skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To P. L. Sclater   2 June [1861]

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

June 2d

Dear Sclater

Perhaps you will have heard that I ventured to send to Gardens temporarily 2 Rabbits from P. Santo.1 If they are like one brought by Wollaston for me in Spirits, they are curiosities.2 They have been feral for 450 years! I have history of their origin: they all spring from one doe brought by Zarco.3 The one examined by me differed in skull & shape of dorsal vertebræ; in size greatly; in general colouring above & below; in colour of upper side of tail & in ears not being edged with black.— In fact, if these are the general characters, it is a new species !!4

I am in perplexity, for I am going (probably about 10th.) to Torquay for my daughters health with most of my servants, for two months; & I dare not leave these rabbits here. Will you speak about care being taken of them, & getting them to breed if buck & doe; if not to cross them with some odd coloured variety to see if quite fertile.5 If they shd die it would break my heart not to see the body fresh.—

Now would you be so very kind as to tell me whether they seem likely to live, & what Bartlett thinks of them, as appearing different from common English rabbit.

Pray forgive me & grant the favour.—

Dear Sclater | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

When I get to Torquay, I will send my address, in case one or both shd die for Body to be sent me.—


See letter to A. D. Bartlett, 26 May [1861]. Sclater was secretary of the Zoological Society of London and active in the direction of the society’s gardens.
J. Gonzales Zarco was a Portuguese navigator who claimed Madeira for Portugal in 1419. In Variation 1: 112 n. 23, CD cited Kerr 1811–24, 2: 117 as the source of this information. See also letter to A. D. Bartlett, 26 May [1861], n. 5.
In Variation 1: 115, CD stated: ‘If the history of these Porto Santo rabbits had not been known, most naturalists … would have ranked them as a distinct species.’
In Variation 1: 115, CD wrote that he found it remarkable that ‘Mr. Bartlett could never succeed in getting these two rabbits, which were both males, to associate or breed with the females of several breeds which were repeatedly placed with them.’ Abraham Dee Bartlett was the superintendent of the gardens of the Zoological Society.


Kerr, Robert. 1811–24. A general history and collection of voyages and travels … forming a complete history of the origin and progress of navigation, discovery, and commerce, by sea and land, from the earliest ages to the present time. 18 vols. Edinburgh.

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


Discusses feral rabbits of Porto Santo. Arranges for care of rabbits while the Darwins visit Torquay.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Philip Lutley Sclater
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.252)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3173,” accessed on 13 July 2024,

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