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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles Augustus Bennet, Lord Tankerville   [9 February 1862]1

We had more fighting this last year than usual,2 seven Bulls contending for the mastery;3 they endeavoured to drive the Old Bull out of the herd, and Hardy was witness of the fight.4 Two of the younger ones attacked him at the same moment and overthrew him & so disabled him that he walked away discomfited to small wood where he stayed alone for some days & was supposed to be mortally wounded, but this could not be ascertained as under such circumstances they are very dangerous to approach. A few days afterwards the herd was grazing near the wood, and the leader of the opposition singled himself out, and approached the wood where the old “Monarch of the Chase” had been lashing himself up for vengeance (as Virgil describes so truthfully).5 This was exactly what he wanted, out he came, and in two minutes they were in mortal combat; when he got him singly he soon killed his antagonist & then quietly walked back to the herd where he has resumed undisputed sway ever since.

I am very much disposed to adopt Sir Walter Scott’s theory with regard to them. In days comparatively not so very remote, the old primæval Forests extended, as he maintains, from the borders to nearly as far as Glasgow, and the aboriginal breed of Cattle (wh. he calls6

CD annotations

2.1 I am … he calls 2.4] crossed ink
Top of letter: ‘Lord Tankerville | Feb. 9th. /62/’ ink


Dated by CD’s annotation.
The first seven words of the letter are in CD’s hand, evidently copied from the preceding page of the original. CD retained this portion of the letter because of its bearing on sexual selection; he recounted Lord Tankerville’s description of the Chillingham bulls fighting in Descent 2: 240–1. The folded sheet on which this part of the letter was written was marked ‘2’ by Tankerville; details from some of the missing sections are given in the letter to Ludwig Rütimeyer, 11 February [1862].
Lord Tankerville was the owner of Chillingham Park, Northumberland, home to the Chillingham cattle. CD had been attempting to procure the skull of a bull from the herd for Ludwig Rütimeyer, through his friend, the physician Henry Holland, who was an acquaintance of Tankerville’s (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Ludwig Rütimeyer, 5 December [1861], and this volume, letter from Henry Holland, 15 January [1862], and letter to Ludwig Rütimeyer, 11 February [1862]).
William Hardy was Lord Tankerville’s bailiff (Post Office directory of Northumberland 1858).
The Roman poet Virgil described the vengeful preparations of a defeated bull to challenge his rival in Georgics 3: 209–42.
In his poem ‘Cadyow Castle’, Walter Scott depicted the ‘wild’ white cattle of Chillingham Park as descendants of the original wild ox that had continued to survive in what remained of the ancient Scottish forests (see Ritvo 1992).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Post Office directory of Northumberland: Post Office directory of Westmoreland, Cumberland, Northumberland, and Durham. London: Kelly and Co. 1858.

Ritvo, Harriet. 1992. Race, breed, and myths of origin: Chillingham cattle as ancient Britons. Representations 39: 1–22.


Describes battles among bulls for leadership of the [Chillingham] herd.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Augustus Bennet, 6th earl of Tankerville
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 83: 157–8
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3441,” accessed on 15 October 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10