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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Blyth   23 January 1856


Jany 23/56.

My dear Sir,

Last night I was roused about midnight by the arrival of my home letters,—a sufficiently formidable array of correspondence, which it is utterly impossible that I can do justice to by the present out-going mail. I am pleased to find that Owen does not oppose my views regarding the “great Orang-utan question”.1 I have a long letter from you undated, but mentioning in a P.S. that you had just recd mine of Octr 8th & 22 nd 2 Since my last, I have had no time for penning notes; but must call your attention to an article in the ‘Echo du monde savant,’ No 98, Jany 24/36, which I only know of by the reference to it in Rev. Zool. de la Soc. Cuv. 1841, p. 33.3 The said article describes “une belle et rare variété du Cyprinus carpio, L., dont la couleur était d’un beau rouge aurore”. This at once led me to suspect that C. auratus is just such a variety of an affined species, which John Chinaman had carefully bred from in the first instance, though now become so common!4 If so, there should be a grey wild Chinese Carp, of which the ‘Gold & Silver Fish’ our cultivated varieties,—the curious triple-tailed C. macropthalmos, however, being probably an abnormal variety of another species indigenous to China. As these are the only very marked cultivated varieties in the class of Pisces, the subject merits investigation. Since I last wrote, I have been following up my enquiries respecting gallinaceous birds in general, and have embodied a great deal of curious matter in an article for the ‘Calcutta Sporting Review’, which you will see in due course;5 & you will learn from it that you at present much underrate our actual knowledge of the wild gallinaceous birds all the world over; and at once comprehend the grounds for my very decided opinion, that we may seek in vain for wild types of G. giganteus, &c. I don’t wish to seem dictatorial; but feel that my knowledge is now about as complete as it well can be, regarding the wild types of Gallus. Should however one still remain unknown to me, which I think most unlikely, undoubtedly Cochin China, Cambogia, & Siam, are the countries of S Asia least known to zoologists; but then for ages past they have been more or less connected with China, & the wealthy Chinese are fond of keeping pheasants, &c &c, & pay such high prices for rarities that our first knowledge of various Malayan species was derived from the inmates of Chinese aviaries. I have some skins of Jungle-fowl for you, illustrative of the variation observable among them; & the tarsus I find varies remarkably in length, as you will see. 6

By the way, do you know the positively wild Numida meleagris from Guinea, as distinguished from Ogilby’s N. Rendallii,7 said to be the ordinary species of the Gambia? Another species which I should like to know about, is the N. coronata (in addition to N. mitrata, if not also N. cristata) in S. Africa. Have you seen Albin’s figure of the lost breed of crested Turkeys?8 There seems no doubt about them; but Dixon’s supposed “wild Crested Turkeys” of Central America are clearly Cracidæ, from the notice cited of the nest & (two) eggs of one of them.9 A true Turkey would lay more eggs than could be accommodated in a tree-nest; & all the Pavonidæ without exception nestle on the ground. By Pavonidæ I mean the united Phasianidæ & Tetraonidæ, Auct., which are empyrical & artificial divisions, the very types of which (Ph. colchicus & T. tetrix) are so nearly affined as not unfrequently to interbreed in the wild state!

Upon sound anatomical distinctions, I divide the gallinaceous birds into 5 essentially distinct families, which do not intergrade,—viz. Cracidæ, Megapodiidæ, Syrrhaptidæ, Pavonidæ, and Tinamidæ (including Turnix). Thus arranged, we can generalize a good deal to some purpose. It is not unlikely that any treatise on the Gallinaceæ in the ‘Calcutta Sp. Rev.’ may grow in time as Prichard’s original Essay on the Human races expanded into a big work,10 but in the meantime, I trust that its present form will elicit the information necessary for completion.11 You mention the Turkey’s tuft as a curious ‘abnormity’ (as it were); especially, I may add, as the Ocellated Turkey does not possess it. Bear in mind, however, that this tuft consists not of bristles, but bristle-like plumes, which are annually moulted & developed like other true feathers; as are also the eyelashes of various birds, &c &c.— See Leadbeater’s fine specimen of this rare bird,12 & notice (what has never been described) the curious structure of the appendage over the bill, & all the little warts & caruncles. I was not aware of what you mention concerning the muscular foundation of the tuft in the Polish (Polled?) fowls. I have been trying to hunt up a notice I remember reading some time ago, in some French work, respecting the wild range of the Golden Pheasant extending I think to Orenbourg; a very remarkable fact, which may account for the ancients having some knowledge of it, however vague, which Cuvier connects with the old descriptions of the Phœnix!!13

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of seeing a particularly fine living specimen of the exceedingly interesting (to me) animal, Canis primævus of Hodgson;14 which I suppose you will make acquaintance with by & bye, in the London Zooll Gns. It was much more Fox-like than I expected, but hunts in packs as you know; a most particularly agile, graceful & game animal, & the original Canis aureus no doubt. This animal has an immense range, from the Altai, Tibet, &c, over all altitudes of the Himalaya, to central India, the Nilgiris, &c, also in Burma, Malacca, Sumatra & Java; for I strongly lean to the opinion that the C. javanensis, sumatrensis, dukhanensis, primævus, &c of authors refer all to the same animal, the best name for which is rutilus of Temminck, since aureus has been transferred to the Jackal. For many years past I wished much to see this species alive, & now that I have done so, I begin to feel that I understand it.— As you receive specimens from Madeira, kindly procure me some skins of the wild Canary; also ascertain which is the ‘Red-legged Partridge’ of Madeira & also of the Canary isles,—P. petrosa I suppose. According to Widdrington, this is not found in Spain,15 but is the only species in Sardinia, as in Barbary. I have no specimen of it. I should like also to see the peculiar Chaffinch of Madeira.

About the Seychelles, I know of no conspectus of the terrene fauna of those islands, but am aware that peculiar species exist, especially of land-shells, & also a peculiar Chamæleon. The Helix monodon is a fine and remarkable species, found always on the Cocos de Mer which is indigenous only to two or three of the islets, & does not thrive on the others! Consult the well known conchologist, M. Liénard of the Mauritius, respecting the zoology of the Seychelles;16 & if you can get at the publications of the Nat. Hist. Society of the Mauritius, which was an active body during the secretaryship of Julien Desjardins, you are likely to find what you want.17 Did I tell you, that since writing my article on wild Asses,18 I have come to the conclusion that if the real asinus still exists anywhere in the wild state, it will be in the southern districts of Arabia!19 I find that the Hindu prejudice against domestic fowls is not very ancient, & that fowls were reared in great numbers by the ancient Hindus.20 Consult Horace Hayman Wilson at the India-house.—21 See a notice of a curious breed of Indian cattle at Dacca, in Capt. R. Tytler’s paper on the zoology of Dacca, published a year or two back in the Ann. Mag. N.H.22 I now refer to your letter, seriatim, having thus far cited it from memory. ‘Rock Pigeons’. Remember that the Pterocles genus is here so called by sportsmen & others; whence the term may be misunderstood by correspondents in this country. You must have misunderstood me about numerous races of fowls in Negroland, at least I think I must have said that fowls were reared numerously by the Negros of Africa. They certainly now are so, vide Niger Expedition, &c &c;23 but old Barbot tells us that neither the common poultry nor ducks are natural to Guinea, any more than the Turkey; and that very few Turkeys are to be met with there, & those only in the hands of the chiefs of the European forts; the Negros declining to breed any on account of their tenderness. I quote from the Encyclopædia Britta , & cannot get at the date of Barbot’s work; but it is curious, from the notice of the Turkey so early in Africa.24 Let me know the date, if you can do so without overmuch trouble. “Domestic fowls with double spur”.25 According to my observation, when birds that typically bear a single spur have also a second, the latter grows from the base of the other underneath. In all the genera of typically double-spurred Pavonidæ, the spurs are curiously irregular; but whenever a third occurs, it is situate, in like manner, at the base underneath of one of the normal spurs [DIAGRAM HERE] We have a common Jungle-hen, well spurred.—

I dont remember what I said about the origin of Bantams, but probably referred merely to that of the name.26 The appellation “Himalayan Rabbit” must necessarily be a misnomer.27 What could I have said about varieties of Fallow Deer, beyond new colouring?28 For my articles on the Elk & Reindeer, you must hunt up Vols. 8 & 10 of the ‘Calcutta Sp. Rev.’.29 I must congratulate you in getting a good Indian ‘Pigeon fancier’ correspondent in Capt Vine; he will be able to assist you more than I can with Indian domestic Pigeons.30 Valuable birds rarely die in fine condition; & no native could be made to understand the scientific value attached to a dead bird, which is sure to be pitched away; and what few Indo-portuguese bird-stuffers we have are no better. I will do what I can, which after all is not promising much.

I am obliged to finish somewhat abruptly, even thus, | & remain | Ever truly Yrs, | E Blyth C. Darwin Esq

CD annotations

0.1 Calcutta … notes; 1.6] crossed brown crayon
1.7 ‘Echo … 36,] scored brown crayon
1.26 Cochin China … zoologists; 1.27] double scored brown crayon
1.27 connected … will see. 1.32] scored brown crayon
2.9 By Pavonidæstate! 2.12] scored brown crayon
3.8 I may add … possess it. 3.9] scored brown crayon
4.4 much more … canis aureus 4.5] scored brown crayon
4.8 the opinion … same animal, 4.9] scored brown crayon
5.11 the Hindu … numbers 5.12] scored brown crayon
5.14 in Capt. R. Tytler … N.H.—5.16] scored brown crayon
5.17 ‘Rock Pigeons’ … & others; 5.18] scored brown crayon
5.21 They certainly … Turkey; 5.23] double scored brown crayon
5.25 I quote … work; 5.26] scored brown crayon
6.4 For my articles … Rev.’. 6.5] double scored brown crayon
Top of first page: ‘11’31 brown crayon
End of last page: ‘11’brown crayon, circled brown crayon


See letter from Edward Blyth, 8 January [1856]. Blyth had previously discussed this paper (Blyth 1855b) with CD (Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [30 September or 7 October 1855] and n. 28). Blyth refers to a section in Richard Owen’s paper on the anthropoid apes (Owen 1855a, p. 31) in which Owen stated that there seemed to be two species of orang-utan in Borneo. This point had also been discussed in Blyth 1855b. There are offprints of both papers in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
See Correspondence vol. 5, letters from Edward Blyth, 8 October 1855 and [22 October 1855]. CD’s letter has not been located.
Hérétieu 1841, p. 33 n. 1.
In his abstract of this letter (DAR 203), CD noted: ‘suspects Carp a Golden var.’ Later, in Variation 1: 296, CD stated: ‘Mr. Blyth suspects from the analogous variation of other fishes that golden-coloured fish do not occur in a state of nature.’
See letter from Edward Blyth, 8 January 1856, n. 6.
In his abstract of this letter (DAR 203), CD noted: ‘variation of wild Gallus Bankiva’. In his discussion of Gallus bankiva in Variation 1: 235, CD noted that in the Indian G. bankiva, ‘Mr. Blyth finds the tarsus remarkably variable in length.’
Ogilby 1835, p. 103–4.
Albin 1731–8, 2: pl. 33. In February 1856, CD recorded having read ‘E. Albin’s Nat. Hist. of Birds 1734’ (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 16). The second volume of Eleazar Albin’s work is dated 1734.
Dixon 1851, pp. 277–8. This work is in the Darwin Library–CUL and was annotated by CD.
Prichard 1843.
Blyth never published a larger work on gallinaceous birds.
Probably a reference to John Leadbeater, who was a London bird dealer and ornithologist to Queen Victoria. Blyth’s ‘Ocellated Turkey’ was probably the Honduras turkey. A pair of these birds, ‘long desired in European collections’, was presented by the Queen to the Zoological Society’s gardens in 1856 (Scherren 1905, p. 117).
The work to which Blyth refers is Ajasson de Grandsagne 1829–33, with notes by Georges Cuvier in volume seven. In this volume (p. 368), Cuvier stated that the description of the phoenix by Pliny was that of a real bird, the golden pheasant.
Hodgson 1833.
Widdrington 1844, 1: 397: ‘Another great mistake of Temminck, is the statement, that the Perdix petrosa is extremely abundant in the mountains of Spain; whereas it most certainly does not exist there, nor any other but the P. rufa.’
Elizée Liénard was a Mauritian notary and naturalist.
CD had twice noted the proceedings of the Natural History Society of Mauritius in the ‘books to be read’ section of his reading notebooks (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, *119: 6v., 16v.). Julien François Desjardins founded and served as secretary of the Natural History Society of Mauritius from 1829 to 1840. During this period the Rapports annuels sur les travaux de la Société d’Histoire Naturelle de l’Ile Maurice (1835–8) were published. For CD’s contact with the Natural History Society of Mauritius, see letters from Victor de Robillard, 20 September 1856 and 26 February 1857.
The article has not been located. See letter from Edward Blyth, 8 January [1856], n. 6.
For Blyth’s evidence for this view, see letter from Edward Blyth, 23 February 1856 and n. 16.
See letter from Edward Blyth, [c. 22 March 1856] and n. 16.
Horace Hayman Wilson was director of the Royal Asiatic Society in London.
Tytler 1854, p. 177.
Allen and Thomson 1848, 1: 387. See Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [22 October 1855], for Blyth’s earlier references to fowl in Africa.
In discussing the coasts of South Guinea in Barbot 1732, p. 217, John Barbot stated: ‘The several sorts of tame-fowl, consist properly in hens, ducks, turkeys and pigeons; the two former whereof are not common to the Blacks, but only to be found in or about the European forts and factories.’ He further added about turkeys: ‘There are only a few in the hands of the chiefs of the European forts … The Blacks breed none at all, perhaps because they are very tender, and require much care to bring them up.’ (p. 217).
See Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [30 September or 7 October 1855], in which Blyth stated: ‘It is remarkable that there is no Double-spurred race of domestic fowls’, and described the positions of spurs in wild fowl.
Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, 4 August 1855: ‘the name of that town has become transferred to themselves, as in the more familiar instances of Canary & Bantam!’ According to the OED, bantams were named from Bantam in the north-west of Java, from whence they were supposed to have been introduced into Europe. CD, following John Crawfurd, believed they came originally from Japan (Variation 1: 230).
In his letter of 4 August 1855 (Correspondence vol. 5), Blyth told CD that in India hares were indigenous whereas rabbits were introduced. In Variation 1: 108–11, CD gave an account of the origin of the ‘so called Himalayan rabbits’.
In Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [22 October 1855], Blyth discussed the fallow deer but made no reference to varieties.
See Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [30 September or 7 October 1855], in which Blyth quoted from ‘an article on the Rein Deer which I wrote some years ago.’ For the difficulty in locating the Calcutta Sporting Review, see letter from Edward Blyth, 8 January 1856, n. 6.
See Correspondence vol. 5, CD memorandum, [December 1855], for a list of correspondents, including William Vine, to whom CD had ‘written to for Pigeon & Poultry Skins’. Vine was an officer in the Madras cavalry.
CD’s numbering of Blyth’s letters.


Believes the goldfish originates from a wild, gold variety of Chinese carp.

Gallinaceous birds.

Crested turkeys.

EB divides the gallinaceous birds into five families on anatomical distinctions.

Wild dog species of India and Asia; ranges of some species, specific identity of others.

The fauna of the Seychelles.

Breeding of fowls in India and Africa.

Occurrence of turkeys in Africa.

Refers to some of his own papers giving fuller details of points raised previously.

Letter details

Letter no.
Blyth, Edward
Darwin, C. R.
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 98: A122–A125
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1825,” accessed on 21 January 2017,