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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Journal of Horticulture   [before 10 June 1862]1

Do Bees vary in different parts of Great Britain?

I should feel much obliged if the “Devonshire Bee-keeper” or any of your experienced correspondents, would have the kindness to state whether there is any sensible difference between the bees kept in different parts of Great Britain.2 Several years ago an observant naturalist and clergyman, as well as a gardener who kept bees, asserted positively that there were certain breeds of bees which were smaller than others, and differed in their tempers.3 The clergyman also said that the wild bees of certain forests in Nottinghamshire were smaller than the common tame bees. M. Godron, a learned French naturalist, also says that in the South of France the bees are larger than elsewhere, and that in comparing different stocks, slight differences in the colour of their hairs may be detected.4 I have, also, seen it stated that the bees in Normandy are smaller than in other parts of France. I hope that some experienced observers who have seen the bees of different parts of Britain will state how far there is any truth in the foregoing remarks.5 In the number of your Journal, published May 15—1860, Mr Lowe gives a curious account of a new grey or light-coloured bee, which he procured from a cottager:6 if this note should meet his eye, I hope he will be so good as to report, whether his new variety is still propagated by him.— Charles Darwin.

Down Bromley Kent.


The letter was printed in the issue of 10 June 1862. As well as publishing it in their own journal, the editors of the Journal of Horticulture sent CD’s letter on to the Bienen Zeitung (see letter to Bienen Zeitung, 18 June 1862).
Thomas White Woodbury, who was one of the contributors to the beekeeping section of the Journal of Horticulture, always signed his pieces for the journal ‘A Devonshire bee-keeper’ (Journal of Horticulture 28 (1862): i). According to CD’s ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II), he was writing up the chapter on ‘Silk-worms Geese &c’ for Variation. This chapter (chapter 8) also included a section on hive-bees (Variation 1: 297–9).
This individual has not been identified.
Godron 1859, 1: 459; Dominique Alexandre Godron’s name was misspelled in the published letter. There is an annotated copy of Godron 1859 in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 331–5).
Five responses to CD’s letter were published in the Journal of Horticulture: Woodbury and Henry Wenman Newman published replies in the issue for 17 June 1862 (p. 225); replies from a ‘Surrey Highlander’ and from J. Lowe of Edinburgh appeared in the 24 June 1862 issue (pp. 242–3); and Sylvanus Bevan Fox of Exeter published a response in the issue for 8 July 1862 (p. 284). In Variation 1: 297–8, CD stated: It is frequently asserted that the bees in different parts of Great Britain differ in size, colour, and temper; … The best authorities concur that, with the exception of the Ligurian race or species, … , distinct breeds do not exist in Britain or on the Continent. There is, however, even in the same stock, some variability in colour. In evidence of this CD cited the above replies to his letter (ibid., p. 298 n. 57).
The account by J. Lowe of Edinburgh was published in Cottage Gardener, Country Gentleman’s Companion, and Poultry Chronicle 24 (1860): 110; the journal was renamed the Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener in 1861. CD’s unbound copies of this journal are in the Darwin Library–CUL; CD’s copy of Lowe’s article is annotated.


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

Godron, Dominique Alexandre. 1859. De l’espèce et des races dans les êtres organisés et spécialement de l’unité de l’espèce humaine. 2 vols. Paris: J. B. Baillière.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

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


Asks whether any correspondents have observed any sensible differences between the bees kept in different parts of Great Britain. CD has heard from several sources that breeds of bee in different areas vary.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Journal of Horticulture
Sent from
Source of text
Institut de France, Bibliothèque (Ms 2441-XII ff. 343–4)
Physical description
ALS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3594,” accessed on 4 October 2023,

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