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Although in some respects more technical in their subjects and style than Darwin's "Journal," the books here reprinted will never lose their value and interest for the originality of the observations they contain. Many parts of them are admirably adapted for giving an insight into problems regarding the structure and changes of the earth's surface, and in fact they form a charming introduction to physical geology and physiography in their application to special domains. The books themselves cannot be obtained for many times the price of the present volume, and both the general reader, who desires to know more of Darwin's work, and the student of geology, who naturally wishes to know how a master mind reasoned on most important geological subjects, will be glad of the opportunity of possessing them in a convenient and cheap form.

The three introductions, which my friend Professor Judd has kindly furnished, give critical and historical information which makes this edition of special value.




A scientific discovery is the outcome of an interesting process of evolution in the mind of its author. When we are able to detect the germs of thought in which such a discovery has originated, and to trace the successive stages of the reasoning by which the crude idea has developed into an epoch-making book, we have the materials for reconstructing an important chapter of scientific history. Such a contribution to the story of the "making of science" may be furnished in respect to Darwin's famous theory of coral-reefs, and the clearly reasoned treatise in which it was first fully set forth.

The subject of corals and coral-reefs is one concerning which much popular misconception has always prevailed. The misleading comparison of coral-rock with the combs of bees and the nests of wasps is perhaps responsible for much of this misunderstanding; one writer has indeed described a coral-reef as being "built by fishes by means of their teeth." Scarcely less misleading, however, are the references we so frequently meet with, both in prose and verse, to the "skill," "industry," and "perseverance" of the "coral-insect" in "building" his "home." As well might we praise men for their cleverness in making their own skeletons, and laud their assiduity in filling churchyards with the same. The polyps and other organisms, whose remains accumulate to form a coral-reef, simply live and perform their natural functions, and then die, leaving behind them, in the natural course of events, the hard calcareous portions of their structures to add to the growing reef.

While the forms of coral-reefs and coral-islands are sometimes very remarkable and worthy of attentive study, there is no ground, it need scarcely be added, for the suggestion that they afford proofs of design on the part of the living builders, or that, in the words of Flinders, they constitute breastworks, defending the workshops from whence "infant colonies might be safely sent forth."

It was not till the beginning of the present century that travellers like Beechey, Chamisso, Quoy and Gaimard, Moresby, Nelson, and others, began to collect accurate details concerning the forms and structure of coral-masses, and to make such observations on the habits of reef-forming polyps, as might serve as a basis for safe reasoning concerning the origin of coral-reefs and islands. In the second volume of Lyell's "Principles of Geology," published in 1832, the final chapter gives an admirable summary of all that was then known on the subject. At that time, the ring-form of the atolls was almost universally regarded as a proof that they had grown up on submerged volcanic craters; and Lyell gave his powerful support to that theory.

Charles Darwin was never tired of acknowledging his indebtedness to Lyell. In dedicating to his friend the second edition of his "Naturalist's Voyage Round the World," Darwin writes that he does so "with grateful pleasure, as an acknowledgment that the chief part of whatever scientific merit this journal and the other works of the author may possess, has been derived from studying the well-known and admirable 'Principles of Geology.'"

The second volume of Lyell's "Principles" appeared after Darwin had left England; but it was doubtless sent on to him without delay by his faithful friend and correspondent, Professor Henslow. It appears to have reached Darwin at a most opportune moment, while, in fact, he was studying the striking evidences of slow and long-continued, but often interrupted movement on the west coast of South America. Darwin's acute mind could not fail to detect the weakness of the then prevalent theory concerning the origin of the ring-shaped atolls--and the difficulty which he found in accepting the volcanic theory, as an explanation of the phenomena of coral-reefs, is well set forth in his book.

In an interesting fragment of autobiography, Darwin has given us a very clear account of the way in which the leading idea of the theory of coral-reefs originated in his mind; he writes, "No other work of mine was begun in so deductive a spirit as this, for the whole theory was thought out on the west coast of South America, before I had seen a true coral-reef. I had therefore only to verify and extend my views by a careful examination of living reefs. But it should be observed that I had during the two previous years been incessantly attending to the effects on the shores of South America of the intermittent elevation of the land, together with the denudation and deposition of sediment. This necessarily led me to reflect much on the effects of subsidence, and it was easy to replace in imagination the continued deposition of sediment by the upward growth of corals. To do this was to form my theory of the formation of barrier-reefs and atolls."

On her homeward voyage, the "Beagle" visited Tahiti, Australia, and some of the coral-islands in the Indian Ocean, and Darwin had an opportunity of testing and verifying the conclusion at which he had arrived by studying the statements of other observers.

I well recollect a remarkable conversation I had with Darwin, shortly after the death of Lyell. With characteristic modesty, he told me that he never fully realised the importance of his theory of coral-reefs till he had an opportunity of discussing it with Lyell, shortly after the return of the "Beagle". Lyell, on receiving from the lips of its author a sketch of the new theory, was so overcome with delight that he danced about and threw himself into the wildest contortions, as was his manner when excessively pleased. He wrote shortly afterwards to Darwin as follows:--"I could think of nothing for days after your lesson on coral-reefs, but of the tops of submerged continents. It is all true, but do not flatter yourself that you will be believed till you are growing bald like me, with hard work and vexation at the incredulity of the world." On May 24th, 1837, Lyell wrote to Sir John Herschel as follows:--"I am very full of Darwin's new theory of coral-islands, and have urged Whewell to make him read it at our next meeting. I must give up my volcanic crater forever, though it cost me a pang at first, for it accounted for so much." Dr. Whewell was president of the Geological Society at the time, and on May 31st, 1837, Darwin read a paper entitled "On Certain Areas of Elevation and Subsidence in the Pacific and Indian oceans, as deduced from the Study of Coral Formations," an abstract of which appeared in the second volume of the Society's proceedings.

It was about this time that Darwin, having settled himself in lodgings at Great Marlborough Street, commenced the writing of his book on "Coral-Reefs." Many delays from ill-health and the interruption of other work, caused the progress to be slow, and his journal speaks of "recommencing" the subject in February 1839, shortly after his marriage, and again in October of the same year. In July 1841, he states that he began once more "after more than thirteen month's interval," and the last proof-sheet of the book was not corrected till May 6th, 1842. Darwin writes in his autobiography, "This book, though a small one, cost me twenty months of hard work, as I had to read every work on the islands of the Pacific, and to consult many charts." The task of elaborating and writing out his books was, with Darwin, always a very slow and laborious one; but it is clear that in accomplishing the work now under consideration, there was a long and constant struggle with the lethargy and weakness resulting from the sad condition of his health at that time.

Lyell's anticipation that the theory of coral-reefs would be slow in meeting with general acceptance was certainly not justified by the actual facts. On the contrary the new book was at once received with general assent among both geologists and zoologists, and even attracted a considerable amount of attention from the general public.

It was not long before the coral-reef theory of Darwin found an able exponent and sturdy champion in the person of the great American naturalist, Professor James D. Dana. Two years after the return of the "Beagle" to England, the ships of the United States Exploring Expedition set sail upon their four years' cruise, under the command of Captain Wilkes, and Dana was a member of the scientific staff. When, in 1839, the expedition arrived at Sydney, a newspaper paragraph was found which gave the American naturalist the first intimation of Darwin's new theory of the origin of atolls and barrier-reefs. Writing in 1872, Dana describes the effect produced on his mind by reading this passage:--"The paragraph threw a flood of light over the subject, and called forth feelings of peculiar satisfaction, and of gratefulness to Mr. Darwin, which still come up afresh whenever the subject of coral islands is mentioned. The Gambier Islands in the Paumotus, which gave him the key to the theory, I had not seen; but on reaching the Feejees, six months later, in 1840, I found there similar facts on a still grander scale and of a more diversified character, so that I was afterward enabled to speak of his theory as established with more positiveness than he himself, in his philosophic caution, had been ready to adopt. His work on coral-reefs appeared in 1842, when my report on the subject was already in manuscript. It showed that the conclusions on other points, which we had independently reached, were for the most part the same. The principal points of difference relate to the reason for the absence of corals from some coasts, and the evidence therefrom as to changes of level, and the distribution of the oceanic regions of elevation and subsidence--topics which a wide range of travel over the Pacific brought directly and constantly to my attention."

Among the Reports of the United States Exploring Expedition, two important works from the pen of Professor Dana made their appearance;--one on "Zoophytes," which treats at length on "Corals and Coral-Animals," and the other on "Coral-Reefs and Islands." In 1872, Dana prepared a work of a more popular character in which some of the chief results of his studies are described; it bore the title of "Corals and Coral-Islands." Of this work, new and enlarged editions appeared in 1874 and 1890 in America, while two editions were published in this country in 1872 and 1875. In all these works their author, while maintaining an independent judgment on certain matters of detail, warmly defends the views of Darwin on all points essential to the theory.

Another able exponent and illustrator of the theory of coral-reefs was found in Professor J.B. Jukes, who accompanied H.M.S. "Fly", as naturalist, during the survey of the Great Barrier-Reef--in the years 1842 to 1846. Jukes, who was a man of great acuteness as well as independence of mind, concludes his account of the great Australian reefs with the following words:--"After seeing much of the Great Barrier-Reefs, and reflecting much upon them, and trying if it were possible by any means to evade the conclusions to which Mr. Darwin has come, I cannot help adding that his hypothesis is perfectly satisfactory to my mind, and rises beyond a mere hypothesis into the true theory of coral-reefs."

As the result of the clear exposition of the subject by Darwin, Lyell, Dana, and Jukes, the theory of coral-reefs had, by the middle of the present century, commanded the almost universal assent of both biologists and geologists. In 1859 Baron von Richthofen brought forward new facts in its support, by showing that the existence of the thick masses of dolomitic limestone in the Tyrol could be best accounted for if they were regarded as of coralline origin and as being formed during a period of long continued subsidence. The same views were maintained by Professor Mojsisovics in his "Dolomit-riffe von Sudtirol und Venetien," which appeared in 1879.

The first serious note of dissent to the generally accepted theory was heard in 1863, when a distinguished German naturalist, Dr. Karl Semper, declared that his study of the Pelew Islands showed that uninterrupted subsidence could not have been going on in that region. Dr. Semper's objections were very carefully considered by Mr. Darwin, and a reply to them appeared in the second and revised edition of his "Coral-Reefs," which was published in 1874. With characteristic frankness and freedom from prejudice, Darwin admitted that the facts brought forward by Dr. Semper proved that in certain specified cases, subsidence could not have played the chief part in originating the peculiar forms of the coral-islands. But while making this admission, he firmly maintained that exceptional cases, like those described in the Pelew Islands, were not sufficient to invalidate the theory of subsidence as applied to the widely spread atolls, encircling reefs, and barrier-reefs of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It is worthy of note that to the end of his life Darwin maintained a friendly correspondence with Semper concerning the points on which they were at issue.

After the appearance of Semper's work, Dr. J.J. Rein published an account of the Bermudas, in which he opposed the interpretation of the structure of the islands given by Nelson and other authors, and maintained that the facts observed in them are opposed to the views of Darwin. Although, so far as I am aware, Darwin had no opportunity of studying and considering these particular objections, it may be mentioned that two American geologists have since carefully re-examined the district--Professor W.N. Rice in 1884 and Professor A. Heilprin in 1889--and they have independently arrived at the conclusion that Dr. Rein's objections cannot be maintained.

The most serious opposition to Darwin's coral-reef theory, however, was that which developed itself after the return of H.M.S. "Challenger" from her famous voyage. Mr. John Murray, one of the staff of naturalists on board that vessel, propounded a new theory of coral-reefs, and maintained that the view that they were formed by subsidence was one that was no longer tenable; these objections have been supported by Professor Alexander Agassiz in the United States, and by Dr. A. Geikie, and Dr. H.B. Guppy in this country.

Although Mr. Darwin did not live to bring out a third edition of his "Coral-Reefs," I know from several conversations with him that he had given the most patient and thoughtful consideration to Mr. Murray's paper on the subject. He admitted to me that had he known, when he wrote his work, of the abundant deposition of the remains of calcareous organisms on the sea floor, he might have regarded this cause as sufficient in a few cases to raise the summits of submerged volcanoes or other mountains to a level at which reef-forming corals can commence to flourish. But he did not think that the admission that under certain favourable conditions, atolls might be thus formed without subsidence, necessitated an abandonment of his theory in the case of the innumerable examples of the kind which stud the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

A letter written by Darwin to Professor Alexander Agassiz in May 1881 shows exactly the attitude which careful consideration of the subject led him to maintain towards the theory propounded by Mr. Murray:--"You will have seen," he writes, "Mr. Murray's views on the formation of atolls and barrier-reefs. Before publishing my book, I thought long over the same view, but only as far as ordinary marine organisms are concerned, for at that time little was known of the multitude of minute oceanic organisms. I rejected this view, as from the few dredgings made in the "Beagle", in the south temperate regions, I concluded that shells, the smaller corals, etc., decayed and were dissolved when not protected by the deposition of sediment, and sediment could not accumulate in the open ocean. Certainly, shells, etc., were in several cases completely rotten, and crumbled into mud between my fingers; but you will know whether this is in any degree common. I have expressly said that a bank at the proper depth would give rise to an atoll, which could not be distinguished from one formed during subsidence. I can, however, hardly believe in the existence of as many banks (there having been no subsidence) as there are atolls in the great oceans, within a reasonable depth, on which minute oceanic organisms could have accumulated to the depth of many hundred feet."

Darwin's concluding words in the same letter written within a year of his death, are a striking proof of the candour and openness of mind which he preserved so well to the end, in this as in other controversies.

"If I am wrong, the sooner I am knocked on the head and annihilated so much the better. It still seems to me a marvellous thing that there should not have been much, and long-continued, subsidence in the beds of the great oceans. I wish some doubly rich millionaire would take it into his head to have borings made in some of the Pacific and Indian atolls, and bring home cores for slicing from a depth of 500 or 600 feet."

It is noteworthy that the objections to Darwin's theory have for the most part proceeded from zoologists, while those who have fully appreciated the geological aspect of the question, have been the staunchest supporters of the theory of subsidence. The desirability of such boring operations in atolls has been insisted upon by several geologists, and it may be hoped that before many years have passed away, Darwin's hopes may be realised, either with or without the intervention of the "doubly rich millionaire."

Three years after the death of Darwin, the veteran Professor Dana re-entered the lists and contributed a powerful defence of the theory of subsidence in the form of a reply to an essay written by the ablest exponent of the anti-Darwinian views on this subject, Dr. A. Geikie. While pointing out that the Darwinian position had been to a great extent misunderstood by its opponents, he showed that the rival theory presented even greater difficulties than those which it professed to remove.

During the last five years, the whole question of the origin of coral-reefs and islands has been re-opened, and a controversy has arisen, into which, unfortunately, acrimonious elements have been very unnecessarily introduced. Those who desire it, will find clear and impartial statements of the varied and often mutually destructive views put forward by different authors, in three works which have made their appearance within the last year,--"The Bermuda Islands," by Professor Angelo Heilprin; "Corals and Coral-Islands," new edition by Professor J.D. Dana; and the third edition of Darwin's "Coral-Reefs," with Notes and Appendix by Professor T.G. Bonney.

Most readers will, I think, rise from the perusal of these works with the conviction that, while on certain points of detail it is clear that, through the want of knowledge concerning the action of marine organisms in the open ocean, Darwin was betrayed into some grave errors, yet the main foundations of his argument have not been seriously impaired by the new facts observed in the deep-sea researches, or by the severe criticism to which his theory has been subjected during the last ten years. On the other hand, I think it will appear that much misapprehension has been exhibited by some of Darwin's critics, as to what his views and arguments really were; so that the reprint and wide circulation of the book in its original form is greatly to be desired, and cannot but be attended with advantage to all those who will have the fairness to acquaint themselves with Darwin's views at first hand, before attempting to reply to them.




The object of this volume is to describe from my own observation and the works of others, the principal kinds of coral-reefs, more especially those occurring in the open ocean, and to explain the origin of their peculiar forms. I do not here treat of the polypifers, which construct these vast works, except so far as relates to their distribution, and to the conditions favourable to their vigorous growth. Without any distinct intention to classify coral-reefs, most voyagers have spoken of them under the following heads: "lagoon-islands," or "atolls," "barrier" or "encircling reefs," and "fringing" or "shore-reefs." The lagoon-islands have received much the most attention; and it is not surprising, for every one must be struck with astonishment, when he first beholds one of these vast rings of coral-rock, often many leagues in diameter, here and there surmounted by a low verdant island with dazzling white shores, bathed on the outside by the foaming breakers of the ocean, and on the inside surrounding a calm expanse of water, which from reflection, is of a bright but pale green colour. The naturalist will feel this astonishment more deeply after having examined the soft and almost gelatinous bodies of these apparently insignificant creatures, and when he knows that the solid reef increases only on the outer edge, which day and night is lashed by the breakers of an ocean never at rest. Well did Francois Pyrard de Laval, in the year 1605, exclaim, "C'est une merueille de voir chacun de ces atollons, enuironne d'un grand banc de pierre tout autour, n'y ayant point d'artifice humain." The accompanying sketch of Whitsunday island, in the South Pacific, taken from Captain Beechey's admirable "Voyage," although excellent of its kind, gives but a faint idea of the singular aspect of one of these lagoon-islands.


Whitsunday Island is of small size, and the whole circle has been converted into land, which is a comparatively rare circumstance. As the reef of a lagoon-island generally supports many separate small islands, the word "island," applied to the whole, is often the cause of confusion; hence I have invariably used in this volume the term "atoll," which is the name given to these circular groups of coral-islets by their inhabitants in the Indian Ocean, and is synonymous with "lagoon-island."


Barrier-reefs, when encircling small islands, have been comparatively little noticed by voyagers; but they well deserve attention. In their structure they are little less marvellous than atolls, and they give a singular and most picturesque character to the scenery of the islands they surround. In the accompanying sketch, taken from the "Voyage of the 'Coquille'," the reef is seen from within, from one of the high peaks of the island of Bolabola. (I have taken the liberty of simplifying the foreground, and leaving out a mountainous island in the far distance.) Here, as in Whitsunday Island, the whole of that part of the reef which is visible is converted into land. This is a circumstance of rare occurrence; more usually a snow-white line of great breakers, with here and there an islet crowned by cocoa-nut trees, separates the smooth waters of the lagoon-like channel from the waves of the open sea. The barrier-reefs of Australia and of New Caledonia, owing to their enormous dimensions, have excited much attention: in structure and form they resemble those encircling many of the smaller islands in the Pacific Ocean.

With respect to fringing, or shore-reefs, there is little in their structure which needs explanation; and their name expresses their comparatively small extension. They differ from barrier-reefs in not lying so far from the shore, and in not having within a broad channel of deep water. Reefs also occur around submerged banks of sediment and of worn-down rock; and others are scattered quite irregularly where the sea is very shallow; these in most respects are allied to those of the fringing class, but they are of comparatively little interest.

I have given a separate chapter to each of the above classes, and have described some one reef or island, on which I possessed most information, as typical; and have afterwards compared it with others of a like kind. Although this classification is useful from being obvious, and from including most of the coral-reefs existing in the open sea, it admits of a more fundamental division into barrier and atoll-formed reefs on the one hand, where there is a great apparent difficulty with respect to the foundation on which they must first have grown; and into fringing-reefs on the other, where, owing to the nature of the slope of the adjoining land, there is no such difficulty. The two blue tints and the red colour (replaced by numbers in this edition.) on the map (Plate III.), represent this main division, as explained in the beginning of the last chapter. In the Appendix, every existing coral-reef, except some on the coast of Brazil not included in the map, is briefly described in geographical order, as far as I possessed information; and any particular spot may be found by consulting the Index.

Several theories have been advanced to explain the origin of atolls or lagoon-islands, but scarcely one to account for barrier-reefs. From the limited depths at which reef-building polypifers can flourish, taken into consideration with certain other circumstances, we are compelled to conclude, as it will be seen, that both in atolls and barrier-reefs, the foundation on which the coral was primarily attached, has subsided; and that during this downward movement, the reefs have grown upwards. This conclusion, it will be further seen, explains most satisfactorily the outline and general form of atolls and barrier-reefs, and likewise certain peculiarities in their structure. The distribution, also, of the different kinds of coral-reefs, and their position with relation to the areas of recent elevation, and to the points subject to volcanic eruptions, fully accord with this theory of their origin. (A brief account of my views on coral formations, now published in my Journal of Researches, was read May 31st, 1837, before the Geological Society, and an abstract has appeared in the Proceedings.)



In the several original surveys, from which the small plans on this plate have been reduced, the coral-reefs are engraved in very different styles. For the sake of uniformity, I have adopted the style used in the charts of the Chagos Archipelago, published by the East Indian Company, from the survey by Captain Moresby and Lieutenant Powell. The surface of the reef, which dries at low water, is represented by a surface with small crosses: the coral-islets on the reef are marked by small linear spaces, on which a few cocoa-nut trees, out of all proportion too large, have been introduced for the sake of clearness. The entire ANNULAR REEF, which when surrounding an open expanse of water, forms an "atoll," and when surrounding one or more high islands, forms an encircling "barrier-reef," has a nearly uniform structure. The reefs in some of the original surveys are represented merely by a single line with crosses, so that their breadth is not given; I have had such reefs engraved of the width usually attained by coral-reefs. I have not thought it worth while to introduce all those small and very numerous reefs, which occur within the lagoons of most atolls and within the lagoon-channels of most barrier-reefs, and which stand either isolated, or are attached to the shores of the reef or land. At Peros Banhos none of the lagoon-reefs rise to the surface of the water; a few of them have been introduced, and are marked by plain dotted circles. A few of the deepest soundings are laid down within each reef; they are in fathoms, of six English feet.

Figure 1.--VANIKORO, situated in the western part of the South Pacific; taken from the survey by Captain D'Urville in the "Astrolabe;" the soundings on the southern side of the island, namely, from thirty to forty fathoms, are given from the voyage of the Chev. Dillon; the other soundings are laid down from the survey by D'Urville; height of the summit of the island is 3,032 feet. The principal small detached reefs within the lagoon-channel have in this instance been represented. The southern shore of the island is narrowly fringed by a reef: if the engraver had carried this reef entirely round both islands, this figure would have served (by leaving out in imagination the barrier-reef) as a good specimen of an abruptly-sided island, surrounded by a reef of the fringing class.

Figure 2.--HOGOLEU, or ROUG, in the Caroline Archipelago; taken from the "Atlas of the Voyage of the 'Astrolabe,'" compiled from the surveys of Captains Duperrey and D'Urville; the depth of the immense lagoon-like space within the reef is not known.

Figure 3.--RAIATEA, in the Society Archipelago; from the map given in the quarto edition of "Cook's First Voyage;" it is probably not accurate.

Figure 4.--BOW, or HEYOU ATOLL (or lagoon-island), in the Low Archipelago, from the survey by Captain Beechey, R.N.; the lagoon is choked up with reefs, but the average greatest depth of about twenty fathoms, is given from the published account of the voyage.

Figure 5.--BOLABOLA, in the Society Archipelago, from the survey of Captain Duperrey in the "Coquille:" the soundings in this and the following figures have been altered from French feet to English fathoms; height of highest point of the island 4,026 feet.

Figure 6.--MAURUA, in the Society Archipelago; from the survey by Captain Duperrey in the "Coquille:" height of land about eight hundred feet.

Figure 7.--POUYNIPETE, or SENIAVINE, in the Caroline Archipelago; from the survey by Admiral Lutke.

Figure 8.--GAMBIER ISLANDS, in the southern part of the Low Archipelago; from the survey by Captain Beechey; height of highest island, 1,246 feet; the islands are surrounded by extensive and irregular reefs; the reef on the southern side is submerged.

Figure 9.--PEROS BANHOS ATOLL (or lagoon-island), in the Chagos group in the Indian Ocean; from the survey by Captain Moresby and Lieutenant Powell; not nearly all the small submerged reefs in the lagoon are represented; the annular reef on the southern side is submerged.

Figure 10.--KEELING, or COCOS ATOLL (or lagoon-island), in the Indian Ocean; from the survey by Captain Fitzroy; the lagoon south of the dotted line is very shallow, and is left almost bare at low water; the part north of the line is choked up with irregular reefs. The annular reef on the north-west side is broken, and blends into a shoal sandbank, on which the sea breaks.

Charles Darwin

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