skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To George Henry Kendrick Thwaites   10 December 1855

Down Bromley Kent

Dec. 10 /55/

My dear Sir

I hope that you will not have quite forgotten the British Assoc. at Oxford,1 & our, to me most pleasant, interviews; but whether you will think this excuse enough in me for begging a very great favour of you, I know not.— Let me premise that I have for many years been collecting materials for a work, which I am now slowly preparing on the general subject of the variation of species. I shd. therefore be most grateful for any observations on any changes in any introduced or feral plants or animals.2 In animals I have resolved to pay particular attention to domesticated Pigeons, Poultry, Ducks & Rabbits; & mean to keep all kinds alive & make skeletons of them when dead.—

The domestic Pigeon interests me most especially & I am trying to get specimens from all parts of the world; for I find that Fanciers exist almost everywhere. Now the great favour which I venture to beg of you, which will be troublesome, but not so very troublesome, I think, as it will appear to you at the first blush, is to make enquiries, whether there are any Fanciers in Ceylon, & whether there are any breeds, long supposed to have been kept in Ceylon,3 or imported from anywhere except from England; in this case could you get their native names, (& if you hear of anything remarkable in their habits as tumbling &c record it); & then (but as I go on writing I feel that I am quite unreasonable in asking so much, & shall not be in the least surprised if you have not time or inclination to take so much trouble) find out whether there is any Bird skinner (not stuffer) & offer him say 10s/ or 15s/ or something which would well repay him, not only for skinning (leaving in cleaned bones of legs & wings) but for purchasing old birds of any Fancier, when they naturally die; giving to the skinner the names of such kinds as you may hear of as kept by any natives & ticketing them.

I could, I presume, easily repay you through my London Banker. If there is no such a thing as a Bird skinner, the whole affair is hopeless— I shd. be infinitely obliged for any skins of Poultry, (except the silk or black-skinned) or Ducks, if the Domestic Duck is kept in Ceylon.—

One word more, & I have done, if any old, well-known fancy breed of Pigeons, as Pouters are kept in Ceylon, if there is any reason to suppose (so especially with the semi-wild Dove-House Pigeon) that they have been kept there for many generations, they would be quite as valuable to me as a new breed.— In India there are many very remarkable breeds of Fancy Pigeons.—

Now without your goodnature is almost unbounded, you will never forgive me for so coolly asking so much. My only excuse is that any such assistance would be of greatest possible service to me in my work.— I most sincerely hope for your own sake & for that of Natural Science that your health & energy stands the climate & that all things go well with you.— The world goes pretty well with me; as it does with our mutual friend J. Hooker.

Pray believe me, my dear Sir, with very penitent apologies, | Your’s very sincerely | Charles Darwin


Thwaites, superintendent of the botanical gardens at Peradeniya, Ceylon, had read a paper ‘On conjugation in the Diatomaceæ’ (Thwaites 1847) at the 1847 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, which CD attended.
Thwaites provided information on the cats of Ceylon for Variation 1: 46.
In Variation 1: 206, CD stated that Edgar Leopold Layard had informed him that most of the known breeds were kept in Ceylon.


Mentions seeing GHKT at BAAS meeting at Oxford [1847].

Reports he is working on variation of species. Asks about varieties of pigeons and other poultry, and asks for specimens from Ceylon.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Henry Kendrick Thwaites
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (118)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1795,” accessed on 22 March 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5