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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Torbitt   26 June 1878

58 North Street | Belfast

26 June 1878

Charles Darwin Esqr | Down

My dear Sir,

I think you may now wish to hear from me and therefore I venture to report progress fully.1

I have planted three acres of selected varieties of 1875—the varieties of 1876 were not very good and I gave them away— Of the crossed varieties of 1877 I have about eleven hundred growing healthily.

This season I packed out into 300 boxes, 15,000 crossed seedlings (seedlings of 1875 crossed with each other) and have been in this case very unfortunate. About one fourth of them were eaten by slugs and another fourth killed by soot which I was advised to scatter on them to kill the slugs, the remaining half are now planted out in the field and growing well. For this season I have made arrangements to cross much larger numbers than heretofore and would now claim your advice so most kindly offered, as to the proper mode of proceeding. My way was to shake out the pollen on glass, to see under the microscope that it was perfect, and apply it early to the stigma by means of a hair pencil, repeating the operation several times. I propose now in certain varieties to separate the petals and discover the stigma a little before the natural time, and would be very grateful for your advice as to this matter—advice the value of which we all know.

I have also had varieties of 1875 distributed among 80 farmers on the west coast of Ireland and hope to furnish you with reports from them.

As to the specimens I had the pleasure of sending you by post yesterday—the 1875 seedling is submitted as in comparison with the three others. The Skerry Blue made its appearance about 15 or 20 years ago, and it now blooms but all the flowers drop off and it does not reproduce itself.

The Cruffle is longer under cultivation and the flower-buds wither and drop off before the flowers open. The Champion has become famous in Scotland lately, and is possibly the variety alluded to by Mr Caird.2 It is about 15 years under cultivation I am informed, and the flowers have be come monstrous, as for specimens, but I shall procure healthy at least normal flowers from Scotland and ascertain if the monstrosity be accidental.

If I might be permitted to ask I should be very exceedingly glad to hear of your recovered health.

I am my dear Sir | most respectfully & faithfully yours | James Torbitt


CD had helped Torbitt to seek a government grant for his experimental programme for raising disease-resistant potatoes from seed. Torbitt did not receive the grant but CD contributed £100 to Torbitt’s scheme; see letter from James Torbitt, 3 April 1878.
Torbitt had sent CD varieties of potato (Solanum tuberosum). CD had reported that James Caird had given him a ‘striking instance’ of a fungus-proof variety of potato grown in Scotland; see letter to James Torbitt, 4 March 1878.


Progress of experiments. Wants CD’s advice on best way to cross-fertilise his plants.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Torbitt
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 178: 145
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11568,” accessed on 5 March 2021,