beach except a lighter colour. in the blocks that had caught on different ledges of the cliff lower down I could not find any fossils either, but when they have these softer surfaces worn away by the sea they will I suppose appear. I hardly like to say I am certain they are in this bed after saying last night that they were in the one below. however there is one strong proof, which is, that wherever the valleys are so deep as to remove this bed, as at (x) there are no stones of the same kind at the foot, nor any fossils; and the same when a Slip of the cliff had taken place in which the upper beds covered the bed (c) there were no fossil stones below while in every part where the bed was showing in the cliff, there were the fossil blocks underneath. in many places the cliff showed something like this section from a landslip— [DIAGRAM HERE] a a a a b b c c and wherever that was the case there were no fossil stones below. of course the bed (c) was in these cases hidden, and unfortunately I could not find any slip where (c) had slipped also and so come low down to be easily examined it was generally only the upper mass of white (light coloured) beds that slipped— if you cannot make out my long winded explanation, you must live in hope of my explaining it better verbally when we look over the fossils, and when you abuse me for not having got them more perfect— I am anxious to ask you how it is that the valleys and hollows should be covered with the shingle bed, unless after the land had risen and the valleys been worn out, it had again sunk and been covered by the shingle yet I know that this has not been the case from your account— Perhaps a sea that flowed over the level plain might after washing away the strata in the hollows wash some shingle off the level, and cover the valleys, but then it must have washed it away again so I cannot understand it. The most extraordinary thing to me is the fact that such numerous and deep hollows should be worn away at all, and what is more, a few Isolated hills rising out of the low land to the southward about 15 miles off, show that the plain once extended round them, for they are about the same height (to the Eye) but where is all that enormous mass of clay and sand stone gone? and what a time must it have taken; one cannot fancy any time sufficient and yet all this is the work of a day (Geological) compared to the time that these same beds were gradually forming from the parent rocks and from what rocks were these beds formed? and what was the nature of the country when the little Armadillo lived whose remains are in these beds? They surely could not have had such different habits as to have lived in a mountainous country, and yet what other kind of country could have been the parent of the plains of Patagonia. I may be mistaken as to the scales being armadillo but they are exactly like them; if not, they must be a lizard, or extraordinary fish scales, but I have written enough to tire you without troubling you with any more of my fancies but I must tell you that here in Patagonia we have had rain every day, and no sun to be seen. Yet it cannot be the rainy season, for the land looks dried up, and there are marks of the Animals feet when the ground was wet now quite hard and dry. we have even rain with the wind West, showing that there must be an approach to Southern weather. I suppose the Andes lower allow some clouds to pass them. There are also several little springs and tuns6 of good water in the cliffs and hollows, and a little inland a fresh water pond I do not think we ever saw such a thing further North; Further I must add that it is a horrid place to get into, coming in we were nearly on shore, and as Beagle’s Chart of it had 4 and 6 fathoms I thought we were out of the channel, and trusting to that I weighed today on my return to run out and ran right on shore, there being where the channel is marked only 4 feet water and as we cannot get out till high water tomorrow we were obliged when the tide floated us to run back again as it was too dark to see our way. we had just got back when I began writing. I must say one thing more I was very anxious to get you a good specimen of the smaller ostrich but tho a few were seen none of our sportsmen have managed to get a shot at them.7

West Falkland Jany. 29. I fear you will be sure to say before reading all this “How much more is he going to write”—but I must risk tiring you as I think you may like to hear the result of our soundings between the Islands and the main. To explain this I must give you a sketch [DIAGRAM HERE] Santa Cruz 50 60 60 70 80 120 Falklands C Virgins 40 50 60 70 100 130 120 80 Beauchene 140 150 160 200 230 90 70 50 Staten I. 220 no bottom 250 fms. 100 .— 280 160 100 210 100 350 Great South Bank. 30 to 50 fms. mind that this is only a rough sketch The soundings are just written by eye but it will do to explain You will see that from the west Isd of the Falklands to the main on three lines we got bottom right across, the deepest being towards Staten Island while the main bank further North reaches nearly to the Island. I shall yet get more soundings round the NW end of the Falklands to see if it is shallower there. we also got bottom between the great South bank and Staten Island— I know you are interested about the Patagonian bank and that is why I mention this. we have also got the Edge of it in several Places. between the Falklands & Cape Corientes there is little variation in the depth (50 & 60 foms) till near the Edge where it deepens faster, and from 80, very fast, so that a mile or two more you have 100 and a few more miles, no bottom with 1400 fathoms. is it possible that the bank can have a thickness equal to that at its outer edge or does it rest on a foundation of older rocks which slope off in that manner? Yet if that were the case the bank would not be so level. The only thing more I have got to bother you about is my discovery that the nearly Horizontal beds of Quartose sand stone in the Swan & New Islands group of West Falkland have veins of basalt (or some trap rock) traversing them. I have thought so for some time, but from not knowing enough of the rocks did not like to be sure about it, particularly as I had only found in in Numerous Dykes running perpendicular in a North and South direction in what appeared to be regular openings in the rock and therefore I thought they might possibly have been filled (as mineral veins are) by some compact sedimentary rock, but in all the dykes the rock was of a very compact dark coloured crystalised structure and I thought must be Igneous, & have long had specimens of it to show you on my return but yesterday passing a small Island half of which has been worn away leaving a high cliff, I saw a dark black vein running diagonally across the strata and on sending a boat to bring some of the rock I found it was a still more compact Trap rock very difficult to break and full of crystals of Felspar and others which I suppose are Olivine Yet it is has so much the appearance of what I have found in the Dykes that I think they must be the same only this having cooled under greater pressure from having such a mass of rock above it is more compact. I do not know whether there is any thing unusual in these dykes but being something new in Falkland Geology as I am writing I think you would like to know it: the appearance of the Iland is like this [DIAGRAM HERE] the height of the cliff being about 100 feet and the vein about 6 feet thick The sand stone is I think the same as that (so bent, and altered by heat,) composing the Quartz Hills of the East Island, as here we occasionally find it partly changed and sometimes almost as much as on the East Island; one reason that made me doubtful before about the dykes being Igneous was, that the rock on each side was so little altered (tho for some inches it was decidedly so, and where the vein had fallen out the two sides or walls of the crevice stuck up in this manner [DIAGRAM HERE] and were very much harder than the rest of the sand stone but only for two or three inches,) there are hundreds of these dykes running miles in length, as you see them on opposite sides of channels and Islands and some are twenty feet wide, and all sizes from that down to two inches, yet they run nearly in the same direction and till I saw this Island I never saw any with the least inclination.—

I must not finish this without trying to give you a better opinion of the Falklands as to weather than our visit in Beagle would lead you to adopt. from the middle of November (when we arrived) the weather has been so fine that we have not had more than two rainy days and not more than three or four more showery (one day of which there were hail showers.) besides these we have had perhaps four or five days thick weather with northerly winds and all the rest have been nearly as cloudless as at Santa Cruz the most rain and cloudy weather we have had was during the week we were in and near the Gallegos. So dry is the ground for want of rain, that even in the lowest hollows we cannot find water enough to wet our feet in walking miles, and it is only in the ravines coming from the highest hills were there are good rivulets that we can get water, and I have need all the season to carry water with me in my boat from the ship whenever I go away: during the past month we had plenty of strong breezes but since Christmas we have hardly had a gale of wind and few even strong breezes. I was surprised at the dry weather both summers before as we often had difficulty in getting water; all but the large streams being dry; but this year it is much drier—. I must also tell you one more thing which you will think singular after our bad luck with Gales in Beagle. we were three weeks last year on the bank to the Eastward of Staten Land—and this year ten days off Staten Land, and eight days at sea going to and coming from Gallegos and we have only had one breeze that could be called a gale which lasted two or three hours and besides that, had not once in either last year or this to close reef the topsails I might almost say, “double reef them”; and from leaving England to this time, including five passages to Monte Video and back we have only had one heavy Gale (and that a fair one) at sea so as to be obliged to batten our hatches down: this will seem almost incredible to you after the weather we had in Beagle— occasionally, we have had gales enough and hard enough down here, but have either been at Anchor, or in sheltered bays and sounds, so that we had no ocean sea. But enough of this, as I am sure you will think there is quite enough said, but you must thank the fossils for it, as I should not have written at all had it not been for them. I hope you will think them worth the infliction of such a long Yarn

Feby. 3 As we shall I hope be back at Stanley (Port William) in a few days I must have this ready to leave there in case a vessel calls. I have been looking over your old letters that I might recollect all the things you mention, so as to give you what information I can on these points. You will recollect that I was told, that one reason why the horses did not increase so fast as the cattle was, the studs driving the mares on before the Colts could walk and so leaving them to die.8 since that I have myself seen several remains of very young Colts tho I have only been a few walks in the part where the horses are, while I never yet found a dead calf—so that the reason given me, may be correct, but cannot I should think be the only cause. There is no lack of pasture for the number of horses as they have some very good vallies among the hills and have always had a supply of Tussac besides but they do not apparently like leaving the Hills for the low land to the Southward. There are numerous spots where they collect for shelter under the high Quartz Rocks, which are called their stables, and round them the grass is very good the peaty land having been trodden into a rich soil and the grass being eaten close grows quite green in the spring Perhaps the shelter the rocks afford them may make them prefer the high ground. You will recollect my mentioning how easily the rabbits are tamed. I think that is also the case with the horses. I saw a little filly about 18 months old, that was run down and brought in, and in four days she was so tame that you could play with her and the soldier (sapper) who had her, in less than a week had taught her to give her paw like a dog, but of course this being a single instance may not be of much value— The wild cattle cannot have lost their original habits entire or they could not be driven about a week after they are caught as they easily are. in fact I am convinced that they need not be caught but that the wild herds may be driven on to Peninsulas where by rounding them with a few tame ones for a few days, they may be driven to any part of the Islands. I have driven a herd back onto a point with a party on foot and there killed and caught ten, and therefore several men on Horseback might easily do it— of course they must let the old bulls pass as they cannot always drive them, but cows calves and young bulls I think they can. one day on my way to Mount Usborne we found a small herd of cows and young ones half way up among the stones in running away they got into a lane of grass running into a stream of stones where there was no outlet as they are afraid to cross the stones I was pushed for time as it was clear on the top for the observations but thought that if I could keep them there till I had finished I might get a good supply of beef, so I left two of my boats crew to guard them and they kept them rounded up in a mass for three hours till I returned from the mountain when we killed out of the herd five cows and caught three young ones. this I think shows that they cannot be the same as wild animals. I do not recollect any thing more that I can tell you on these points, except that I have a rat in spirits for you that I caught two miles inland and he is very unlike a domestic rat yet there are so many about the Islands that I think they must have come from vessels. It is quite incorrect what we were told respecting the difference in the Foxes of the two Islands. they are the same both in size and color we have never been able to detect any difference they are very numerous in the west Island that is on every Harbor or bay we have been in there have been two or three couple seen. I had two last year quite tame having been eight months on board, and I sent them to Rio in hopes of getting them sent home, but the Packet would not take them and I have never heard whether they were sent by a merchant vessel. The Packet could not well take them as their smell was any thing but pleasant and she had numerous Lady Passengers. I wish they could have gone home safe, particularly as the Female was with Young. I have seen several more basalt dykes during the last two days one twenty feet wide running across a point and forming the Hill on the summit about 200 feet high it was composed of numerous concentric masses which when moved against each other, rank like metal one small dyke looked exactly like a pile of shot (where its side was uncovered) when seen at a little distance so small and regular were the balls. there must be a very great mass of it contained in all the dykes as they extend over at least 400 or 500 square miles and sometimes there are three or four in a hundred yards and they are at least five feet wide (the mean of the whole). it is singular that they should be found where the sandstone is nearly horizontal while in the other Island where it has been so twisted they are not seen

I have found a few more Fossil shells in the sandstone on the South side of Saunders Island but, I think they must be similar to those you have tho I had previously supposed the sand stone to be a different formation.—

I fear you have mistaken the position of the bed of soft sand stone containing the fragments of granites &c. You say it is the “Ice formation”, and suppose it to be on the South side of the Islands.9 it is quite the contrary. if you look at the chart you will see in the SE corner of Byron Sound a small Island called Skip Is. The bed lines the South Shore of the sound, in the depth of the bay to the SE of that Island, and is situated at the Northern base of the Highest Mountains in the whole Islands rising directly from the sea to 2300 feet high this chain runs down to West Point tho in some places much lower (600 or 700 feet) The Fragments appeared to have been well worn before being deposited tho not round like pebbles on a beach. the cliffs where it lined the shore were about 30 feet high and I saw it for about two miles in length, but could not see how for it ran inland tho the hills come so close that it cannot be more than two or three hundred yards but in one place it projected nearly a mile and formed a low point You may suppose how glad I am that I am on the point of finishing this survey. The actual chart work will be complete in three days but we have plenty of “off shore” soundings to get and lots of work at the paper still to do, but I find I have had quite enough of it, and long to be settled quietly on shore again tho every thing has gone so happily for me having my wife and chicks with me (tho I see little of them while down here) and every thing comfortable in the vessel besides which I am blessed with health such as I never knew for years and never expected to know again in that my getting this employment was in every way most providentially ordered for me, but I trust now it is over here I shall be allowed to go home as I do not wish to stay out to work in the River Plate— All our little ones have benefitted much by the Falklands and are pictures of health and our little Falkland now nearly a year old does his birth place credit.10 what is more singular is that just before leaving the River they all caught the hooping cough and were getting worse up to the day they arrived here and one was very ill. Yet from that day they began rapidly to get better and tho they were daily with the Doctors children in fact almost living together, and there were numerous other children round, not one child got the Cough as if it could not exist at the Islands. my wife tried a singular remedy, for she bathed them in the sea while they had the Cough, but it certainly did them good—and when I went back after being away two months I found them all well and looking better than I ever saw them. it certainly is a most healthy climate but still I shall be glad to leave it and hope I shall never again have to leave home, in fact I do not think any thing would get me to do it again—

I forgot to mention that on my last trip to the Cliffs I made a sketch which I think gives a pretty fair Idea of them and therefore I will send it to you. I have endeavoured to color it as nearly as I can.11 it does not exactly represent the cliff at any spot but shows nearly all the different beds that were within a range of a mile tho several were very broken and the darker ones were often replaced by others of a lighter color still the general appearance of the cliffs was very like the sketch. the light colored gravels at the bottom were generally the rubble from the other beds above but the bottom bed of hardened gravel (or fine shingle, for the pebbles were quite round) stuck out boldly, often in overhanging masses. I am very curious to know whether you consider all these beds included in the “white sediment”, that is whether they all come between the fossiliferous strata and the shingle. I cannot think they were all formed by the action of the sea on a beach as you suppose the white sediment to have been; because many of them are compact and regular sand stone; and the bed of shingle must have been formed previously; as the lighter particles according to your theory must of course always be underneath. the bed of sand stone immediately below the fossil bed must also I should think have been deposited regularly, had there been no compact beds of sand stone above the fossils, I could have supposed that the carcasses had floated down some river or estuary and had sunk by degrees among the “white sediment” as it was forming, but on the whole I cannot help thinking that all these beds except the upper white ones must have been regularly deposited by running water. I do not know whether it is possible for bones to cause the sediment in which they are contained to harden round them, but certainly the bed appeared to be very friable, except at the lower part where the Concretionary Hard lumps are that I believe contain the fossils. If it is possible for bones to impregnate the stone with any cementing ingredients, I think they must have do so in this case; they must I should think from there appearance have parted with all their phosphate of lime— do not laugh at my conjectures if they are sheer nonsense, which I have no doubt some of them are. I wish I could have found shells with them so as to give some Idea of their age, but I hope some of the things which I cannot make out will turn out to be marine animals of some kind— I recollect your mentioning somewhere in your book that ““Volutes” have been found some way South (I think 40 or 42) and may yet be found further South”12 I have been searching the book but cannot find it; perhaps I mentioned in a former letter that they are numerous at the Falklands but in case I did not I will now. we often found Numbers of dead ones on the beaches, but for nearly two years never found a live one till one day a “red bell13 was seen with one he had just brought up to eat. and since then in one place myself and the doctor each got one at a very low tide. we then saw that the reason our dredge had never brought them up was that they are buried just under the surface of the sand the shells are about 6 inches long and 212 in breadth. I could not myself have vouched for their being Volutes but my late First Lieut. and the Doctor, who are old Pacific shell collectors say that they are and as it confirms what you said I thought you would like to know it. from the numbers on all the beaches they must be abundant—

Speaking of shells, I must not forget to tell you than in the River Plate a few miles from the entrance of the Uruguay I found a bed of apparently a more compact nature than the sandstone Cliffs near it, and in it there were a great number of casts of shells the whole shell being replaced by a highly crystaline substance I am pretty certain that they are marine shells, & I do not recollect whether you found any similar ones or not I will try to give you an Idea of their shape [DIAGRAM HERE]

I think the crystaline substance is lime but the rock appears to be a hard clay— in case I should not come home this year if you want any more particulars about them I will try and go to the place again but at the time I thought you would be sure to have seen others like them and I still suppose you have the bed they were in was not more than 15 feet above the river I also picked up a few miles from the same place two teeth on the beach at the foot of some cliffs which from having some of their Crevices filled with a hard substance I think may be Fossil I will give you the shape of the end of the tooth [DIAGRAM HERE] 114 inch 34 inch This is miserably done and not like it, but it has five cutting edges two lower line the two top rows and a fifth between the two lower ones. I could find no bones near, and these may be perhaps teeth of some existing Animal, but they appear to me rather large. The thickness one way being an inch & quarter and the other way three quarters of an inch

While I am giving you specimens of my talent for drawing I may as well give you an Idea of the fossil shells I picked up at the West Falkland since I sent you the others for I fancy the sand stone is a different formation. They are only casts of shells but are very numerous being 15 in number on one bit of stone about 15 square inches I do not think there were any like them in those I sent you before. that is not so small [DIAGRAM HERE] and now I really will leave off scribbling for I am sure you will be well tired of me long before you have made out all my hurried scrawl, but you must know it has been written at intervals of a few minutes when being tired of bending over the chart board I have given myself a spell. Stanley (Port William) Feby 12. 45 we arrived here two days since and the day after a vessel arrived going home direct from New Zealand so I must send this. I have been much interested by the accounts of FitzRoys career. two of the Radical Members of Council are in this vessel and they have told me all and every thing that has happened since his arrival. it is Beagle over again, temper violent saying any thing to any body, doing most hasty and extraordinary things, but on the whole much liked and he has (they say) done some things which will save the Colony tho so contrary to Ideas at home that he himself and many others think they will recall him.14 but only fancy FitzRoy the High Tory adopting the most ultra Radical views, free trade in every thing, no customs duties, and still more given up the principle of the Wakefield System of buying land which the Government so insist on and given up all right of the Crown to the land so far as allowing all to purchase direct from the natives, paying a fee of 1 penny an acre to government instead of 10 Shillings an acre as formerly.15 this is the point that all are in such doubt about tho they agree it must safe the Colony— The old system of caring nothing for expense. Surveying a Harbor now at his own expense, repairing Government House at his own expense on which said house 20.000£ had been spent out of Government money, previously while nothing had been done to make roads &c. They say he has done more with the few Hundred Pounds he could spare out of an almost empty Treasury than had been done before with Thousands opening paths in different directions &c. in fact doing much to please every one—& particularly the natives who go to him with all their troubles and complaints. the old Aristocratic Ideas still showing themselves, and occasionally so violent as even to cause a deputation to take up their hats and walk out of his room in the middle of his attack on them, leaving him storming at them; in fact, being the Captn. of a ship over again as for the Govt. Officers under him they appear to have no opinion but his; he deciding on things without consulting them; and adopting the popular and Radical views that they were opposed to so much so that his measures are obstructed by them in working out. unfortunately he is inclined to be High Church and the Bishop being a Puseyite, they will do harm in that way.16 already the Bishop has caused strife and dispute between the Church Mission converts and the Methodist forbids Methodist communicants from receiving the sacrament in the church, while before both Church and Methodist Missionaries received each others members at their sacrament he has also refused to allow them to be buried together He tells the Wesleyan Converts himself that they have never been baptized because it was not done by a properly ordained successor of the Apostles—and not only this but has so worried and interfered with the missionaries that they say themselves all their influence is gone. Mr Williams17 has lost the influence he possesed. and for this the Church Missionary Society have assisted to send a Bishop out— FitzRoy tried to get an Addition to the Bishops salary voted from the Public Money but it was successfully opposed— They say that Mrs. FitzRoy is “the greatest blessing to the Colony”—that her influence and example was much wanted and is doing much good in fact she seems almost to be worshiped—but I fear she is delicate the old General a great Favorite and keeps clear of all parties and all public affairs. I know Mrs. Darwin and yourself will be glad to hear all about them so I have ventured to add to my long Yarn Mrs. Sulivan joins me in kind remembrances to Mrs. Darwin who I trust with your little ones is quite well. if it please God I hope to see you before eight months more have passed—18 Believe me dear Darwin | Yours very sincerely | B J Sulivan Do not attempt to wade through this long yarn except when you have little to do of any consequence B J Sulivan19

CD annotations

1.1 As I … sand stone more 1.28] crossed pencil
1.15 the appearance of Chalk.] underl pencil
4.1 I fear you … sketch 4.4] crossed pencil
4.10 I know … fathoms. 4.15] ‘Patagonian Bank’ added pencil, circled pencil
4.18 The only … perpendicular 4.23] ‘Basalt veins Falkland Islsadded pencil, circled pencil
4.46 there are hundreds of these dykes] underl pencil
5.1 I must not … Santa Cruz 5.7] ‘Weather Falkland Isdsadded pencil, circled pencil
5.11 I have … points. 6.4] crossed pencil
6.4 You will recollect … cause. 6.9] ‘Death of Horses’added pencil
6.24 in fact … animals 6.38] crossed pencil
6.38 I do not … vessels.] ‘Rat Falkland’added pencil
6.42 It is quite … difference 6.44] ‘Foxes same on the two islands’added pencil
6.51 I have seen … balls. 6.56] ‘Dikes’added pencil, circled pencil
7.3 formation.—] followed by a pencil line drawn across the page
8.2 granites] ‘granites?’ added pencil
8.2 You say … contrary. 8.3] ‘Boulder Formation’added pencil
8.4 Byron Sound] ‘Byron Sound is NW part of Western island’ added pencil
8.8 have been well worn 8.9] underl pencil
8.9 tho not round like] underl brown crayon
8.10 30 feet] underl pencil
8.10 two miles 8.11] underl brown crayon
8.15 but we have … Sulivan 18.1] crossed pencil
On cover: ‘Death of Horses only Species fact.’pencil ‘Sounding to Falkland Isdbrown crayon ‘Boulder [formation]brown crayon ‘Pebble island rabbit’ pencil, del pencil ‘Ch V [below del ‘1’]’ brown crayon, circled brown crayon


1844 is an error for 1845. The correct date occurs later in the letter.
John Lort Stokes.
Journal of researches, p. 202, where CD gave a diagram of the strata of coastal Patagonia. He showed the cliffs as being composed of ‘Fossiliferous Strata’. See also n. 11, below.
At least one of Sulivan’s fossils was presented to the Royal College of Surgeons, see Flower 1879–91, 2: 436. Richard Owen described this and some further fossils sent by Sulivan at the British Association meeting in Southampton in 1846 (see Report of the 16th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Southampton in 1846 Transactions of the sections, p. 66). He named them Nesodon imbricatus and Nesodon sulivani.
CD’s fossil quadrupeds from Bahia Blanca were described by Richard Owen in Fossil Mammalia.
Literally, barrels or casks.
For CD’s remarks on a second, smaller species of South American Rhea see Journal of researches, pp. 108–9, and ‘Notes upon the Rhea Americana’, Collected papers 1: 38–40.
Presumably mentioned in one of CD’s letters to Sulivan.
James Young Falkland Sulivan, Sulivan’s oldest son, whose name reflected the family’s belief that he was the first British subject born on the Falkland Islands (DNB).
Sulivan’s watercolour sketch of the Rio Gallegos cliffs is preserved in DAR 46.1: 75.
Journal of researches, pp. 611–12.
Haematopus leucopus, the Falkland Islands oyster-catcher or red-bill.
Robert FitzRoy was recalled 30 April 1845. The news reached him on 1 October 1845. For the circumstances see Mellersh 1968, pp. 224–35.
According to the Treaty of Waitangi, land purchases were outlawed, and only the government could buy land from the Maoris. The ‘system’, however, was not Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s but that of the first governor, William Hobson. (See Mellersh 1968, pp. 203–4).
George Augustus Selwyn was bishop of New Zealand, 1841–67.
Henry Williams, archdeacon of Waimate.
Sulivan’s family returned to England in August 1845. He returned in June 1846, see letter to Richard Owen, 21 [June 1846].
‘Do not attempt … Sulivan’ was written on the cover.


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.

Flower, William Henry. 1879–91. Catalogue of the specimens illustrating the osteology and dentition of vertebrated animals, recent and extinct, contained in the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. 3 vols. London: Taylor and Francis.

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.

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.

Mellersh, Harold Edward Leslie. 1968. FitzRoy of the Beagle. London: Rupert Hart-Davis.


Describes stratification of cliffs on south shore of Rio Gallegos; fossils found at base of cliffs. Speculates about geological past of the area. Discusses climate of southern Patagonia; navigation problems at the mouth of Rio Gallegos.

Gives results of soundings taken between Falkland Islands and South American mainland. Describes geology of Falklands, especially the dikes found on many islands. Comments on climate of Falklands. Discusses horses and cattle, health of his children in the Falklands. Mentions volutes found in the Falklands.

Passes on report of FitzRoy’s policies as governor of New Zealand.

Letter details

Letter no.
Bartholomew James Sulivan
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
HMS Philomel , Rio Gallegos, Patagonia
Source of text
DAR 46.1: 75–86
Physical description
19pp sketch

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 730,” accessed on 23 January 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 3