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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Frederick King   25 March 1879

Holly Lodge | St. John’s Hill | New Wandsworth S.W.

March 25th. 1879.—

Chas. Darwin Esqr. L.L.D.

Dear Sir,

I feel honoured by your favour of the 2nd. Instant.—1

With regard to the White faces of the Hereford Cattle.—

No one can keep them off their natural soil long, they degenerate so quickly: they lose size and Dairying properties and in a few years the white faces become mottled and I have no doubt if kept long enough would become completely Red though on some soils they rather incline to go back to the Black Breeds.—2

Of course their Bullocks can be brought on to any of our rich Grazing Districts and fattened off: but my remarks apply to the effect upon them if an attempt were made to perpetuate the Breed.—

There is another excellent illustration of my theory:

Take Oxfordshire Down Sheep: foolishly recognized by the Royal Agricultural Society as a distinct Breed.—3

This Breed is the result of a Cross made about 35 years ago by friends of mine, by crossing Hampshire Down Ewes with Cotswold Rams, and never taking a cross from either side since. But remove any one of the best flocks of this mongrel (called pure) Breed to the proximity of the Oolites and in 3 or 4 years they again become long wools, with white faces; and on the other hand, remove them near to the Chalk formation they as soon become Downs.—4

Zones of altitude have also a great influence upon the South Down Breeds

The first Breeders on the South side of the Downs The Duke of Richmond, Mr. Rigden5 &c: their flocks degenerate and the size can only be maintained by crossing with flocks at colder higher altitudes Jonas Webbs, Lord Walsingham, Sir W. Throckmorton6 &c whose flocks get coarser; and they in their turn keep down the coarseness of their flocks by getting Rams from the former Breeders.

I could multiply these errors to any extent and point out the blundering system that prevails amongst our leading Agriculturists both in the Animal & Vegetable Kingdom.—

I am Dear Sir, | yours faithfully | Frederick King.


CD’s letter has not been found, but was evidently a reply to the letter from Frederick King, 27 February 1879.
Hereford cattle were developed as a meat breed in the eighteenth century, but some breeders did develop the breed’s dairy potential in the nineteenth century (Housman 1902, p. 99).
The Oxfordshire Down breed was recognised as a distinct breed by the Royal Agricultural Society in 1862 (Wrightson 1898, p. 66).
The Cotswold was an old longwool breed, but unlike other longwool breeds, was native to upland hills; the Hampshire Down was an improved shortwool breed developed from the 1820s. The Oxfordshire Down originated in the early 1830s, when Samuel Druce crossed a Cotswold ram and Hampshire Down ewe (Wrightson 1898, p. 67). For more on the history and development of these breeds, see Wrightson 1898. Oolites are sedimentary rocks, usually limestone, formed during the Jurassic; they are characteristic of the Cotswolds of south-west central England. Downs are ranges of chalk hills in several southern and eastern counties of England.
Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox was the sixth duke of Richmond. William Marsh Rigden was a well-known breeder of Southdown sheep (Wrightson 1898, p. 51).
Jonas Webb, Thomas de Grey, sixth Baron Walsingham, and Nicholas William George Throckmorton were well-known breeders of Southdown sheep (Wrightson 1898, pp. 51–2).


Housman, William. 1902. Cattle: breeds and management. 3d edition. London: Vinton & Company.

Wrightson, John. 1898. Sheep. Breeds and management. 3d edition. London: Vinton & Company.


Cattle and sheep varieties removed from their native soils degenerate rapidly.

Letter details

Letter no.
Frederick King
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
New Wandsworth
Source of text
DAR 169: 20
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11952,” accessed on 22 September 2023,