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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Coghlan   9 June 1878

Buenos Ayres,

9 June 1878

My dear Sir

About seven years ago I wrote to you on some matter which I thought might be of interest and received so kind a reply that it encourages me again to trouble you on a subject which may have some scientific importance1

I went some days since in company with Dr Colbourne2 Resident Physician of the British Hospital to see an animal exhibited here as an eightlegged horse which appears to us a remarkable instance of reversion   On the inside of each leg from the knee down is a distinct digit (or whatever the correct term may be) terminating in a perfect hoof   On the fore legs it hangs rather loosely but on the hind the distinct bone is clearly traceable from the knee down with the articulations well defined

It corresponds with the figure of the leg of the Miohippus given in Huxley’s American Addresses Page 88 but is larger reaching close to the ground and more approaching the Architerium of Oscar Schmidts Doctrine of Descent Page 274 Fig P there being however only one additional hoof on each leg.3 It is said that when the horse gallops all eight hoofs touch the ground

We could perceive nothing else abnormal about him   The teeth are of the usual number but the animal is old and has lost his marks so that the form of the surface was not very distinguishable. There appeared nothing uncommon in the skull. Although exhibited here as coming from Chili the horse was bred in the South of the Province, is of the ordinary size, and was used for riding until it struck some one that he was a curiosity. He is very quiet and allowed his fore legs to be lifted without difficulty but on lifting the hind staggered about as if unable or unused to stand in that position

We returned on the following day to make a more detailed examination and hoping to be allowed to take a photograph but found that he had been shipped to be sent to London on board the “Maskelyne” one of Lamport and Holt’s steamers which will sail on the 11th for Southampton Antwerp and thence to Liverpool and by which this letter will be forwarded. The owner not paying the freight here the animal will be in charge of the Captain and if not claimed at Southampton will be taken on. The Captain—Hairby—will be glad to give any information4

Talking over this matter yesterday Mr Grenfell—son of the Admiral—who has an estancia in Entre rios told me that there is a pony there known as the “petizo a cinco patas” which has four additional hoofs on each leg—that he had never particularly examined it but would do so on his return5

Hoping that the subject may be of sufficient interest to excuse me for troubling you | I am, my dear Sir | yours truly | John Coghlan

Charles Darwin Esqr.


In his letter of 13 July 1871 (Correspondence vol. 19), Coghlan sent information about horses and birds in response to Variation. CD’s reply to that letter has not been found.
In Thomas Henry Huxley’s American addresses (T. H. Huxley 1877, p. 88), there was a table with drawings of the bones and teeth of American horses from the Eocene to the recent period; it included the Miohippus, described as having ‘three complete toes—one large median and two smaller lateral ones’, and ‘a rudiment of that digit, which answers to the little finger of the human hand’ (ibid., pp. 87–9). Oskar Schmidt’s The doctrine of descent and Darwinism contains a drawing of the skeleton of the foot of an Anchitherium in which the middle toe is on the ground and the two lateral toes point down to the ground (Schmidt 1875, p. 274, fig. P).
Lamport and Holt’s steamship Maskelyne, captained by Edward Hairby, docked at Southampton on 9 October 1878 en route to Antwerp from South America (The Times, 10 October 1878, p. 6).
Alfred Masini Grenfell, son of John Pascoe Grenfell, owned estates in Entre Ríos, a central province of Argentina, north of Buenos Aires. Petiso a cinco patas: small horse with five legs (Spanish).


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

Schmidt, Oscar. 1875. The doctrine of descent and Darwinism. London: Henry S. King & Co.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Report of an "eight legged horse" considered to be an example of reversion.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Coghlan
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Buenos Aires
Source of text
DAR 161: 198
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11548,” accessed on 25 September 2023,