skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Walter Elliot   23 January 1856

Down Bromley Kent

Jan. 23. /56

My dear Sir

I hope that you will not have quite forgotten a call, most pleasant to me, which you were so good as to make on me in Glasgow.1 You there mentioned two or three things, which on reflection have interested me so much, that I hope you will excuse me troubling you in regard to them. You said that you had measurements of tigers, showing differences in their proportions & that you could let me have a copy, this I shd. value much.—2

You, also, referred to some work in an Eastern language, with remarks on domestic Pigeons (& Poultry?);3 if the extracts are short, I shd. be extremely grateful for any, or even for any enumeration of the breeds or races. I should mention that I have heard that such exist in the Ayin Akbaree in Persian (I know not whether I have spelt this right) but as this work is translated I can consult it in the India House.4

Lastly I want to beg a very great favour of you, if in your power to grant it, & I think your wonderful zeal for Nat. History will lead you to help me if you can.— I am trying energetically to get the skins of all the domestic varieties of Pigeons & Poultry from all parts of the world, in order to study the amount of variation.— Now if there is any one, who can for payment skin birds, will you aid me by making enquiries of any natives for the names of any varieties which are supposed to have been long bred in the country, & then direct the bird skinner to purchase such birds & skin them for me; the skinner might buy very old birds, which would be best for me & cheapest.— I could easily, permit me to say, repay you.—5

The only caution required would be not to get birds recently introduced from Europe.— This would be an enormous assistance to me.— I shd. like to have the native name, & a notice whether any of the varieties are Tumblers or Carrier.— There are Tumblers in India with most curious habits.6 The birds shd. be adult or old; a characteristic specimen shd. be selected; & in skinning the whole of the bones of wing & leg shd. be left in, & as much as possible of the skull.— In Poultry Cock & Hen shd. be selected; but in Madras itself, probably all the Poultry will be imported breeds.— Now can you forgive me asking you to take so much trouble? I fear you will think me very unreasonable & I have nothing to trust to, but your goodnature.

Pray believe me, with many apologies. My dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin

I fear my address is very incorrect; but living in country, I have no one to ask


CD had attended the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Glasgow in September 1855 (see Correspondence vol. 5, Appendix I). CD had first heard of Elliot’s natural history collections from Joseph Dalton Hooker (see Correspondence vol. 4, letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 February – 16 [March] 1848). Elliot was a prominent Indian civil servant and a member of the council of the governor of Madras.
A table of measurements of tigers is preserved in DAR 205.10 (Letters). On the verso CD wrote: ‘Madras | Mr Walter Elliot | June 10th 1856’. The table is marked with a ‘3’, the number of CD’s portfolio on variation and varieties, and CD has noted in pencil: ‘I have not thought worth using’. Elliot is cited several times in Variation, but the information on tigers was not used in that work nor in Natural selection or Origin.
A Persian treatise by Sayzid Mohammed Musari. Elliot is thanked in Variation 1: 141, for providing CD with a translation of this work.
Gladwin trans. 1783–6. Edward Blyth had first drawn CD’s attention to this source (see Correspondence vol. 5, letters from Edward Blyth, 4 August 1855 and 8 December 1855). India House was the former office of the East India Company in London. It subsequently became the headquarters of the British government’s India Office.
In Variation 1: 132 n. 1, CD wrote: ‘I am deeply indebted to Sir Walter Elliot for an immense collection of skins from Madras, with much information regarding them.’ CD recorded payments to Walter Elliot in November 1856 and September 1857 (CD’s Account book (Down House MS)).
Elliot sent CD specimens of the Lotan, or Indian ground tumbler, which ‘present one of the most remarkable inherited habits or instincts which have ever been recorded.’ (Variation 1: 150). When gently shaken and then placed on the ground, the pigeons begin tumbling head over heels.


Requests WE’s measurements of tigers.

Asks about a work on domestic pigeons in an Eastern language. Will consult [Ayeen Akbery or, the institutes of the Emperor Akber, trans. from Persian by Francis Gladwin, 2 vols. (1777, 1800)].

Asks for specimen skins of domestic pigeons and poultry. [See Variation 1: 205.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Walter Elliot
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (123)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1824,” accessed on 25 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6