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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Philip Henry Gosse   22 September [1856]1

Down Bromley Kent

Sept. 22nd

My dear Sir

I want much to beg a little information from you.— I am working hard at the general question of variation, & paying for this end special attention to domestic Pigeons. This leads me to search out how many species are truly rock Pigeons, i.e. do not roost or willingly perch or nest in trees. Temminck puts C. leucocephala (your Bald-Pate) under this Category.2 Can this be the case? Is the loud Coo to which you refer in your interesting “Sojourn” like that of domestic Pigeon.3

I see in this same work you speak of Rabbits run wild: I am paying much attention to them, & am making a large collection of their skeletons. Do you think you could get any of your zealous & excellent correspondents to send me an adult (neck not broken) feral specimen:4 it would be of great value to me. It might be sent, I shd. think in jar with profusion of salt & split in abdomen.—5 I shd., also, be very glad to have one of the wild Canary Birds for same object:6 I have specimen in spirits from Madeira.—

Do you think you could aid me in this & shall you be inclined to forgive so very troublesome a request? As I have found the goodnature of fellow Naturalists almost unbounded, I will venture further to state that the body of any domestic or Fancy Pigeon, which has been for some generations in the W. Indies, would be of extreme interest, as I am collecting specimens from all quarters of the world.

Trusting to your forgiveness, I remain, My dear Sir | Your’s sincerely | Ch. Darwin


Dated by CD’s interest in 1856 in collecting pigeon and rabbit carcasses and by his reading of the books mentioned in the letter (see n. 2, below).
Probably Temminck and Knip 1811, which CD recorded as having read in May 1856 (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 18). Columba leucocephala was described in Temminck and Knip 1811, 1: 11–12 and 37, and figured on pl. 13. This pigeon was described by Gosse as arboreal in P. H. Gosse 1847, pp. 299–304. CD recorded having read P. H. Gosse 1847 on 11 May 1856 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 18). See also letter to P. H. Gosse, 28 September 1856.
P. H. Gosse 1851, p. 173. Gosse apparently kept one as a pet (see letter to P. H. Gosse, 28 September [1856]). CD had read P. H. Gosse 1851 in 1852 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 2).
Gosse had lived and collected in Jamaica in 1844 and 1845.
No specimen seems to have been sent to CD. In Variation 1: 112 and n. 21, the description of the feral rabbit of Jamaica is taken from P. H. Gosse 1851, p. 441.
No mention is made of the wild canaries of Jamaica in Variation.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Gosse, Philip Henry. 1847. The birds of Jamaica. London: John Van Voorst.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


CD is working hard on variations.

Asks if PHG’s bald-pate pigeon [described in A naturalist’s sojourn in Jamaica (1851)] is a true rock-pigeon.

Can he obtain a specimen of the rabbits that have run wild, and a wild canary, and the body of any domestic or fancy pigeon which has been in the West Indies for some generations?

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Philip Henry Gosse
Sent from
Source of text
Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1958,” accessed on 14 October 2019,

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