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Record number: WCP5553

Sent by:
Robert Oliver Cunningham
Sent to:
Joseph Dalton Hooker
11 February 1869

Sent by Robert Oliver Cunningham, HMS "Nassau" to Joseph Dalton Hooker [none given] on 11 February 1869.

Record created:
05 June 2014 by Benny, Ruth


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LETTER (WCP5553.6311)

A typical letter handwritten by author in English and signed by author.

Held by:
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Finding number:
DC 216 folio 30
Copyright owner:
Copyright of the Robert Oliver Cunningham Literary Estate.
Record scrutiny:
05/06/2014 - Benny, Ruth;

Physical description

Transcription information




H[er]. M[ajesty’s]. S[hip]. "Nassau"

Monte Video [sic].

Feb[ruary]. 11th. 1869.

My dear Sir,2

I write a few lines to let you know that we are here having come up from the Strait3 with a cargo of about 200 hundred ship-wrecked people, the Pacific Steam Navigation Company’s steamer "Santiago" having been lost off the Island of Desolation4 in the Strait. We went to Lonely Point in the beginning of the year as a letter I despatched to you a short time ago will have informed you and there we awaited the arrival of the "Santiago" which was due on the 19th of last month. We remained stationary until the 24th and then having given up hopes of meeting her we proceeded westwards to resume our work. On the 26th. however, we met a small schooner coming to look for us with all the Santiago’s passengers on board and we then learned the disaster that it had occurred [sic] [.] It was therefore decided that we should take the unfortunates on to this port5 and we arrived here about a week ago. The weather is extremely hot and we feel the change of climate from the Strait very much though it is not an unpleasant variety. I spent a few hours walking about on the Mount6 [[2]] the other day and picked up a number of plants but nothing particularly note-worthy. The scarlet and purple Verbenas7 are in fine flower. I obtained specimens of a handsome lizard, a toad and a beautiful little green frog which though it belongs to the Hyla8 family cannot be called a tree-frog as it basks on bare rocks in the sunshine where there are no trees of any description. I forget whether I mentioned in my last letter that I feel almost convinced that Calceolaria nana9 and Darwinii10 are only different forms of one species resulting from a variety of soil and situation. I mention this because I see you appear to think that not improbable[.]

In a few days we return to our work in the [1 word illeg.] and we expect to be at Rio de Janeiro about the beginning of July and thither all our letters from home are to be addressed. In consequence of the death of his father, Captain Mayne11 is going home on leave when we return to Rio and I believe all things considered that I had better return home then also should no strong reason arise for my remaining out longer. I feel satisfied that I have virtually [[3]] accomplished all the work in my power with my present facilities and if I stayed out longer I would be merely going over old ground. Of course much as I would like to return home I should be ready to remain out longer did I think that any good end could be served by my doing so[,] but after careful consideration I do not think this is the case and from what Captain Mayne has said to me I believe this is his opinion also. As I have uniformly received the greatest kindness and consideration from him I need hardly say that any wish of his would have great weight with me and I trust I do not need to inform you that any opinion expressed by you in the matter would also be entitled to my most careful consideration. I may however mention[,] and you will understand what I mean[,] that I should not consider it advisable to remain were Captain Mayne not at the head of affairs here. It seems most likely then that I shall be in England in the autumn of the present year. I hope to get some seeds of Fagus betuloides12 [sic] before we leave the Strait. I think it was after I finished my last letter to you that a large party of Patagonians arrived at Sandy Point13. Captain Mayne and I were out on a walk at the time and met the cavalcade riding in. It was one of the most picturesque[?] [word overwritten not fully legible] sights I have ever seen. The tallest man of the party [[4]] measured six feet ten inches in height.

It is a curious fact that of all the mail bags carried by the Santiago ours was the only one that was saved. In it I got a kind letter from Dr Gray14 in reply to a note I wrote him on the habits of [1 word illeg.]. I see that Mr Wallace’s new book of travels15 is advertised. It will be marvellously interesting I have no doubt. Have you seen Dr Collingwood’s16 book17? I saw a favourable critique on it in the Saturday review18.

Believe me | most truly yours | Robert O. Cunningham19 [signature]

P[ost] S[criptum]. I am sorry to see that Sir John [1 word illeg.] is not in the new Parliament.

Dr J. D. Hooker. F[ellow]. [of the] R[oyal]. S[ociety].


1. "Arri[ve]d May 7 / [18]69" written in ink across top LH corner of page.

2. Hooker, Joseph Dalton (1817-1911). British botanist and explorer and founder of geographical botany. He succeeded his father William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865) as Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew on his death and held the post for 20 years.

3. Strait of Magellan, (Estrecho di Magellanes) Chile.

4. Desolation Island (Isla Desolación) is an island at the western end of the Strait of Magellan. Its northwestern point, Cape Pillar (Cabo Pilar), marks the entrance to the Strait.

5. Montevideo, Uruguay.

6. The highest of the two hills overlooking coastal Montevideo is the peak of the Cerro de Montevideo (135 m).

7. Verbena is a genus in the family Verbenaceae, of annual and perennial herbaceous or semi-woody flowering plants mostly native to the Americas and Europe.

8. A genus of the family Hylidae, tree frogs.

9. Calceolaria nana Sm. is a synonym of Calceolaria uniflora Lam.

10. Calceolaria darwinii Benth. is a synonym of Calceolaria uniflora Lam.

11. Mayne, Richard Charles (1835-1892). Royal Navy Captain, later Admiral and explorer. He commanded HMS Nassau on the survey expedition to the Straits of Magellan, 1866-9. His father Sir Richard Mayne (b. 1796) died on 26 December 1868.

12. Nothofagus betuloides Known as Magellan's beech or guindo, is native to southern Patagonia (southern Chile and southern Argentina (40°S) to Tierra del Fuego (56°S)).

13. The English 18th-century explorer John Byron named the area around present day Punta Arenas, Chile, Sandy Point. The name Punta Arenas was derived from the Spanish term Punta Arenosa, a literal translation of the English name.

14. Gray, Asa (1810-1888). Professor of Botany at Harvard University, considered the most important American botanist of the 19th century. His book Darwiniana was also considered an important explanation of how religion and science were not necessarily mutually exclusive.

15. Wallace, A. R. (1869) The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-utan, and the Bird of Paradise. A Narrative of Travel with Studies of Man and Nature. London, Macmillan & Co.

16. Collingwood, Cuthbert (1826-1908). English physician, surgeon and naturalist. In 1866-7 he served as surgeon and naturalist on H.M.S. Rifleman and H.M.S. Serpent on voyages of exploration in the China Seas, and made interesting researches in marine zoology (see Endnote 17)

17. Collingwood, C. (1868) Rambles of a Naturalist on the Shores and Waters of the China Sea: Being Observations in Natural History during a Voyage to China, Formosa, Borneo, Singapore etc., made in Her Majesty’s vessels in 1866 and 1867. London, John Murray.

18. The Saturday Review of politics, literature, science, and art was a London weekly newspaper established by A. J. B. Beresford Hope in 1855.

19. Cunningham, Robert Oliver (1841-1918). Scottish naturalist. In June 1866 he was appointed by the Admiralty upon the recommendation of Joseph Dalton Hooker (see Endnote 2) to collect plants as Naturalist on board H.M.S. Nassau under the command of Richard Charles Mayne (see Endnote 11) then commissioned for the survey of the Straits of Magellan and the west coast of Patagonia. This voyage started on the 24th of August 1866 and he returned on 30 July 1869.

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