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Darwin Correspondence Project


From John Brodie Innes   29 August [1863]1

Milton Brodie | Forres.

29th. August.

Dear Darwin,

We often speak and still more frequently think of you and yours, but my friend Stephens is too much occupied with parochial and family matters to send me many Gazettes about friends though he does write fully of all important parish matters,2 so I have not had particulars of you for an age and have determined to address a line to yourself to ask how you all are, How your son likes his Banking Employment3   I hope he will find it as profitable as the Lubbocks seem to do and not so conducive to gout as I hear it (or something else) is with them.4 The idea of a cottage shew of garden produce was a capital one, and from the report seems to have been quite a success.5 I suggested an addition of cottagers flowers to enliven the scene and encourage the ornamental, but it was not in time to be carried out this year.

I have to congratulate you on an accession to your honours, that your natural history researches should have caused a number of the lower animals to be called by your name was in the natural course but I did not look for a Duke Darwinii but there he is.6 By the way I hear he is very ill, if he dies you must get Owen to stuff him for you.7 I do not think I have any natural history for you, but that I lately saw a second instance of a donkey without a stripe.8 What do you think of the toads? My friend and neighbour Sir A Gordon Cumming has written about these being found in the cuttings of the new railway in large numbers.9 I cannot find that there is any good evidence of their being found actually in the stone, but it seems certain that they turned up, no one seems to know whence in very queer places, and though one here and there might be found in some deep hole with very little opening for air and food, it is odd that so many should appear, and I am sorry that no really scientific observer should have taken pains to make out when they really lived. I believe Dr. Innes of Forres or Dr. Gordon of Birnie would have been trustworthy but I think they both laugh at the notion and did not care to investigate.10

You and I have often had small arguments about rating for schools11   If you were here I think you would come over to my side. We pay in this parish about double what the Downe School costs, the education is not good and the behaviour of the children and moral conduct of the adult poor is very sad indeed. The abuse has crept in to make the schoolmaster’s post a step to the office of preacher in the Establishment,12 so the master who gets probably £120 and a house puts in an inefficient substitute and goes off to Edinburgh to keep terms   The result of all this is that some clever boys get on and learn enough to go to college or get good situations and the general run who can only be at school a short time learn little. The moral condition is bad enough, and illegitimate children are in swarms and don’t they lie and cheat with a vengeance!

As to ourselves I have not much to tell you. Mrs. Innes13 is much as usual, not even as much up to walking as she was but seldom really poorly. She dines out at rare intervals, which is a gain— I dare say you heard we had a small run to Kent in the spring   It was a fine contradiction of your theory that all goes well when the wife is master of events. I thought Mrs. Innes would want to see an invalide sister14 and offered to take her up and make arrangements for her to be in England for two months which she firmly declined then suddenly got a worse report of her sister and must go at a couple of days notice when I could make no comfortable arrangement, could only stay a few days, and was obliged to come back leaving all undone I specially wished, chief to see you and other friends at Downe. However happily the sister is better and I was able to give Johnny15 a week in Paris which pleased him. He works on pretty steadily with his tutor is vastly grown in stature and breadth and has been quite well since we have been here. I should have preferred his going on at School but think he suffers less than many boys would from being at home

I wish you would come down here and take a look at the red sandstone, and other interests of the North—

Our kindest regards to Mrs. Darwin and your family—

Believe me Dear Darwin | Yours faithfully | J Brodie Innes—


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to J. B. Innes, 1 September [1863].
Thomas Sellwood Stephens was the curate of St Mary’s church, Down; Innes was the perpetual curate (Clergy list). Having inherited an estate, Innes moved to Forres, Scotland, in 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10). Innes continued to be the non-resident incumbent of Down until 1869 (Crockford’s 1894, Freeman 1978).
In 1861, William Erasmus Darwin became a partner in the Southampton and Hampshire Bank, Southampton (see Correspondence vol. 9).
The Down House grounds bordered the High Elms estate, seat of the Lubbocks; John William Lubbock and his son, John Lubbock, were partners in the banking house Robarts, Lubbock & Co., Lombard Street, London (Post Office London directory 1863, Freeman 1978).
The correspondence concerning the show of garden produce has not been found, but Innes presumably refers to the activities of one of Down’s local societies. CD played an active part in parish affairs (see Moore 1985, p. 469).
The reference is to George Douglas Campbell, the eighth duke of Argyll; Campbell had been nicknamed the ‘Darwinian Duke’ by the newspapers following a speech he gave to the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland at the beginning of August (see letter from J. B. Innes, 4 September [1863] and n. 3).
Although the reference is to G. D. Campbell, the duke of Argyll, Innes was mistaken; Campbell was not ill (see letter from J. B. Innes, 4 September [1863]). Innes also refers to Campbell’s friend Richard Owen (Rupke 1994, p. 213); Owen was superintendent of the natural history departments at the British Museum (DNB, DSB).
See Correspondence vol. 8, letter to John Innes, 11 September [1860]. CD was interested in the inheritance of shoulder stripes in horses and asses, and had asked several of his correspondents to report any observations they had made on this subject (see Correspondence vols. 6–8); CD considered the presence of stripes to be a reversion to a primitive characteristic of an ancient progenitor (see Origin, pp. 163–7, and Variation 1: 55–64 and 2: 41–3; however Innes’s observations are not cited).
The reference is to Alexander Penrose Gordon Cumming of Altyre (County families). In April and May 1863, Cumming sent letters to the Elgin Courier and the Forres Gazette reporting that he had observed live toads deep in the strata exposed by the cuttings of the Inverness and Perth Railway, which was being constructed near Altyre. The story was reprinted in the Scotsman and The Times (see The Times, 16 April 1863, p. 7, and 25 May 1863, p. 9). The myth that toads or frogs contemporaneous with coal or rock formations had been exhumed alive in modern times was prevalent in popular natural history books and periodicals of this period (see Barber 1980, p. 18).
Innes refers to the Forres surgeon John George Innes (Medical directory 1863) and to the botanist and geologist George Gordon (R. Desmond 1994).
No correspondence between CD and Innes on this subject has been found.
The reference is to the Church of Scotland, a state establishment, and one of the three churches which formed the main divisions of Scottish presbyterianism (Cameron et al. 1993).
Eliza Mary Brodie Innes.
Innes refers to Mrs Swan (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. B. Innes to Emma Darwin, 23 January [1864]).
John William Brodie Innes.


Duke of Argyll has been dubbed "Duke Darwinii" by papers.

Large number of toads have been found in railway cuttings; wishes a scientific observer had taken pains to explain where they came from.

Comments on Scottish schools and on the morals of the adult poor.

Letter details

Letter no.
Innes, J. B.
Darwin, C. R.
Sent from
Milton Brodie
Source of text
DAR 167: 11
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4283,” accessed on 28 July 2016,