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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Francis Galton   24 May 1878

42 Rutland Gate

May 24/78

My dear Darwin

The enclosed “Composite Portraits” will perhaps interest you.1 The description of them is in this week’s “Nature” (p.97.)2 You will see that I have there published the letter you kindly forwarded to me from Mr. Austin of New Zealand. (To whom I am now about to write a second time.)3

Together with the villains (absit omen!)4 I send 3 of our own family ancestors which I have had made, & for which you may care to find some place somewhere. The original portraits are in the possession of Reginald Darwin and are those of our uncle Sir Francis Darwin and of our great grandfather & of our great great grandfather respectively, (as you will find written on their backs)— These take the Darwin family back for 214 centuries. There seems to be a great deal of the Darwin type in William Darwin b: 1655.5

I hear vague rumours of your wonderful investigations on the growth, &c of plants, & am eager for the time when they shall be published6

Ever sincerely yrs | Francis Galton


The enclosures have not been found.
Galton’s article ‘Composite portraits’ was published in Nature, 23 May 1878 (Galton 1878). Galton used multiple exposures of existing photographs to make a new composite image in order to observe typical characteristics; he also observed that composite photographs were more beautiful than the originals. For examples of his composite photographs, see Pearson 1914–30, 2: plates 28–35; see also this volume, plate on p. 214.
Absit omen: may the omen be absent (Latin); the sense is ‘perish the thought’ or ‘god forbid’. One of Galton’s sets of composites was of convicted criminals.
Francis Sacheverel Darwin, Robert Darwin (1682–1754; ‘our great grandfather’), and William Darwin (1655–82; ‘our great great grandfather’). There are plates of portraits of F. S. Darwin and Robert Darwin in Pearson 1914–30, 1: plates 6 and 18. There is an oil painting of William Darwin at Darwin College, Cambridge.
CD had been investigating different types of plant movement since July 1877; his results were published in 1880 in Movement in plants.


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

Galton, Francis. 1878. Composite portraits. Nature, 23 May 1878, pp. 97–100.

Movement in plants: The power of movement in plants. By Charles Darwin. Assisted by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray. 1880.

Pearson, Karl. 1914–30. The life, letters and labours of Francis Galton. 3 vols. in 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Sends some "composite portraits", including three of their family ancestors, as described in Nature [18 (1878): 97–100].

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Galton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Rutland Gate, 42
Source of text
DAR 105A: 99–100
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11526,” accessed on 8 December 2022,