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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Gardeners’ Chronicle   [before 3 November 1855]

I earnestly hope that “C.” of Winchester1 will give some more particulars regarding the fall of shells at Osborne. Were any of the shells living? Over how wide an area did they fall? During how long a time are they believed to have fallen? At what hour and on what day? Did only one kind of shell fall? I hope “C.” will forgive me for suggesting to him how very desirable it is that so extraordinary and very interesting a fact should be authenticated by the narrator’s name. It is really almost a duty towards the science of natural history to do so. Were the Zua identified by any good conchologist?—this seems to me an important point.2 C. D., Down.


In Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, no. 43, 27 October 1855, p. 710, a correspondent named C. Winchester from Osborne, Isle of Wight, had requested information about the identity of shells that fell in great numbers during a thunderstorm. The editor commented that the shells were Zua lubrica, common landshells in the north of Europe, and asked whether any correspondent could suggest where ‘the Zua can have been found by the storm in sufficient quantity?’ (p. 710). CD had misread the correspondent’s name as ‘C. of Winchester’.
Following CD’s letter, the editor of the Gardeners’ Chronicle added: ‘The Zua was very obligingly identified by Dr. Baird of the British Museum. Our correspondent’s name is C. Winchester; he is the intelligent foreman in the Royal Gardens at Osborne, and will, we hope, furnish the additional information asked for.’ (Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, no. 44, 3 November 1855, pp. 726–7). Winchester replied to CD’s questions in Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, no. 45, 10 November 1855, p. 743. He explained that many of the snails were alive, the area covered was at least 400 square yards, and the specimens were all identical. His information had come from a lady of Queen Victoria’s court and was recognised as being not fully satisfactory, but he hoped to learn more when the court returned to Osborne. In Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, no. 46, 17 November 1855, p. 758, the naturalist Charles Robert Bree ridiculed the idea of a shower of shells and suggested that Winchester’s informant had seen only hungry snails brought out en masse by the rainy weather. Bree applauded CD for his ‘laudable desire to elicit truth’. Winchester defended himself (ibid., no. 48, 1 December 1855, p. 789) and his injured tone elicited an apology from Bree (ibid., no. 50, 15 December 1855, pp. 821–2). Bree, however, maintained that Winchester was probably mistaken, a view that was endorsed in the editorial column in the same issue (ibid., no. 50, 15 December 1855, pp. 819–20).


CD requests further details about a rain of shells on the Isle of Wight reported by a Gardeners’ Chronicle correspondent.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Gardeners’ Chronicle
Sent from
Source of text
Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, no. 44, 3 November 1855, p. 726

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1771,” accessed on 19 September 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5