Darwin’s view in 1850

Letter 1370 — Darwin, C. R. to Covington, Syms, 23 Nov 1850


I am always much interested by your letters, and take a very sincere pleasure in hearing how you get on. You have an immense, incalculable advantage in living in a country in which your children are sure to get on if industrious. I assure you that, though I am a rich man, when I think of the future I very often ardently wish I was settled in one of our Colonies, for I have now four sons (seven children in all, and more coming), and what on earth to bring them up to I do not know. A young man may here slave for years in any profession and not make a penny. Many people think that Californian gold will half ruin all those who live on the interest of accumulated gold or capital, and if that does happen I will certainly emigrate.f4 Whenever you write again tell me how far you think a gentleman with capital would get on in New South Wales. I have heard that gentlemen generally get on badly. I am sorry to say that my health keeps indifferent, and I have given up all hopes of ever being a strong man again. I am forced to live the life of a hermit, but natural history fills up my time, and I am happy in having an excellent wife and children. Any particulars you choose to tell me about yourself always interest me much. What interest can you get for money in a safe investment? How dear is food; I suppose nearly as dear as in England? How much land have you? I was pleased to see the other day that you have a railway commenced,f5 and before they have one in any part of Italy or Turkey. The English certainly are a noble race, and a grand thing it is that we have got securely hold of Australia and New Zealand. Once again accept my thanks for your valuable collection of barnacles, and believe me, dear Covington, your sincere friend,


f4 (copy attached to the entry)

The California gold-rush was at its height in the summer of 1850; from the British point of view, inflated prices for gold and the withdrawal of capital from traditional investments such as land, government bonds, and stocks and shares undermined the stability of the economy. CD expressed the same fears about the effects on his investments in Correspondence vol. 5, letter to W. D. Fox, 7 March [1852], and on 1 February 1852 recorded in his reading notebook (DAR 128; Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV): ‘Emigrants Manual’ (Burton 1851).

(See also Desmond and Moore, 1991 “Darwin” Chapter 26 – “A Gentleman with Capital” –pp 391-404 esp pages 398-399)