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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. R. Waterhouse   2 August 1858

British Museum

August 2d. 1858

My dear Darwin

Do you see the Zoologist?—in the last part in the proceedg part is printed my few observations on Bees’ cells.1 I have just seen that Mr. Tegetmeier gave an account of some experiments made by him “with the view of ascertaining whether the cells of the Hive-bee were formed hexagonally, or whether such form was the result of lateral pressure”—2 Dr. Gray contended that the lateral pressure theory was the true one. Mr. Smith didn’t believe it3—he had failed in producing hexagons out of cylinders formed of paper pasted together &c!! That a reasoning being should go to work to make experiments to ascertain such a fact, is rather strange to me, & that, with his experiment he should arrive at the wrong conclusion is not strange— Smith then goes into the subject of the wasp’s nest, & what is rather remarkable he makes no mention whatever of my remarks on the same subject, although I have repeatedly explained my views to him & he was present at the society when they were made, & moreover he has them in print—4 I don’t think he quite understands what we are about!—

Lastly I wish to ask you whether you are aware that Lord Brougham has communicated a paper on The Structure of Bees’ cells to the French academy, with the view, as I learn, of showing what errors Naturalists & Mathematicians have fallen into with regard to this subject—5 I shall be curious to see the paper! I am also anxious to hear what your views are coming to—

I have just come back from Germany having been sent to Stuttgart by the Museum authorities to examine & report upon, a collection of Fossils offered to us—6 as a considerable portion of the collection, however, was at Stockach a small village near Lake Constance7 I had to extend my journey to the extreme South of Germany & had two voyages on the Beautiful Lake Constance at which I was immensely delighted— on my way home I thought I would do a little travelling on my own account, so when I got back as far as Frankfort I started off to Berlin, and there I remained 4 or 5 days— from Berlin I came straight home without stopping (excepting 4 hours or so at Ostend because the wind was blowing great guns & the vessel didn’t like to put to sea—we had a bit of a splash when we did) left Berlin on Saturday Evening at 612, arrived in London early on Monday morning & that’s pretty quick work—

I should be glad to hear that you are better than when I last saw you

faithfully Yours | Geo. R. Waterhouse

P.S. I do not know exactly how Tegetmeier performed his experiments—he offered to make an experiment for me, but it does not appear that he has done what I wanted, viz to give the Bees a mass of wax to work in & to stick little wooden pegs in it so near together that 2 bees could not work together in the interspaces—


The passage ‘in the proceedg part … cells.’ was added in the margin with its position indicated in the text. Waterhouse’s remarks on bees’ cells were printed in the Zoologist 16 (1858): 6076–77, in a report on a meeting of the Entomological Society held on 5 April 1858. See also letter from G. R. Waterhouse, 17 April 1858.
The Zoologist 16 (1858): 6185–90 gave an account of the meeting of the Entomological Society on5 July 1858 at which William Bernhard Tegetmeier had explained his views on the construction of bees’ cells (see letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 8 [June 1858]). Tegetmeier’s report formed the basis of a paper delivered at the 1858 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Tegetmeier 1858b).
John Edward Gray’s and Frederick Smith’s comments on Tegetmeier’s paper were reported inthe Zoologist (see n. 2, above) and also in the Transactions of the Entomological Society of London n.s. 5 (1858–61), Proceedings, pp. 34–5.
Waterhouse had discussed the probable formation of bees’ and wasps’ cells at a meeting of the Entomological Society on 5 April 1858 (see n. 1, above). The printed account of his views to whichhe refers is [Waterhouse] 1835. At a meeting of the society on 4 October 1858, Smith challenged Waterhouse’s theory on the grounds that the heads of many bees and wasps were too big to get inside the cell for excavation purposes (see Transactions of the Entomological Society of London n.s. 5 (1858–61), Proceedings, p. 41).
Possibly the large collection of Cretaceous and Tertiary fossils purchased from August Eduard Brückmann in 1858. Brückmann’s collection was drawn from deposits in Switzerland and the adjoining part of Germany (British Museum (Natural History) 1904–6, 1: 214). Waterhouse was keeper of the museum’s geological collections.
The passage ‘a small village near Lake Constance’ was added at the foot of the page with its position indicated in the text.


British Museum (Natural History). 1904–6. The history of the collections contained in the natural history departments of the British Museum. 2 vols. London: the Trustees.

Brougham, Henry Peter. 1858. Recherches analytiques et expérimentales sur les alvéoles des abeilles. Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences 46: 1024–9.

[Waterhouse, George Robert.] 1835. Bee. In The penny cyclopædia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, edited by Charles Knight, vol. 4, pp. 149–56. London: Charles Knight.


Bees’ cells; is the hexagonal shape deliberate or merely the result of lateral pressure on cylinders?

Letter details

Letter no.
George Robert Waterhouse
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
British Museum
Source of text
DAR 181: 26
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2317,” accessed on 13 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7