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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Thomas Vernon   Wollaston [February 1856]1

–left Funchal, & too late for me to procure another pair (of really wild ones) alive,—sic transit gloria mundi!—

I was very much vexed about this; however it could not be helped, & I have put them (being full grown) into spirits (along with the other pair, which were shot for me by a friend), & I trust that they will not be altogether useless to you.2 I was sorry that I was not able to get even the others prepared, after all: so that everything I have for you is in pickle. The brace of Po. So. rabbits (+ an eel,—Mr. Lowe’s offering to you, though in reality found by me in a stream in Po. So., I having given it to him)3 are in a small cask; &, in addition to these, I have got you a bottle of Frogs (from Madeira proper, & which have been introduced into the island within 50 years, though whether from the Canaries or England appears to be doubtful,—a point however which the species will probably prove), which have increased so prodigiously of late years as to have become a literal nuisance. I do not know whether they will be of any use to you; but as I remember your remark aboutthe general absence of the Frog family (as however aborigines, I am aware) inislands far removed in the oceans, I thought perhaps you might like to have some.—4 If you will kindly tell me how I am to forward the cask & bottles to you, I will

CD annotations

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Top of last page: ‘19’5 brown crayon, circled brown crayon


The date is conjectured from the recent return of Wollaston from a seven-month visit to Madeira and from a letter written by Charles Lyell, 19 February 1856, mentioning that he had recently met Wollaston (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 208–9).
In his chapter on domestic rabbits in Variation, CD devoted several pages to the discussion of the feral rabbits of Porto Santo, Madeira. He stated that ‘Mr. Wollaston, at my request, brought home two of these feral rabbits in spirits of wine’ (Variation 1: 113). The rabbits of Porto Santo were known to be descended from those put ashore in 1418 or 1419 from a Portuguese ship. Since their introduction they had varied so greatly from the common European rabbit that they would have been ranked as a distinct species had their history not been known (see Variation 1: 112–15). CD had sent Wollaston a long list of queries concerning the natural history of Madeira early in 1855 (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter from T. V. Wollaston, 2 March [1855]).
Richard Thomas Lowe, rector of Lea, Yorkshire, was a friend of Wollaston’s and the two made frequent trips to Madeira. Lowe had been chaplain on Madeira, 1832–52, during which time he had become an expert on its natural history. See letter from R. T. Lowe, 12 April 1856.
In the notes which Charles Lyell made of a conversation with CD on 13 April 1856 during a visit to Down, he wrote: ‘Frogs are not found in volcanic islands. Even New Zealand only provides one species lately discovered in island & Darwin finds frogs’ spawn to be very easily killed by salt water.’ (Wilson ed. 1970, p. 53). See also Correspondence vol. 5, letter to J. D. Hooker, 10 June [1855].
The number of CD’s portfolio of notes on the geographical distribution of animals.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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


Sends Madeira specimens, including frogs recently introduced into the island, and flourishing.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Vernon Wollaston
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 205.3: 299
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1806,” accessed on 20 November 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6