skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. B. Tegetmeier   25 February [1861]1

Down Bromley Kent

Feb. 25th

My dear Sir

Some time since you were so very kind as to say that you would lend me your collection of Fowl Skulls.2 Can you now spare them for a few weeks? If you can, will you send them by enclosed address; as I hope to begin on Fowls in about a week’s time. But I am far from decided what I shall do, & whether I shall enter in much detail or not. I have a mass of old notes; & till I read them over I do not know what I shall do; & therefore I do not know how far I shd. describe the Skulls.—3 I hope to Heaven your Skulls (if you can spare them) are numbered or named on the Bone; for in comparing many it is most difficult to avoid losing loose tickets.— I have a good many of my own.—

Can you tell me what sort of man Ferguson the author of a Poultry Book is?4 Has he had much experience? Is he honest? He gives wonderful table (which stretches my belief to cracking point) of Hybrids from Pheasant & Fowl.5 Could he really have reared such a number of Hybrids?— Of course any man may blunder: but does he mean to speak the truth?6

By the way he asserts that the Hen of the Malay has only 10 tail-feathers.7 Could you ascertain this for me, & allow me (if really true) to quote you in corroboration: perhaps he counted the feathers in some one abnormal specimen.—8

I fear I shall cause you a great deal of trouble in packing up the skulls, i.e. if you can spare them.

My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | C. Darwin


The year is provided by the reference to CD’s writing his manuscript on fowls for Variation. According to his ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix II), he ‘Finished Fowls’ on 16 May 1861, having spent eight weeks on the subject.
See Correspondence vol. 8, letters to W. B. Tegetmeier, 17 April [1860] and 20 July [1860].
CD discussed the osteological differences of various breeds of fowls in Variation 1: 260–70.
CD refers to George Ferguson, the author of Ferguson’s illustrated series of rare and prize poultry (Ferguson 1854). The work had been recommended to CD by William A. Wooler (see letter from W. A. Wooler, 4 February 1861). There is an annotated copy of Ferguson 1854 in the Darwin Library–CUL.
CD had long been interested in collecting authenticated instances of successful crosses between pheasants and common fowl (see Natural selection, pp. 434–5). Tegetmeier had previously put CD in touch with a breeder who had made such crosses. See Correspondence vol. 6, letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 31 May [1856], and letters from Edward Hewitt, 18 December 1857 and 22 December 1857.
A note written on the inside back cover of CD’s copy of Ferguson 1854 gives an indication of Tegetmeier’s response. It reads: I must be careful about trusting this man.— Mr Tegetmeier says not known as a Fancier. Mr Brent does not know, but says he offered to sell coops & Aviaries—so must at least have kept Birds.— Tegetmeier has convinced me whole Book a pack of lies & compilation Bernard Philip Brent had frequently provided CD with information on the hybridisation of fowls and other domesticated birds. In Variation 1: 248 n. 36, CD stated, following his citation of Ferguson’s book: ‘This writer, I am informed, cannot generally be trusted. He gives, however, figures and much information on eggs.’
Ferguson 1854, p. 186.
Tegetmeier apparently did investigate this point further. See letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 28 March [1861]. In Variation 1: 258–9, CD stated that the Malay hen had sixteen tail feathers.


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

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.

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


Would like to borrow WBT’s collection of fowls’ skulls.

Asks for WBT’s opinion of G. Ferguson, the author of a poultry book [Ferguson’s illustrated book of domestic poultry].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Bernhard Tegetmeier
Sent from
Source of text
Archives of the New York Botanical Garden (Charles Finney Cox collection)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3070,” accessed on 23 October 2020,

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