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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Torbitt   12 February 1880

58. North Street. | Belfast.

12. Feby. 1880.

Charles Darwin Esqre. | Down.

My dear Sir.

I duly received your much esteemed letter of 27th. Decr.1 last and now write to suggest might it be possible to borrow £500 from the Government for the purpose of carrying on the work; giving the new varieties of the potato as security for repayment of the loan and of your advance—2

A single variety of the plant “The Champion” which is now spreading all over the Kingdom has been worth many thousands of pounds to the country within the last few years, and doubtless it will be worth a great many more before it disappears so that the security ought to be good—

The “Champion” was grown from a seed sown in the Spring of 1863 and latterly it has become more and more susceptible to the Disease and less and less able to produce its fruit—3

Watching it for the last two seasons I found all the Stamens abnormally twisted and all the flowers dropped off.— Last year as I am informed it did not produce any fruit anywhere and unquestionably new varieties should be coming forward to replace it—4

In the present state of affairs with the whole kingdom “hungry” for potatoes such as we had fifty years ago, it will be too bad if £500 stops the way. and yet I cannot devote another shilling to the work, although I thought I could afford to spend a thousand a year on it when I commenced—5

If no better may be I will offer these new varieties to all the Governments in Europe, and if they be allowed to pass out of the Country. I think it will be a mistake—but better that, than that they should perish.

I am my dear Sir. | most respectfully | and faithfully. | James Torbitt.


See Correspondence vol. 27, letter to James Torbitt, 27 December 1879.
CD had been trying to secure government aid for Torbitt in his work on breeding blight-resistant potatoes. He had written to his friend Thomas Henry Farrer, who tried to interest Dudley Francis Stuart Ryder, minister for the Board of Trade, where Farrer was permanent secretary (see Correspondence vol. 27, letter to James Torbitt, 17 November 1879).
The Champion potato was bred in 1863 by John Nicoll in Forfar, Scotland; in 1879 it was the only variety to yield a substantial harvest in Ireland during a widespread outbreak of blight (Salaman 1985, p. 168).
The Champion variety was, in fact, grown in greater quantities in Ireland until the end of the century (Salaman 1985, p. 168).
Torbitt alludes to the great Irish potato famine in the 1840s, which led to mass emigration to America (for more on the famine and its consequences, see Donnelly 2001).


Donnelly, James S. 2001. The great Irish potato famine. Stroud: Sutton.

Salaman, Redcliffe Nathan. 1985. The history and social influence of the potato. Revised edition by J. G. Hawkes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


It might be possible to borrow £500 [for potato experiments]. Variety of "The Champion" spreading over the Kingdom. Champion lately less able to produce.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Torbitt
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 144: 486
Physical description
C 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12472,” accessed on 8 June 2023,