GL D8.2, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

GL D8.2, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

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GL D8.2, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

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Letter to Sir George Grey from Charles Darwin

Author: Charles Darwin
Ref No: GL D8.2
Date Added: 1847
Date Created: 13 November 1847

In 1846, during his first term as Governor of New Zealand, George Grey was surprised, on opening a parcel of books sent from London, to discover that the package also contained some correspondence between the great English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-82) and Darwin’s friend and former shipmate aboard the HMS Beagle, John Lort Stokes. The chief topic of discussion was Grey himself – and the comments were not flattering. Some years earlier, Stokes and Grey had been embroiled in a dispute over the suitability of a stretch of West Australia for colonisation. One of the first Europeans to explore the area, Grey said yes, but Stokes, coming along afterwards as the official British surveyor, gave a very firm no and ridiculed Grey’s opinion.

Rather than have the argument blow up again, Grey returned the letters he had found to Darwin with a politely querying note. Deeply embarrassed, describing himself as ‘much mortified’, Darwin replied on 10 November 1846, assuring Grey of his high opinion of him (‘Your account of the aborigines I have always thought one of the most able ever written’) and enclosing a message from Stokes, who promised to locate the ‘mischief-maker’ responsible for slipping the damaging correspondence into Grey’s mail.

Grey’s response has been lost, but it must have been warm and forgiving, for Darwin wrote again on 13 November 1847, praising his ‘admirable spirit’ and taking up Grey’s invitation to comment, at some length, on interesting aspects of New Zealand’s natural history. A third letter in the library’s collection, was sent by Darwin on 9 December 1855. It is concerned with the natural history of Ceylon and, more specifically, to the "races of pigeons".

Tags: Darwin, flhgpxsod, geology, letter, limestone, natural history, New Zealand

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