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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Allen Stoneham   11 January 1877

Lacklands, | The Avenue, | Beckenham.

11 Jan: 1877.


I have just read your account of the reasons for the scarcity of berries on the Holly this Season & you close your remarks by expressing your ignorance as to the causes wh: produced a scarcity of bees.1

As a Keeper of bees & as one paying more than ordinary attention to them I may venture to say the cause is not far to seek. The honey harvest of 1875 was an exceedingly poor one—the weather from July onwards being in this neighbourhood very wet— hence the white clover & later nectar honey-making flowers afforded but poor pasture for the bees— the stores of honey for winter consumption were singularly small & the stocks consequently perished of hunger unless they were artificially fed.

I observed a hive belonging to a neighbour at Shetland, which was devoid of food, had the bees, while the snow was on the ground, out in search of food although the sky was sunless.— From Decr. onwards I fed the bees until April but either my supplies of food were insufficient or the inhabitants were too weak to enable them to rear brood as they disappeared in early spring. Six large Stock Hives I carried successfully through the winter by liberal supplies of food.— I believe my experience has been the current experience of Apiarists.

I observe my Aucuba wh: last year were full of fruit are now (although as I have said I had six hives of bees standing near,) not so plentifully laden as they were at this time last year.2 I presume from the same causes as produced the scarcity of Holly Berries.

When speaking of Bees may I ask if your attention has been devoted to the extreme tenacity with wh: these insects cling to life. I repeatedly find bees apparently dead—in one instance I gathered some that had been immersed in Snow-water (the snow still lying on the ground) for about six hours & were apparently dead. After warming them in my hands, breathing on them & various other expedients of a like nature I have succeeded in so far restoring them to vitality as to enable them shiveringly to crawl over the hand.3 I found this method more effectual (although I was frequently rewarded with stings during what appeared to be a paroxysm of pain) than their immersion in warm water or than exposure to a fire. But although so far restored I believe I now succeeded in inducing the healthy inhabitants of the hive to permit a sickly member to become a permanent resident.

You will I hope pardon this hasty note written amidst many interruptions.

Believe me to be | Yrs faithfully | Allen Stoneham

C Darwin Esq. F.R.S.


See letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 3 January [1877].
Stoneham refers to Aucuba japonica (Japanese laurel), a dioecious evergreen shrub whose female plants bear bright red berries.
Honeybees are one of a small number of insects that remain endothermic in cold weather and shiver to keep warm (Stabentheiner et al. 2003).


Has read CD’s note on the scarcity of holly berries ["Holly berries" (1877), Collected papers 2: 189–90] resulting from the scarcity of bees. Believes the shortage of bees resulted from the wet year 1875, which led to a very poor honey harvest.

Letter details

Letter no.
Allen Stoneham
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 177: 259
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10778,” accessed on 13 May 2021,