skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. B. Tegetmeier   13 March 1865

Muswell Hill | N

Monday March 13/65

My dear Sir

I have the page respecting the pigeons,1 and will forward it with the others.—2 I have concluded my experiments with the mongrels and having carried them on to three generations and not finding any trace of sterility I do not think it worth while to pursue the experiments further3

I have got out a few interesting results as to colour and the non reversion to either of the original varieties.4 I think as the Royal Society made a grant of £10 for the expenses I ought to send in a report or short paper.—5

I enclose feathers from the saddle or tail coverts of Spangled Hamburgh hen6

The cutting from the Field may perhaps interest you somewhat, being as the old writers used to say “written out of experience” and being very decidedly opposed to the instinctive theory respecting the homing of pigeons.—7

I am going over your MSS. but my eye still refuses a long course of exercise on white paper8

There is now being published in the Field a series of papers on the different varieties of pigeons, illustrated as the enclosed, each variety being done by a well known amateur of the breed.9

Trusting to hear of your continued improvement | Believe me | Very Truly Yours | W B Tegetmeier

C Darwin Esq


Tegetmeier had undertaken experiments to find out whether particular domestic varieties of fowls and pigeons produced sterile hybrids when crossed inter se (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 27 [December 1862], Correspondence vol. 11, letter from W. B. Tegetmeier, 18 February 1863, and letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 19 February [1863]). Tegetmeier gave details of these experiments in his letter to CD of 29 June – 7 July 1863 (Correspondence vol. 11). See also Correspondence vol. 12, letter from W. B. Tegetmeier, [before 21 December 1864]. CD reported Tegetmeier’s findings with respect to the fertility inter se of different domestic varieties of fowl in Variation 1: 242–3, and of domestic varieties of pigeon in Variation 1: 192.
Presumably a reference to the results of crossing a Spanish cock and a silk hen; the cross yielded offspring resembling in colour the presumed ancestral breed Gallus bankiva, rather than either of the parent varieties. CD had requested that Tegetmeier perform the cross to repeat his own experiments on these varieties in 1859 and 1860 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 27 [December 1862] and n. 7, Correspondence vol. 11, letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 19 February [1863], and Variation 1: 242–3, 2: 40).
On 1 December 1862, the council of the Royal Society of London resolved to grant £10 to Tegetmeier for ‘experiments on the cross-breeding of pigeons’ (Royal Society, council minutes, 1 December 1862). There is no record of a report on these experiments in the Royal Society archives.
See letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 27 February [1865], and letter from W. B. Tegetmeier, [28 February – 5 March 1865]. CD described the feathers of the spangled Hamburgh breed of domestic fowl in Variation 1: 227.
The enclosure has not been found; however, Tegetmeier evidently enclosed a cutting of his article on the smerle or Antwerp carrier pigeon, published in the Field, 25 February 1865, p. 139 (see letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 14 March [1865]). In the article, Tegetmeier attributed the homing ability of pigeons, ‘usually attributed to some mysterious power or instinct’, to their ability to navigate from familiar landmarks. The article formed part of a series on pigeon breeds (see n. 9, below).
Tegetmeier refers to a series of articles published in the Field, 19 November 1864, p. 366, 3 December 1864, p. 395, 31 December 1864, p. 459, 18 February 1865, p. 115, 25 February 1865, p. 139, and 4 March 1865, p. 155; all the issues, except for that of 25 February 1865, are in DAR 138.3, and all but that of 19 November 1864 are lightly annotated. The last articles in the series were published in the Field, 1 April 1865, p. 228, and 15 April 1865, p. 258; CD’s copy of the 1 April issue is in DAR 138.3. The series provided descriptions of the standard characteristics of specific breeds of pigeons and fowls, illustrated by wood-engravings; Tegetmeier contributed the articles on the English pouter pigeon and the smerle pigeon in the issues for 31 December 1864 and 25 February 1865, respectively. The enclosed article on the smerle pigeon (see n. 7, above), was illustrated with a wood-engraving by Luke Wells.


Will return page on pigeons.

Has concluded his crossing experiments and found no trace of hybrid sterility or loss of fertility.

The Field is publishing a series of papers on different pigeon varieties [24 (1864): 366, 395, 459; 25 (1865): 115, 139, 155, 228, 258].

Letter details

Letter no.
William Bernhard Tegetmeier
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Muswell Hill
Source of text
DAR 178: 63
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4785,” accessed on 29 June 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13