skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From F. B. Goodacre   1 September 1879

Wilby Rectory | Attlebro’ | Norfolk

Sept. 1/79

Dear Sir,

Many thanks for your kind letter which I purposely delayed answering as you expected to be from home for a few weeks, I am sorry now that I did not reply sooner so as to saved you the trouble of writing again: without a pond of your own I can well understand what a nuisance the geese must be to you & your anxiety to dispose of them forthwith;1 I have been told that poultry dealers can often tell the sex of young birds, I have found much difficulty in doing so with any certainty, my only guide being the more speedy change of color of the bill from black to orange in young ganders, this sign is evident enough but only answers for full colored birds, for those with white on plumage have colored bills from the beginning if you can send Dr. Meadows2 the most backward bird of your 2nd. hatch I think the probability is he will be fittest for carrying on the testing of the fertility of these crossbred birds for another generation in a straight line

It is very good of you to offer me all your birds but I really could not keep them but I have little doubt but that I could find a good home for the old goose near London but do not yet know the exact address, she would there live with another of her brothers of the same hatch:— I have what I consider a very good water color picture of your pair of birds done by a young animal artist friend of mine3 who has engaged to do what I require in that line & has already painted me a few pictures connected with the subject of domestic animals   should it so happen that you care to see these I would gladly forward them by post for your inspection if you would not mind the trouble of returning them by the same way: & if you could get that of the geese copied into the PZS I should have no objection to lending it for that purpose, as of course I can have none to your using my name, & mentioning the results of experiments I told you of in my last in any paper you may send to the PZS;4 To tell you the truth I should like to see the matter thus made public by you, & if the Secretary would accept of a paper from me I should like to state my own deductions from the fact of the fertility of your birds, not by way of controversy between us, but to shew how very opposite explanations can be given of the same fact:5 a very old friend of mine (who is a strong evolutionist & has written in the cause) has suggested this plan to me, & my only reason for hesitating to follow his advice, is lest you should think a paper from me written in opposition to your views should be an unhandsome return for all your kindness   I have made several unavailing attempts to bring the Study of domestic animals into the foreground, for I am fully persuaded that its diligent cultivation as a branch of Zoology would tend to solve many mysteries & thus lessen the points of difference between us: On looking over the 1st. Vol of Loudons Mag of Nat Histy. 1829 I was much struck with a passage on p   about the Z Soc “In the first prospectus issued by this Society one of their objects is stated to be “the introduction of new varieties breeds & races of animals for the purpose of domestication &c”6   it seems to me that this object has not been so diligently pursued of late as it might have been:

I enclose Dr. Meadows address for the geese & with kind regards & many thanks for your kindness | Believe me | yrs truly | F B Goodacre


See letters to F. B. Goodacre, 13 August [1879] and 29 August 1879. CD was in Coniston in the Lake District from 2 to 27 August 1879 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
Alfred Meadows was assisting Goodacre in the crossing experiments with geese (see Correspondence vol. 26, letter from F. B. Goodacre, 17 August 1878).
The artist was George Lovell Harrison. The watercolour of the geese is reproduced in Ashmole and Goodacre eds. 2011.
CD had asked whether he could include the results of Goodacre’s experiments in a short note on hybrid fertility in geese for Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (see letter to F. B. Goodacre, 29 August 1879). The results of the crossing experiments were eventually published in a letter to Nature, 21 January 1880, p. 207 (see letter to Nature, 15 December [1879]).
Goodacre thought that hybrids could not interbreed (see Correspondence vol. 26, letter from F. B. Goodacre, 2 September 1878); he published a short paper stating his belief that the Chinese goose (Anser cygnoides) and the common goose (A. anser) were varieties of the same species in Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (Goodacre 1879).
The Magazine of Natural History was published by John Claudius Loudon; the quotation appears on p. 79 of the first issue (Magazine of Natural History 1 (1829): 79). On the early history of the Zoological Society, see A. Desmond 1985.


Ashmole, Myrtle and Goodacre, John Duncan, eds. 2011. Francis Burges Goodacre: correspondence with Charles Darwin, 1873–1879. Privately published.

Desmond, Adrian. 1985. The making of institutional zoology in London 1822–1836. History of science 23: 153–85, 223–50.

Goodacre, Francis Burges. 1879. On the question of the identity of species of the common domestic and the Chinese goose. [Read 18 November 1879.] Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1879): 710–12.


Would like CD to write a paper on the results of geese experiments; hopes CD will not object to his doing the same despite the variance of their conclusions [see F. B. Goodacre, "Question of identity of Chinese and domestic goose", Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond. (1879): 710–12 and CD’s "Fertility of hybrids from the Chinese and common goose", Collected papers 2: 219–20].

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Burges Goodacre
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Attleborough, Norfolk
Source of text
DAR 165: 67
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12210,” accessed on 4 March 2024,