skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Adam Fitch   20 December 1879

The Vicarage, | Thornton Steward, | Bedale, | Yorks.

December 20th. 1879.

Dear Sir,

Soon after the Potato disease appeared, the prevalent impression was, that the varieties under cultivation were worn out, and that fresh blood was required— Profr. Henslow held this opinion, and he gave me a few wild sets which I fancy you had collected in S. America1

In planting these I selected a piece of ground in the Orchard at Willingham Rectory, which in the memory of man had never been cultivated—fully exposed to the South—soil light loam on gravel,—no manure used—in the Autumn the produce of these sets quite as much diseased as the old varieties. I have long felt convinced that by selecting year after year, seeds from varieties best resisting disease and by crossing, a variety might eventually be raised, which would be impervious to the disease—2 but whether the result would be a potato desirable for the table, I would not presume to say— my very kind friend & neighbour the late Mr. Maclaren of Burton, a first rate gardener, was of the same opinion.3

I find this year two varieties have been conspicuously noticed for freedom from disease, Magnum Bonum and Champion.4 I therefore venture to trouble you with this letter, to say, I should be most thankful if you would kindly tell me, if you think it would be most advisable to save from the two varieties mentioned, or seed from crossed flowers— Of course at my age 73 I cannot carry out my wishes, still all well I could plant potatos in my garden in spring and send the seed to my son in N. Zealand who is a gardener and very fond of his profession.5

As you have been a great traveller I venture to say I should feel much obliged if you could tell me why, as recorded in Mrs. Brassey’s Voyage of the Sunbeam, Camellias, Tea Trees, Orange Trees and exotic Ferns, in the gardens of the Temple of the Moon, in Japan, were blooming & flourishing in immediate proximity to ice.6

Experience has taught me that in early Autumn frosts, whilst tender vegetables & tender plants have been destroyed in one portion of the garden, in other parts they have escaped uninjured

The great kindness you have shown to me on previous occasions will I trust induce you to pardon me for thus trespassing upon your time.7

I am | Dear Sir | Yours very truly | A. Fitch


For John Stevens Henslow’s interest in the 1845 outbreak of potato blight, see Correspondence vol. 3, letter to J. S. Henslow, 28 October [1845] and n. 1. Henslow had seen dried specimens of the wild potato (Solanum tuberosum) that CD had sent from the Chonos Archipelago, off the coast of Chile; Alexander Caldcleugh, a businessman in South America, had sent tubers, which were grown successfully (Journal of researches 2d ed., pp. 285–6 and n.).
CD’s reply to this letter has not been found, but his correspondent James Torbitt had been experimenting on potato crosses (see Correspondence vol. 24 and following volumes).
James Maclaren of Constable Burton, Bedale, died in July 1879 (England & Wales, national probate calendar (index of wills and administrations), 1858–1966, 1973–95 (, accessed 26 April 2018)).
‘Champion’ and ‘Magnum Bonum’ were potato varieties introduced in the 1870s; they were blight-resistant at first, but their resistance declined in a few decades (Salaman 1926, pp. 231–2, 282–3).
Annie Brassey described this scene in her Around the world in the yacht ‘Sunbeam’ (Brassey 1878, p. 328). The temple was Tenjō-ji Temple on Mount Maya in Kobe.
For Fitch’s previous queries, see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Adam Fitch, 18 November 1862, and Correspondence vol. 25, letter from Adam Fitch, 20 July 1877.


Salaman, Redcliffe Nathan. 1926. Potato varieties. Cambridge: University Press.


Questions CD on the possibility of selecting disease-resisting potatoes to produce ultimately a disease-resistant variety.

Letter details

Letter no.
Adam Fitch
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Thornton Steward
Source of text
DAR 164: 129
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12367,” accessed on 24 May 2022,