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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Roland Trimen   2 September 1877

South-African Museum, | Cape Town.

2nd. September, 1877.

My dear Mr. Darwin,

It was with great pleasure that I lately received the copy of your “Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the same Species” which you have so kindly presented to me:—pray accept my sincere thanks for the welcome gift.1

I have read the book with great interest, particularly the chapter relating to cleistogamic flowers. I had no notion that such extraordinary flowers existed in so many genera of widely-separated groups as those given in your list. In common with most naturalists, I cannot be sufficiently grateful to you for your researches into plant physiology and economy—they impress me even more than your equally admirable investigations of animal life. I declare that, if you go on in this amazing manner to raise vegetable organisms in respect and estimation, I shall feel it a simple duty to agitate for a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants! Since you taught us what orchids were capable of, I have always had my misgivings as to “pulling” flowers for mere bouquets or decoration. It is terrible to think of the infinite maiming and maltreatment plants everywhere undergo, even from those “sweet-hearted” ones

“whose light-blue eyes

Are tender over drowning flies.”2

I was in England last year, but only for two months (August and September), and even for that brief time was quite immersed in official scribbling in London,—being not on leave but on duty with the Cape Premier, Mr. Molteno. For the present, I am happily quit of ordinary official business (which for the last few years has almost monopolized me), as the long-neglected Museum Curatorship has at length been constituted a Civil Service appointment, and the Government has relieved me from other duties.3 Most people seem to think that this arrangement is “too bright, too pure, to last”;4 and it certainly is quite on the cards that a new Ministry or a frugally-minded Parliament might upset it;—but it has at any rate weathered the Session just over, and will I trust be more lasting than people anticipate.

One of the Museum Trustees, Mr. Charles Fairbridge (who is a Member of the Legislative Assembly for Cape Town) left us about a month ago for a holiday in Europe, taking his family with him. Both publicly and privately he has been always a staunch helper of the Museum, and I perpetually regret that his absorbing legal business leaves him hardly any leisure for Natural History pursuits. I have ventured to give him your address, knowing that it would afford him much pleasure to meet you. He has been in correspondence with Sir J. Lubbock about arrow-heads etc. found in these parts, and will probably be visiting that gentleman while in England.5

The constant evidence of continued work which your books afford make me trust that your health is stronger than it was. If there is any little point to which you think I can attend out here with service to your labours, pray command me at any time.

With true regard, and renewed thanks for your kind remembrance of me, I remain | Very faithfully yours | R. Trimen


Trimen’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for Forms of flowers (Appendix IV).
The quotation is from Alfred Tennyson’s poem, In memoriam A.H.H. (Tennyson 1850, p. 142).
Trimen had acted as secretary to the prime minister of Cape Colony, John Charles Molteno, during a visit to Britain in connection with the Colony’s possible annexation of Griqualand West; the delegation left the Cape on 7 July 1876. While in England, Trimen was appointed curator of the South Africa Museum, taking up the appointment in October 1876, after his return. (DSAB; Molteno 1900, 2: 92 and 484.)
The quotation is either from the anonymous To the lark (Baillie ed. 1823, pp. 81–3), or from Lines to youth, by the Rev. John Jones (The Bijou; an annual of literature and the arts (1829): 54–5).
Charles Aken Fairbridge had proposed the establishment of a national museum for South Africa in 1855 and became a trustee of the museum in 1860. He had been a member of the Cape Colony legislative assembly since 1874. Fairbridge and his wife, Sarah Rebecca Anderson, had five children (DSAB). Fairbridge had corresponded with John Lubbock about stone artefacts from South Africa in 1873, and donated material to Lubbock’s collection in 1873 and 1874 (British Library, Avebury papers, vol. XL, 66–8; J. Owen 2000, pp. 241, 247, and Appendix 4.5).


DSAB: Dictionary of South African biography. Edited by W. J. de Kock et al. 4 vols. Pretoria and Cape Town: Nasionale Boekhandel Beperk [and others]. 1968–81.

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

Molteno, Percy Alport. 1900. The life and times of Sir John Charles Molteno K.C.M.G, first premier of Cape Colony, comprising a history of representative institutions and responsible government at the Cape and of Lord Carnarvon’s confederation policy & of Sir Bartle Frere’s high commissionership of South Africa. 2 vols. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

Owen, Janet. 2000. The collecting activities of Sir John Lubbock (1834–1913). Durham theses, Durham University. Available at Durham E-Theses Online:

Tennyson, Alfred. 1850. In memoriam. London: E. Moxon.


Thanks for Forms of flowers.

Letter details

Letter no.
Roland Trimen
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
South African Museum, Cape Town
Source of text
DAR 178: 192
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11124,” accessed on 25 October 2021,