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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Farrer   1 October 1880

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | (Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.)

October 1. 1880

My dear Farrer

I have been writing an account of the worms at Abinger & most useful I have found your notes.1 When my M.S. has been well copied, I will ask you to look it over, as you may detect some inaccuracies; it is only about a dozen pages.2

I write now to ask 2 or 3 questions: is the concrete floor so well protected that it is quite dry? if not so, I shd. much like to hear whether castings are still ejected on it.—3

Secondly, in the Times it is said that Mr. Wright wd. publish an account of the ruins with a plan: has this been done & could you lend me the article & plan?4

Thirdly you refer incidentally in one of your notes to some walk, the foundations of which consist of broken bricks & mortar: now will you be so kind as to look at this walk, & if the worms have thrown up any castings on it, to send me a few. I want to see whether the particles of brick have been at all tri-turated by the action of their muscular gizzards.—5

Lastly I enclose extract from letter from Mr. Torbitt, giving a grand account of his success.6 Will you give me address of “J. ??? Caird Esq C.B”, as I shd. like also to send him copy of Torbitt’s letter, telling him, of course, that no answer was required.7

You will have heard that Elizabeth Wedgwood is very unwell, & I cannot but think very seriously.8 My sister Caroline has also been unwell, & had it not been for these two causes we shd. now have been at Leith Hill Place.9

Ever yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


Farrer had kept a ‘worm journal’ from 25 August to 23 September 1877 to record earthworm activity at the excavation site of a Roman villa on his estate at Abinger, Surrey, and had sent it to CD (see Correspondence vol. 25, letter from T. H. Farrer, 23 September 1877).
CD published Farrer’s observations in Earthworms, pp. 186–8, and included further brief observations made on 25 September and 13 October 1877.
The excavation of the Roman villa had revealed the presence of a concrete floor still partly covered with small red tiles. CD at first doubted whether worms could have penetrated this floor; he assumed that the earth above it had been washed down from higher land, until he observed worm burrows forming on the freshly cleared surface of the floor (Earthworms, pp. 184–5).
An article titled ‘Roman Villa at Abinger’, published in The Times, 2 January 1878, p. 7, stated that plans of the villa and the paper by George Robert Nicol Wright had been presented at a meeting of the British Archaeological Association and would be published at a later date. A report, ‘Recent discovery of the remains of a Roman villa at Abinger, Surrey’, was published in the Builder, 5 January 1878, pp. 19–20, with some plans of the site on p. 20 and a statement that the paper by Wright would appear in the journal of the British Archaeological Association. Wright’s paper was not published.
Farrer had mentioned that plenty of wormcasts appeared on gravel paths laid with ‘beds of brick bat & lime rubbish’ in his letter of 23 September 1877 (Correspondence vol. 25). CD reported in Earthworms, p. 18, that little stones swallowed by worms served, like millstones, to grind their food.
See letter from James Torbitt, 26 September 1880. Torbitt was carrying out large-scale experiments in the hope of producing blight-resistant potatoes.
Earlier in the year, James Caird had raised funds from subscribers for Torbitt’s project (see letter from T. H. Farrer, 8 March 1880 and enclosure).
Elizabeth Wedgwood, Emma Darwin’s sister, lived in Down village; Farrer’s wife, Katherine Euphemia, was Elizabeth Wedgwood’s niece.
Caroline Sarah Wedgwood lived at Leith Hill Place, Surrey.


Earthworms: The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms: with observations on their habits. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1881.


Sends some questions raised by THF’s notes on earthworms at Abinger; he plans to use them in his book.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Farrer, 1st baronet and 1st Baron Farrer
Sent from
Source of text
Linnean Society of London (LS Ms 299/34)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12732,” accessed on 23 March 2023,