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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Darwin Fox   12 May [1862]

Down Bromley Kent

May 12th

My dear Fox.

I am going to bother you. Looking over some of your old notes, I see that you have kept the wild breed of Turkeys from Ld. Leicester & Powis.1 You know that they now say that the common Turkeys have descended from a southern so-called species.2 Have you ever crossed intentionally or accidentally your wild & common; & did you ever cross the hybrids inter se or with either pure parent & were they quite fertile? Have you ever given half-bred birds to other people, & did they with them become mingled with common Turkeys? Can you recognise the half-breds by their appearance? I shd be grateful for any information, which I might quote on your authority.—3

When you write tell me how you & all are. We were very glad to see your son at Torquay.4

I am much as usual, always grumbling & complaining. We have of late had much anxiety about our youngest Boy, who has failed in same way, but worse than, four other of our children.5

This is very shabby note, but I am tired with having written a heap of letters.—

My dear old friend.— | Yours affectly. | C. Darwin

Do you know anything of so-called Japanned Peacocks suddenly appearing from the common Peacock?6


No letter from Fox containing this information has been found. The then earl of Leicester was Thomas William Coke and the earl of Powis was Edward James Herbert.
CD refers to a paper by John Gould describing a new species of turkey, Meleagris mexicana, a native of Mexico, which Gould believed to be distinct from the wild turkey of North America (J. Gould 1856). He believed the domesticated turkey to be descended from the former and not, as commonly supposed, from the North American form. CD cited Gould on the origin of the turkey in Variation 1: 292.
CD was working on chapter 8 of Variation (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)), which includes a discussion of the turkey (Variation 1: 292–4). In Variation 1: 292, he mentioned, on Fox’s authority, that the wild turkey of the United States would cross freely with the common domestic kind, the turkeys in the area showing traces of their crossed parentage for many years afterwards. CD offered this as ‘an instance of a domestic race being modified by a cross with a distinct species or wild race’.
The Darwins had spent July and August 1861 in Torquay (see Correspondence vol. 9). CD may refer to Fox’s eldest son, Samuel William Darwin Fox.
Horace Darwin had been seriously ill since the beginning of the year (see Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
In chapter 8 of Variation, on which CD was then working (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)), he described several cases of the ‘japanned’ or ‘black-shouldered’ peacock ‘suddenly appearing in flocks of the common kind kept in England’, and expounded his belief that the phenomenon was ‘evidence of the first appearance of a new variety’ (Variation 1: 290–2). See also letter to Philip Lutley Sclater, 12 May [1862] and n. 1.


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

Gould, John. 1856. On a new turkey, Meleagris mexicana. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 24: 61–3.

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


Asks if WDF has ever crossed wild and common turkeys. Would like to quote his authority [see Variation 1: 292].

Also curious whether WDF has known the so-called japanned peacock to appear from common peacock [Variation 1: 290].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Darwin Fox
Sent from
Source of text
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge (MS 53 Fox 132)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3544,” accessed on 23 January 2021,

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