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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Hubert Airy   24 August 1872

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Aug. 24 ’72

My dear Sir,

I have thought that you would excuse my begging a favour of you; that is if you think it a proper one to grant, of which I am not at all sure.

One of my sons Leonard Darwin of the Royal Engineers has sent me an application to Sir G. Airy to be one of the observers in the transit of Venus expedition.1 I find that he has not mentioned any of his qualifications; and perhaps you could find an opportunity of mentioning the few following particulars to your father.

In the preliminary examination for Woolwich he entered as 2nd man, and he likewise passed out as Second.2 These examinations are well known to be very severe; and Success in them implies some knowledge & aptitude for mathematics. On this head I believe that Prof. Sylvester would speak in his favour.3 At Woolwich & since he has been at Chatham he has worked hard at Surveying, drawing fortifications &c;4 and he is very neat handed in making maps plans &c. I mention this as I suppose a steady hand & a good eye are important requisites for observation. I can speak from my own knowledge that he is energetic, industrious and accurate in details; & that he has a very clear intellect; so that I should think he would make a good observer; but I must add that he has had no experience in Astronomical observations. I hope that you will excuse me for thus troubling you, & do what you can to aid me.

Yours very sincerely, | Ch. Darwin


Letter from Leonard Darwin to George Biddell Airy, 21 August 1872 (CUL: Royal Greenwich Observatory archives 6/273 (section 3–4: 347)). G. B. Airy was in charge of the British expeditions to observe the transit of Venus in different parts of the world (ODNB). Leonard was eventually appointed as a photographer and was stationed in New Zealand in 1874 (ODNB; Chauvin 2004, pp. 40–1).
Leonard had been second in the preliminary examination at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, in 1868, and second in the final examination in 1870. On Leonard’s success in 1868, see Correspondence vol. 16, letter to Horace Darwin, 26 [July 1868], and letter from Alfred Wrigley, 28 July 1868.
James Joseph Sylvester was professor of mathematics at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. On his high regard for Leonard, see Correspondence vol. 18, Supplement, letter from E. A. Darwin, [September 1868 – August 1870].
After being commissioned in the Royal Engineers in 1871, Leonard worked at the School of Military Engineering at Chatham (ODNB).


Chauvin, Michael. 2004. Hōkūloa: the British 1874 transit of Venus expedition to Hawai’i. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.


CD’s son Leonard of the Royal Engineers has applied to Sir George Biddell Airy to be an observer on the Venus Expedition. Leonard failed to mention his qualifications, which CD now relates with the request that HA draw them to his father’s attention.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Hubert Airy
Sent from
Source of text
CUL: Royal Greenwich Observatory archives 6/273 (section 3–4: 348–9)
Physical description
LS(A) 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8486A,” accessed on 6 February 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20