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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Torbitt   6 March 1878


6 March 1878

Ch. Darwin Esqr. | Down

Dear Sir

Confirming my telegram of yesterday “Hope tone of letter indicates recovery &c” (and it is very naturally a very sincere hope) I really do not know what to say in return for all your kindness.1

I shall keep the £100 check and use it in the last resort, and if it has to be used I think it will be a deep disgrace to the men now in office.2

I know Mr Carruthers and his idea that the line of possible cultivation of the potato, as a matter of profit, is moving eastward. I should have sent the seed and tubers to the Society as you wished, but had no hope of anything coming of it.3

I would rather give up the thing than that you should labour in it further at present, but will hope that next season you may be able to prosecute it.

My letter to the Chancellor was not in expectation of any aid but merely, having obtained your liberty to publish it, thinking that in that form it might be better calculated to attract the attentions of the Editors of the Papers.4

I need not say I will be glad to peruse your letter.5

I shall go on raising new cross-fertilized varieties, and hope not to be compelled to reduce the scale.

I believe I can get several people to grow potatos in the west of Ireland and have written to two today.6

As regards my own opinion, the principal and only real difficulty in the reintroduction of the plant seems to me to be this—a “variety” in its first year of life weighs only a few ounces, in its second year a few pounds and so forth, and that by the time it has attained a magnitude to enable it to be widely distributed, it has become so old, as to be less able to resist the attack of the fungus, than it was when young, that its yield has fallen off, and that consequently large numbers of new varieties should be always being brought forward wherever the plant is grown.

The first result of my cultivation of the potato was a saving of upwards of a hundred thousand a year to the Revenue as per enclosed note,—one of a lot accompanying potato seed sent to our legislators and refused to be received.7

I trust to hear of your better health and remain dear Sir with profound respect ever faithfully yours, James Torbitt

CD annotations

0.1 Belfast] ‘58 North St’ added ink


Torbitt’s telegram has not been found. See letter to James Torbitt, 4 March 1878.
CD had enclosed a cheque for £100 to enable Torbitt to continue his potato experiments for another season if a government grant could not be obtained (see letter to James Torbitt, 4 March 1878).
William Carruthers, botanist to the Royal Agricultural Society of England, had objected to Torbitt’s project (see letter from James Caird to T. H. Farrer, 2 March 1878).
Torbitt had asked for permission to quote from CD’s letters in a printed letter addressed to the chancellor of the Exchequer, Stafford Northcote (see letter from James Torbitt, 24 February 1878 and enclosure).
CD had agreed with the suggestion of William Carruthers that new potato varieties should be trialled in the damper conditions of western Ireland (see letter to James Torbitt, 4 March 1878).
The enclosed note has not been found. In 1876, Torbitt had sent packets of potato seeds to members of both Houses of Parliament (see Correspondence vol. 24, letter to James Torbitt, 4 April 1876, and DeArce 2008).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

DeArce, Miguel. 2008. Correspondence of Charles Darwin on James Torbitt’s project to breed blight-resistant potatoes. Archives of Natural History 35: 208–22.


Problems of continuing with his crossing experiments; financial help from CD.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Torbitt
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 178: 138
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11403,” accessed on 29 January 2023,