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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Anne Barnard   30 March 1871

Bartlow | Leckhampton | Cheltenham

March 30 th. 1871—

Dear Mr. Darwin

Though I have not seen you since I was a child, the only excuse I shall make for troubling you with a letter, is that your “Descent of Man” has recalled to my mind something which I think may interest you.1 On Octr. 20th. 1852, I visited the Idiot Asylum at Colchester,2 with my father, Prof: Henslow— In the room of “Incurables”, a girl was pointed out to us, who had very remarkable ears—“like a donkey’s”—the attendant said, but that was an exaggeration. After the lapse of so many years, I cannot pretend to describe them very accurately, especially as the sights in the room were too horrid for us to care to remain there many minutes   The impression left on my mind is, that the ears rose to an unusual height, and were pointed somewhat like this3


It is possible that there may be doctors or attendants still at the Asylum, who may remember her, and be able to give you more accurate information about her, if you think it worth while to enquire, it is not impossible that she may be still alive.

I fear however, that there is—or was then, a limit to the number of years spent by any patient in the Asylum, and it is therefore very unlikely that you would find her there now—

Believe me to remain | Yrs. truly | Anne Barnard


Barnard would have been between 3 and 6 years old while CD was a student at Cambridge (1828–31). Barnard’s father, John Stevens Henslow, was professor of botany at Cambridge and was CD’s teacher and friend. Barnard refers to Descent.
The reference is to the Eastern Counties Idiot Asylum, Essex Hall, Colchester (see Coller 1861, p. 615).
In Descent 1: 22–3, CD discussed pointed ears in humans and other ape species.


On reading Descent was reminded of having seen, on a visit to an idiot asylum with her father [J. S. Henslow], a woman with long pointed ears.

Letter details

Letter no.
Anne Barnard
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 42
Physical description
4pp & ACCS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7644,” accessed on 18 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19