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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Bennett   29 April 1864

Brockham Lodge, | nr Reigate, 29/4th Mo. 1864 Chas. Darwin Dear friend

Owing to imperfect direction, thy letter did not reach me without some delay.1 My younger son was the discoverer of Leersia in this locality,2 where it is in considerable abundance, and in favourable seasons grows very fine, though hundreds of good botanists must have passed it by, among other wet growing grasses. It grows close to the bridge over our little river Mole, in its shallow muddy sinuses, covered with water nearly all the winter-time, and forming a mud-bank, or small island in the Summer.3 I have just been to the locality, and find, as I expected, that it has not yet made its appearance, being a very late grass both in vegetating, and in flowering. Shall I write again as soon as the grass is fairly up, or shall I send off a lump of it, packed perhaps in a flower pot, otherwise it (the mud in which it grows) would all run about;—either of which I will do with great pleasure—4 If once it can be got to bear the removal I am sure the plant will grow any where in water, as it is quite out of the very little stream this slow river usually has, in the quiet alluvial muddy shoals— Our little river rises in the day, but just bounding the sandy belt, its deposit is mixt and not very tenacious just here—

Though not a convert to “the theory”,5 I cannot but entertain for it that respect which is due, I believe to the Naturalist of the largest observation of any one whatever. The Orchid book 6 I have read with great interest and pleasure.— I am sorry to hear of impaired health, because I know the intense pleasure of ones-self visiting any object or locality—

May I mention another point of Natural History— I have a brood of Young Emeus just out. It is the third season of more or less success, but the present brood of 8 living ones I believe to be unique in England, if not in Europe— One more is being hatched this very day semi-artificially, by the parlour fire, (and is at this moment chirping vociferously,) the Bird having now left its nest entirely by day, after the long period of ten weeks sitting.7 Would an embryo Chick, of which I have reason to believe there may be one or two in the eggs that have not hatched, be an acceptable specimen,—if such should prove the case;—on account of the anomalous character and habits of this singular Australian bird? The male bird sits and brings up the young entirely; and several of the usual external distinguishing characters of the sexes, are reversed.8

I am sincerely | Wm. Bennett

Chas Darwin | Bromley.


CD’s letter to William Bennett has not been found; however, see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 April [1864] and n. 5. Bennett was a member of the Society of Friends.
CD had been directed to William Bennett for specimens of Leersia oryzoides; Alfred William Bennett discovered Leersia near his father’s home in Surrey (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 April 1864 and nn. 14 and 15).
For CD’s receipt of Leersia from Bennett, see the letter from William Bennett, 25 May 1864. In Forms of flowers, p. 333, CD wrote of Leersia: ‘I procured plants from a stream near Reigate, and cultivated them for several years in my green-house’. CD examined Leersia in 1864 (see notes in DAR 111: A39, a40); he published these observations in ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’, pp. 191–2 n. (Collected papers 2: 131). CD also observed Leersia in later years (see notes in DAR 111: A37–8, A58, and DAR 111: B15). CD eventually concluded that Leersia appeared to be one of the few species that was perpetually self-fertilised (see Variation 2: 91 and Forms of flowers, pp. 333–5).
Bennett refers to CD’s theory presented in Origin.
Emue was an alternate spelling for emu, the Latin name of which was then Dromaeus irroratus. Alfred William Bennett wrote an account of his father’s acquisition of a pair of emus from Australia in 1860 (see Land and water, 2 May 1868, p. 233); the article included details of egg-laying habits and of hatchings for each winter since 1860. CD’s annotated clipping of the article is in DAR 84.1: 189.
CD had been interested in the habits of the order Struthioniformes, which includes emus, ostriches and rheas since the voyage of the Beagle, during which he observed the rhea and its paternal care of eggs; CD called the rhea the South American ostrich and Struthio Rhea (see Journal of researches, pp. 105–7). He also mentioned the egg-laying instincts and paternal care of ostriches in Origin, p. 218. In Descent 2: 204–5, CD again discussed the habits of several members of the Struthioniformes; here he cited the article in Land and water, 2 May 1868, p. 233, by Alfred William Bennett, on emus in confinement (see n. 7, above).


Will send grasses CD asked about.

Reports observations on brood of Australian chicks he is hatching.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Bennett
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 146
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4475,” accessed on 26 March 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12