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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Blyth   8 January [1856]1


Jany. 8/55—

My dear Sir,

I have two letters of yours to answer, respectively dated Novr. 5th & 22nd2 but I have already penned three sheets of “Notes for Mr. D.” & I have also an interesting notice for you of wild humped cattle in S. India,3 —and finally a few queries for Mr. Moore, (Dr. Horsfield’s assistant in the India house).4 Will you kindly send to him the scrap of paper containing these last, and ask him to let me have the replies as soon as ever he conveniently can. Tell him that I am greatly obliged to him for his commn. about the Finches, &c; and that I will write to him by an early opportunity. My paper on Orangs is out, but I cannot send it to you by this mail;5 and also 2 papers of mine in the ‘Calcutta Sporting Review’, respectively on Asiatic Lions & wild Asses. These I recommend to your attention, but can only send you the first; so apply for the number to Lepage & Co, the London publishers,—no 44, for Decr. 1855.6 I am preparing several elaborate articles for this work, & have just sent one in on the Tiger; & I am writing also the gallinaceous tribes of India, which will probably furnish 3 or 4 articles. So I think you will not be disappointed if you take this Review henceforth. I get tolerably well paid for these articles, & therefore send them to this ‘Sporting Review’; but I endeavour to make them suggestive, & they may be the means of eliciting no small amount of information from the more observant of Indian sportsmen.

Now for your letters. Many thanks for your kind endeavours to procure specimens of the British Crustacea. Horns. Those of Red Deer are what I most want, & if on the skull or frontlet, of course so much the better; but unless fine specimens with branching ‘crown’, they are scarcely worth sending. Good Fallow-Deer frontlets would also be acceptable; and I should like a good pair of horns of C. virginianus, should such be procurable.

You have evidently quite misunderstood me about Treron and Coracias. Different species of Treron seem to interbreed, & ditto Coracias; but not Treron with Coracias!7 That would, indeed, be “an astounding fact”. I will treat further on this subject when I have got through the rest of your letters. My friend Bashford has recently returned to Bengal, & to his silk factory.8 You are doubtless right about the attitudes assumed by insects, spiders, &c, when shamming; not so, however, with beasts & birds when pulled about, & “possuming”!9 I cannot recollect where I met with that anecdote about the cattle near a railway; but think it was in the London Athenæum, in the review of some continental tourist’s work. No! I seem to fancy that it was headed ‘Communication of ideas among animals,’ or some such title; & it appeared probably in the Illustrated News, 3 or 4 years ago, & was certainly quoted from the work of some tourist in Germany. I am extremely sorry now that I did not note down the authority.10 You mention a breed of cattle “of American origin almost certainly, but I cannot make out the name—‘Niata’, it looks like.— 11

There is a Chinese breed of silky fowls, with white feathers & black skin (& periostæum of course); and also a Malayan race of silky fowls with white skin & feathers. The latter has the ordinary comb & wattles; but the other is a most singular bird about the head, having (as near as I can remember) an even comb as if cut, & no lateral wattles (as usual), but a tumid throat, with much blue about the naked skin of the face. A friend of mine here received a pair, which were presented to him as Eagles! The hen soon died, but the cock became the sire of some chicken by a Chittagong hen, which showed scarcely any trace of the peculiarities of their dad! I can send you the skin of a youngish cock of this mixed race. Our other black-skinned hens have nought else remarkable about them than the melanism of the skin, comb, &c Those you speak of, in England, “with hair-like feathers”, are probably some intermixture, perhaps of the Chinese silky fowl with black-skinned ordinary fowls. Vide Griffiths edition of the ‘animal Kingdom’ VIII, 222, for notice of black-skinned fowls in S. America, by Azara!12 Also feral, in p. 177!—13 I doubt much any breed of Canaries having intermixture of Siskin blood. Look to shape of beak, & length of tail. All domestic Canaries, so far as I know, remain quite true to the particular African type, exemplified by certain species which Ruppell refers to Serinus. His S. melanocephalus for instance.14 I much wish that you could get hold of & study the true wild Canary, & note its song; coloured figures of a pair of them are worthy of publication in your forthcoming work. The song of a Siskin-hybrid would, for certain, be much modified: & how curious it is that the Goldfinch and other mules should have even the song intermediate! There are some ten or a dozen species of true Siskin in both Americas; one only of which (Stanleyi) resembles the Himalayan spinoides by its thicker bill; & the Pr. of Canino makes a particular division of these two.—15

Camels. Those which I referred to as having bred in the Z. Gardens, were (both parents) of the large dark-coloured & 1-humped breed, known as the Armenian or Caramanian Camel, and which is stated by every author to be a mixed breed between the 1-humped & the 2-humped. Vide my note, in J. As. B. XV, 162, (to which I referred you before,)16 also Hutton’s remarks there,17 & Chesney, ‘Jl of Euphrates Expedition’, I, 582 & 82.18 In Hutton’s Scripture Geology book, he figures the 2-humped Camel pale;19 it is usually dark-coloured, & the 1-humped is always pale in India. The reference you cannot make out—“Bur—?” must be Burckhardt, ‘Travels in Nubia’, p. 222; but see my note as above.—20

The Jumni Pari Goat = the Syrian, a very remarkable race with long legs and excessively elongated pendent ears.— Have not all domestic Cats a very slight Lyncine tuft on the ears? As for the marks on Donkey’s legs, I have sufficiently gone into this subject in my paper on Wild Asses, to which I therefore refer you.21 I do not think that the stripes imply Zebra intermixture, but are merely what we see in so very many instances in various classes, of markings (often strongly pronounced) in the young, which disappear more or less in adults. Vide Lion & Puma cubs, reptiles innumerable, very many fish also (as the young of Salmonidæ), &c &c &c. Are not some caterpillars even more intensely marked and coloured when small? Some of your other queries I have noticed by anticipation in my ‘notes for Mr. Darwin’.22 The rest when I can manage it.

Yours truly ever | E. Blyth.

P.S. Coracias, 3 Indian species,—garrula in the N.W. only,— indica throughout India, replaced E. of the Bay by affinis. The 2 last interbreed, & shew every possible intermediate gradation, i.e. where they come into contact,—each race remaining pure in its proper region. Whether C. garrula & indica also interbreed, I am unaware.

Treron. 3 yellow-footed races,—chlorigaster in the Indian peninsula & Ceylon,— phœnicoptera in Bengal & all Upper India,—& viridifrons in Burma. The first and second seem to intergrade where they come in contact.23

Turtur suratensis of India & T. tigrina of the Malay countries, do. N.B. The latter is distinct from chinensis, with which the Pr. of Canino seems to confound it.24 But the Columbidæ present very numerous cases of species of different regions barely separable,—or what many would call distinct local races of the same species, but there is no knowing where to stop when this principle is once admitted. The C. livia group affords one instance out of very many: still I cannot help thinking that Carpophaga œnea of the Nicobars, as compared with œnea of all the surrounding countries, is just such a local race as Lagopus scoticus & Lepus hibernicus, which I have treated of in my ‘notes for Mr. D.’ now forwarded.

The Scandinavian Bottletit has no markings on the head; & compare, if you can, other Scandinavian Tits with British specimens.

For hybrid Kallij Pheasants, & the intermediate races, vide J. As. B. XVII, 694. 25

For representative species or races, differing only in certain details of colouring,—& which are never found in the intermediate country,—cite Mustela Gwatkinsii of the Nilgiris,—M. flavigula of the entire Himalaya & even Arakan Mountains,—& M. ——? (hitherto flavigula, var.,) of the Malayan peninsula.

The Mydaus meliceps thus occurs in Java, only on certain elevated table-lands, & never in the intermediate country; & the species seems absolutely the same in the Malayan peninsula! See Horsfield’s Zool. Res. in Java.26

Have you studied Corse’s paper on the Indian Elephant & its varieties in the Asc. Researches?27

The groups exemplified by Sciurus maximus & Pteromys petaurista are especial puzzles, as to what are to be considered species & what varieties!

Now for another matter. Is not the Kual-Kole (however should it be spelt?) or ‘turnip-rooted Cabbage’ quite a modern variety? Originating I think in S. Africa, famous for fat-rumped sheep & Hottentots, & to which the broad-sterned Dutch race have taken kindly! No particular analogy, but the Cape climate is likely to have originated the Kual Kole 28


Notes for Mr. Darwin.

Distribution of domesticated Cairina moschata. In Crawfurd’s ‘Mission to Siam & Cochinchina’ (A.D. 1821), p. 434, we read— “The Muscovy Duck (Anas moschata), now very generally found throughout the east, although a native of America, is bred in small numbers about Bangkok. Its name Pet Manilla, or the ‘Duck of Manilla’, indicates the direction from whence it reached the country”.—29 N.B. In enumerating the domestic animals derived from America, do not omit the Musk Duck.

Gosse, I see, in his ‘Birds of Jamaica’, has a note about the Spaniards having derived the domestic Turkey from the Antilles, & argues that the species was probably found there wild of yore.—30 See his remarks on the Guinea-fowl, which abounds wild in Jamaica, & has done so for more than 150 years!31 Yet Edwards, in his ‘Birds’ (not a century ago), Vol VII, p. 269, Volume dated 1764, states that when he was a boy, the ‘Guiney-hens’ were shewn as rarities in England; but that now they were commonly bred all over the country, & already exhibited the full amount of variation attained up to this present time (1856). Those first brought, says he, were all of the wild colour! Now their variation corresponds to that of the Pheasant, white, partially white, or pale—the ‘Bohemian Pheasant’ of the dealers. 32

I have been investigating the history of domestic Guinea-fowl, & come to sundry conclusions.— Firstly, our race is not descended from the Roman, inasmuch as it is clear to me that the Meleagris of the Romans (& doubtless of Aristotle) is the E. African bird, N. ptilorhyncha, Lichtenstein; an inhabitant of Abyssinia, Sennar, & Kordofan, which might have been received through Nubia;—& query, is (or was) there not confusion between the names Nubia & Numidia, when the latin authors termed it the Numida or Numidian fowl instead of Nubian? There are none in Barbary! Now the often quoted passage from Columella, which it has been thought indicates that 2 species were known to the Romans, appears to me to refer to the two sexes of Ph. ptilorhyncha!  And the words “paleam et cristam” will apply to ptilorhyncha, & not to the modernly termed N. meleagris;33 the former having a hairy frontal crest additional to the bony coronal peak,—& the latter not a trace of such crest! Then the very name Guinea-fowl indicates the immediate source of the modernly domesticated species, which is widely diffused over W. Africa Such name would never have been attached to it, if we had derived our bird from the old Roman stock, prior to the opening of the modern Guinea trade!; & a friend tells me that he had always understood that our bird was first introduced into Europe by the famous Prince John of Portugal,—34 nothing more likely; but there were probably many importations, in Britain & elsewhere, & those which have gone wild in the Antilles may have been taken direct from Africa in the slower ships, & at all events must originally have been the near descendants of wild-caught African birds, as uncontaminated by farm-yard influences as the English Pheasants and Partridges which are now fast multiplying in N. Zealand. Indeed, considering that they are enumerated among the wild game of Jamaica 150 years ago, it may even be that they were taken there in the slavers, and introduced from the W. Indies into England! Nevertheless, Latham describes the “white-breasted Guinea-fowl from Jamaica,”, which shews that particoloured birds occur (or did occur) there.35 Ask Gosse about this.36 I find that Buffon has anticipated me a good deal,37 but I think that I now first prove the Roman meleagris to have been the ptilorhyncha, & therefore impossible to have been the progenitors of our “Guinea”-fowl, which must date from the opening of the modern trade with the W. Coast of Africa. Referring to the Encyclopædia Brittanica on the subject, I see it remarked that Pennant seems to prove that there were domestic Guineafowl in England so early as the 13th. century! “At least prior to 1277”!!! Unfortunately I have not Pennant to refer to, so you must see to this!38 A third species of Guinea-fowl with the bony coronal knob is that of S. Africa & also Madagascar, N. mitrata, which instead of the lateral wattles has a sort of medial throat-wattle not unlike that of a Turkey; & there are two species without the knob—cristata & vulturina—& probably more remain to be discovered.— There is one (perhaps ptilorhyncha) in Arabia, vide Niebuhr, Descr. de l’Arabie, I, 234.39

I think it is a common notion that Alexander introduced the Peafowl from India into Greece; but how about Juno & her emblem the Peacock! Aristophanes also Long enough before, to say nought of King Solomon’s merchants bringing ‘Apes and Peacocks’. By the way, the Cape Dutchmen call the large Bustards by the name ‘Pauw’, which has given rise to the stories about wild Peafowl in Africa; and the Levantine Europeans call the Bustard the “wild Turkey”, which has similarly originated the notion of ‘wild Turkeys’ inhabiting Syria. The Dutch name perhaps hints the old Roman pronunciation of the word Pavo, imitative of the cry of the bird! How came we by the name Turkey?; surely not because the strut recals to mind the haughtiness of the “grand Turk”! A queer conceit, rather! In the narrative of a sporting excursion in China, I saw an undescribed species of Bustard (clearly), frequently denominated “wild Turkey”.— As Otis tarda abounds in Syria (in the dominions of the Grand Turk), could it even have been known, to the Crusaders for instance, as the Turkey-fowl, or Turkey-cock? If so, the name might well have passed to the American Dindons!

Another word about Guinea-fowl. What Gosse remarks of their power of flight does not accord with my observation;40 for I have seen a covey rise in England from the midst of a stubble-field, as strongly as any Partridges; nor are they worse organized for flight than the generality of other Partridges (for a group of Partridges they undoubtedly are); & looking to the skeleton, I find that the sternal crest is even considerably deeper, & the inner emargination of the sternum much more filled up, than in other typical poultry birds, as Pheasants, Partridges, &c &c.

On the subject of permanent varieties, I very much incline to the opinion that the Lepus hibernicus is a permanently coloured variety of L. variabilis; and Lagopus scoticus ditto of L. albus (et lapponicus, Gm., subalpinus, Nilsson, and saliceti, Tem.) Otherwise, is it not remarkable that the Variable Hare should not occur on the Irish mountains; nor L. albus in Scotland? Both having so very extensive a distribution elsewhere!41 But then L. timidus has only recently been introduced into Ireland; and if I remember rightly, the Squirrel, Dormouse, & Mole are unknown there! Still it is most particularly worthy of notice that hibernicus should represent variabilis, & scoticus represent albus! Is it true that there is a difference in the colour of the flesh of the Irish & Alpine Hares? That of the former being dark, as in L. timidus; and of the other white, as in a Rabbit? See also to the so called Perdix montana (Tetrao montanus, Gm.), which I believe is a mere variety of the cinerea; but is it true to its particular distinctions? Hodgson has lately picked up a true congener to the English Grey Partridge, in a much finer bird received from Tibet, to which (more suo), of course, he gives a new generic name.— 42 I have been working much at the gallinaceous order lately, and consider the Ammoperdix type (of Afghanistan, Persia, & Arabia,) to come nearest to true Perdix, & to be intermediate to this and the Caccabis or red-legged group: & of this last, you should endeavour to find whether the Himalayan Chukar does not grade imperceptibly into the C. græca of the Alps, Pyrenees, Greece, Syria, &c. I much suspect that it does so; & after all, the difference is very slight indeed, between the eastern & western birds. The chukar has a wide range over central Asia; & Ruppell notes it from Mt. Sinai, calling it “græca, of the variety figured by Hardwicke”!43

See also to intermixture of Phasianus colchicus & Ph. torquatus in the British islands. If you see rows of Pheasants hanging up at the poulterers, you will always find green predominate upon the rumps of the cock-birds which have any white feathers about the collar; and coppery-red on the rumps of those which have no trace of the white collar— This I have often remarked in the London-markets. There is considerable difference in the markings of the typical English bird (without the white collar), and true torquatus of China; especially on the breast-feathers (vide samples);44 the flanks of the Chinese bird are much paler and contrasting; and the tail is shorter, with the bars on it very much broader. Now I have some considerable suspicion that the European Pheasant is, after all, indigenous; & some time ago met with a notice of it in the Anglo-Saxon times in England(!), which I must endeavour to hunt up. This, however, is consistent with Roman agency! Moreover I suspect that the Colchian (i.e. Mingralian) bird, which (I suppose is the one that) abounds along the wooded Elbury chain (which skirts the S. extremity of the Caspian),—i.e. Hyrcania of old, renowned for its Tigers (which still exist there),—wants looking to. I have seen a hen bird in the masculine plumage from the vicinity of Herát! And from peculiarities about this specimen suspect that it is not of the European species, however nearly affined! Has not Gould obtained such a Pheasant from Káfferistán or thereabouts?45 Enquire about this. For some notice of the region inhabited by this Pheasant, refer to A. Conolly’s Journey, Vol I, 289.46 My impression is, that the true or unmixed British Pheasant will prove to be more nearly affined to the Chinese torquatus, than is that of middle Asia! But even if so, which is the Hyrcanian & the true Colchian Pheasant? And is the British species indigenous?

Now for an etymological argument, however! The words Phasianus & Pheasant, or ‘Faisan’, are redolent of the name Phasis, on the banks of which river the bird is said to have been originally found!

For information on the breeds of Indian cattle, vide ‘Transactions of the Agricultural & Hortl Socy. of India’, VII, 112.—47 The fera humped cattle of Oudh are noticed by Cautley in the Journ. As. Soc. B. 1840, 623;48 & again by Dr. Butter, in his ‘Outlines of the Topography & Statistics of the Southern districts of Oudh’, &c, p. 29.—49 These works you will see at the India-house Library. I have learned that there are some feral cattle also in S. India, which tradition dates from the time of Tippoo Sultán! But correctly so? These, I hear, are uniformly coloured, brown; & I am promised some details respecting them which I have now the pleasure to send you.—50

A letter just recd. from Sir J. Brooke informs me that— “The wild cattle are here (in Borneo) called Tabadan; & it is the Banteng (so far as I know) of Java and the peninsula. The Burmese species I remember to have seen many many years ago, & that is very similar. But there are, it is affirmed, two species in the peninsula of Malacca, one much larger than the other.”—51 True, & the larger is Bos gaurus; but is the smaller B. sondaicus? I am not quite satisfied that it is so; & the Bantengs are termed ‘Báli cattle’ at Singapore.

I believe that I have now hit upon the true origin of the name ‘Turkey’, as applied to the bird; my former suggestion being considerably more plausible than probable. The Guinea-fowl appears to have been denominated the ‘Turkey hen’ in former days; and as the Portugueese discoveries along the W. coast of Africa preceded those of the Spaniards in America, there is reason to believe that our British ancestors became acquainted with the Guinea-fowl long prior to their knowledge of the Turkey; and the English trade being then chiefly with the Levantine countries, our ancestors must have fancied that it came from thence. Referring to a curious old Dictionary in my possession (published in 1678) for the word Meleagris, I find it translated “a Guinny or Turkey hen”.— “Gallinæ Africanæ sive Numidicæ, Var. sive quæ vulgò indicæ”.52 Again, Numidica guttata (Martial) is rendered “a Ginny or Turky hen”. Looking also into an English and Spanish Dictionary of 1740, I find Gallipavo rendered “a Turkey or Guinea Cock or Hen”. Well, our British forefathers must have derived the Turkey probably from Spain, or France (certainly not direct from America); and meanwhile have learned the true habitat of the Guinea-fowl; and therefore have supposed the former to be the true Turkey fowl, as distinguished from the Guinea-fowl,—the latter bearing both names previously. In France it was le coq d’Inde, now corrupted into Dindon, from a similar mistake In 1764, Edwards figures the Australian Talegalla as “the Turkey-Pheasant, or Phaisan-Dindon”!;53 and the latin-sounding name Gallipavo seems to be of Spanish origin, and obtains among the Spaniards to this day.— I don’t know whether I ever mentioned to you another curious derivation which I traced some years ago. Poor Strickland asked me if I knew the origin of the name Amadavat, applied to the little eastern Finch which you so often see alive in England, & which has regularly gone wild in Malta. In Sheridan’s ‘School for Scandal’ (Act V, Sc. 1), brought out in 1777, “amadavats” are more than once mentioned! They actually take the name from the city of Ahmadabád in Guzerat! Vide the following passage from “a New Account of East India and Persia”, by John Fryer, M.D., Cantabrig. (1698). Among other natural curiosities brought to Surat, were—“Milk-white Turtles from Bussorah, Cockatooas, and Newries (Lewries or Lories, commonly pronounced Loories), as also a Cassowar that digests iron. From Amidavad small birds, who, besides that they are spotted with white and red no bigger than measles, the principal chorister beginning, the rest in concert, fifty in a cage, make an admirable chorus”. Thus the name of the place from which they were brought to Surat, has become transferred to themselves; as in the more familiar instances of Bantam & Canary, and Turkey by mistake! While the specific name amandava, L., and the generic name Amadina, Swainson, are further derivations from the same source!!! I have a sort of impression that I have told you about this before;54 but n’importe, only it swells the postage.

Looking over some recent Nos. of the ‘Illustrated News’, in the Supplement to No. 769, I observed a representation of some paintings on the interior of a Greek tomb, & inter alia a cock’s head.55 Now I have a strong impression that all the antique representations of fowls which I have seen (Etruscan, Greek, & Roman) exemplify the same type, which comes near that of the wild bird; and so far as I have been able to trace, the Greeks and Romans had no marked races of fowls What breeds of fowls are there now in the ‘Isles of Greece’, especially in Cyprus, & in out-of-the-way parts of Turkey? The old Greek race is likely enough to have come down to us!! The history of which in Europe should therefore be sought during the middle ages. The Crested Polish seems to be of European origin.— Does the name ‘Polish’ refer to their crested polls? Oh! It is also a most noteworthy fact, that no satisfactory and certain notice of the domestic fowl occurs throughout the Old Testament! (Vide Dixon)56 Nor in Homer!! And it seems that Aristophanes termed it the Persian bird, thus indicating the direction from which it came to Greece. According to Chesney, (I, 82), there are Jungle-fowl in the eastern parts of Persia;57 but I doubt it. Domestic fowls have several Sungskrit names, & were formerly reared by Hindus!!! It is certain that Cæsar found them in Britain! And Cook and others in the S. Seas &c! You should con well old Aldrovand,58 to whom I have not access; and I will study Buffon, Bachart,59 &c & try to find out the earliest notices of the fowl in oriental works. I hear that Solomon’s “Peacocks” are probably a mistranslation, & that instead of ‘Apes & Peacocks’, two sorts of Apes are probably meant. See to this; & bear in mind Juno & her Peacocks! Aristophanes of course has the Peafowl!— I have been looking over Col. Chesney’s ‘Jl. of the Euphrates Expedition’, & have extracted therefrom its reliable Zoology. Curious that he should not have known the Flamingo! (Vide I, 732). 60 I recommend you to see what he says about Camels, in I, 582 et seq., & also 82;61 & you may also consult Niebuhr’s ‘Descr. de l’Arabie’, I, 582.62 Still only what I have told you before! Of the mammalia common to Asia & Africa, it is interesting to trace them through the intermediate country, as especially the Leopard, Hunting Leopard, & Caracal; but we hear nought of the Ratel! Humped cattle of small size in Arabia! (I, 586); & Buffalos wherever there is water (in that parched & riverless land!) ibid. Buffalos found in a wild state towards the shores of the Black Sea! (I, 362). Can these be of the distinct race now in Italy? And aboriginally wild? Wild Horses and Wild Asses in Arabia (p. 581); the former probably Ghorkhurs Termed Zebra by Kinnier. Fact! (vide p. 108, where the hemione is called “more properly the wild Horse”! If so, is the other the true Ass, with humeral cross? Perhaps!) Green Parrots common in Syria (I, 443, 537). Is then Palæornis torquatus identical, after all, on the two continents? “Phasianus colchicus & another” (Appendix, No 4). The Stag of the Taurus is doubtless the Persian Maral, & not the elaphus! And “further south the Fallow Deer, C. dama”!63

I have just seen Gould’s 2d. Supplementary No. to his ‘Birds of Australia’,64 & much wish that he would give us the rest of the birds of the N. Zealand group, & for that matter those of the S. S. islands generally, & also of N. Guinea, N. Ireland, &c, which lead on to the Moluccas. Those of the Philippes might do for a distinct work. How splendidly he would get up the Paradiseidæ! We have not even his ‘Birds of Asia’, which I often want to consult, & I have not seen the last 2 or 3 Nos.65 Now the Court of Directors subscribe for 40 copies, for distribution of course, & I wish you would mention this to Col. Sykes when you see him.66 Also try to induce Gould to go on with the ‘Birds of N. Zealand’.

Mem. The Arabs at Jiddha (or Jeudda, &c) not only eat Turkeys, but prize them very much. This too close upon Mecca! So, also, do the Egyptian Musalmans, in opposition to those of India.

CD annotations

0.1 Calcutta … tourist’s work. 3.9] crossed pencil
1.10 wild Asses] underl brown crayon
1.11 so apply … 1855. 1.12] scored brown crayon
1.12 no 44] underl brown crayon
3.1 You have … tourist’s work. 3.9] crossed brown crayon
3.13 You mention … looks like.— 3.15] crossed brown crayon
4.1 There is] ‘Fowls’ added brown crayon
4.1 There is … of tail. 4.16] scored brown crayon; ‘Fowlsadded brown crayon
4.19 & note … modified 4.21] ‘Canaries.added brown crayon
4.24 the Pr. of Canino … manage it. 6.11] scored brown crayon
8.1 the N.W… . separable,— 10.4] scored brown crayon; ‘Interbreeding’ added brown crayon
12.1 For hybrid … 694. 12.2] scored brown crayon; ‘10’67 added brown crayon
13.1 For representative … Mountains, 13.4] double scored brown crayon
14.1 The MydausJava. 14.3] double scored brown crayon
Top of first page: ‘(Fr. Moore Esqe)’pencil; ‘10’brown crayon
2.6 the ‘Guiney-hens’ … dealers. 2.11] scored brown crayon; ‘Consult Sloane’68 added pencil
2.10 ‘Bohemian Pheasant’] underl brown crayon
3.1 I have … crest! 3.13] ‘Guinea Fowl’added brown crayon
3.22 the English … N. Zealand. 3.23] double scored brown crayon
4.1 I think … Dindons! 4.15] ‘Peacocks Names’added brown crayon
6.1 On … varieties,] ‘10’ added brown crayon
6.1 On … montanus, Gm.), 6.12] scored brown crayon
6.1 On … Ireland; 6.6] double scored brown crayon
6.13 Hodgson … name.— 6.15] crossed brown crayon
7.1 Se also … islands. 7.2] double scored brown crayon
9.1 For information … 112.— 9.2] double scored brown crayon
9.5 I have … send you. 9.9] ‘Cattle’added brown crayon
11.1 I belive … postage. 11.39] crossed brown crayon
11.1 I believe … previously. 11.18] ‘Name of Turkeys’added brown crayon
11.25 which has … Malta.] underl brown crayon
11.25 In Sheridan’s … mistake! 11.36] ‘Names’added brown crayon
12.3 Now I have … us!! 12.9] double scored brown crayon
12.16 Domestic… Britain! 12.17] scored brown crayon
12.24 Curious … 732). 12.25] double scored brown crayon
13.1 I have … Zealand’. 13.9] crossed brown crayon
Top of first page: ‘Musk Duck’pencil


Although Blyth dated his letter 1855, this was clearly a mistake for 1856. The content of the letter indicates that it follows Blyth’s letters written in 1855 (see Correspondence vol. 5). CD’s numbering of Blyth’s letters (see CD’s annotations and n. 67, below) also indicate the letter was written in 1856.
CD began his correspondence with Blyth in 1855 (see Correspondence vol. 5), but none of the letters from CD to Blyth during the period that Blyth was curator of the museum of the Asiatic Society of Bengal has been found.
For Blyth’s notes, see the enclosure following this letter. For the notice of the wild cattle of India, see the letter from C. W. Crump to Edward Blyth, [before 8 January 1856].
Thomas Horsfield, keeper of the East India Company’s Museum, Leadenhall Street, London, was assisted by Frederic Moore. Moore published several papers in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London describing specimens in the museum. The part of Blyth’s letter directed to Moore was evidently sent on by CD. It has not been located.
Blyth 1855b (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [30 September or 7 October 1855] and nn. 27 and 28). A lightly annotated copy is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
It has not been possible to locate the Calcutta Sporting Review. None of the papers referred to by Blyth as having been published in this periodical are in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
F. Bashford had earlier sent information on the interbreeding of different races of silkworms to Blyth for CD (Correspondence vol. 5, letter from F. Bashford and Edward Blyth, [after 3 July 1855]). Bashford had been in England since 3 July 1855.
Blyth had written a paper on the counterfeiting of death by animals wishing to escape danger (Blyth 1837). See Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [22 September 1855] and n. 19.
Blyth mentioned this anecdote in a previous letter (Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [22 September 1855]). The article has not been located in the London Illustrated News.
‘Niata’ oxen, a South American breed of cattle with a curious skull formation. CD later described this ‘monstrous breed’ in Variation 1: 89–91.
E. Griffith et al. 1827–35, 8: 222: M. d’Azara, in his essays on the natural history of the quadrupeds of Paraguay [Azara 1801], says … at Buenos Ayres, and in the range of the Andes, there are also hens, whose feathers, feet, crest, barbs, and skin, are black … It is singular that no mention is made of these birds in M. d’Azara’s book on the ornithology of those countries. In Variation 2: 209, CD referred to Azara 1801, 2: 324, on the black-skinned fowl of Paraguay. This book is in the Darwin Library–CUL and was annotated by CD.
E. Griffith et al. 1827–35, 8: 177.
The reference to Serinus melanocephalus has not been found in any work by Wilhelm Peter Eduard Simon Rüppell.
Bonaparte 1850–7, 1: 514–15, describes Chrysomitris spinoides of Asia and C. stanleyi of America as closely related species.
See Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [22 September 1855], n. 37. The reference is to Hutton 1846 (p. 162 n. 60) for which Blyth provided the footnotes.
Hutton 1846, pp. 162–8.
In Chesney 1850, 1: 582–4, Francis Rawdon Chesney described various kinds of camels and dromedaries, including ‘a mule breed between [the Bactrian camel] and the Arabian animal, with a hump which can neither be called single nor double … This is a large, useful, and highly prized animal … but the creature is short-lived, and the Arabs do not breed from him; giving as a reason, that the progeny are intractable, and bad-tempered.’ (p. 584). On p. 82, Chesney mentioned a ‘mule breed [of camel], between the Arabian and Bactrian, with a single hump, but much larger than that on the back of the former’.
The two-humped camel, Camelus bactrianus, is figured as the frontispiece of Hutton 1850. This work is in the Darwin Library–CUL and was annotated by CD.
In his reference to John Lewis Burckhardt’s ‘Travels in Nubia’ in Hutton 1846, p. 162 n. 60, Blyth gives page 232. The passage concerning camels, however, has not been located on page 232 or page 222 in either Burckhardt 1819 or Burckhardt 1822. However, Burckhardt 1830, 1: 195, states: ‘The Anatolian breed is produced between an Arab she-camel, and the double-humped male dromedary imported from the Crimea.’
In the Calcutta Sporting Review. See n. 6, above.
See the enclosure following this letter.
In his abstract of this letter (DAR 203), CD noted: ‘Last Page, important on varieties crossing when ranges meet.— Coracias, Treron.—’ CD used this information when writing his species book: ‘in India reputed species of Coracias, as I am informed by Mr. Blyth, intermix & blend on the confines of their range.’ (Natural selection, p. 259).
Bonaparte 1855a, p. 17.
Horsfield 1824: The Mydaus meliceps … is confined exclusively to those mountains which have an elevation of more than 7000 feet above the level of the ocean; on these it occurs with the same regularity as many plants. The long-extended surface of Java, abounding with conical points which exceed this elevation, affords many places favourable for its resort.
The only paper published by John Corse in the Asiatic Researches is devoted to describing the methods by which wild elephants are caught (Corse 1799a). It would appear that Blyth intended to refer to Corse 1799b in the Philosophical Transactions, to which he had earlier directed CD (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, [22 September 1855] and n. 53).
Blyth is presumably referring to the Kohlrabi or choux-raves. In Variation 1: 323, CD referred to the ‘recently formed new race of choux-raves … in which the enlarged part lies beneath the ground like a turnip.’
Crawfurd 1828, p. 434. Blyth’s date, 1821, is an error for 1828. CD had read Crawfurd 1828 in March 1844 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 119: 15b).
P. H. Gosse 1847, p. 329. Philip Henry Gosse stated that ‘the turkey is, as far as European knowledge is concerned, indigenous to the greater Antilles, having been found by the Spanish discoverers, already domesticated by the Indians’. He went on to maintain that ‘the European domestic breed is descended from West Indian, and not from North American parentage. This would perhaps tend to confirm, what has been suspected, that the domestic Turkey is specifically distinct from the wild Turkey of North America.’
P. H. Gosse 1847, pp. 325–7. Gosse began his discussion of the guinea-fowl by stating: ‘In a country whose genial climate so closely resembled its own … the well-known wandering propensities of the Guinea-fowl would no doubt cause it to become wild very soon after its introduction. It was abundant in Jamaica as a wild bird, 150 years ago’ (p. 325). In his reading notebook, CD noted: ‘Gosse Birds of Jamaica— account of wild Guinea Fowls— Cd he get specimen. read’, and he also recorded having read the work on 11 May 1856 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, *128: 161; 128: 18). He later used the information on wild guinea-fowls in Variation 1: 190 and 294, having obtained further information about Jamaican guinea-fowls from Richard Hill, Gosse’s collaborator (Variation 1: 294 nn. 43 and 44; see also letter from Richard Hill, 10 January [1857]).
Columella, De re rustica 8. 2. 2–3. Columella distinguished an African fowl, called ‘Numidian’ with a red helmet and crest, from ‘Meleagris’ with a blue helmet and crest. Blyth has mistakenly used palea (wattles) instead of galea (helmet) in quoting Columella.
During the reign of John I of Portugal (1357–1433), his son, Prince Henry ‘the navigator’, with other Portuguese navigators began exploring the area designated Guinea (EB).
Latham 1821–8, 8: 147. CD recorded having read volume eight ‘on Pigeons & Fowls’ in March 1856 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 16).
Gosse had lived in Jamaica and studied its fauna. See n. 31, above.
Buffon 1793, 2: 144–68.
Blyth has confused his sources. In The London encyclopaedia (London, 1829), 16: 16, it is stated that: ‘Mr. Pennant contends, and seems to prove, that the pintadoes had been early introduced into Britain, at least prior to 1277’. No such statement by Thomas Pennant has, however, been found.
P. H. Gosse 1847, pp. 326–7: ‘Flight cannot be protracted by them, nor is it trusted to as a means of escape, save to the extent of gaining the elevation of a tree: the body is too heavy, the wings too short and hollow, and the sternal apparatus too weak, for flight to be any other than a painful and laborious performance.’
In his abstract of this letter (DAR 203), CD here noted: ‘Quote Blyth on relation of range to question of Red Grouse being species.’ CD later stated in Origin, p. 49: Several most experienced ornithologists consider our British red grouse as only a strongly-marked race of a Norwegian species, whereas the greater number rank it as an undoubted species peculiar to Great Britain. A wide distance between the homes of two doubtful forms leads many naturalists to rank both as distinct species …
Rüppell 1845, p. 106, in which Rüppell recorded that the Chacura graeca‘varietas, Gray Indian Zoology Vol. I Taf. 54’ was found ‘paarweise am Sinai’. The reference is to J. E. Gray [1830–5], which was illustrated from the collection of Thomas Hardwicke.
Attached to the letter are two feathers, labelled ‘China’ and ‘English’, differing in their black, marginal markings. Next to the feather labelled ‘China’ Blyth has added, ‘The figure of this bird in Griffiths’ ’Animal Kingdom‘ is atrocious!’. See E. Griffith et al. 1827–35, 8, facing p. 232.
J. Gould 1850–83, 7: pl. 28, which figures ‘Pucrasia castanea, Kafiristan Pucras Pheasant’. This plate was first published in July 1854 in part 6 of The birds of Asia.
Conolly 1834, 1: 289, describes the country between Meshed and Heraut.
Little 1840, pp. 111–14.
Cautley 1840, p. 623: ‘the natives of Hindostan … have in their affection for the cow and ox, given rise to a race of wild cattle perfectly distinct from those of the forest… . in the province of Oude, large herds of black oxen are … found in the wild and uncultivated tracts’.
See letter from C. W. Crump to Edward Blyth, [before 8 January 1856].
James Brooke was raja of Saráwak, Borneo.
Edwards 1758–64, 3: pl. 337.
Blyth had indeed previously given this information to CD. See Correspondence vol. 5, letter from Edward Blyth, 4 August 1855. His references are to Sheridan 1781, act 5 scene 1, and Fryer 1698, p. 116.
Illustrated London News, 10 November 1855, p. 564, figures ‘Paintings on a Greek tomb lately found near Pæstum.’
Dixon 1848, pp. 173–4. ‘It is true that there is no mention of Fowls by name in the Old Testament, except a doubtful allusion in the Vulgate translation of the Book of Proverbs (xxx. 31), which is lost in the authorised version’ (p. 173).
Aldrovandi 1599–1603. CD recorded having read this work in March 1856 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 16).
Bochart 1675. Volume two of this work included Samuel Bochart’s Hierzoicon, which treated of the animals of Scripture and was first published in 1663. See also letter from Edward Blyth, [c. 22 March 1856] and n. 2.
Chesney 1850, 1: 731–2: ‘Description of the bird called … “The Magnanimous Bird.” ’
See n. 18, above.
Blyth has inadvertently repeated the page number of his previous reference. The correct reference is Niebuhr 1779, 1: 229–30.
All these references are to the first volume of Chesney 1850. The last reference to Cervus elaphus is in Chesney 1850, 1, appendix 3, p. 728.
The seven volumes of John Gould’s The birds of Australia had been issued in 1848 (J. Gould 1848). From this date, parts of a supplement to the work were published. The supplement was completed in 1869.
J. Gould 1850–83. By January 1856, seven parts of this work had been published.
William Henry Sykes was the chairman of the court of directors of the East India Company. The museum of the Asiatic Society of Bengal was under the jurisdiction of the company.
The brown crayon numbers that CD wrote on Blyth’s letters indicate their chronological sequence and relate to CD’s abstracts of the letters (DAR 203), which he also numbered.


Azara, Félix d’. 1801. Essais sur l’histoire naturelle des quadrupèdes de la province du Paraguay. 2 vols. Paris: Madame Huzard.

Bochart, Samuel. 1675. Opera omnia. 2 vols. Leiden.

Bonaparte, Charles Lucien. 1850–7. Conspectus generum avium. 2 vols. Leiden.

Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de. 1793. The natural history of birds. From the French of the Count de Buffon. Illustrated with engravings; and a preface, notes, and additions, by the translator. 9 vols. London.

Burckhardt, John Lewis. 1819. Travels in Nubia. London.

Burckhardt, John Lewis. 1822. Travels in Nubia. 2d ed. London.

Burckhardt, John Lewis. 1830. Notes on the Bedouins and Wahábys, collected during his travels in the east. 2 vols. London.

Butter, Donald. 1839. Outlines of the topography and statistics of the southern districts of Oud’h, and of the cantonment of Sultanpur-Oud’h. Calcutta.

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Chesney, Francis Rawdon. 1850. The expedition for the survey of the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. 2 vols. London.

Conolly, Arthur. 1834. Journey to the north of India, overland from England, through Russia, Persia, and Affghaunistaun. 2 vols. London.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Crawfurd, John. 1828. Journal of an embassy from the governor-general of India to the courts of Siam and Cochin China; exhibiting a view of the actual state of those kingdoms. London. [Reprint ed. with an introduction by D. K. Wyatt. Kuala Lumpur, London, and New York: Oxford University Press. 1967.]

Dixon, Edmund Saul. 1848. Ornamental and domestic poultry: their history and management. London: Office of the “Gardeners’ Chronicle”.

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

Edwards, George. 1758–64. Gleanings of natural history, exhibiting figures of quadrupeds, birds, insects, plants, &c. Most of which have not, till now, been either figured or described. 3 pts. London.

Fryer, John. 1698. A new account of East-India and Persia, in eight letters. Being nine years travels, begun 1672, and finished 1681. London. Reprint edited by W. Crooke. 2 vols. London: Hakluyt Society. 1909–12. [Vols. 5,6]

Gosse, Philip Henry. 1847. The birds of Jamaica. London: John Van Voorst.

Gould, John. 1850–83. The birds of Asia. 7 vols. London.

Gray, John Edward. [1830–5.] Illustrations of Indian zoology; chiefly selected from the collection of Majorgeneral Hardwicke. 2 vols. London.

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Encloses "notes for Mr. D" [see 1818] and a memorandum on the wild cattle of southern India [see 1819].

Breeds of silky fowl of China and Malaya. Black-skinned fowl.

Doubts any breed of canary has siskin blood; all remain true to their type.

Wild canary and finch hybrids.

Hybrids between one- and two-humped camels.

Does not regard zebra markings on asses as an indication of interbreeding but as one of the many instances of markings in the young which more or less disappear in the adult.

Crossing of Coracias species at the edges of their ranges.

Regional variations and intergrading between species of pigeons.

Regards the differences in Treron as specific [see Natural selection, p. 115 n. 1].

Gives other instances of representative species or races differing only in certain details of colouring.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edward Blyth
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 98: A110–13, A117–21
Physical description
6pp † encl Amem 12pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1817,” accessed on 1 December 2021,

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