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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. W. Buckland   9 October 1881

106 Guildford Street | Russell Square | London W.6.

Octr. 9th./81.

Dear Sir,

A circumstance came to my notice last year which I felt would be of great interest to you, & which I have delayed communicating to you hoping to be able to send, with the communication, one or more of the eggs to which I shall refer. I must tell you that my informant was a carpenter, living in Bath, apparently an honest straightforward man not likely to wish to practice deception, even if he knew how— He said he had a favourite hen which was accustomed to come in & perch on his knee as he sat at breakfast.— One day she came in as usual, when an alarum clock which stood in the kitchen, being out of order went off at the wrong time. This unwonted noise greatly frightened the hen, who was ready to fly through the window— No further notice was taken of this at the time, but a few days afterward the hen began laying eggs each marked with the face of the clock, my informant said the two first were so distinct that it was easy to distinguish the time, 20 minutes to ten, upon them, but unfortunately they were put with other eggs & accidentally sold, the woman who bought them sending to ask whether they knew that two of the eggs she bought had a clock face upon them, but they were eaten & destroyed.1

Altogether seven of these eggs were laid, the impression growing more & more indistinct, after which it entirely disappeared   the third fourth & fifth were purchased as curiosities   the sixth & seventh are still retained by the owner & I have seen them, the round upon each is distinct but the figures are imperfect, consisting simply of marks slightly raised from a flattened disk & apparently just cracked   I know figures of different kinds can be made on eggs by means of acids but I do not believe the marks on the eggs I have described could be thus produced— The subject was noticed in a local paper at the time, now three or four years ago, & then it was allowed to drop, it came to my knowledge accidentally last year, & I waited, hoping that I might procure the third or fourth of these curious eggs to send you, but I have heard nothing further from the man about them, so conclude he has been unable to get them for me. If however you express a wish to see them, I will still do my best to obtain one or more of them for you, as it appears to me a subject worthy of investigation by a naturalist so persevering & so competent as yourself.

Once since I have seen a figure somewhat similar, on an egg served for breakfast in a country house, & which had most certainly not been tampered with. In this case however the mark could not be accounted for, it appeared to me to resemble the wheel of a threshing machine which had been used in the barn, but of this I could not be sure. In both cases there was a flattened disk not upon but to the side of the round part of the egg with marks raised in a circle upon it— Should you care to enquire further into this subject I shall be most happy to do my best to obtain such information as you may desire, or to put you in direct communication with the owner of the eggs which would perhaps be better  

If on the contrary my wonder is no wonder after all, but a matter easily accounted for by your superior knowledge, I trust you will pardon me for having occupied your valuable time needlessly, meanwhile believe me always | Yours most respectfully | (Miss) A W Buckland. | Member of the Anthropological Institute &c—


CD had expressed scepticism about the effects of maternal imagination on unborn offspring in Variation 2: 263–4, and continued to do so in Variation 2d ed. 2: 251–2. For the belief in the power of maternal imagination, see Huet 1993. For a twentieth-century photograph of an egg with a clock face, see ‘Laying eggs on time’, Guide to Nature 8 (1915–16): 185.


Huet, Marie-Hélène. 1993. Monstrous imagination. Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press.

Variation 2d ed.: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1875.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


On the effects of a mother’s imagination on a new-born child. Reports that a hen, startled by an alarm clock, laid eggs with clock faces on them.

Letter details

Letter no.
Anne Walbank Buckland
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Guildford St, 106
Source of text
DAR 201: 7
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13381,” accessed on 21 June 2024,