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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Laurence Edmondston   3 May [1856]1

Down Bromley Kent

May 3d.

Dear Sir

I beg to thank very truly for your kind & very interesting answer to my queries.— The fact, which you communicate to me of a cock Rock Pigeon, having come to your Dove Cot & paired with a domestic Bird is of value to me.—2 I had fancied from the several statements in poor Mr. Macgillvray’s work vol I p. 378 etc,3 that the taming of the Rock Dove was a much commoner event than it appears to be. Mr James Barclay certainly seems to believe that they have paired & bred in domestication.4 If you should ever hear of any cases, I shd. be extremely much obliged if you would kindly take the trouble to inform me.

I am making a collection of skeletons of all the domestic kinds of Pigeons, but I have failed in getting a real wild adult Rock Dove. Should you think me very unreasonable to beg you to do me the great favour to send one, in strong paper, or light Box per post: but I ask this on one condition that you will permit me to return you the 3s or 4s worth of Stamps. This would be a real assistance for I would skin it & keep skin with wing & leg on one side, & make skeleton of the rest.— To make the favour quite perfect, I shd. like just the head of a second specimen, as I cannot make skeleton & skin of this part from one specimen.—5 But I much fear that you will think me exorbitant in my request & that I trespass on your very kind offer of assistance.

I thank you for the information in regard to the drifted trees, it adds one more archipelago to my list.— If any fact should ever occur to you in regard even to any very slight variation or difference or Habits in regard to any of the domesticated animals of the Shetland Islds. I shd. be most grateful for the information.— I shd. very much like to hear whether the bones of any large quadrupeds have ever been found deep in the peat of the Shetlands; for I suppose Peat is dug.—

You ask about myself; I have devoted my whole life to do what little I could for our favourite pursuit of Natural History, & I volunteered my Services on board H.M.S. Beagle in her circumnavigation, & did my best during our long voyage of five years, & published an account of it.—

With my cordial thanks, pray believe me, my dear Sir, Yours’ truly obliged | Ch. Darwin


Dated on the basis of CD’s interest in acquiring skeletons of pigeons and other birds.
Cited in Variation 1: 185 n. 15.
In Variation 1: 185 n. 15, CD stated: ‘Mr. James Barclay and Mr. Smith of Uyea Sound, both say that the wild rock-pigeon can be easily tamed; and the former gentleman asserts that the tamed birds breed four times a year.’
Edmondston sent CD two wild rock-doves from the Shetlands (Variation 1: 134 n. 5). A drawing of one of them is in Variation 1: 135. See also letter to L. D. Edmondston, 11 September [1856].


Macgillivray, William. 1837–52. History of British birds, indigenous and migratory. 5 vols. London: Scott, Webster, and Geary; William S. Orr and Co.

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


Thanks for reply to queries.

Requests that a wild rock-pigeon be sent. Have they been domesticated as William Macgillivray says [History of British birds (1837) 1: 275–84; see also Variation 1: 185n.]?

Is rabbit wild in Shetlands?

LE’s information on drifted trees adds an archipelago to his list.

Requests information on variation in domesticated Shetland animals;

bones of large quadrupeds in peat.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Laurence Edmondston
Sent from
Source of text
L. D. Edmondston (private collection)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1867,” accessed on 18 January 2022,

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