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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Ludwig Rütimeyer   5 December [1861]1

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

Dec. 5th

Dear & much respected Sir.—

I have been slowly reading through your admirable work, & this evening I came to the passage, in which you express a wish to see the skull of the wild White cattle of Chillingham Park.2

If you could tell me how so heavy an object as a Bull’s skull could be sent to Switzerland, I would try & procure one for you.— I would write to the Earl of Tankerville, & I think (but cannot say positively) that he would grant this favour.3 But I fear that the carriage would be too expensive. You would have to tell me clearly how it ought to be sent & directed. Of course it would be several months, before a Bull might be killed & it would take some time to partially clean the skull.— Should you wish for a few of the upper neck vertebræ?4

Permit me to say how much I admire your work; it seems to me the most important contribution on domestic races ever published.5 I have been pleased to hear what you say on the Zebu; for in my M.S. I have come from habits alone, to the same conclusion with you.— Of course your evidence is of a far higher kind.—6

I have a volume half prepared for publication (but interrupted of late by some Botanical work) on “Variation of animals under domestication,” in which I treat chiefly of Pigeons, Fowls, Rabbits &c;7 & you may well believe how profoundly your admirable labours have interested me.—

With most sincere respect | I remain | Dear Sir | Your faithful servant | Charles Darwin


The year is given by the reference to Rütimeyer 1861 (see n. 2, below) and by the relationship to the letters to Ludwig Rütimeyer, 15 January [1862] and 11 February [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10).
Rütimeyer, professor of zoology and comparative anatomy in Basel, had sent CD a presentation copy of Rütimeyer 1861, a treatise on the animal remains found during the excavation of the Swiss lake dwellings. Rütimeyer complained that his research on the origins of domestic cattle was incomplete because he had been unable to examine a skull or skeleton of one of the Chillingham cattle. This ancient breed was kept on the Chillingham Park estate of Charles Augustus Bennet, earl of Tankerville.
CD asked his friend and distant relation Henry Holland, who was an acquaintance of Bennet, to ask Bennet to send a skull to Rütimeyer (see Correspondence vol. 10, letters from Henry Holland, [before 15 January 1862] and 15 January [1862]). It was believed that the Chillingham cattle were the closest living representatives of Britain’s original wild cattle (see Hindmarsh 1839). CD himself had long been interested in the origin and habits of the Chillingham cattle (see Notebooks, Notebook D, p. 48 ). In May 1861 CD had written to Luke Hindmarsh asking him for information on the rate of increase of the Chillingham herd (see letters to Luke Hindmarsh, 3 May [1861] and 12 May [1861], and letter from William Hardy to Luke Hindmarsh, [8 May 1861]).
Rütimeyer replied to CD’s letter on 11 December 1861. His letter has not been found, but see the letter to Ludwig Rütimeyer, 15 January [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10).
In Rütimeyer 1861, Rütimeyer described human and animal remains that had been found in Stone Age Swiss lake-dwellings and compared these forms with contemporary races, suggesting that his results might be relevant to the question of organic change.
Zebus are humped cattle (Bos indicus) that inhabit tropical countries. Rütimeyer had concluded that humped and non-humped cattle represent two different species. See Rütimeyer 1861, p. 146. CD cited Rütimeyer’s osteological studies several times in the discussion of cattle in Variation 1: 79–93.
Variation was published in 1868.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Hindmarsh, Luke. 1839. On the wild cattle of Chillingham Park. Annals of Natural History 2: 274–84.

Notebooks: Charles Darwin’s notebooks, 1836–1844. Geology, transmutation of species, metaphysical enquiries. Transcribed and edited by Paul H. Barrett et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for the British Museum (Natural History). 1987.

Rütimeyer, Ludwig. 1861. Die Fauna der Pfahlbauten in der Schweiz. Untersuchungen über die Geschichte der wilden und der Haus-Säugethiere von Mittel-Europa. Basel, Switzerland: Bahnmaier’s Buchhandlung (C. Detloff).

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


Admires LR’s book [Die Fauna der Pfahlbauten (1861)].

Will attempt to arrange for skull of wild white Chillingham cattle to be sent by Earl of Tankerville.

CD has come to same conclusion as LR on zebus.

CD’s MS of Variation is half-prepared.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Karl Ludwig (Ludwig) Rütimeyer
Sent from
Source of text
Universitätsbibliothek Basel, Handschriften (G IV 91, 3)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3339,” accessed on 17 May 2022,

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