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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William A. Wooler1   4 February 1861


4th Feby 61

Dear Sir

I have just recd. yours of the 2d. Inst and think it best to reply to it at once—2 I may say you are under no obligation as it affords me much pleasure when time permits to write on these subjects— I am sorry to inform you that the Rabbits I presented the Revd G P Wilkinson of Harperley Park3 are all dead—so my scheme there is frustrated— It is quite right as a general rule respecting all the young of the Himalaya being white & those of the Silver Greys Black—yet 5 years ago an odd young one of the Himalaya occasionally came slightly Grey but not so dark as the fur I sent you4   I have also found this colour is more prevalent in the autumn than any other part of the year but my observations have been to confined to warrant any thing like an assertion on this head— The pair of old Himalayas (bred from the Himalaya Doe & sandy Grey buck) produces more & darker ones than I ever bread before— I have from time to times sent short a/cs on this subject to the Gardeners Chronicle but altho I have a short paper ready have not sent it to complete these accounts   some years ago being very sceptical about these Rabbits being anything more than a variety I asked several times Questions in the Gardeners Chronicle &c to illicit information— one party in reply stated he understood they were Hungarians5

My observations of the curly feathered fowls being always Hens referred to those whose feathers were like those I sent you resembling somewhat a curl—that is neither the pure Frizzled or the cross but a few which comes either from the Frizzled hen & the cock (which is the cross between the Frizzled & silk) or from this cross entirely   The cross produced Frizzled silk & it was not till the following year we ever got one with what I call curls—but as the experiment was never satisfactorily carried out by keeping each Hens eggs separate I am unable to distinctly say if they were produced from a pure Frizzled Hen or a Frizzled silk Hen— The Cock I know was a Frizzled silk— we generally only got one with the curls at a time & not even one out of every Hatch   last year a Frizzled Hen & some Frizzled silk Hens were confined with the Frizzled silk cock & I should say at least 30 chickens hatched out of which 2 come with these curls—

Mr George Ferguson published a work (dedicated to the Earl of Derby) in 1854 styled

Ferguson on Rare Prize & Domestic Poultry6

and I see his observation states that these Hybrids are sterile— Yet in experiment no 2 with Hybrid Hen (produce of Pheasant cock & Black red Game Hen) with Domestic cock of the same blood as the Black red Game Hen the mother produced a few unproductive eggs—

The mode he puts these experiments are not very clear   his “no 21” is “Two male inter-hybrids” & he calls an inter hybrid the issue from a Hybrid Hen & Pheasant cock as in no 4—&c &c and from one of these “Inter hybrid males & a Pheasant Hen like no 26 one male chick was reared—and “no 31 Female inter hybrid the produce of no 11” (that is “Three males & one female inter hybrids moderate supply of non productive eggs”)   with Pheasant cock the issue was “one chick but did not survive the 6th. day”   This last is incomprehensible as he states the issue of no 11 were non productive eggs—7

You will no doubt be aware that Horticulturists & Botanists affirm that the Coliflowers, Brussel sprouts &c &c & the Cabbage all have one origin the common wild plant— The same with the Peach & nectarine which I believe the same tree some times & at the same times produces both fruit— I forget where I have the authority for this but I think it is in the Gardeners Chronicle within the last 2 years8

apology for this scrawl | I am Dear Sir | Yours very truly | W. A. Wooler

C Darwin Esq

CD annotations

0.1 Darlington … curls— 2.12] crossed ink
5.1 Horticulturists … Esq 7.1] crossed ink
Top of first page: ‘On Hybrids from Fowls & Pheasants being occasionally fertile’ ink; ‘Ch IX’9 brown crayon


The Post Office directory of the county of Durham for 1873 lists a William A. Wooler residing at Sadberge Hall near Darlington.
CD’s letter to Wooler has not been found. CD was collecting information on the various breeds of domestic rabbits in preparation for writing chapter 4 of Variation. He was particularly interested in the origin of the Himalayan breed because it seemed to throw ‘some light on the complex laws of inheritance’ (Variation 1: 108).
George Pearson Wilkinson was curate of Thornley, Wolsingham, Durham (Crockford’s).
In Variation 1: 109, CD stated that Wooler had sent him a sample of the fur of a young Himalayan rabbit that was pale grey in colour rather than the normal white.
CD gave a description of the Himalayan rabbit and a detailed account of its origin in Variation 1: 108–11. He stated that the breed was produced by a cross between silver-grey and Chinchilla rabbits.
Ferguson 1854. There is an annotated copy in the Darwin Library–CUL.
George Ferguson reported the results of his experiments in breeding common domestic fowl and pheasants in Ferguson 1854, pp. 200–5. CD’s notes on this work are bound into the back of his copy. Referring to the discussion on page 201, he wrote in ink and underlined in pencil: ‘Hybrids with Pheasant— Lies.—’. See also letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 25 February [1861].
CD discussed the origin of the nectarine from the peach and cited various accounts of one tree producing both fruits in Variation 1: 336–43.
The reference is to chapter 9 of CD’s ‘big book’ on species (Natural selection), which discussed the subject of hybridism.


Ferguson, George. 1854. Ferguson’s illustrated series of rare and prize poultry, including comprehensive essays upon all classes of domestic fowl. London: n.p.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Post Office directory of the county of Durham: The Post Office directory of the county of Durham, and the principal towns and adjacent places in Northumberland, Cumberland & Westmorland. The Post Office directory of Durham and Northumberland. London: Kelly and Co. 1873–1929.

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


Discusses the colouring of the young of various breeds of rabbit.

Observations on results of various poultry crosses and on a character which is linked to sex.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Alexander Wooler
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 181.2
Physical description
6pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3058,” accessed on 16 February 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9