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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Blyth   3 August 1868

7 Princess Terrace, | Regents Park,

Aug. 3/68

My dear Sir,

I have been so much on the move lately, in various parts of the country, that I have allowed your note of the 22d. July to remain thus long unanswered.1 Need I say that I shall have pleasure in replying to the utmost of my ability to as many of your queries as I can? I am very sorry to learn that you have been so unwell, & trust that you will derive benefit from your stay at Freshwater, a place that I have not seen for the last 30 years or thereabouts.2 But of course I remember it well, & have still pleasurable reminiscences of the pedestrian tour which I made at that time all round and about the Isle of Wight. I, too, should like to have more definite information respecting Swinhoe’s Chinese black-shouldered peacock, especially as to whether the females are albescent.3 Your instance of an albescent male moulting into the nigripennis plumage is interesting, but one must remember that there is constantly an interchange of eggs going on amongst the proprietors of peafowl. By last No. of Land & Water you will have learned that one peafowl (i.e. the Ceylon one) has already gone wild in Australia.4

I have a very interesting fact to communicate respecting the long-lost crested turkey, the breed of which would appear to have been maintained up to the present time in Abyssinia! Bartlett has a fine cock-bird, exactly as Albin figures it, even to the peculiar buff colouring as described by him.5 As in other instances the greys and buffs of his figures have darkened considerably, from the oxygenation of the pigment employed; & I remark the same in Edwards’s “History of Birds”. Thus Edwards’s figure upon which Turdus canorus, Linn, is founded, has become so altered in colouring that the bird could not be recognised from it, but his description applies correctly to the common Bengal Malacocercus represented by him.6 Another very remarkable circumstance is that the spurs are quite rudimentary in Bartlett’s bird, conforming this to Albin’s description. Bartlett has had a figure taken of it, for publication in Land & Water, with some remarks by himself.7 It is a remarkably fine large bird, estimated by him to weigh about 25 lbs. Its “copple”, as Albin styles it,8 is very amply developed. Among good instances of wild birds varying locally, you might cite the numerous geographical slight race of Perdix or Caccabis saxatilis, as græca, chukar, &c, about which consult Tristram in Ibis.9 Bartlett long ago told me that he could always readily distinguish Dutch examples of Perdix cinerea 10 in the London markets.

In part IV just out of Andrew Murray’s ‘Journal of Travel & Nat. Hist., in a review by himself of Chapman’s ‘Travels in S. Africa’, he has propounded the heresy of suspecting the wild Gallus bankiva to be an “offshoot” from the domestic fowl!11 Just as well allege that the 〈m〉allard is derived from the domestic duck, or wild Col. livia from the domestic pigeon! I will handle this subject in a forthcoming No. of L. & W. 12 You would be exceedingly gratified if you could manage, on your return home, to go round by way of Salisbury, and there visit the superb Blackmore Museum.13 I was again there about a fortnight ago & Saturday I spent the day with Dr. Thomson14 at Kew, & he seems to have appreciated it thoroughly. I never before had the pleasure of going over Kew Gardens with a first-rate botanist. Grass there very much burnt up, & various plants invading it conspicuously, shewing what would be the result of a series of hot summers like the present one, in modifying the flora of this country. I never felt the heat more in India than I have done here, for want, of course, of the manifold appliances for mitigating the high temperature, which long experience has brought into use in India.

Yours very Sincerely, | E. Blyth

CD annotations

1.1 I have … altered in 2.7] crossed pencil
2.1 I have … by him. 2.4] crossed pencil
2.9 Another … description. 2.11] scored pencil
2.17 markets.] before closing square bracket, pencil
3.1 In part IV … in India. 3.15] crossed pencil


CD’s letter to Blyth of 22 July 1868 has not been found, but must have been in answer to Blyth’s letter to CD of 20 July 1868.
The Darwins stayed at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight from 17 July to 20 August 1868 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
See letter from Edward Blyth, 20 July 1868. Blyth refers to Robert Swinhoe and Pavo nigripennis (now considered a variety of P. cristatus).
See letter from J. J. Weir, 23 March 1868 and n. 6. In Land and Water, 1 August 1868, p. 27, Thomas Black, president of the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria, wrote: ‘The Ceylon peafowl, Californian quail, and English wild duck are all perfectly acclimatised, and the guinea-fowl has been turned out in two or three places in the bush.’ The Ceylon peacock is Pavo cristatus.
Abraham Dee Bartlett was the superintendent of the gardens of the Zoological Society of London in Regent’s Park (ODNB). Eleazar Albin described and gave a plate of a crested turkey-cock, which he called ‘Gallopavo cristatus’, in Albin 1731–8, 2: no. 33; he said that the back and upper sides of the wings were a dusky yellowish brown. The crest was a thick tuft of curling white feathers on the top of the bird’s head; the bird was a domestic turkey from Essex.
Linnaeus in his Systema naturae, tenth edition (Linnaeus 1858–9, 1: 169), referred to George Edwards’s Natural history of uncommon birds (G. Edwards 1743–51, 4: 184), in his description of Turdus canorus (now Garrulax canorus, the brown laughing-thrush or hwamei); George Edwards called the bird the brown Indian thrush. Malacocercus benghalensis was a synonym of Turdus canorus (Blyth 1849, p. 140).
The account and engraving are in Land and Water, 31 October 1868, p. 233. CD added a reference to it in Variation 2d ed., 1: 309 and n. 41.
See n. 5, above.
Perdix saxatilis is now Alectoris graeca saxatilis, the Alpine rock partridge. Caccabis (or Perdix) graeca is now A. graeca, the rock partridge. Caccabis (or Perdix) chukar is now Alectoris chukar, the chukar. Blyth refers to Henry Baker Tristram and Tristram 1865–8, pp. 213–14.
Perdix cinerea, the grey partridge, is now P. perdix.
Murray reviewed James Chapman’s Travels in the interior of South Africa (Chapman 1868) anonymously in his Journal of Travel and Natural History 1 (1868–9): 201–25; he suggested that the wild Gallus bankiva might have been derived from domestic fowl rather than the other way about on page 224. Gallus bankiva is now G. gallus bankiva, the Javan red junglefowl.
Blyth published a short note on wild and domesticated varieties of Gallus in Land and Water, 19 September 1868, p. 145.
The Blackmore Museum was established as a separate collection in 1864, occupying premises at the back of the Salisbury Museum. New World antiquities were combined with prehistoric European material to form a Stone Age museum, illustrating the theme of ‘the Prehistoric and Modern Savage’ (MacGregor et al. 1997, p. 13).
Thomas Thomson.


Discusses peacocks and the rediscovery of the long-lost crested turkey.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edward Blyth
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Princess Terrace, 7
Source of text
DAR 160: 219
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6301,” accessed on 19 February 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16