August 1857-June 1858

The Collected Letters, Volume 33


TC TO RICHARD OWEN ; 17 May 1858; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18580517-TC-RO-01; CL 33: 224-226


Chelsea, 17th May, 1858– (Monday 17)1

Dear Owen,

In Wilton Street (leading from Knightsbridge into Wilton Crescent and Belgrave Square), a large body of Navvies are digging foundations for new Houses; passing these this afternoon in the rain, I was struck by two facts, First that the earth where they were, an extensive space, about 8 or 9 feet deep by this time, had never been stirred before, for most part (as was evident by the clay strata &c); and Secondly that they were in the very act of digging up a considerable quantity of bones,—entire skeletons of some kind of quadruped creatures (to all appearance) being imbedded there. My first notion was of elks, or the like; but I know nothing whatever of such matters: thigh-bones, shoulder-blade, ribs &c were about the size of a horse's (I thought), but of a shape whh seemed different. In another quarter I saw the broken remnants of something which might have been hyaenaish or bearish,—evidently a different kind of creature. The strangeness of the thing made me pause in the rain; and try what I could to induce the barbarous fellows to “send for Professor Owen”; to “tell their master about it at least,”—to do something or other before they knocked the phenomenon quite to ruin!

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Richard Owen

Reproduced from Richard S. Owen, The Life of Richard Owen (1894)


They grinned benevolently upon me; but I might as well have addressed three Horses as the three individuals I successively [spoke to]2

I called afterwards (tho' in great haste) at the Albemarle-Street place,3 in search of you or some hook upon you; next at the Geological Museum;4 thirdly (with very vague outlook) at the Athenaeum:5 in vain. Perhaps it is all moonshine; such phenomenon of bones in such situation not worth looking at or attending to; but on the other hand, the contrary is possible:—and in short I find I cannot go quietly to bed without having at least given you notice, and cleared my own conscience. If you do walk down tomorrow (not otherwise), please to tell me what kind of creatures they were that employed those bones so many thousand years ago.6

Yours ever truly / T. Carlyle