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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Abraham Dee Bartlett1   26 May [1861]2

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

May 26

Dear Sir

The Bearer will deliver 3 Rabbits (if none dead on voyage) from Madeira.3 Will you take charge of them for me & show this note to Mr Sclater?4 They are zoologically very interesting for they have run wild on little Isld of P. Santo, since year 1420;5 & judging from 2 dead ones seen by me, they have become greatly reduced in size & modified in colour & in their skeletons.6 I want much to see them alive, & to try whether they will cross freely with common Rabbits.— I am going immediately to leave home for two months.7 Would there be any objection to your keeping them for some time & matching them with some other breed; or if you think fit, first try & get some purely bred.—8

I may perhaps be mistaken, but I was very much surprised at many of the characters of the two dead specimens which I saw.—

If anyone shd die I shd like its skeleton. Pray forgive me troubling you, but I know not what to do with them at present.—

If worth consideration, I would of course pay for their keep.—

In Haste— | Dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin


Bartlett was the resident superintendent of the zoological gardens of the Zoological Society of London.
Dated by the reference to CD’s leaving home ‘for two months’ (see n. 7, below) and by the year given in Bartlett ed. 1900, p. 331.
The live rabbits from the island of Porto Santo, in the Madeira Islands, were sent to CD by W. Haywood (Variation 1: 113).
Philip Lutley Sclater was secretary of the Zoological Society.
CD recounted the history of the breed in Variation. He stated that the rabbits had been turned out circa 1420 by Portuguese visitors to the recently discovered island (Variation 1: 112 and n. 23).
CD had previously examined the skeletons of two of the rabbits given to him by Richard Thomas Lowe via Thomas Vernon Wollaston. See Correspondence vol. 6, letter from T. V. Wollaston, [February 1856], and letter to W. D. Fox, 8 [June 1856].
The Darwins were planning to leave soon for Torquay (see letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 28 May [1861]).
According to Bartlett’s biographer, two rabbits were deposited at the zoological gardens on 21 May 1861 and entered in the catalogue as being females (see Bartlett ed. 1900, p. 332).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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


Bearer brings three Porto Santo rabbits. Will ADB keep them and see whether they can be crossed with some other breed? CD believes they have become much reduced in size and modified in colour since their introduction into the island.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Abraham Dee Bartlett
Sent from
Source of text
Archives of the New York Botanical Garden (Charles Finney Cox Collection)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3159,” accessed on 20 April 2024,

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